Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Name a Mountain Pass

Here is the Finding the Boats We Sunk recipe for "How to name a Mountain Pass": First, you take a gorgeous day up in Hatcher Pass. Then you add a fearless friend named Dave (his name doesn't have to be Dave. You can use someone else, as long as he is fearless and says, 'oh, yeah, 4 hours, 5 max, no problem.") Make sure this friend does not listen to the rambling advice of the prospector (thrown into the mix below). Throw in a retired prospector named Buck Rogers (again, he doesn't have to be a Buck, but he does have to have not seen anyone in a few days and have a penchant for chattiness. Warning! Though the chattiness may sound unimportant, listen closely to his advice on the location of "big black rocks", "hog backs", "spray paint" and when he says, "oh yeah, that pass is really far", believe him.) Buck, with his Groundhog: Add a liberal helping of a mountain goat named Willow, the best rock climbing dog around. And finally, me, who has always wanted to take Craigie Creek Trail up over Dogsled Pass and around to Archangel Road.
We should have known we were in trouble when the MOST detailed guidebook said "once you reach Dogsled Pass, look up and to the right. There you will find the pass that will take you to Fairangel lake and mine". Hmmm. Up and to the right are three seemingly good choices. On the way, we found gold, radioactive green moss, a small canister with change mounted to a confusing directional sign (why, so you can call a cab?) and helped start the formation of a black cloud (I'm quite sure it was our lack of serious faces that angered the Pass gods) that then traveled to Wasilla to rain on Bumpus ballfields, cancelling my softball game. We did make it up and over a pass. I think we were the first people there, because this was the kind of climb that keeps my mother up at night, rightfully so. At least I hope we were the first, because we named it Willow Pass, for the amazing nimble feet of Willers, my bud and sidekick.
And now, as I sit and write about the ease at which anyone can name a mountain pass, I see the almost full moon in the darkening sky and realize fall is upon us, with the changing colors in the mountains- yellows, deep reds, and the crisp air that bites in the morning as Chum greets my buckets. It looks to be a beautiful fall. Bittersweet for me as always, in Alaska.
From "Roses, Late Summer", M. Oliver:
And over one more set of hills,
along the sea,
the last roses have opened their factories of sweetness
and are giving it back to the world.
If I had another life
I would want to spend it on some
unstinting happiness.
I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn't mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.
Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet though of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

Monday, August 16, 2010

16 Years Young

Good lord, I have to do everything myself. Obviously, She Who Controls the Computer forgot to mention that after 15 years (or is it 16?), I decided to start jumping on the couch. Hehhehheh, Princess Willow was pissed. I was born to be a housedog. Woof. Love, Koochie

Building the Ark

29 straight days of precipitation and counting. It's code orange (isn't it always?) at Southpaw Kennel and we have shifted to survival mode. I've put aside all of the projects I've been working on so diligently all summer and started building an ark. Leo's all for it but LuLu is demanding her own private statesman cabin with at least 3 portholes, so it might take some extra time. Seriously. There is a collective weary resignation amongst the crew, another Not-Quite-Summer is finished. And it continues to rain...."I don't think that it's the end, but I know we can't keep going...." So 11 more days and the prerequisite biblical 40 days and 40 nights will be achieved. Well, one good thing about the rain- berries. Everywhere and all kinds. DSquared and I went over to Jeff's, a running friend. He is the owner of The Garden of Which We Are All Envious. He and his wife couldn't pick all the raspberries, strawberries or currants they were growing so asked for some help. Um. Of course. I am the champion Hambach Farm blackberry picker, right Mom? An 8 mile (or was it 10?) run, an hour and two gallons later.... And here we have Jeff, the master gardener of all things.....
And of course, no rest for those who overextend themselves on the weekend- we're off to Anchorage the next morning (after a 6AM are-you-up? call) for Humpy's Marathon and Half marathon. Dave decided to tackle the marathon, two weeks after Res Pass, DeeDee was running the half and Jeff, Yvonne and I were bandits. Yvonne ran the whole thing while I wimped out and only ran the last 2-3 miles with them. Dee ran a great race, finishing her 2nd half of the summer in under 2:20, despite a painful foot. High five, Willow Running Club. Dave on the other hand, turned in a lackluster performance, finishing 4th in the marathon overall, first in his age group and running a personal record of 2:52 (just kidding, we don't want your head to get too big). Pretty soon he's gonna be too cool and we won't be able to hang out with him anymore. Either that or we just won't be able to catch him. Oh wait, that's already happened. I told him before the race that his Res Pass finish was all well and good but it was going to be this one that really showed his conditioning and mental toughness. Well ladies and gentlemen, there's your answer. He is now famous enough to catch the eye of Beth Bragg from the Anchorage Daily News:
Dave, An executive decision has been made by the pit crew about your attire. From henceforth on, anytime you run a PR, you retire the clothes you wore for that race. Including this one :-)
Oh, and he found out on Sunday that he is race director for the McCarthy Half-marathon. Yvonne, you're still hearing about it. Not gonna let it die, that jinx you put on his head.
So, the real reason we went into town for the race was for Moose's Tooth beer and pizza. The raspberry wheat, the popeye and the brewhouse special. That and Yvonne gets restless if she doesn't go on a roadtrip every 2-3 weeks.
Yv and I post-stomach stuffing, with Willow. I think I keep getting taller and she keeping getting shorter:
I came home on Sunday to my own ripe raspberries:
- After sweeping the Reds for first place, the cards fell 2 out of 3 to the CUBS! Buck up boys and start putting the hammer down.
- It is possible for someone as small as Yvonne to put away a large pizza in one sitting. - Eating breakfast before you run a marathon guarantees a PR.
- Ray LaMontagne has a new album coming out soon, can't wait.
- Lastly a tip- don't lend out your Xtra toughs during a rainy summer.
And to feed Yvonne's need for the road- we are heading to McCarthy for the Kennicott half-marathon. Afterall, we're tight with the race director....
Maybe reading about the sun will bring it 'round, from Tony Hoagland's Spring Lemonade:
"There's a wheel turning in the center of the earth
and over it, our feet are always running, running,
trying to keep pace.
Then there's the period of quietude and rue,
when you want to crawl up inside yourself,
when you prefer ugliness to hope.
Last night the sunset was so pink and swollen
the sky looked like it had gotten an infection.
We were sitting on the lawn and sipping lemonade.
Inflamed clouds were throbbing in the fevered light.
Shannon murmured Somebody better call a doctor.
Kath said, Somebody get some aspirin.
But nobody moved.
And the smell of lilacs and manure blew out of the fields
with such complexity and sweetness, we closed our eyes.
It had nothing to do with being good, or smart,or choosing right.
It had to do with being lucky-
something none of us had ever imagined. "
And that's what we are. Lucky enough to feel the rain on our faces. Everyday.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So Much Time....

....on my hands. "Ticking away the moments that make up the dull day Fritter and waste the hours In an off hand way..." Ahh, the post race funk. Just when you want to go out and run forever, you can't because your body won't let you. I've spent so much time running that the to-do lists are buried under stacks of other to-do lists and I don't know where to start. So I've been blueberry picking and buying books on Scotland. Thought I'd post a few more pics from Res Pass: So, I love this picture for three reasons: 1. It's a great pic of Yvonne in her hot pants 2. Her face shows so clearly the huge relief she's feeling at the finish, getting out from under the thunderous black cloud otherwise known as "Andrea's bad attitude". 3. The Sebastian Schnuelle look-alike behind her is TOTALLY checking her out. And then we've got Dave, 100-miler winner at the finish line. Hey, no slouching, you just won. Are those swimming trunks? And finally, my personal favorite. Laura McDonough at the 12-mile aid station, right behind Dave as they head across the bridge from Hope to Cooper Landing. See that sneaky little smile? Dave, she's about to eat you alive. And she'll keep that white hat pristine clean for 100 miles while she's doing it. Incredible. Below is the Anchorage Daily News link for the race summary and results. I'm off to dream of the West Highland Way... *thanks to Pink Floyd for unknowing allowing my lyric poaching.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Summer Day

I've waited a few days to write down my thoughts about the Res Pass 50, mainly so my post did not consist solely of the following: @#$%&*)!
On to business.
Yv and I dropped Dave off at the start of the 100-miler Friday afternoon and headed home for rest. We got up early, at 4am (otherwise known as "still nighttime"). I went over my imaginary checklist and hustled into the car. I wasn't nervous, just not quite awake yet. I realized halfway there that I had forgotten my camera. Yv let me borrow hers. I didn't want to carry the extra weight but figured a few snapshots along the trail would be worth it. We arrived nice and late, at 5:45am. Yv took the pre-race photo below:
Contrary to what you might think, this is not my game face. This is my "What-the-hell-are-we-doing-here-this-early-in-too-few-clothes-trying-to-acclimate-to yet-another-rainy-cold-Alaska-summer-morning?" face. Yv is of course very good at her gentle reminder of "you know....nobody is making you do this".
So the list of 25 was whittled down to 18 at the start. It was a mass of synthetics and spandex, dirty trail shoes, camelbacks and very warm snuggled-in-their-down-jackets pit crew members. What was ahead of us? Well, a gradual 19 mile climb to Resurrection Pass, followed by a 19 mile descent into Hope. Then, we were all relieved to know (insert sarcasm font) that we had 12 more miles to go on a hard-packed gravel road with a 4 mile hill (not gradual) out and back on to the finish at the Hope School. Pat, the race director told me at the start that it rained all night long on the 100-milers and the trail was pretty wet. It was pretty dry at the trailhead with sun breaking through. A good start. I think there was a countdown then somebody yelled GO. The following picture looks kind of cool because it makes it look like we're actually going fast.
We're not.
I was pretty quickly on my own. When I decided I wanted to run this race, I tried in vain to convince Yv to do it with me. Every answer was some version of "no" with a colorful variety of other words included. Some fast people were out quick. I think I was somewhere in the middle but I didn't see anyone after about 2 minutes so I really had no idea. It's a single track trail through the woods so you don't see a soul. I could hear some voices behind me and figured I was in the right place. The trail conditions were pretty good considering the rain the night before. I was having a great time the first several miles, taking it easy, trying to remember Dave's advice of "go as slow as you can, even if it hurts". Around mile 5-6 I hoped off the trail for a bathroom stop and heard a group pass by me. I was actually having a great time by myself and hoped I didn't catch them for a while. I started to sift around in my pack for a gel when I saw that the lid and filter from my filter water bottle was gone. Damn. My camelback bladder was a 2-liter but still not enough to last 38 miles. Giardia was not on my summer to-do list. Oh well. When in doubt, keep on running. Good motto for something like this- came in handy. I hoped that someone behind me would pick it up. About the time I was trying to calculate what my Metronidazole dose would be, I caught up with the group ahead of me at Juneau lake, about 9 miles in. We were all at a quick walking pace to eat a few bites, so I hopped ahead to take their picture. (From L-R)Ann, Janet and Janelle were all from the Anchorage area. Janelle was a first-timer like me. As I took off, Janelle peeled off and started running with me. All I can say is that she was a life-saver- keeping a good pace and a great person to talk to. It's actually perfect to run a race like this with someone you've never met- All of your stories are new and take long enough to tell to get you through a LOT of miles.
There were a few shorter climbs where we power-hiked, taking advantage of the slow pace to eat. I had a wide variety of.....gels. With a couple packs of Clif Blocks, thank god. I had one Gu gel and that was enough to convince me it would be the only one. Besides the blocks, I only ate Powerbar gels, vanilla and chocolate. When good, they taste like cake icing (come on, everybody's eaten straight out of the Betty Crocker icing tub. Don't lie). When bad. Hmmm, they're just bad. I was able to get down 2 an hour until about mile 30 (I'm guessing on the 30. I had no idea where the hell I was after mile 19 at the pass). Speaking of the pass, Here I am, at the Pass sign, mile 19. This is the only place it rained on us (sorry, Dave), and only for about 30 minutes. It could have been 2 hours. Time and place starts to get a bit fuzzy after a while. I think Janelle and I got to the pass in about 4h20min.
After we hit the pass, it was a gradual downhill that was pretty easy running. I know I never would have kept our pace, had I been alone. Thanks, Janelle! As we descended, we knew about where we were at certain creek crossings. I ran out of water somewhere between 25-30 miles. We were crossing small, fast moving creeks about every mile, so there were plenty of places to get water/giardia. Janelle's initial raceday goal was about 10hours, mine around 11, but I would have been happy staying under 12. as we crossed rivers we knew the mileage of, we knew we were behind her schedule but thought we were pretty close to mine (I set 11 as a goal b/c Dave said that with adequate training 11 was a reasonable goal- he of course expected me to be much slower due to my horribly INadequate training we both knew I had). So we came to a point where we thought we had about 3 miles to go, pretty easy to do 10min miles with the terrain, so about 30 minutes from the trailhead and the mile 38 aid station. Right at that point, we ran into two of her friends who had run in to pace her to the aid station. When we asked them about how much farther it was, they said "we've been running in for about 1.5 hours". Silence. Janelle and I didn't say anything at first. This was a bad moment. This was where the race became all mental. And it was not good. I think it was worse for me because I had seen the 4-mile hill the day before and knew what we had ahead of us. And so we plodded on. At this point, we were still in the woods and everything looked the same. The only thing with any variety was the wide array of bear scat. Finally, I saw buildings along the river and knew we were getting close. I'll admit that I started to have a bit of a breakdown. Tears of joy? I don't think it was joy I was feeling. Then I realized I would soon be seeing people. Jesus, get ahold of yourself. As soon as I crossed the bridge and hit the hard-packed gravel, I could feel EVERY little accumulated pain all at once. Stopping was not an option. Yv came running at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look, yelling "you're not supposed to be here yet!. I'm not ready!" Well, what did she want me to do, turn around? So I bypassed the food (for somebody like me, who loves to eat, passing up M&Ms is a BIG deal. All it takes is a 38 mile run to suck any appetite out of me) and kept walking down the road because if I stopped, it was going to be all over. Janelle was right behind me and headed down the road with her pacers. I was glad to have a couple minutes alone until Yv caught up to me. Then, in a truck from down the road comes none other than Thomas and Dave. Dave hopped out (well...hobbled would be a more apt description) and we both gimped on down the road. He was freshly showered with a beer in hand, smiling. He came in a few hours earlier, winning the 100-miler with no dry clothes left. I told him about my breakdown right before the bridge and he told me he's heard that happens to a lot of people ;-) Right about then, Yv caught up and Thomas pulled up to give Dave a lift to the finish. I still had about 11 miles to go and wasn't looking forward to it. I ran and walked the next 3-4 miles until I got to the hill. Then, I tried to keep running but didn't have anything left. I walked the last 3 miles up the hill. I even stopped a couple times, turned around, had a couple out-of-body experiences, talked to myself about the meaning of life (the talking to yourself starts early, around mile 5-6) what exactly I was doing out there (still no answer for that one yet) and seriously considered just heading back down the hill. Yv was smart. She didn't push me either way. I think she knew I was done and getting to the top of the hill was about all I could do- walking or crawling. Volunteers Pam and Phyllis were at the top and were the two most welcome faces I'd ever seen. Again, a smorgasbord of food, which I couldn't look at lest I vomit) and drinks (sadly, no Guinness). I was amazingly coherent at this point, enough to get moving down to the finsh. Yowza- that hurt. Finally the turn to a flat road. So by now, I'm not talking. At all. The look on my face would quell any sort of conversation and I'm filthy enough to be the last person anyone would try to talk to on the side of a road. Except for the one tourist looking for the grocery store. In Hope. Yv saw the look on my face and jumped between us, pointing the way. And at long last, Hope School and the tent.
I finished in 11h22min and some change. Not bad for my first (and only?) time. My feet did not feel so good. My shoes actually were some color of brown to start with, just not this one:
So now that I've had a few days to digest that 11+ hr experience you'd think I'd have some decent answer for why. Don't really have one. To see if I could do it, I guess.
Listening to an Alexi Murdoch song today, and it said things better, as usual:
"I feel I'm on the verge of some great truth where I'm finally in my place
But I'm fumbling still for proof
and it's cluttering my space
casting shadows on my face.
And though I have the strength to move a hill
I can hardly leave my room
So I'll sit perfectly still
and I'll listen for a tune
while my mind is on the moon.
and if I stumble
and if I stall
and if I slip now
and if I should fall
and if I can't be all that I could be
will you wait for me?"
And who waited for me? My two great friends:
-Dave, 2010 Res Pass 100-mile winner. Who never told me it was going to be easy. And for that I'm so grateful. You rock. Who says successful ultramarathoners have to be vegan? You can have MY gels for 1/2 price.
-And Yvonne- the most amazing one woman pit crew/pacer/runner hostel/goat milk serving kick ass chauffeur ever born. I went slow so you wouldn't get too hot in those pants ;-)
So back to why. When you tell people what you've just done they think you're crazy, they tell you so and they ask why. I guess I'd like to answer them with part of a Mary Oliver poem entitled "The Summer Day":
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?