Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Big Beaver Valley

Friend Rich and I got a little ambitious on Sunday, and ran behind Ross Lake into the Big Beaver Valley. Very cool of Rich to come up from Tacoma to check this out--great company, as always.  I've blogged about this route a couple times before, but I just keep going back. It's a favorite place of mine, and an easy but worthy run. 

The trailhead is at Ross Dam at Mile Marker 134 on the North Cascades Highway. From the start, the run immediately drops a mile, then you cross the very tall Ross Dam, pictured below. Follow the Ross Lake Trail north for 7 miles, and then take a left and go up the valley. Harvey Manning says its a total of 12.5 miles to our turnaround point. We thought it was less--but we're going with Harvey, because he's an icon--and calling it 25 miles, RT.

The trail is exceptionally runnable, soft, with enough rocks to make your feet hurt by the end of the day. If you're me. Rich carried a bag worthy of Goliath, in anticipation of the possibility of serious weather, and still clipped off the miles, strong. I was hit and miss, sometimes feeling like running, sometimes not, but I ran pretty hard the week before too. I'm going through a running phase.

The real score of the day was the weather. Rain and significant wind were predicted, and we didn't know for absolute sure whether we'd encounter snow, because this is up in the North Cascades.  However, we must've hit a rain shadow, because it rained a lot in the lowlands, back at home, but not so on the trail. We carried extra gear, but didn't really end up needing it. We also played it safe, carrying a 911 SPOT satellite communicator.

In 25 miles of running, we saw nobody. Not a soul, all day. It was like I Am Legend, in the daytime. A little spooky, really. I just think it was too early, and the hiking crowd wouldn't think to come up to the trailhead, considering the weather and with the pass still being closed.

The Big Beaver Valley itself is truly remarkable. It's exceptionally still, and the sound of each bird is clear--the regular whistle, and then a chirp. Horsetails line the trail, green and black, and acres of wetlands with snags host all sorts of wildlife.  We were early, and so it wasn't quite as green as it will get, but the early season run accented other things. Snow above, flora just starting to spring.

The preeminent feature of the valley is its old growth cedars--moss covered titans, almost a thousand years old, lining the trail like pillars. You want to run, but it almost seems blasphemous to do so when you get in the thick of the grove. One triple trunked tree stands out beyond the rest, like the tree that the headless horseman pops out of in the Johnny Depp movie, with a gnarled root system climbing eight feet above its trunk. I'd run a bit, but the truly big trees always brought me to the halt. 

It's a special place, and not too hard of a run, really. I'm trying to go there at least once a year now.

This is one tree, joined at the trunk

Ross Dam

I've been working on using the Force

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chuckanut 50k Circa 2010

The 2010 edition of the Chuckanut 50k may just have been the greatest of all time, in the history of the worlds. The weather was the 30s at the start, but up to the 60s by the finish. Clear skies, with knock your socks off views of the islands and Mount Baker.

Approximately 300 runners. 300 very fast runners, judging by the times. The trail conditions were stellar, with recent trail work making the course a bit faster on the usually muddy sections on the backside of the ridge by Lost Lake. An amazing amount of prizes and great sponsors. RDs Krissy and Ellen did a phe-nomenal job, as did Ma Moehl with the after race banquet—can’t say enough how well they and their team managed the race. There were so many terrific friends and volunteers helping out—a downright magical scene.

The race was also a notable and successful tribute to Dave Terry, a well known ultrarunner who loved this race and passed away last year. DT pins were seen everywhere, and he’s got to be smiling down on it all.

The basics. Chuckanut is a 50k dating back to the early 90s. The first and last 6 or 7 miles are fast and flat, but the middle 18 miles are a challenging mix of roots, rocks, hills, ridges, lakes, trees, and all sorts of other typical northwest fare. Both the North Face 50 and the Lost Lake 50k have made use of some of the same trails, and locals like me run them all the time. There are saltwater views of the San Juan Islands and Canada from the ridge. The Chuckanut Mountain range form a wildlife corridor to the sea from the Cascade Range. This short description does not do the course or the region justice, so I suggest visiting.

I ran great for me. This was my fifth time around on the course, and I set a personal best by 14 minutes. My time wasn't competitive, but I remained very focused, which is sort of rare, and didn’t dilly or dally at the aid stations. I wore a Nathan hydration pack, and that seems to be my new thing—a good pack, which sits well on the back, frees me up to swing my arms consistently, moreso than carrying bottles. I meant this race to be a confidence test, a proof of concept, on my way to WS, and I feel pretty good about where I’m at, while acknowledging I still have much to do. My training this year is much more fun and focused than last year, when I just seemed to be overwhelmed by all of the unknowns with HR, and the smaller training window.

The best and most memorable part of the race for me was finishing with my friend Rich, who also set a personal best. We had no plans to run together, as those types of plans never really work for me. My pacing is too erratic. In this case, however, we coincidentally fell in step on the last 6 relatively flat miles, and it was mighty cool to fight through that tough last stretch together, and cross the finish line at the same time with mutual PRs for the course.

Afterwards, good vibrations all around the finish line party.

The race was amazing for the list of runners at the top end—very fast finishers up top. I’m sure other bloggers will have much more to say about this, but it was a regular track meet to equal States or any of the other big events around the country. Actually, the times all the way to midway in the pack were very fast.

For me, it was terrific rendezvousing with fellow club members, and chattering with friends I don’t see as much, like Aaron, Joel, and Randy. Also, special props to Dean and Ruth for managing aid station 1, and very special props to friends Keri and Danni for finishing their first 50ks. Keri's beau Al had my camera, and got a few shots, included below. Picture above is the view from Two Dollar Bill Ridge Trail, at about Mile 10 in the race.

Pre-race photo with Keri and Danni, the first time 50kers, and Rich and I.

Ridge Trail, with views of Baker and the islands
(Approx. Mile 14)

Smiles now...

Lost Lake at about Mile 18

Coming into last aid station (Photo by Ruth T.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ridge Run

I ran the middle 18 of the C-nut course today, slow and horribly.  I was over an hour slower than a couple weeks ago.  I'm never super fast, but sometimes I have days where my legs are very disinterested. They're like dogs that sometimes don't want to play, and you have to pull on the leash to get them going. I didn't pull too hard, and I didn't have plans to run fast anyways. It wasn't miserable out, but it was sort of cold.  I think my trouble was bikram yoga, which I did on Thursday--I really sweat a lot and was totally wiped afterwards. I also put in a fair amount of miles this week. I ran into Doug on the backside, putting up signs for C-nut next weekend. On the ridge, I kind of got stuck on the question of whether Honky Cat, by Elton John, is politically incorrect. I was trying to remember the lyrics, but I don't think people from the country want to be called honky cats, but maybe that was ok in the 1970s. I really don't mind too much.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunday On Blanchard

On Sunday I retreated to a solo run on Blanchard Mountain, near my home. I did two basic loops around the mountain---by the overlook, over Kill Bill Hill, by Lilly and Lizard Lake, the alt-incline trail, and back to the rig. About 18 miles, mixed speeds, with stops to look at things and take pics as I felt like it. And I felt good. Above is the work of a beaver, busy at Lilly Lake. I've been watching this beaver's work for some time now. Below is a picture of a gnawed tree, where you can see the beaver chomp marks. Maybe it's a beaver family. A colder day, no rain, lots of people out. I really enjoyed my time on trail, lost in thought, testing a new Nathan pack, eating coffee GU, nothing pressing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


The Academy Awards are on.  I can't think of a better time to update my blog. They're ok I suppose, but I don't know any of the movies except for Avatar. 

Yesterday I ran the Run for the Honeywagon Half Marathon, an almost annual tradition. This is a half in Everson, Washington, just south of the Canadian border, on farm roads. I do it almost every year, but last year I skipped out to run the Invest In Youth Fund Run, which I want to support, and has more miles. However, I missed seeing my GBRC friends and my little tradition, and as a footnote, I don't care that the Honeywagon is not a 50k or more--not the point for me. 

So, I was on the fence about which to do this time around. That all figured itself out, as on Friday night I went and saw Alice in Wonderland at the Pacific Science Center on IMAX--SOOO COOL--and didn't get home until 1 AM, after hanging out with the cousins. The Honeywagon starts at 10 AM, the Fund Run at 8 AM. The decision was not hard come bedtime.

Saturday's weather was drop dead gorgeous, with the Canadian mountains clearly visible in the not-too far north, and fields of blueberry bushes tied up for the winter. I was pleased with my run. I was tired, didn't eat well the night before, took a bunch of pictures, but finished strong in 1:43, without really pushing too hard, though I had a clip. That's about 8 minutes faster than a couple months ago. Every day is different with me, so who knows, but I feel like I'm improving a bit. I didn't see as many GBRC friends as usual, and friend Brad missed out this year, but I hung with Bryan, Ray and Charles a bit afterwards. Vicki was sporting a very nice Rocky Raccoon buckle.

I had blueberry pancakes at Nina's on the way out of Everson--very very worthwhile. Big fan of the small town breakfast. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mount Baker Full Moon Snowshoe Attempt

This is a bit of old news, but last Sunday night we did our fourth annual full moon snowshoe hike on Mount Baker.  Unfortunately, a thin layer of cloud cover made things difficult.  When the sky is clear in the middle of winter, with a full moon, the snow will glow an eerie pink.  Still, we had the biggest crew yet, and a lot of fun tromping around in the snow. The snow pack is way down this year, and it shows.  We made it up to Artist Point, and caught the moon rising over Shuksan, but bailed when the clouds somewhat obscured things.

Dean and Ruth were the chief organizers. Dan and Linda made it out--awesome. Other gamers included Bryce, Nancy, Sharon, Ginger, Krista and Ruby. Vince and Frank from the Skagit Valley Herald came along too, and published a terrific recreation story on Thursday, with full page pictures, much better than these.