Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's not a cliche to call the Wind Rivers magical

I had been promising to get up to the Wind Rivers for a backpacking trip for several years.  When I say promising, I mean to myself and to my dogs.  And before you call me a "crazy dog-lady", I will be the first to admit to you that yes, I probably am a crazy dog-lady.  I love my dogs.  And I had been asking them, "Do you want to go to the Wind Rivers?  Do you want to go backpacking?" To which they would respond, no words necessary, with wagging tails, sparkling eyes, and smiling thoughtful panting, that yes, they were game for a trip.

The last trip I went on to the Winds was gorgeous and was four years ago (August, 2009).  It's hard for me to believe that it's been that long already since I was there.  There is something very special about the range.  It's almost indescribable, the draw that this range has once you have been there.  People whom I know who have spent time in the Winds know exactly what I am talking about when I say that  it is no exaggeration, nor is it a cliche, to say that this is truly a magical place.

Unfortunately, halfway through the work day at the clinic on Monday I came down with a nasty sore throat.  I saw two patients with head colds on Monday and both of them complained of it starting out with a sore throat, so I am certain that I caught a virus from one of them.  One of the hazards of the job, and a total bummer given my plans for the week.

I tried to burn the sore throat out with copious amounts of hot tea and soup and was quite successful, except for the fact that the virus decided to then move into my sinuses and produce copious amounts of clear snot.  Major bummer.  I also was feeling quite wiped-out energy-wise, and had a bunch of errands to do that no responsible adult could avoid, so my Tuesday of imposed rest before my trip turned out to contain much less rest than I had intended.

I woke up Wednesday morning, packed and ready to go, except that my body wanted to stay in bed.  Those happy, wagging, smiling doggie faces eventually won out and convinced me to get out of bed, take some Sudafed and Ibuprofen, and toughen the heck up.  So by noon we were on the road to Pinedale, Wyoming and by 5pm we were cooking dinner in the parking lot of the trailhead, loading up with kibble, and hitting the trail.

We hiked just an hour and a half in, and camped at Miller Lake.  Of all the beautiful places in the Winds, this was not one of them.  Forests of beetle-kill trees surrounded the lake, but I was happy to have a flat camping spot to set up the tent and rest my weary head.

I don't know why I was surprised when at about 11pm I awoke to flashes of lightening and rumbling thunder.  The Wind River Range is known for its frequent thundershowers.  Indeed, the last time I visited in 2009, it snowed on us (in August) and was quite cold and miserable.  I counted the thunderstorms this first night out, and they passed through with the accuracy of a Swiss watch, precisely on the half-hour with a half-hour breaks in between.  I must have counted at least 6 showers passing through although I think I was finally able to doze off for a bit of rest somewhere around 4am.

Something else that kept me awake was the constant dripping of rain through my leaky rainfly covering my 18-year old tent which had finally given out.  I would spend the rest of the trip (with each drip of rain that hit me in the face) reminiscing about all of the trips I have done with this amazing little tent over the years. Needless to say, between being hopped-up on Sudafed for the head cold, camping at 10,500ft of elevation, and the thundershowers all night long, I did not get a whole lot of sleep.

Next morning the storm had cleared, and I made a quick cup of black coffee and ate a Larabar and some dried apples (I'm not a real breakfast person and while camping I think "making breakfast" really only delays a good, early start on the day).  Packing up my gear, I was not surprised that my pack had gained several pounds of "water weight".  I decided to hike through Sweeney Lakes, although it would add a mile or so on the day, because I had wanted to check them out after seeing them on the map.  Not a mile down the trail and hiking through a boggy area, I did a quick head count and realized one of the dogs was missing.  After several calls, I heard some splashing in the bog, and realized that Vernon, not as accustomed to traveling with a dog pack, was trapped in a bog and could not pull himself up over the over-hanging brush.  He was panicking, and thrashing.  I believe he thought the dog pack was trying to pull him under, and he was not used to the added weight on his back, although only a few pounds.  I could see he was scared and I quickly dropped my pack and ran over to the bog.

I tried to convince him to change his game-plan and come over to my side of the bog and I would pull him out.  I tried a coaxing-soothing tone of voice, then got more demanding, and finally pleading and he simply kept thrashing and panicking, all the while thinking that he was going to get pulled underwater and drown.  My only choice (and it was quite instinctual) was to jump into the bog and help him.  So I did.  Little did I know that the mud was going to try and pull my shoe off (thankfully I did not panic and I slowly eased my foot out of the mud) or that the water was going to be chest-deep.  Woo Hoo!  What a way to start the morning, standing chest-deep in the cold water!

I successfully pushed Vernon out of the water and pulled myself up (shoes intact) and looked at Vernon, calling him a silly dog.  He looked back at me and wagged his tail and genuinely looked quite embarrassed about the whole thing.

We proceded on our way...

Passed Sweeney Lakes that were quite delightful and I would highly recommend them as a camp spot to anyone going that direction in the future (and a note to self).  We stopped at an overlook of the 13,000ft peaks and took some group photos with the camera on self-timer setting.

It would probably be too much for me to write about our entire trip in the amount of detail that I have just used for the high-mountain dog-bog rescue.  Suffice it to say that I will bring it down to the top three high and low points of the trip, and will leave it to you do decide which group is which.

Group A:

1) Meeting up on two separate instances with two different groups who were thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (two guys in their late-twenties/early thirties, and a guy and woman who were in their late-thirties/early forties).  Upon light pressure for information, one group had started in Glacier National Park (in Montana) and were planning on going "all the way to Mexico".  I suspect the other group was doing the same.  Both groups took time to hitch rides in to Pinedale to re-supply and have a day of rest.  They took time out of their 25-mile days to chat with me and pet the dogs.

2)  As the dogs were swimming in Senaca Lake and imbibing in some quick liquid refreshment, a clattering of horse-hooves could be heard coming down the trail.  Never in my life have I witnessed a pack-train move so quickly, and I was afraid on the narrow trail that we were going to be mowed-over. After letting the train pass and reconnecting with the pack train in a larger meadow area, I learned that the 62- and 67- year old riders were on vacation with their horses and mules all the way from Colorado, because they really "just like the Wind River Range".  Amazing.

3)  On the last day of the trip, meeting up with a half-dozen septuagenarians (that's right:  they were in their 70s, and one guy was actually in his 80s) on a week-long backpacking trip.  They were from the East Coast, and one of them had been to the Winds each year for the past 20 years.

Group B:

1)  Realizing that my 18-year old Sierra Designs tent, the one I got after my Alaska NOLS trip, would likely need to be retired after it couldn't keep up with the pounding rain showers produced by the Wind Rivers climate, resulting in three nights of very little sleep and resorting to covering my face with my waterproof map at night.

2)  Waking up (on night number three) at 4am to the "hurk-hurk" sound of one of the dogs beginning to puke up what turned out to be the largest grass-bezoar I have ever seen in my life (and I've seen a few).   Don't worry, I did not take a picture.  I was unsuccessful in getting the tent unzipped to get her out the door, but was able to keep her from puking on my sleeping bag.  Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice my one handkerchief that I had on the trip for blowing my drippy nose and was relegated to farmer-blowing the rest of the trip.

3)  Not figuring out until the third night that when the Backpacker's Pantry meal says "mix well before allowing to sit for a full 15 minutes" that they really mean it, otherwise you will end up with crunchy bits of pasta and clumps of sauce in the bottom of the packet.  Eating on solo-backpacking trips always seems like such a chore to me and I always tend to eat much better when I am on a group trip.  The dogs were more than willing to eat my leftovers, however.

With that, I will simply say that my trip, at times, seemed more like a 4-day long dog walk in a quest for hunting the elusive, yet noisy, Wind Rivers red squirrel.  I'm entirely Ok with that and quite pleased with myself that I was able to completely render useless three very energetic canines.  Some of the photos turned out to be "Christmas-card worthy" and that speaks to the beauty of the mountains and the happiness that was had by all.  I consider myself so lucky to have been accompanied by what might quite possibly be the most delightful group of backpacking partners I have ever had the pleasure of sharing company (and tent space) with.  Even if they do eat horse-droppings and pass nostril-burning gas at night.

First night in the tent ~

Vernon overlooks 13,000ft peaks
after an embarrassing rescue out of the bog

Group shot ~ beginning of the trip

Franklin taking advantage of a
lunch-time nap opportunity

Happy tails before the pack-train hit

A refreshing dip in Senaca Lake

Left-center is the pack train

Artemis, very tired after day 2

Franklin and Vernon,
resting in camp after day 2

Artemis, fully rested, hunting
squirrels before dinner

Vernon is really never too tired
to hunt for squirrels

Morning of day 3, Franklin
scouting Lester Pass

Vernon was the first to reach Lester Pass

Nearing Lester Pass, and looking
North to the 13,000ft peaks of upper
Titcomb Basin, the gem of the Wind Rivers Range

Group shot at Lester Pass, 11,560ft elevation

Artemis comes back to the pass to see
what's taking me so long:  I was just enjoying
the beautiful view!

Taking in the view to the South of Lester Pass

Descent through Pole Creek Lakes

Chain lakes through Pole Creek

Tired dogs in camp, after day 3

Morning glories, Mary's Lake
on day 4

Vernon sporting his sporty-sport
coat at Mary's Lake

Eklund Lake on the hike out, day 4

Vernon surveys his domain at
Photographer's Point

Group shot ~ end of trip.  We bonded.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Even when my mind is unwilling, my legs will carry me ~

I was having some trouble last week motivating to drive to Afton, Wyoming for a race that I had planned on running.  I was putting quite a bit of pressure on myself, even though I knew I would run it slower than I did 4 years ago which was the last time I was there.  I had been planning on getting up to Afton each and every year because it's such a great event, but my mind was just telling me that it was, again, too much trouble to drive 3 hours north and that the race atmosphere would be just too nerve-racking for me.  I just wasn't in the mood and was looking for excuses not to go.

I motivated anyway, somehow.  Friday morning, I dropped the dogs off at the kennel and nearly cried about it, because they are just such good companions and all I really wanted to do was pack them up with my backpacking gear and head out into the mountains with them, alone, for a few days.  I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a big, social event (the race has doubled in size since the last time I was there in 2010).

I drove up I-84 through South Ogden Canyon, along the Weber River.  It was a really nice drive, and I started to relax a bit.  Then, a moment of panic ~ I had forgotten my headphones to listen to my music during the race.  Dang it!  You don't even want to know how many sets of headphones that I have, because this was not the first time I had done this.  I resolved to stop at the Flying J gas station in Evanston because they have a bit of a store inside and I was pretty sure I could get a set of cheap headphones at it.  I usually stop at the Maverick at the next exit, and had quite a bit of internal debate on which gas station to actually stop at (I know ~ not a big deal, but I really just wanted to get to Afton and relax) but I ended up going to the Flying J.

I got out of my car and there, across the parking lot was my friend Gina from work sipping on a Diet Coke next to her car.  No way!  I ran across the parking lot and hugged her ~ like a swarm of bees attacking her ~ she had no idea who this crazy woman was running towards her.  She and her family were headed up to a friend's cabin at Bear Lake for the weekend.  We exchanged phone numbers and she invited me to come to the cabin after my race on Saturday.

I got up to Afton, and it was too early to check in so I drove up and down Main Street a couple of times, stopped in the ranger station and got a good map of the area and took a nap for 30 minutes in the elementary school parking lot.  When I got back to Gardner's Country Village (gas station, burger joint, U-Haul rental, and motel all-in-one), I was a bit disappointed with the general shabbiness of my room, but was thankful to have a place to lay my head for the night.  The Lincoln County Fair was the same weekend, and the motels were all sold out.   I took a bit of a nap and listened to the road graders backing up on the highway outside my window (it is road construction season in Wyoming, after all).

When I woke up, it was almost time to go to the pre-race meeting, so I drove to the Red Baron burger drive-in (it was AMAZING!) and then to the park in town.  Meeting up with friends who were also running the race was good and set my mind somewhat at ease, making me less apprehensive about the next day.  I got my sweet rust-orange hoodie and listened to Ty Draney's pre-race instructions, hooked up a ride to the start with my friend Scott Mason and his wife Julie, so I wouldn't have to worry about parking in the morning, and headed back to the motel.

I took some photos of the sunset in Afton before going to bed.  It was amazing.  It set my mind at ease.

4:15am came way too quickly, but I realized I had slept really well through the night.  I packed up my stuff and put it in the car, and the Masons came and got me, as planned, at 4:45am and we headed up Cottonwood Canyon to the start.

Still apprehensive and not knowing that I really wanted to race, I walked back and forth along the dirt road near the start and 6am was soon upon us.  I wore my puffy coat until the very last minute until Julie took it from me.

Running up the dirt road at the start, I realized that even though my head wasn't in the game, my legs and body felt pretty good.  Getting to the top of the first climb, "Balls", at mile 3.5, some kids were ringing cowbells and cheering us on.  It was a very welcome sound.  Cruising along above Corral Creek, I had a bit of nausea building, so I wasted no time in taking a bit of anti-nausea medication.  I had learned my lesson at Bighorn that if I wait to take my nausea medication, I will only be nauseated for a longer amount of time (and miserable) and the feeling is not going to go away on its own.  It's best to just nip it in the bud.

I ended up running this section with another woman from Utah, Debbie, and we had a great time.  I typically keep my head down and my mouth shut and am a bit anti-social during the early stages of a race, but her personality was so bubbly and positive, I decided to stick together with her for a bit.  I told her I wasn't much of a morning person, and she definitely brightened my mood.

Looking around me during the race, I remembered why I enjoyed it so much in 2010 when I last ran it. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous.  There were a couple of tense moments getting towards the turn around with two-way traffic on the out-and-back course, but everything actually went quite smoothly.  I got to see a lot of my faster friends because of the out-and-back layout, and said hi to Luke Nelson at the spot where I predicted seeing him, gave him a quick pat on the back as he was leading the race (by a lot... ) and would likely win for his 6th year in a row.  The 25k race also starts where the 50k race turns around, so that was another 100 people who came up the hill "against the grain" so to speak.

As I ran the 8 miles down Swift Creek Drainage, I couldn't help but think that I was digging myself into quite a hole, as I would have to turn around and come right back out, grinding back up the climb to Corral Creek.  The aid station crews along the way were friendly and helpful, and no one seemed upset that this was a "cupless" race ~ they provided cans of soda and I just poured half a can at a time into my water bottle.  We don't need no stinking cups!  And the amount of trash that was cut out as a result must have been immense.

I paired up with another runner as we were leaving the aid station and we both joked a little about the amount of climbing that we would have to do to get back up to Corral Creek (about 8 miles and 3,000 ft up).  To tell you the truth, my brain left me on that climb out of Swift Creek, and the strength in my legs carried me.  I was not suffering as I passed nearly a dozen people on that climb.  Some were from the 50k race that I was doing, and some were from the 25k race.  I couldn't believe how I was picking them off going up that hill.  I filled my bottle at the first aid station up the hill with more Mtn Dew and water with Nuun (electrolyte tablet) and left two 25-year old guys sitting on a log who had arrived there before me.  As the race went on, I talked with more and more people, chatting with other racers as I passed them and also joking with the people at the aid-stations and thanking them for coming out to support us.  My mind was quickly changing as the day went on.

The mountain peaks, the wildflowers, the blue skies with big, white, puffy clouds all powered me uphill.  Before I knew it, I was at the top at the 23-mile mark.  I took a photo of myself at the top, and was so surprised at how good I felt.  My mind had been so unwilling to come up here to this race but my legs were carrying me.

I ran through by the Corral Creek Lake aid station, stopping quickly to fill my water bottle again, and left three other racers there who had arrived before me.  I ran with one woman for a while, but she soon faded on the descent into Corral Creek drainage and I didn't see her again until after the race.

I got to the third aid station, 5 miles from the finish, and met up with some of the kids from Ty Draney's cross country team (he is the race director and the high school cross country coach) and drew energy from their youthful smiles.  Honestly, I was feeling so good, I didn't want the day to end.  I was sad that I only had 5 miles to go and wished that I could run 100 miles.  The strength in my body and legs had changed my attitude of indifference into invincibility.

I cruised up the last climb of a 500 feet in a half-mile and reveled at the top.  It was only 3 and a half miles down to the finish line ~ 3+ miles and 2,500 feet down.  I found myself able to run some of the slight uphills that I had not been able to run 4 years before in those last few miles.  As I ran through the campground to the finish line, I heard my friends who had finished before me cheering my name.  I found my finish "kick" and ran 7:30 min-mi pace the last 100 meters to the line.  Ty and Luke were there greeting finishers with wide smiles and hugs.

I hung out with Luke and his wife Tanae for quite a while (and Pedro, the black lab) and another racer named Chris whom I met on that dreaded dirt-road finish at Bighorn, with a group of his friends.  I drank a half a PBR that Aric gave me as Debbie and I sat in lawn chairs in the middle of the dirt road, cheering on late-finishers.  Most of the HUMR (Happy Utah Mountain Runners) group were there and it was such a laid-back, fun atmosphere that I couldn't have imagined a better day.

My mind was unwilling to start the race, but my legs carried me to a strong finish at the El Vaquero Loco 50k ~ my legs carried me, and eventually changed my mind.

Sunset in Afton, Wyoming
the night before the race ~

The first climb up to "Balls" ~

Morning Glory in the Salt River Range ~

Top of Corral Creek drainage ~

View from the top towards the Swift Creek drainage ~

Debbie caught this photo of me
as we ran through Corral Creek
in the morning ~

Debbie Farka at Corral Creek Lake ~

Over the edge into Swift Creek drainage ~

Debbie Farka about to head into Swift Creek drainage ~

Top of Swift Creek ~

9 miles in and changing my mind ~ the day
was about to move from good to fabulous ~

The beautiful "slog" 8 miles up and out of Swift Creek ~

Top of Swift Creek (coming back out) ~
23 miles and feeling great ~

Corral Creek Lake, afternoon view ~

Beautiful view of Corral Creek peaks ~

Debbie and me chillin' at the finish area ~

Saturday, August 3, 2013

100-mile Finish Line ~

Wildflowers in Michigan City
with Mt Superior ~
I've been thinking lately about how tired I've been.  I mean, I know I've been doing a lot of miles, but really not that many compared to a lot of people who run ultras.  I only really run about 50 miles a week at the most.  I started Optygen HP supplement a little over a month ago, and I don't know that it is really helping.  It's supposed to help your body produce more ATP and recover more quickly, so maybe it's working and I would be even more tired without it.  I ran Bighorn 100 in June and did a 100-miles in 5 days challenge on my own a couple of weeks ago, just for the heck of it.

Sol-Bright Trail ~
I'm about 6 days into my "no dairy" week.  Some people think that dairy causes more fatigue.  I think I just miss dairy.  My coffee just doesn't taste as good in the morning with soy or coconut milk added.  And no, I'm not going to try almond milk.  I hate it.  So next week it's going to be back to good ol' moo juice.  Yum.

My sleep hasn't been as good for the past couple of weeks, which is probably the real culprit of my fatigue.  I'm still getting about 8 hours (or more) of sleep per night, but I've been reading these LAPD cop crime novels, and I really just can't put them down.  I go to bed at 9:30, but before I know it, it's 11:30 and I'm still wide awake and reading, wondering what Harry Bosch is going to do next to solve the case or who is going to get in his way.  It's a healthy addiction.  Problem is, it hits 11pm and I want a snack, so I usually turn to Nutella on toast.  Which has a small amount of dairy in it, so I guess I haven't been completely dairy-free this week.  Oh well.
Mount Millicent overlooks Lake Martha ~

Then yesterday I was actually working (I've had a limited schedule this month because it's Summer Semester, and the clinic is not as busy.  Since I'm the low man on the totem pole, I'm the first provider to drop off the schedule when things are not busy) and I was counseling a patient.  We started talking about how long it would be before he got his fitness back after an unexpected orthopedic surgery that he was going to have to have.  It could be close to a year.  He started to get very depressed and got tears in his eyes.

Wildflowers at Catherine's Pass
I spoke from experience and told him that in all honesty, surgery sucks, but it's temporary.  Here I am, 6 years after my ACL reconstruction, and I've run three 100-mile races.  I started thinking more about it:  when I was "young and fit", I couldn't finish a 100-mile race.  I DNF'd from Wasatch a couple of times, probably because I went out too fast and put too much pressure on myself.  Now that I've got the "experience of age" (yeah, I'm old), I can really draw from "what pain really is" and how much I can tolerate and not give up.  I can see something through to the finish line and endure a lot of adversity along the way.

Ann overlooks Devil's Castle ~
I know my patient is in shock over what has happened to him.  I hope that he can remember my words as he is dealing with his situation over the next few months.  His appointment ran over into my lunch hour yesterday and I could tell he didn't want to leave and honestly, I didn't want to be one of those providers who is like, "Shit happens, tough luck fella.  Go see the surgeon and good luck with your surgery.  See ya.  I gotta eat my lunch."  I wanted to make sure he had his questions answered and knew that it was going to be ok in time so I stayed and talked with him.  I hope he becomes a stronger athlete because of his situation like I feel that I have.  I'm not the fastest one out there, but hell, at least I'm getting to the finish line like I never did before.