Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TransRockies Race Stage VI: Vail to Beaver Creek

21.2 miles with over 4600 feet of climbing Finishing Time: 5hrs 28min

Today was a light and fluttery heart day. The day started out with a conflict of excitement and sadness. Runner's chatter echoed and thrilled over their anticipation for the final destination. Cheers and whoops were heard up and down the start line with fists pumping in the air. Stephanie and I had the jitters- we were eager to start but, at the same time, hated to see it all end.

The race started out with a steep climb overlooking Vail. Stephanie and I passed a lot of roadkill getting out the gate and hitting the woodsy downhill, we both felt really good. We traversed through gorgeous meadows and forests coated with wildflowers. We waited a bit for Kyle and Matt to catch up and trotted alongside them for a bit to chat.

Stephanie celebrated her arrival to aid station #2 with a swig on Nipple John's beer. I had to tug on her to get her butt going. I was feeling so good and wanted to run!! I ran ahead of her for quite awhile until I arrived into the town of Avon. There I waited (peed and ate) off the trail in some flowers til she came around the corner with two thumbs up letting me know she was still feeling good. We ran through Avon and snapped pics of us posing with statues.

After aid station #3 we had a huge 3 miler hill with many switchbacks. It was odd to see so many runners staggered just a few feet from each other on a mountain. They looked like they were all discombobulated going in opposite directions etc. when, truly, they were just on another switchback from the next guy.

On our way up I met up with Karl and we hiked it a bit together. I kept seeing bear scat and I played the game of trying to find fresh bear poo.

Suddenly, there was a very very large rustling off to our right and about twenty or so feet away the aspen trees and nearby bushes swayed with movement. There was defintely something very large there and a bit perterbed that we were disturbing his slumber. I stopped and stared into the thicket, trying my hardest to spot me a bear! Karl kicked in his high gear and I heard him call me crazy as he zoomed up the hill with, most likely, a PR timing. I still stood there straining to see, but to no avail. That little bugger was not going to show his face. Every once in awhile the trees would rustle and bend but they were getting farther away. My run must go on....

As I started getting closer to the finish line, I felt a mixture of emotions. I thought back to each day on the sights and experiences that made the deepest impressions on me. Things I knew I would forever take home with me and reflect back on. The kinship, the views, the food, the tent sleeping, the hospitality and great organization. I felt as if I was attending an amazing week-long camp adventure. This didn't feel like a race! Yes, there was soreness and being tired but I didn't feel like I was about to die like I did at the Coastal Challenge. I was definitely more prepared mentally and physically for this race. I remember laying in my tent in Costa Rica: febrile, trying to blank out the pain in my feet (and infected bubbling toe), beyond exhausted, and muscles screaming. I have some great memories of that race too, but that adventure was not nearly as enjoyable through and through as the TransRockies.

Here, I felt strong and confident. I felt like an athlete. I felt like an absolute wildchild. A kid with a magnificent imagination of an animal, senses hightened to extreme, loping around in "my territory": hurdling logs, ducking branches, fleet footed and panting in rhythm to my stride as my body created a wind that blew back the sweat-laiden whisps of my hair. It was an unbelievable feeling, and one that probably not too many would understand nor relate to.

I waited for Steph near the curve to the finish line and the two of us ran in together, finishing with a big hug and a sudden gush of sadness.

We collected our shirt and medal and noshed at the food tent. At that point we saw a handfull of runners cutting down the mountain, sliding on their butts completely off the trail.

"HEY no fair!!" was my first thought as I stood next to one of the volunteers. His microphone boomed and we soon learned that there was a bear sighting- a momma and two of her cubs decided to venture out onto the trail where a couple of runners almost ran right between them. The runners made a very intelligent decision to head off trail and cut through to the finish line.
Hyped back on my bear-spotting adrenaline I bugged Memphis-Joe to let me go with him to chase the bears off the trail. He chuckled at my enthusiasm and let me tag along. We climbed back up the trail for about a mile or two (thoughts that I had just completed a 21 mile run had been washed away with the notion of spotting a real live bear) hollaring out "Yo Bear!" and chatting back and forth with Houda on the radio who was searching at a different angle.Every runner we would pass we would ask for a bear location update and then head that way. After awhile the runner's sightings became slim pickings until no one had seen the furry crew at all. Feeling satisfied that the bears were off trail and heading up, we turned around and headed back down.

Back at the finish line, I caught up with Stephanie and we headed to our much dreamt about room at the Pines Lodge. Long hot showers, soft fluffy beds, and fuzzy carpet under our toes awaited us just around the corner. The room did not dissapoint. We awed at the great view as we loaded all our smelly, filty luggage into separate corners to weed through. I jumped into the shower as Stephanie called home to her hubby.
After we were both showered, we celebrated with a sushi meal and green tea. We both felt stiff but overall pretty darn good!

The hour of the ceremonial dinner finally arrived and we piled into the ballroom. The spread was decent (although not as good as the steak and mushroom night of the race) but the actual awards ceremony started so late into the night that both Stephanie and I (among many others) were so ready for it all to be over and to crawl into bed for a much needed siesta. The few glasses of wine in celebration did not help...

We chatted with our new friends and shared numbers/emails not really knowing who would stay in touch, and finally called it a night. We both collapsed into our beds feeling like we truly accomplished something great.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

TransRockies Race Stage V: Red Cliff to Vail

23.4mi/ 4407ft climbing
Finish Time 5hrs 44min

Let me start out by saying this was a VERY ROUGH DAY. There. I said it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery (especially at Top of the World), but my body just wanted to check out early and call it a day. Add that into the fact that there was a very rude runner who literally refused to take my picture at a very pretty point in the run. Yep....Refused. Said her partner was too far ahead of her and that she would be mad at her. Talk about a mood ruiner.
I paid that lack of generosity and sucking the fun out of my day by beating the pants off both her and her partner. Good 'ol Steph pulled through for me a the last few miles when I pointed the girls out and told Steph a brief summary of my encounter (Steph had been behind me during it). She kicked it into high gear and said, "let's take them down." Hells Yess! That's my girl!

Later, after the finish line, the woman approached me quite somber and gave me a very deep, heartfelt apology. I accepted her apology and threw an arm around her shoulders (but mostly because we beat her).

At the last aid station they had a "jam session" where they video taped us dancing. I chose to dance with one of the volunteer guys. Hey....I can't help it....

We limped into Vail and headed straight for the icy creek in the very middle of the "elite" shopping center. It was a beautiful town but the smell of money was so thick you could cut it....
The creek was the coldest of the week and it took me a bit to finally sit fully in it's depths. I stayed there a good 15 minutes til I was completely numb. We followed that with steamy lattes and a hot shower at camp.

Dinner was out of this world. Medium to Rare Steaks, grilled portobello mushrooms the size of your face, fresh grilled veggies, juicy pineapple, cold pasta salad, loaded baked potatoes, cookies, and appetizers you would see on the cover of Southern Cooking magazine. I ate so much I was stuffed and then I ate some more.
Roll me to the tent!

The last pic is of Steph shouting, "Look Thea- ROAD KILL!" It was her motivational nudge to try to get me back in the game. It worked....

TransRockies Race Stage IV: Camp Hale to Red Cliff

15 miles/ 4407ft climbing/ 4868 feet descending
Finishing Time: 3hrs 44min

We woke up this crisp 28 degree morning with ice on our tents. Handwarmers were in order along with a hot breakfast of oatmeal, 3 mini muffins, eggs, bacon, cottage cheese, and black coffee with sugar.

The run started off along the road (yuck) then veered off onto trail for an extremely steep climb. On the way up we came upon one of the aid station jeeps (4x4 rugged JEEPS) that was perched and wedged at the same time sideways right smack dab in the middle of the trail. Apparantly very truly stuck and broke down.

The reward of breaking the crest of this hill was a magnificient view of Mount Holy Cross (which i didn't capture here)

And....wind. It wasn't a blustery wind, but it was just enough to quickly cool the sweat on my body and chill me to the bone. I suddenly became extremely cold, a severe headache erupted, and nausea poured through my gut. Recognizing the signs of badness, I quickly threw on all my cold weather gear with a fresh set of handwarmers (since I didn't have anything dry to change into), summarized how I felt to Stephanie, and began my descent ahead of Steph. Since I skipped the aid station I tried to throw some calories into my body and suck down some water even though I had no desire to eat nor drink. As I clicked down the feet of elevation slightly and got into some treed areas away from the wind I almost immediately felt better.

Stephanie quickly caught up to me, as I knew she would, and we took up multiple road kill along the way through the river and into town. At the last aid station (and knowing we were just a few miles away from the finish) I begged Stephanie to hurry. "Why?" she asked. "Because I'm turtling!" I wimpered.
I was trying to keep it on the DL (we all know IT happens along the trail, especially long distances such as these, but we just don't usually discuss such happenings).

Stephanie turns around sharply and mid bite exclaims loudly, "What's "turtling"?!"
As my face turned bright red, the volunteer crowd got a good friendly laugh as one of the older women explained. I was both grateful and mortified.

Needless to say, we finished not too long after that discussion and I was relieved. The town was quaint and fun. We walked across the street to a supermarket/hotel/liquor store where Stephanie promptly downed a beer and I grabbed a camping size snack pack of cereal and a half gallon of milk. I threw it all in a giant sized soda cup and inhaled. I was grateful I went the cereal route when Stephanie started feeling the effects of her drink of choice and began displaying the cherries she had tattooed on her rear end.
                                         Hot Eagle Medics...."hey boys!"

When we got back to camp I took a shower, had the luxury of shaving my legs (made me much faster), strung my hammock up in the back of the Uhaul truck, and fell asleep rocking in the breeze with Memphis Joe rubbing my head. ahhh life is so good.

That night at dinner I had great conversations with Anita Ortiz and Dean's partner, Helen- two fantastic trail runners who I absolutely look up to. Starbucks coffee was served in the Salomon tent and the night's give-away was a mini- med kit and chapstick. Cynthia, Gore's awesome Rep, started out the night calling everyone "Bastards of Extreme." She had actually said Masters of Extreme, but with the microphone etc, it came out very much was a hoot!

TransRockies Race Stage III: Leadville to Camp Hale (Red Cliff)

24.2 miles/2930 ft climbing
Finish time: 5hrs 38min

The previous night at our "pep talk" we were warned that we would be entering sheep territory. This is important "need-to-know" info as these sheep would be protected by very large, very protective sheep dogs. We were told to use the phrase "Go Back To Your Sheep" if any of the dogs came to investigate us. There were ruptures of uncontrolled giggling as we all practiced yelling it at each other with a large pointer finger stuck in the air.

The morning started out chilly but we dressed in layers knowing it would warm up before long. Today Steph and I decided that no matter what, we were going to have fun all day long.

We ended up having to cross two main "highways" where friendly (and hunky) State Patrol Officers assisted us across safely to the trail on the other side. The first one let me kiss him innocently on the cheek. *I promised not to post any pics of either officer*. I asked the second one if I could get a pic of him carrying me piggy-back across the road, however after realizing his gun would be in the way, he decided to just pick me up with my arms around his neck. It was all in good humor and in a responsible fashion (i.e. no cars were anywhere in the vicinity, etc). These two guys totally cheered our morning up and we giggled like schoolgirls about it the rest of the run.

I need to take a quick moment to thank graciously the volunteers of this production. They were all so amazing, helpful, and accomodating with a smile (one lady overheard Stephanie wishing outloud that she had an almond joy. Today, we came across the same aid station lady and she magically produced a bag of almond joys while stating she had been waiting specifically for Steph to arrive!). I was so impressed with them that when a small handful of stupid runners decided to run their mouths instead of their legs in an unimpressive temper tantrum I wanted to kick them in the balls. Seriously.

One guy whined and bitched at the female volunteer at one of the aid stations because the station was running low on salt tabs. They were waiting for another jeepload of supplies to arrive as their first jeep broke down. It took everything I had not to drop kick this older man. Did he really need a thirty-something girl telling his forty to 50ish self how to behave? When I saw the aid station lady start to hang her head and apologize, I finally lost it and ran my mouth before I even knew what was just escaped.

I reminded him tersely that we were all adults and experienced runners. Due to the nature of this race and its very potential risks, I told him he'd have to be a downright dumb-ass incompetent twit to not bring his own supplies even if at a minimum. I did take advantage of the magnificient spread at the aid stations, however, I did not RELY on them as my sole source of life sustaining nutrition. Expectations were that we each took care of ourselves and supplimented our own packs as needed.

Anyways, three stream crossings later, we arrived at the aid station bearing mini beach balls and our friendly volunteer "Nipple John". Stephanie asked if we could have one of the beach balls to which the volunteers said, "yes!". While we were snacking, however, Stephanie realized it was going to be a bit difficult to run holding a beach ball. With a spurt of down right silliness, I grabbed Steph's beach ball with mine and stuffed them in my shirt. Eh hem....
Everyone started cheering and laughing (John got a revenge pic of him grabbing my "boobs") so Steph stuffed two down her shirt as well.

And, we were off.....
Yes, ma'am, we ran the rest of that darn day with big 'ol boobies that Dolly herself would've been proud of. 4.1 miles of booby madness!
As I hurled myself chest first down a fast hill I saw ISWIMBIKERUN up ahead and hollered at him and his partner "Watch out guys! I'm top heavy!" which emitted great belly laughs from all.

The last mile or so was on road as we headed into Camp Hale. Stephanie and I got great amusement as cars and bicyclists passed us. Their faces would change from looks of wonder and awe at a pair of great runners coming into the finish line to that of amazement and finally humor as they noticed our enhancements. I think one guy almost fell off his motorcycle. It was a great day and our spirits were light.

At the finish line we did a large booby-bump to the announcement of our names. The cameraman video taped us quite a bit (which we saw evidence of that night at the pep talk/video report of the day). Stephanie was caught on camera saying, "I'm not quite sure what happened up there but I think my husband is going to be pretty happy!"

After extracting our inflatables from our chests' we slowly and painfully walked to the post-race tent for some food. I set my eyes on a large jar of peanut butter with jelly. It was as if the heavens opened up and sang praise for pb&j. It was the best damned sandwhich I had ever tasted, hands down.

We soaked in the lake for awhile to ease the stiffness in our bodies. I was a little concerned and apprehensive about stepping into the murky bottomed lake for fear of leeches. My NorthEastern raised butt had swam in plenty of leech infested waters and I wasn't having any of that. No bueno.
I got a bit teased for thinking these glacier-fed waters could house leeches...uh. oh yeah....

I did get to finally meet Devon and Jason from Outside PR (the ones who allowed me to demo some of Sugoi, Headsweat, Gu, etc products) and they were even cooler in person! Devon actually ran the next stage with one of our runner friends as he had lost his partner and didn't want to be prohibited from running sans teammate.

One very long hot shower later, a massage, a heapfull of tasty lasagna, and a bout of hoola-hooping on the lawn....Stephanie and I were very happy campers. Kyle and Matt set up camp right next to us and we got a little late-afternoon naps. We awoke when Kyle had to show everyone the ant he had just pulled out of his ear. I guess the little guy wanted a little nap too....poor fella.

As we waited for the nighttime pep-talk roundup to start, we got cozy in the lodge with some steaming coffee and a protein brownie. Tonight's free treasure was a windstopper ear warming wrap. Super cool!

Oh! AND I won a powder blue Gore jacket from the Gore-tex Weather Van!!! How cool is THAT!?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dearest Deer Creek Canyon,

I lust your trails: your technical, rocky deliciousness, your "wall" on the Plymouth Creek Trail that consistently tests my lung capacity, your lovely forest, and your curvy, fast descents. You are my peaceful solitude from the chaos of the world.

Today I was lured back to your park of wonders: 9 miles later I left slightly tired, not quite fulfulled, and craving more.

Meadowlark Trail welcomed me at the entrance to your lands with a steady 10% grade climb of switchbacks and a group of curious deer. My yak trax gripped responsively into the scant residual of packed snow and drying mud. M.T. parted ways onto Plymouth Creek/Mtn Trail which snickered as I approached and then showed me no mercy as I slammed into your "wall". This wall challenges me each and every time. Only once have I been able to non-stop run the entire impressive incline (steps were built on the left side of the trail, if that tells you anything). Its a lung and calf burner but I respect it's mockery; it plays well on my competitive nature.

This is what oils my machine.

Almost at the summit of PMT, Homesteader Trail (a nice fast yet rolling downhill) broke gently off to the right and dived into a dark, luscious forested path. Your beautiful single track, soft cushioning dirt, and an earthy damp scent carressed my senses. I took a moment to listen to the silence, soak in the scenery, then cranked my ipod and opened my wings. I wanted to roar!

Once I reached the end of HT, Argos paused at the "T" and slowly trotted back down to the right.
"Not this time, Little Man," I said with a big grin, "We are taking her to the top!" I veered left back onto PCT and started yet another ascent.

Red Mesa Loop greeted me with an amazing panoramic view. Clouds had formed over the valley and wisps of gray precipitation hung in the air.  As I ducked back into the loop's forested trail, soft, beautiful snow flakes began falling on my eyelashes and the ground turned from dirt to thick packed snow. I turned off my music and ran the next three miles in total wintery silence sans the even smooth sounds of my breath.

I stared, longingly, at your Golden Eagle trail that wound around the sides of a sister mountain then glanced at my watch. Next time, next time.

I regrouped onto PCT and began my descent to the trailhead. Music back on and wings open yet again; I flew. The flurries had ceased and I felt as if I had experienced my own little slice of heaven up on RML. No one else knew.

The last mile of PCT was quick feet and serious scanning. The earth had opened up and vomited out a tremendous path of sludge and muck. Wrong footing was sure to leave you ankle deep in shoe sucking mud the consistency of thick oatmeal.

Back at the car with a tired pup, I glanced back up at your face and smiled with much appreciation.

                            This is my playground.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MSR Lightening Ascent RAVE

Just a quick gear shout out (aka "review") for my ultra-fav snowshoes:
MSR Lightening Ascent - wow these ultralight snowshoes are top notch all around. 

I recently talked my "Cowboy" into buying a pair of the men's version and he also can't stop gushing over them. I have gone on multiple snowshoe outings with them and have been impressed every single time.
Designed for women with input from a specialized orthopedic gait analyst, MSR has "created a more efficient snowshoe with a lighter, narrower frame, specifically tuned for a woman's stride. Plus, you get all the technical advantages of the men’s Lightning Ascent snowshoe—including unprecedented 360° traction and unmatched, all-terrain performance."

One (in a book of many) difference between a regular joe-blow snowshoe and the ascents is a "televator heel lifter" or ascent bar that easily pops up under the heel of your boot to help reduce calf fatigue and make climbing hills a piece of cake.

Another noteworthy feature is MSR's steel crampon. The teeth along the outer edge and the solid crampon at the boot's toe all dig into the ground creating a solid base to hike around without slipping and sliding.
WIth the four strap step-on binding I don't have to remove my gloves to slip into these bad-boys. It is quick, simple, and doesn't freeze up like those annoying webbing straps of other shoes. They don't loosen up and my boot doesn't slide around in them.

All around these shoes ROCK! I see many many years of backcountry exploring in my future with these. Each time I go out I have a great time- proving, once again, that having the right gear makes ALL the difference between a great adventure of a lifetime or a crappy grumpy memory.

The only con I can think of with these shoes is with the clips that hold the loose ends of the straps in place. The straps are rubberized and, although I have never had one come completely undone mid-trip,they often slip out of the clips, making me have to stop every once in awhile (not due to malfunction, but more out of annoyance as the straps flap in the breeze) to slip them back into the clips. I am thinking of buying a set of more clips and attaching them to the straps in the opposite way the original clips face. That way they hold in both directions are will be less likely to slip out.
The other minor con (and speaking specifically for Cowboy) is that the men's largest shoes don't have an MSR shoe bag for them to be stored in. MSR doesn't make the bags that large. Why??
I have a bag for mine and love it.

It has a nice carry strap and handle and is very convenient for keeping all the wet and muck out of my car. I don't use trekking poles, but it also has straps on the side for those.
I have a few friends with other brands (tubbs, etc) and HATE them. The exterior pole system has them slipping and sliding everywhere. In fact, I just went shoeing with a friend of mine. They were so let down by their shoes that they opted to leave them in the car. I gliding effortlessly over the snow while she post-holed it along. hmmmmm.