Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Big Sur Introspection and Navel-Gazing - April 2016

For several years I've been a secret admirer of Leor Pantilat, a man who spends a great deal of time thoroughly exploring the Santa Lucia Mountains in the Big Sur coast region of California (and beyond). There's notable similarity with my relationship to the mountains of the Northeast - something that I plan to keep up indefinitely. Only Leor does a better job of documenting and sharing his adventures than do.

But there's another reason he has my respect; having to do with following your own interests in favor of broad backcountry exploration, rather than using your talents for racing. Again, I'm not nearly as gifted a runner, but I feel that I can relate in that I haven't really found the enjoyment I was expecting from a trail race in nearly a year. I want to be internally motivated and satisfied - the secure zen-master unmoved by competition and external validation. To be the best Adam that I can be. But in reality, I'm weaker than that. Flawed. I have an ego. Sometimes I'm an asshole. And lately, more racing hasn't been the answer.

But in the backcountry there's no pressure. I can explore as fast or as slow as I damn well please. There's no one to judge, no one to keep up with, and no noise - in my ears or in my head. The social minefield of daily life can be forgotten for just a little while. Recently, I had the chance think over some of these things while visiting California for my wife to run Big Sur Marathon. I feel fortunate and privileged and the best way to express gratitude for the opportunities open to me is to make the most of them. So I did.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Winter Presidential Traverse - March 13, 2016

Opportunism might be one of the most overlooked and most valuable facets of my approach to the mountains. Even with best equipment, fitness, and local knowledge, it's easy to still find yourself in an unfavorable situation. Light and fast requires even greater flexibility and that's why I rarely settle on hard dates for any particular run or hike in the Whites. I have a general idea of what I'd like to do and the places I'd like to visit over the next few months, but conditions are ultimately the boss and because conditions change rapidly, I need to as well.

A winter Presidential Traverse was something I hadn't done in a while, but family life and work travel made for a tight window of opportunity this year. 110 mph wind gusts on Mount Washington ruled out enjoyable alpine travel, but when my friend Ryan texted me on a Saturday night that the Higher Summits Forecast for Sunday had been just been revised to include the words "winds diminishing rapidly to 25-30 mph", we made plans to seize the day. A fit, experienced group, slightly later start, and less-common South to North approach would give us the best chance for success.

And success is what we found. Moderate temperatures, bluebird skies, and winds mild enough that we were able to stay upright made for a day to remember. We could see the sun glaring off the Atlantic on the eastern horizon and the faint blue peaks of the Adirondacks off to west beyond Vermont. 

Up, over, and down in a casual feeling eight hours, then home in time to put the kids to bed.

The Atlantic Ocean appears as a thin white band on the horizon, 70 miles away to the east.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Moab - January 2016

Dead Horse Point sunrise - cold.

More snow this year.

Lathrop Trail at the rim

Frosty morning

Lathrop Trail descent gully

An old mine.

Looking back to the rim - Lathrop Trail

Ice chunks in the Colorado River

Island in the Sky
Rental car jackpot - 200hp, 6 speed Fiesta ST

La Sal sunset

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wyoming - August 2015

Once again, this summer brought a work trip to Salt Lake City and, opportunist that I am, I made the most of it with a frenzied trail running weekend in Wyoming. Touching down at 11:30 on a Friday night, I quickly picked up my red Mustang convertible rental car and headed for In-N-Out burger before pointing the car northward at ludicrous speed. In-N-Out has some good burgers (dude) and they're open until 1 a.m. so that was an obvious choice. The Mustang... was OK, if uncomfortable to catch roadside catnaps in. It might not make a much better bed, but I'd been hoping to land a Dodge Challenger, in white if possible, so I could re-enact Vanishing Point as a soul hero in a soul mobile.

Over three days I ended up pulling together 75 miles of running in heart-stirring places. I'll let pictures do all the hard work.

Tetons shortly after sunrise.

Wind River Range

Wind River Range

Summit of East Temple Peak, Wind River Range

Summit of East Temple with a big drop off right at my toes.

East Temple at center-right.

Table Mountain summit, Tetons.

Tetons at spot I saw in a picture once.

Schoolroom glacier, lake, and moraine, Tetons. 
California technical singletrack with wildflowers, Tetons.

Gratitude's the word I'm looking for. 

2015 Hardrock Hundred

I didn't really start to feel it until Handies Peak.

Focusing on one step up at a time, trying not to send my already labored breathing and heart rate out of control, the top never seemed to get much closer. Everybody moves slower at fourteen thousand feet, but I was suffering from more than just the altitude. Thirty miles into the Hardrock Hundred, it was surprising that the inevitable took this long to catch up. My rule of thumb is to expect four weeks for full recovery from a hundred miler. I'd left the starting line in Silverton with a threatening soreness in my quadriceps and now the full body fatigue that was my souvenir from the Western States One Hundred only twelve days earlier was making itself known. While a few easy hikes and test runs earlier in the week had gone well, my feet were still too swollen to fit into the shoes I'd planned to use and I had to switch to a roomier backup pair.

Photo by Matt Trappe

Over the summit of Handies and down the other side, I did my best to pay full attention to the sensations I was experiencing - the exhaustion, the sight of snow streaked mountains stretching far off in every direction, my own foul smell, the anxiety of anticipating the next twenty-plus hours, my cold and wet feet. Each feeling was intense on it's own, but together they were a weapon against quiet desperation. I knew I was in a privileged situation and that I'd draw on this memory perhaps for the rest of my life. This is why I came back to Hardrock, even if it meant doing the Western States-Hardrock double; boldly going where perhaps a dozen people have gone before. Sloppy wet singletrack and snowfields led thousands of feet down to the Grouse Gulch aid station, but still not quite below the treeline. There, I knew I would get some help. I needed it.

I came to know Rob Erskine a few years ago after he broke my Maine Hundred Mile Wilderness FKT. Rob was second on the Hardrock wait list, so he was in Silverton, optimistically ready to run with Kristel Liddle as his pacer should a spot open up. Being all dressed up with no place to go, both Kristel and Rob offered their services as pacers to me. I'd never met either in person before, so I figured we'd have plenty to chat about.

Under a light rain, Kristel and I hiked up the long road to Engineer Pass together. I'm generally a shy, introverted person so it's not often that I can get past my own social barriers to spend a few hours getting to know someone. Kristel was more or less a captive audience and our conversation helped me forget how tired I was for a while.

Maybe it was the loss in altitude as we descended past the fifty mile mark on the way into to Ouray or maybe it was just the dusktime boost I usually get during an ultra, but by the time we got to the Bear Creek Trail I was moving strongly again. Rob took over pacing duties in Ouray and night overtook us on the way up the old Camp Bird mining road out of town. After several miles the road gave way to steep trail, then hard frozen snowfields with a fixed rope leading up to Kroger's Canteen at Virginius Pass. Roch Horton supplied us with pierogis and a shot of tequila for Rob, fuel for our vertical mile of descent to Telluride.

With thirty miles to go, Telluride would be the last major aid station before the finish. We arrived late at night, just after closing time, and jogged through the empty streets to give a wide berth to a couple staggering drunks. My family and Rob's sister, Dina had been helping out at the aid stations all day, but I hadn't expected anyone to make the long, late night drive to Telluride. I was happy to see my Dad there, always helpful with the aid station resupply routine and with his words of encouragement. Taking stock of the situation and thinking out loud, I saw that if we could cover the final section in less than ten hours, a sub-thirty hour finish would be possible.

Hours later, back above timberline in Wasatch Basin, that goal started to slip away. Rob and I were wandering around with Bryon Powell and his pacer, Joe Grant on a large snowfield in the dark,  trying to figure out where the hell we were supposed to go. We fanned out, searching for course markers and trying to make sense of the footprints that went in every direction. With a little bit of twilight, we could see two saddles on the horizon. One had lights on it, so we went that way first, punching through a shin-scraping breakable crust and making aggravatingly slow progress, only to see the lights moving over to the other saddle. We were going the wrong way and would have to posthole even farther to get back on track. It was cold, windy and starting to snow a little. I generally pride myself on being independently self-sufficient in the mountains, but in this situation I was happy to let Joe take the lead route finding. He was fresh and one of the most experienced people I could hope to follow. We finally crested the ridgeline and made a sketchy, exposed, descent on a hard, slick crust to get around a cornice and make our way to Oscars pass at dawn.

Bryon was moving well and he pulled ahead with Joe down the rocky, jumbled trail to Chapman Gulch. Rob and I were able to keep them intermittently in sight for a few miles until the loose scree climb up Grant-Swamp pass. We'd lost about forty-five minutes in Wasatch Basin and the rising sun hadn't done anything to help my energy levels. My dead legs and lack of sleep left me feeling deflated and unfocused. The thirty hour goal slipped away and I just resolved to make the best steady trudge that I could to the end.

After the Kamm Traverse we had a thigh-deep river crossing, then one last two-thousand foot climb to make before the final descent into Silverton. The weather was looking ugly up in the high country ahead, with dark clouds and frequent claps of thunder. It wasn't lost on me that a Hardrock runner also named Adam was struck by lightning the year before. We were safe in the trees for the time being, though soaked in a cold down pour, and could only hope that things would clear up by the time we reached timberline. I guess it's a good thing I was pokey because the storm passed on and the clouds parted just in time for us to pass through a couple miles of alpine zone safely. I tried to pick up the pace when we turned downhill, but I'm sure the effort to actual speed ratio pretty dismal. I was also having minor hallucinations now as well. I kept wondering why there were hummingbird feeders on many of the tree limbs, only to have them transform into bits of orange flagging when I brought myself back to reality.

The last few miles of Hardrock are on dirt roads leading into Silverton and we managed to run most of them. It's funny to think how were practically done, but still had a full half hour to savor the accomplishment before actually finishing. I suppose it's all relative. After thirty-one-and-a-half hours I kissed the Hardrock for the second time and thanked my family, Kristal, Dina, and Rob. Andy Jones Wilkins was at the finish and, having heard about my Western States - Hardrock double, surprised the shit out of me with a hug and a high five that I almost didn't get my hand up in time for.

So, after all that, what did I learn? What profound developments in character did I undergo? After all the sacrifice and suffering and beauty and exhilaration there must be some kind of profound insight to show for it, right? I wish I had an expressible answer to those questions, but even six months later everything I can put into words seems inadequate. It was hard. It was fun. I explored more of my limits than I have before and pulled off the kind of accomplishment that will look good on my obituary some day. I made new friendships, renewed some sporadic existing ones, and feel like I've earned a place in the community. In the end, I suppose that's more than enough.