Tag Archives: Hiking

Dodging Rattlesnakes

This morning I headed to the Supe’s to visit an old dear friend of mine, Dutchman Trail. I hadn’t run this trail in a long time, and my plan for today was a simple, easy-paced long ONB.

The run started out pretty great. At dawn, it was overcast and looked like rain. Since I wasn’t sure if I’d get poured on or not, I opted to leave my phone since I didn’t have a way to keep it dry. Of all the runs to leave my phone, this was not it.

I slipped along this familiar trail, memories of friends and adventures gone by trailing through my mind. I was happy when I saw water flowing in the early washes- this meant that I’d have plenty to drink on this run (I’d brought my Sawyer Mini- if you don’t have one, get one, they’re a life saver, literally). Approaching the water, tiny toads the size of my fingertip threw their bitty little hoppy bodies out of my way. There were hundreds of them! I did my best not to step on them.

Climbing the saddle I looked out over the valley below and Weaver’s Needle ahead of me as the sun pushed its fingers through the clouds. There are no words. None. I started composing poems in my head.

I began bombing the downhill, my fave, and then…. It began. “It?” you may ask. Yes, “It”. Snakey, snakey, not so shakey. Rattlesnake number 1 (snake #12 of 2017), laying in a snakey puddle in the trail. I did my usual instant halt and back up a few steps, plus a little gaspy screamy thing, a good three feet shy of a dirt-brown rattlesnake. Usually when I’m this close they get pissy and rattle. This guy just laid there, tongue flicking. I weighed my options, jump over or go around. Everything in me panics at the thought of jumping over. Apparently the rattlesnake I don’t know (in the bushes) is better than the one I do. This is my logic, just go with it. Around it is. I made my way through a prickly pear mess, glanced back and the little pile of death in the trail, and ran on.

Thoughts that were running through my head rambled into each other:

              “Well, I’m glad that’s out of the way. I’ve seen my rattlesnake of the run, that should be it. Obviously there COULD be another snake on the trail, but that’s unlikely. You really never see the snakes, so one it is. Here’s my intersection, I’m excited to run this direction, it’s been awhile. Oo, this is a fun little hill. I can run this. I wish I’d brought my phone to take a picture of…. OH MY GOD!!!!”

I had placed my foot within tooth-tickling (as in his tooths tickling my ankle) distance of rattlesnake number 2 of the run, snake #13 of 2017. My panicked dance away from it brought me a few feet up a hill. I peeked back at this dark brown pancake with fangs. It was just laying there too, flicky-tongue, and that was it. It should have been pissed off, but it wasn’t. I worked on calming down as I now walked up the trail and thanked God over and over again for somehow keeping me from getting bitten.

My nerves were a little on edge, but two rattlesnakes in one run? Obviously I was done now. No way I’d see another one. Even so, I was super on edge. I’d come to a pretty solid rocky hill and was walking. I was thinking that both of the locations of the snakes I’d seen were not too far from washes, so that made sense. I was now on a hill, completely different terrain, plus I’d already met my snake quota for the day, obviously I wouldn’t see…. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Guess what I saw? Did you guess a rattlesnake? If you did, you would be correct. Rattler #3 of the run, and snake #14 for 2017. Another dirt-brown dude, again, all puddley. I eyed a way around and moved on.

I’m not sure what my thoughts consisted of at this point. Surely I was done with the snakes? I walked quite a bit, enjoying old memories of the trail and noticing how different it was in some places compared to the last time I was out. I came across one of many of the currently flowing (usually bone dry) streams and decided it was a good time to refill my water. I seriously love my Sawyer Mini. This was a pretty nicely flowing stream, but even so it can house Giardia or other swimmy-swammy things I don’t want in my guts. But with my Sawyer, even a stagnant cow-shithole puddle becomes delicious, precious water, say thank-ya.

Other things of note on my way out were circumnavigating a giant downed jumping cholla, (seriously, no going over that thing) and kitty tracks. I stared at the latter for quite a while thinking it was most likely they were dog. But they had been left in mud and were super clear, with not a hint of no claw marks, at all. Plus, they had that distinctive double-lobed heel pad, dogs are singular. There were also bobcat tracks right there too. These were super tiny and cute in comparison to the lion tracks which were about the size of my fist.

I ran out to 8.5 miles and decided to call it. I was having a great time now and there was plenty of water, but I had been so slow on the way out and the day was waxing on. Time to go.

As I turned around, all I could think of was the snakes on the way back. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across hikers warning me of a snake on the trail, just ahead, or around the corner, or whatever distance implying that it’s super close. It’s never there. EVER. It has always moved on. Nevertheless, because none of these snakes had batted a rattle at me on the way out, I thought it was possible they might still be there. The temperature on the way out was about 80° and now it was about 86°, so I figured it was likely they’d moved, but maybe not.

I stopped at the same creek and refilled my water again. I was drinking a significant amount of water, so I was very thankful for the creeks. The day was still overcast and felt cool, but without water I would have been in trouble.

As I was thinking this and running up a little blip, I screeched at snake #4 (2017 #15) however this was a garter snake, thankfully. It was a really pretty glossy black with yellowish stripes, but I wasn’t in a mood to care about how pretty it was at that moment. It slithered off very quickly, which I took as a reassuring sign that I wouldn’t see my rattlers on the way back out. If the garter snakes are moving fast, rattlers should be moving off too.

Before the big descent towards Peralta Canyon Trail, I took a quick little side trail and saw a bunch of sphinx moth caterpillars (interestingly, in the entire 17 miles, I only saw them on this little side jaunt). I also found an incredible camping spot (nudge-nudge Lucy’s runner).

I was on high alert as I began my descent, watching for the spot where I’d seen the snake. I came to the spot where I was pretty sure it had been and it was nowhere to be seen! Hallelujah! Sweet! Time to move! I began to run and about 15 feet later and just about stepped on the mother. I’d misjudged the location and the damn snake hadn’t budged an inch. Heart in my throat, again thanking God for the lack of two new holes in my ankle, walked down the hill, eyeing everything closely.

There were two hikers on the trail who scared the crap out of me when they said hello. I’d been watching for snakes so hard I hadn’t seen them until I was about on top of them. I told them about the snake up around the corner, that it was there that morning and still there now. They had their dog with them and thanked me. I assumed they’d come in from First Water Trailhead, but they’d actually come in from Peralta Trailhead, which I didn’t figure out until a few minutes later.

Leaving the hikers after learning they hadn’t seen any snakes, I started running fairly quickly. They’d just been through here, right? They hadn’t seen any snakes. I was maybe 5 minutes out from them and almost stepped on yet another rattlesnake (snake #5, rattler #4, 2017 #16). On the other side of it I turned around and yelled at it, “You weren’t here this morning! Argh!” This one was a light grey. Again, just a snakey puddle of venomous death, with not a care in its glistening eyes.

I was a mess. I wanted to start crying (I didn’t). I felt like I was running a gauntlet. I have this weird fear of small animals biting my ankles (shut up, I’m working on it), it’s SO MUCH WORSE when that animal is also venomous and can kill you.

Still reeling from this close encounter, I walked, slowly, looking closely at the trail and every step. Within half a mile of Mr. Grey Snake a bush off the side of the trail made the distinctive whirring sound, letting me know there was a rattlesnake sitting under its cover. I looked in the bush as I passed by, saw the completely pissed off snake (snake #6, rattler #5, 2017 #17), which I was in no danger of stepping on or harming in any way, and kept going. Damn gauntlet. Is PTSD from close encounters with snakes a thing?

Somewhere through here I saw a Coachwhip snake (snake #7, 2017 #18). These guys are super cool, they are crazy fast, and while most snakes follow the contours of the ground they’re crossing, this guy was like a bullet, shooting across rocks and gaps in a straight line. However, I, of course, was not pleased to see yet another snake.

The big dark brown snake was gone as I came back through. I ran some on the wider trails, but I was such a nervous mess I wasn’t running much. I wanted to be home and unbitten. I wanted the run to be done.

I hiked until I passed the location of the first snake I’d seen that day (also gone), then I started running more. I was exhausted. I’d come within inches of three different rattle snakes, and the fear had wiped me out. I did my best to keep running, keeping my eyes peeled for more snakes, but I hadn’t seen any through this early section on the way out, and I didn’t see any now either. Still, every variegated roundish object would catch my eye until my conscious mind calmed my instinctual mind down.

I finished my run and I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to finish a run, not even an ultra when my body is not really working anymore and all I want to do is cry and sleep.

Looking back at this run, I assume the recent rains and cooler night temperatures are why the snakes were out on the trail. I don’t know this, but it seems logical to me that they might be out trying to gather as much heat from the exposed trail as they can. I have run thousands of miles through the desert and have never seen or heard of anything like this. I would not have thought it possible. Five rattlesnakes in one run? No. This is more than I’ve seen all summer (I think my rattlesnake sightings for the year before today were 3?) I feel like God must have been watching over me. It makes NO sense to me that I would nearly step on so many rattlers and none of them moved at all. When it’s cold out this makes sense, but like I said, it was about 80°.  Every snake on the trail just laid there. The only one that acted normal was the one in the bush, which I was nowhere near.

So that was my adventure today. I foresee bad dreams a-risin’. All of this therapy writing aside, I have yet to regret an adventure, this one included. This adventure scared the living shit out of me, and yet, it was so incredible and I’m so thankful I was able to do it and come away unscathed (physically at least???). Life, it’s beautiful. Live it.

 

 

 

 

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Silverton 1000

             On a whim I took a weekend jaunt back up to Silverton, CO, and jumped in on the Silverton 1000 race. I couldn’t help myself, I needed to be back in those mountains. Grabbing the kids out of school early on Friday, we made the trek, driving along the Million Dollar Highway in the dark. I’d heard about the deer issue along that road and we were able to count 20. Who knows how many were just out of our line of sight. I was as freaked out driving that as I get about rattlesnakes in the summer. Lovely. Anyway, it was fine and we arrived in Silverton around 11:30pm. Totally wiped, I somehow managed to set up the tent that Aravaipa gave me, get all our crap into the tent and grab a few hours of chilly sleep.

              The Silverton 1000 is on a one mile loop on the outskirts of Silverton. Taking place at 9,318 feet (Silverton’s elevation), it features 250 feet of gain per mile. There are a number of different events in this one race- being woefully untrained, I was just there to toss in 6 hours. Many people were doing multi-day efforts. They were seriously incredible to watch!

              I picked up my bib and was all set for the 9:00am start (LOVE the late start!). My goal was to get in as many miles as I could by 3:00pm. I wanted at least 20 and was hoping for around 24, but whatever. This was to be fun!

              I enjoy races that are of an hour format like this was. They have a much more relaxed feel to them. I hiked the ups and ran all the downs and flats – lap after lap. Having the aid station available to me every mile made it nice because I didn’t need to carry any water or food. Plus, there were wild raspberries on the trail! There were two laps where I purposely walked the entire thing in order to get some rest, and I picked lots of berries on the way. Doing laps like this is also fun because you get to see everyone regularly and chat about how they’re doing and where they’re at.

               As I ran the day away, my kids played in the woods and made some new local friends! Forts and dams and mountains, oh my! It was sad that it was only for the day, but we plan on reconnecting whenever either of us is in the other’s vicinity. It really made my heart happy for my kids to get to experience the woods like that. I also did a couple of laps with each of them which was fun!

              The first half of the race I held onto my 4 mile an hour “big” goal pace just fine, but my complete lack of training and sleep started to catch up with me and I had to slow down on the second half. Who knew a measly 250 feet of gain per mile would start to feel exhausting? I finished up my 6 hours with 22 miles, which I was happy with!

              There were 4 of us who ran the 6 hour event, and I got 1st girl, 2nd overall! Yay!

              After the run, I walked down to Avalanche Brewing for some dinner and just enjoyed the feeling of my favorite town. Tourists were coming and going, and I wandered slowly and relaxed. The kids and I then went to bed early to the sounds of Jamil making a new Mountain Outpost.

              Because our first night was a little chilly, we borrowed some extra sleeping bags. It turned out that it was really good we did so. I actually got all stupid hot and sweaty during the night and was removing layers, but in the morning, there was frost all over! It would’ve been a miserable night without those extra bags. I did my best taking down and packing up my tent. It kind of looked like a toddler on crack packed it (sorry about that Dave). We reloaded the car and were on the road back home on time – no problem!

              MY TAKEAWAY: Silverton is incredible, but I think you already know this. We drove for around 9 hours and arrived late Friday night, then left Sunday morning to drive another 9 hours back home. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Not even a question. Would I do it again? YES. I would do it just for Silverton. Throw in the Silverton 1000 to boot and you’ve got yourself the makings of the best whirlwind party weekend EVER. EVERYBODY can come up for the race. It’s a one mile loop! Kids can run amuck in the woods! Even people who don’t run can come and hang and hike a loop when they feel like it (if they feel like it) and see everybody and have a party. Where the 1000 takes place is a great place for camping and people can camp all over. Party all along the trail! Not into camping? Silverton is small and everything is within walking distance, including great hotels. Next year peeps! Let’s make this happen!

*Featured image photo credit of the 6 hour finishers belongs to Dave James.

Kendall Mountain Run – Silverton, CO

Silverton Colorado, my dear one. How can a fairy tale upon which I’ve trespassed only once, and briefly at that, become my heart? How did that happen? It has been two weeks since I visited nirvana, and I must return.

Silverton is a tiny old mining town in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The train from Durango comes in during the summer days bearing loads of tourists who shop in the shops, eat the local food, and take in the local history. At night, after the tourists have left the town is very quiet and you are left with looming mountains and a bright open sky.

THE VACATION PART

We decided on a weeklong family vacation to Silverton, culminating in mom (that would be me) doing the Kendall Mountain 12 Mile Run. This run begins in downtown Silverton at 9,318 feet, goes to the top of Kendall Mountain at 13,066 feet, and then back down into town. I was nervous about the altitude, but figured I’d have an idea of my adaptability in a week.

After a long tiring drive into town, we arrived at the Triangle Motel which was our basecamp for the week. We’d paid for a super basic room with no kitchen or microwave or anything, and they upgraded us to a suite for free! It was clean and comfortable and we loved it. We all crashed hard that night.

On our first day we hiked to Ice Lakes. I have never seen lakes this color of turquoise! The mountains were blanketed in wildflowers. There were streams flowing everywhere. The hike is uphill all the way to the lake, but it was so much fun! While I didn’t struggle with the altitude (amazing since I always do) our son was getting over a pretty bad chest cold and really had a hard time. So by the time we made it up to the lake, the afternoon storms were rolling in and it was time to get off the mountain.

After finishing the hike we drove the Million Dollar Highway into the neighboring town of Ouray where we walked on the main street just a bit. I’m afraid the Ice Lakes hike killed our son though, so exploring Ouray was short and we just ate and went back to the motel. The mining history visible on this road was incredible and all I wanted to do was stop and explore it all.

The next day I went and explored a tiny bit of the Colorado Trail from Little Molas Lake. From this campground, I headed east on the trail, quickly crossing over Highway 550 and entering a meadow where I had views of Molas Lake and all the surrounding mountains. I just wanted a short run on this day, so after getting to an incredible water fall at about 2.5 miles out, I turned around, stopping to watch deer in the meadow on my way. Turning around was difficult with all of that trail stretching out ahead of me!

After getting back and showering, we visited the Silverton Museum located in the old jail. Again with the mining history- it’s amazing. I don’t enjoy history in general; I REALLY don’t care about all the dates of who did what to who. But this was personal. This wasn’t dates. Walking through this old jail I could imagine the people who’d been here before and their lives. Learning about the bar brawls, the hard mining life, and the houses of ill repute, I could see these young men’s lives. In the black and whites on the walls I could see their faces. Their lives, their stories, were real.

I think it was that night that the real personality of Silverton hit home. We went out to the Rum Bar where my friend Erica was working for the summer and where we found out that another friend of mine, Christian, was in town for the race too. We had game night and had a great time meeting people! It’s all about the people, always the people.

The next day (I think) I got up early and ran with Christian up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine and then a little way out the Rainbow Trail which is a part of the Hardrock 100 course. So fun!

Later, my family and I visited the Old Hundred Mine located just outside of Silverton, for a tour. Again, incredible. The kids had fun “panning” for gold while we waited for our tour to begin. It was drippy and cold in the mine. Our tour guide, who’d been a miner himself, made the lives of the miners real to us once again as he described the evolution of hardrock mining. I was seriously wowed by the ingenuity and feats of engineering that go into something like that.

That night (I think? It all begins to run together at some point) we went out to Avalanche Brewing for dinner and to say hi to Kelly (also in town for the summer) and then to the Rum Bar. We again had an incredible time hanging out with Erica and Christian and met a new awesome friend Jesse.

The next day we rented a Jeep and did the Alpine Loop. This 60+ mile, four-wheel-drive loop takes you on a tour of the surrounding mountains, passing ghost towns along the way. We stopped in the ghost town of Animas Forks to wander through the old buildings. On the way up Engineer Pass we saw a huge herd of sheep and numerous tarns (small mountain lakes). We stopped at the top of Engineer and watched the incoming storms, which eventually hit us as I took over driving. I really enjoyed driving the Jeep and it drove home how badly I need a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle! In so many places the road was super narrow with a steep drop off and no barrier, but that just made it more fun! It was wild and beautiful.

THE RACE PART

Race morning came and I felt great. I walked down to the start line which was literally the middle of the main street and no actual line. The gun went off (like an actual gun) and we ran. My entire strategy was just to make it up and back. I wasn’t concerned about my time because I know how much I typically struggle at higher altitudes. So I ran the easy parts and hiked most of the uphill. The lower, easier uphills I ran okay, but that was it.

Very quickly we were in the trees, with breaks looking out over Silverton, which we were very quickly above. Soon I saw the first 11K runners coming back and I of course thought how wonderful it would be to already be on the way down and almost done. But the peak… there was no way I could be this close and not peak it.

Just past the first aid station is where the mountain opened up its glory. There was this expansive, verdant meadow with burbling streams making their way down. I expected to see hobbits and wizards and elves drinking beer and smoking Pipe-weed. I got to watch the front runners come barreling past me- all focus and speed and drive. Runners are amazing people. The best part was getting to see my friends as they made their way back down, all looking strong!

This race runs up a Jeep road, but the last little bit to the top is a loose scramble. That was probably my favorite aspect of the trail. I love scrambling. It was loose and slippery and so fun! I was excited to run back down.

I hit the top and Jubilee was there capturing the looks of “WTH!” on all of our faces, with the Rockies spread out behind us. I touched the giant cairn there at the peak and then bombed back down the scramble. By bombed I mean did a running slide the whole way.

Normally the downhill is my jam, but on this day I got side stitches and instead was managing those the whole way down, but I was okay. I was just… so… happy!

As soon as I hit the flat for the run into town I realized how much gravity had been pulling me down the mountain. My legs were super flat. I rounded a corner and my husband was there taking pictures- he’d volunteered for the race. Our kids were nearby playing in the river. That was so nice! They followed me as I ran into the finish line.

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Kendall Mountain in the Background

Afterwards I hung out talking to everyone about their race. Everybody did so well!

That night there was an after party at the Rum Bar which doubled as a farewell party for Erica since she would be making her way back home. We stayed a little bit late, maybe spent a little bit of money… but what an amazing night.

THE SAPPY PART

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” Henri Frederic Amiel

This quote sums up my “summer camp” in Silverton. My heart was gladdened. I’m going to cheese it up now… ready? From dear old friends from Phoenix to dear new friends made during this dream, you brought light to my journey.

*Muah!

 

 

 

Aravaipa Mesquite Canyon 50K Race Report

My excitement was through the roof on Saturday afternoon; I had just peed, and my pee was an excellent light yellow color! I was all ready to crow about this to my friends until I realized where I was: at a Luau party in a beautiful home with people who don’t particularly enjoy running. Note to self: not an appropriate environment to discuss bodily functions. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, oddly still wrestling with the desire to boast about my urination prowess. The struggle is real, folks, the struggle is real.

Why was I so exultant about my ability to pee and its color? At 7:30 that morning I toed the start line for the Mesquite Canyon 50K, the finale for the DRT Series put on by Aravaipa Running. After any long run, especially if it is also a warm run, my goal afterwards is to drink until I start peeing. If I also pee during the race and/or directly after, all the better. So, my ability to urinate at my friend’s party (some giggles here, this is funny) had me extremely proud of myself.

My main thought at the start of this race was how ready I was for a long run. More and more frequently I find myself craving this familiar, quiet, settled-in frame of mind. I was ready to go.

The race started out fast and easy along the base of the White Tank Mountains at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, before running through the first aid station (at mile 2.4) and then turning right up into the mountains. I was quite familiar with this first switch-backing climb, having completed it a couple of times before at other races. It’s steep, but I had a good power hike up and before I knew it, I was up and out.

I was quickly at the second aid station at Mesquite Canyon and again, rather than stopping I merely made sure they had my number (they were checking runners in and out of the aid station) and kept going. As I hiked up the hill from here I reflected that this was probably going to be a very slow race because I was hiking so much of it (lots of uphill).

When the grade wasn’t too steep I ran, just working on keeping moving at a steady pace. I ran for a long time with my new friend Jonathan, discussing trails and trips. Eventually we hit trail that was brand new to me and I was enthralled. We were just a little below the towers, and the views out over the valley from these mountains were stunning, not to mention that we were running on single track and the luscious desert landscape that was closer in was simply begging to be gazed upon.

I knew that sometime soon I would be coming upon the first of two gnarly hills in this race, “Goat Camp”. After swooping along comfortably for miles, I rounded a corner and the trail simply dropped into a pristine example of divine, rocky technicality. My heart soared as I picked up the pace, arms flung wide for balance, allowing my feet to fall and slide down the slope. This dance I can do, I know it well. There was no time to think, I simply ran with gravity and we were one.  

Once the hill flattened out, I could feel the fatigue in my quads from my fun. I also needed a bathroom. Like really bad. I was desperately hoping for a toilet at the Bajada aid station, but just in case, I started eyeing the wash I was running next to for likely relief locations. Thankfully there was a toilet and I didn’t need to use nature’s litter box.

13.3 miles into the race and I felt great. The day was proving comfortable. Beforehand I’d been concerned about the heat, but that was not even an issue on this day. I refilled my pack and headed back out. I now had to climb UP the magnificent hill that I’d just bombed down. I ran along easily on the lower portions which were a gentle incline and then hiked the rest. I was up quickly and gone, back towards the Mesquite Canyon aid station.

I was feeling good until I started to feel my usual beginning twinges of side stitches. Why? Every. Single. Time. So frustrating. I had to slow down periodically because they’d get really bad, but when I was able to run through them, I tried to figure out what was going on. I tried breathing out when the foot on the same side as the stitch struck the ground. That sort of helped, but then what do you do when it spreads to both sides??? So, nope. I tried tightening my abs. Nope. Relaxing my abs. Nope. Then I tried just relaxing my whole body, especially my shoulders: “Ahhhhh.” I started to feel better! These stitches have become an issue on most long runs. They tend to eventually go away after a handful of miles (usually six or so) but I’d rather not deal with them in the first place.

I was able to pick my pace back up into Mesquite Canyon aid where I refilled my pack again. I was starting to chafe so I lubed up. I also snarfed a bunch of food and reapplied sunscreen, forgetting the small of my back. Oops.

I was off again to climb the hill out of this aid station for the second time that day. But this time I would be turning away from Bajada aid and towards the final stretch of the race which included the second gnarly hill in Ford Canyon. I only had about 8 miles left and I was done.

The trail up to Ford Canyon was fun; slightly technical, single track, pretty sights. I chugged along until the trail crested, and then it was a super fun bomb down the hill into the Ford Canyon wash. The wash was, well, a wash. Nice thick sand to slog through, with no clear trail per se. But it was pretty obvious that the wash was the trail, and the black polka-dotted orange ribbons placed as course markers simply confirmed I was going the right way. At a couple of places the wash was interesting with white rocks I had to scramble over (I love scrambling). I had assumed the entire Ford Canyon was in the wash, but suddenly, the trail veered up and to the right, out of the wash. I rounded a corner and there was this huge white boulder cliff face that, if there’d been flowing water, would have been a magnificent waterfall. I was exclaiming and hooting as I ran down the Ford Canyon trail. It was all filled with big rocks and again I was hopping all over and having a blast! I rounded a corner and suddenly, there was the Ford Canyon aid station. I took a second to eat a few bites, but then was off, having only about 2 miles left to the finish.

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Coming into Ford Canyon Aid Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

I pushed these last miles and did my best not to walk. For the final mile I picked up the pace. My breathing was ragged but I knew I was almost done. I kept seeing the finish line tents in between the bushes, but I never seemed to be on the final stretch, until I was, and then I was done.

My friend Benedict was at the finish line taking pictures and he gave me a sweaty congratulatory hug. I was given my finisher glass which I filled with coke, and went and talked to my friends, who were either there giving congratulations or had had good races themselves. I also claimed my free pizza from Freak Brothers (nomnomnom) and relaxed, waiting for other friends to finish their races and for my husband to come and pick me up.

Remember how I’d been concerned that this would be a slow race? Well, I finished in about 6 hours and 30 minutes, which for me was phenomenal and I felt good about it. I was 7th female and 25th overall.

I also finished this race with some beautiful examples of excoriation (chafing- cool word, right?) and bright red sunburn (this on my lower back where I forgot to reapply that sunscreen). The stinging upon contact with hot shower water was exquisite (said with much sarcasm).

This race is by far my favorite of the DRT races. I’d wanted something with some climbing and technicality as training for Zane Grey and this delivered. My watch gave me somewhere around 4700 feet of climbing and as I’ve already said, this had some really fun technical stretches. That combined with the scenery made this race an epic way to end the DRT series and one that I can’t wait to run again.

And now my tale has come full circle. From the race I went to my friend’s Luau party and you know the rest!

Run on.

Featured Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

Aravaipa McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Mile Race Report: On Running Far, Perseverance, Breaking Down, and Accidentally Accomplishing a Long-Held Desire

What does it mean when you eat a good pizza dinner at 7:00pm, a second dinner at 10:00pm, and then are woken up by your body screaming for food at 1:30am and again at 6:30am? For me it means that I finished my first 50 mile race!

Morning came too early Saturday and I was a bundle of nerves. As per my habit for this Fall’s  Desert Runner Trail Series I had not effectively trained. While I had managed to complete the first two races of the series (Cave Creek Thriller 50K and Pass Mountain 50K) they were not 50 miles, and I had never run 50 miles before. The closest I’d come to 50 miles was my R3 Canyon crossing back in May for which I’d trained. So… nerves. Could I finish? What if my side cramped up? What if I got nauseous? What if my muscles refused? What if, what if, what if?

I had prepared my pack the night before. I know many experienced ultra-runners don’t carry a pack, preferring to stay light with a water bottle or two. From my experience at the Canyon though, I decided I wanted to have my pack with a few staple items in it so I knew I’d have the nutrition I wanted. The biggest thing I learned at the Canyon was “Eat early and eat often” which I planned to do for the race. This way, the aid station goodies would be a bonus! I also had my electrolytes which I seem to do well with when I take one/ hour. I also decided to forgo the drop bags- I couldn’t think of anything I’d really need that would be worth slowing down for.

I arrived at the race about 25 minutes before the start. I knew the day would get warm so even though it was probably in the 40’s, I was wearing shorts and a tank and arm sleeves. I stood by the fire and shivered until it was time to go. 44 of us toed the start line, full of hopes, worries, excitement, and expectations for the day ahead of us. Only 33 of us would finish.

When the horn went off, I did my best to keep my pace down. This is so difficult at the beginning of a race, but I knew if I had any desire to finish, I had to keep it slow. You may remember Karen, the woman who was out for a training run during the Cave Creek 50K, and who I ran with for quite a while there? Well, she was out at the Frenzy, running her first 50 mile too! She asked me what my strategy was for the day, if I had one. My answer, “Just don’t go too fast.” She laughed and said she didn’t think that’d be a problem for her. (Ultra Sign-Up had also predicted that my finish time would be 12:20 and I wanted to beat that at least, if not finish in 12 hours.) This beginning part of the trail, though, is nice and easy rolling. It’s difficult to keep the pace down, as I discovered last year when I ran the Frenzy 50K. We, along with at least one other woman who was also running her first 50 mile, ran together until we hit the first aid station (around 7 miles in, only 43 left!), Escondido Aid. I grabbed a cup of coke (mmm… coke), a bite to eat, and moved out. I would see them all again on Thompson Peak- more on that later.

Rolling up Pemberton Trail from Escondido I just ran easy. This section of trail is wide open, smooth, and gently uphill. I’ve run it many times, so I knew what to expect for next 5 miles to aid station number two, Granite Tank Aid. Coming down into the aid station (12 miles down, only 38 to go!), my friend Jon greeted me and took my picture. I dumped some sand out of my shoes, grabbed a cup of coke, and walked out.

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Coming into Granite Tank Aid. Photo Credit: Jon Christley

The next 6.5 miles consisted of a loop, which would come back to Granite Tank Aid, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on trails which I’d never run before. They headed out way north, near some cool boulder formations. The trails were mostly narrow, which I love. I began this little side loop with walking and eating because as I’d been running up Pemberton I’d felt some hunger setting in already. Note to self: do not wait to eat once you feel hungry when running. I’d waited too long to eat, and struggled with the evil Bonk for the next couple of miles until what I’d eaten made its way into my bloodstream. Then I was better and took off again.

I ran back into Granite Tank Aid (about 18 miles down, only 32 left- just a 50K!) and filled my pack with water for the first time. The next 10.5 miles to Dixie Mine Aid would be long and the day was warming up. I’d stripped off my arm sleeves and Jon sprayed me with sunscreen. I was so thankful for this. I’d put on a little bit of sunscreen in the morning before leaving home, but I’d known then it wouldn’t be enough. I downed some more coke and belched in a most trail-lady-like fashion, and headed out.

The beginning of this section again heads out onto trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These were trails I’d run the year before during the 50K and I loved them just as much this time around as I did then; narrow, winding between boulders, fun! I ran easily along, enjoying the views of Tom’s Thumb and the McDowell’s. Eventually I came down out of the Preserve and back onto Pemberton Trail. Again, I know this trail well and chugged along. By now I was passing by 50K runners. It was nice to see these other people out on the trail. I passed by one girl who was running strong. She asked how my day was going. I answered, “Great!” and she replied with, “Fuck yeah!” Awesome enthusiasm! It made me smile.

We turned off of Pemberton Trail onto Coachwhip Trail, beginning the ascent into the McDowell Mountains. The trail became a little more technical, and it was warm, so I slowed down some, speed-hiking the bigger hills. The views from here are some of my favorite in this area. Climbing up Bell Pass, if you look back behind you the desert is spread out below, with the mountains right next to you. It’s awe-inspiring. Upon cresting Bell Pass it’s a crazy fun, technical, switch-backing downhill until you hit the Thompson Peak road, which then continues downhill into Dixie Mine Aid.

Coming into Dixie Mine (About 29 miles done! Over half way! Only 21 miles left!), my friend Justin greeted me and refilled my pack while my friend Brett got me… can you guess what? Yup, coke. We chatted for a few minutes. Another friend, Bradley, was there resting for a bit during his 50K effort. My left IT band was feeling a little twingey, so I was concerned about that, especially considering that I now had to climb up Thompson Peak.

Thompson Peak. It’s hard. And it’s incredible. The climb up to the towers on top of the peak is about 2.3 miles, with, I think, about 1500 feet of gain. Most of that gain is in the last mile with grades sometimes reaching upwards of 49% (at least according to my Strava). I’ve climbed this mountain a few times before, which I was so thankful for. It would be disheartening to me to hit this climb this far into a race and not have been expecting it. I climbed and pushed and my heart pounded and my breathing raged and my calves burned with an angry fire. I stopped twice, I think, for a couple of seconds to slow my heart down, and then pushed on. I crested the mountain, made sure my bib number was recorded (to verify I’d climbed the whole thing) and ran back down.

On the way down, my IT band twinging turned into aching pain. I managed to find a weird hitching running motion that I could do and did that as much as I could down. One woman on her way up asked me if I had any electrolytes- her quads were cramping. I gave her two. On the last really steep section I came across Karen again and the other first time 50 mile woman- they were looking strong and were all smiles! I hitched into Dixie Mine Aid (50K down! Less than 17 miles to go!) again and refilled my pack. I drank yet more coke, ate more food, and headed out. At this point, the first sign of fatigue set in. I’d set my arm sleeves down at aid station, and left without them. Thankfully I realized this right away and was able to retrieve them.

I hiked the brief climb out of the aid station and then the trail followed a ridge before heading downhill and eventually winding back down to Pemberton. It was in this section that my state of mind become apparent to me. I’d been taking my electrolytes consistently every hour, but now I wasn’t sure if I’d taken the last one, or what time the last one was at. It was just over 5 miles of easy running to the Gate Aid Station, but my IT band was kind of angry. So I ran, then walked for a minute to calm it down, then ran again. I did this the whole way into the Gate Aid (About 39 miles down! Only about 11 to go!). I drank coke at Gate Aid and refilled my pack. The next aid station was only a 5K away, but it was the Start/Finish line. I knew I didn’t want to linger there since that’d make it hard to head back out for the final loop. So preemptively filling my pack was a protective measure against stopping my race early.

I left the Gate Aid, and thankfully the volunteer there saw my arm sleeves, which, yes, I’d set down and forgotten again. I would be coming back to this aid station, but I wanted to hold my sleeves because they were protection for my hands in the case that my increasingly tired feet tripped and I fell.

I covered that 5K as quickly as I could. The woman who’d needed the electrolytes had caught up to me by this point, and thankfully her quads had calmed down and not cramped up on the way down from the peak! We ran together off and on, and I was still able to run pretty well. I was tired, but I felt great.

There’s this last little hill that has to be crested before coming into the Start/Finish line. I power-hiked this, coming up with the most creative curse words I could. I still felt just fine, other than the twinging IT, but I was grouchy. I ran into the Start/Finish line and grabbed some food. My friends Erica, Laurie, Krista, and Matt were all there and greeted me. I grabbed more food, downed more coke, and grabbed some food to go. Matt walked me down the parking lot to where the trail took off out into the desert again. I’d covered 42 miles and I only had 8 left.

It was 2 miles back out to the Gate Aid station and it was easy running. But, my tiredness showed itself and I tripped and fell on a non-rock. Thankfully I’d had my arm sleeves and the damage was minimal. I grabbed coke and pickles at the aid station and moved out. As I was descending a small hill, Karen ran into the Gate Aid above me and yelled and waved!

6 miles left and it was still light out. I had a second wind and ran solidly for a mile and felt good. Then I started to feel a twinge in my left foot. So I hiked a little, but kept running. I was tired, but my muscles still felt strong. But. My. Foot. With about 3 miles left, I couldn’t run anymore, the pain in my foot was so bad. I was angry, so very angry. My muscles were still good! I could run, but for this tiny, horrible spot in my foot! It got dark and I hiked as hard as I could, and sometimes even that set my foot off. The pain made me start crying, then I’d tell myself to stop it, I had to get to the finish line. I’d get it under control and then start sobbing again, then get it under control again. This happened over and over. I could see the lights of the people behind me and I was so very slow. I just knew they were all going to pass me and there was nothing I could do about it.

By now I was hiking in blind faith. I was on a trail, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen an Aravaipa flag. I’d get worried I’d gone the wrong way and would start watching closely for a flag, would see one, but would then forget when I’d seen it after I passed it. I kept expecting to end up on a different trail, not realizing I’d be approaching the Finish line from the far end of the parking lot, and this concerned me when I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see. Finally I could hear the Finish line. Then I could see it, though it seemed so very far away. Then I was suddenly at the end of the parking lot and knew I hadn’t gone off trail. Somehow no one had passed me yet. I started unreservedly sobbing, so badly did I want to be done. I hobbled as fast as I could up the parking lot and across the finish line. Immediately I collapsed in a pile of tears on the other side. I’d done it. I’d run 50 miles. Remember my goal of finishing in 12 hours? I’d finished sub-12. I’d finished what I’d set out to do into the arms of my dear friends and family. When I’d come through the first time, Matt had texted my husband who was now there to greet me along with our kids. I was just crying and crying. And then… then someone told me I was third female.

Wait, what?

That couldn’t be right. I knew there were people ahead of me. I’ve never placed in an Aravaipa race. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m not fast enough. My friend Laurie who was doing the timing confirmed it, I’d gotten third female. Me. In my very first 50 mile race, I, of all people, had gotten third. So the sobbing commenced again.

Eventually I calmed down and stood up. I warmed up by the fire while my husband grabbed my change of clothes from my car and ordered my free pizza from Freak Brothers (for all 50K and 50 mile finishers). Then, for the first time, I had my picture taken with the other top finishing, incredible ultra-women.

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My bib, socks, and award

And you know the rest. I now sit here on my couch finishing this blog, still hungry. I am resting. My muscles feel great, my foot is still achy. What are my plans? I will rest for the month of December and allow my body to heal from this incredible effort it just accomplished. I will see how I feel and determine future training based on that.

I will close with this: our bodies are incredible, simply incredible. There are very few living creatures that can cover distances like we can (if you want to have a geek discussion on the physiology surrounding this with me sometime, please let me know!). We can cover incredible distances because we want to. Take a moment to think about that. We can. I can. You can. Many runners have heard, “What?!?! Why would you run that far?!? You must be crazy! I don’t even drive that far!” These things are said in varying forms in regards to all distances ranging from a 5K to a marathon, to 100 miles and more. Many of us have even laughed along with the people saying this, perhaps even joined in the joking self-deprecation. I know that I have. I don’t want to anymore. This ability is amazing and life-altering. It’s not crazy to push your body to see what it can do. It’s not crazy to head out into wild places and experience this dazzling world. It’s crazy not to. It’s crazy to be surrounded by astounding beauty and to purposely choose to never experience it. I will experience this world I’ve been given- who’s with me?

Superstition Mountains: Massacre Grounds Trail

I enjoy all kinds of trails, but one of my favorite kinds of trails are destination trails, even when (sometimes especially when!) these trails are in my own backyard. So what would make a local trail a “destination” trail? One that has some kind of really cool and unique feature that you look forward to appreciating during your time on the trail. Massacre Grounds Trail is such a trail because it goes out to a bluff and a (seasonal) water fall, and as any of us who live in Arizona know, anything with water is a cool place to go and see!

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

Parking for this trailhead is located at coordinates 33.471412, -111.469378, and is in the same parking lot as the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail. Jacob’s Crosscut leaves the parking lot to the right towards the Siphon Draw trail, and is the route that most people take. This of course gives Massacre Grounds Trail a pretty high solitude factor. Massacre Grounds Trail leaves the parking lot on the left. There is a new, marked opening in the fence allowing easy access to the trail, and it is signed. The trail quickly enters and exits a wash, and then begins steady, though not steep, climbing all the way out the 2.9 miles to the waterfall.

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot - By Me

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot
– By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot - By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot
– By Me

When I left the parking lot for this run, mine was the only car there. I headed out into the early gray of dawn, looking forward to the quiet ahead of me.

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

The lower part of the trail is very clear and easy to follow. The plant life through here is interesting and beautiful; different wildflowers, shrubs, and cactus edge the trail. Because the trail climbs immediately, you quickly begin having views out towards the valley behind you (if you stop to look). Most of the climbing on this lower section is at a very easy grade with some small rollers, and the trail is very smooth and clear of debris. There is one micro-hill shortly before the trail pops out at an old parking lot that is no longer in use. Keep right here, sticking close to the fence, and you will see the opening where the trail crosses the fence and continues on.

After the fence crossing, parts of the trail become intermittently rocky. Climbing the hill just past the fence crossing can be somewhat challenging because of this. After reaching the saddle there, though, the trail continues on to cross some tight washes with tall myrtle shading your path. The trail also performs some seriously fun twists that make a run incredibly fun. After climbing out of the wash area you come to a saddle that looks out towards mountains to the north. As I went through here the mountains looked like a painting; they were so regal and calming.

Continuing my climb after the couple of wash crossings, I reflected on how I’d been clearing spider webs from the trail with my face. It’s unpleasant, but it made me happy to know that I was the first one on the trail this morning!

The trail after the wash crossings becomes much rockier and a little steeper. It is here that you will want to ensure you are watching the trail as sometimes it can become a little unclear. However, it is much more clear now than it was in years past, and is well marked with cairns. As long as you look up and watch for them, you really shouldn’t have any issues following the trail. One of my favorite parts of this trail is actually just after this super rocky section- the trail goes up some smooth granite. It’s just an interesting formation that I enjoy running on.

Just after the smooth granite you will have almost reached the end of the trail. The trail forks and you can go left to look out over the bluff, or go right and head up to the waterfall. Both are very close at this point and it is worthwhile to do both if you have the time. The bluff is a great spot to sit and have a snack while looking out over the valley below. I, of course, like to dangle my feet over the edge- but I understand this is not for everyone. The trail up to the waterfall used to be difficult to follow, but it’s quite clear now. When I was there I could hear the water coming down over the rock from down the hill a little ways. Its shining black glimmer stands out against the red-brown rock and makes it very clear from far down the hill where your destination is. The area around the waterfall is fun to climb around in, with lots of boulders and bushes to play on.

Different Day: View from the Waterfall - By Matt

Different Day: View from the Waterfall
– By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry) - By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry)
– By Matt

My run back down was, of course, much faster since it was all downhill. I flew along, enjoying the twisting, technicality of the trail and feeling of my body negotiating its intricacies. Upon arrival back at the parking lot, mine was still the only car there. It was a great day for a great run.

Notes:

  • My Garmin gave me not quite 1200 feet of gain over the entire 5.8 miles.
  • This is an excellent trail to take children out on! I have taken mine here and they absolutely love that they are hiking to a waterfall and a cool bluff! My son especially enjoys climbing around on the boulders back by the waterfall.
  • If you want to show people some Arizona desert, this is a great trail to take them on. They will get some great views and will get to see how lush our desert really is.
  • The only amenities at this trailhead are numerous bushes for all of your call of Mother Nature needs. There is no water.

Whether you hike it or run it, this trail is a good time for whatever level you, your friends, or your family are at. Because it’s out and back, if you feel that the distance or climbing is too much, you can simply turn around and save the bluff and waterfall for a different time.
Depending on the weather, this is also a great trail to see wildlife:

Different Day: Tarantula - By Matt

Different Day: Tarantula
– By Matt

Different Day: Millipede - By Matt

Different Day: Millipede
– By Matt

Different Day: Toad - By Matt

Different Day: Toad
– By Matt

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake - By Me

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake
– By Me

Superstition Mountains: Black Mesa Loop

Sometimes I need to get out into the wilderness and enjoy a little quiet wild-time. However, I don’t always have time for a long jaunt, and need to just “get my fix” and get home. This morning was one of those days.

I met a few friends out at the FIRST WATER TRAILHEAD, which was fairly busy since the weather is nice and the population in the Valley has seen its usual winter influx. My plan for the day was just to do the 9 mile (my Garmin gave me 9.2 miles) Black Mesa Loop (Dutchman Trail #104 > Black Mesa Trail #241 > Second Water Trail #236 > Dutchman Trail #104). One of my friends was getting over being sick and was out to simply enjoy some desert time. The other two were looking for a longer run and would be heading out to the Canyon Lake Marina and back after running Black Mesa. After signing the guest register, we began from the trailhead on Dutchman Trail (#104) with a nice, fast, gentle downhill. The desert was looking lush from all of the recent rains! About a quarter of a mile in the trail makes a fork. We went right to stay on Dutchman. Most people tend to stay left at this fork onto Second Water Trail which is wider and smoother, so we quickly had our solitude.

The Dutchman Trail through here is very clear and easy to follow, plus quite a bit of it is nice, tight single track. Because we have had rain recently, we had numerous stream crossings this morning, which is always a treat in Arizona! When crossing the streams it is important to look up to see the cairn on the opposite side marking the trail. I often run with my head down watching my footing, so sometimes I end up doing slight side jaunts until I regain the trail. Dutchman Trail has nice rollers giving you some climbing to keep it interesting, but nothing major. In general, the rocks are also not too bad, just watch your footing.

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Cool rock formations on Dutchman Trail

 

I think in the next week or two it will be the perfect time to head out to see the wildflowers. If you don’t know, as I did not know for years, Arizona has an incredible wildflower season. Each spring, the desert is absolutely blanketed with delicate flowers: oranges, yellows, purples, whites, reds, and pinks carpet the landscape. Different areas and elevations get the flowers at different times.  This morning the Black Mesa loop was just starting to get a few flowers poking their heads out. I think any rain we get will cause an explosion of color!

The next trail we came to was the Black Mesa Trail (#241) which cut back to the left. One of these days, I plan to stay on Dutchman and head out towards Weaver’s Needle, but that will have to be a different day and different blog entry. Weaver’s Needle is very prominent here and the mountains surrounding the area feel welcoming.

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Somewhere near Parker Pass

 

We met some campers back on Black Mesa and said hello, and then proceeded up the one “big” climb on the entire loop. I think the toughest part of this climb is the rockiness. If it weren’t for that, it would be much easier for me to run up; it certainly isn’t very long. As it was, today I hiked it. It was here that my friends and I completely split up, and I didn’t see them again (but I checked in, and we all had a great run!). Once I got to the top of the hill, I began running again. It was cloudy this morning, with all the hallmarks of a storm rolling in, and on top of Black Mesa itself the wind was gusting and I felt a deep chill try to crawl into my bones. Thankfully I was quickly off the mesa where the wind was not quite so strong.

Running down the west side of the mesa is a blast! It’s fairly rocky in places, but the downhill just sings. Plus, the views here are gorgeous- they look out onto more wilderness, which at the moment is incredibly green.

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The base of the mesa to Second Water Trail (#236) is smooth and easy to run. I was at the intersection in no time, where I turned left back towards the First Water Trailhead. I knew I had about 2 miles left to go, so I began to push.

As I mentioned at the beginning, most people who hike from this trailhead head out on Second Water Trail. I had to slow down quite a few times for groups of people who were also out enjoying the outdoors. I saw a father and his children, a group of campers, a boy scout troop, and numerous other small groups of individuals all soaking in the beauty of the day.

Second Water Trail is relatively smooth. It does have some rocky areas, but nothing too major. It has some fun places to hop over boulders and a few corners to zip around. The way back to the trailhead has one climb up out of a wash, but it’s perfectly runnable, unless you’re tired, as I was today. However, before I knew it, I was back at my car where a friend of mine who is injured was hanging out waiting with donuts!

This loop is a great trail for a quick run, or a relaxed hike. My Garmin read 1,068 feet of elevation gain over the entire 9.2 miles. This trailhead is a great place to start at if you want to enjoy some time out in the desert with your children, or introduce visiting family members to the beauty of Arizona. You could of course do a simple out and back if you are looking for a hike or run that is perhaps not quite so long, or that is a little easier.

The only amenity at the trailhead is the pit toilets which are kept clean and well stocked. There is no water, so make sure you bring plenty of your own.

THIS LINK will take you to a map showing the trails we ran today. They are on the left side of the image.

The pictures on here were taken by Matt on a different day during a different season because, well, I’m terrible at taking pictures. I hope you see how pretty this area is!