Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weekend in the Mountains

     This last week Sara and I went our separate ways for some very different adventures.  She returned to the San Juan river, without me again, on her last trip guiding for Grand Canyon Youth before we leave.  In total, she got to do five trips this season. She feels like she learned a lot, and is thankful to continue to be involved with GCY.  Since Sara went down river, I went up river to Colorado for a race and a weekend of hanging out with Zeno.
Camping just below Mexican Hat

I left town Thursday evening after coaching Kids Run Flagstaff and Step Into Running.  I wanted to get a few hours of driving out of the way before making a big push early Friday to get to Idaho Springs/Echo Lake.  I ended up camping just below Mexican Hat under a very bright full moon.  I should have realized then that the wind that night was only a precursor for the rest of the trip.

Zeno and I got up early the next morning and drove up through Moab to I-70 and Grand Junction.  The Colorado River along I-70 is flowing very high right now and at times it felt like I was the one rafting, not Sara.  The bike path along the highway was underwater in many places and often the water was only feet from the interstate.  After the winter we had in Flagstaff it was nice to see that some places were still wet.
Looking across the valley to the next morning's ascent.

We got to Idaho Springs without incident then took the windy road that climbed up to Echo Lake.  I was hoping to find a spot in the campground at the start, but ended up camping a few miles up the road with a great view of the mountains.  Turns out the 13,000' mountain I was looking at all evening was the second peak I would skirt in the race the next morning.

My race was the Mt. Evans Ascent.  For some reason in February/March this race seemed like it would be a super-fun thing to run. Turns out it was not quite that.  Beautiful? Yes.  Epic? Definitely. Super-fun? NO!  The race runs from 10,600' Echo Lake up to 14,200', just below the Summit of Mt. Evans. It is the highest paved road in the country, and therefore the highest road race.  This year also promised to be a very competitive year on the men's side as many Pike's Peak veterans, ultra runners, and generally fast road guys all turned out.
Sara and I spending quality time together before a weekend apart. Photo by Jacque Povilaitis

Saturday morning I got up early, packed up camp, and drove the few miles to the start.  I quickly ran into Brian Folts, last year's winner.  He and I have gone back and forth in a few races so I was thinking I should be around him.  I also had not seen the course at all and the race director was warning of 40+ mph winds and 34 degree temps on top, so Brian, as a veteran of the race, was a good source of layering ideas.  I made a game-time decision and opted out of my Kahtoola singlet and into my Kahtoola t-shirt, which would be slightly warmer.  I also had gloves and a warm hat tucked into my shorts, just in case.

Right from the start of the race my legs felt bad, which is not a good sign when you still have 14.4 miles of the 14.5 remaining.  With the high altitude start and continuous climbing I knew that if I went into debt from the start I would never recover.  I immediately backed off a little with the hope that my legs would feel better a little later.  And they did. Around mile 3 or 4 (roughly 11,000') I started feeling a little better and could start reeling people in.  I was sitting around 10th at this point.  One guy started coming back to be a little, but Brian, who was ultimately who I wanted to catch, kept the same distance away from me no matter how much I picked it up.

Final strides in an all-out windblown shuffle
At this point in the race we had left tree-line far below and started to experience the high winds.  Every turn either gave us a tail wind, cross wind, or full on wind in the face.  I caught the one guy who was coming back to me and pulled away a little bit, but then he and another runner rejoined me at a water station.  At this point the wind was turning from an annoyance to a sadistic breeze that was in a twisted cabal with the elevation to send me tumbling down the mountain.  So I decided to work with the other guys who had just caught me.  Two of us started trading leads every 20-40 seconds. The third guy sat there and did nothing (fortunately he blew up after hammering a short downhill and finished 20 spots back. Next time he should help out!).  This section, appx miles 6-9, were made much easier by the trading leads.

At about 12,000' we had a longer descent, which at this point I hated because it only meant we had to regain altitude, before climbing one of the steepest sections.  This is where my race performance became inversely proportional to elevation gained.  Above 12,600' the road began switch-backing repeatedly.  Each switch back either had a ferocious headwind or a tailwind shoving me towards Denver.  I think each direction my pace varied 2-3 minutes per mile.  To make matters worse my brain had ceased function too well so my racing instincts took over.  That meant that in each tailwind I purposely picked it up, which led to me being more out of breath by the time I turned in to the wall of wind. My focus switched from catching the next guy to simply trying to keep running.
With Ian and Emily at the top of Mt Evans.

Finally I could see the finish, and the last straightaway was with the wind so I looked like I finished faster than I was capable of running at the point.  As I was grabbing my warm clothes I ran into Jeffrey Eggleston, my pre-race favorite and former Flagstaffian, and he asked me if I won.  I laughed, and then realized that meant he couldn't have been top three or he would have known.  At that point I began to understand just how competitive the field was.  When a 2:11 marathoner, and good climber, finishes 8th it's a fairly deep field.  My 12th didn't feel as bad then.

I donned my warm stuff and then quickly went up to the summit of Mt Evans before I lost all motivation.  I then re-joined fellow Flagstaff runner Ian Torrence and Emily Harrison for another trek to the blustery summit before catching a ride back down to the start and the car.

Despite feeling miserable for a large section of the race I would go back and run it again.  I definitely need more hill work, and more hill work above 12,000' before I want to try again, but all-in-all I am glad I ran it.  I doubt I will ever run a road race with better views.
Playing with the Kahtoola Microspikes below Jones Pass

After the race I drove over to Jones Pass, which is on the CDT.  Sara and I had hiked through this area last year, and I wanted to see it again.  The bowl was completely snowpacked so I got to use my microspikes, and, because I had them, used my RnR 22 Snowshoes, although I was done running for the day.  Returning to portions of the CDT was interesting.  Not having Sara with me didn't feel right, because we had done spent every minute of the hike together and I think part of me recognized that anything close to the CDT should be shared with her.  It was also great to be back, though.  I love being up high and despite Sara not being there it was great to be able to tromp around in the snow above 12,000' again.
The camp guard dog?

I set up camp in a snowstorm below Grays Peak with the hope of hiking both Grays and Torreys Peaks on Sunday.  These are two 14ers we missed on the trail since we resupplied in Silverthorne rather than Breckenridge.  There was still a ton of snow, especially on Torreys, and half the people hiking were carrying skis for the ride down.  Zeno did great with all the elevation.  He still wanted to chase another dog above 14,000', but was unsure of what to do with the mountain goats.  I think the white fur that was fuzzier than his confused him.  From the top of the peaks I could look East to Mt. Evans, and then every other direction to see the Divide and places Sara and I hiked.  Despite trying not to freeze with the 16 degree windchill I tried to recognize as many peaks and passes as possible.  I gave up at three since everything has now run together in my head.

The rest of the afternoon and evening I spent driving around Dillon/Silverthorne looking for a place to camp.  After getting confused by the Keystone Resort, realizing no road was passable in the still-open-for-skiing Arapahoe Basin, and finding two campgrounds on my map to be non-existent, I opted for a motel room so I could shower and prep to show Sea Level Sucks apparel to a few places on my Monday drive back.

Despite taking the wrong road out of Silverthorne and 60+ mph winds while driving back across the Reservation, I made it home in good time on Monday.  I was also able to talk with Wilderness Sports in Dillon, Leadville Outdoors in Leadville, and Backcountry Experience in Durango.  Hopefully you can find Sea Level Sucks apparel in these stores shortly!

Top of Torreys Peak with Grays in the background.

Spending the weekend in the mountains made me very excited to get back on the CDT.  Based on the snow still in the Rockies, the Wind Rivers will still be snow-packed when we begin in two weeks.  Despite being more challenging, I can't wait.  We will be leaving Flag on July 2nd, and hopefully getting back on trail July 5th.  Only a couple more weeks.

Now on to packing!

Happy Trails.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Time Keeps Moving, Quickly

Once again we let an extra month go by in between posts, and a lot happened.  Sara has been off and on the river the last month so Zeno and Sequoia and I have been eating a lot of frozen pizza and dog food, respectively.  She has had more trips as a guide this season than ever before and is starting to get into the rhythm of off-river, on-river. This means that the trips become easier for her in many ways (blisters stay calloused over), but also means the grandeur of the river is easier to take for granted.  I'm still very jealous every time she gets to go hang out in some canyon for a few days.

Early stages of the Xterra West Championships
When Sara is on the river I try to find other things to do, like race! Since our last post I have been able to compete in two Xterra trail races, the Western Region Championships in Vegas, and the Malibu Creek 22k, in Malibu.  The Vegas race was a 21k on a very hilly, very exposed old construction area.  Rather than being single track the surface was like an old mining road, rocky and loose, but not too technical.  I went into the race having no idea what to expect from competition or from an Xterra event itself.  Right from the start three of us separated from the pack, which then became two of us after a mile.  The guy I was running with, Roberto Mandje, had the course record from the year before so I knew he would be tough competition. I figured I would stay controlled for the first lap and then the second and final lap try to pull away for the win.  I figured I could always use the finish on the road to out kick him.  After three miles or so I realized this strategy was doomed as he quickly ran away from me on an uphill and then put a minute on me by the end of the first lap.  At this point I had a 3-4 minute lead on the next guy and my mind went to a bad place for racing.  I ran miles 7-10 more as a run than a race, until I realized I could see the guy behind me again and needed to pick it up.  For my first race in a while I was ok with a second place finish, especially when I realized the Roberto ran in the Olympics for Equatorial Guinea.  My idea to out-kick him at the finish seemed rather foolish in hindsight.
Kahtoola race kit with the M*A*S*H* mountain (which we raced) in the back

The second race went a lot better for me mentally.  I was able to stay engaged the entire time and actually feel like I was competing from start to finish.  It may have been because I had actually done a couple long runs before this race, but more likely because I got to wear my new race kit provided by Kahtoola.  I drove to the LA area the day before the race in mid-May and stayed with one of Sara's college friends. I then finished the last hour to Malibu early race morning.  Again, the course was more dirt road than trail, but did have a couple sweet short technical sections, including one on top of a granite ridge with views out to the Pacific.  The race started out much quicker than my car-stiffened legs were happy with, but I was able to shake them out and catch the leaders by the time we started the insanely long, grinding ascent.  The race gained and lost 3430' over the 14 miles and most of it was in this one climb.  I was able to pull away from second place towards the top and use the downhills to create more of a gap.  Despite not being able to gap a jogger on the trail during the last climb to the finish I managed to hang on for the win before driving the 7 hours back to Flagstaff to see Sara return from a river trip.  One of the neatest things about the Malibu race was getting to race through the M*A*S*H* set.  I was really hoping for a helicopter to come over the hills and get me up the mountain.
Clark Fork flowing through Missoula in early April
Sara had a river trip in mid April, during which I meant to clean up the house and be sitting around with dinner ready upon her return. Instead, in a fortunate set of coincidences, I got a job offer in Missoula.  Apparently an employee of The Cycling House stopped into Run Flagstaff to pick up some shoes and told Vince he was from Missoula.  Vince gave him my card, which then got passed along to the owner of TCH, Owen.  Owen got in touch with me through email on a Monday and then I had a follow up phone call with VP Shaun on Tuesday.  Sara left for the river Thursday knowing that I had a Skype interview Friday morning, but that was all she knew before going off grid to get paid to play on rivers. The interview went well enough for them to fly me up to Missoula on Monday morning for three days. As far as Sara knew I was supposed to pick her up from her river trip, but that was not possible as I was on a three day first date in Montana.  Owen and Shaun were great in Missoula and I really liked everything about the company.  They ended up offering me a job starting September 1st and I accepted!  They are being very supportive of Sara and I finishing the CDT this summer as long as I don't do that every year.
Hiking up the Slabs on Mt Elden with Jack

Sara and I had a trip scheduled to Missoula for this last week in which we were supposed to scope out the job situation, but with the TCH job the nature of our trip changed.  Owen was very generous and let us stay in his basement and borrow a couple bikes so we were able to explore the city.  This was Sara's first trip up there and a great chance to make sure she likes it (and a relief when she said she does).  Sara was able to go by the University and talk to someone in the PT program and I got to go on a couple long runs with some of the top local runners.  Owen also took us to watch one of the Wednesday night beer league mountain bike races, which afforded us a glimpse into our future of not getting enough mid-week sleep because we will be up as late as the sun playing.  For now Missoula seems like it will be a great fit for us where we can hopefully create a new home with great friends.
Sara cold on the bike in Missoula

We have exactly one month left in Flagstaff before we head back to the trail, and that month is going to be busy.  Sara still has another river trip, and I have another race in Colorado, not to mention a Sea Level Sucks  event at the Flagstaff Hullabaloo, packing for a move, and planning the remainder of a thru-hike.  We also have a bucket list of things we want to do in town before leaving, mostly trails we want to run/bike, but we may have to put the list on hold for return visits to Flag.

That's all for now!  Somewhat daily adventures can be found at: (@forrestboughner) (@sghook)
and Facebook

Happy Trails.

Forrest and Sara