Spike’s 2014 in Photos

Wheels recently sent out an email that did two things, first it pointed out how lazy we all are with regards to posting here and second it suggested we do a 2014 in photos.  After going through my various albums from the year, I learned that I lead a slightly less boring life than one might anticipate for a swamp resident.  Here, are some selected highlights for each month.  Some were easy to find, whereas other months involved mostly work, while some months had multiple highlights.  If you feel something I did with you should have made the cut and didn’t, well next year you will just have to improve your lobbying game.  I enjoy coke, snickers, and marshmallow filled candies.

January– Last January I resolved to run a minimum of one mile every day, this year its ten minutes.  This ended up being a fun goal and was a good motivator to get outside every day and to explore places I might not have otherwise, even during work travel.  This photo was taken on a run I took above the Rio Grande outside of Los Alamos, NM.

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February– This month didn’t hold a lot of excitement other than a lot of work deadlines.  I’m sure I had lovely runs and lovely bike rides here in the swamp, but the focus was on meeting said deadlines.  As a placeholder, please see this very cute photo of Tilly relaxing in my home office, while I typed away.

February

March– In March I made up for February, and as such will post two <gasp> photos here.  The first photo is from a trip, which is detailed in this blog when I biked the Florida Keys with my friend Jenn.  After that trip, I was sooooo calorically deficient that I flew to Utah to eat Habit Burger with Ali.  Oh yeah and to ski with Ali, Adele, Jeanni, Kendra, and John.  It is worth noting that that was a speed-eating Habit visit, because there was fresh powder at Alta that needed to be tracked out, and lets be honest Ali and I were the best qualified people for that job.

March March-2April– This was another great month.  I took a trip to New York to run a trail race in Westchester County, outside of New York City.  For reasons that probably made sense only to me, I decided to pop over to visit a friend who had just moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  You know, while I was in the area!  While there, I got to climb my first ever New Hampshire peak.  Folks, they don’t call it the granite state for nothing. The photo below is taken from Mount Chocorua from the turn off to the trail head.  From the top we had great views of Mt. Washington and the White Mountains.

April

May– After traveling like crazy last summer, this year I tried to keep that in check.  I spent most of my time in the swamp doing work, ramping up marathon training, and doing great bike rides.  The photo for this month is from the Prairie Overlook, one of my favorite scenic spots on the Hawthorne trail.

May

June– June was a fun month, where I finally managed to visit Italy.  This has long been a place I wanted to visit, ever since I studied Italian language and Culture as my Liberal Arts theme requirement as a techie in college.  While attending a conference in a small town outside of Tuscany, I took advantage of jet lag to go for early morning runs.  As luck would have it, on one of these runs I saw a sign with a hiker on it pointing me to trails that headed up.  Never one to miss out on a good climb, I began to explore.  These trails went  from dirt to cobbles, and I found myself in the idyllic hilltop town of Montecatini Alto.

June

July– This is another month that was tough to pick just one highlight.  Though difficult the decision, it had to be made.  This month was the culmination of my marathon training with Claire, where I was able to run with her for 26.2 beautiful miles in the San Francisco Marathon.  Kudos to Claire for doing a marathon within 14 months of giving birth to her beautiful and energetic daughter.  She probably also deserves kudos for putting up with my stories not only during 26.2 miles of running, but through the 100+ miles involved in training. Check us out as we run through Golden Gate Park!

July

August– Once again I found myself in San Francisco, this time for work.  Thanks to Kelly & Dave for their incredible generosity as I used their house as my basecamp for almost 3 weeks straight.  Though I had two conferences in San Francisco I naturally visited many more parts of California.  One ended on a Wednesday and the next didn’t start until the following Sunday.  Naturally, that time was spent going to Sonoma, Montana de Oro, Santa Barbara, back to Montana de Oro, and finally back to San Francisco.  In addition to letting me crash off and on at her house, Kelly also allowed me to borrow her road bike, which allowed me to go on many rides with friends, including the ride below with Jill in Sonoma.

August

September– There is a whole blog post by Wheels on the September highlight.  Can you guess? It was of course traveling to Utah to pace Jeanni in the Wasatch 100, where I might add she had an amazing race.  I was lucky enough to get to pace her on the section from Lambs Canyon to Brighton, where we had a great time making excellent time. This photo shows how high maintenance I am as a pacer.  I had Jeanni drop these bags for me every 0.25 miles of our journey.  Seriously though, it was fascinating to see all the drop bags for the racers at the pre-race meeting.  It gives you even more appreciation for how much work volunteers do to aid in the success of racers on race day!

September

October– October was a good month.  I did my third half ironman that allowed me to bike through closed off sections of Kennedy Space Center.  I even saw some alligators on the course, which thankfully weren’t during the swim, and for some reason didn’t make Wheels or others excited about the idea of doing a triathlon in Florida.  Despite this highlight, half ironmans have nothing compared to the Wasatch and in October I was able to sneak away and spend some quality time with Wheels running and playing.  This time Wheels was kind enough to take me on several runs with complete daylight.

October

November– After a fun-filled last few months, it was time for me to get back to my routine trails and rides at home, and also to do some work.  Here, is a photo of the cats mocking me one Sunday as I was working hard to develop research ideas that didn’t violate the laws of physics.

November

December– As most people who know me have become aware, I suffer from a rare disease known as Alpine Crankypants.  As a result of this condition, every few months I must be sent to the mountains in order to regroup and to be capable of functioning in society, or at least pretending to.  This December per what is becoming a tradition, I headed to Mammoth and went skiing.  I was lucky to get fresh powder, and even luckier to spend time with great friends.  The below photo is a picture of me and Anneke at Minaret Vista after we cross country skied.  It was a wee bit cloudy and beyond a wee bit windy, but nonetheless we snapped this lovely photo.  Patagonia, if you want to use this for your catalog please let us know 🙂

DecemberThanks to everyone who I played with in 2014! I am excited for the adventures that 2015 is sure to bring, and cannot wait to see you in them!

Biking the Keys

This blog is long overdue for another report from its token flatlander (me).  Also, this report will be on a particularly flat but fun adventure.  As many of you know, several years ago before I moved from California to become gainfully employed in the state of Florida, I had a California bucket list.  On this list were a number of adventures to do before moving that ranged in time commitment and difficulty, including another weekend of climbing in Joshua Tree, another weekend or two of skiing in Mammoth, and biking the California coast.  Now, I do not find myself moving, but I do have a good friend, named Jenn, who is leaving the flat state of Florida for the much more mountainous New Hampshire.  In light of this, I suspect that I would only be negligent in my friend duties if I did not aid in the facilitation of, or at least join on, a Florida Bucket List Bike Adventure: Biking the Florida Keys.  What follows is my version of what happened along the final ~133 miles of US Highway 1 as it travels from Homestead, FL to Key West.

the route

Our route from Homestead to Key West.

Day 1

The first part of any good adventure is planning, and I can only tip my hat (or bike helmet) to Jenn for ensuring we had a place to stay on the first night (really the first two nights, but I am getting ahead of myself) with a UF field crew that is currently performing research in the Everglades.  The nice thing about starting an adventure with a field crew, is that you get to feel like you are sleeping in.  The field crew was up and out of the house before dawn, making waking up just before sunrise seem both relaxing and a bit decadent.  After, packing up we were pedaling down the road around 7:45am, carefully timed for the 8am opening of a fruit stand (Robert Is Here) that has amazing smoothies.

After filling up on tropical fruit smoothies it was time to get on the road.  After some failed shortcuts we found ourselves heading south on US 1 towards Key Largo.  Everything was going great, until. . .

Actually, I think I need to take a break to tell you a little bit about my traveling companion.  So far all you know about Jenn is that she is moving to New Hampshire, and presumably likes to ride bikes.  However, I think it is important to know a bit more about her.  Jenn is an expert ecologist, climate change-ologist, ornithologist, botanist, marine biologist, and a few more –ists and –ologists all combined into one.  Why is this important?  Well it means that as an engineer and a non-ologist I can assume that she knows everything there is to know about the natural world.  Just like she might (wrongly) assume that I know about all things materials.

. . . Back to the story, everything was going along great, Jenn was answering all of my my questions about the everglades.  I was learning, I was looking at the scenery, but I was not carefully looking at the road.  All of a sudden I saw a sharp metal piece in the bike lane and was forced to run over it, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end well and this feeling was confirmed by the “psssssshhhhhhhh” sound of a tire going flat.  We quickly pulled over and started working to change the flat.  At this point, I was not thrilled to remember that the tires on my road bike (Oscar Rrramon) were incredibly new, and therefore more difficult to get off the wheel.  As I was wrestling with the tire, a guy had pulled over and was heading towards us asking if we needed help.  I of course was feeling proud, I know how to change a flat and can generally get it done rather quickly.  However, not wanting to seem too proud, I allowed this gentleman to help.  We proceeded to learn his name was Alfonso and that he is a cyclist and always carries bike gear in his car in the hopes of being able to help someone.  Apparently, we were the first time he has actually come across someone he could “help”, despite carrying this gear with him for years.  I don’t want to drag on too long about our visit with Alfonso, but what should have been a helpful and quick repair job, soon became neither quick nor helpful.  I will summarize by saying that after Alfonso wasted two of my tubes causing pinch flats, and wasted one of Jenn’s CO2 cartridges I took over again, and soon after we were back in business.  Interestingly, I thought this was going to be the “downer” for the day and maybe for the trip, but I did not yet know what was in store.  Even more interestingly, this visit by Alfonso that depleted my tube reserves would lead to one of the most positive contributions of the trip through a necessary visit to a bike store in Tavernier (more on this later).

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Flat fixing time.

With the flat finally repaired, and some advice from Alfonso on a bike shop in Tavernier to replenish supplies we were back in the saddle and pedaling south once again.  A road sign informed us that we had 15 miles to go until Key Largo, or in more useful terms approximately an hour of biking lay ahead of us before we were officially on the keys.

The bikes were happy to take a short break upon reaching Key Largo.

The bikes were happy to take a short break upon reaching Key Largo.

With all of our early delays we decided to stop and have lunch in Key Largo, finding a restaurant with a view.  After lunch, we came to what I think was the biggest downer of the whole trip.  The bike path between Key Largo and Tavernier was a combination of non-existent, under construction, or constantly crossing busy driveways for restaurants and shops.  As a result, the riding didn’t feel very relaxed at all and was some of the more stressful riding I have experienced  (but still not as bad as biking across LA).  Once in Tavernier, we stopped at the bike shop that Alfonso had mentioned to pick up new tubes and a fresh CO2 cannister.  The guy working at the shop is an avid cyclist, and as soon as he realized we were biking the keys brought out a map and highlighted in detail where we should stop along the way, and more importantly on which side of the road to look for the bike path for the remainder of the ride.  Although, we had the adventure cycling map this map would prove itself way more useful.  We were also assured that we had ridden through the worst of it and that it would get better soon.  I was reluctant to believe this, but soon after leaving the shop we were rewarded with an improved bike lane that spit us onto a secluded service road that took us 6-7 miles further down the road.

The advice we also got from the bike shop was to turn left just past the Hurricane Monument to get to a beautiful beach.  We were certainly not disappointed with this advice, and spent time taking photos of our bikes with palm trees and eating snacks with a view. (I should also point out that I accidentally road my bike onto the sand, and in trying to get somewhere safe to put down a speedplay cleated shoe ended up falling over, whoops!)

A beautiful beach in Islamadora Key.

A beautiful beach in the Keys. Can you spot the bikes?

Jenn's bike enjoying the view, while resting against a palm tree.

Jenn’s bike enjoying the view, while resting against a palm tree.

After our snack break it was back on the road to Islamadora Key, where we took a brief stop to check out the fish other people were bringing in, of course asking the fishermen if we could just say we caught the fish.  This is also the location that I nearly lost my travel companion to a great white shark!

Jenn narrowly escaped this shark!

Jenn narrowly escaped this shark!

After, Jenn escaped the shark attack we continued from Islamadora Key all the way to Marathon following bike paths and enjoying looking left to see the Atlantic Ocean and looking right to see the Florida Bay.  After pedaling over 87 miles we reached our hotel in Marathon (coordinated by Jenn), and transitioned quickly into swimsuits for a dip in the pool, followed by showering and eating all the food the restaurants of Marathon had to offer.   Did you say dessert? Yes please!!

Day 2

We chose to stay at the southern end of Marathon to be able to get an early start across 7-mile bridge.  Both of us had heard that this would be one of the scarier parts of the ride, as you are stuck riding on the shoulder (albeit fairly wide) for 7 miles (turns out the name of the bridge is important) until reaching the other side.  Before venturing across the bridge we rode to the Stuffed Pig for what may well have been the best meal of the entire trip (yes, I am biased towards meals that include eggs).  After filling up on benedicts, more seafood and high-fructose corn syrup (aka coke) we were off across 7-mile bridge.

Oscar Rramon at the start of 7-mile bridge.

Oscar Rramon at the start of 7-mile bridge.

One of the other nice things about this day is that the mile markers are counting down to 0.  Although they were doing this yesterday as well now the signs displayed numbers like 47 or 39, which seemed more and more doable in terms of biking to our destination of Key West.  After crossing the 7 mile bridge, which I found to be way more pleasant than the ride from Key Largo to Tavernier we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park to look around.  There, we saw the remainder of a railroad bridge that was partially destroyed in a hurricane on Labor Day in 1935 and a great egret primping itself for the day.  On a side note, while using the google to fact check the date of this hurricane, I learned that this also correlates to a zombie attack at Key West.


Morning grooming.
Morning grooming at Bahia Honda State Park, voted best beach in America in 1992.
Bridge that was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.
Bridge that was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

The ride into Key West was particularly scenic with winds mostly in our favor.  We biked past Key Deer and Marsh Rabbit Habitat, but despite our calling them did not see either.  However, we did see a crazy monitor of some sort climbing a tree, just a reminder of the uniqueness of the Keys.

With about 15 miles to go we stopped for some (iced) coffee and tea and sugary treats from Baby’s Coffee, another great suggestion from the bike shop in Tavernier.  After our snack and about 10 more miles of pedaling we had crossed into Key West and were narrowing in on Milepost 0.  Milepost 0, although a necessary photo-op was itself a bit anticlimactic.  It was just on a street corner, not even at the end of a street.  Of course to get to this street corner we passed Hemmingway’s house and the Audobon house.  Sadly, I did not see any of Hemmingway’s polydactyl (six-toed) cats as we passed by, but did return later in the evening to see a few cats over the fence.   I was not able to count their toes though.

Milepost 0, end of Highway 1 south.

Milepost 0, end of Highway 1 south.

The other interesting thing I learned about Milepost 0, is that although it is the end of US 1 South, when you approach it on US 1 South you are actually going north.  This may seem to you like a simple curiosity, but continuing straight after US 1 South ends does not in fact take you to the southernmost point in the Continental US.  Whoops!  Fortunately, this only cost us about a mile of additional riding, and soon we were heading south again, back past the polydactyl cats to the southernmost point in the continental US.  Here, we met a guy who had just finished riding from San Diego (who wants to join me?), took a few photos, and headed to our hotel.

Southernmost point in the continental US.

Southernmost point in the continental US.

One thing we learned during this trip, is that the Keys are not cheap, at least not during spring break time.  As such, I used frequent flier miles (a lot of them) to book a room at a fancy resort.  You know those $400+ per night places that other people seem to stay at.  Well, clearly the guy at the front desk was good at pegging bike tourists and the fact that our desire to jump in the ocean would be greater than our desire to complain about a room.  However, I am sure that what we got was not in fact a standard room at the Waldorf Astoria resort.  Unless, their standard rooms are all windowless.  Ah well, we didn’t spend much time in the room, and were instead either sipping pina coladas on the beach or wandering the town in search of food and sites.

Supposedly a "standard" room at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West.

Supposedly a “standard” room at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West.

 

Day 3

Like all good things, this trip came to an end.  The last morning we climbed onto our bikes one last time and biked three miles to the Key West airport, where we picked up a rental car to head back to Homestead and then home.  This concludes another great adventure in the books, and a good Florida send-off for Jenn.

Spike’s 2012 in photos

I was inspired by Adele who was inspired by Jill to do a 2012 photos post.  When comparing my posts to theirs, please do remember I live in a swamp and not in the mountains!

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January- I had some success at work, and celebrated the only way I know how, by buying a new bike!  Meet Pierre the Peugeot.

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February- In February I ran the Gainesville Half marathon.  Here, you can see my pre-race tradition of laying out all of my clothes the night before.  You can also see the breakfast of champions, a snickers bar.

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March- By the time March rolled around, I had been riding Pierre around a lot and had run a Half Marathon. In light of this I spent the month eating girl scout cookies.  Yum!

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April-  After eating all of those cookies in March, I figured I had to get back in shape via marathon training.  This time I had an amazing 18 mile run while visiting with friends in New Orleans for the French Quarter music festival.

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May- I took a trip out to San Diego to enjoy some coastal California fun, and to meet Barlo’s newest addition to the family, meet Aaron.

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June- June was a bit of a strange month. Originally, I was supposed to run a marathon in mid-May, but had to cancel due to a bout of tonsillitis and a 103 degree fever.  So my back up marathon became the Rock n’ Roll Seattle marathon.  In early June, I got to go to Sydney, Australia for work and while there went on an incredibly beautiful 19 mile loop run, most of which was along the coast.

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July- July involved rock climbing and sea kayaking in Thailand.  This is a photo from Railay Beach, a place I had always stared at photos of longingly in the climbing magazines.

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August- I did what any reasonable person who lives 100 feet above sea level would do.   I went to Colorado and ran the Aspen Backcountry Marathon, where the lowest point (aka the starting line) was at 8000 feet in elevation.

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September- In full disclosure, the August run was just to prove that I wouldn’t die at altitude and was all part of my training to pace Jeanni in the Wasatch 100.

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October- I took a trip out to Colorado to visit Toberer and Adele, and got to enjoy the first snowfall of the season, trail runs, snowshoeing, and Golden City Brewery.

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November- ran the Savannah Rock n’ Roll Half marathon with friends.

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December- My second trip down under of 2012, this time to visit my sister who recently moved to Perth.  Here, I was able to dip my toes and run along the Southern Ocean, the 4th of the worlds 5 oceans I was able to run along this year including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Updates from the flatlands

In order to avoid bias every blog about the mountains needs someone who lives in the flattest state in the union, Florida.  On this blog that would be me.  I live in a state where the highest point above sea level is 345 feet, this point is also nearly 300 miles from my house.  Fortunately though, I have a job that allows me the opportunity to travel both for work and for pleasure.  This is good because I suffer from a condition known as alpine crankypants, which pretty much means if its been too long since I have been in the mountains I get pretty cranky, and as you may have guessed the only way to fix it is to head to the hills. 

Sadly this year, other than a ski trip I haven’t been able to spend a whole lot of time in what you would call the alpine environment.  However, that has not stopped me from having adventures.  In fact, I think perhaps my desire to be at altitude has been partially sated by lots of travel in the air at 30,0000 feet, where I have been able to see many mountains (the Rockies, the Cascades).  Because no blog post is truly complete without a graph, I decided to plot my air travel.  I think it shows a fairly decent work-life balance between travel for business and pleasure.  The numbers on the x-axis denote the month of the year (e.g 1 = January, 2 = February, 3 = March, I hope you get the point).

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In light of the fact that I live in the flatlands a lot of my activities lately have focused on road running, and in particular marathon and half marathon training.  As far as the calendar I have 3 marathons planned in 2012, one is already completed and I have 2 to go.  On June 23 I ran the Seattle Rock n’ Roll marathon.  It wasn’t the marathon I had planned on running.  I was supposed to run a marathon on May 20 with some friends from college.  However, the day I was supposed to fly out I had a temperature of 102.7 and later that day a diagnosis of tonsillitis.  When you google “fever and marathon”, I assure you nothing good comes of it, so I decided to cancel my ticket and rest up. I’m also guessing that since I couldn’t eat solid food, it probably wasn’t good to run a marathon on an empty stomach.  Normally, I would have felt relieved to avoid running 26.2 miles.  However, this time around I was actually bummed.  This marathon was to be my third, but it was really the first one where I can say I truly enjoyed the training (it probably helps that I had all the ligaments in me knees in tact).  In the end I think this fever was a sign that luck was on my side.  The marathon I signed up for ended up being so HOT that my two friends that ran it dropped out at mile 13 and 17, respectively.  Once I was able to eat solid food again, I ate a burrito, and found a back up marathon in Seattle, which allowed me one more long training run. 

Looking at the chart above, you can see that I had a lot of travel in June.  I decided I would make my last long training run an adventure in a new city.  The big business trip in June, was a trip to Sydney. While in Sydney I met a graduate student who had just done an ironman triathlon.  He gave me a great suggestion for a running route, shown on the map here. 

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As you can see this route was about 19 miles, and all but about 4 miles of it had a view of the ocean.  It was spectacular!  The other spectacular part of the run was that it wasn’t hot and humid as I am now accustomed to in the swamp.  Honestly, I am starting to realize the best thing about marathon training is the ability to do long runs while visiting other cities.  This year I ran 18 miles in New Orleans and 19 in Sydney, and both times the long run was one of, if not the highlight of the trip.  Let’s get back to the Sydney run though.  While getting running route tips from the ironman grad student, I realize in retrospect I perhaps should have asked him to clarify when he asked “Do you mind hills?”  I responded, that hills were fine.  But I’m pretty sure I didn’t have this elevation profile in mind.

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According to my Garmin (map corrected) the elevation gain for this route was 1,834 feet, pretty impressive considering the high point was only 275 feet, and the lowest point was 8 feet.  Although, I am pretty sure there wasn’t a flat section on this run, and it did involve stairs.  However, the run included the some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen (and considering I biked the entire California coast that means something!)

I was a little worried about how my legs were going to recover from this long run, since obviously it was a lot hillier than anything in my flat state and I only had two weeks to taper before the marathon, instead of the recommended 3. 

The day of the race arrived two weeks later, and although my legs didn’t feel as fresh as the produce at the farmer’s market, they still felt good.  The race day weather was perfect, overcast and mid-50s at the start.  I never felt amazing, but still managed to finish with a new personal best for myself.  Also, at the finish they gave us Jamba Juice, which was pretty amazing.

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Now that the road marathon is over, its time to start trail training for the trail marathon I’m running at the end of August with Adele, Toberer, Tricia, and John.  We’ll see how that treats this flat lander.  I’m sure I will be able to update you with tales of trail running in the swamp.  I just hope there won’t be another near alligator eating for my dog! 

Bozeman Adventure Weekend

The description of this epic weekend often began with the word “only.”  I would answer “it’s only 20 miles” to the distance and when asked why I was driving I said “It’s only 6.5 hours.”  The answer was “only,” simply because after the 10+ hour massacre that was Speedgoat the week before and putting 30K miles on my car in the one year I’ve had it, with routine 12-14 hour drives lately, 20 miles and 400 miles, respectively, seemed pretty short!

(I’ll throw in a disclaimer here, the last time I have actually run 20 miles continuously was in 2007 at Big Sur, so while it was only 20 miles, it certainly would not be a cake walk.)
The Ridge to be run
Photo Credit http://www.winddrinkers.org/BRR/pictures/BridgerRidge.jpeg
Jenny and I first found the Bridger Ridge Run, I think, in 2006 or 2007, and it was instantly on the list!  At the time however, we decided that it was not the optimal race to do while training at sea level and tapering for a half-ironman after reading stories of the race like this or this.  We never got out acts together and the timing right to be able to swing it, but several years later after my move closer in distance and in elevation, I decided to enter the lottery and go for it.  A few weeks later, I received my confirmation e-mail, I was in!

We can skip the pre-race training, or in my case lack thereof, as I’ll just refer you to my Speedgoat post for that!  If you really want to know how to prep for an ultra, maybe listen to this guy, he seems to be winning a lot of awesome lately. The next two weeks were spent recovering/tapering filled with lots of shorter runs with brutal elevation in Millcreek Canyon and lots of awesome yoga, just to keep the body loose and moving.  Before I knew it, it was Thursday and I was off!  
always include as much green in your route as possible!
I had never been to Bozeman before and since I decided to drive and camp the whole weekend, I’m going to invite you to share the awesomeness of the entire road trip, not just the race.  I got excited on the drive up as I came off I-15 on to US-20, the Tetons came into view, about 70 miles off in the distance.  I made the 400 mile drive slightly slower by stopping to take pictures way too often.  You can find the whole flickr set here, but for reference, the drive up through Targhee NF, through West Yellowstone and into the Gallatin NF had stunning views along the lines of this:
After learning I was missing out on the Mountain Man Rendezvous in W. Yellowstone (no joke! The gas station clerk tried to convince me that it would be more fun that my other plans), I made my way north along the Gallatin River to my campground for the evening.  I was worried about spots, but I managed to snag an awesome one right on the river.  Made friends with the fishermen from Salt Lake at the next site over, cooked an awesome dinner and settled in for the night.
Greek Creek Campground on the Gallatin River

Herbed salad with artichokes, tomatoes and avocado
Handmade Sweet Potato Pappardelle from Pike Market with Smoked Salmon and Sage

I woke up the next morning in search of an easy trail run to shake things out and was directed to Lava Lake, a nice woodsy trail that climbed 3 miles to a lake rumored to be beautiful and a fantastic fishing hole.  Due to self-imposed limits, I wasn’t going to run or hike the 6 miles roundtrip the day before a race, so I wandered up and back down to get about 30 min. in followed by a stretching/yoga session by the river.  (In hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference if I had ran the whole thing, ah well.)  
eager to run!

Post-run, I ventured into town for breakfast at the Cateye Cafe (thanks Jenny!), some coffee and to walk around the cute downtown area.  It didn’t take much for me to decide that I liked this city!  Surrounded in almost 360 degrees by Mountains, streams, rivers was an obviously bike-friendly town full of awesome looking food, breweries, grocery co-ops, and not a Starbucks in sight!  For Friday and Saturday, I found a tent site at an RV resort campground just on the outskirts of town, it wasn’t ideal, but not terrible either.  There is a campground, Fairy Lake, at the start, but for the first time, I didn’t want to risk needing something last minute and wasn’t too excited about having to find a ride to drive the hour back to my car post-race either.

Looking at The Ridge from my campsite
Montana Sunset over Gallatin Valley

When we were at Rainier, Grayson asked me if I had done any Alpine starts, I hadn’t really, but told him there was a mountain race start, which I was quite familiar with.  Without fail, BRR also involved waking up at 4 am; this wasn’t all that difficult since the obnoxious twenty-something baseball team camped out next to me was just starting to call it a night when my alarm went off.  If you never fall asleep, you really don’t have to worry about waking up!  The 4 am routine follows with coffee, oatmeal and bananas, more coffee, gatorade, etc.  I ate and drove over to the finish to find myself a ride to the start.  The start is a 27 mile drive North, the last 7 of which are on dirt, washboard roads up to the campground and trailhead.  In pitch black, hoards of ultrarunners, all wearing dark clothing of course, lined the road with our thumbs out as those who decided to drive to the start picked us up.  On the drive up, the comments from the RD at the pre-race meeting sprung up in my head:

“Oh, there’s not really a trail, what fun would that be?”
“Well, its hard to get lost really.  The mountain is pretty much just a big pile of rocks, and you can always see town from the ridge.  So if you get lost, you either go back to the ridge or just run down the mountain and into town; which people have done by the way.  If you do run into town, please call just to let us know where you went.”
Waiting around at the start was also a typical trail run, seeing bits of sunrise with ultra runners in every imaginable piece of race gear, shirts claiming how hard core they were and a bunch wearing the new crazy space shoes (I still don’t get it, but hey).   Organized in wave starts, 5 minutes apart, to avoid congestion on the trail, the race was off.  I was in the third wave and was off with a run.  All in all, the traili up wasn’t actually too bad to start, we ran for a bit, but then someone in front started walking, so we all were walking.  It was technical single track, where there was trail, for most of the race, so any passing, ever was at a minimum and here, people certainly weren’t willing to let you go by.  They always say not to go out too fast, but I have never had the problem of going out too fast at a trail race; rather I get more tired being forced to run/hike at someone else’s pace.  Nevertheless, I settled in as cleared out of the trees and got our first views of where we were headed.  The first 2 miles is over 2000′ gain up to Sacagawea Peak, the switchbacks were consistent and make it a reasonable start (no calf burning yet!)
On our way up to the first saddle, Sacagawea to lookers left
Motoring on up!  I made it to the peak in 42 min, helloooo 21 min./miles!

After checking in at Sac, we began the traverse of the ridge.  Here is where all the warnings you here and the stories you read become real.  It was a solid mile of traversing and descending, what clearly was a “big pile of rocks.”  I hesitated and ran scared, and turned my crappy ankle under twice in this section, moving slower than a snails pace, letting people pass me by and thinking about whether I really would survive this.  I will say, if you think about dropping out, it’s pretty useful to know that from many places you could drop, you will likely travel a good 4-10 miles on foot in the same crappy terrain to be able to do so.  Unless you have an open fracture, I would highly suggest continuing.

Traversing the Ridge Trail

And by “trail,” I mean scree

Just when I thought the world was ending, the “trail” dropped down onto a beautiful section of fairly level single track and any thoughts of bailing I had were left on the ridge.  The only thing to do now was run, and not turn an ankle again, and wouldn’t you know it, a guy in front of me proceeded to turn his ankle and fall, and then he did it again 3 more times right in front of me.  Not a great motivator.  I moved past him and was able to mostly run the next few miles.  I will say, when the “trail” was not imminently life threatening, it was really run-able and pretty fun.  Quickly, I was at Ross Pass, long before the time cutoff I was worried about, but that’s where the running stopped.  Now it was time for another 2000′ climb back onto the ridgeline, the true ridge this time.  There were definitely several points in this race where I was almost literally balancing on the knife edge.  For the next 4 miles, which was a sold 1.5 hours we climbed a few “no name” peaks, which were described as the hardest climbs in the race.  Following almost no trail except that it was just the ridge itself.  These bits were not as hard as I had anticipated, because you really had no choice, faster wasn’t an option when you climb through waist high boulder fields on an incline that bounced between a 35-55 degree slope at times.  If you had someone in front of you with a good line, you clung to them, if not then you hoped you had a good path through.  Once it would level out, a trail tended to emerge and the race was once again a run.

It appears here that slightly left of the giant knife-edged rocks is the route of choice
Reaching the top of No Name No.1, looking at the ridge to come 
At least they trick you into not realizing how tough it is with all the beautiful views to distract you (and make you fall off the side of the mountain!)
I was excited and relieved to have a real trail that led us back down to the Bridger Bowl aid station at mile 10.  The ski lift was self-identifying from far away, and it was nice to finally reach it.

Resort base down below
Bridger Bowl Aid Station; 1/2 way point

From here there was one more really big climb, up to Saddle Peak, and then it was more or less small rollers and a downhill trend.  Saddle Peak was a steep calf-searing slog with a lose rocky equally steep and miserable downhill.  I was just warming up, except that the downhills were starting to kill my ankle when they didn’t scare the crap out of me.  Chatting with another girl, we both kept discussing that we were STILL seeing blood spatter along the trail, (it had first shown up about 4 or 5 miles in), and it continued to look fresh.  Who was bleeding that much, and what on earth did they do?  You would think that they were setting a PR if they couldn’t stop to get a bandage.  We must have been distracted following another guy, because all of a sudden, we were clearly not going the right way, and about to walk over a 15 foot sheer drop.  Somehow the guy still continued off course, not sure how he managed that one or where he went from there.  About 5 minutes of backtracking and we found people and a slightly more beaten path, it turns out you can get semi-lost.  Zig-zagging back and forth from the ridge, away from the ski area, we made out way down towards Baldy.

More “trail”
Looking back from where we came 
Blood spatter that accompanied us for about 15ish miles; learned the following day from a guy at REI that a 60ish yo woman ran with a giant gash and blood dripping from her arm, but she wouldn’t stop at the aid stations to let the EMT’s bandage it.  (maybe this was hers?)
Seriously, I don’t think death is strictly tied to avi danger here….
The final drop to Baldy and the finish; overlooking Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley
All down hill from here, about 4 miles and 4000′ of down to be exact, turns out that was the bad news of the day.  While feeling good at the last aid station, thinking I could snake in at just about 6 hours, I started downwards and every bit of happiness left in me was sucked out as if by vacuum!  Ouch!  I’ll tell you now, if you don’t like running downhill, you will probably hate this race, and if you are like me and do like running downhill, you’ll probably still be pretty miserable for this last bit.   You’ll recognize here that even if you drop at this point, you still have to get down, and short of being airlifted or hiked out in a litter, the only way down is down the trail, and the fastest way down is to go faster down the trail.  I say this because after 4 or 5 falls, sliding down ridiculously and steep dust and gravel on my arse, I was thisclose to not caring if I finished.  I trotted down, relieved for the flats and the slight ups that I came across, walking/sliding down the steeps; my left hamstring felt like it was going to curl up into a tiny ball and die and my right ankle felt as though it might self-amputate (I’m sure there is a connection here).  90 min later, I made it down to the finish that felt like it would never come; I assure you, I could have done the reverse climb faster!  I was awarded with some much needed ice for the ankle, a t-shirt and a finisher’s poster.  I lingered around what was a pretty good post-race gathering, swapping war stories with other runners, and then feeling like death, headed back to shower.  The race crew was generous enough to organize a post-race BBQ and party at a local hot tub supplier, I hung out for a while, met a ton of very nice locals.  Then a few other out-of-towners and I went to grab dinner at Montana Ale Works (thanks to the suggestion of a friend), after which I promptly curled up in my sleeping bag and passed out.  
This is what I learned today: Stop running races at ski resorts!
Post-race grub, Montana Ale Works

The next morning, I had hopes of exploring the area on bike.  Heading up Hyalite Canyon, I was in search of a trail with enthusiastic reviews up to Emerald Lake.  Upon arrival at the trailhead, I learned that the trail was closed to bikes on Sundays, which I had not been warned about.  Set out to do something, I did what any ultrarunner would logically do, I decided to run the 9 mile out-and-back instead.  (Don’t worry, I am sure that all ultrarunners have a neurological deficit that leads them to make the same decisions).  What’s funny is that I felt great…. kinda amazing what happens when you actually have a real trail.  I even held a pretty good pace considering the 2000′ climb, reinstalling some self-confidence after the previous day’s miserably slow pace.

Real trail! 
Emerald Lake

I hung around town long enough to get pizza, coffee, some local beer to smuggle back in Utah with me, and to snap a photo for Ali; whose dog not only has a ski resort, but an entire forest!

Do you think he’d really run 16 miles for his food though?!
NF, in Western WY, flanking the west side of the continental divide and the Wind River Range 

I’ll try to keep the drive short, since this was a book already; however, I should add if you have the chance to drive through this area, it is well worth the detour.  Inspired by the far off Teton-vista on my way up, I decided to tack on 100 extra miles and take Route 89 south through Yellowstone, Tetons and Jackson on my return trip.  I can post tons of pictures, but here is the gist…

Yellowstone River
Sunset from camp in the park
Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake 
Teton NP
The Teton Range

If you’ve never drive through Jackson Hole and Bridger Nat’l Forest, this sums it up right here.  The Snake River, beautiful green forests and peaks up into 11000′ 

And now, I’m back to my mountains!

Post-writeup addendum
I did a first for me in this race, which was use something new, without any trial.  In packing for this race, I got worried after last-years reports of blizzarding snow on the ridge, as the blog suggested to be prepared for anything.  With the thought that I might very well want gloves, a hat, and something waterproof up top, as we all know mountain thunderstorms show up at any time without warning,  I started looking for a pack to cary.  I hate belt packs and generally hate camelbacks, even when biking, so I generally cary two hand bottles and have enough pockets to carry the rest of the gu and food I need.  In the event that I had to carry a rain shell up, around my waist clearly wasn’t going to be ideal.  I had heard good reviews about the Nathan products, particularly that the Women’s Intensity Vest is cut really well, so I tried it on and was happy enough.  Race day came and there wasn’t a blip on the radar with a forecast for high 80’s.  I didn’t need the pack, but decided to run with it, sans water bladder, just to see what I thought.  I am a fan.  This thing fits like a glove and doesn’t bounce around at all.  I stuffed my camera, phone, a shirt, and all my snacks in it and it did really well.  If you’re looking for a new way to carry gear/food/water while running or fast packing, this is one to look at.  All the other ones I tried on, had straps that fit awkwardly, especially around your chest, and really just weren’t designed with runners in mind. 

Helmet Cam!

I hope everyone enjoyed Jeanni’s fantastic guest post.  Since she lives in the mountains, I decided the alpine crankypants blog should live vicariously through her epic 50k.  While Jeanni was huffing a puffing in the mountains I was reclining in an airplane on my way back to the swamp.  I arrived back in the swamp in time to drive to the coast to pick up Anneke, one of my awesome friends from college, who was flying into the Jacksonville Airport.  With a little convincing from Anneke, I ended up buying a helmet cam, and fun was had.  If you are considering buying a helmet cam, I highly recommend you do so when Anneke is visiting, because she will teach you everything you need to know about how to edit an amazing film.  Step 1 of course is to have a glass of wine or a beer, which makes the editing even more fun!  On Monday I took the day off work, and Anneke and I headed to St. Augustine to explore.  Check out our version of an afternoon in St. Augustine, condensed into 98 seconds.

st. augustine with avk from spike on Vimeo.

Speedgoat 50K (aka running on faith)

Guest Posting by Jeanni

Did you know that ski resorts have steeper slopes in the summer than in the winter?  Really, I am not kidding you!  I ‘ran’ The ‘Bird this past weekend and I promise you that someone physically moves the mountain and re-angle it, adding 7-10° inclination to any given slope after the snow melt.

Going backwards to how I ended up so intrigued by the changing of the slope angle on some silly ski runs…

Sometime, in March, when there was still a sizeable amount of snow on the ground and my runs were limited to 10 miles max on the road, I was hunting around on the interwebs and found a race in Salt Lake, at Snowbird no less.  It was a 50k!  Can’t be that bad, right?  I mean, I’ve done 9 Trails and 50 milers, so this can’t be that bad, and plus I’m living here now… and I am in desperate need of an ultra trail race.  I actually did start to train, long runs amongst my pack hiking for Mt. Rainier training 1 month prior.  Then, I sprained an ankle.  3 weeks later, I sprained it again.  Running turned into biking and babying it, so that I could go to Rainier and not let Jenny and her ‘A Team’ down.  Two long runs in 100 F heat and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could actually pull this off.  Some advice for you here (listen closely, it’s important): it is not a smart idea to ridiculously sprain your already permanent cankle 19 days before the race you already doubt your fitness for on a routine 6 mile easy trail run.

perhaps if i put a runner on the other foot too, i’ll stop damaging it!

And again, my running turned into biking, and babying, and wishing and hoping, and I turned into Jenny, sending my friends pictures of swollen appendages.  Enough rest and some good old pavement running convinced me that I was healed enough to try for the race…..errr… hike.  Naturally, I went to visit my sister and thought trying CrossFit for the first time, with one week to go, would be a great idea.  The next 4 days of my life were spent complaining about the fact that it hurt to move, sit, stand, walk, etc. and my entire goal for every day became to avoid screwing with the ankle.  Which leads me into my race day mantra…

….I will not break an ankle, I will not break an ankle, I will not break an ankle.  Repeating over, and over again in my head as I climbed down THIS 3 hours into my race.
Photo credit: Mick Jurynec (thanks for sharing these!)

Waking up at 4 am, getting coffee-ed, fed, hydrated and more coffee-ed to drive over to Little Cottonwood Canyon, I knew my drop out options were slim in this rugged race.  

Dark and early, driving into Entry 1

pre-race briefing, ultra runner (ie crazies) central
We were briefly briefed that this was going to be TOUGH, that we could pretty much only drop out at the Hidden Peak, and that we would more than likely be butt sliding back down Little Cloud Bowl at the end of the day.  Then, we were off!

Evidently this was going to be the theme of my race.  We quickly dispersed up the cat tracks, winding up Gad Valley, quickly learning that this fire road of a trail was an easy groomer which I had finished many days cruising very slowly down when the slopes were snow covered.  If I barely moved on it in the snow, how on earth did it get so steep when reduced to dirt?!

We chugged up, up, up as the field quickly thinned itself out.  As we found ourselves halfway up the mountain we jumped over to some pretty sweet single track, pretty sweet until I realized we were making our way over and down towards the Tram.  Suddenly we switched gears from downhill back to STEEP uphill mode and the name of the game became HIKE.  I wasn’t alone though, a group of about 25 runners were all hiking the same pace, tightly following each other, feeding off the momentum in front of them.  Getting a decent portion of the way up, we traversed over and slightly down again to Mid Gad. From here on, it got sloppy.  Trekking through fast moving runoff, steep muddy edges and significant patches of snow turned what may have been reasonable fire road into a larger effort.  

Soon enough I was slogging up Little Cloud Bowl (but not before a detour back downhill), a stretch over 1/2 mile on snow with hand lines.  Needless to say, soft snow on a warm day does not treat one’s messed up ankle very well.

Little Cloud Bowl

Going up the snow we looked like little ants falling in line,  but it wasn’t as tough as I thought and before I knew it we were up  and past the traverse at Hidden Peak Aid Station.   This was 2:36 in and about 8 miles into the race… it was going to be a looooong day.  From there it was down a ridiculous drop  along the spine, a drop that I don’t even like skiing down, it was worse with loose dirt and jagged rocks.  I settled into a good pace and  got myself up along the spine to Baldy, we dropped down the spine on the other side into Alta, on the way encountering the first “I will not break my ankle” section above, about a half mile down a gully of a trail on the spine with steep, giant drops and loose rock skittering down; complete with hand lines to help lower on.  For the next 7 miles as we drop down into Mineral Basin and climb up and over down to the Pacific Mine aid station, thoughts of dropping for fear of ending up with a broken ankle resonated through my head; it is amazing how much repeating ‘just a little further’ gets you!  The rumors of popsicles at the 15 mile aid station on the backside were indeed true and a welcome treat after the sun came out while I was faithfully praying for my ankles (and sanity) during the 4 mile trot down a ravine of boulders and loose rock.  These were not run-able downhills!  5 hours in, it was time to move, so I settled back into the chugging through uphill.  Amazingly with a almost a 2 year break from racing, my body remembered how to motor through.

The climb back towards the ski hill was reasonably graded, mostly fire road and surrounded by flowering meadows and aspens.  I was quickly passing people running out of gas as I went through the run until it gets too hard, walk until it gets too easy drill.  
Finally making it up
and afforded spectacular views of the Wasatch backcountry
It was here, that I knew I was going to make it…. this is a brutal course, I think the harder they are, the more beautiful they are.  The routine is back down to go back up, repeatedly and it was clear that the RD was having fun in making this miserable.  To climb out of Mineral Basin up to the Tunnel, we suffered up a mountain steep course, over 400′ in 0.18 miles!  This was the type of climb that reminds you that you do in fact have achilles tendons as they burn going up up up.  Short and sweet, it was over before I knew it, it was through the tunnel.
No, the belt wasn’t moving (and it goes the wrong way!)

From here, I foolishly thought it was an easy job back up to Hidden Peak and on down to the finish.  That would be too easy, on his quest to make this the hardest 50K, RD Karl designed the course to wind down Chip’s run, about 2/3 the way down to the base.  I realized my fate as my quads slammed down on my femurs trying to make time getting down under Peruvian, watching the top of the tram rise higher and higher above me.

Peruvian Gulch from the traverse.  Beautiful!

A long descent down and an even longer slog back up Cirque Traverse, the end was in sight!  It was a traverse over to Little Cloud and then a rather cold glissade down a half mile of snow – maybe my favorite part!  Down, down, down we wound up on some sweet single track and the end was really in sight, multiple times. With the finish line and Creekside in view, we traversed back and forth 3 times before finally being brought in.  He certainly made us work for it.

I proceeded to tell Jenny that it was harder than Rainier, and I think I still stand by that.  Medal in hand, the day was a success, no broken ankle and my body even remembered how to do this, despite my lack of appropriate pre-race prep. 10 hours and 40 minutes later, I was done.  Luis Escobar calls Santa Barbara 9 Trails a “heinous course” and until Saturday I had assumed 9 Trails would be the hardest thing I had run in 50 miles or less.  Speedgoat has now taken that honor.  It’s funny how these ultra race distances work… Sunday I was saying I wouldn’t do that again, this morning I’m thinking that I know I could do it faster next year.  But that’s next year…  We’ll see what the Bridger Ridge Run has in store for me in two weeks!