Tag Archives: Hill

Smelly Armchair Musings: On My Zane Grey 50 and DNF’ing

How do you write about a failure? How do you share it in a way that reflects your true feelings, but that is also palatable to those around you? I don’t know. So I’ll just do like I tell my children and “word vomit”, letting the words fall where they may.

I went into the Zane Grey race with trepidation. I’d injured my calf and I had taken time off to try to let it heal. I had no idea how Zane would go.

The night before I scoped out the start line so I’d know where I was going in the morning. The smell of pines in the air was fresh and wonderful. I walked the first few feet of the trail barefoot and enjoyed the dirt underfoot.

Race morning came and the start was electric. Everyone was excited and talking and there were so many friends there! That was wonderful, but I was very in my head, making it difficult to engage very much.

The race began in the dark, so headlamps bobbed and flashlights weaved. We were tight together on the trail, rubbing elbows, watching out for pine cones. We were an ebbing and flowing stream, slowing and accelerating as one.

My injured calf felt okay until, while still within that first mile I stumbled and caught myself on it. It had felt a little tight but at this point it cramped up and felt rotten, ripped. I tried to keep running and couldn’t, so I moved to the side and started walking. I contemplated going back to the start line. If I couldn’t run, what the hell was I going to do? I tried stretching it. Eventually the raw feeling calmed down and I was able to maintain a light jog.

I recognized the voices of friends up ahead of me on the trail as the quiet grey light of early dawn began to give shape to the forest around us. It was peaceful, incredible, fulfilling, but what was wrong with my body? Calf aside, my body felt sluggish, bonky, and at the slightest incline my heart was racing. In a race filled with uphills, that wasn’t a good sign. What to do? Go back to the start? It was close. Or keep going?

A little back story on DNF’ing. Two years ago I made my first attempt at a 100K at the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It consisted of four loops on the Pemberton Trail, a trail I know well. My first two loops were fine, but my third loop was not. Excruciating IT Band pain hobbled me and I walked the entire third loop. I started out power hiking, but by the end of this loop I’d cried a legion of tears and was unable to bend my knee. 45 miles in and I called it. I didn’t have another loop in me. I DNF’d. But was that my best? Was that everything I had to give? It was evening at the end of that third loop which bolstered the feeling of hopelessness. What if I had slept for a few hours and tried for that last loop? My knee still would have hurt, but could I have made it? I don’t know, and I’ll never know now. That DNF taught me something so cliché, but something I think we each must learn on our own and in our own way; never give up. I was ashamed of this race, ashamed I didn’t finish it, ashamed of the unknown, and so I never really talked about it, and certainly never blogged about it, until now.

And so, as awful as I felt so early in my benchmark race, I would not give up. I resolved to make them pull me off the course. If I was ahead of the cut-offs for each aid station then I would keep going.

I made it into the first aid station at 8 miles doing okay. I think I was thirty minutes ahead of the cut off, so I was doing fine. Plus, a number of my friends were here volunteering. It is such a boost to see familiar faces along the race- I love it!

At some point, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” began making its rounds through my head.

The whole race ran along the base of the Mogollon Rim. It was incredible and I knew I was desperately, head over heels, in love with this trail. I snapped photos with my phone, moving as quickly as I could. At the second aid station I was greeted by more friends. I was still ahead of the cut-off, though not as far.

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Dang it Meghan Trainor. How many times can one line of a song go through one person’s head?

Third aid station- I was definitely slipping but still ahead of the cut off, so I ate quickly and got out of there.

Zane Grey

At Zane Grey 50 Mile Race

The next aid station was where my husband and children would be waiting for me and was at mile 33.5, just 9.5 miles from the third aid station. But I was so slow. So slow. My body was done. My quads were shot. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just sit down and be done, right there on the side of the trail. But how would I get to my family? I had to keep moving: no sitting, no stopping, no quitting, one foot in front of the other. But I was so slow. Nothing was working correctly. I trudged along, thoughts of Javelina flitting through my head, and Meghan Trainor of course. I cried, feeling sorry for myself, starting to give up, then, “No Amber! No quitting! No slowing down on purpose! Keep going!” Then I cried again, listened to the Meghan Trainor song in my head again, thought about Javelina again, the cycle continued. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to know how slowly I was moving. I was POSITIVE I was behind cut off and would be done at Fish Hatchery.

I came upon a section of trail that looked odd- I was pretty sure I was on track, but I was getting all messed up in my head and hadn’t seen any ribbons. Just behind me were two men who said we were good and on trail still. Then one of them said we were still fine, still ahead of cut-off. What??!?!?!? How??!?!?! I was disappointed because I wanted to be done so badly, but I still had a chance and I really did want to finish. We ran into the aid station. And I burst into tears, there was my family and more friends. Everyone had been worried about me- I was hours behind when I normally would have made it to this point. I had to make a decision- keep going or be done? I only had ten minutes to get out of that aid station if I was going to keep going. Everything hurt, I didn’t want to go anymore, and the next section was supposed to be the hardest of the entire trail. I was a hot mess, but I would not repeat Javelina. I grabbed food and water and got out of there. I asked my husband to meet me at the next aid station, See Canyon, because I didn’t know if I’d make it there in time and because if I did, I needed to see him.

I walked out of the aid station, eating as I went. Meghan Trainor kept up her noisy vigil in my head. I crossed streams, I got passed by other runners. I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life I was running in the back of the pack, it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, I certainly wasn’t being competitive, I was just trying to finish.

 

More people passed me. Then, the dreaded event happened- the sweeps caught me. They were very kind. They made sure I was okay and then they hung back and gave me my space. I appreciated that because then I cried a bunch. I’d already climbed the big hills, the rest was relatively easy-ish into See Canyon so damn it but I was going to cover it running. Ha-ha, running! It was a running motion, but it was as fast as I could go.

Meghan Trainor ran with me. Then she walked with me when I couldn’t hold that motion anymore- but I did power hike like a crazy white suburbanite mom in the park on a Tuesday morning. The soothing grey of evening began filtering in through the trees, slowly blurring the edges and making the forest soft again. The breeze brushed against my skin. I could hear the people at the aid station, and then I was there. Again, the rushing torrent of tears erupted out of my face as I hugged my husband with my nasty self. About 46 miles in and just 6.8 miles left of the race, I’d missed the cut off by about 15 minutes. I was pulled.

Sitting in the dirt, I cried in disappointment and relief. So close. However, Meghan Trainor was finally gone, thank goodness.

I’d failed. I DNF’d my race. I was angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. And yet oddly, I was incredibly proud of myself. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’d left every last piece of me out there on that trail. I gave everything that I had and on this day it wasn’t enough. There was peace in that. I’d found a new strength in that which wasn’t there when I began the race that morning. I’d heard many people say that the majority of ultra-running is mental and I’d thought I understood that- I hadn’t. Whenever I get to attempting my first hundred I’m sure I’ll revisit my understanding of the mental capacity required in ultra-running, but for this day I had a new found knowledge.  

So, now you hold my word vomit in your hands, filled, apparently, with a ridiculous amount of tears (what can I say, I’m an emotional person). What will you do with it?

😉

Run on.

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

Grand Canyon R3: Rim to Rim to Rim

How does one go about telling a story in which the accomplishments of the day changed nuances in one’s thinking, and these nuances drastically changed one’s sense of self? Where does one start?

I guess this one shall start before the beginning. Ever since the first time I ran the Grand Canyon, going Rim to Rim, sleeping, and returning the next day, I have wanted to do Rim to Rim to Rim (affectionately, or perhaps not so much, known as R3). It has been one of my bucket list items (the other being to run Zane Grey, but that is a different story for a different time), something so seemingly so big that I didn’t know if I would ever actually be capable of doing it. After my ankle debacle of last year’s crossing in which I learned the indispensable lesson of extreme respect for the Canyon, I was unsure of my ability to run the entire Canyon. But like I said, I’ve always wanted to do it, so I began training with the idea of at least trying.

Training

My training consisted of… running. I knew from previous visits that hill repeats are good training, but what I really needed was a seriously long hill with no breaks that I could do repeats on. For Canyon training, hill repeats are great and all, but on normal hills you get breaks from the up or the down. In the Canyon, you don’t, and this is something that can easily stop you in you in your tracks. So I hit Mount Ord for my repeats. Mount Ord is not too far north of the Valley, and it is about 7.5 miles from the parking lot to the towers, with about 4000 feet of gain. That means I had 7.5 miles up, and 7.5 miles back down, no stopping. Doing this twice would give me about a 50K, so great climbing, great distance, and great time on feet to simulate the Canyon. It was also the perfect time to work on my nutrition and make sure I knew what to expect from my stomach when I would cross.

One week after running Ord I headed to Prescott to participate in a 50K fun run. My plan was just to run however far I I could on tired legs. This run had more climbing than I was expecting, which was a good thing, and while I stopped a few miles shy of the 50K mark, I felt really good about how my body had handled it and felt that I should be able to complete my full Canyon crossing.

Then, a week or two later, disaster struck. During a fun run in the Superstitions, I twisted my ankle. I never twist my ankles! I still had three weeks until the Canyon, so I let it rest, but every time I ran even a little bit it would start hurting again. I knew from last year that even a tiny thing at the beginning of a run at the Canyon can easily turn into something debilitating a few miles later. This was not good.

Arrival

Matt and I arrived at the Canyon on Thursday, May 14, and were greeted by sleet. And snow. And wind. And COLD. To make this even more of an adventure, we were camping at Mather Campground. Lovely.

Cold and Wet Campsite: Mather Campground

Cold and Wet Campsite: Mather Campground

View of the Canyon upon arrival

 

Thursday night was cold and miserable. Mather Campground is a really nice campground with flushing toilets and running water and all, but I still had to leave my tent in the middle of the night to walk to the bathroom, and hope I didn’t run into an elk. I can see why chamber pots were popular back in the day.

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Friday morning occurred, I can’t really say that it dawned, it didn’t. After breakfast in the lodge, Matt and I hopped on the Hermit’s Rest bus. I’d never seen this side of the park, only ever visiting in the past to run across the Canyon and never really site seeing. Not that there was too much to see on this day. The Canyon was completely filled with clouds. It was surreal standing next to it, looking down and seeing nothing but clouds, and knowing that one wrong step was thousands of feet to my death. It was kind of cool really.  Anyway, the Hermit’s Rest bus was nice because it afforded us shelter and warmth. We got off in between the rain to check out the spots that had cleared out a little bit, and to walk along the rim to the next bus stop. I could feel my ankle this entire day and was sure I was going to have to cut my crossing short the following day and save my R3 for a different visit.

Somewhere along the Hermit's Rest busride

Somewhere along the Hermit’s Rest bus ride

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Kathi, Lisa, Laurie, and Jeff arrived at the Canyon on Friday afternoon, and we made our plans for the next morning. Our friend Rene had also come up, unbeknownst to any of us, to also do R3, and so we caught up with him as well. Everyone would be running their own run, but Kathi and I decided we wanted to start out together. Matt agreed to drive us to the South Kaibab trailhead, since he would not be running due to a bum ankle. Lisa decided to do a shorter run later because she wasn’t feeling very well.

Dropping

After another cold night’s sleep, my alarm went off at 3:15. I grumbled and whined and got out of my warm sleeping bag. After getting lost trying to find South Kaibab, we finally got there a little after our desired start time of 4:00 am. We were greeted by a group from the University of New Mexico asking us if we were doing Rim to Rim, or Rim to Rim to Rim, and if so, would we be willing to participate in their study? We said sure! They asked us what we’d had to eat since the night before, if we’d been there and done this before. They weighed us, checked our blood oxygen, pulse, etc. The very best part of this study was that they wanted my trash! I know this sounds weird, but there aren’t any trash cans below the rim. You pack it in, you pack it out. They wanted my trash so they could see what I’d eaten, and they would pack it out! Beautiful!

Kathi and I started our watches at 4:20 am and off we went. I have never begun the Canyon this early before, and I loved it. I will do this from now on. We and the couple other rim runners had our flashlights on and we whisked down the trail. Peaceful doesn’t even begin to describe the sense of solidarity between us and runners we didn’t know, along with the awe of the breadth of the Canyon and the majesty of prehistory oozing upwards to engulf us from the Colorado thousands of feet below. Amazing.

First View of the Colorado

First View of the Colorado on South Kaibab

Kathi and I went along, running easily. There were puddles everywhere from all the rain of the past two days, and that helped us to keep our pace down. I knew that even though it would be easy, I didn’t want to run down South Kaibab too hard or I would be physically destroyed and would have to quit early. At this point, my plan was just to run easy and pay attention to any twinges that might be trying to turn into something more. If I felt anything like that, I would turn around early. I was hoping to make it to at least Ribbon Falls.

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Puddles on South Kaibab

 

We made it to Phantom Ranch with no issues, and stopped to refill our waters. We found the study people there, unloaded our little bit of trash, answered a few questions, and continued on.  From Phantom we began to separate, really each running our own thing at that point. I have found that I do best when I allow myself to settle into my own pace that I can hold, and don’t try to keep up with anyone, so that’s what I did, allowing Kathi to pull away. She and I have run together enough, however, that neither of us was worried about the other. We both know that the other is trail smart, and fully capable in the wilderness. We both knew the other would be great.

A quick selfie at the Colorado before we separated

A quick selfie at the Colorado before we separated

So I ran along the Narrows, enjoying the sound of the exceedingly full creek gushing across the boulders. The entire Canyon was incredibly GREEN! I have never seen it so lush and green and before. Getting out into the open area of the creek I began running into the day hikers. I was expecting them because this was the opening weekend of the North Rim. Some of the groups were rather large, but really, the extra traffic wasn’t too bad. Chugging along, I felt great. I’d had no twinges or pains anywhere. I purposely passed right by the turn off for Ribbon Falls. I was pretty sure by that point that I would be fine to make it to Aiken’s Place, and if I could make it there, I could make it up the North Rim, at which point, I would have no way out but to go back.

I stopped at Cottonwood to refill my water and went out again. After that it’s just a short hop to Aiken’s, and it was here that I ran into Rene and his friend James coming down the North Rim. They’d begun their journey a few hours earlier than me. We chatted for a minute, and then I headed up the trail.

As I began the climb, I felt great. I could look up and see snow on the top of the rim, and rounding a corner, I could see the rim where I was actually going was shrouded in clouds. As I went higher it got colder. I’d begun the day in a rain/windbreaker, and warm long sleeve shirt, a tank and arm sleeves. By the time I arrived at Aiken’s, I was down to just the tank and sleeves. Eventually I put my warm shirt back on, not wanting to freeze. On the North Kaibab trail, everything below Supai Tunnel was in pretty good shape. I refilled my water at Supai, and climbed on for the last push out of the Canyon. The northern-most part of the trail was yucky. It was really cold, there was snow everywhere, but the snow was melting. The trail itself was a slick, muddy mess, with water running down the center. All I could think on this part of the trail was, “Where’s the Ruta corner?” This is the final switchback from which it is a straight shot out to the North Kaibab trailhead. My reasons for calling it the Ruta corner date back to two years ago and would take too long to explain here. Suffice to say, I wanted that corner in a bad way.

Finally, I passed the Ruta corner and popped out on the North Rim to freezing temperatures. My time across was 6:24. I remember thinking that wasn’t possible because I’d been going so slowly the whole way. 6:24 is a solid hour faster than I’d ever crossed in either direction before.

Kathi was there at the top, finishing up with the study people. She asked me how I was feeling, and other than great, I knew the climb up Bright Angel was going to blow. She headed out while I checked in with the study people. At this study stop they again weighed me and checked my pulse and asked me a few more questions, this time detailing how I was feeling and how I thought my training compared with the effort of the Canyon. I was feeling really great, other than cold, so I quickly finished this and headed back down for my return journey.

The Return Trip

Carefully sliding down the North Rim, I ran into my friend Benedict, who I didn’t know would be there. We chatted about the Canyon and what it was like that day along with his recent Canyon adventures. He is the administrator for the Facebook group “Grand Canyon R2R2R Run!” and is an amazing resource for all things Canyon related. After taking a few pictures together, I continued on. He was going as far down as Supai Tunnel and was bringing snacks and things for strangers, while spending time enjoying the Canyon.

As I trucked along back down the North Rim, I continued with my slow and steady mentality. I still had way too far to go, and way too much climbing to go too fast down the rim. A little below Supai Tunnel I ran into Jeff and Laurie on their way up. We exchanged quick hugs and continued on our ways.

I stopped at Aiken’s to refill my water, and then I was out. I knew from there it was an easy, gentle downhill all the way to Phantom. By now, I was in a “get it done” mode. I continued running, but I was getting really tired. Knowing that this section was easy did not make it easy. I forced myself to keep a running motion, and told myself that once I got to Phantom I could sit down, take a break and eat a meal. I passed a few people whom I’d apparently passed earlier in the day because I began getting more comments on what I was doing. People wanted to know if I was doing the whole thing, what I thought my time would be, etc.

Finally Phantom came into view. I again refilled my water and for the first time all day, I sat down on a rock to eat. I’d eaten throughout the day, usually something small every couple of miles, with a larger amount here and there, like a half sandwich, but always while moving. At Phantom I ate a baked potato that I’d brought with me. I opened one of my electrolyte tabs and dipped the potato in it for some delicious salt. I also ate beef jerky and a fruit rope for dessert. So basically I ate meat and potatoes at Phantom! I told myself I was going to sit there for 15 minutes, but after 10 I was done eating and didn’t want to sit anymore, so I got up and started walking. Even though the next couple of miles was absolutely runnable (not even remotely steep yet) I decided I was done running. I would just hike as solidly as I could.

Walking out of Phantom I ran into my first and only mule train of the day. It surprised me that I didn’t see any mules, or any signs of mules, on the North Rim. I found out later from Laurie and Jeff that they started later that day. My encounter was brief and I moved on.

I did not mention earlier how brown the Colorado was. Other times I’ve visited it’s been a beautiful jade green color. On this day, after all the rain and snow and whatever else, it was really high and really brown. Going along the lower part of Bright Angel I was able to see the river in all its untamed, dangerous majesty. There were even people in rafts getting ready to hit the rapids!

The Muddy Colorado

The Muddy Colorado

Eventually I turned away from the river and began my ascent. I just hiked steadily, picking off hikers in front of me to pass. That’s fun. I passed a group of three young guys below the Devil’s Staircase. A little while later, two of them came up behind me and passed me running. I let them go by, and they crapped out a little bit up the trail, and sat down. As I began to go by them again, they asked me if I’d done the whole thing (I guess I’d probably seen them earlier in the day too), to which I replied that I had. I stopped to chat with them for a bit. I found out one was from Washington State and one was from Washington DC. They asked about crossing history, and then they asked my advice on training (hit the hills, lots of hills), and what my strategy was (eat early and eat often, and the same goes for water and electrolytes). The final question that made me laugh inside was, “What’s the rest of the trail like?” My reply? “Up.”

I continued on my way, finishing the Devil’s Staircase without any of the misery of the last time I did it. It actually didn’t seem like a big deal this time. I was now really looking forward to Three Mile house because Matt said he’d be there to pace me out. I was ready to see my friends, but I still had a few miles to go, and I knew they were tough miles.

Coming into Indian Gardens, I heard cheering and there were Matt and Lisa! I think I squeaked, I was so happy to see them! The park ranger that they’d been talking with asked how I was doing and I said tired, but good. He said tired is fine. Tired is not a problem. The park rangers are really awesome. All of them that I’d seen that day asked me if I was running R3, and how I was doing, and smiled and wished me luck. They have such a hard job, I think especially so at the Canyon, because there are so many people from so many walks of life and so many physical capabilities. The Canyon will very quickly show you what your physical capabilities are, and people often end up in dangerous situations or dead. Through all of that, the park rangers are there, caring and helping when they can.

Upon leaving Indian Gardens the fatigue really started to get to me. I should have eaten a little more out of Indian Garden, but I didn’t. Lisa took off up the hill, and I kept up my best hike. I still felt fine, just so… very… tired. The climb to Three Mile House is a bit of blur. I was now starting to get in my own head because the last time I’d climbed out Bright Angel, I’d felt really nauseous for the last mile. I was getting nervous that this would happen again.

We shot right by Three Mile House and on up to the next water stop, 1.5 miles later. Somewhere in there, I think, Matt made me eat a few bites. I sat down to do so and those couple of swallows helped immensely. I blew by the 1.5 mile water stop, while Matt stopped to get water. I was by now very grumpy. Someone there asked me if I was bonking, and I kind of wanted to push them. Did it look like I was feeling all chipper and spry?!?!?! Somehow, even with having the emotional capacity of a two year old at that point, I only replied, “I’m getting out of here.” And kept going.

Grouchy and smiling. I know, I'm confused too. On Bright Angel Trail.

Grouchy and smiling. I know, I’m confused too. On Bright Angel Trail.

Eventually I got to the point where on the previous trip I’d felt really sick; I didn’t this time. I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t sick. However, I couldn’t look up. It was demoralizing to see the people on the switchbacks up above me. It was much better to look back at what I’d already accomplished.

Looking back at where I'd come from, on Bright Angel Trail

Looking back at where I’d come from, on Bright Angel Trail

My breathing got heavier and heavier. The urge to start cursing was at a low simmer, however it never actually reached a full boil. We came upon a park ranger who had been helping a seriously sick woman who was now making her way up the trail. I barreled by, but Matt chatted with him as we passed, telling him what I was doing. A few people had cheerily told me, “You’re almost there!” to which I’d wanted to respond with a push (this seems to be the theme when I’m grouchy). I was NOT almost there. Even if I only had a mile left, that is NOT almost there in the Canyon. The ranger, knowing this about me from Matt called out to me as I went up the trail, “Nice job! You’re almost there!” with a huge grin on his face.

Eventually I reached the lower tunnel. Then I saw a guy run by in flip flops. I really was close now. I passed the upper tunnel and the end was in site. And I was out.

I sat down by the Bright Angel sign and just… sat. Wait. Had I just….? I had. I had actually just done a double crossing at the Grand Canyon all at once. I’d done something I’d always wanted to do. No really. I did it. And I did it pretty much by myself. Something in my heart shifted. I really am an ultra-runner. I’ve called myself an ultra-runner since I ran my first ultra, but this. This was close to 50 miles, with over 11,000 feet of gain, and a little less than that in loss. I’d just completed an incredibly strenuous self-supported 50 miler (essentially, close enough in trail terms). And my time? 14:34. Huh. Well okay then. I guess I’m really there.

I finished my Grand Canyon R3

I finished my Grand Canyon R3

I found the study people and they weighed me and did vitals again. I’d only lost 2 pounds the whole day, so I would say I did great! I filled out their questionnaire again, but then I started shaking because I was super cold. After a hard effort I always get cold, and it was much colder and windier on the rim than it was down at the river.

After

Kathi and Lisa were waiting in the car, Kathi was freezing too. We headed to the showers at Mather. These showers are $2.00 for somewhere between 8-10 minutes. I’d purposely brought way too many quarters so I could take a super long shower after my crossing. I desperately needed to warm up, and a hot shower is the fastest way. After three rounds of quarters (shh, don’t tell) I felt much better. Afterwards, we all headed to the lodge for dinner and I was excited to eat spaghetti with meat sauce. With dinner done, I was beat, so I crashed early.

The next morning we tore down camp, had breakfast, and enjoyed one last time at the rim before heading home.

Aftermath

I am happy to report that I finished this effort with no injuries, no blisters, and no chafing! The only thing I’ve had has been tight muscles, but those are loosening up now. I can walk normally again, no more hobbling. Two days ago, so three days after my crossing, I went on a “run”. It was slow and painful, but it helped to loosen me up further. Yesterday I did a hike/run, and again, it helped to continue to loosen things up. My plan is to take it easy, mostly hiking probably, until my next grand adventure in a few weeks!

Here’s my Strava for the day: https://www.strava.com/activities/306773259/embed/4a9cf4280215e8652c5f8b8175333683767f65ea.

It gave me 49.2 miles, but I can see that I lost GPS in a few places and my watched jumped a bit, so I think it’s more like 48 miles.

* Most of these pictures weren’t mine- they were either Kathi’s or Matt’s. I took a couple of them, but eh. Whatever. Run on.

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

Secret Solo Run: Icehouse Trail #198

To celebrate the end of a freaking kickass semester (straight A’s with two classes over 100%- and I wonder why I never have any free time), I went on a secret solo run. I researched different trails- I wanted something with a bunch of climbing, clear trails but not sanitized, and high solitude. I found an amazing place.

I stopped at Starbucks for a large breakfast (nom nom nom) and I headed up to Globe. A little over an hour outside of Phoenix, Globe is normally a place I just drive through on my way northeast to Show Low. There doesn’t really appear to be very much of anything here. But, just a couple of miles off of the main highway are the Pinal Mountains.

Breakfast from Bux

Breakfast from Bux

Travelling through some residential area, I eventually came to the end of the paved road. Half a mile beyond that, on the left, was a picnic area, which is also the parking lot and trailhead. I pulled in, and other than the campground host, there was no one else there. From the parking lot there are two trails; Six Shooter Trail and Telephone Trail. I read online that Telephone Trail to Icehouse Trail had the most climbing, so I chose that way.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Straight out of the parking lot, the trail went uphill. I began in dense, low-lying mountain desert type scrub, but compared to the Sonoran desert scrub that I’m used to, it was nice. Telephone trail crossed the road, and after a bit met up with the lower half of Icehouse. From everything I’d read, staying on Telephone to the second Icehouse intersection was way more interesting, so I did that. Immediately, the views were beautiful.

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Panoramic

Panoramic

I popped out on a service road. In the absence of any signage telling me which way to go, I assumed that up was correct, so I went left up the road. It was STEEP. I have no idea how vehicles are able to drive on this road, but I saw tire marks. I saw a gate just slightly up and on the right side of the road, but I went a little further up the road because it was so freaking steep! That was fun. Then back down to the gate.

STEEP ROAD!

STEEP ROAD!

Gate #1

Gate #1

I stopped frequently to enjoy the view in between the thickening manzanitas. The foliage was fairly dense around the trails. I was extremely grateful that it was a chilly day so I wasn’t too worried about snakes. In warmer weather, though, I would have a hard time with my little “venomous snake fear issue” on this trail.

Coming upon another gate, I stopped for some selfie-shenanigans.

Goofing at the Gate

Goofing at the Gate

Gate #2

Gate #2

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani's "Smell the Fart" acting

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani’s “Smell the Fart” acting

Crossing the gate put me on another road, where again there was a complete lack of signage. Assuming again that up was good, I climbed. Once again, the next gate was just a little up the road.

Gate #3 plus the "trail marker"

Gate #3 plus the “trail marker”

Very quickly through the third gate the manzanitas got taller and made a kind of hall to run through, then began giving way to pines. *Sigh* breathing deep the smell of the pine needles under my feet made my heart happy. Eventually the trail finally went downhill for a short bit until it met up with the lower section of Icehouse Trail at Doghouse Spring. From here, there was a choice to head left, staying on Telephone to head towards Six Shooter and do a loop, or keep right and continue the climb up Icehouse, which is what I did. Not too far after the intersection there was a spot where there appeared to be an old logging road heading off to the right. I stayed left following some old water lines up the hill. This ended up being correct.

IMG_20141212_111640280 IMG_20141212_111734545 IMG_20141212_111947265

I was in dense forest and now there were leaves underfoot and the dense, earthy, clean smell of fall filled my nose. My feet rustled through them and I felt like a little kid. Occasionally there was a red one mixed in with the brown, making me want to come back in the fall. The leaves obscured the trail the whole rest of the climb, and it was a good climb. I hiked most of the way up, running when I could, which wasn’t often. I had to stop now and then to allow the pounding in my chest to slow down to a dull gallop. And then, there were aspens- in Globe!

LOLz Tree

LOLz Tree

IMG_20141212_113240471

Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Aspens in Globe!

Aspens in Globe!

Not too long after the aspens, I popped out on a service road and could see towers in two different directions. A glance at my Garmin showed that I was almost at 5 miles, so I decided to run up the road a little bit just to hit 5 and see what was up there. I’m so glad I did because about a quarter of a mile up the road is where the most incredible view of the day was! I looked out over the glorious wilderness, with the wind blowing up the side of the mountain, chilling me, making me thankful for my arm sleeves.  Every view is unique and amazing and always worth the effort that goes into finding it.

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

At the Top

At the Top

The road and towers

The road and towers

View from the Top

View from the Top

From here I ran just a little further up towards the towers, but then decided I was too cold and headed back down to the trail.

The run back was fast. I was careful because the leaves were hiding the trip-me-ups in the trail and I really didn’t want a twisted ankle, or a fall, but fast nonetheless. At one point I heard a loud sound in the woods off to my left. Stopping to look there were maybe three white-tailed deer making their way up the hillside and away from me. I’d spooked them and they were probably the wildest deer I’ve seen on my runs since they actually ran away from me.

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

I flew down the same way I came up and it was pretty uneventful after the deer, except for where I overshot the trail turn-off on the super steep road. I figured it really quickly though, and had only missed it by about 200 feet.

Shadow pic showing the steep road

Shadow pic showing the steep road

 

Arriving back at the parking lot with about 10 miles and 3500 feet of climbing under my feet, mine was still the only car in the parking lot. Other than a truck I’d encountered on the service road at the top of the mountain, I’d seen no one, spoken to no one.  This was an epic day of playtime in the woods! I took one last look out over the valley below and headed home.

For directions, maps, and cool historical info on this area click here or here or here. This run took me about 3 hours, with lots of stopping for pictures. It’s rated as “Most Difficult”, but I really didn’t think it was; medium perhaps.

Flagstaff Pre-Sky Race Trail Fun

So that I would know what to expect for my upcoming SkyRace 37K, I headed out of the heat of the Valley and into the trees of Flagstaff. While this race will not be particularly long, the altitude difference between here and there, and the amount of climbing over the course of the race had me, well, concerned. How would the altitude affect me? And how would that impact my ability to climb the hills? I thought it would be a good idea to know these things ahead of time, and to have at least a little bit of an idea of what the course was like.

My running partner and I parked near the top of Snowbowl Rd. (On a side note, we had driven up from the Valley where it was around 100 degrees. The gauge in my car said 52.) After a little bit of obscure side trail navigation, we landed on the local portion of the AZ Trail (which will not be a part of the race). After a brief stop at an old homestead monument that included the acquisition of someone’s forgotten aviator sunglasses, we were on our way. Well, sort of. I had to keep stopping to readjust my pack or fix some other technical issue.

The Aviator Sunglusses

The Aviator Sunglasses

Anyway, running down the hill was incredible! Jumping over roots and rocks, trees pressing in on all sides, breathing in the smell of clean dirt and fresh green-cleaned air, my body relaxed and found its rhythm.

The AZ Trail

The AZ Trail

Hitting the base of the mountain, we veered left. Most likely this portion of trail was simply a gentle incline, but here I started to struggle. Because I knew what I’d just run down, I knew I would have to get back up to the car, and that a large portion of that would be very uphill. Since this part of the trail wasn’t steep, I forced myself to run. Running might be over exaggerating- I was moving with a running motion, how’s that? Anyway, I was now able to really feel the difference in altitude. I couldn’t believe how difficult everything felt. My modest jog felt like it was everything I had. I tripped numerous times. I don’t know how I didn’t go down. My pinkies and fingertips were tingling. I say the difficulty here was due to altitude, it could also be that I wasn’t having the best run day. Who knows?

A Log!

A Log!

On this relatively flat section, the major excitement happened: we saw a heard of about 20 elk! Other than the relatively “tame” ones at the Grand Canyon (which I don’t count), I’d never seen an elk in the wild before. This was a herd of mamas and their babies and they ran up the hill away from us.

We met a hiker who was out with her dog and chatted with her for a bit. She was out looking for her dog’s leash that she’d left on the trail somewhere. We told her that if we saw it we’d hang it on a tree for her.

There was some kind of charity mountain bike event going on, so we kept running across bikers on the trail.

When we finally hit the Secret Trail, we were supposed to go right to hit Weatherford trail, and then we’d be on the actual race trail. I decided I needed to go left, though. Going towards Weatherford would add a few extra miles, and with the amount that I was already struggling, I didn’t feel that’d be a good idea. If this had been the race obviously that would have been a different story; I would have gone where the race took me. But it was just a training run and I didn’t feel any need to ruin myself. So we went left and caught up with the race trail on Moto Trail.

F06

Moto Trail took a tiny bit of navigating skills. There were spots where other trails came in and crossed. Thankfully we had a map and both of us are pretty good at navigation. We made it to Rocky Moto Trail, then GT Trail up the mountain to get back to the car.

On the way, we came across an area that appeared to have burned a few years prior. It was an open meadow filled with beautiful wildflowers. And there were black raspberries! There weren’t very many, and they were very small, but they were so good. It has been years since I had black raspberries.

Shenanigans

Shenanigans

Somewhere along here, we came across a cool old flipped car. I think it had been there for a very long time.

Flipped Car

Flipped Car

Car Modeling: Perhaps I missed my true calling?

Car Modeling: Perhaps I missed my true calling?

This poor horny toad (horned lizard if you want to be proper) was very cold and enjoyed the warmth of my hands.

This poor horny toad (horned lizard if you want to be proper) was very cold and enjoyed the warmth of my hands.

We stopped at the homestead monument to put the aviator sunglasses back where we found them. Someone else may want to use them for tomfoolery.

And then we were back at the car. And hungry.

On our way through Flagstaff, we stopped to find somewhere to eat. It seemed to be the weekend of classes starting at NAU, and the streets were full of students and their parents. We found a little hole in the wall Thai place: Pato Thai Cuisine. It was incredibly busy, but the service was good. We both had the red curry and it was delicious! Who doesn’t love spicy food after a run?

Somehow I missed that Matt photo-bombed me when I took the picture of Pato Thai...

Somehow I missed that Matt photo-bombed me when I took the picture of Pato Thai…

After eating, we drove home. I was exhausted, but I felt good. I now have a great idea on what to expect during the race, especially on what to expect from my body (fatigue, tripping, and tingling fingers). I don’t have any speed expectations for this race- I’m simply going to enjoy the scenery, the people, and the atmosphere and use the difficulty of the course as training for my first 100K in November.

This link will take you to the video Matt made of our run: http://youtu.be/hPSxXP4sd_A

Run on.

 

Arizona Trail: North to Superstitions + Picketpost Mountain

For a few months now I have been in the process of training for my first 100K (62 mile) race. As with most any training plan, the key to success on race day is the long run (or so I’ve been told- I’m going with that). So this past weekend I had a twenty-four miler on the books. Originally I was planning to just go to a local regional park and run a couple of loops, but thankfully Matt talked me into something much more interesting: Picketpost.

If you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I have run Picketpost before, so why am I blogging about it again? Picketpost is part of the Arizona Trail (AZ Trail), which is an 800 mile (approximately) trek across the state. The last time we ran at the Picketpost trailhead, we went south. On this run, we started out going north: new territory for me, hence the new blog.

We began our run at 5:00 am, with the plan of heading out eight miles, then turning around to come back to the car to restock on water, then head out again going south, for the remaining eight miles to get our 24.

As we set out, it was just barely beginning to get light. There had been rain the night before and we still had cloud cover and cool temperatures. Right away, we scared some cows and their babies and they ran off. About ½ – ¾ of a mile from the trailhead we crossed underneath US 60 and continued north. The next four miles or so of this run are… well… boring. It’s all low-lying desert scrub: small cacti, jojoba, chollas, creosote, and other small plants. One interesting spot we passed not long after crossing US 60 was the site of an old homestead. I always find those intriguing as I imagine the people who used to live there.

At the US 60 Underpass

At the US 60 Underpass

The first interesting spot we came across was what I called the Hall of Ocotillo’s. We rounded a bend and the entire hillside was covered with them. This would be a pretty spot to visit in the spring when they are in bloom. On this day they were all leafed out and very healthy looking, but no blooms.

Matt running the Hall of Ocotillos

Matt running the Hall of Ocotillos

The trail ahead led directly into the Superstitions. Upon hitting the “Supe’s” the terrain immediately became much more interesting. We went through a canyon and the rocks started changing colors. The desert became more lush. We also saw quite a bit of wildlife, and signs of wildlife.

Giant Mesquite Bugs

Giant Mesquite Bugs

Tiny Footprints

Tiny Footprints

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

pp03 Butterfly pp02

When we reached the eight mile point, we decided to go just a little bit further. We had received a few spits of rain, it was still cool, and we could see something shiny up ahead that we were curious about. We decided to run to the shiny thing and then we’d turn around.

The shiny thing was what appeared to be a new windmill, complete with a new looking corral. There was a rough road leading down to it, but at that point we decided we needed head back. We’d gone 8.7 miles out.

The run back was eventful. Running along a wash we scared a big owl out of a tree. As we stopped to look, the owl was attacked by some kind of hawk! The owl took cover in some rocks up on the hillside above us, but the hawk was extremely unhappy about its presence, and continued to circle the area for quite a while, screeching periodically.

At another point, I was running up a little hill and came face to face with a snake in the trail. I screeched and went by before stopping. It took my brain a second to recognize that it was not a venomous snake. It was a really pretty snake: glossy black body, black eyes, and bright greenish-yellow stripes running lengthwise down its body. I looked it up later with the help of a biologist friend of mine and I believe it was a black-necked gartersnake. Although the coloring on the one we saw was much more brilliant, the shape and form of the snake were the same, and she said they can have a wide array of colors.

The final major animal siting of this part of the run came at a weird moment. We were back in the boring part of the trail, and I was just trucking along, looking at the trail ahead of me and not much else. Suddenly I heard, very loudly and very close to my left side, the rattle of a rattlesnake. I think my body paused for half a second as my brain registered the noise- then everything in me said “RUN!” so I did, very fast. The next thing I remember was stopping about 20 feet down the trail, well out of snake range, looking back to make sure Matt was okay, and curling into a squatting ball and crying. Matt had managed to stop in time and back up and was taking pictures of the snake. I couldn’t go back to look at it. In fact, I never even saw it, at all. I could hear it up there still rattling and I couldn’t take it and started walking away. I have severe emotional reactions to rattlesnakes. Last year while running in a local regional park there was a rattlesnake curled up underneath of bush right next to the trail in the shade. I barely had a chance to see it and I ran by, but as I did so, it struck, with no warning whatsoever. Matt was again behind me that day, and he only had enough time to jump over the snake which, because it had struck, was now stretched across the trail. Thankfully that snake missed me, but the fear of them was instilled in me that day. It has only been just recently that I have managed to not freak out at every snake or stick (because they look like a snake) I see. Once he caught back up to me, Matt told me my foot was about six inches from the snake, but that the snake never coiled or struck or anything. Plus, it was a pretty good-sized snake, close to three feet long. Generally that’s actually a good thing. They tend to be more laid back, less prone to striking, and will likely to give less venom or even give a dry bite if they do strike. After the adrenaline in my system calmed down, I started running again, now hyper-aware of the shady spots! If you have never had the pleasure of hearing a Western Diamondback rattle, click on this link. At approximately 10 seconds is the frenzied rattling sound I heard.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

The rest of the run back to the car was blissfully uneventful other than that we both ran out of water. But since it was fairly cool and we only had one mile left, we weren’t worried about it. We got back to the car without incident and drank a whole bunch while refilling our packs, then we set off southbound to finish our miles.

Now I have been on this part of the trail before, and new trail always trumps known trail. Not far into the southern run there is a trail that goes left with a big arrow made out of rocks. I stopped, looked at it, and got excited. Matt had told me before that he’d never climbed Picketpost Mountain before. I MAY have had an evil grin on my face as a suggested we should go that way; we should climb the mountain. He gave in and we started climbing! There were lots of cows on the first lower portion of this trail, even a big bull! But they really like to stay away from people, so there was no worry. We climbed, and we climbed. Matt ran part of this, but I conserved. I’m not as strong on the uphills as he is. As we got higher, we had to start following cairns and the occasional spray paint flash. Sometimes the trail went straight up at perhaps a 60 degree angle. We had to scramble over a some boulders. I was having a blast- I love that stuff! We went perhaps ¾ of the way up, and decided we should go back and save the rest for another day. Since we already had about 17.5 miles under our feet and hadn’t planned on climbing a mountain, and we weren’t really sure where the top was, it would be better to come back fresh. The decent was a great way to say, “Good morning!” to my quads!

View from halfway up Picketpost Mountain

View from halfway up Picketpost Mountain

The trail goes up the draw

The trail goes up the draw

Once we got back down onto slightly more level ground, Matt took off. We met back up at the car and guzzled delicious cold drinks. We finished our run at about 21 miles, but since we’d climbed about 1,000 feet straight up a mountain within about one mile, we called that close enough.

I have been running local park trails for the past few months, and while I am exceedingly grateful for these parks and the outdoors experience they offer, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed a wild run. Once I arrived home, I could feel the calm elation (yes, those two words go together here) coursing through my body, brought on by this wild run. These runs into the wild, where I run across few, if any people, and just see the animals and the flowers and sights; these runs ground me. I rediscover the joys of my childhood spent outdoors all day long playing with bullfrogs and mud and climbing trees. I may be all grown up now, but the heart of that little girl has never left me, and in fact, still beats wildly, sometimes desperately, inside of me. She’s constantly curious, constantly excited about the creation around her, and can’t wait to feel every sensation on her next run through the wilderness.