Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PCT 50 Part Deux: The Final Battle

Morning came early at 4:30, but we got our respective gear together and shlepped across the road to the local market. Our goal: Buy beer for the finish line. However, the clerk informed our broken hearts, they couldn’t sell alcohol before 7AM. This, in a town called “Zig Zag”. I bet if we’d walked 2 blocks in any direction, we could have purchased something far more potent to celebrate with.

45 minutes later, we were parked at the start finish, changed, picking up our packets, and ready to roll. Ruben introduced me to Lanny: A member of our running group (by which I mean, the running group I’ve never actually run with). He’d been nursing a hip injury and had only decided at the last minute that morning to chance it on the run.

“If I have to drop at mile 28 (an aid station located at the start/finish), then I got in a 28 mile run.”

Ultras at 50+ miles are such a hodge-podge of equipment planning: Some people are loaded down with gear/water packs/clothing/bandanas; others carry only water bottles, and then, then there’s Ruben: One handheld bottle and a Snickers bar. That’s it. Snickers must TRULY satisfy.

A few hellos to trail-pals, I wished Ruben and Lanny luck and made myself to the center of the pack, not wanting to get in the way of the big boys n’ gals. After all, I was taking this one nice, slow and easy. As if I am capable of running an ultra any other way.

3, 2, 1, and we were off, whooping and hollering up the 1/10 mile worth of road to the singletrack Pacific Crest Trail. I saw Ruben and Lanny sprinting ahead of the pack while the rest of us hit a bottleneck that could rival the 10 and 405 FWYs on any given day of the week. I said to the slowly walking train ahead of me, “I can handle this pace!” as we wandered along for a good 3 minutes. Then, everything opened up, and the shuffling commenced.

It was 6~miles to the first aid station at Crater Lake; a tiny, crystal clear body of water alongside a trail constructed of wooden planks. I made chit chat with a runner named Burke in from Colorado as we ran along, and before I knew it, I had checked in, grabbed some snacks, and immediately checked back out. This was an in and out aid station, and the wooden planks made passing one another slightly difficult. I knew that when we came back through 22 miles later, growing fatigue our legs would make it slightly more difficult. But before I knew it, I was back on the PCT and headed out to the turnaround aid station at Frog lake, 3 .5 miles away.

Settling in to a comfortable pace, I soon caught up with Mike, a local Portland runner, and a funny, affable fella. I mentioned that I had driven out the prior night with the guy I was pretty sure was going to take this race, Ruben. He laughed and said, “I know Ruben!” As it turns out, Mike and I are BOTH members of the aforementioned trail running group that has yet to run with said trail running group. I also suspected that he and I would be seeing a lot of one another during this race, as our paces were nearly identical. I sure was hoping so, because I knew that late in a 50 miler, having someone you get along with running the same pace as you can save your ass.

My dear friend Kate had taken the early start offered by the race directors. Once again, I wondered when I’d be coming across her, and AGAIN, she magically appeared! We hugged, she told me to get a move on, and we parted. That gave me a nice charge and boost, I gotta admit.

We soon crossed a highway and ran another 50 yards to the second aid stop. I refilled, checked out, and made my way back across the road, feeling fantastic at mile 14.

Yeah. Mile 14. In a 50 miler. I knew that feeling would last MAYBE another 25 miles, so I decided to enjoy it while it lasted.

The temps were cooler at the elevation we were running at (4,000’), but word was we’d be facing mid 80s by early afternoon, and if we passed through any canyons, or if tree cover disappeared, it’d be an ass-kicking.

My – ahem – “G.I. tract” had been “talking” to me for the last several miles (ultra speak for: I had to take dump), so I hiked off-trail, found an amicable tree, did my business, and hit the trail, feeling much “lighter” (ultra speak for: My dump made me feel better). Lo and behold, there was Mike, jogging along. We ran a bit with each other, but my legs were feeling strong, so I ran ahead, catching and passing a few runners here and there, hitting Little Crater aid stop in what felt like no time. I gobbled down a ton of watermelon and cantaloupe (which would become my mainstays as the heat grew) and headed back out, the next aid stop being at the start/finish at mile 28.

I passed a few more runners here and there, one of whom was having stomach issues, came across three riders on horseback who informed me that I was 1/8 of a mile from the road. Bam, I hit the road, hung a right, and there I was, at the mile 28 aid stop in 5 hours, which looked a bit like a M*A*S*H unit. People were digging through drop bags, changing shoes, smearing on sunscreen, sitting in chairs. All I could think was, “I gotta get the hell in and out!” I gave myself 3 minutes to refill bottles and hang out as a reward, and I was off.

About 1/10 of a mile worth of singletrack greeted me, and then I popped out onto – drumroll – FULLY EXPOSED JEEP ROADS. Holy shit. The sun was beating down on me like Stan Getz. Or Tommy Lee. Wait: Which one steered a boat with his erection? I forget. And digress.

This road was DEATH. It climbed mercilessly, and you could see at least ½ a mile ahead towards the hot, blinding nothingness that awaited. I mused with a couple of other runners about the “Army of the Damned” that we saw up ahead, cresting a hill: Sweat-soaked runners in a death march, packed tightly together. I knew we’d be joining their ranks soon.

Finally, the Road to Nowhere was marked with a bright pink flag at a trail intersection (remember this fact for later, as I didn’t), showing us with open arms a trail to ease our wearied bodies/brains. We enthusiastically leapt onto the trail and began an ascent. One that made our calves burn and scream in abject terror.

The climb carried on for quite a good bit, and then I finally caught the “Army”, following the train of five for 10 minutes before feeling I needed to run more (we were power-walking as hard as we could). I scooted past and ran when I could, which wasn’t very often, as the climb carried me to the aid station at Red Wolf. The first runner coming back from the second turn around descended at an insane pace. It was LANNY!

“Are you in the lead?!?!”

“Yep!” he breathed, blazing past me. I guess he hadn’t dropped at mile 28. Thinking back, I ‘m sure I saw him after the first turn around, in the lead. Ruben wasn’t very far behind, as he’d screamed, “Rustyboy!” my way as he tore past.

The climb continued not too much farther when I began seeing signs planted beside the trail:

“My, grandma, what big EYES you have!” the first one read.

A few minutes later:

“The better to see you with, my dear!”

A few minutes later:

“My, grandma, what big HANDS you have!”

Minutes passed, and another sign:

“The better to fill your bottles with, my dear!”

Okay, if you know me, you’re more than aware that I’m prone to get teary-eyed. In fact, the theme song from “Welcome Back Kotter” can get me sobbing. And I actually teared up upon seeing those signs. I love this sport so damned much, and little gestures like these at mile 32 of a 50 can really keep your head even and light. And I KNEW what I’d be seeing at the aid stop.

I pulled in whooping and clapping, pulling my bottles from my waist pack and handed them off to “grandma” herself: A worker dolled up in granny glasses, nightgown, wolf ears and tail. Everyone was joking, filled with energy, although I knew that coming back through after the turn around would be a different story, when this would be the mile 45 aid stop. The heat was growing and fatigue had rolled out the red carpet. But I wasn’t done. Business was still to be settled.

And then I saw Ruben trotting back, firmly in 2nd place, shirtless and smiling! But as we high fived, he revealed that he hadn’t planned on 50 miles feeling this tough.

“It’s a different game, right?” I asked.

“I just want to get to the finish. 5 miles, right? I’ve run 5 miles before,” he muttered, convincing himself.

I slapped him on the back and bade him best of luck. I couldn’t tell him quite yet, but I was so damned proud of him. He informed me of what was to come until I’d hit the turn around: Lots of downhill followed by a bit of uphill, then the aid station. I was grateful to know what to plan on dealing with, but I also knew what “lots of downhill” on the way out meant for the way back. I shoved those thoughts to the rear of my mind, where lingered images of my parents having sex (shudder) and memories of the Bush administration (shudder-puke-shudder).

Off I trotted, and the downhills came...and came...and came, and HOLY SHIT a creek!!!! A couple of runners I'd been yo-yo-ing with all afternoon and I dunked our hats in it, it's ice-cold goodness sending yelps from our burning brows.

"Nothing as refreshing as a hat-full of mosquito nests!" I announced, with the stinging, sweet cool water dribbling in my eyes.

We continued, crossing a jeep road, and then the climbs hit. I think it was here that I took my first header: I scooted aside to let an oncoming runner pass, literally standing still, when I "tripped" and ended up in the brush (which, BTW, covered the trails at certain points).

"Man down!" yelled the guys behind me. I have no idea how one stands still and trips, but I'd accomplished just that.

We climbed to the dead-end aid station/turnaround, and the heat was tearing us new assholes. Several runners were seated in chairs in the shade. I'd call this my "dark patch" right here, as I began imagining the 3+ mile climb that was awaiting, knowing the heat was gonna hammer down harder on us.

I could drop here. It's mile 40. Do I want to push during a training run and possibly mess myself up?

That little voice makes periodic pit stops in my brain, so I have to remind The Voice Called Doubt™ what we're doing.

Uh, NO - it's only 10 miles left of 50, so screw off.

We had to run a little out and back beyond the aid stop, so I pounded up the hill, hit the turnaround, and headed back, regrouping. I gobbled tons of refreshing watermelon/cantaloupe and readied for the adventure back home, downed several Sprites, then saw Mike - from earlier - roll in.

"It was great running with you, man!" he yelled.

"You aren't getting away that easy. You're gonna help me drag ass up that mountain on the way back!" I called to him as he headed to do his out and back.

Now, I was energized and ready. It's amazing how little mind games like that can flip a switch during these big runs. I bounced in place, waiting for his return. When he came back, he filled his bottles.

"Let's rock this thing," I told him, and off we patted, on our short (ooohhhhh, TOO short) downhill.

Okay, I may have mentioned above here, but, well, THAT UPHILL WAS OUT TO KILL US ALL!!!!! Holy hell, it was steep. Steep, as in, power-walking wasn't even an option at this point. I'm a sea level dweller, and the race started at 4,000'. One runner, on our way down, told me his Garmin said we'd lost 800' in 1/2 a mile, so here we were, making it back up. As the air grew thinner, my stomach began doing cartwheels. Very BAD cartwheels, like ones you see on a playground that make you wince when a kid bashes his head on the asphalt. We pushed, caught two female runners who were looking none-too-pleased about the grade, and basically stayed with them the entire 45+ minute climb. Conversation dwindled to a dull series of grunts and moans, and it seemed like 5 days passed until we hit the last aid station. I stumbled in behind Mike, filled up again from Grandma, and gave myself a pep talk.

"YOU'RE THERE. Finish this!!!"

The workers were SO sweet and supportive, and as I charged out after Mike, they hollered and cheered as I yelled, "I can almost smell the beer at the finish!"

Then, the downhills began. I had been looking forward to them for over an hour on that mother-trucker of a climb, and here they were. I jogged most of them, my energy returning slowly. Mike had carried on ahead, as the only thing left to do was claw our ways to the finish. I popped in my earbuds and landed on the song that is absolute magic when it comes to picking up the pace for me:

I really wanna know

As soon as Pete Townshend's guitar blasted through the smashing of Keith Moon's crashing drums, I found my pace quickening. And I mean QUICK - I passed about 6 runners (including Mike) as I beat away at air drums, the tears coming, the thrill of racing in the woods overtaking my being, and down, down, down I cascaded, hitting the gravel road, hanging a left, certain that the finish was a mere 2 miles from my hands.

And about 4 minutes later, the road ended.


Then I saw Mike bounding towards me. I yelled, "Is this it?!", to which he responded, jokingly, "It has to be. It would SUCK getting lost this late in the race."

Another 4 runners approached. This settled my nerves and at the same time sealed it.

"This ain't it."

We turned on our heels and began shuffling back to the singletrack that had dumped us onto the gravel. Lo and behold, there was an entrance to more singletrack, poorly marked, but there it was.

"DAMMIT!" one runner yelled, grabbing his pacer and heading down. "If I finish in 11:02, I'm gonna be pissed." He told us that we'd added exactly 1 mile to our run with our detour.

Now it was every man for himself. Mike took the lead, and the above runner and pacer took off ahead of me, angrily pounding the trail. I was just relieved to be on track. Relief would last all of 15 seconds...

Blam! My right instep hit a rock.

WHUMP! I did a full forward flip onto my back.

ZAP! as a charlie horse gripped my calf.

"Hey, are you okay?" asked the runner ahead of me, who'd seen the entire spill.

"Yeah, just this cramp," I winced, massaging my calf as I lay prostrate on the trail.

"Dude, that spill was RAD!" he smiled, taking off.

My scrapes and cuts would later confirm it: Not one part of my arm or shoulder had touched the ground. I had pulled off what we breakdancers back in the day called a "suicide".

Relentless forward motion dictated that I assess my condition immediately (nothing broken or sticking out from my skin) and keep moving, so I did. Seconds later, I hit the actual turn and headed out on the long, arduous, painfully steaming road. I caught two runners and saw Mike on the horizon. Shuffling up to him, I realized we were both cooked, and that in NO WAY had we just run 50 miles.

"I'm putting 54 in my running log," he snorted, and I agreed. I've run 50 miles. This was NO 50 miler.

Mike peeled away and we walk/ran to the singletrack that would pop us up on the road, only 1/10th of a mile to the finish. Through the trees, I heard the cheering for Mike, and my energy immediately returned, as did my running. I climbed up out of the woods, where 3 onlookers pointed me toward the finish. I trotted past the cheers of, oh, a dozen people (yeah, this sport draws the spectators, aka, family members) and saw Kate about 20 yards from the finish. She acted as though I was chasing her, so I hammered a out sprint, caught her, and she grabbed my hand just as she did when we'd finished her race at Headlands Hundred last August. We charged across the finish in 11 hours (maybe less, I didn't see the clock) and she gave me a huge hug, asking if I wanted anything.

"I just need to find a place to puke."

Yeah, that last sprint had sent all the blood from my guts into my legs, and I was feeling it. I dry heaved twice and felt better. Kate came over with a bucket of ice water and washed me off (did I mention already that she's an amazing human being? No? Well, there. I just did.) Ruben ambled over and shook my hand.

"How'd you do?"

"2nd place. 7 hours and 15 minutes or somethin'."

OR SOMETHIN'?!?! The guy is a machine.

Charles, one of my pals who was volunteering, came over and shook my hand, as did Mike, echoing what he'd said 10 miles prior.

"It was great running with you, man."

Ruben led me to a creek, where I soaked my swollen feet, and I rinsed off at a water spigot, grabbed a Coke, changed, and climbed in the car. We were SPENT.

"Now run it again," I smirked. "That's what I'll be doing in the fall."

Ruben shook his head as he shoved the car into gear.

"Dude, I am so sorry."

I called the garage where my car was being healed, and the owner said it would be later in the week, as he was waiting on a part. At least I think that's what he said. My brain was tapioca pudding at that point. I really need to call him today.

Overall, I'm pleased with how it all went down. I had to dig a little, which will happen more than once during the 100, so it's reassuring to know I can easily tap into that part of me, plus I got to see more of the 100 course. I awoke on Sunday with minimal soreness that faded altogether by day's end, so I know my training's on track, and I put in 5 miles yesterday on the elliptical with perfectly strong legs.

Okay, September: I'm ready for you!!!

(thank you to ALL of the workers, Bushwacker Mike, Monika, and Olga for putting the event together, and my fellow runners, who continue to amaze and astonish me with their strength and fortitude and humor.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

PCT 50: Part Un

This journey of fifty miles (okay, fifty ONE miles, due to some navigational issues...and I honestly don't believe the course itself was "only" fifty. Probably more like fifty three) begins not with my toe at the starting line, nor does it launch into storytime at mile 30, when the real "work" begins on a 50 miler. Nope. Friday afternoon -a full 15 hours pre-race, the drama begins to unfold...

Ruben and I planned on driving out together to a cheap hotel about 45 minutes from the start, affording us the luxury of an extra hour and a half of sleep, which we knew we'd need. I picked him up at 5PM, and off we carted along highway 26 toward Mt Hood. He was especially excited, as this was his first race beyond 50 KM (31 miles). I was especially excited, as this run would be showing me 50% of September's Hundred in the Hood, and I needed to see what I'd gotten myself into. And I was especially excited because I had an inkling Ruben might just win the damned thing.

About 25 miles from the hotel, in "beautiful" Gresham, OR (quotes make for awesome sarcasm!), my car started rumbling and jostling. The "check engine" light flashed maniacally on my dash. My first thought was, "Oh, shit!", followed by the ever-insightful, "Oh, fuck!" We pulled off into an apartment parking lot where I struggled for 5 minutes to pop the hood (calling me mechanical is like calling Gresham, OR "beautiful") and we stared at the mostly computerized circuitry.

Ruben: "Maybe there's a garage up ahead?"

I shit you not, 4 blocks farther along, and there it was: a fix-it garage! The owner was kind enough to take us in, and while I filled out paperwork, Ruben was on the phone with an idea: His room mate was only 5-10 miles further east of us, in The Gorge, on a hike with visiting friends. Maybe she could - on her way back west towards Portland- pick us up and lend us her car? Hey, it was worth a shot.

T-minus 12 hours until the start and counting.

Lo and behold, she was happy to swing through and pick us up, although it would be awhile. Ever-hungry, as ultra-runners tend to be, Ruben used something called the "IN-TER-NET" on his phone and nailed down an Italian restaurant only a few blocks away. We strapped on our packs and hoofed it to "Guiseppi's", feeding our faces with 17 pounds of pasta each.

Minutes after finishing, Ruben's room mate and company came rolling into the lot. We got nice n' cozy for the 25 mintue trip back to Portland, where we'd left 2 hours prior.

Profusely thanking them, we started back out from where we'd just came, hopping on the highway, jamming to Prince. Ahhhhhh. Time to relax, no?


About 10 minutes into our drive, Ruben's phone rang. It was his room mate, asking if we could locate a small pencil case. I turned and found it nestled in the back seat. Inside of it? Only her driver's license. Hell, why would she need that? They were only going out to bars that night. Why would someone in her mid-twenties who looked like she'd just graduated high school need her I.D., I ask of you?!?!

And so, we turned around and headed back to Portland, yet again.

Determined to get to the hotel, or at the very least, give up on life and join a monastery, Ruben pushed the car away from the setting sun towards the hotel, where we checked in at 9:30: 4 1/2 hours after this winding, ambling, stumbling journey had begun.

Tune in later, kiddoes, for...well, the actual race report.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunday's long run - my last before this Saturday's 50 miler - was to be a 13 mile loop, plus a mile out and back, on the trails of Trapper Creek in Washington. It's a bit of a drive, but Annie and I figured we could stop at THE AWESOME PLACE WE'RE HOLDING OUR WEDDING RECEPTION, drop off the contract and deposit, and continue out into the Gorge another 30 miles to the pictured trailhead.

And this is exactly what we did. And then the real excitement started.

The guide book I'd recently purchased called these trails "beautiful" and "winding" and, for the loop I was running"strenuous". Now this is a hiking book, and I? I AM A TRAIL RUNNER, dammit. Strenuous? How tough could it be? I've hauled my carcass up and down mountains for 3x that distance. Strenuous. Pff. Man up, publishing house that spat out this somewhat pedestrian guide to *hiking*.

What's that one saying? About pride and the fall? And cometh?

Before I scurried off, I told Ann I'd likely be back in 2 1/2 hours, around 6:30. She herself was going on an hour long excursion, so we scanned the map so I could double-check the two trail numbers I'd need to follow, made out for a few minutes (not really, but kissed goodbye), and away we went.

This trail. Ruled. Rolling single track with a few short climbs and drops, all along the banging waters of Trapper Creek. I was in heaven. But, to quote The Ozark Mountain Daredevils - which hey, we've all done time and again...AMIRITE? - "...if you wanna get to heaven, you gotta raise a little hell." Or at least run through it. And by mile 5 or so, I was staring into the yawning mouth of The Beast™ himself.

The cutely named "strenuous" climbs were, um, ridiculous! Like, on all fours type of climbing. And I quickly realized that the mile or two of straight up-fucking-hill was taking me from 1500' elevation to 4,000'. The air grew thinner as I scrambled along the tightly winding singletrack plastered against the side of the hill. Looking down, I could see the once rushing and wide creek snaking like a tiny shoelace 500 feet below.

"Shit," I hoarsely muttered, my head growing dizzy. "I am UP here."

And the climbing, as suddenly as it began, stopped.

Just joking: It kept effing climbing.

I kept picturing the map, and about where I was. I stopped and marveled at crashing falls across the canyon for a few moments...which is when the nausea settled comfortably in to my gut. I felt my heart racing from my pace, but I knew I had to plug on, as Ann would be expecting me in an hour or so, and to reach her by that point, I'd have to be FLYING the rest of the run. Which was made incrementally more difficult when the trail - quite literally - stopped at a cropping of shrubs.

"You gotta be kidding." No way was I going to turn around and head back - I was about 9 miles in at this point, the point of no return. It would be longer to flip around and head back than press on. Except pressing on would normally entail, oh, SOMETHING TO FOLLOW while pressing on. My cellphone had zero reception, so calling Annie to let her know I was going to be dorking around out there a bit longer was about as much of an option as, say, having a trail to run on at this point.

I was pissed and a bit freaked, so I dug around in the shrubs, hoping to see some semblance of a dirt path. Nope. Nothing. I wasted about 5 minutes whacking bushes and trudging through forests of poison oak, finally backtracking 50 or so yards and running towards the dead-end, in hopes of giving a fresh visual angle, and POW! I saw it: The trail ended all right, passing between two trees into the shrubs but, well, they'd diverted it to hook around one of the trees set up like field goal posts. I have NO idea how someone without experience in the woods would find it as it snaked perpendicularly to the dead-ended trail, under heavy cover of branches and brush. Elated, I pressed on, now on the "loop" portion of the loop, heading towards trail #132, where I'd hook a right and begin my decent back to the trailhead. Should be only a couple of miles, according to the map...

I'll say it right here and now: Screw that map.

Luckily the trails were rolling, so I could pick up some speed along the way. I passed through a creek, really pushing my pace, keeping an open eye for the trail intersection. After 20 minutes of running, I quickly realized: That map was as useful as a mute opera singer. I raced by a small tent about 20 feet off-trail, where I could see someone sleeping. Okay, if all else fails, I can hump back and see if he has an accurate map. I was fine with food and water. The thin air was playing tricks with my brain however, so I had to keep reminding myself, "You're close to the trailhead. You aren't lost. Get back safely and don't worry about Ann calling rangers. If it happens, it happens. Just be smart and don't slip up/get lost/crap your shorts."

I finally hit an intersection marked by a post without a sign. This couldn't be my turn: It should have been a dead-end, and I would take the right turn. But the trail continued straight. I looked down, and a small sign sat on the forest floor beside the post: "Shortcut Trail".

Shortcut to where? This trail wasn't on the map. GAH, that MAP! I calmed myself, took some breaths and logically deduced that there was only one trailhead for this entire network of trails. "Shortcut" was the way back to that. It had to be.

There was more climbing, which didn't necessarily lead me to believe I was on my way back "down", but I hit an intersection about 8 minutes in. An intersection without a marking. I desperately wanted this to be trail #132, so I hooked a right, following instinct, and began running like a deer down the slowly dropping grade. By now, I was a half hour behind when I told Ann I'd be back at the car. "Can't think about that," I told myself. "Just get back in one piece." Again: My water pack was about 1/3 full still, and I had a Gu left to eat for sugar. I couldn't be more than 4 miles from the parking area. So I dashed.

And I mean, I dashed. I must have been clocking 8 mn/mile on the winding downhills...the narrow, wedged-onto-a-cliff's-side downhills. Again, the drop revealed to me exactly how high up I was, and it was impressive.

That's when my foot slipped on loose rock.

I quickly regained my balance and continued, giving myself affirmations on my speed and dexterity, cursing that hiking manual again and again. "Strenuous"? How about including, "Parts of this trail may give way, sending you sailing 1/4 mile off of a cliff's edge?" Within 1 minute of that slip, another hit, with far more dramatic results:

As far as I can ascertain, my right foot sent a portion of the trail crumbling, taking with it, well, my right foot. My left - now lonely without it's partner - followed suit. Without a thought, I twisted my torso and caught the trail with my forearms. My feet touched nothing but the shrubs growing off the cliff's side, so I was now dangling, held only by my arms, with about 500-800 feet of drop below my kicking toes.

I relaxed and let out a breath, the inhaled and pulled with all I had, which did about as much good as farting into the wind. I saw a root a few inches from my hand and gripped it. You know the scene at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", when Indiana Jones, after grabbing the golden idol, has to leap across the yawning chasm to slide beneath the slowly closing wall of rock? Remember how he, dangling on the edge of the chasm, grabs a root and begins pulling himself up, a relieved smile creeping across his mug, only to have the root give way and send him further back down into the pit?

Yup: Exactly what happened to me.

The root gave way, and I slid a good 2 feet down. Then -so as to not infringe copyrights and attract lawsuits from Spielburg - the root snapped. I dug in with my fingers, and with this fresh rush of adrenaline, I cried out, "Heeeeee AAAAH!" and pulled myself up on the trail. And began running without missing a beat.

Looking back, I'm glad that I did, because had I paused to absorb the reality of what had just happened, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown then and there.

So I was back to pushing downhill. I encountered two hikers, scaring the crap out of them, as I asked how far it was to the trailhead. They offered a map, but I felt it best to keep sprinting, as I was now over an hour later than scheduled. Shadows began stretching across the trail. I knew I was growing close, as the drops leveled and I was now on rolling ground. Within a few minutes, the intersection with the trail I'd started on 3 hours prior cropped up. I hung a left, racing now, blowing past roots and rocks to get to the car before Ann had a coronary. Then, I saw her, 50 yards ahead, hiking back. I called her name, and she gasped and turned around. And the tears came. She was literally a 5 minute hike to the car, her plan: To drive to a ranger station and get search and rescue to look for me. We kissed, cried, exhausted from this "adventure", and I, pissed off at that God damned guidebook.

Once we collected ourselves, we changed clothes and headed back toward the freeway, stopping for drive thru burgers and drinks (I downed 56 ounces inside of 10 minutes), and drove back home to Portland, relieved, beat, and ready for a night's rest.

Judging by my pace, I figure that actual loop is somewhere in the vicinity of 15 miles, with about 3500' of gain. That's a LOT for a short loop. In fact, my last 50k had the exact same amount of gain, but with it spread twice the distance.

The reality of the entire ordeal hit me on Monday night, and I sobbed with relief with Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinning in the DVD player.

Effing map.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Running-nerd-mode: ON

For reasons I can't express: I dislike wearing gaiters. Seriously, I can't explain my apprehension to strapping the damned things on my ankles/shoes. Maybe because they tend to look so...dorky? I have issues with looking dorky. Don't get me started. This is a psuedo-product review, not a headfirst dive into the chilling pool of my neurosis. I'll save that for next time. Stay tuned.

Thing is, in distances over 50k (31 miles), I really do need to wear the effing things. Practicality wins the day, as I really don't need to stop every few miles to knock the pebbles/grit/small mammals out of my shoes. I've owned gaiters that allowed absolutely, 100% of these items to end up in my shoes. Seriously: I spent the money, I look like a goddamned Himalayan hiker...so why did I just feel a boulder nestle its way beneath the ball of my foot?

I ambled my way over to www.zombierunner.com (the single GREATEST online resource for ultra running. Ever.) and HOLY SHIT, I found these gaiters, by Inov 8:

Okay, admittedly: I didn't find THESE gaiters. AKA, I ordered the wrong ones. Damn me. So, I "ended up with these gaiters". There. That's accurate.

Problem is: The gaiters are socks as well. This means, say, at mile 55, I want to change socks. I also have to have purchased another set of these gaiters (!?!?) So now I have to own an entire fleet of these. OR, I simply "convert" them to gaiters by snipping off the sock-parts. And of course, the gaiters I meant to order? Yeah, they don't have the sock parts.


What I like about these: The top part of the gaiter, which is usually elastic, is the top of the socks. This completely prevents anything from getting inside through the top. I ran a 17 miler in these a few days back, and the insides of my shoes were as devoid of debris as Howie Mandel's fireplace. The bottoms affixed nicely to the sole of the shoe and laces. Overall, I give this product an 8 out of 10, but only because of the sock-issue.

And overall, I give my online shopping prowess a 5 out of 10. I mean, I ordered *a* product and received it, right? That's worth at least 2 points. Like filling in your name properly on the ACTs? AM I RIGHT, PEOPLE??!?!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My parents split in 1981. Even as an 11 year old at the time, I gave this decision both my blessing, two thumbs-up, and an emphatic, "JESUS CRIMINY, GOOD IDEA!" Everyone benefitted from this frightening, daunting, and absolutely 100% necessary choice.

As a result, my dad and I never really bonded, nor did I have a male figure to pattern myself after. We always kept in touch, he saw us as often as he could, however you can't replace good ol' "Havin' someone around to guide you." Again, my father and mother's split was as good as a longtime idea as, say, alternative fuel choices. Or flossing your teeth. Because that gunk would have built up over the years, and holy hell, the only choice you'd be left with is to yank out each of those suckers and start over.

Over the last 2+ years, Pops and I have reconnected, as adults. Well, as adult as one can possibly be whilst wearing a t-shirt that reads "International Order For Gorillas" on a regular basis (me, not him). And for 5 days, my father stayed with us in Portland this past week. It was - most sincerely and humbly - one of the most memorable weeks in my life.

I think we tend to know our parents in one-line summaries/fabled stories from their pasts. Case in point: Things I knew about my father as of 7 days ago:

• He joined the Army during the Vietnam war, even though he opposed it.

• He had some girlfriend before meeting my mother named Marcia.

• He worked as a salesman of packaging machinery.

• He rarely attended church with the rest of us (trust me, I looked longingly back at his pajama-ged visage as the three of us pressed out into the frigid, Chicago winters early Sunday mornings).

• I was born 12 months nearly to the day of their one year wedding anniversary. I mean, I'm no dummy. Accidents will happen.

What I learned in only 5 days of talking with my father:

• At 19, he, quite literally, tossed his college books into the trash, hopped on a bus, and enlisted in the Army. He was sick of college. 3 months later, landing in Bangkok, one of the first things his pal said to him: "Let's go score some grass." And they did.

• In early 1969, he was moping in his apartment, as his girlfriend, Marcia, had been out of town. As he describes it:

Marcia had gone on an extended trip to Florida and I had not seen her for quite awhile. All of a sudden I get a phone call. It is Dennis Murray (his friend) calling from the Holiday Club saying that he was going to drive back and get me. And that he had a surprise. He drives me to the Holiday and there she is (Marcia) in the middle of the dance floor. Jimmy Ford and the Executives were playing a Motown song (they were very good with Motown songs) and I just walked up and started dancing with her. I can still remember the song that was playing---------Sugar Pie Honeybunch by the Four Tops. Turns out when the Murray Brothers showed up at the Holiday Marcia asked them "where is Bob?" "I sure would like to see him." And Dennis drove back to get me. Did you ever see the movie "Dirty Dancing"? There is a scene in there where Patrick Swayze walks onto the dance floor and everyone parts and there is Jennifer Grey. It was just like that. Jesus, the tears just well up every time I read that.

• In his spare time, my dad has been volunteering for FIFTEEN YEARS helping tutor/train tutors for illiterate adults.

• My father leans towards Buddhism. He only attended church as a social function for the short time he did.

• I was planned. VERY planned. I can honestly say that it never "bothered" me to think that I was a "surprise" (my quotation marks key is getting quite the work out), but hearing that my existence on this planet was thought out and a gesture of love? To be frank: Shit, that's fucking cool.

Lastly: His final, full day here, we drove to Silver Falls State Park and then spent the following 6 hours driving up and down Oregon's winding, 2 lane highways, with no particular destination: Windows down, Beatles blasting out from the speakers, chatting at times, comfortable silences during others.

This was the first song to grace the CD player on our road trip.

Two of Us

You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

I love you, Daddy.