Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle, or the Post-Massanutten Blues

It’s Friday, and I am in Seattle, where I was supposed to run the inaugural Rock’N’Roll Marathon here on Saturday. But I am not running. My running shoes and gears are 3,000 miles away back in Keene where I purposely left them so I wouldn’t be enticed into running by the euphoria created by thousands of runners picking up their race packets Friday at Qwest Stadium.

What I DO have with me is an Achilles tendon that has been bucking and screaming ever since I strained it three weeks ago during a recovery run from the Massanutten 100, which was five weeks ago in Virginia. My left Achilles is swollen, tender and very painful … and that’s coming from someone who ENJOY’S pain!

I went into Massanutten feeling really strong and my result, I guess, showed that I was ready for my first 100, both mentally and physically. Mentally, I was able to hold off the urge to race from the word “Go” and start out slowly, as my friend Steve Pero had instructed. Physically, the strategy paid off in that from Mile 60 on I felt fantastic and was slowly moving up through the field right to the end, which resulted in an 11th-place finish in 25:08.

That result was what I thought I had been prepared for … what I wasn’t prepared for was the recovery. The down time of the past five weeks and my stupid attempt last weekend to race despite the problem has not been easy to handle either mentally or physically.

I am a runner … therefore I run. God built us to move. Fast. Those ancestors of ours that didn’t, well let’s just say they weren’t around long enough to pass on their genes. When I can’t run, usually I can at least hike, but even walking around the sidewalks of Keene has left me in pain on this one. Let’s just say I’ve not been a happy camper.

The downtime, however, HAS allowed me to do a couple of things … well the downtime coupled with the fact that I am currently out of work at UPS and my girlfriend broke up with me because she thinks I’m a “slacker.” How many slackers do you know that run 100-mile races? That’s what I thought.

I’ve caught up on my reading for one. I had about three or four months worth of Outside and NG Adventure magazines piled up unread when I returned in April from my three-month, cross-country road trip that saw me high-point 34 states and drive 14,321 miles. I’m on my latest issue of NG Adventure now.

It’s also allowed me to jump feet first into Efusjon, the new all-natural energy drink club that is going to be marketed through Facebook when the opportunity is officially launched next month. I am so fortunate to have found an incredible mentor in Erskien Lenier of Corona, California, the barefoot ultrarunner who is not only an inspiration to us all, but a great leader. Many of you are skeptical of Efusjon and rightly so after all of the shameful MLM’s of the past, but this one is light years ahead of anything we have seen before. I have complete confidence that our growing group of runners who are teaming up to take advantage of this opportunity will do just that … because runners NEVER GIVE UP!!

We can’t! It’s programmed into our amygdala! If any of you read the article entitled, “This Is Your Brain on Adventure,” in the April issue of Outside magazine, you’d understand why runners and adventurers are natural and pre-programmed risk takers and why an opportunity like Efusjon would be one that would instantly grab the attention of us ultrarunners … our brains are programmed that way!

The story equated running to drug abuse … it’s the same chemical reaction that body creates when it red-lines into risk-taking mode … the adrenaline rush, the endorphin kick of a long run or grand adventure is not much different than a junkie looking for his next fix of heroin. He can’t help himself!

That’s why when Ted Davenport broke his leg in half in a crash while using a wingsuit the first thing he said afterward was that he couldn’t wait to do it again!! You can’t make us quit doing the things we love … just look at another story in the newspaper this week about the economy. The sale of running shoes and race entries has remained constant while just about everything else is in a financial freefall. Why? Because runners won’t stop running no matter if the economy tanks or not … it’s in their blood, their minds and their souls.

My girlfriend couldn’t understand why I didn’t race right out and grab the first job that came along (there was a part-time gig mowing lawns at a cemetery), and when I didn’t, her response was predictable: she dumped me. But for us dreamers, we are looking deeper into the future and we are more willing to gamble and take the risk that things will work out for us … somehow, someway.

That’s why I know this Achilles problem won’t be around forever … I’ve just got to be smarter and let it heal (no pun intended). Last weekend, I thought I would “force” it to get better by racing on it, and I didn’t do too badly by most standards, but certainly not by my own. I went to upstate New York with my friend George to run in the Adirondacks Trail Run, a great little race over a harsh course with a unique format: runners are sent off not in a mass start, like every other race, but at one-minute intervals. The course is all single-track covering 11.5 miles of steep climbs, treacherous descents, roots, rocks and the deepest mud I’ve ever run in … calf deep in places. Except for ending on a long downhill gravel road that kills your quads, the race is a great diversion from the regular fare.

Last year I ran it for the first time and finished third, and this year I was ordered by my doctor not to do any running for a while … but since when do I listen. I told George I would drive him even if I didn’t run, because his eyesight isn’t the greatest, and I kept my word, knowing in the back of my mind that I would at least lace up the shoes Saturday morning to see what I could do. It was that mentality that finally convinced me to leave my shoes home instead of bringing them to Seattle, by the way.

George has a climbing buddy who owns a house three miles north of Keene Valley. His friend, Joe, was in Chamonix climbing ice on Mount Blanc, but that doesn’t matter there. Joe has a garage next to his house called “The Bivy” and it’s basically a bunkhouse with a wood stove and kitchen where all his fellow climbing buddies come to crash whenever they want … even when he’s off in Europe. On this night, six friends from New Jersey showed up and four of them ran the race on Sunday.

The race was not pretty for me … at no time during the 11.5 miles did I feel like I was racing … more of a controlled limp. I was unable to run any of the uphills – and there were many – and my Achilles was balking at every step. I struggling home in 17th place, not bad considering 65 started, but after finishing third last year, I had loftier goals. What a joke it was when I later learned that I finished second in my age group and won a new pair of Salomon XT Wings, the same prize I got last year when I was third. I was almost too embarrassed to accept them!

But I have not run a step since, though since I’ve arrived in Seattle I’ve gone on two nice hikes and leave later today for Oregon to climb Mount Hood beginning about 2 a.m. tomorrow morning under what should be gorgeous conditions (the moon is nearly three-quarters full!). I did pick up my race packet at Qwest Stadium last Friday, but a race volunteer heard me say I wasn’t going to run and begged my bib off of me so he could do the half-marathon. This race has been sold out for months and turns out I could have sold my bib on craigslist if I had only known … giving it away was profitless and the more so because I had to pay a $10 fee to park my car to go pick up the number!

I found my friend Charles’ house in the nice Queen Anne section of Seattle easy enough and it was beautiful, with great views overlooking Puget Sound and within a short walk was a park with a view of all of downtown Seattle and Mount Ranier lurking over the city on the horizon. Ranier is an impressive sight – perhaps the most impressive-looking mountain I have ever seen – and that’s where I’ll be next weekend looking to bag state high-point No. 43.

The first day, last Saturday, Charles and his wife Andrea headed to Olympia for a wedding and would be gone until Sunday, so he sent me off to hike what is called the Kendall Catwalk Trail … it was about 50 miles east of Seattle on I-90 in Snoqualmie Pass and a five-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail up to a spot where they had blasted the trail out of solid granite to link two mountains. Most people were turned back by what I was told by one hiker was “an impenetrable wall of snow” blocking the trail, but when I got there, I saw that many others had crossed the steeply angled snowfield and the steps they had cut in the snow were level and true. There were several such snowfields to cross to get to the catwalk, which was interesting if for no other reason than they cut the PCT through solid granite at over 5,000 feet. Nice job!

I returned over the snowfields and then scrambled up Kendall Peak to the summit and had lunch while staring straight at Mount Ranier, which looms as a massive monolith from just about everywhere within a hundred miles of it. I could even see Mount Adams off in the distance to the south. Mount Adams is only 12,000 feet, compared to the 14,000 feet of Ranier, but it is nearly as majestic.

The hiking really didn’t bother my Achilles, but breaking in my new Asolo boots was pure agony. I’ve never worn such a stiff boot and the uppers were digging into my ankles and causing so much pain that I had to unlace them for the descent. I seem to do much better with the cheapest pair of boots I can find … at least they’re flexible!

On Sunday, Charles and gang returned from the wedding, along with his son Zac, who had climbed Mount Whitney with me last spring. I drove Zac and his friend to the airport … Zac had to get back to LA and his friend had to take a red-eye to New York just in time to go to work Monday morning. Work??

On Monday, Charles had hoped to hike with me, but with a short week (he has Friday off for the Fourth and has a hike of his own planned, plus he works for the Transportation Department in Seattle which is under a lot of scrutiny by the local newspaper for the way it handled a particularly rough winter … in an election year, no doubt) he had to work and I was on my own again. This time he sent me to Mount Si, about 30 miles west on I-90, and again it was a good choice.

This mountain was only about 4,000 feet and had about the most graded trail I have ever hiked on as it switchbacked four miles to the top. It kind of reminded me of the Piper Trail on Mount Chocurua, that’s how manicured it was. At the top, you come to an overview where most people stop. But if you want to keep going, there is a steep, rocky promontory called the Haystack Scramble with is a large block of solid granite that rises to a sharp, precipitous point about 500 feet higher up. This is all Class 3-4 scrambling and a lot of fun … it reminded me of climbing the Crestone Needle in Colorado except without all the ice coating the rock!

The summit was grand, with spectacular views of Ranier and all the way to Puget Sound. It was a glorious day, with no wind to speak of, and an excellent lunch was had on the summit. Then I explored a little and came back down, meeting a guy from Russia who had never climbed before and was scared out of his wits on the scramble up. I saw a lot of people still coming up mid-day on my way down … I take it that Mount Si is to Washingtonians what Mount Monadnock is to New Englanders … the place to go for a nice, not-too-strenuous hike.

I had resigned myself to heading to Mount Hood alone today (which I didn’t want to do since I know how serious a mountain Hood can be), when suddenly on Monday night I got a call from Doug, who lives here in Seattle and is a friend of the afore-mentioned Darlene. Now she had told me Doug wasn’t available to hike with me, but he called and said he was eager to go … so that is a big relief for me. He has climbed Hood twice and we will go down there this afternoon, camp for the night and leave for the summit around 2-3 in the morning. Then we’ll come back to Seattle, I’ll crash at his place Wednesday night and head for Ranier on Thursday to begin my four-day expedition with Ranier Mountaineering. Going with a guided group is going to feel like I have a leash on – literally, as we’ll be roped up – but I felt obliged to do it after being invited by Tom and Sandi, whom I met that day in Colorado last September on Crestone Needle and who saved my vacation when they gave me accurate directions to go back later that day and get Crestone Peak as well.

I had failed to find the summit of Crestone Peak in a white-out early that morning, but met Tom and Sandi on my way down – defeated – thinking I would have to come back to Colorado again in 2009 to finish off the final two 14ers I missed – the Crestones. But thanks to them, I bagged them both, and the rest of the trip went absolutely like clockwork, nailing my 59th and final Colorado 14er (only 54 of them “count” on the list) on the final day before my flight and the final day before winter arrived in the Rockies. The timing couldn’t have better and I told Tom and Sandi dinner was on me the next time we met … so I’ll sign off by saying that Thursday night at Ranier I will be paying the dinner tab!

No comments:

Post a Comment