Saturday, April 17, 2010

On The Burnout Trail

There’s a trail off the Fragrance Lake Road called Burnout, and that’s how I felt today, so that’s where I went. The trail starts with a moderate incline, and gets steeper as you go. It didn’t really matter to me, because I was walking mostly, in the drizzle. It's really a terrific trail, not much traveled, with great views of the water and islands. I spent 3.5 hours in the hills today, but it was at least half hiking, with the other half being downhill running.

It was a long week. I was concerned about this and that, and running seemed more a job than a joy. I’ve been putting in miles, a lot though not as many as some, and I’m tired of thinking about what is enough. I came home on Friday night, a little late, and sat on my porch, thinking, I’ve been in this house five years. I had a moment earlier in the week where I thought, Do I really want to worry so much?  There are nights when I wake up thinking about my cases, and then I get angry at myself for waking up and thinking about my cases.

I think these sorts of things are usual, sort of, but I marvel at the emotional gypsies who worry not. Sometimes I wonder, do I want to be like that?  I picked up a book on a shelf the other day, called The Art of Choosing. It’s probably a good book--it was cited somewhere--but I know this--GREAT title.

I found a newt on my hike/run today. A fire bellied newt. Years ago I was running on Chuckanut, the road, with my friend Breean, and we saw a newt. When we came back, a half hour later, the newt had been run over. I could’ve saved that newt. This newt was alive, but not particularly active.

There were lots of frogs too. I stopped for a while at a little swamp to listen, trying to spy at least one, but I couldn’t. It was a huge chorus. Then, at one point, they all went silent for quite some time--it was sort of spooky, like a frog predator had entered the scene. It wasn't me, I was quiet.

Later, I ran into a group of four high school or college guys at the top of Chuckanut Mountain, who asked me--ironically--where Lost Lake was. They were at least a half hour off track, having missed their turn down by Fragrance, and having climbed all the way up to the parking lot above Chinscraper. After I explained to them where they were, one of them said to the guy holding the guidebook, "See, I TOLD you." Absolute classic.

So tomorrow I’ll do something. I have my good weeks and bad ones. I don’t like George Bush, the president, but there are some things I like about him as a person. He runs a lot, and he handles things like an ultrarunner, I think. One of his quotes, which I've always liked, is “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” There’s a lot to be said for this I think. I know with my first ultra, that was pretty much my story, since I showed up despite a sprained ankle. And so it is with some weekend runs, like today's. 

However, I just now checked the quote, to confirm proper attribution. As it turns out, Bush did say it, but he was quoting Woody Allen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Diez Vista 50k

On Saturday, my friend Rich and I zipped north of the border to run the Diez Vista 50k. I’ve wanted to run Diez for several years, and Rich was game and the best of company. I had heard good things, and the rumors proved true. Diez is an absolutely outstanding event—low-key, with sensational over-water views of Vancouver, great technical trails, and a fun barbq afterwards.

We left my place at 4:30 AM.  The start line from my doorstep is 80 miles away. Canada is so close and yet it seems so far away. Why is that?  I-5 was empty, remarkably dark on a moonless morning. We made three stops--for coffee, then to pee, and then for more coffee. "Dumb Americans" was our theme song, scored to Bowie's Young Americans. No line at the border. We crossed the Fraser River over the Port Mann bridge, and the breaking dawn views of the mountains and river portended a special day. We made the start line by 6:30, a whole hour early.

The first 10 miles or so of the course are the best. After circling Sasamat Lake, the course climbs through creek beds with running water, and eventually turns to switchbacks of the steepest sort. The switchbacks climb was reminiscent of going up to Lake Serene on Mount Index. The trail eventually pops out onto a high ridge, with clear views of Vancouver, the Fraser River, Burrard Inlet, snow capped mountains, the ocean. World class stuff.

The ridge trail stretches for miles—or kilometers actually ("dum Amerikans...they was a dum Amerikan")--and there are so many roots and rocks that after a while I just started cracking up. Laughing at how ridiculous it was; laughing at how fun it was too. Every step was a game of chance. The mountains were freshly snow capped, and boats could be seen way below making wakes. I took my time, taking pictures, and kind of nursing a tight hamstring.

Eventually, the course drops back down, to Buntzen Lake, which has a suspension bridge crossing to the next aid station. I met up with Charlie there—nice to find an American on foreign soil--and we ran the next section along the lake together, him filling me in on WS. We broke off at the next aid station, and I ran the next section with LuAnne, a first time 50ker from Chilliwack. I ran the last 20k alone, pushing a little and catching views of Mt. Baker from Canada, while seriously hopscotching over roots and rocks towards the end.

I came in just under 7 hours. I could’ve ran a faster time, but I really like how my day went. Rich knocked out a sub-6.  Major props to him---I think this is quite fast for the course, which is tougher than C-nut, with 6k+ in elevation gain and plenty of roots, rocks, and mud. Afterwards, there was a terrific barbq and lots of great conversation with friends, old and new. RDs George and Gayle and their team put together a really wonderful day. A few more pics here....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thinking Like A Mountain

From A Sand County Almanac
By Aldo Leopold

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wet Cold Run

So, I ran pretty lousy today. I didn't drag myself out of bed until past eight. I won't beat myself up too much, since it is the weekend and all, but not an early bird start. It was raining out, and cold. I had it in mind that I'd run about 18 miles on Blanchard. Last night I ran a pretty hard run in high gale winds up on the Shi Shi Trail, so it was a quick turnaround. Running in the woods during a wind storm--it wasn't as bad as it sounds, but not something I should make a habit of.  

I got to the Blanchard trailhead around ten, after coffee and such, and it was still raining. I just sat in my car for a few minutes, uninspired. Finally, I just got out and went. That's ultrarunning sometimes--pushing through the unpleasant. But I'm always struggling to find that line between determination and stupidity. I don't want to be a dog that mushes and doesn't think. Anyway, I got going and the trees provided some cover for a little while, but not a lot. I got soaked, and I probably should've worn the gore-tex. Then, as I went higher, it got colder, and then the rain turned to hail, and then the hail turned to snow.  

I took in things, even while semi-miserable. Skunk cabbage is blooming. All right, skunk cabbage--you go! There was an interesting little wetland of yellow blooms, pictured above. I just learned that bears use skunk cabbage as a laxative. Above Lizard Lake, I saw a rednaped sapsucker woodpecker. Then, on my second lap, I saw it again, in almost the same location. It was sucking sap and pecking wood, very diligently. It was work for me, moreso than play, and I was probably an hour slower than I should be, but I got in my 18, and I'll give myself props for not just leaving after lap number 1, which would've been easy. Today's run caps off a good week for me, mileage wise. Next week is Diez Vista--looking forward to a north country run. I understand it's a pretty cool course.