Monday, February 10, 2014

A quick update from outer space

Hey everyone -

I've been absent from this space the last few months.  Partly that's b/c night shift makes my brain stop working, but mostly it's that I'm focusing in 2014 on trying to write for other people's publications and "publications" besides my own blog to make people think I'm a legitimate writer.  I will continue to post some personal entries here, but I'm playing around trying to practice more journalistic styles and write some local history/news stories.

I'm running way behind on updates, but I'm excited about a couple of partnerships/connections that have been taking shape lately.  You'll probably see me writing most frequently at these days.  Our multi-talented friends Ras and Kathy are developing an interesting, innovative and fun multimedia presence there, and I'm excited to be contributing from time to time.   

I'm also really excited that in the March "Dirt" issue of Trail Runner Magazine I have an 8 page feature on the development of the Seattle ultra running community.  It's a double issue focused on the  culture of trail running, and it's a cool honor to be included.  You should buy it and/or get a subscription now!  The issue the story will be in comes out in stores on March 13th, and a ton of readers here contributed and were quoted in the story!

And in December Trey Bailey and I put together the first annual Washington Trail Ultra Awards - the WA Ultra Grimey's.  I'm hoping to develop some more projects with Trey for his site, Uphill Running.  

I have a bunch more ideas than I have time to produce, but I'm hoping 2014 is a year of fun writing projects alongside a lot more fun running adventures.

Thanks for reading everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Discovery Park Loop

Just got back from a walk around the Loop Trail at Discovery (please don't call it "Disco") Park, including the side trip to North Beach and around the lighthouse.

Four years ago, almost exactly, I did the same thing on a clear sunny day a lot like today.  On that particular walk, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life (and definitely of the last ten years) - to upend my whole existence by quitting my career track and shifting the focus of my life away from religion.  At the time I didn't know what my new focus was going to be.  At this point I'd say that it's health, but I'm not actually interested in writing about that decision, so that's neither here nor there.  What I'm writing about, I think, is the way that those kinds of experiences - where places become associated with important events - create a sense of home.

My walk at Discovery today brought the topic to mind, but I've been thinking about it a bit lately for other reasons.  Not least is that Salomon Running posted the video at the end of this post about Anna Frost, an ultra runner from New Zealand, reflecting on the importance of her home, Dunedin - a place that also felt like home for me at one point in life, and a place where Angel and I will be returning to visit for a few days in the spring.  The scenery in the video is almost all of places we went - hiking or living - and it brings back memories of two of the better years of my life.  
I've also been aware across the last few years that our connection with trail running has made the Pacific Northwest feel a lot more like home than it did previously.  In part that's because we've become a part of a community through running, but I actually think it's a part of the nature of the experience.  There's something essentially human about moving through nature on your feet, and for whatever reason, I've found that running (and walking) on trails has made me feel connected and grounded in the place.  The Just-so Story that I tell myself to explain why is that it's part of a biological reward system in place to encourage people to continue doing things like moving quickly through nature.  It's harder work than sitting on a couch finally getting caught up on Breaking Bad, but we've had to do it in order to survive for millions of years, so we've evolved into creatures that feel at home when we're on our feet.  It's also because, I think, some of the most meaningful experiences I've had during the last four years have been on the trails - completing a first 50k at Yakima Skyline Rim, completing a 50 mile race at White River, completing a 100 mile run at Cascade Crest.  There's a lot of place associated with those experiences, both in training and on the runs themselves.

And I also got back from Ohio a few weeks ago, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and which always feels kind of surreal.  The experience that made me feel viscerally connected again was a short trail run in Germantown, near my parents house and the town where I lived.  

One thing I've lost through moving around a bit is a sense of having any one home.  One thing I've gained through running (and more accurately, moving through my environment on my feet) is the sense that being home is as much about experience as it is about place.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pee Pee Peak: The Birth of the New Squak Mt. - Tiger Mt. Connector Trail

For the last several years, directly across from the Chirico Trailhead (aka the Poo Poo Point Trail), this sign has been enticing hikers and runners with the prospect of connecting the Tiger Mountain trail system with the Squak Mountain trail system in the Issaquah Alps with nary a road mile betwixt them:

In the current trail configuration, connecting Cougar and Squak in the Issaquah Alps is simple, but connecting Squak to Tiger is a suburban road run pain in the butt, despite the fact that the two mountains are directly adjacent to one another, and despite the fact that King County Parks owns the land connecting West Tiger to East Squak.  (This map illustrates nicely how intuitive a Tiger/Squak Connection would be, with a trail running through the corridor from the Squak trails to Chirico.)   Trail runners in particular have devised workarounds to complete Issaquah Alps traverses, but the lack of direct connection between the trail systems has meant that Tiger/Squak combo runs have been impractical for anyone without an Issaquah road map.   

It looks like that problem is on the verge of being fixed.  Due to some diligent work from the trail running community, a boot trail has been cut in which starts directly to the right of the sign above and connects to the Squak system at the East Ridge Trail (I believe that is what the trail is called where it connects - can anyone confirm?), and some folks from the Seattle Running Club have been working with King County Parks to get approval, and my understanding is that they are supportive of developing this trail for public usage.  Today, I took a self-guided tour to see how things are shaping up. 

The trail itself is still a work in progress, but it is shaping  up nicely, and its main problem, in my opinion, is the lack of an exciting name to get the kids excited about the project.  It's going to be a fantastic addition to the Issaquah Alps trail system, and folks should hear about it.  That's why I suggest that it be christened the "Pee Pee Peak" trail.  While Tiger - Squak Connector Trail is definitely informative, who wouldn't want to run or hike the "Poo Poo Pee Pee" corridor on at least a weekly basis?  The trail climbs to a high point with peekaboo views of Tiger to the East before connecting in to the larger Squak System, and I see no reason that this area shouldn't have a plaque and a bench and an official title of Pee Pee Peak.  This might be TMI, but I even relieved myself there to make sure the title is accurate.  (Apologies to all involved for everything in that paragraph, and special apologies if this name sticks.) 

I don't know that I should be officially encouraging people to use this trail yet, because it is still being developed, but if one were interested in such a thing they might find the following logistics helpful.

The trail starts directly to the right of the sign above (you can actually vaguely see the trail in that picture), and immediately crosses a small stream, and then a larger one that requires you to either ford and get your shoes wet, or use this precarious dead tree bridge which will eventually break and send someone tumbling into the icy depths below:

 I chose the tree bridge, but ominously, the river had already claimed one victim:

This lady was clearly much too big for this stream.
After the stream crossing, you wind through several bunches of blackberry bushes to the only place on the trail that is slightly difficult to navigate, even with fall leaves covering the trail - a powerline road where  you need to turn left and look for the trail, which veers off to the right after about 1/8th of a mile.  The only thing tricky here is being sure to turn left at the road rather than right, but that isn't really that tricky because if you turn right you quickly end up at a gate and 'private property' sign, which is clearly not the trail.  After you find the trail into the woods (it's basically at the first point that there aren't blackberry bushes), it's easy to navigate, and is already worn in enough to follow more easily than, say, the trail to the top of Mt Teneriffe at night, or the trail up Mailbox in the snow - which is to say I never lost the trail.  At this stage enough folks have been up it to have worn things in really well, and people have clearly been hard at work clearing trees and so forth:

If that isn't a clearly demarcated trail, I don't know what is.
The logistics of the trail after you get into the woods are straightforward - you follow a series of reasonably graded switchbacks through old growth up the side of Squak, over a couple of small crests, until you get to the intersection.  It's currently still probably best experienced as a hike rather than a run (I found myself tripping on brush and slipping on loose ground even at hiking pace), but it's a great piece of forest.  It was foggy today so the woods had an ethereal feel about them, I'm pretty sure I heard a pileated woodpecker (didn't spot it so can't be sure), and there are some nice peekaboo views through the trees at the top (although my camera didn't do a great job of capturing them.  I heard you can see Rainier from a spot on the trail as well, but the sky was socked in to the south, so I can't verify.  I'd estimate that this section of trail is about 3 miles long, and it took me a little over 2.5 hours to do the out and back.  It is being developed for pragmatic reasons as a connector trail, but I really feel like it stands on its own as an out and back if you're looking for a more rugged trip and more dense woods than Chirico offers. 

I actually don't have a clear idea about whether there is still more permitting work that needs to be done to make this trail 'official'.  They took down the old road barriers that you used to have to jump to get into the area, and there has clearly been a ton of work done on the trail, so it seems like the project is a go.  If any readers know more details about the project, or how folks can help with the trail's development, it would be great if you could leave info in the comments below! 

In the meantime, here are some photo highlights from the trail:

Just the right elevation gain to get above today's fog line.

This is the view at the Peak - my camera didn't capture the low fog and Tiger in the background, unfortunately.

This tree is at the top of the trail, where it intersects with the rest of the Squak System.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Baker Lake Ultra Trail Runs 2013: An Ultra Family Reunion

This weekend Angel and I camped out at Baker Lake, where we raced the 50k and watched the 100k finishers roll in throughout the evening in the first year of that longer event.  It's a generally low key race, but it's one of the classic low key races, so it drew runners from a bunch of different states and Canada.  A 24 year old kid from Clinton, WA named Kurt Warwick won the 50k in what appears to be his first ultra, and the first woman was Emily Morehouse from Bellingham, also 24 and also in her first ultra.  It's good to see a couple of good young WA runners winning that race, because as is now becoming the custom at Washington races, a couple of Canadians from North Vancouver came down and won the 100k - Colin Miller won the Men's race and our good friend Alicia Woodside won the Women's while also taking 3rd overall.  Much more badass than any of them though was the DFL finisher, Barbara Macklow from Bellingham, who is 79 years old and completed her 21st ultra.  75 year old John Bandur - who was the second person to ever complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning back in the day, also competed - finishing his billionth ultra and showing that he can still beat a bunch of the young punks.  It was a beautiful day in perfect conditions, and I had a 50k PR and improved my time from last year by about 18 minutes.  Angel had less of a good day, probably owing to a 21 mile trail race last weekend and about a million miles of running this Summer.  A rough go on Saturday, but a good leadup for the upcoming Mathis Family Relaxed Running Winter of Fun.  Speaking of families, it was also cool to see our friends the Vaughan's all finishing the race - it was daughter Angela's first 50k, and when Ras finished the 100k, one of the first things he said was "Congratulations!  We're an ultra family now!" (Full results are on Ultrasignup.)

Speaking of speaking of families, my last two race experiences at Cascade Crest and Baker Lake have, I think, helped me to get a better sense of what it actually means for a race to be a 'Classic' ultra.  While it seems kind of crazy to talk about classics in a sport that has really only existed for a couple of decades, some races have a palpable sense of history that others don't.  White River had it, Cascade had it, and I didn't really notice last year, but Baker Lake had it too.  Part of that comes from the fact that those races have been around for a while, but part of it also comes from the people who create the race atmosphere: the race has passed from RD to RD, but this year it was Terry Sentinilla, a Grand Slam finisher this year, a Badwater top 10 finisher last year, and as old school as they come.  Shawna and Joe Tompkins ran the grill the whole day with their guns out, intimidating the rest of us, and Tim Stroh ran the aid station at the turnaround.  Glenn Tachiyama was taking photos alongside Takao Suzuki, Adam Hewey got second in the 50k, and Brian Morrison made a return to ultra running after a year and a half layoff.  A couple of years ago most of those names wouldn't have meant much to me, and I wouldn't have recognized many of the faces (which might be why I didn't notice the classic nature of the race last year), but this year I picked up on the fact that this was a family reunion - these were folks who were taking ultra running seriously before it was really a thing, and Baker Lake is a race that has meant something for a long time.  The WA trail racing scene is complex and growing these days, and in a very real way, Baker Lake is one of the races that laid the foundation for that growth.  Scrolling through old Ultrasignup results gives you a sense of that - James Varner, whose Rainshadow Running has created a sort of second generation of classic ultras, still has a top 3 time from Baker Lake, and Krissy Moehl still has the women's record.  Interestingly enough, a couple of years ago it was also the first ultra for Jodee Adams-Moore, who is arguably the most promising current trail runner in WA.  And the race itself had the feel that you always hear ultras are supposed to - where the competitive aspects of the race are secondary to the social experience of the weekend and the human experience of moving on two feet through nature.  Last year the race was a free Fatass.  This year it cost money, but the feel was basically the same.  People have fun running through the woods, then celebrate other finishers' accomplishments afterwards.  Good times, and driving home you feel like you had a nice day hanging out with friends as much as feeling like you achieved anything athletically.  A perfect race experience, a ton of fun with friends, and a great chance to hang out with the old school ultra family. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Great video capturing the Cascade Crest 100 2013 experience

I wanted to link it here so I don't lose it, but you might be interested as well (Can't inbed so follow the link and check out the site).  The Snow Troopers put together several nice videos which capture the CCC100 experience really well, if you wonder what it's like to run a 100 from beginning to end (or, well, a condensed version of that anyway). 

Sunday, September 29, 2013


After a crazy Summer of accomplishing things, this September I decided to give myself a sort of Rumspringa from it all - just going to work, eating whatever I want, only exercising when I feel like it and taking it as easy as I want when I do so, and generally deciding not to feel bad about days like today, when I spend most of my time sitting on the couch watching football.  Physically I needed it - with the Camino and Cascade Crest, Angel and I covered about 850 miles on our feet in two months from mid-June to mid-August (after never having done more than around 250 in a month previously).  Emotionally too - since May I've 1) officiated at two friends' weddings, 2) graduated nursing school, 3) travelled around Spain, 4) studied for, and passed, a stressful licensing exam 5) started a new job, 6) run two 50 milers and a 100 mile ultramarathon, at least 5 50k's and at a couple of marathon distance training runs, and 7) been involved with an overnight mountain rescue for a friend (a story for later, maybe).  I don't say all that as any kind of brag, but just to point out that it has been an incredibly crazy Summer, out of all proportion with any previous crazy Summers that I have experienced.  I'm not entirely happy that it's over, because overall it's been a ton of fun, but it has been nice to step out of the firehose for a minute and catch my breath.  Angel is out of town this weekend, so it's been a nice chance to just lay around mostly by myself, and to think about what's next.

A couple weeks ago I was thinking about writing a post here about running a first 100 ("Fundred"), and how Angel and I seemed to have the training process nailed, because it was essentially all just a bunch of fun.  From the time we signed up for it early in the year, we ran a ton, but I personally don't remember much of that running feeling like "training".  That is, it never felt like a chore, or something I had to do because I wanted to accomplish a goal (although Angel worked a little harder, I think, and might have a different perspective).  Running took up a ton of time leading up to Cascade, but it mostly felt like a bunch of long runs in the mountains with friends; just my weird social life, not some onerus Rocky-esque training program where we spent hours in a freezer pounding beef or anything.  Especially because the Camino ended up as such an awesome experience, the hardest part of our training felt like a really awesome adventure (at a leisurely pace fueled by pastries and excellent espresso).  Then, as I was sitting here on the couch, I started to think that, actually, pretty much everything this Summer has felt that way.  Nursing school sucks unequivocally,  but because I've been on my unit for three years, the transition into an actual nursing role, much to my surprise, has felt like a fun challenge rather than a terrifying one.  The NCLEX was lame, but not terrible, and the testing place was right next to an awesome donut shop so that improved things.  Officiating weddings used to seem like about 50% stress and 50% fun, but the two I've done this year were more like 10% stress and 90% fun.  I don't know if it's just that I've turned a corner in my life in my 30s, I've found the right niche, hard work has paid off, I'm lucky, or better health has improved my outlook on life, but attacking challenges has just felt a lot more enjoyable this year than it has during some other periods of life.  

It doesn't hurt that I haven't blown it on any of the big goals - we made it through the challenges of the Camino, I didn't accidentally say the F-word during either wedding ceremony, I got a job, passed the NCLEX on the first try, and did better than expected at Cascade - and this series of fortunate events has made me want to keep this approach going:  setting goals that sound either meaningful or fun, and then trying to put myself in a position to enjoy the process of working towards them.  I think a main difference between me during the last three years, and me during the five years prior to that, is that I thought you had to go through a process that sucked in order to get to where you want, after which things would be fine.  I'm not sure that's true anymore.  Doing something like running 100 miles clearly involves work and some difficult experiences, and I'm really lucky to have a job that I like, but it seems like if you can get yourself on the right ladder, it's possible to enjoy both the climb and the view from the top.  And it seems like, especially for leisure-time activities, you should be enjoying yourself at some level in life, right? 

That's why, while I'm taking some time to think about what I want the future to look like, I'm hereby coming out against doing crap that I hate or setting goals that I don't really care to achieve.  (I'm also coming out against interpreting challenging experiences as negative, but an insight I gained during my career transition is that it's often harder and less productive to change your perspective on your circumstances than it is to just change the circumstances themselves - not that both aren't important.)  That is to say, I'm going to be intentional about pursuing the things in life that are meaningful or valuable, because that makes the whole process of life more enjoyable.

More Goals

From a running perspective, I admit that I'm in a bit of a post-Cascade inspiration lull, and I don't know what the next big goal will be.  Maybe another 100 next year?  No major inspiration has yet struck.  Doing Cascade again seems like the most fun prospect at the moment, but beyond that I'm not sure.  Right now I still just want to have fun. 

Seems more appealing right now to try to broaden my wilderness recreation skills.  Now that I'm working and money isn't tight/locked up in school, it would be fun to get some gear for fast packing, and maybe learn to use an ice ax during the snowy season.  At some point it would be great to climb Rainier or some other proper mountain, but learning the skills and getting the gear for that seems to take a lot of time and money so I'm not sure if its in the cards this year.  Maybe do the West Coast Trail in 2 days next Spring/Summer as a fast pack?  Or plan a trip on the Sunshine Coast Trail?  Maybe a little more cross country skiing this year, or an attempt at downhill?  These also seem like time/cost intensive goals...

Also, Angel and I are trying to coordinate with a couple of friends for a trip back to New Zealand for the first time in 9 years in March.  Milford Routebourne Abel Tasman Kepler Challenge?  I really hope this happens.

And our wilderness rescue experience at Rainier last weekend was a huge reality check that makes me want to prioritize learning some wilderness rescue/first aid skills as part of the training program this year. 

And coordinating some social stuff with the Seattle Running Club that maybe doesn't involve actually running.  That should happen - we're already organizing a report on the Camino on Thurs, Oct 17.

Other potential goals: Organizing a run to replicate some of the Camino experience locally.  Maybe Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass, overnighting in Issaquah and North Bend or something?  A birthday challenge in February.  Another "Santa's Fatass" overnight holiday fun run?  Organizing a "Trailrunners and Climbers Should be Friends" event. 

Things that don't seem like appealing goals at the moment: Running faster.  Bumping up for a distance bigger than 100 miles.  Heat training.  Speed training.  Volunteering in any administrative capacity.   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The High Divide Loop/Seven Lakes Basin in a Day: Making Sure Our Legs Still Work

Angel and the Seven Lakes Basin, where there are many more than seven lakes.
Summer in the PNW is both too nice and too short to let weekends pass without getting outdoors, so despite that fact that we're still recovering from the Cascade Crest 100 Angel and I decided to jump in when our friend John Spannuth put out a message looking for folks to join him for a hike/run in the Olympics on Labor Day on the High Divide Loop (aka the Seven Lakes Basin trail).  John ran the race too and we all finished around the same time, so we figured we'd all be equally slow and creaky.  And aside from a desire not to miss out on any of our remaining nice weekends, we also had been talking about going back to do this particular trail for quite awhile.  We did it about five years ago as a four day backpacking trip, and had one of our first encounters with trail running when an old guy came bounding up the mountain and stopped to ask us about other nice trails in the area that he could do when he was finished with that one.  Having two days of travel left, at the time we were shocked to find that he meant when he was finished that day.  At the time doing 18 miles in a day seemed impossible on its own, let alone following that up with another hike/run.  So, ever since we started running trails, we've discussed going back to try to match the old guy's feat.   

A full description and directions to the trail are here, but for some brief details on the route, being in the second most underutilized of WA's national parks in the Olympics, the hike isn't extremely well-known, but I think it's one of Washington's classics.  It starts at the parking lot at the end of Sol Duc Road (just a few miles past the hot springs) in the Northern part of the park, and travel time from the Bainbridge Island side of the Seattle/Bainbridge Ferry is about 2 hours and 10 minutes so it would be reasonable to get there from Seattle, do the loop, and get back home in a long day.  We spent the night at John's place in Bremerton and left early in the morning, returning to Seattle in the evening after the run, which was a great way to do it.  The trail itself is an 18-ish mile loop route that you could reasonably do as a day hike if you're fit (we saw a couple hikers out doing just that).  It is well signposted as the "High Divide Loop", but it actually connects three different trails: the Deer Lake Trail, High Divide Trail, and Sol Duc River Trail.  There is about 3000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and we've done it in both directions now, and I really don't see much difference in terms of difficulty.  Either way you go, you do essentially all of the climbing right out of the gate, then move along a ridge for several miles before descending back.  Mixing in a bit of running (along with a couple of nice breaks for food and a bunch of shorter breaks for photos) we did the course in about 5:45 on tired legs, so it's very much in the category of do-able as a half-day trail run (although with all of the lakes, views, and beautifully placed camp sites, it's actually kind of a shame not to spend a couple days up there if you have the time).

The trails move first through typically green PNW old growth forest before popping out onto high trail that runs along a ridge with amazing mountain views and through alpine meadows with a remarkable number of small lakes, which are great for swimming if you have time.  There's also apparently decent fishing, because we passed a few guys who said they'd caught Rainbow Trout and had it for dinner.  There are huckleberries available for consumption at several points along the route, and wildlife is frequently visible in the area.  Although we didn't see anything but birds this time around, our last trip we heard that other hikers had seen black bear, and we saw this goat family right on the trail:

The trail is East Coast quality (rocky and rooty most of the way) with West Coast quality alpine views, including sweeping views of the Hoh River Valley and one of the best views of Mt Olympus (the highest point in the Olympics):
Wildflowers and the Hoh River Valley

Glacier on Mt Olympus - one of the best Olympus views in the state.
All in all, worth the trip over, and highly recommended!