Friday, April 29, 2011

Another close encounter...

Since hitting the trails in Arizona roughly three years ago, I've come in contact with approximately 15 rattlesnakes, and several other varieties of snakes that have gone unidentified. The desert has a countless supply hazards for hikers and trail runners alike, perhaps that's the draw for us thrill seekers, a new adventure each time we leave the trailhead.

Living in Phoenix, we are fortunate enough to have mountains in the middle of the city, with numerous trail systems that can be reached just minutes from where ever you live. Yesterday would be my first run after the Zane Grey race, even though my legs aren't quite 100 percent, it felt great to be back on my feet. Crusing along about 4 miles in, the rush that instinctively follows the sound of a rattle alarmed my senses. Frozen in my tracks, I scanned the trail to see a Tiger Rattlesnake coiled in the shadow of a shrub waiting to ambush it's prey. I happen to notice my footprint in the dust just inches from it's head! Too close for comfort! Had I been going any slower, odds are I would've taken my first strike somewhere around the ankle. Here are the species I have seen thus far:

Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris) - Phoenix Mountain Park

Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus) Photo taken on a hike in the Rincon Wilderness - Tucson, Arizona

Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) - Photo taken while hiking in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness - Tucson, Arizona

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) - Arizona's largest and most deadly rattlesnake in the United States

Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) - Most toxic rattlesnake in the U.S. - Sighted near Canyon Lake, Arizona

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grand Canyon (Rim to River Hike)

South Kaibab to Bright Angel Loop
Grand Canyon National Park
Mileage - 17.3
Time - 5:32
AEG - 4500ft

The Zane Grey 50 is in the books, less than a week later I found myself back on the trail "chasing the dragon" so to speak after last weekend's race. This seems to be a reoccurring theme with me these days...trying to outdo the previous adventure, which now requires more thought and a little more driving.

My plan to visit the park changed when the original group I arranged decided to make Sedona their destination of choice, so I scrambled at the last minute to salvage this trip. I called a friend and fitness center member named Bob, and before I could get the words out of my mouth, his answer was yes! He had yet to hike or even see the canyon before Saturday. Cool, I had one taker. I reached out to several other friends that could handle the hiking mileage, since it was already Thursday, the only person available to make a three man team was Mark (a canyon veteran). Before I knew it, we were on the road at 4:00am Saturday morning.

The three of us arrived on a relatively quiet and free weekend at Grand Canyon NP, ready and eager to hike as soon as possible. We parked the car, caught a ride on the shuttle bus and began the descent on South Kaibab a touch after 9:00am. The views were spectacular, especially at this time of the day as the sun illuminated the entire landscape. Bob was ecstatic, like a little kid at Disney, and we were glad to share this experience with him. The trek to the river was really pleasant, having a partly cloudy sky was nice and the ever-changing sights and sounds made a two hour journey seem like twenty minutes. Crossing the Colorado over the suspension bridge is probably my favorite part of this hike, the river is so wild and powerful, it really gives you an idea how the canyon was created.

A relaxing thirty minute lunch break felt great under the canopy of cottonwood trees at Phantom Ranch, where the only noise was the sound of the wind and rushing water at a nearby stream. OK, time to hydrate and refill the camelbaks before the ten mile climb out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. The three of us set a great pace and continually marched uphill for a solid three hours. Minimal crowds and no mule trains made the hike that much more enjoyable as we reached the rim around 3:00pm, giving us plenty of daylight to set up camp and cook dinner before dark. All around, this was one of the funnest and most memorable hiking trips I have been on in the past couple years. We had a's going to be tough to top this one!

-A stunning view of the canyon, photo taken on Bob's iphone

-Mark and Bob goofing around on the South Kaibab Trail

-Boone descending on the South Kaibab trail

-Boone and Mark leading the trek out of Phantom Ranch

-Boone on the suspension bridge over the Colorado River

-On the bridge heading out of Phantom Ranch

-Bright Angel Trail looking North over the canyon

Kendrick Peak & The Lava River Cave

Kendrick Peak Trail #22
Kaibab National Forest
Flagstaff, Arizona
Mileage - 9.1
Time - 3:32
AEG - 2719ft

Following our Grand Canyon hike, the three of us camped at Mather Campground and overnight temps at the canyon were brisk (high 30's I believe), so getting started in the morning is always a little slow going. Hey, nothing a little coffee can't take of, right? Saturday was a total riot, the fun wasn't over yet by any means though, we still had two more hikes left on Sunday in Flagstaff. First order of business was Kendrick Peak. I came out here last summer and was familiar with the trail, Mark and Bob on the other hand, were in for a surprise. This has to be one of the nicest and most well maintained trails in the area. Not only that, the trail gives way to some impressive scenery of the surrounding Kaibab National Forest and the famous San Francisco Peaks.

The temperature yo-yoed all the way up and down the mountain as we traveled in and out of tree cover, along the ridgelines, and eventually to an exposed summit where the wind and snow whipped across the peak...and our faces. We fast hiked off the mountain to warm up our bodies, jumped into the jeep and made the short drive over to the Lava Tubes. This was our final destination for the weekend (unless you count Starbucks), a 3/4 mile underground tunnel formed over 600,000 years ago by sub-surface lava flows. We ventured into the cave by way of headlamp and climbed over rocks and black ice patches, which made travel a bit slow, although somewhat interesting. If you're in the area, it's definitely something worth exploring, just bring a flashlight!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run

Zane Grey Highline Trail #31
Pine to Christopher Creek, AZ
Tonto National Forest
Mileage - 51
Time - 10:09:27
AEG - 10,000+ft
Place - 6th Overall

What could possibly be going through a person's mind when signing up for a race that's regarded as the toughest, roughest, and most difficult 50 mile trail run in the country? After seeing the excitement last year, I knew I wanted in. The only question going through my head was, would I be ready? It took every bit of the six weeks following Old Pueblo for my legs to fully recover, and to my surprise, they performed exceptionally.

This particular event involved quite a bit of planning given the remote nature of the course and that it's a point to point race, so I assembled a crew to take care of my drop bags and transportation (Lindsay and Rebecca), and a pacer (Brett) to join me from mile 33 to the finish. Thanks for everything, you guys were awesome! As far as my race strategy, I simply wanted to run as hard as I could to the mile 33 aid station, from this point the climbs become much greater and I figured the playing field would level out as running is reduced to mostly fast hiking with the exception of a few smooth downhill sections leading into the finish. How did that play out? Well, here goes.

Brett drove myself and a couple other runners (John Anderson and Jerome Jourdon) from our hotel to the Pine Trailhead at 4:00am. Morning temps were significantly higher than last year, and the daytime heat was a concern for most, with an unseasonable high of 81 degrees. It wasn't long before things were underway, and all eyes were on the unexpected appearance from a handful of elite ultra runners who came to town after the Lake Sonoma 50 was cancelled in California. Geoff Roes, Dakota Jones, and Hal Koerner were the guys to watch as the clock hit 5:00am and the frenzy ensued into the darkness.

I ran a few miles with my good friends Brian Tinder and Andrew Heard as we set a decent pace behind the leaders, even though they vanished within the first mile. The darkness faded and the trail became easier to navigate, my legs felt light and swift so I pushed it a little harder. How long would they stay this way I wondered. Around mile five I caught a glimpse of about ten or twelve guys running the ridgeline ahead of me, with them in sight I tried to play catch up. I arrived at the Geronimo aid station right on target in 1:12.

-Geoff Roes and Dakota Jones leaving Geronimo Aid Station

Even though my breathing was still out of rhythm, something happened between mile 8 and 17 that I cannot explain, I guess you could say I was in the "zone." I began reeling in guys about one every mile, and when I arrived at Washington Park (mile 17), to be greeted by Jamil and Nick Coury of Aravaipa Running, I was in 4th place with John Anderson immediately behind me (below). Not only that, a mere 2 minutes is all that separated the two of us from Hal.

Everyone seemed worried about the "burned section" of the trail between mile 17 and 33 being totally exposed to the sun without any tree cover. I didn't seem to mind, the views were actually quite nice of the Mogollon Rim to the North. John and I veered off course at mile 19 and gave up a precious 5 minutes when we luckily spotted another runner pass by and we quickly joined him. Still feeling strong, I put some distance on those guys and rolled into the mile 33 Fish Hatchery aid station where the crowd awaits, along with my crew, extra fuel, pacer and friends there to witness the action. I glanced over to my right and saw Dakota sitting under the aid tent. "Dakota, what's going on?" I ask. Not feeling well was his response I believe. Wow, that means I am now in 3rd next to Geoff and Hal, and only 15 minutes behind. I looked at Brett and said, "Let's go."

Refueling on the run seemed to be the best option leaving mile 33, there was a slow-going uphill climb and I downed some Mochi blocks and a gel. This is undoubtedly the toughest part of the race, and if running 33 miles in the heat over the rockiest trail I have ever set foot on wasn't enough, now add steep climbs to the mix and see how your body (and mind) responds. Everything was going fine until somewhere between mile 40 to 42, which is where I began to unravel. My legs were great, and running wasn't an issue, it was my breathing that became really shallow and heart rate far too high (and believe allergies, altitude, and dehydration were the biggest contibuting factors here). At the crest of each hill I gasped for air, yet forced my body forward in what you could call a slight jog.

-Hal in second place leaving Fish Hatchery Aid Station Mile 33

Brett and I dropped into See Canyon (mile 44 aid station) and this is where the lights went out. I became dizzy and needed to sit. Had I hit the wall? This was certainly an entirely new sensation, never before had I pushed the limits like I did today. I continued hydrating with water, and when that wasn't doing it for me, I decided to drink a small cup of Coke. Within minutes I was back on my feet. Time to finish this thing.

Another big climb ahead of us, and just as we were a half mile out of See Canyon, the crowds there started cheering. Not good, the next runner was far too close to slow down now. My mini meltdown there cost me dearly. At mile 46, Bret Sarnquist (above) caught up and made the pass, then it was John Anderson around mile 48, and Sean Andrish at mile 49. I hadn't given in or slowed down by any means, I was still running a great deal of the final six miles, these guys were just able to go faster. We all exchanged kind words in passing and before long the finish appeared out of nowhere. I joyfully crossed the line in 10:09.

There's so much I can take away from this race, as both a learning experience and a building block to dial my training in further. Yet the one thing that really stood out in my mind today was the support and encouragement of friends, volunteers, and the entire race organization (especially Joe Galope, the race director). I would also like to thank my co-worker Robert for spending his entire Saturday taking pictures along the course, I really appreciate it. The Zane Grey 50 really lives up to it's reputation, finishing this race is quite a feat, so congrats to all of you that did!

-My awesome crew at the finish - Lindsay, Myself, Brett, Rebecca

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mount Elden 4/2/11

Mt Elden Road/Trail Run
Flagstaff, Arizona
Mileage - 15.25
Time - 2:29
AEG - 2400ft

Phoenix hit a record high on Friday...100 degrees! Not a very funny April Fools joke I must say. So when I got the invite to train with some friends in the high country, I was more than willing to hit the road at 4:30am to join them for a run up Mt Elden. Flagstaff is such a great mountain town, it has a really cool vibe, and you could feel the excitement a beautiful spring day brings to indicate winter has officially come to an end.

Brian, Chris, and I started the run to the summit of Mt Elden at 8:00am following a Forest Service road, steadily gaining 2100ft in 5.5 miles. We weren't alone out there by any means, as this appears to be the training grounds for elite runners in the Flagstaff area. Topping out at 9300ft, I could definitely notice the thin air, although I've never had much of an issue when hiking or running at high altitude. On the way down the three of us, oh wait, did I forget Petzl (Brian's dog), make that four, took a detour to run the Rocky Ridge trail and I was loving every minute of it. Flagstaff has a great trail system, unlike anything the Sonoran Desert has to offer. Brian once described them as "world class," and I would have to agree.