Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wasatch Columbine

i always try to make a note of the first Columbine that i see each year.  this year, it was on the lower Bowman Fork trail in Millcreek Canyon.  i was supposed to be taking a rest day from running today, but just couldn't sit at home--the day was too beautiful.  so i got out for a 3.5 mile stroll, with the dogs, just up to White Fir Pass.

the beautiful Columbine was poking out from some brush on the lower part of the trail, just about one mile up.  she surprised me, and i exclaimed, "Oh!  First Columbine!" out-loud and with a smile to myself and to the dogs, as no one else was around.  alas, i did not have my camera with me to document her graceful presence.

as i continued up the trail, i saw many more Columbine on the hillsides.  strange how they just appear one day out of the foliage.  i was just up there a few days ago on the same trail, in the same place, but the conditions must not have been just right yet.

there is something quite special about this lacy, delicate White Columbine that i see throughout the Wasatch mountains of northern Utah.  named "Aquilegia caerulea", this variation is ochroleuca (there are five documented varieties).  other varieties of Columbine that i have come across in my wanderings are the fiesty, tough, red and yellow Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) of the high Sierra mountains and the blue and white Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea var. alpina, often mistaken for Aquilegia saximontana) of Colorado.  this white variety, that i have found most prevalent in the Wasatch mountains, is actually called the "White Colorado Columbine", although i don't recall ever seeing it in Colorado.  it is also listed as being present in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana as well.

the common name "columbine" is in latin reference to "like a dove", and has the religious reference of symbolizing the Holy Ghost.  the genus name "Aquilegia" is also an avian reference, but this time to an eagle, as the flowers spurs have been described to turning down as an eagle's talons might.

i can understand the references to doves and eagles, but to me the White Columbine has more ties to the snows that we get in Utah.  it is seen only as the last small pockets of snow are melting out in the Spring, and to me symbolizes the white, light Wasatch powder snow that graces our hillsides from November until May.  like the Wasatch snow, this White Columbine has a drift-like elegance that is magical and a bit mysterious and altogether delightful.  to me, the White Columbine symbolizes the Wasatch.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Magical Mountains

the mountains have some sort of power over me.  as most of you know, i've been running a lot this Spring and Summer, training for a 100 mile running race in the mountains.  i've always felt a special energy when i am in the mountains, but this year it has been much more pronounced.  i'm not really sure why that is, but i like it.  some of my friends are warning me not to over-train; not to do too many miles this summer and get burned out before the big race in September.  but with the way i feel right now, it's hard to back off.

when i was 10 years old, my family went to Southern Germany (Bavaria; south of Munich in a little town called Kochel am See).  my brother and i spent much of the summer in the 6th grade there, learning German and getting to know some of the local kids.  it was kinda tough going to a German school when our language skills were rudimentary.  we relied on each others' friendship a lot.  we escaped to the mountains.

in this town, the town that my father grew up in, there are hiking trails just out the back door that lead to the Alps.  we hiked and climbed and played in the stream.  we stood by torrential waterfalls.  we imagined tiny creatures called gnomes hiding in the ferns and underbrush.  we went on slug hunts and smacked the huge banana slugs with sticks.  we shot bows and arrows that we had built from bamboo sticks in our grandfather's bamboo patch.  we had a magical summer.

our parents took us on many hikes that summer.  the great thing about hiking in the Alps is, you get tired and shortly up ahead there is a small lodge where you can rest, get a sandwich and a drink, and take in the beautiful scenery for a while before heading on to the next spot.  we tried fresh milk from the cows up on the Jochberg from a farmer.  it had huge chunks of cream in it, and i thought it had gone bad.  it was all i could do to swallow it.  but i did.  my eyes went wide as i looked at my mom and my brother, "what is this woman feeding us?" i implored.

another day, we hiked up to the Herzogstand on the Heimgarten (home garden) way.  we were on a knife edge ridge hanging on to cables attached to the rock as the German Air Force jets boomed overhead.  i thought we would fall off the mountain to our deaths.  shortly afterward, we came to the small lodge on that mountain, and basked in the sunshine and took in the views.  all was well with the world.  the entire hike is probably about 10 miles, so bear in mind i was only 10 years old, and my brother was 12.  this was a really long hike for a couple of kids.  it was the adventure of a lifetime.  (funny thing is, i'm still living it.)

we went on so many good hikes that summer.  we hiked in the mountains near Garmisch with our surrogate cousins the Stecheles.  we hiked in Austria in the Karwendel Range.  we went to Italy and saw the Dolomites.  it was amazing.  it was the first time i felt the power of the mountains and how they can lift the spirit while testing the physical strength of the body.   after a day of rest, i felt stronger, because i was.  both mentally and physically.

recently i have befriended (on Facebook) a guy about my age who lives in Munich and trail runs in the mountains where i hiked as a child.  he is also the editor of a German trail running magazine.  the magazine is top-notch, and i've told him that his passion for the mountains shines though in the pages of his publication.  he recently published some photos of a run that he did in the mountains above Kochel, my dad's hometown and the town where i spent the summer as a child.  i knew exactly where he was, and i felt the energy of those hills.

a quote from John Muir sums it up well, i think--this feeling that i have when i am in the mountains:  "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

ps:  the photos for this blogpost are from a trip to Germany that my brother, Stefan, and i took in the summer of 2008.  we retraced the route on the Heimgarten with our "favorite Dutch uncle", Jan.   we drank beers at the lodge at the top of the mountain.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Steeplechase and a few days of rest

i've been bumping up the mileage the last three weeks and by the end of the week this week, i felt myself getting winded on the smallest of climbs.  after consulting a couple of friends who are well-versed in endurance running i confirmed what i myself was thinking and am going to spend the next couple of days on the couch and puttering around the house.

before my rest days i volunteered for the local Steeplechase race, hosted by my friend Butch Adams.  my friend Sue and i ran the Smuggler's Gap aid station.  Butch and i spent thursday and friday flagging the 17-mile course in the foothills above Salt Lake, and on saturday i worked one of the aid stations.  240 racers came through my backcountry aid station called "Smuggler's Gap", named after the area where an old moonshine still was built in the Prohibition Era (i'm pretty sure they supplied the soldiers at nearby Fort Douglas).  the runners were amazed at the views and what we had to offer (water, electrolyte drink, gummy fruits, and goldfish, and GU).  it's always such a good feeling to volunteer at events and see all smiles (or to be able to put a smile on someone's face!)

the views from the pass at 6am when we arrived were amazing.  i felt as if i could just reach out and grab the peaks of the Wasatch in a way, and wished i were a bird who could just fly and float above them.  Sue and i found some ramps (wild onions) on the pass and tried them--they taste like very mild garlic.

i might ride my mountain bike later this week, and then it's back to bumping up the running mileage again.  next goal after this rest week is to run 100 miles in 10 days.  i think it is a very do-able goal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time Out for Sanity

well, i'm well over a month into my "time off" from work, as i officially quit my job last week.  i'm looking for a new job and already have a couple of prn jobs lined up, but honestly i got to tell y'all this time off thing is just working out fine.  i've run 6 of the last seven days, and today decided to just take the dogs for a mile walk and take the day off.

i've been spending my time looking at topo maps of the area and dreaming of running routes when i am not out in the hills.  this spring has been so beautiful.  i've run over forty miles in the mountains each week for the last three weeks, and i honestly don't think i've ever been happier.  which is in stark contrast to how my manager viewed me at work as "angry and frustrated".  makes me really think i did the right thing by leaving that job, because it was turning me into a really unhappy person.

i feel so bad for the dogs on the days that i don't take them out with me.  yesterday i did a 12 mile run right on the border of the salt lake city watershed area.  12 miles is a bit far for them to go every day anyway.  i had just taken them for a 6-miler the day before.  it was such a fantastic view of the Wasatch Range, and it was on part of the 100-mile course that i will be on later this summer.  it got me pretty pumped to participate in the race again this year.

enjoy the photos.  it's a magical place.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Night and Day

this weekend i paced my friend Cheryl for the second half of the Squaw Peak 50 mile trail run.  because my race in Pocatello last weekend got cut short due to weather, Cheryl invited me to run with her to get some longer training miles in.  i very  thankfully commissioned a shuttle from my friend Brian's wife, Kari, to the aid station at mile 25 (Brian was also racing the entire 50).  i hooked up with Cheryl at that point to run the second half of the course with her.

to "pace" someone means many things.  i started with fresh legs at mile 25, as opposed to Cheryl's legs that had already done 25 miles.  i reminded her to eat every 30 minutes.  i asked her repeatedly if she was drinking fluids.  i offered her my nuun when she needed electrolyte replacement, unfortunately she didn't like the flavor i was carrying (kola nut, which is my new favorite).  i asked her if she needed to retie her shoes.  i filled her water at aid stations before i filled my own.  i pointed out the beautiful scenery and took silly pictures to try to get her mind off the fact that she was hurting.  i told her that she was kicking butt at mile 38 going up the steepest climb of the race thus far (i thought i was going to pass out she was setting such a break neck pace.  she must have passed a dozen people on that climb).  i tucked cold washcloths into the collar of her shirt.  i asked a spectator to give us a "little more cowbell" as we ran into the finish area.  i watched her run to a new fast time at the finish line.  i put my arm around her when she was puking after the finish.

it was a hot day at Squaw Peak 50.  complete opposite from Pocatello 50 last weekend (see previous post).  it must have been in the 80s, and we haven't had that many warm days yet this spring, so it felt a little hotter.  i drank 4 liters of nuun water over the 25 miles of the course that i ran.  (that's a gallon.)  i tucked my shirt up into my bra and burned my belly button.  it took us 7 1/2 hours to cover a difficult 25 miles in the Wasatch mountains on a hot day:  that's between 3 and 4 miles per hour.  (the men's winner, fyi, did 6 miles per hour for a blistering finish of 8 hours 5 minutes.)  elevation gain/loss for the day was about 10,000 ft for 50 miles (of which i did about half).  Cheryl's finish time was 13:38 for 50 miles.  50 minutes faster than her posted time from 2008.  not too shabby.

it was a great day in the beautiful mountains with good friends.  it was a night and day difference weather-wise between the Squaw Peak race and Pocatello, but really, i can't complain one bit.