Saturday, April 28, 2012

Heather Lake

Mike and I hiked up to Heather Lake this morning. We arrived early, meeting in Smokey Point at 7 AM, but three cars beat us to the trailhead. People are getting out there. We watched five cars come into the lot, in a line, when we returned. Heather Lake is not a secret. I came away thinking this might be a really good one to snowshoe in February or March, as it is not too steep, the distance is moderate for snowshoeing, and the destination is gorgeous.

I have done this hike before--I recognized certain turns of the trail--but it's probably been 15 years, as I can't recall further details. The age goonies got my memory.

The trailhead is on the Mt. Pilchuk road, which is one mile past the Verlot Ranger Station on the Mountain Loop Highway. The trip was less than 100 miles roundtrip from my doorstep. The hike itself turned out to be shorter than I thought too--2 miles in and out, with climbing, but nothing too steep. So, an easy day.

As the pictures show here, the lake is still frozen, but the melt is on. We didn't hit serious snow until about 3/4 of the way in, and it was all easily navigable, though we made one brief wrong turn. There is a lot of water on the trail going up, with a couple minor stream crossings. We were not punching through the snow all that much.

Upon return, Mike and I discussed the possibility of connecting Lake Twenty-Two and Heather Lake, by breaking a bit of trail, as it were.

Heather Lake is beautiful in its frozen state. We heard, then saw one minor avalanche, up high. We also hiked over avalanche debris, and studied the ice melt holes, but chose not to circle the whole lake. Snowshoes would be helpful for that. Some odd sort of flea filled our snowy footprints. There is old growth on the way up, though not as much as on the Lake Twenty-Two trail.

Good day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ragnar Southern California Relay

My friend BJ asked me if wanted to run the Ragnar SoCal this year. I am well aware of the Northwest Passage Ragnar. It sounded like a pretty cool idea to travel south to hang out with BJ and Erica, and try out an overnight van relay in a different locale. Yes came easy.

Our team name was "My Third Leg Is Harder Than Yours." “Innuennndo!” said one friendly volunteer, in his mad hatter hat, as he waved us into the safety talk. Became one of the weekend jokes. Names like this are pretty common at these events, as are big white vans with painted windows, drive-by silly string shootings, and guys in tutus.

Van 2:  BJ, Jeff, Matt, Matty, Ann and Me. Great group. Everyone was there for the fun, but the fact was, we had a pretty fast group. Everyone ran tough when their time came. I was the slowest of the bunch, due to age, injuries, and bad training, but I gave it my best with each leg, and managed to pass a few along the way. When everyone else is bringing it, you have to show respect with your own effort.

The Ragnar Relay Series is growing fast.  There are now 15 of these events around the country, when a few years ago it was just Utah's Wasatch, Washington's NW Passage, and maybe a couple others.  The Southern California edition consists of 36 legs, with usually 12 runners in two vans taking turns at 3 legs each, while traveling from Huntington Beach in Orange County to Coronado Island in San Diego.  Total distance is about 203 miles, and it took our team a little more than 30 hours.

We actually did ok, finishing 86th or so, out of almost 600 teams.  Not sure what happened there. Maybe we took the no beer in the van rule too seriously. The SoCal turnout set a record, with over 6000 participants. And they came in all shapes, sizes, and looks, wearing thongs, glowsticks, team slogans, and smiles, usually.

But the real story at Ragnar SoCal this year was the hot hot HEAT.  The SoCal course starts at the beach, but quickly heads inland, into the desert sun, through places like Anaheim, Corona, and Temecula. Corona just sounds hot, and it was. On the first day, temps were typically over 90, and reaching effectively to around 105.

A tough situation, being a runner in that heat, feeling the team pressure, and yet having to deal safely and effectively with the physical challenge ahead.  Worried me a bit, as I sat in the van and watched each of our runners go.  I was pretty awed by their efforts.  BJ is always tough, and trains in the sun, so not too surprised there. But Jeff ran up hill at a 10% grade for miles, in 95 degree heat. I felt guilty watching, sipping my Gatorade. Matt might've had it the hottest, needing to make the most of every stoplight. Matty ran like he was on fire, and Ann showed increased determination with every kill. A "kill" is when you pass someone, you know--Ann had 19 on her last leg.

Running the last leg for our van on Day 1, I lucked out, with *just* an 85 degree temp, which I managed with a frozen bottle of water to cool me off during the run. I absolutely melt in the heat. It's really ugly. And yet occasionally I find myself in these situations. Most of the bottle I doused on my head and shoulders, sending a physical tremble each time, but it worked. I ran with a big floppy hat I got in Nepal. I take heat seriously, and I'll happily look like a dork if it keeps me cool and burn free.

Night came.  We grabbed some zzz's on some golf course before our second set of legs.  Not too restful.  Everyone’s night legs went fast.  Probably my favorite leg.  I’ve always liked running at night.  My leg was on the El Camino Real, somewhere outside San Diego.

Our final legs were along the San Diego coastline mostly. Everyone kept running strong, despite the lack of sleep. My last leg was hindered by an Achilles strain, and then I had to climb a fence because of a wrong turn, which someone should've caught on video, because it was special. The finish came, with a happy team ending, the Pacific Ocean, and the obligatory beer garden.

Great experience! We had good times in the van, and just following our runners.  I wish I could’ve seen more of Van 1, but it wasn’t to be, as they ran when we rested. Got to hang with friend Will briefly at each exchange. And I got to hear a lot of Gotye and Katy Perry on the radio, and see a whole lot of Southern California with the best of peeps. I'm already looking around at other Ragnars around the country. Never know.

On Sunday, BJ and I went to the Padres-Phillies game, in some amazing seats, ten rows behind home plate. Padres won, 6-1. Great ballpark. A lazy afternoon in good seats at a ballpark is hard to beat.

Thank you BJ! Thank you Team Third Leg Is Harder!  Good times, as always! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lake Twenty-Two

Friend Mike and I headed up to Lake Twenty-Two on Saturday.  Lake Twenty-Two is a really popular hike in the Glacier Peak area, off the Mountain Loop Highway.  I hiked it some fifteen years ago, and it’s been on my mind the last couple years to check it out again. 

The hike is short—less than 6 miles roundtrip—which is probably why I haven’t gone back more recently, with my typical longer distance focus.  But the trailhead in near, 52 miles from home, not far from the Ron Herzog start line.  The trail is known for its old growth, waterfalls, and the beautiful mountain lake.

We actually didn’t settle on Lake Twenty-Two until 8 AM at the Verlot Ranger Station, after an early meetup at 7 AM at Smokey Point. You don’t have to choose early, really—there’s a lot of nearby trailheads to choose from. Someday, when I heal up, I may try to do two or three trails in a day around here (e.g. Mt. Pilchuk, Lake Twenty-Two, Heather Lake). It'd make for a fun day.

The first two-thirds of the trail are now snow-free, with massive old growth cedars lining the trail, and a few large waterfalls, spilling out full bore. After that, the trail quickly switches to snow and ice.  We packed snowshoes—I thought that’s what we were going to do--but didn’t end up using them. Steps were kicked in most of the way.

We punched through to our waists a few times, and less deep several more times. The snow is soft and melting fast today, and soon to be gone. We encountered one sketchy creek crossing, with a gap to jump over a melted snowbridge, over an eight foot drop. Have to be careful with these kind of things, because it's possible to fall and wash under the snowcover. We ended up dropping into the creek and climbing out of it, as jumping on to a sloped ice cube seemed a bad idea. It's easier to jump coming down, which I did, letting myself fall forward.

Lake Twenty-Two was gorgeous.  Spectacular, fair to say, as we arrived, and no one was there, and the basin was pure white, the small lake covered in ice. Thousand foot cliffs form a cirque above the far side. Avalanches are happening--we heard a few falls. We were advised at the Ranger Station against walking on the lake, but we watched one fella give it a go in snowshoes, successfully.  I would've fallen through, no doubt.

We were the early birds, first up to the lake in the morning.  Many people were coming up as we came down.  Next time, I’d probably come up here even earlier in the year, before the summer crowds, but today was perfect. Great to hit the trail with Mike too--been a while. Thanks Mike! Also, nice too to be home by early afternoon, to work around the place. More weekends like THIS, please.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cherry Blossom Ten Miler

I ran the 40th anniversary of Washington D.C.’s Cherry Blossom 10 miler on Sunday.  This is one of the more popular road races in America, with approximately 15,000 runners each year, and a lottery for entry.  As a native of Virginia and Maryland, I’ve been aware of this event all my life, and have always thought it’d be a good race to run someday.

That said, I wasn’t completely sure until race day as to whether or not I had ever ran it.  I ran a 10 miler in downtown DC when I was in high school, which may have been my first non-school event. It was a pretty well known race at the time, with the results posted in the Washington Post.  It was called the Hecht’s Ten Miler, or something like that, and all I remember is it went through Rock Creek Park.  This was not that race, but I didn't know for sure until Sunday, as I figured the race sponsor could've changed.

The Cherry Blossom turned out to be a terrific event, as I expected. I would recommend traveling to this event over many destination marathons.  Yes, it’s shorter.  But the course is spectacular, filled with Memorial sightings, perhaps at the prettiest time of year for downtown DC. And the course is fast, with wave starts for the faster peeps. The men’s winner set a course record this year, averaging about 4:31 per mile. Kenyans.

The start line is next to the Washington Monument. It's sort of exciting to approach the race start, as crowds arrive via various Metro subway stations, early Sunday morning.  Race starts at 7:30 AM.  The race first circles the Monument, and then winds down around the Lincoln Memorial.  Around mile 2.5 everyone does a circle around a roundabout, after crossing the Potomac River, creating an impressive stream of people, coming and going.
The race then goes out around Jefferson Memorial, which at first stands out prominently across the water, and then grows bigger as you near it.  From there, it is out to Haines Point, just like the loop in the Marine Corps Marathon, with a returning view of the Capitol Building, and then a finish back at the Washington Monument. A swarm of people fill the Monument grounds afterwards.

One of my favorite moments turned out to be the national anthem. The anthem managed to silence a very loud crowd, preparing for the race. There was something touching about those moments, seeing everyone suddenly stop, pause, and look towards the flags surrounding the Washington Monument.

The cherry blossoms were mostly gone, having peaked a few weeks earlier.  Cherry blossoms are a Washington D.C. tradition, marking spring.  They truly do look beautiful.  I saw them featured in the quiet time of the Sunday Morning show a couple weeks before.

A good trip back home, as always.  I managed to mix work, family, and play, making the most of the visit.  I’d go back and do this race again, for sure.

The Marine Corps Marathon is another good one like this, of course, and may well be my favorite marathon.  Another guy who likes the Marine Corps Marathon a lot is Bob Dolphin, who happened to pin down his 500th marathon in Yakima this past weekend.  Congrats to Bob on this remarkable, mind-boggling achievement. 

Race Expo in National Building Museum

 Riding the Metro to the race at 6 AM

Waiting for the start at the Washington Monument

 Running behind the Lincoln Memorial

 The Jefferson Memorial at about Mile 5

 Runners running

Cherry blossoms