Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Come to Jesus Moment: Climbing Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer

When I realized a friend of over a decade was ending her two year stay in Brazil, I did what any good friend would do: quickly try to take advantage of free room and board in a foreign country. That's how I found myself in Rio De Janeiro for a few days at the end of June last week. As with any trip I take, I immediately scope out places that I can run which are either iconic or provide me with a wow factor. In Rio, I knew I had to run to the top of the hunchback mountain known as Corcovado and gaze upon the yes-we-are-now-telling-the-audience-we-are-in-Brazil-with-this-crane-shot-of-this-statue-in-every-movie-set-in-Rio Christ the Redeemer.  You know the shot. It is law that this shot must be used (apparently).

So while having fun and enjoying myself was the main goal for this trip, summiting this mountain was something I had to do. Sure, I wanted to catch up with a friend and spend some time on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. But Jesus had his arms wide open to me and I was going to run to him.

Attempt One: Hiking Corcovado from Parque Lage

I do not like to plan things out. I like to have them planned for me, at least when it comes to physical endeavors. I will exert tremendous amounts of energy during the event but ideally I don't want to think. That's why stage races and carry your own gear races always are low on my list of "to-dos". That said, I often look for places to go for an adventurous run and do at least plan out enough to get by.  I have to know how to get to where I am going and have a general sense of an idea of how to conquer the challenge. But other than that, I wing it.

As such, in my planning, it appeared that the best way for me to take on the mountain was to run from my
friend's place in Copacabana, around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and to the Parque Lage. From there, just a few thousand feet straight up the sheer cliff and Bob's your Uncle, I high-five Jesus and come back down. Easy Peasy.

The run from Copa to Ipa (I have no idea if they are called that but apparently Rio De Janeirians[?] shorten all their words, so I am going with it) went smoothly as did the run to the Lagoon.  After running around the Lagoon, I turned into the city a bit earlier than my plan and got a little lost. Using my spidey sense I realized I was not where I was supposed to be but was not sure which direction I had to go.

 I saw what looked like a police officer of sorts in a little phone booth on the side of the street and thought I would try to see if he could tell me where I should go.  Note, in all my travels to Central and South Americans countries, as well as some time spent in Italy, it seems every third person is wearing a uni which gives them some sort of police-looking-officialness to them. I assume they have power and just do what they say or what I can understand.

I caught his attention, held out my arms like the statue, and said quizzically: "Christo?"  He knew exactly what I meant and pointed in the direction down the street. Then he gave me a thumbs-up.  I learned the thumbs-up is HUGE in Rio. So I used the one word in Portuguese I knew: "obrigado", and ran down the street. Sure enough, there was the park entrance I was looking for right around the corner.

Cobblestone streets led past a few buildings in this beautiful park. I would have loved to check them out but I was on a mission. I told my friend to meet me in this park in about an hour. I laugh now thinking of my hubris with that prediction but I just didn't know how hard this climb actually was going to be. Mistakenly, I had read a few reviews which painted a picture of  climb to the top being one where you would get a little sweaty but otherwise would be fine. Apparently, these reviews were written by the offspring of mountain goats and Killian Jornet. Stating they were not difficult was an out and out lie.

The cobblestone continued up toward the mountain and I looked up to see Christo outstretched in the clouds. WAY above me. (For respective, that tiny savior up there is 12 inches short of 100 feet tall.) Time to climb!

The road seemed not too bad and I figured as wide as it was now it would narrow some. The cobblestones were slick and not exactly well-placed together but I have run over worse terrain. I passed a tiny shack on my right after about a quarter of a mile but paid it no mind as I wound around a bend. About another quarter of a mile later the cobblestone stopped and a reflecting pool of sorts took its place. Shrouded in mist and greenery, a few people gazed into it. I spotted what I thought was the trail off to the side and continued on.

Climbing some steps and continuing my running pace, I had to then pick my way over some fallen trees and around roots and dirty piles on the trail which was now suddenly single-track.So much for the cobblestone. Then abruptly the trail ended in a side of a cliff. OK, maybe just a hill but my point is there was no going further. It was here I remembered from looking at Google maps that a little spur that dead ended went off from the trail I really wanted to be on. Sure enough, after returning home and looking up where I ran, this is exactly where I was now.  So I went back down the stairs, around the reflecting pool and back to the tiny shack. There, hidden under a low-hanging branch was a modest sign that said "Corcovado" with an arrow. I climbed the stairs here, passed the little stone shack, and began to finally go up the mountain. I hate wrong turns but this wasn't too bad.

Another tidbit I learned later is this shack is a check-post where all hikers are supposed to announce their climb.  Some directions are given and they keep a head count of who is on the trail. All makes sense.  Too bad I knew none of that and no one stopped me.  Then again, maybe they tried. I don't speak Portuguese.. Also, upon returning and reading more I learned of some robberies which had gone on here on this trail. I guess I am happy/fearful I did not know about this in advance. However, as you will see, I have no idea how those could have occurred.

The path turns from the cobblestone to a rooty, dirty, single-track here and starts to begin its climb. Nothing too ridiculous to begin with which gave me hope the reports I had read were true. You cross a slow moving stream over exposed rocks, not once, not twice, but three times as you switchback up the hills.  Hardly a Columbia Gorge crossing but one's feet might get wet here and there. After the final streaming crossing, the trail turned up some steep steps hewn out of rock and began getting ridiculous soon thereafter.

I wish I had taken some pictures here to show how difficult this portion was to walk, let alone run.  But by this point I was drenched in sweat and had burned through 3/4 of my Camelbak handheld. I did not not have my Karhu trail shoes on and was absolutely not dressed properly for the terrain I would encounter soon thereafter. Live and learn. Fortunately, I found a picture online which puts this into perspective.

I passed more than a few people for a while as I tried to make my run seem at least mildly faster than their hike.  A couple of small groups came down the mountain at me, most looking far less prepared than I to climb. How they got where they did was beyond me. One group, obviously filled with Americans, came out me and wished me good morning in Portuguese. I said the same back in English and they looked surprised as I was obviously American to them now, too.  He gave me a quizzical look and I said; "You are wearing a University of Pennsylvania hat. Not too many Brazilians are big Quaker fans."  He laughed.  I asked how bad it was and he said they only made it another 50 feet or so. That did not bode well for me but I figured I had to be much more prepared than they. I just wished I had the foresight to wear my IceSpike.

Here and there the trail would get so bad that only by using vines and the grace of God (I mean, he was right there, for his sake) was I able to get up the trail. Meanwhile, my watch was doing two things: one, it was dying as I forgot to charge it recently. Two, it told me I was rapidly approaching the time I told my friend I would meet her and I still hadn't even reached the top. This trail was nothing like I suspected.  I knew down was not going to be a fast affair either. But up I went just a little more hoping perhaps she was delayed by traffic.

Here and there you will catch the slightest glimpse of the the statue of Christ through the trees. But seeing the statue breeds nothing but false hope as it is so much further away than it seems. Soon, another group of girls was heading down the mountain, gingerly picking their way. I asked them how far left it was to the top and they said about 30 minutes. Now, I didn't know if they meant 30 minutes coming down, 30 minutes going up or 30 minutes their leisurely pace or 30 minutes at my more brisk. So, I simply passed them and kept climbing. A few minutes later, however, I made the executive decision to turn around. I was completely out of water, my watch had died, I was out of time and the path had barely stopped going straight up over roots and rocks and everything else. 

But don't take my word for it.  Look at over 600 feet of gain in less than a 1/3 of a mile. And now I had to go back down it.

The descent ended up be marginally easier than I thought it would be. I did have my foot hit a root near the last half mile where it was runnable and I almost became part of the mountain.  However, I used one of my running superpowers (they are limited) and somehow stayed upright and running. Finishing the run, I had to search for my friend for a bit but finally found her.  I described my attempt and was a little disappointed in myself.  However, I knew I had made the right decision for the circumstances.  I looked up at the mountain and said:

 "You won this round."

Without a doubt this is not an easy hike or run. I am not trying to make it seem harder because I failed to get to the top. It will take you an easy hour to go just the 3-4 miles up and that is if you are in good shape. Coming down is easier but requires concentration. I would also suggest wearing some sort of gloves so you can grasp the rocks and roots and vines. If you can wear a waist or back pack instead of a handheld, do so. It frees up both hands and allows you greater balance as well.  I don't think hiking poles would help you any but trail shoes definitely will. the girl wearing jellies who was going up when I was coming down probably made it about 20 feet.

Fortunately, I was doing this hike during Rio's winter. I can't imagine what a hot humid day on the mountain, trampled underfoot by the steamy jungle, would feel like. While I was pleased with my choice, it did gnaw at me. When I got back to the apartment, I sat down and looked at other ways to get to the top. I decided I was not done just yet.

Attempt Two: From Cosme Velho to the Top

I am a frugal man and any chance to avoid spending money is one I take. Well, that might be oversimplifying things.  I tend to spend money on experiences not things. However, sometimes I acquiesce to save myself time and energy. Like changing a tire. I could change a tire but I pay AAA for a reason.  I would rather have a professional do it. Likewise I knew in order to ascend Corcovado from the other side than I had tried previously, I would need to take a taxi to and from the entry point. I could run there but it would take a long time, in a country whose streets I did not know and language I did not speak. As such, resignedly, I realized if I was going to tackle the mountain, I was going to have to spend a little money.  I had researched my routes a little more and knew that the road on the other side was a paved one and would not require trail shoes, walking poles, a sherpa or a compass and sextant.(As fun as the last one sounds, it isn't. Google it, you damn millenials.)

I woke up a little earlier on this run than before.  The weather promised to a little warmer and I wanted to avoid as much of the heat as possible. I hailed a taxi, spoke the address, and away we went.  About 20 minutes later I was standing at the train station that takes less fit people to the top. That's a slight dig at the tourists and I am sure some of them were perfectly fit. However, when you are running up a mountain and everyone else is using motor vehicles, you sort of feel like a bad ass. Running arrogance, I guess.

For this run I was far more prepared than the previous day.  Instead of just a single handhekkd, I had the new Camlebak Ultra4 strapped to my back with ice cold water in it. If you know anything about countries in these warm climes, finding ice is like finding gold. With it on my back, I was ready to start running. ( A review of this fantastic pack is forthcoming. It was really top-notch.  I had worn it already on a few other less technical occasions and wanted to really test it out when the incline got tough.)

As people loaded themselves onto the train, I turned on my Timex OneGPS.  I waited just a few seconds for it to gain satellites (it really is the fastest watch I have ever had when it comes to this)m checked my pack for its contents, and away I went. I ran down the street about a block, turned the corner, made another quick turn and immediately ran into quite possibly the steepest street I have ever seen.  Not again, I thought. Hands on knees, I began to powerwalk up this incredibly sleep slope. At least the footing wasn't atrocious.

I passed some houses and shacks that were not abhorrent like the favelas in other sections of Rio but I wasn't sure how safe or friendly the people were here in the neighborhood of Cosme Velho. I definitely do not wish to come across as an ignorant person but when it comes to this area, I truly was just that. I knew nothing of their lives and whether this sort of housing was substandard or above par.  All, I knew was that it did not look like a place I wanted to live. Then again, even some of the million dollar condos in Copacabana were in buildings that hardly looked safe, secure or worth the seven figures. Maybe that is American arrogance.  But it is what I knew. Here, I figured I would just act like I belonged, look as tan as possible, and try not to smell American. Regardless of the condition of the homes or the grade of the slope, the artwork on the walls was amazing.  In the picture above you can see not only the artistic ability of the painters bu also the ridiculous grade of the slope I was running, or rather, walking. the camera was not tilted to create an optical illusion.  That is simply the 45 degree angle this road was built on.

As the climb became more and ore crazy, the thought I had was how I had to ascend roughly 2,000 feet on this run.  If a great deal of those feet happened to be conquered at a snail's pace here in the beginning, so be it.  Doing so simply meant I got to get as many of those vertical feet out of the way as possible. I turned the corner and a few more people were out on the streets. The cobblestone road became more widely spaced and a cracked, uneven sidewalk provided very little more of footing or stability. I did not mind the slow pace simply as it gave me a chance to figure out if I was correctly following the right path.

Suddenly, the road flattened. I was confused. I rounded a bend and I started to go ever so slightly downhill. Had I made a wrong turn? I definitely did not recall any downhill on this road to the top. As I stood there, another runner, a local woman went by. We exchanged the knowing smile of one runner to another acknowledging that what they are doing others will think is insane.  Then I realized I might be going the wrong way. I ran back to a small intersection I had just come up.  The only other possible way I could go led to what appeared to be a dead-end. While it had felt right to go down the slight downhill, my head had told me I was wrong.  But I trusted my instincts and decided not to let my non-memory of this small flat section keep me from moving forward. Continuing a bit further I saw the road did a quick 180 degree turn and began to climb steadily. Up the hill there was a sign for Christo. I now knew I was on the right road. Time to climb.

The next few miles were relatively runnable. The degree of incline was manageable, the tree cover took away the bite of the sun and aside from a small shoulder to avoid cars barreling down the road, it was fairly safe.  I soon took to running on the righthand side of the road as I could hear the laboring buses coming up from behind me and react quicker than I could the careening out of control vehicles on the left side of the road.  I drank liberally from my back and stopped to take some rather breath-taking views into my camera lens. I posses neither the camera nor the skill to get shots that will be awe-inspiring so I insert my ugly mug in the picture to make me want to look at them later.

The rest of the climb was rather uneventful. Before I knew it was passing parked cars and taxis and could hear people. I knew I could not possibly be to the top yet but I must be getting close. I rounded the bend and saw lines of people forming. I wasn't exactly sure what they were lining up for but the road continued up to the right. That was wear I was going. But before I could leave the area, I had to take at least one picture of the marmosets which dotted the walls and landscape. It also gave me a breather before what I assumed was the final mile or so.

I started running again and felt good.  the road was again rather flat here and I wasn't sure why.  I figured I had perhaps simply mis-remembered the map and continued onward. I was running relaitvely fast and the fact I covered a fair amount of terrain before the road began to climb again should have been a sign.  Any picture of Christo reveals it is on a solo peak, which rises drastically from its surrounding.  There is nothing gradual about its ascent at alll.  But when the road climbed high again I made the assumption I was in the right place.

Not quite sure what made me decide to glance over my left shoulder but believe me I am glad I did.   There, off in the distance, on a peak I was no longer climbing, was the statute I was trying to go to.  This is the face of a person who realizes they made a wrong turn somewhere and have a lot of running to do just to get back to where that turn might be.

I had no choice but to turn around and figure out where to go. Back down the road I went finally making it to where all the people were lined up. I asked someone how exactly I got up to the top and they pointed toward the line of people. I shook my head and moved my arms to indicate like I wished to run to the top.  Again he pointed toward the line of people. I simply said thanks and headed back down the hill. Down was not the direction Wanted to go. Suddenly, I saw a small road, hidden by vines and shrouded in shadow.  A small bus popped out of the darkness and I realized this was indeed the road to the top.  Huzzah! That said, it was no wonder I missed it. These Brazilians like to hide their treasures.

Up I went knowing I had about a mile and third left until I finally hit paydirt. Here the road got more and more steep and the switchbacks became numerous. The buses from behind me were louder and louder as their gears strained to make the turns and grade. I would wave at the people in the comfortable seats as they stared back at me. I might have been struggling but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I was finally going to get to the top. I tried not to think about it too much as I wasn't there yet and a torn achilles and organized marmoset attack could easily stop me.

Finally, one last turn and ...a turnstile. Yep. All this way and the non-payoff comes from the fact that I didn't have the equivalent of $16 to get past the attendant to climb the final few steps. Drat. I guess by being a runner and being able to see some of the most amazing things in the world for free, you get a little uppity when it comes to paying for sights. Now, if I happened to remember my credit card I may have paid the amount needed to swing around the other side and see the front of the statute.  But I think it was rather fitting that after all of this, there was still something left for me to view some other day.  So I took the best shot possible that I could, with a wall and trees seemingly in place to keep anyone from doing anything of the like and then turned to run back down.

As expected, it was far easier to head back down the road but from from easy. The grade was so steep that the quads really took a pounding. But as I zipped down the hill, chatter from marmosets in the trees and sun on my back, I was happy nonetheless. While others could take a train halfway up, and then take a bus, and then pay to get through the turnstile (each costing a different amount if I recall correctly) I was lucky enough to be able to run to the top. Almost twice in two different ways.  Neither went as planned but both helped paint this tale.

Before I hit the steepest part and couldn't do much looking around and enjoying lest I go ass over teacups and break a collarbone, I was still enjoying the scenery. All over town I had seen what I would say is graffiti of a certain face. Sometimes he had a pencil-thin mustaches. Other times he had on a gas mask.  But it was undoubtedly the same character probably drawn by the same guy.  Now I say graffiti because I don't think it was commissioned by anyone to do. Obviously the artwork took talent and it would be great if more art like this could be turned into paychecks for the artists. Nevertheless, even though I had seen the face in numerous places, it was only on this final descent did I see one that struck me.  It struck me because,holy crap, did it look like me!

OK, maybe I am stretching it a bit as my teeth lack the gap and I am not orange and my chin is not point but still. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.  It was like the mountain, after making it so hard for me to get to the top, was kinda winking at me and saying good bye.

I may not have seen the statute from the front but I saw so much more as I wound my way around Corcovado. I ended up running more than a few miles more than I wanted to originally yet those extra miles allowed me to see even more of the mountain and its environs. In fact, as I ran on my extended visit of the mountain, I overheard that a waterfall was up the road a piece from one of my meanderings.

Now I have something else to see if I ever go back.  Hope they don't charge for it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Three Years in Portland

Three years into living in the greater DC area and I was thinking about moving. I came thiiiis close to signing a deal with a foriegn shoe company that would have changed my life. (To this day that deal is why I believe virtually no one when they say they will do something until it is actually 100% accomplished.)  Three years into living in Salt Lake City and I while I had less of a desire to move from there than I did in DC, I still had some itchy feet.

Three years of living in Portland? Well, I almost bought the place I am living in now just the other day. Well, almost isn't correct. But as almost as I have ever come to thinking about buying a place. Point being, who knows what will come up in the time being but right now I am more than content to live in the City of Roses.

1096 days of living in a place can give you some perspective and knowledge of the area.  You also can realize how little you know of it, especially when you spend about a week of every month away from it. I still haven't eaten a Voodoo Doughnut. Haven't, and won't, drink a craft beer of any kind. In spite of the plethora of opportunities, haven't even made it into one of our many fine strip clubs (even the vegan one!) Even when it comes to running, when people insist it must be a great running town (it's fair; but I guess it matters what you think makes a city a great place to run) it took me until just last month to finally run from Forest Park end to end.  I assumed I would have done that my first month here back in 2012.

When I moved in, I didn't really know what to expect of this town.  My arm and shoulder were still healing from a bike crash. I was barely two months removed from running the entire coast of Oregon. I assumed I would make constant trips to visit the ocean. In three years I have probably been there five times total. I also have realized that living on West Coast time is really odd. Sporting events start in the afternoon. NFL games start at 10 am. Many of my friends are getting up to go to work when I, the night owl, am still working away.

I have learned how extraordinarily diverse the state of Oregon is. I have been trying to explore as much of it as I can when I am home. It has not gotten to the point that most of the places I have no been to are at least a 3-4 hour drive away. That's a commitment to exploring when you know 6 hours of driving is needed to to get to and from.

My running has had some ups and downs, mostly downs.  However, it seems to be on the upswing. I have run some routes so many times and named them that my friends and fans on social media often know the routes and when I run them. That is a tad frightening when you think about it but flattering as well.

That said, I wanted to celebrate this 3rd year Portland-aversary with a special run. I had mapped out what I knew would be a little bit of a headache-to-run route a while back. I wasn't sure when or if I would ever run it.  But last night I decided today was the day.  So I loaded up my Camelbak Marathoner pack (it was a warm day today in Portland and I needed some water), started my Timex One GPS+ and off I went.

Most of my runs when I am home have the purpose of being workouts, not exploring or sightseeing.  Today, however was about taking it all in. Learning some new areas, realizing the route actually went over parts I had run over just once or twice previously in the past 3 years and some that I run about 2-3 a week.  It was a nice mish-mash.

All told, however, I think the route symbolizes what I think of the Beaver State. I sure do love it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thoughts on Father's Day

My father passed away three years ago in January. On Father's Day I have well-meaning friends say they know today must be hard for me. However, if not for the fact that it is made very much in my face that today is Father's Day, I don't think about him that much more than I do normally.

My father was not a perfect man. I wish he had been a better father.  By the same token, I am not a perfect man and I know I could be a better son (brother, relative, friend, marathon runner, writer, etc.) I also know that I am happy that he is no longer on this planet in the form he was in when I last knew him. Crippled by a hunting accident before I was born, my father spent his entire life that I knew him in constant pain. Becoming obese by a combination of his accident and his own personal choices, he was far from happy when it comes to his physical state. Near the end of his life, Alzhemier's robbed him of his mind.Whereas I can go for a run when crap is weighing on me, and lose my thoughts and mind for a bit to escape, he had no such physical escape. With his mind gone, there was nothing left of him.

Before Alzheimer's set in the hardest way, his memory began slightly receding. He hated it. With a passion. It made him so angry when he couldn't remember the slightest detail. I can only imagine that he saw that with his mind on its way out that his body would soon follow. He had long since outlived his expiration date given to him by doctors following his accident.  My family had repeatedly said the only way he was still alive was because he was too stubborn to die.  Akin to a quote about Teddy Roosevelt dying in his sleep, it is a good thing Death came for my father when he was not himself because Death would have lost an eye in the battle.

Dads are marginalized. They are made the butt of virtually all sitcoms and commercials. Poor befuddled men don't know how to run a dishwasher or make sure the diaper is on correctly! I saw a Coke advertisement for those personalized cans. Mom was large and in charge. Grad was next. Then, in a smaller freaking can, was Dad. Mothers are told they have the most difficult job on the planet. My thoughts on that are summed up best by comedian Bill Burr (hilarious link that has some foul language in it here.) Fortunately, things are turning around for the dad set. (And believe me, I love my Mom, too.)

Do I have a point? Actually, I don't know. I am in Canada for the day to watch the Women's World Cup. I went for a run on the very cool Bog Forest Trail. I was alone with my thoughts and they turned to the game I was going to be watching. I played soccer for more than few years growing up. While my father was more of a fan of baseball, and made every single game I played, he would watch many of the soccer games as well.

For three years I played soccer and football at the same time. I had a forgiving soccer coach who allow me to show up late to practice because there was no way in hell that the football coach in small, Northwestern Titusville, PA would let me get out a little early to go kick a ball around. After football practice ended, I would jump in the back of my Dad's beat up truck, and in the drive all the way across town (I am pretty sure it is one mile; wait let me check: nope it is 1.8 miles) I would be changing from football clothes to soccer clothes. Some days I would keep the football pants with their legs pads on when I was feeling in a particularly forceful mood for soccer.

My father (and my mother) would shuttle me between these events and allow me to mediocrely play as many sports as I could, with little to no complaints. While both parents were at virtually every sporting event I took part in, for some reason soccer, the sport my Dad was most indifferent about, is the one which makes me think about my Dad the most.

I have no tidy way to sum up my thoughts. There is no overarching cathartic point which will tie this together. I guess this really is not a post for anyone else but rather a place for me to think out loud. As his life was winding down, and mine was changing from interviewing with the CIA and wanting to be a spy (seriously) to making a living running and writing and talking about it, I spoke to him virtually every day.  He didn't remember all of the conversations.  If a few days went by between me mentioning a marathon coming up and me running it, he would need reminded.

However, I think our bond as father and son was closest those last few years. My favorite moments were when my father, not know to lavish praise on either myself or my brother, would tell me how good of a writer I was.  He would end some conversations where I was mentioning writing a new book or trying to get it into a big chain store with "I really hope you do.  Gosh, you are a good writer."  I told him he had told me that repeatedly but I never got sick of it. His voice conveyed just a touch of surprise, a dash of awe and a bunch of pride.  Those phone conversations were really nice.Not great. Not wonderful.  Just I would end the call with an "I love you" and he would say it back.  Nice is the best way to describe it.

Maybe that is my point. Don't just call your Dad today. Call him tomorrow. And often. Someday you won't be able to do so and you will regret it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal needs to "identify" with being a fraud

So I am watching this Rachel Dolezal zoo and as much as I don't want to give her any more press, I thought: "OK, here is 10 minutes where you get to explain yourself. Go." Matt Lauer interviewed her on Today and I figured I would do my best to watch it with an open mind.

But before two seconds goes by I already can't stand her. From the get go when Lauer says "All the headlines" and she shakes here head with an audible sigh as if to say: "I know! What's up with that?" I want to grab her by her fake nappy hair and say "YOU CAUSED IT ALL."  Then I regroup and try to listen again. (By the way, has any woman ever been accused of faking her fake hair before?)

Lauer asks her in many different ways talking about the lid be blown off and if she is white and Dolezal says she needs to discuss the "complexity of her identity." Rachel, sweetheart, your parents are both white. Unless, they are not your parents (entirely possible and there is some WEIRD story that is going to leak) then there is no complexity. I do not care what you "identify" as. I identified as a superhero growing up.  I don't get to BE a superhero. I am not freaking Nightcrawler because we are both German! I calm myself again. Wait. Am I seriously only 42 seconds into this?!

Next there is a segment about what her parents say which is quite complimentary. "She is a very talented woman. Doing work she believes in. Why can't she do that as a Caucasian Woman, which is what she is."  Dolezal then goes on to say: "I don't see why they are in such a rush to whitewash (seriously, she said "whitewash) some of the work I have done and who I am." They aren't in a rush. I am guessing they have been trying to do this for 32 years (your age minus the age 5 time when you started using brown crayons to color pictures of yourself which I think is all this court needs to determine you are black. Case closed.)

When asked why she identified a black man as her dad she says "Every man can be a father, not every man can be a dad." Meanwhile she has this shit-eating smirk on her that god god almighty I want to knock right off.

It is here I realize something. The other day I compared Dolezal to Donald Trump in a tweet. I was partially joking but now I realize I was right. She is 100% delusional. No matter what happens, no matter what facts are put in front of her, she will always have an explanation or a reason. On the Daily Show the other day, Jon Stewart mentioned that they finally got Donald Rumsfeld.  He then realizes that is is not only hollow but fruitless as people like him will just always swivel into another answer. This is exactly like this situation. Anyone who can says they "identify" with something and think it is a synonym for "being" is never going to change their mind. Or maybe she is not delusional. Maybe she is just supremely manipulative. You know, making the words mean whatever she wants whenever them to mean what she wants them to mean. Bill Clinton asking what the definition of "is" is, comes to mind. Masters of deception. Slight of tongue, if you will. They might get caught from time to time but rarely.  If they do, more people are willing to take them back into the fold then shun them.

Far more qualified people than me (who get actually paid to express their viewpoints, by the way) can tell you how this ongoing action by Dolezal is mind-numbingly in bad taste at best, shocking horrible at worst. I can simply say I know most of what I need to know about Rachel Dolezal comes from a couple of things.
1. She sued her college, Howard, a historically black university, over discrimination because she was white.
2. Even given the benefit of hindsight, she says her life has been one of "survival" and for the most part, she wouldn't change the things she has done. She reminds me also of Cheryl Strayed, who I gladly skewered in a blog post about her fictional tome "Wild".

What irks me most about this is the plethora of people doing good and doing things the right way who do not get the attention they deserve. This seems like an awful time to plug my book with Lacie Whyte called Running With the Girls but the exact purpose of that book was to show people doing just that. Rising up, surviving and making the right decisions. Not getting caught, pretending you did nothing wrong and then acting like somehow we are all the bad ones because you continuously lie, use subterfuge or don't answer the questions.

It boils down to this, for whatever reason, which we may not know, Rachel Dolezal is a fraud. She tried to milk a system whichever way she felt it would best serve her purposes and maybe 20 years ago before social media etc, she would have skated by. But she didn't. She got caught.

Try as you might, she can't whitewash that.

The Dipsea Race Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 9th Edition 
132.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: The Dipsea Race
Place: Mill Valley, CA
Miles from home: 640
Weather: 50s; overcast

As my continual research for my next book continues, there are some races I know that will be included in it before I even run them. Or more accurately, they will REALLY have to mess up for me to not include them.  Suffice it to say the Dipsea Race did not mess up. In fact, it more than delivered.

I recall once writing a race recap that said something akin to how I did not have the race I was hoping to have. In fact, my experience with the race was hardly an enjoyable one. Nevertheless, I felt the race itself was top notch, did everything right, and is one everyone should run. The same can be said about Dipsea.

That may seem confusing so allow me to clarify.  I do not like to, nor am I any good at, running uphills. In fact, I would venture to guess that for anyone who has run under 2:50 in a marathon, I might be the worst uphill runner alive. The Dipsea Race has some serious uphill. I knew this going into the race. It was not a surprise. I do not fault the race for it. But that is why I did not "enjoy" myself, per se, at least when I was running it.  However, I am 100% glad I ran this race and can see myself returning. It is definitely a course where repeated runnings, or at least repeated specific training on the course, will help you excel.

For those who are unaware of the Dispea Race, let me provide you with a brief background. First held in 1905 with a group of men challenging each other to see who’d be first to Stinson Beach from downtown Mill Valley, California, taking whatever route they chose, the Dipsea race still maintains its one-way course and continues to favor those who know shortcuts (though the course has been greatly restricted over the years.) The race has a unique handicapping system, in which the oldest and youngest runners start first, with each age/gender wave following each minute after. This handicapping system was something I had major reservations about.  I feel "age-grading" or other manufacturings are just not something I usually like to deal with. But for some reason, this didn't bother me at the Dipsea.

The race definitely has a small-town feel even though there were roughly 1500 registered runners for the 100th running. Now, I know runners brought up in the age of monster-races with bands every mile think 1500 participants sounds quaint, but that is a lot of people. Throw in the fact this is one challenging course, and getting that many people to push themselves that hard is no small feat. Kudos to the Dipsea people for getting that done.

Why some races take off, gain a foothold, and never slip is a mystery. Others are flashes in the pan.  Even many others barely make a dent before fading away. Dipsea has that certain feel, however. There are plenty of reason or theories why that is so. But what matters most is that it does.

The course itself is a study in contrast. A quarter of a mile road leads to 688 stairs that runners traverse in three flights with a smidgen of road between each flight. For reference that is like climbing as a fifty-story building. But with uneven slippery steps. From there runners go down the other side of Mount Tamalpais into the Muir Woods. After a brief respite, a monstrous climb of 1200 feet or so takes runners to the top of the trail, but not before a trail of uneven footing, single-track footpaths, through an incredibly steep terrain, not to mention a rainforest. Your reward for getting through this is being allowed to nearly break you neck through the narrowest of trails before finally jumping out onto 1/3 of a mile of downhill road to the finish. Suffice it to say, I liked 1/3 of a mile of this race.

Race Morning:

I mistakenly thought the race started earlier than it did. This mistake however allowed me to find a parking space at the start. Without a doubt the logistics of this race would make it difficult for a single runner to navigate it smoothly, unless they did copious research.  Given I showed up at the wrong time, one can see how copious my research was. I am unsure exactly why I planned so poorly for this race but I just did. Fortunately, it worked out for me. Parking spot in hand, I settled in for a small rest.

There was one section which was forbidden for runners to enter. When I inquired why, one of the codgerly old volunteers said, without fear of reprisal: "So runners don't piss and shit in front of the City Hall." Makes perfect sense to me. Apparently this had been a problem in the past and the city had threatened to close the race down. Well, we can't have that. Stay in the portapotties, people!

The race officials lined people up according to their wave. Then they lined up the next group "in the hole" and the rest of us milled around sorta in the groups where were assigned. As dozens and dozens of people would line up and run up the street, all I could imagine was how bad it was going to be to pass people. That's if I had the strength in my legs to do so.

Finally it was time for the "Y" group to go. A few smatterings of banter was given to us by the announcer and then a 3...2...1... Go!

Up the Stairs

As we ran the short road to the stairs, I tried to assess how serious my fellow runners were. I was in no way not racing but as I was here as part of the "media" I wanted to take in as much of the race as possible from  that perspective. I don't care what anyone says about scenery: if you are racing hard, especially on a trail, you aren't paying attention to it.  Or if you are, you are doing so at great personal risk to your health and well-being. But if you take off the throttle just a bit, you can look around. You can see the sites. You can be part of the course. That was my goal for the day.  Push, but not too hard. and see why Dipsea is Dipsea.

When, not even a minute into the race, we ran through a park and more or less hurdled a swing set and slide in a playground, I knew this was going to be a much different kind of day than I usually encounter.

As we climbed the stairs, the runners almost came to a walking stop. Those going slower (including me) immediately moved to the right. Here there was enough room for two bodies to go abreast. For extremely ambitious there was enough room to the left of the stairs for runners to run on the dirt. I didn't like "walking" here but I knew this was not where I was going to make up any time on people. Huffing and puffing, I conquered one set of stairs.

There were plenty of people on the sides of the stairs cheering on the runners. It appeared from my peripherals that a few houses had backyards which abutted the stairs. Their owners, or trespassing fans, rang cowbells and cheered us on from those backyards. I was mostly focused on the shoes and butt in front of me and tried to say thank you here and there though gasps for breath.

The vast majority of these steps were a blur for me. What stands out most, however, was between the 2nd and 3rd staircases, where we popped out onto Hazel Ave. To my right there was an SUV idling. I hesitated at the top of every hill and staircase to catch a deep breath and then attack. This hesitation must have given this person who just HAD to be somewhere the gumption to gun it. Apparently this person did not know about the race and that it would be crossing this very narrow winding street. That's understandable. It is only the 100th running of the race. *eye roll* Of course, they only went about 15 feet before they had to stop again. The previous group of runners had not yet finished running on the road and were clamoring up the stairs. I and the guy right behind me basically ran into the back of the SUV as it lurched to a stop. We squeezed between it and the wall of the hill before slipping by and taking on the third set of stairs. A spectator said : "That SUV has made the most aggressive move of anyone yet today."  I actually smiled at the comment.

On this set of stairs I felt my achilles and calf aching a bit.  Having had some issues with them both in the past, I am always mindful of their whining. I was glad this was the last set of stairs but also a little worried. I perhaps needed to step off the throttle just a tad more. At the top, a volunteer said; "Straight up the hill and down the trail!" I replied: "I thought we were already running straight up the hill!"

Down Through Shortcuts

One of the idiosyncrasies about this race is how, even though the chances have grown slimmer, runners are allowed to take shortcuts. This is a very European style of racing which can sometimes cause controversy here in the US. As I raced down the hills here I was unsure what I would do when presented with the shortcuts. For the most part, while shorter, they were more difficult to run. The first I saw was marked with two signs. To the left it said "Suicide". To the right it said "Safer". One of my main goals was to get through this race without any injuries.  I am enjoying my most niggle-free year of running in quite sometime and a twisted ankle like I had on Thanksgiving would not make my day. I decided that since absolutely no one seemed to be taking the longer route it might be the better choice. So right I went.

During this longcut, I looked ahead and saw not a single runner. I was surprised that no one else went this way. I used this as a little bit of a breather as I did not have to worry about someone crazily bombarding past me and scaring the bejesus out of me. They didn't frighten me as much as I was feeling all mother hen about watching someone bite it and break a femur. When I popped out of the longcut I looked around at the other runners around me. I did not recognize a shirt or shoe. While I am not 100% sure of the distance, it appears I added a good quarter of a mile to my run. That explains why no one else was taking the route! Oh well.

Skipping across Muir Woods Road and a parking lot we were at 139 feet above sea level. The next 2 miles would take us up to 1,356 feet and the top of the trail. If it was just 600 feet per mile that would be bad enough. But the trail ahead would be filled with roots, rocks and, for those over 5'4'', branches to knock you unconscious.

An Ocean View:

I have long since learned to employ a walking method for uphill running. It usually what seems like 1/10th the effort for 85% of the speed. While I may lose a race to a few runners doing this, I feel I arrive in much better shape and ahead of many more than if I tried to "run" a hill. Suffice it to say there are large sections of this hill that absolutely no one on Earth is running. They may be trying to make the effort but it is comical at best.

Deer Park Fire Road is its official name but for the next 2 miles this road was hell for me.  I did, however, pass more than a few runners with just one or two runners passing me. Also, suddenly, around mile four, I felt like a new man. This is not surprising given it often takes me about 6 miles in a marathon to wake up and time-wise these four miles here took that long. In fact, in spite of the rugged footing and steep climb, I did find myself bounding through a few spots.

One of my biggest trepidations about this race was the supposedly narrow paths and how hard it would be to pass people when necessary. While this was more or a less a truism on the small amount of downhill we had (I will get to that in a bit) for the most part, counter-intuitively, the uphill section were rather wide. If you had the energy and the gumption, it wasn't too hard to pass a runner. That's a big "if" however.

I did not know at the time that the top 450 runners get an automatic invitation to return to the race. If so, perhaps I would have run a few more sections. Then again, because of the wave starts, I had no idea what place I was in. I did know that I was passing not only people I had never seen but one or two here and there who had gone out in my group. I also knew I was dripping with sweat. My hands on my knees to help me push up the hill would just slip off my drenched quads. Bent nearly in half, I would almost facebutt my leg before catching myself when they did.

Running through an area called "Rainforest" did not help this whatsoever as seemingly out of nowhere a light rain fell from the tree. In spite of the slippery nature, it was actually rather neat. I expected a T-Rex to pop its head out of the jungle any moment. Whether it ate my competitors to help me, or ate me to put me out of my misery, either would be fine.

Up ahead I could hear the clanging of cowbells and loud cheers. I could tell we were about to crest the hill and I was excited not only for the ability to run but for what had to be a wonderful view. So I readied myself, got to the top, took a big breath - and fog covered the entire ocean area. Reminiscent of my first trip to the Grand Canyon which I recounted in my Rim2Rim run, it was almost a joke. I couldn't see anything! No matter, really. I had a downhill to run as fast as possible.

To The Finish:

During the first descent earlier in the race, I had on occasion gotten behind someone who was running a bit slower than me. For the most part I let it go without trying to kill myself going around them. I wanted to stay upright and aside from one tiny slip, I had been a balancing act fool. I credit my Karhu Trail shoes for giving me not only some serious traction but also for keep my feet feeling good throughout.

Following a brief section that could be characterized as flat or even back uphill for a minute, I was ready to head downhill. I used this section to pass more than a few runners as, even though I did not know the course, I did know it was virtually downhill barring "Insult"- a small but steep hill right near the end.  Unfortunately, as noted before, the trail became much thinner here. A plethora of roots appeared. High, thick grass barely divulged where the trail was or where it was turning until you already had a foot planted on the ground. Passing here was not only impossible but would have been destructive to runner and foliage if tried. All my legs wanted to do was go and they were locked in prance mode.

Finally, at the Whitegate Ranch trail head we popped out onto a road. I had no concept of time or distance and assumed this might be the final stretch to the finish. Unfortunately, about 100 yards up the road I could see runners heading back onto the trail. I remembered this from the excellent UltraSportsLive course preview and it was not the end. But if I hustled I could pass some runners. So hustle I did.

While I passed roughly 15 runners in this short section it put me smack dab into another group. I was a bit exasperated as I had just spent the previous mile stuck behind a solidly running, yet slower-than-me woman. I was, however, impressed, as she was running the whole race in a pair of Vibrams.  Right on cue, when I noticed that was her footwear of choice, I step on a really sharp rock. How anyone can run in those is beyond me. Unfortunately, given the narrow trail and her just fast enough-I-couldn't-pass speed, I was behind her far longer than I wanted to be. In addition, I almost knocked myself unconscious a tree branch which anyone 5'4'' or under might not have noticed. It was here that I decided with no sun and completely cloud cover with dense trees overhead, I should remove my Julbo sunglasses for just a bit.

Up and over Insult, I had one last group of about 5 people I had to contend with. I knew the road was coming soon so rather than push by them now I waited another 200 yards or so. That would come to bite me in the ass.

Finally, after what was far too long, I erupted onto US 1. I could hear the finish line bells and cheers about 1/3 of a mile away. I turned on the jets and flew passed 5 runners. A group of 10 more or so was ahead. I gave it all I had and quickly had them beside and then behind me. My watch shows I ran, albeit briefly, a nice 4:15 mile pace. It has been a long time since I have wanted, or needed, to kick a race finish this hard.  But with people in front of me to catch, I did just that.

In the final stretch of 100 yards or so I had to make one last decision: was it worth the hard effort to knock out a few other runners? If I knew what I knew now, I would probably say no it was not.  But then I wanted to dig deep and pass everyone I could see. And pass them I did.

I finished in a running time of 1:10:18. My goal had been around 1:05. I was, however, basing that solely on a guess as I had no idea how long it should take me. This finish (with the two minute handicap giving me a 1:08:18) put me in 458th place. Or in other words, 8 places out of a guaranteed spot for next year. Bollocks.

I looked at the results for the race and tried to figure out how many people passed me. It looks like around 90 or so did from the groups in my own group and the two behind me. Now, I may be wrong about that as I don't think there were that many people total behind me but who knows. All I do know is that a mere 16 seconds separated me from my guaranteed entry. Until I found that out, I was fairly certain I would not be repeating this race anytime soon. Now, the competitive runner in me wants to come back, knock 10 minutes off my time and retired having run a sub-60 Dipsea. Time will tell if that happens.

As it stands, I am more than pleased with not only the race, but my effort and the results. I broke nothing, ran a solid time, enjoyed how well-run the race was (I can appreciate a finely-tuned machine even while it is making me suffer) and got plenty of thoughts for a chapter in my next book.

If you can get in, you should run the Dispea Race. Your time may not be great, and you may not fully enjoy the pain while you are doing it, but you will be happy that you have experienced this interesting and wonderful event.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Running Forest Park - All 50 Kilometers Of It

One of my very first runs in Portland back in 2011, even before I lived here, was in Forest Park. It is the go-to, easy response to anyone who wants a recommendation as to where to run in Portland. But it is neither an easy run to do nor the most straightforward of places to know from where to start. Unless you wish to get hopelessly lost you definitely need to have either a sense of direction or pay really close attention to which trails you are supposed to be on. Of course, those who love it are usually those who run on it the most, know the trails like the rest of know our hometown streets. and can't fathom getting lost. But it definitely can be done.  I have done it often much to my chagrin.

Regardless of this, I ran there a few years ago, really enjoyed it and after moving to Portland assumed I would be going there often. But the thing is I live on the wast side of the Willamette River. The park is on the west side of the river. Because of my disdain of driving somewhere to run this great lessens my chances of running there. To me, driving is wasted time I could spend running. Driving across the bridges and hoping to find parking near one of the trailheads is not my idea of time well spent. Call me spoiled but I like lacing up my shoes and beginning my run.  That is, without a doubt, why my favorite location for living ever with regards to running was across the street from Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.  Three thousand miles run around a 1.5 mile loop in four years attests to that.  In addition, because I spend so much time in the zone of paying attention to my body and how it feels, how pretty the visages are around me when I run  mean very little. I can appreciate them, sure, but they are not as important.

Of course, having said all of that, I still very much yearned to run the length of Forest Park on the Wildwood Trail. Last July, after living here for two years, I decided to give the nearly 50km run a go. The forest-traipsing was cut way short when a ridiculously placed seam in my shorts rubbed very sensitive parts on me quite raw. I hadn't even made it halfway. I vowed I would be back.

On Friday, 48 hours before my birthday, I was out of sorts. I don’t think it had anything to do with turning 39 as much as it just was one of those days.  In the shower, I decided I would be running Forest Park on Sunday, my birthday.  Perhaps I felt a twinge of guilt from not having completed a Rim2Rim2Rim running of the Grand Canyon two weeks prior.  I had made it Rim2Rim, lost my desire to run anymore and called it a day. I was then, and am now, fine with that decision.  Stopping “early” was the right call for that day. Yet, one can still be disappointed with decisions which are the right ones to make.

So, I asked my best friend Shannon if she would be so kind to help me out with the running of the trail. As there are no sources of water for the entirety of the 31 miles of the Wildwood Trail, if you are going to run it by yourself you are either going to have to sweat far less than I do, or carry a ton of water. But if you can talk a friend into meeting you twice along the way, to crew you and haul some supplies, you have it made. Luckily, I did the latter.

Fortunately, while it was forecasted to be quite warm and sunny on this celebration of my birth, I knew that the park is virtually impenetrable when it comes to sunshine. The old-growth forest and new growth and every-other-growth create quite the canopy. As long as it was not too humid or too muggy, I should be fine. 

I planned on starting at 8 a.m. Arriving right around that time near the zoo, I remembered there is no bathroom right there to be used.  This strikes me as odd every time I run here as it seems a portapotty would be so appreciated by many here.  However, I remembered there was a permanent bathroom nearby at the Arboretum. I took care of business and only slightly late at Bob O’clock (8:08 a.m.) I was underway.

First 9ish miles to 53rd Ave Trailhead

One takes off from the parking lot of the zoo and can almost immediately walk if they want. Well, I guess you can walk anywhere but given how steep the first 50 feet of the trail are, my point is a run won't be much faster. I don’t like running uphill at all and the first four miles of this run are far and away the hardest of the entire run. In addition, here at the start, there are a variety of ways and trails branching off from one another to lead you astray. So paying attention is paramount. Case in point, about 2 miles of running and I somehow completely did a loop and ended up right back to a road near the Arboretum which I had already passed. Bollocks. Not the way I wanted to start the day.

I got myself on track, though, and was able to double back and find where I think I should have gone. Then I remembered, because of my trip to the bathroom earlier, that the Wildwood Trail crosses the road near the Arboretum. I simply ran down the road, eschewing adding another half mile to follow the trail and got back on track.

When I made the trek last summer, I was lucky to have one Facebook friend meet me at the beginning and run an hour or so with me. Because of that I remembered a few wrong turns we had taken and they stuck out like sore thumbs. After shaking off the initial blah of being awake at this hour just to go run far and then making a wrong turn, I was feeling not too shabby.

Arriving at the Pittock Mansion, right around 4 miles in, pretty much signifies that the hardest climbs of the entire run are over.  If one was thinking of ending this way, they would have to deal with the big uphill on the other side I would soon be running down.  Also, that hill would be at mile 26 and not mile 4 which is why most who run the length of the trail here do so this direction. I nodded to a group of about five or six milling in the parking lot looking like they too were going for a run. I wondered how many, if any, would be doing the whole thing today as well.

Leaving Pittock I quickly plunged down the side of the hill and joined the Macleay Trail.  I forgot for a bit that the Wildwood and Macleay trails were one for a bit and this gave me a bit of pause. Then I came upon the Stone House and remembered. Supposedly haunted (you know if you believe in ridiculous things with no proof) it is nonetheless quite cool and creepy. In addition, the house reminded me of the second wrong turn I had made previously. So this time I made the climb up the right way.

The forest remained rather dark in spite of the sunshine I knew was beating down from above.  I have always been a little claustrophobic and it felt like the trees were heavy today. While I normally wear my Julbo sunglasses in nearly every condition, I found myself taking them off for a few miles. I needed the extra depth perception to pick out the trail and also feel less encumbered.

I was surprised by the lack of other runners and hikers out and about. There was a small influx near Macleay simply because that is a favorite entrance for many. Being self-employed and doing things on my own schedule, I have become accustomed to being able to do lots of things on opposite schedules of others. Grocery shopping when there is no one else around is an absolute joy, for example. So when I am doing something on a day and time when others should or could be, it makes me wonder where in the heck they are. Believe me, I did not want more people out there with their dogs off of leashes but was counting my stars as to how easily I was able to run where I wanted.

My prediction for these first 9ish miles was 90 minutes.  When I came up to the 53rd street trailhead to where Shannon was waiting with drinks and whatnot it was 1:36 into the run.  Given the detour at the beginning, that was pleasing.

To mile 24 at Germantown Road:

I spent a little over 12 minutes refueling myself at Shannon’s car as well as toweling off and wringing out my shirt. It truly is a marvel to see me sweat. I am aware it is extremely healthy but it is also extremely detrimental to trying to keep liquids in my body. If I have a superpower, it is sweating. In fact, I think I broke a small sweat just typing the word sweating a few times.

I also took in some calories here in the liquid from as well.  I have learned more than a few things about my body and I know it does not digest food very well when I am exercising. Competing in ultras is a special challenge because of the sweat thing and the digestion thing. Unfortunately, I might have taken in a little too much Mountain Dew here.  For the first two miles, I felt fantastic.  It fact, it felt good for what seemed so long that I was sure I had been running longer than 16 minutes. However, suddenly my stomach churned and I was brought to a walk. For a bit I simply sauntered along, trying to settle it.  It was nice to know that other than my own ticking watch there really wasn't any pressure. No one was going to pas me from behind and knock me out of my age group.  It was just me and the trail. Fortunately, after a few minutes, all was right as rain and away I went.

A big milestone on this run would be not making a wrong turn I had made the last time I tried this trail last June. It was a helpful one as it put me on a road that took me out of the park to deal with the horrific chafing I had going on but was not one I wanted to repeat today. When I made the correct turn, I shook my fist defiantly at the road like I was an evil character in Scooby-Doo. Firelane One, I conquered you today. Your clutches will not entice me to go the wrong way down a Black Diamond-esque ski slope of a downhill only to realize it is wrong and have to trek back up it!

Soon thereafter, I heard voices from behind. I was wondering when or if I would have anyone passing me today. Two young bucks, shirtless with no hydration backs or bottles to speak of, flew by.  I figured this was probably just a small run for them and bid them adieu.  Sure enough, at the bottom of this hill, they were coming back at me, presumably to head back for their short 5 miler. The rule of running is that if anyone is running faster than you automatically assume they are also running not nearly as far as you.  It helps with the ego.

Before I knew it I was crossing both Firelane Two and Three which put me at 13.5 miles. That makes a man feel good until he remembers he is running 31 miles on that day. What did make me happy was my ability to run. I had always been a little anti-Forest Park simply because most of what I had run on it had been on those opening miles where you can’t, well, actually run. I hate hiking when I am supposed to be running.  That is why a few of the most illustrious 100 milers out there will never entice me. But here, this was almost entirely runnable. I changed my outlook immediately as mile after mile flew by. 

I crossed the Saltzman Road intersection and remembered this as a point where I tracked down a runner in the TrailFactor 50k two years prior almost to the day. Firelane Six followed and it seemed like everything was going by so quickly. I passed over Doane Creek (which I think is an extra vowel short of being awesome) but it was barely a trickle. Portland is in a bit of a drought, you know.  Of course,you wouldn’t because if it rains two days out of ten here that is all you hear about. 

At Firelane 7 I knew I was 20 miles in. I was making excellent time. My guess was this 15 mile section would take me a hair over 2:10 to complete.  Given how well I felt, I thought this might even be a tad slow. But then for some reason, things got weird. Either I took a wrong turn and added some miles or what felt like 8 minutes per mile was actually 11. I know it wasn’t the latter as I was cruising along the trails. But somehow, the last 4 miles took an inexplicably long amount of time.  Every minute one runs past the time they think it should take to get somewhere magnifies exhaustion, confusion and all the things we worry about.

When I finally came careening around a corner and Shannon was there taking a picture I was so damn glad to be done with this section.

To the end:

I spent what I thought was an exorbitant amount of time here refueling and drying myself but it ends up just being about minute longer than the previous stoppage. I drank and ate a little more here than before and had to have my entire Camelbak refilled. I had been leaking sweat like a sieve. It was also nice to be able to enjoy my Shurky Jurky a bit more as I wasn’t trying to chew it between heavy breathing. Of course, when that is the case, I usually just put it between my cheek and teeth and suck all the wonderful goodness out of it.

15 minutes later, I was running again.

This last 6 miles went by very quickly. I walked a little bit more than I would have liked but I knew in less than an hour I would be done. I got to thinking about how this was quite possibly the longest run I had ever done in my life that didn’t have a medal waiting for me at the end or was tied to a bigger event. I had run 50 miles a day for 7 straight days for my Pacific Coast 350.  I had run from Dane, WI to Davenport, IA in 3 days doing even more than that per day. But those had been almost race-like atmospheres. This was just me out running over 50 kilometers for poops and giggles. On trails. Neither are things I do very much without reason. In fact, when I was training for the Graveyard 100, the longest run I did in the 3 months prior to it was a hair over 19 miles. That ended up just fine.

There were a few places where the trail was exposed to sunlight for the briefest of time. The sun baked me in those ten or twenty yards.  It reminded me how warm it actually was outside and how nice this tree roof I was running under really was to do so.

I passed a few people here and there and told most of them thank you for moving (if they did) and to have a nice day.  About half of a mile from the finish, one of them said back to me “You, too!” I turned and said, “It’s my birthday and I just ran 32 miles. It is a damn good day.”  And I wasn’t lying.

Thanks to Shannon for “crewing” me once again. It was a great way to spend my birthday. 6500 feet of elevation gain, no wrong turns after mile two, no chafing, no falls (although I came close twice), no sprained ankles (same) in just a hair over 5 hours of running. I definitely did not have to do this. 

I got to.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What the Beef Industry Needs

I was recently reading a Runner's World​ article about a guy who ran around the world in a world record time. I didn't get far enough into the article to see how that world record was determined and how exactly he connected all the continents. Or how, considering it looked like he flew to multiple places, that makes it "running" around the world. I know most "world records" have stipulations as to what constitutes a record exactly and how those are laid out always intrigues me, given how arbitrary they can seem.  So, what stopped me from reading further, since the logistics of this sort of feat are what are always intriguing to me?  Well, one of his journal entries said:

"I am struggling to find much to eat during the day other than burgers. I may be the first person ever to run 50+ KMs per day for months and put on weight."

I am sure some of you might not see the problem with this statement. It's funny. It pokes fun at food. It shows how even running over 30 miles a day can't combat the fatty nature of burgers. But THAT is the problem. That eating beef is inherently bad for you even when you run more in a day than most people run in a week.  If this was a one and done comment, it would be easy to ignore.  However, in this very same issue of Runner's World, there are two very similar entries confusing the issue of beef and calories.

First is an article about Traci Falbo, who recently ran over 242 miles around a track in Alaska.  It talks about her weight loss from a peak of 213 lbs to her svelte 133 pounds now.  The article mentions how her lunch used to consist of a quarter-pounder, with cheese, fries and a large coke.  "I didn't realize how many calories that was," She says. Then Runner's World adds "It's 1,290!"

The second showing of this misconception is literally four pages later during an interview with elite middle distance runner, Duane Solomon. Under the heading Splurging he says "I get a burger and a shake."

Now before you think I am picking nits, let me give you some quick background. I have been working for over a half a decade to try and combat the misconception about the healthful qualities of beef. These types of comments are so prevalent it is amazing. The idea that eating beef is unheathful or bad for you is so ingrained in our culture it is almost hard to argue. But I guarantee you beef is rarely the problem when it comes to ingesting too many calories. Without a doubt, it is the bread. Or the sauce. Or any of the other things added onto the beef that pack on empty calories. (Just as an FYI, three ounces of lean beef, the size of a deck of cards, contains only 150 calories.  No, seriously. ONE-HUNDRED FIFTY. That means of the calories Traci Falbo had above, 179 of the 1290 came from the meat.  That's 13% of the calories.)

This attitude toward beef is not just held by those who have contempt for the product.  In fact, this all reminds me of a few years ago when I was running the Akron Marathon​. A guy came up to me at the Ohio Beef Council​ booth where I was signing books. I asked if he liked beef as he took one of the beef jerky samples I had.  He patted his rather rotund stomach (on a relatively fit body otherwise) and said with a smile: "What does it look like?"

I replied: "It looks like you like to eat crap and drink beer."

I am pretty sure that Ohio Beef Council people had a bit of a heart attack when I said this but it was what I thought. The guy laughed and said I was right. He knew the burgers weren't making him fat. It was his other poor choices. Not just lack of exercise but adding unhealthful things to a healthful food. Yet here was someone who was a fan of beef still convinced beef was his problem.  This needs to be addressed.

The beef industry is comprised of wonderful people doing wonderful things. But the message of beef being healthful is not getting out there the way it needs to be done. Preaching to the choir at food festivals in rural areas is a waste of money. Farmers and ranchers know beef is good for them. Unfortunately, years of almost needing to tiptoe around extremely vocal vegans and vegetarians has made the beef industry gun-shy.  I say vocal because according to a Harris Interactive study commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, only FIVE percent of the U.S. is vegetarian and about half of these vegetarians are vegan.  that is a noisy damn group of people.

When I was asked to be the first national “spokesrunner” for Team BEEF USA, I knew I would ruffle some feathers. I am not know to be exceptionally quiet nor do I back down from challenges, especially when those confronting me are flat-out wrong.  Now, let it be know, being a "spokesrunner" carries no perks. I don't get Omaha steaks delivered to my door. In fact, if anything, I am often the target of misdirected stupidity, misinformation, and hatred from many for my stances. That's fine. I have thick skin. But changes need to be made.

For the longest time, those attacking beef did so on two grounds:
1. it was unhealthy and not good for athletes or anyone.
2. it was ethically or morally wrong to eat animals.

At expo after expo, working with state beef councils across the nation I was told how nice it was to have me in the booth.  While I am sure it was for my sparkling personality, what it probably was about was how those wishing to vilify the beef industry couldn't use the unhealthy leg of their argument.  Obviously, eating beef wasn't harming my athletic performance at all. I was told it was refreshing to not have to deal with those who said eating beef was bad for you. Now, they only had to deal with the supposed moral implications of eating an animal. Interestingly enough, recent studies seem to indicate that plants feel pain, too. So if "killing" something to eat it is your main issue, well, to quote Jack Bristow from Alias, "You're gonna have a hard time."

The Beef Industry needs to no longer be as passive and as acquiescent as it has been in the recent past. Great bumper stickers like "The West Wasn't Won on Salad" shouldn't be kitschy or used only subversively. I know this is hard for many farmers and ranchers who are, by nature, hard-working people who mostly keep to themselves. If someone wishes to be loud and vociferous about what they are raising, then so be it. But unfortunately, the squeaky wheel is getting the grease. Like those who deny climate change or say vaccines cause autism (or put the word "babe" in their name - Eff off, Vani Hari, you ridiculous, idiotic hack) the drum-banging noisy ones are getting the attention.

My feeling is not that the industry needs to sway from its roots and go on a scorched-earth policy of campaigning. But it needs to hit people where it hurts: in the truth crotch (patent pending.)  Misinformation and misleading ideas are easy to spread and hard to kill. But if persistent, one can do so. I have been doing just that for years. What I found, to my delight, was the number of athletes who were well aware of how good beef was for them. But they were the quiet ones. They let those who wished to put down their food choices go right ahead and be loudmouths. Rather than bother themselves with the naysayers, they just ate the beef and excelled in health.

Of course you can survive without beef. There are also high-profile athletes in the running world who swear by a vegetarian diet. Good for them. It truly matters what works for each of us with regards to how we function best. However, vilifying a form of food which is good for you, inexpensive, and tastes mighty fine is something which we who love beef should no longer stand.

I've been doing all I can to get the message out.  Please join me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rim2Rim2Rim Recap

Writing this recap is mildly bittersweet.  My original plan was to run from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, to the North Rim and then back again. Called the Rim2Rim2Rim, it is on the must-do list of many runners. However, I made the executive decision halfway through that this would only be a Rim2Rim run. While I still know this was the right choice I wondered if it would leave just a little pang of, shall we call it, guilt? Yet, it wasn’t a race, there was nothing riding on it, and without a doubt I made the right choice. Sometimes you fail.  That is what setting lofty goals can sometimes do to you.

What bothered me most about not having the day I was hoping for was how the conditions for crossing the canyon were just about as ideal as one could wish. I joined a group of seven other runners (one planning on doing a Rim2Rim, one joining us on the North Rim to do a Rim2Rim in the southerly direction and five others), most who had attempted or completed this run before. In fact, some were back on a revenge trip, so to speak, from a run last year when temperatures topped over 100 degrees in the bottom of the canyon. The predicted high for the bottom of the canyon for us was not even supposed to hit 80 degrees.

I had seen the Grand Canyon once before. Well, actually, as the long-running joke would go, I had never actually seen it. Thirteen years previously, on a cross-country trip, I made a 100 mile detour from the planned route to see the canyon.  One cannot pass up an opportunity to see this marvel when they are so close, right? Well, foggy conditions basically made the canyon look like a 100 foot pit that ended in grayness. So on the day prior to our run, when sleet and rain and brutally chilly conditions surrounded us, we all decided to take a peek at the rim we would be descending the next day.  What did I see? Basically a mixture of grey on beige with a smidgen of taupe thrown in with the canyon ending 100 feet below us in clouds and mist.
There is no Canyon. Only Zuul.

The Canyon is fake, I declared.

This trip was spearheaded by my friend Dean Schuster. We met virtually way back in 2007 when we were both contestants for an all-expenses paid trip to run a marathon on the North Pole.  Literally, the Magnetic North Pole.  I ended up being the runner-up which might be the worst bridesmaid analogy in the world. Considering the chap who won the contest was friends with the organizers of the trip and while qualified to take on the challenge, his victory seemed ordained from the beginning, it was a bitter pill to swallow.  Dean and I bonded over this simmering failure on both of our parts to explore the most amazing of places. 

We later serendipitously met at a variety of races from Pennsylvania to Kentucky to North Carolina to Oregon. When I saw he was planning a return trip to the Canyon, I asked to join. Running an adventure like this with someone who I knew was a fastidious planner was something ideal for me, someone who really enjoys running a long way if someone else is planning it. Well, that’s not really true. I have planned out many an adventure.  But sometimes I leave little details out. Like triple-checking if you can take a rental car across the Costa Rica border so you can run across the Panama Canal. Nevertheless, joining a group of runners with experiencing crossing the canyon was rather enticing.

In order to beat any potential heat that would possibly occur, we were going to begin our run at 3:59:59 a.m.  If you know anything about me, you may know that hour of the day is not too long after I have usually gone to bed. I am, without a doubt, built to function in the evenings and nights. I am not a morning person. Five years of doing a paper route, six days a week in high school where I was up at 5 a.m. did absolutely nothing to change the circadian rhythms of my body.  It is what I am. When I was told we were getting up at 2:30 a.m. to get ready and make the relatively short drive from the hotel to the canyon, I was less than pleased. More so than just a preference, I absolutely believe this inability to function so early is something which has hindered me in a variety of adventures I have undertaken. That said, I was in bed, with the lights out, at 9 p.m. the night before which was a rather herculean task. I did what I could to be ready to take on the canyon.

Most of the logistics of the run we were undertaking I could not have provided to you beforehand.  It was not that I did not have Dean’s luxurious dossier to look at to do so. Rather, I was trying to remain as blissfully ignorant as possible.  This ignorance in no way led to me not being able to complete the run. In fact, I was about as prepared as I could hope to be.  I had run the Salt Flats 50 miler race just three weeks prior to get some miles (and more importantly, time on my feet) under my belt in preparation for this journey.  I felt quite ready even if until 48 hours prior I could not have told you which trail we were taking, which direction and what the route looked like. I can now, however and plan on doing so in great detail.

South Rim to Indian Garden Campground: (5 miles in 1:02)

Starting 37 seconds late (seriously, we were teasing Dean already about this) 7 guys headed down the pathways into darkness. While the order and packing of us runners would change throughout the day, we would essentially be broken into two groups: Dean, Kenneth, Drew and myself were in the first pack with Big Jeff, Little Jeff and Jim in a trailing pack not too far behind.  What made this trip so appealing to me was what can be a logistical nightmare for others.  Kenneth’s wife and his parents were going to meet us on the North Rim. Brooke was going to run back with Kenneth while his parents were going to provide the rest of us with support and any of the food and clothing we had left in their vehicle. This was no small feat or task as Kenneth’s parents dropped them off at the South Rim and then drove to the North many miles away (How Far? I will get to that later.)  The support and potentially "out" for those who weren’t having the day they hoped for was unbelievably appreciated. (This is what we in the writing business call “foreshadowing.”)

I would be remiss to not mention that I was the outsider amongst this rather tight-knit group of southerners
hailing from Columbia, South Carolina. Dean was originally from Connecticut and Little Jim from Upstate New York but they were all good friends in the Palmetto State. I was lucky to be included in their ranks and was happy, for the most part, to follow-along (except when it came to dinner. I just want food, damn it and now.). This made the fact that about five minutes into the run our making a wrong  turn that much more funny. It is fairly hard to make a wrong turn on the trails in the Grand Canyon but somehow we skipped off the path and onto some rocky outcropping.  Only when the “Hey, wait a minute.  This is nothing at all like last year!” light went off in some of their heads did we backtrack.  I told them I was counting this extra .25 of a mile on my entry into Strava. (I was, of course kidding.  Not about counting the mileage but about entering it into Strava. I have an account there and have about 200 friends but have never entered a workout.  Why anyone is following me is beyond me.)

The previous days rain had dampened the trail and laid waste to any dust which may have been kicking up.  With the temperature barely 40 degrees we were all beyond pleased with how the day was starting. Nevertheless, I was already sweating (natch).  In addition, barely two miles into the run I had already stopped to pee three times. I tried to use this as a reminder that I was going to need to hydrate but I was a little worried.  I have had similar experiences in ultras where the same set of circumstances has occurred (not thirsty and evacuating liquids constantly) and I knew it was not a good sign. I knew I could only take in so much liquid before it would slosh in my stomach. So, in order to combat this, I have to remember to sip small amounts but do so constantly.

We spent the first hour of the run galloping down the multiple switchbacks, dodging a puddle here and there. This was a quick descent with a lot of elevation lost in a short period of time. The trail often had logs underfoot, as these trails do, to provide stability and footing. On a descent like this, however, they force a runner to take choppy steps and this can add a little more pounding to the quads which you are definitely going to be using often.

The sun quickly began to brighten the darkness and 45 minutes unto the run most of the guys had turned off their headlamps. Me, not being as sure of my footing or the terrain kept mine on.  I somehow found myself at the front of the conga line and pranced down the steps.  Finding myself a little ahead of the group, I would stop here and there and let the spring recoil. I too eventually turned off my headlamp and the growing day revealed to me what I said didn’t exist: the canyon.

Superlatives are thrown around today like a rappers’ dollars at a strip club. But please believe me when I say this was absolutely breathtaking. More so because of the fact that I had never actually seen the canyon until I was here, deep down inside of her and enveloped in the splendid awe-inspiring wonder that was the crevasse. We had watched a relatively hokey IMAX movie about the Canyon the night before and made fun of the line about “fading into insignificance” delivered by Prospector Joe (or whatever the hell the one-armed narrator of the video was called) but it was certainly true. Dean, who will and does, talk to anyone, kept prodding me for a reaction.  My silence was half sleep-induced, half dumbstruck.

We sauntered into the first place to refills our water and packs. It was barely 50 degrees. The previous year it had been 20 degrees warmer at this point. Granted it had been nearly 45 minutes later (they had gotten a later start) but I was counting my blessings. That said, it took us an hour to go just 5 miles. Granted it was dark, we made a wrong turn, we took quick breaks for pictures or regroupings but I made the mental note that nothing was going to come easy on this day.

To Colorado River and Phantom Ranch (9.9 miles in 2:24)

When we began, I knew Phantom Ranch was the somewhat halfway point of the run.  At just about 10 miles, you had already crossed the Colorado River and skedaddled up the trail a piece beginning your ascent. But it was a good place to call halfway nonetheless. I had figured in my head we would get there around 100 minutes after we started, give our take. I could not see that was a misunderestimation even if we had not stopped to take a variety of pictures.  The pictures, however, were a necessity. The problem with trail running is, for the most part, the vistas and view trail runners like to say is the reason this running is the “best”, cannot be actually enjoyed while you are running. If you pay too much attention to your surroundings and not to your feet, you are bound to leave the latter and become part of the former. So, stopping to take pictures and simply be laid silent by your surroundings was a necessity. If it added some time to what I expected, so be it.

As we scampered deeper into the canyon, the sun began to fully illuminate all in front of us. However, because we were now close to the bottom, none of the sun was hitting us directly. It was truly the best of both worlds. Following Big Jeff and Drew, I scampered down the trail with Dean using his Go-Pro behind me. I was still waking up, still in deference to those who knew the way, and running in silence. The footing was impeccable, even in the slightly technical regions, regardless of the fact we had to occasionally dodge some burro droppings here or there. In the distance, echoing through the canyon walls I could hear the great cleaver of this canyon. The Colorado River, ravaged by the drought in this area, was still mighty and forceful. Long before I could see it I could hear it.  The anticipation was fantastic.

Turning one last corner in one last nook of the canyon and the muddy river lay ahead of us. The previous
year the river had been green and clear but with the previous days rain and slow, it was churning and sooty. I could have sat for hours watching it take away the earth chip by chip. But after a few pictures we were on our way.  In the distance we could see the narrow suspension bridge crossing the river. I had seen many pictures of this bridge but now I was finally going to cross it myself.  A surprise series of rolling hills here had us making our way to the bridge. I was hoping we would make it there under two hours (for no reason other than to say we had) but it took us about 2:05. Narrower than I thought, we waited a bit while hikers coming the other way filed across it in single file.  I am not quite sure why they would not have made the bridge just a little wider to avoid such congestion, but I guess I should be happy we had a bridge at all.

Once on the other side, we met a few more hikers and our first wildlife of the day. Deer, completely unmoved at our presence nibbled on barely budding bushes.What sustenance they could possibly get from these was beyond me. Then again, lots of people eat kale so who is the dumb animal here? *Rimshot* We chatted with a few people who were impressed we had made it this far this quickly and then trotted off.  Not long after we hit a bathroom and I, now at least mostly awake, had innards that followed suit. I needed to take five.

We filled our packs again, even though I hadn’t taken a sip from my Camelback marathoner pack and had probably only drank one full bottle of my handheld (a bad sign). I nibbled on some Shurky Jurky I had stowed away in my pack but felt neither hungry nor thirsty.  I took a couple of sips of ASEA and headed out after the guys, this time pulling up the caboose.

Our contingency soon found ourselves in Phantom Ranch where many were camping, getting ready for their hike to either side of whatever rim they were going to go or just milling around. We spent just a few seconds getting some group shots and then we took off. With a time of 2:24 minutes to get here, I re-evaluated how long it might take to do the whole run. I thought when we began I could run it in 10 hours.  I figured that 11 was probably more likely.

To Cottonwood (16.6 miles in 4:19:20)

I expected a much more abrupt uphill climb then this next section provided. We were beginning to pass hikers and other runners here and while I know we were going uphill, it felt good. Kenneth had now taken the lead and as he was expected to be the strongest runner, I thought I would stay with him for a bit. An untied shoelace, however, had me jumping in front.  I led for a mile or so, not realizing I was putting distance between myself and the others.  The last thing I wanted to do was have yet another long solo run in the wilderness, as I have on many occasions in actual races so I pulled over to the side. As Dean, Drew and Kenneth caught up, I fell to the middle of the pack.  Beside a glimpse here and there, this would be the last I would see of the Jeffs and Jim until the North Rim.

Dean and I began to run together and Drew and Kenneth pulled ahead. I expected this section alongside Bright Angel Creek to have far more uphill than it did. However, it was extremely runnable not only because of impeccable footing underneath but cool temperatures. Helping keep the temperatures low was the fact that there an intermittent cloud cover always seemed to pup up whenever we may possibly be heading into the sun. To state how unequivocally perfect this weather was for this time of year would not be using hyperbole. Unfortunately, I was beginning to feel that today might not be my day to take advantage of it.

My stomach did not feel quite right here and it was seeping forward into my head.  I began to think about how I didn’t really want to be out here for another six hours with a belly not feeling that great. I cannot say for certain that I did not feel wonderful because of the ridiculously early starting time (a necessity, don’t get me wrong) but there is no way it helped my situation. Here I was mostly chatting with Dean and getting immense personal satisfaction out of not only experiencing this amazing canyon but by hearing how happy Dean was that the weather was not like it was the previous year.  Dean had been forced to call it quits halfway across and one could tell it was going to take much more than just being a bit tired.

As we trudged forward, we could see Drew coming back into our sights. Kenneth, however, we would not see until much later. The three Ds would spend the remainder of the trip up the North Rim in somewhat tight-knit fashion with all three of us leading the pack at various points. We were a good team, feeding off of each other’s energy and when one person felt good, surging ahead to set the pace. At Cottonwood we rested, filled our packs and chatted with other runners. I sat at a picnic table and wondered where my day was going to end.

To Roaring Springs and the North Rim

I am combining the next two sections for a couple of reasons.  The last four miles or so are barely worth
recapping, at least from any sort of running perspective.  Except for a few short occasions when the trail flattened or I have an inexplicable burst of energy, this was nothing but a hike. From Cottonwood to the trial head the trail climbed over 4200 feet in less than 7 miles. Not only that, that 4200 feet of climb started at 4000 feet above sea level to begin with. In addition, somewhere in here my left quad really began to cramp. It wasn’t an injury.  It wasn’t the end of the world.  But with tons of climbing to go even after we finished the loop, I was pretty sure it was the end of my day.

My stomach had settled from earlier and that gave me pause as to calling it quits after just a Rim2Rim.  But I knew the last thing I wanted to do was get started again, get down into the canyon and have a leg which was not functioning.  I had thoroughly enjoyed the trip, with unbelievable visages. Good camaraderie and a general all-around good feeling.  I had nothing to prove to anyone with regards to making the complete return trip. Perhaps some miracle would make everything feel great near the end but barring that, I was done.
The final few miles sealed the deal for me.  Much more narrow and treacherous than the South Rim’s trail, the last thing I needed to do was worrying about cramping up as I (hopefully) traversed this downhill portion on the way back. My final hurrah or attempt at making it all work was as I approached the Supai Tunnel which according to varying reports is ~1.5 miles from the top. A park ranger asked me how I was doing and I asked him how far left I had to go.  He told me about a mile and a half and then added the dagger: “It is only about 16000 more feet of vertical change to get to the top.”  You might have been able to knock me over with a feather. 

So I pulled over to the side and waited. I could hear Dean and Drew below me chatting away. It wasn’t too long before they conquered the switchbacks betwixt us and we started once again to head to the top as a group. While not hot the temperature was indeed warm.  However, it would not be long before that would change. Whether there was simply a different weather pattern we were hiking into or the elevation topping out at nearly 8,300 feet but regardless the temperature plummeted.  Our feet occasionally hit snow.  The dirt trail underfoot became increasingly muddy and chopped with flecks of ice and snow.  Hikes coming back down toward us, including Kenneth and his wife Brooke, who would be doing a Rim2Rim on the “easier” portion, were all dressed far more warmly than I.  It was not that I wanted warmer clothing. At this point I was still sweating buckets. I realized since the peeing extravaganza at the beginning of the run, I hadn’t had the need to go once.  That wasn’t good.

Knowing that I was going to be cutting this trip short by one “2Rim”, I did my best to balance a bit of disappointment with the gorgeous views around me. Sure I wanted to make the trip back but for what? Pride? To impress people? I came to the realization it was none of those things but only rather because I said that was what I was going to do.  I like to do what I say I am going to do. I take great pride in the fact that people can trust me at my word. In fact, later, when I was sitting in our vehicle at the North Rim, waiting for the others to come in before Kenneth’s parents would start the long drive back to the South Rim, I waffled on my decision to stop about eleventy-billion times.  I knew then, like I have come to accept now, it was the right decision to stop. Sure, I would have loved to make it back under my own power.  The weather was ideal, I was here already, so why not go back? Well, because it wasn’t my day to go back.  Or at least it wasn’t my day to go back and enjoy much of it at all.

Instead, I turned into a good teammate. Little Jeff, who had originally planned to run Rim2Rim and myself joined the Ebeners on the drive back to the start.  The Rim2Rim run is roughly 23 miles or so.  As the crow flies it is 12 miles. Via car? 215.  On that trip back Little Jeff and I talked about our adventures along the trail and it was extremely neat to see how we had experienced such different things even being so close together. Taking the ridiculously long trek back via car allowed us to see some wonderful visages we would have otherwise missed. I began to regret my decision less and less.

Getting back, I was happy some of use would be in good shape to welcome the others. Jeff and I hiked down the Bright Angel Trail about a mile or so to see if we could find Drew and Dean. They had passed Brooke and Kenneth around the halfway point. Big Jeff and Jim, however, decided at the Colorado River to take the shorter but steeper route up the South Kaibab Trail.  When we finally saw the two Ds, we could tell Dean was not in a good place. Drew, however, was a rock star. I can’t imagine how tired he was but you could tell he had been lending support to Dean along the way.  I know I am not a good crew member. I am not the best at knowing exactly what to say when a runner is tired. I am usually the one on the receiving ends of both. So I did what I could to help the guys up the cliff face.

Finally, as they approached the top, I scampered ahead to grab a quick finish line photo. Seeing exhaustion go to delight was one of the best parts of the trip for me.  I did not get to see the others finish as I turned into Dane’s Taxiing service for the rest of the evening but Little Jeff and I were the first ones who did get to see Jim and Big Jeff after they finished their own trek. It felt it was pretty ballsy for them to take on the unknown after such a long day.  Nevertheless, they looked like they were simply tired.  Not exhausted, not destroyed as I am sure I would have looked. It was quite awe-inspiring.

Dinner was scattered amongst the group that night and it wasn’t really until the next morning that we reconvened. Taking in the North Rim with all of my new teammates and friends was fantastic to say the least. We made our way back to Phoenix via Sedona and enjoyed some lunch and more conversation there.

Later that evening and even today I wondered if I would ever come back.  I am sure it will happen at some point, maybe even sooner than I expect. However,  I do not feel the draw like I thought I would. I did not leave something uncompleted.  Rather, I changed my desire and am happy with that decision. My quads are a little sore and I have a few cuts from some sawtooth cactus but other than that I am no worse for the wear.  However, after 13 long years, I finally got to see the damn Grand Canyon. 

Not sure how I will top that.