Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winter Birds in the Skagit

After kicking around Blanchard Mountain this morning, I went looking for birds. The Skagit valley in winter is a great place for birding. I've been way into it this month. This morning I saw at least 30 eagles, a few peregrine falcons, hawks, and some amazing flocks of little birds that shall remain nameless, for now.  I saw at least 7 eagles in two different trees.

I wish I had worthy camera gear. I realize these photos aren't much--but they help remind me of what I was doing in this here and now. All sorts of people were out on the side of the road, with good camera gear, taking pictures of eagles. Today I was in the flats near Edison, but there are a lot of places to go. I try to stay near the rivers, as that's where the birds seem to hang out.

I was really looking for a snowy owl. I've never seen one, but I understand a few are around here and there. In the summer they live up in the northern parts of Canada, but every few years they make it this far south in the winter. I guess they tend to hang out in fields, and can be mistaken for other white birds, like the snow geese. No luck today, but the search will continue.

I loaded the Audubon bird guide on my phone this week. It has a function that allows persons using the app to report sightings, and then the sightings are mapped. Pretty cool, especially when it comes to trying to locate a rarer bird like the snowy owl.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011

Time to reflect!

It’s been a hard year of running for me, as I never really seemed to put things together, due to hip and hamstring issues.  I might be getting old.  If so, I’ve always said the joy of getting old will be figuring out how to manage such things.  I will always find a way to get outside, and am thankful for every opportunity.

But then again, I didn’t give myself much rest, and there were a few points in the year where I ran ok, by my limited and very personal standards. AND, I did more long races this year than ever before--—15 in all, and that doesn’t count non-events, which are often more interesting anyway. Too many events maybe, and too long. But the offerings are so good in the Pacific NW, so what do you do?

So, I will say, emphatically, IT WAS A GREAT YEAR, despite the injuries. Many thanks to my great friends, who help me get out there, keep me inspired, and made it so. 

AND NOW, introducing my top ten list for the last year--

10.   Vancouver Fat Ass 50k.  This will get a laugh from Rich if he reads it, but this really was a great day, touring Stanley Park, Pacific Spirit Park, and along the Vancouver waterfront, with perhaps the best weather the event has seen in nearly 20 years.  We ran awful—truth, we walked--but the skies were clear, the mountains were out.  We got an early start on the year and day, driving north before the sunrise, and then getting lost in Vancouver, and then hanging out afterwards with the great peeps of Club Fatass.

9.   Maple Pass.  This is a relatively simple hike, near Washington Pass in the North Cascades National Park.  Maybe 8 miles.  Joined by Deb, we stomped around in the snow on cliffs above Lake Ann, and caught the famed larches at their golden peak.  One of the best places to see larches, I’m told—and I’ve always wanted to be here at the right time.  This year I finally was.

8.   Lost Lake 50k+.  My third year now running this Alvin special (with all the more thanks to Skagit Runners, including Terry, Shawna, Joe, and Kevin.)  This is old fashioned ultrarunning in the Chuckanuts—small crowd, big hills.  Rich and I took off at the early start and were leading for a few minutes.  It was epic.  Rainy day, and one very muddy climb on the backside of the lake.  Didn’t race well, but ate well afterwards.  Thanks friends.

7.   Seattle Arboretum.  Some runs just turn out special.  They don’t have start lines, finish lines, or times.  One day, early in the year, I did my old training run near the University District in Seattle.  I ran this run most days when I was in school, and finally returned, more than a decade later.  It was like meeting an old friend.

6.   Deception Pass 50k.  This was the race I really shouldn’t have ran.  My leg hurt.  I was maybe an hour slower than what I would’ve been earlier in the year.  But the course!!  Beautiful!  Cliffs, bluffs, bridges, saltwater, sand, old growth…all thirty minutes away from my doorstep.  Had to do it. 

5.   Sauk Mountain.  Another perfect day in the right spot.  Stomping knee deep in fresh snow, just east of Concrete.  Clear day, views of the San Juans Islands in the far distance.  8 eagles circling above me, as if I were a meal in the making.  Mountain all to myself, the Skagit River valley below.

4.   Gorge Waterfalls 50k.  Probably the most gorgeous 50k event I’ve ever done, with so many, waterfalls, gushing, full-tilt, and views of the Columbia Gorge from cliffs.  I didn’t really start running seriously until mile 15, because every turn had a cliff or waterfall I had to stop, gawk, and photograph.  We actually ran behind one waterfall. Giddyup. 

3.   Knee Knackering 30m.  This North Vancouver tour of the Baden Powell has a lot of tradition and love from the Vancouver running community.  I’ve wanted to do it for years, and finally got around to it.  I ran on a bad ankle, which was just silly, but still worth it.  This course is tough.  Great hanging out with Mike, Marlis and Steve beforehand.

2.   Bull Run Run 50m.  One of the older 50 milers around, put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. Blue v. Gray. The trail takes you through patches of Virginia bluebells, across the first battlefield of the Civil War, and into some classic hardwoods forest.  Running through the woods, I heard the crack of muzzleloaders in the field nearby. The aid station around mile 31 had pizza. Muddy this year. My sister and her soon-to-be husband came out and supported me.

1.   Annapurna Circuit.  Some call it the greatest trek in the world. I don't know about that, but it was a special time. I have wanted to do this for 15 years, and for once, I made a dream come true. And with friends! Seth, Rich and I spent roughly 11 days circling through the Himalayas in Nepal. Our high point was nearly 18,000 feet, but it was the rivers and gorges, the suspension bridges, and the people, villages, and religion that made the adventure. Not much running, but truly an amazing time on trail.

There isn't a lot of science to the list--just my favorite memories. The list leaves off many other remarkable days.  My 4th White River 50m, which I ran horribly. After Knee Knacker, I've never been the same. My favorite race, the Baker Lake 50k, 36 hours after flying over the North Pole from Nepal. Also not a good showing. That was so hard I sort of want to forget it, but not really. 

There was the slow meander up Park Butte in the snow, and the early snow trip to Big Beaver Valley. For good measure, I include a pic above of a trip to Sahale Arm in the North Cascades. Described by some as a holy place.  I like it. Then the road runs, like R&R Seattle Marathon (crowds) and the Seattle Marathon (9th in a row, second worst weather year I can remember). The timed runs-- Watershed Preserve (12 hours) and Invest in Youth Run (6 hours). If I had a wait list, Orcas Island would  probably be first in line--yet another amazing Rainshadow production.

Now, for 2012. Already thinking, planning.  The songs may change, but the band will stay the same.  I'm not sure what the year will hold, running or otherwise, but I am hopeful. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chuckanut In December

Someone has put Christmas decorations on the trailhead to Fragrance Lake, at the start and at the top. Today was a great day to be on this trail, with clear skies and 40 degree temps. I did Fragrance to Chinscraper, and then the ridge out to Fairhaven.

The views from the ridge were about as long as I've ever seen them. There's something about clear winter air which allows for great star viewing at night, and long views in the day.  Mt. Baker and Shuksan were very visible, as was Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.  I tried hard to see the tall buildings of Vancouver, squinting, but it seems like a low hanging cloud blocked this view.  The North Vancouver mountains were clearly viewable. I think I'll go up there with a spotting scope one of these days.

Driving to the trailhead, I saw 8 bald eagles sitting in trees off of Chuckanut Drive.   A large flock of snow geese in a field. A few swans.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deception Pass 50k

The Deception Pass 50k and 25ks are new races put on by Rainshadow Running aka James, Candice and volunteers.  Total winners.  They’ll probably sell out on the first day next year.  How cool is it to finish up a 50k, along a beach, to the sound of the tide coming in?  Or run on a bluff, above the Pacific, or alone on single track through old growth forest?  And here, all in the same day.

Deception Pass is the most visited state park in Washington, sitting on Whidbey Island near Oak Harbor and the Whidbey Island Navy Base.  I felt like I had to do the race, despite a messed up hamstring, since the race is only a half hour away from my home, and I had a really good sense of what to expect of the trails.

The 50k consists of 7 lollipop loops on cliffs above the sea, beachside trails, through old growth and second growth forests, with trips each way across the famous Deception Pass bridge. The cool thing about the lollipops was I kept seeing some most excellent people, running ahead of me most typically.  Lots of hellos and best wishes, coming and going.

The 50k and 25ks are on the same course for the first half--mostly ocean viewing on the west of the bridge, with a stiff climb around mile 13 straight up over Goose Rock. The 50k then adds a double loop trip around the Hoypus Point National Forest lands, out past Cornet Bay. Woods, ships, and another bay.

Most of the course is quite runnable, if you're healthy.  A bit rocky and rooty, here and there, but basically fast single track. Elevation gain was probably b/w 4000 and 5000 feet, maybe.  I thought it was kind of similar to Chuckanut in terms of effort exerted.  

I should’ve ran the 25k, in light of my lame hamstring, but that was a lot like trying to practice restraint at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  Basically, I exercised poor judgment, deciding to see the whole trail and course, figuring I’d get through it, one way or another. And I did, but it seems the hamstring issue is not going away—I’m going to need to do something. The scenery and friends more than made up for my struggles, though I miss running easy.

And, so great to see so many friends on the trails.  It was truly a happy, supportive scene.  Joe, Roger, Eric, Laura, and SETH!, volunteering.  Many many others running.  Like the shirt too.  Patagonia lightweight capilene. 

I need to get a new Ipod Shuffle—lost the last one in Nepal.  All day I had Taylor Swift’s “Why you got to be so Mean?” stuck in my head.  Not good.  I tried a couple times to get some Pearl Jam going, but every time, “Some day, I’ll be, living in a big old city…”.

The day started with a lunar eclipse on the way to the run.  Pretty cool to watch the full moon disappear, as I drove out to Whidbey, coffee in hand.

Monday, December 5, 2011

John, Boston, and Cancer Research

John Schick is a friend and frequent runner/volunteer in the Bellingham running and triathlon community.  A wonderful guy.  This winter, John is raising cancer research funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in conjunction with his training for next year’s Boston Marathon. John is specifically dedicating this effort to his father.  His father was diagnosed with cancer this year. 

I too have had persons close to me diagnosed with cancer in the last few years.  It is a terrible thing on so many levels.  John has looked into the Dana Farber Institute, and speaks highly of the organization. 100% of the funds raised go directly to research.

Please consider making a donation in this holiday season.  Here are some of his links, with more information:

For John’s donation request letter:

John’s blog:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seattle Marathon

Rain and wind this year.  Lots of rain. Lots of wind. It never really stopped--just modulated. Not too cold a rain—maybe 40s, but there were times when the wind made it feel a bit colder. Wet clothes didn't help things. Running back from Mercer Island on the bridge was probably the worst, though Seward Park and the last couple miles get honorable mention.

I just kept going.  Not fast.  My left leg and hamstring continues to slow me down, and is pretty much my running story for the last half year. I’ve been laying off, either too much or not enough, I’m just not sure.

I hit the half mark around 2:03 and finished at 4:20, so I suppose that means I didn't go out fast, and then I fell apart. Usually the split is 5 to 10 minutes. My head wasn't really into pace--I was more focused on pain management. Sometimes I could put aside the hamstring, and then other times it felt like my other leg was compensating too much. A bit of knee pain on the other leg. I had stamina for the distance.  I say that, but then things really did slow down over the last six. The Madison-Arboretum 1-2.

All that aside, the rain was the real story this year. Sort of a pineapple rain. I was soaked by the finish, and quite cold. I thought about putting on a jacket a few times, but didn't. My gloves got soaked--I carried them for a while, then tossed them. My hat was more appropriate for skiing.

This was my 9th Seattle in a row, 11th overall.  Every one of them has a different story.  I’d say this was the 2nd worst weather I can remember—2006 I think wins the Umbrella Award, by a snivelly nose.  I was a little torn on whether to start this one, but I thought I’d regret not giving it a go, and that I could make it one way or another. That’s about how it went, I suppose, and no regrets---I'm happy just finishing. That said, there are pros and cons to having a streak going. I now have a year to think about them.

Good to see so many friends on the course! Terry, Kevin, Adam, and Sara pacing. Dr. Rob in the Interlaken. Keri and Abby off and on throughout. Bryan running strong. Many others. Hit the Essential Baking Company in Fremont afterwards with friends for some high quality tomato soup.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Baker Lake Trail

Snow really fell in the high country this past week, with the North Cascades Highway shutting down for the season.  I could see it in the foothills from Mount Vernon, and so on Saturday decided to head east, with no clear intention, except to find the white stuff and maybe run or snowshoe.

I ended up on the familiar Baker Lake Trail, near Concrete.  The drive up to the lake was relatively clear, with a bit of ice and snow on the side of the road.  Frozen ponds, white mountainsides.  I suppose I was hoping for more snow, but I could’ve found it if I just went up a bit.

The trail itself is clear, except for patches of snow here and there.  Snow was melting off trees as I ran.  I looked up for cougars and porcupines.  The log over Anderson Creek had a good bit of snow and ice on it, with a few fading mushrooms too.  I’ve crossed that log in the dark on icier nights—a little sketchy.  Fantastic views of Mount Baker on Saturday, with the good red light of a falling sun.  Four cars at the trailhead.

For a first, I dropped down into the Maple Grove campground to check out the digs there.  That would be one great place to camp out on a Friday night before taking off on a run Saturday morning.  The lake is right there, and so is the mountain.  A starry night would be hard to beat.

Seattle Marathon next weekend.  Not too thrilled about it.

Mushrooms on log crossing in snow

Anderson Creek crossing

Stump critter

Maple Grove campground view

Maple Grove campground view

Mount Baker view from Baker Lake

Fresh snow on hillside trees
Peak at the end of Baker Lake

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fowl Run 2011

I ran the Fowl Run 10k in Mount Vernon on Saturday. We had great weather, despite predictions of misery. Just a little cold, calling for gloves and hat.

I know the course route well, as I sometimes run it on weekends. I've also ran the race a number of times, albeit poorly. Beginning at Mount Vernon Christian School, the loop includes an out-and-back along the Dike Road, and then a return to the school via Britt Road. The roads parallel the Skagit River and acres of farmland, with views of the foothills and Mount Baker on a good day. Today you could see snow in the hills, and the farmland soil looked cold.

There was a stiff headwind along the Dike Road. It was one of those blustery days that brings out the birds. As I ran, I frequently found myself looking up at formations of trumpeter swans, snow geese, and pipers. An eagle swooped ten feet above me, before landing in a tree alongside early on along the Dike Road.

I ran poorly, struggling with my continued hamstring tightness, and some out-of-shapeness. I finished in 52 minutes and some. I am not too troubled, as I knew going in that my hamstring wasn’t going to allow any real leg turnover. I really just planned on jogging, but I pushed a bit later to keep a 9 min pace. I think I'll go up to the WWU track once a week, as winter comes in. Yoga seems to be calling my name too. 

Many many friends in attendance! Either to run, volunteer, or both. Heather and Skagit Runners did a great job putting on the event, of course. Our Skagit club is sooo solid--thank you!  I ended up spending a good hour afterwards just hanging out with friends, eating pumpkin pie and hot apple cider, and catching up. A good vibe, and a very nice way to start the weekend.

Post-race awards, with random drawings for turkeys and pumpkin pie

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sauk Mountain

I had a fun snow day on Sauk Mountain today.  Sauk Mountain is just east of Concrete, Washington.  I parked about a mile below the parking lot, and hiked to the trailhead through 6 inches of snow or so. No cars have recently driven all the way to the trailhead, though they've come close.

The views on the way up the road were amazing, as I could see Mount Eerie, Orcas Island, and Blanchard Mountain, looking down the Skagit River Valley.  Mount Baker was evident, but hidden behind clouds. The valley with all its yellow, green and red colors cut a striking contrast with the fresh snowline on Sauk.

I followed a coyote’s snow prints up the trail.  As I climbed, I started seeing raptors circling. At one point, I had nine large soaring birds, mostly eagles, circling right above me.  I think a couple were falcons. I think they were just catching good air off the mountain, but it was getting a little personal and spooky.

This was a simple but terrific day. I wasn’t up for the Ron Herzog 50k, or I would’ve been down that way. Hope it went well--a good day, for sure. I’ll make a point to go back to Sauk Mountain this winter with snowshoes. The road to the trailhead would make a pleasant climb. I hit Annie’s Pizza in Concrete on the way back and am now settled in for an evening of classic college football. Go Huskies!

Also of note—on Wednesday night I made it to the Skagit Alpine Club’s meeting, finally, where Jennifer Hahn spoke on foraging in the Pacific Northwest.  A terrific presentation about edible seaweeds, chantrelles, nettles and other such things.  Wild foods are a really hot gourmet topic these days. One thing that sort of surprised me is that you need permits for foraging in national forest lands, as well as harvesting seaweeds. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Park Butte

I headed up to the Park Butte lookout on Saturday in Mount Baker Wilderness and Recreation areas. The trailhead parking lot is shared with Railroad Grade and the Scott Paul trails. It’s about 50 miles from my door, somewhere up above Baker Lake.

The lookout is maintained by the Skagit Alpine Club. I’ve been a member of the club for a few years, but haven’t attended many meetings or been all that active. Hopefully that will change one of these days. That said, I’ve always wanted to check out the lookout I keep hearing about. Today was a great introduction, and I may be back soon for a snowshoe overnight--it seems very doable. The lookout is first come, first serve.

The trail was relatively empty, with snow near the start, and increasing in depth as I went higher. It's a pretty easy trail, really. I think the lookout is at 5300 feet or so. The hike is 7 miles, roundtrip. I wasn’t in a hurry, only running for a small stretch on the way back. I spent a lot of time looking at trees, snow, and clouds. This was my first snow hike in a while. It felt great to be out, just leaning on the hiking poles, kicking snow. A very simple morning.

I never got a good view of Mount Baker, but the clouds were really interesting. They were just moving all over the place, in different shades and shapes. The sun wanted to break through, but just couldn't get there.

The snow was probably a foot deep near the lookout, with a well worn path to go through. It wasn’t sketchy, but I wore yak trax and carried poles. There won't be many more hikes like this, at least without winter gear. The fresh snow didn't obscure all of the fall colors, leaving the occasional red and yellow on white.

Ran into Steph Abegg at the lookout, a climber and nightsky photographer who I heard speak at REI a few years back. As it turns out, she’s been in recovery from a very difficult climbing accident, and this was her first snow hike in over a year. She has an amazing website, where she documents her story, and where you can also see some of her terrific North Cascades and night sky pics. Recommend, highly.

Good day. More pics here.

Hope to run a bit tomorrow. Considering Herzog next week. Put in my registration for Deception Pass. A little leary of all the miles coming up, with my hamstring and all. In some ways, I'm my own worst enemy.