Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

Lots of trails traveled this year. Basically, the first half of the year was filled with great prep for Western. Then I got injured in New Mexico, and from then focused on getting on trails and didn’t worry about races. I probably spent more time in the mountains this year than any I can remember. And then, in November, on impulse I snuck off to Kaua’i, a place I’ve wanted to hike/run for a long long time.

So, here’s the Officially Certified Top 10 List of Trails I hit in 2010, with links and copious notes. The actual rankings are pretty immaterial, non-scientific, and just offhand impressions. Serious. It's like going to the County Fair, and griping about eating the third place pie. It's all good, though pecan is best.

And, finally, before hitting the list-- THANK YOU FRIENDS FOR ALL THE GOOD TIMES! I truly know some wonderful people.

Anyway, here it goes:

10. Alaka’i Swamp Trail. Kauai’s highcountry rain forest in the Kokee’ State Park felt like the set for the original Land of the Lost show, starring Michael Landon. Permamist, exotic birds, boardwalks, a peak at the headwaters of Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Quite amazing. The swamp trail, which is actually an old caldera at about 4500 feet up, is very quiet and filled with endangered plants and birds—half a world away, and a conservation inspiration.

9. Chuckanut 50k. Not many races will make my list this year, mainly because I made it to so many other cool trails. However, C-nut was special this year for me, as I pr’ed in my fifth running, and finished the last six miles in step with friend Rich. Good weather, excellent event, good day.

8. Sahale Arm, North Cascades NP. Listing this North Cascades trail is sort of cheating, because I went up to Sahale Arm *three* times this summer, and truly watched the change of the season. I think I saw four bears on one visit. The running was minimal, because it is steep beyond Casade Pass, getting up to almost 8000 feet. Sahale Arm makes the list, because it is one of those spectacular places. It is featured in “50 Best Hikes In The World” and was Harvey Manning’s favorite. Thanks Mike for the day you got up there with me—probably the best of the batch, with the snow and clearing clouds.

7. Mowich Loop, Mount Rainier NP. We didn’t have good weather, but climbing Tolmie Peak, circling out to the Carbon Glacier, traversing Spray Park and a Wonderland Trail section—this trail/loop would be good in any conditions. Some of the best wildflower displays I’ve ever seen. Rich and Linda led, and were kindly patient with my injury which slowed me down.

6. Western States DNS. It’s my list, so I can include a DNS. So much of the first half of my year was buildup for Western States, THE Western States. And I was ready, running as well as I had in the last few years. But then I injured my lower back, bad. And so I had to wrestle with whether to run injured or not. Very stressful and an educational life experience. Six months later, I still feel I made the right call in not running, and am happy with the way I handled the whole thing.

5. Sourdough Loop. Sourdough Mountain in the North Cascades above Ross Lake is a special place. It has been the home of poets like Gary Snyder, the great naturalist. I’ve been up the mountain many times, but this year was the first time I made a loop of the hike/run, coming down the Ross Lake side. Early in the year, it felt like we were some of the first of the year near the top.

4. Diez Vista 50k. Just a really fun daytrip up to Canada with Rich to run one of the older 50ks around, which had been on my mind for several years. The course is beautiful, with water island views similar to Orcas, and crazy root hopping early on. A non-impressive effort on my part—I was a dumb American--but fun times with friends. Great job by the RDs.

3. Jemez 50 miler. I’m proud to have hung in there on this spooky 50 miler in New Mexico. I’ll most remember the spooky sound of the wind through the burned forest as the sun set. And that I injured myself pretty bad making the 12 hour cutoff, but I made it. Good times with BJ, Thomas, Mike, and Fran. High altitude, great organization. 64% finisher rate.

2. Stehekin. Stehekin was another one of those places I’ve always wanted to go to, and finally did. About 36 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail with a bakery stop and bus ride in the middle.

1. Kalalau Trail. Kauai’s Kalalau Trail is world famous, for its beauty and its hazard. It’s been on my wish list for years and did not disappoint.

A good list. I’m happy with the year, overall, and very much so from a trailrunning perspective. So many things did not make this list. The Maha’alepu Coast in Kauai, including the lithified sand dunes, the sacred haena, and Captain Cook’s first point of contact. The perfect Teddy Bear Cove Run in January, when the weather was just right, the islands there to the left, and the hour away from work so needed. Yellow Astor Butte. Floating the Potomac in the summer, and the Skagit River eagle float last New Year’s Day. Has it been a year already?!!  Easy Pass-Colonial Creek, twice! And then, so many amazing favorite races, like Lost Lake, Baker Lake, Sunflower, Orcas, and Seattle. Nightswimming in Virginia’s summer heatwave, on the 4th of July, near family.

The bar is set high for next year. I imagine some good things will come up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ice Caves

The Ice Caves trail is off the Mountain Loop Highway, east of Granite Falls. Significant blowdowns midway in, with snow not too deep. A very popular trail in the summer, and potentially hazardous due to falling rock and ice. I'm not sure how far--a few hours in the snow.

Here are a few pics. Based on forecasts and reports, there's a whole lot more snow up there now then there was on Sunday. The Mountain Loop Highway is definitely a place worthy of further exploration. I'm thinking maybe a snowshoe trip or two is in order this winter.

Christmas was good, but short. Family time in Kirkland, with a memorable egg nog pie. I've caught a frustrating cold, but am considering jogging the Last Chance on Friday, if work and health allow. If not, oh well.

As I wrote the word "jog", I thought--people don't use the term jogger too much anymore, except with kid joggers.  Maybe next year I'm going to be a jogger. A super jogger.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Preparations

I bought a wreath this year. That's big for me. The cards are mailed. My family on the east coast is covered, and the west coasters are pretty much too. A few stray this and that's left to tend to, but I'm doing ok with my holiday preparations this year.

So, I didn't run hard this weekend. And I know others did--you are awesome. I made it up Chinscraper on Saturday, but that's no big deal. As much as anything, I enjoyed driving down Chuckanut with a grande half-decaf, checking out the snow geese. Windy and overcast, it was a typical December morning in northwest Washington. 

I have a tight hamstring/groin muscle thing, maybe the result of a track workout. I took it easy. Being out all day wasn't in the cards this weekend, with so many things to do. That's fine--I'm at this point where I'm striving for balance with my running. After being gone all last weekend, I needed to stay home and take care of things--that seems to keep my mind at ease.

This is a fun time of year to be thinking about next year. Lotteries require early planning, and lots of my ultra friends and I are chattering. I think I'm leaning towards putting in for the Wasatch lottery. Or maybe Superior trail or Cascade. I just wrote those now to try them on for size--we'll see. It has to sound right and get me excited and motivated. I've started a calendar to the right.

I'm also thinking about taking a mountaineering class with the Skagit Alpine Club, if my schedule allows. And I think I'll run something in Virginia and see my fam--I already have a trip planned in early April, which happens to be when the Bull Run Run is scheduled. That's just races too. I feel like this past year has been wonderful, as far as getting out there goes, but the very best trail highlights were not races.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stewart Mountain XC Challenge

On Saturday, I ran the Stewart Mountain Ten Mile Cross Country Challenge on Vancouver Island at Thetis Lake Provincial Park. The Office decided to have its Christmas Party in Victoria this year. I had ideas of running the Juan De Fuca Trail, but then learned of this wonderful race, with its convenient 12 PM start time.

Stewart Mountain was a blast, largely because the course was flooded by recent rains, creating several knee-deep water crossings. Some of the splash zones went on for 10 or 20 meters. The feet were going to get wet, no matter what you did, and by the end of the race, I was running/wading right through the middle of each pool. It was a real crack-up.

The course is fast--relatively flat most of the time, with many short ups and downs. Almost all trail, mostly wide single track. There’s a sustained climb midway, up Stewart Mountain presumably, through moss covered rocks, with long views from the top, though they were limited by clouds on Saturday. After that, it’s a lot of slippery down, and then back through the water holes. The course finishes around beautiful Thetis Lake, with three small hills, as you look out at an island in the middle of the lake, and hear and see the finish line across the way.

I ran the first half kind of slow, warming up and taking pictures, and then picked things up a bit in the second half. I probably could’ve pushed harder and gotten a bit better overall time, as well as a tougher workout, but I didn't want to rush through the park too much. This was only my second time on the Island, and I get distracted by stuff. The trails struck me as similar to those out in Anacortes. I think the course would make a great 50k, just by extending it two more laps. But it's a great long-speed workout as is.

The volunteers were terrific and out in force—marshals all over the course. And special thanks to the RD Bob, who was kind enough to save me one of the limited tech shirts. There are lots of fast people on the Island—I understand a lot of triathletes call Victoria home. The local running club, the Prairie Inn Harriers, puts the  race on, as the third and longest race of their end of the year cross-country series.

Afterwards, it was off to wander Victoria. The Parliament Building is lighted up. Pineapple Express type rains kind of detracted from the visit, but I was able to get the lay of the land, and have a nice dinner. Stayed the night, and returned by the Sydney-Anacortes ferry, which is an absolutely gorgeous tour of the islands. I liked Sydney. And I liked clearing immigration in Skagit County, rather than waiting forever at Blaine.

"Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man" with Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty on the radio. Love the Sunday Night Classic Country show. Getting ready for the week to come.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Picasso in Seattle

There is a once-in-a-lifetime Picasso Exhibit showing right now at the Seattle Art Museum. The Picasso Museum in France is undergoing rennovations. The French decided to let his works go on tour, and Seattle was very fortunate to land a spot. I happened to be in Seattle for work this week, and with a little time between meetings, I suddenly found myself able to check it out. 

I was impressed that Picasso was always pushing the limits of the norms on painting. You pick this up, walking through the various periods of his life's paintings. He seems very professorial about his work, consciously challenging norms, constantly reaffirming that he makes the rules about painting, not past masters, but with respect. And he was always mixing women and work. I found myself ambivalent about any number of paintings, and then one would catch my attention for a while. Credit his genius. The exhibit is very worthwhile-I'm glad I went.

Each room had one of his quotes, posted high on the wall--I wrote a few down:

  • "No pleasure without the taste of ashes."

  • "Art is never chaste."

  • "Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants."

  • "When I paint I feel that all the artists of the past are behind me."

  • "It takes a long time to become young."
The Picasso exhibit took me a little more than an hour, listening to many of the commentaries on the device they gave me. $23 full price. The pictures above and immediately below are Picassos. No pictures allowed, I found after snapping the second shot.

Afterwards, I did a quick spin around the rest of the museum. It's been a while. There are some wonderful paintings, particularly in the modern art category, including Rothkos, a Morris Graves, a Jackson Pollack. I was particularly happy to come across a painting called "Darrington Rain"-picture below--of Darrington, Washington in 1947 by Skagit County native Alden Mason. I did not know of this local painter, but a whole room was dedicated to his works, right near the Rothkos.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fairhaven Frosty 10k

The GBRC Fairhaven Frosty 10k lived up to its namesake today, with frost on the benches, frost on the road, frost on the grass--frost everywhere. Perfectly clear skies, temps in the 30s. A good morning for running. A lot of the regulars from the GBRC and the Wednesday night track group showed up, either to run or volunteer. Always good to chatter. That second loop drags a bit. Love that Great Harvest Bread at the finish, that Tony's coffee afterwards, and that Apple Cup at the end of the day.

Thank you volunteers!

I ran poorly--my legs felt like dead weights. I had no circulation and extremely tight hamstrings. It seemed like I rarely could get anaerobic--the legs and stomach just wouldn't cooperate. I attribute this all to the cold, a slow recovery from last week's Seattle marathon, and unwisely eating at the Taco Truck last night. No big, but I would like to run a good 10k (by my standards) sometime in the next few months. So, I'm a little dissapointed that my bad days aren't better. But you have to get out there to find out these things, and a little bit of honest self-assessment is good for me.

OR...."maybe I should chug on over to Mamby-Pamby Land where I can find some self-confidence for me, you jack wagon." (It's a commercial, if you haven't heard it. Cracks me up.)