Trails of Glory
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Matt Chamberlain carries the primary blame for the initiation of the following boondoggle. On the 19th of October, Matt sent an e-mail to the TTR group with the idea of a double range crossing of the two major mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, the Rincons and the Santa Catalinas. We have all been running up and down and around these ranges for decades and telling stories. What hasn’t happened except in pure idea and speculation was how to traverse both ranges in one day. I recall speaking of a similar plan in 1998 involving something like starting in Happy Valley at Miller Creek and ending up at Catalina State Park at the end of Romero in the vicinity of 48 miles. Sure, anyone could pull this off with enough help and the right weather and maybe another runner in the same physical condition and mindset. I have heard others chat about such things but the chatter never went beyond a dream and then the subject was dropped.
I responded to Matt’s e-mail and then waited for the proposition of trail routes. In the meantime I drummed up other parties that are known for their boondoggling abilities. Jerry Riddick is always good for a double or triple range attempt. I know this by hearing him talk of Santa Rita, Patagonia, and Huachuca crossings. Chris Fall and I drew up a plan called the “Four Headed Monster” four years ago involving the ascension of all four major peaks surrounding Tucson in one day. We had finished Mica and Wrightson on the hottest day of that year so far and scratched. Matt completed his first 100 mile last summer at Lake Tahoe on a double out and back 50 mile course. Mike Wilke and Matt have both attempted the double range crossing in previous years and were held up by snow and injuries. I had just finished my first 100 mile at Western States this past summer after a DNF at Angeles Crest in 2003. Raoul Erickson said he was in. I had never met Raoul until now but he looked like he was capable of doing anything he set his mind to.
We got together one week out to finalize logistics and the route. We had determined to start no later than 7am on the 25th of November. I went home and told my wife Trish what the plan was and it might involve 18 to 24 hours. Since Thanksgiving is a four day weekend I could afford to kill a day. She said “Why don’t you guys quit planning and talking, and finish something for once.” Good point.
We showed up at Raoul’s “DON’T EVER PARK IN FRONT OF” door by 4th Avenue Saturday morning at 5am for transportation in his Suburban out to Happy Valley on the eastside of the Rincons. Steve Olsen from Oro Valley showed up for the first half of the run as well as Jerry Riddick. Those two both agreed to wear dresses because of the shortened route. Chris then showed up and said he was only going halfway so we let them off the hook because we didn’t have a third dress. Raoul had “company” from out of town drop in late so he had to opt out completely. He also had to arrange last minute transportation due to the Suburban being unserviceable.
We headed out in two pick-up trucks being driven by Raoul and his friend Oscar. We made it to the Turkey Creek trailhead at 6:40am. You can start at the 6.2 miles to Deer Head Spring sign or drive 4WD into the 4.6 mile option. We drove in. By 6:55am we had donned our packs, took photos and were up the trail before sunrise.
Basically a run of this magnitude, whether stopping at Molino Basin or going the whole way to Oracle involves early caloric intake and continuous hydration. All of us were well stocked with 100+ ounces of water and energy drink and plenty of snacks, gels and energy bars. The plan for aid was as follows: At the 5 to 6 hour mark Tom Kittle was meeting us at Redington Pass at FR 37 with drop bags and water as well as Ross Zimmerman with water and Gatorade. Ross wanted to come out and scout around on his mountain bike for next weekend’s 50K. From here Tom, and it turned out Ross and Pam also, were to drive over to Molino Basin Campground with more drop bags and water. Jerry’s wife Cathy was also scheduled to pick himself, Chris and Steve up for a ride back to town and home. Mike, Matt and I had drops ready for Tom to leave at the fire station at the Control Road at mile marker 25 on Mount Lemmon. That was our assisted plan. We had back-ups like chemical treatments for spring water and the old dependable spigot at the Palisades bathrooms. Also, we were still uncertain of a ride home from Oracle that night or next morning or Sunday afternoon.
As I write this I know Matt is putting together a more technical description of the route and splits so I won’t go into as much detail. (At this point in time none of us owned a GPS watch, we did have cell phones though). I’ll give a brief overview of the route and describe the highlights of the day as I witnessed them. Like I said, we started at Turkey Creek TH and climbed up to Deer Head Spring and went north toward Spud Rock then through Mica Meadow and on to Italian Spring Trail. We decided not to go through Manning Camp or over the actual top of Mica Mountain. Steve and Matt have never been to the peak so we took a short break before heading down Italian Springs while they took the detour to bag the peak. The temp at the start of the run was near 50 degrees and the skies were clear with light winds. By the time we reached the top the temps were near 40 and the scenery was the best I have ever witnessed in my several trips to this mountain. There was some frost in the shady areas and Deer Head Spring was green and beautiful. The trail conditions were quite immaculate in comparison to others we would cover later that day.
After a short rest while Matt and Steve looked at the 8,666 sign on Mica Mountain we headed down the Italian Springs Trail. So far most of the trails we covered were virgin to me. I had never been on any of the trails on the east and north side of the peak before so this was a real treat. The views from Italian Springs upon first descent are expansive to the east and west. The rock formations along the trail a couple of miles down are similar to Texas Canyon east of Benson. The trail is rough in spots but it appears that the Forest Service is in the process of working on many areas. As we got to the lower elevation we had to go through a couple of different gates. Trying to figure out accurate mileage through here is like taking the average of several different stories. Anyway, as we ran toward Redington Road I looked to the northwest at the immensity of the Catalina range in the distance and realized that we had a very long way to go.
We hit Redington at five hours, almost an hour earlier than we estimated. Ross was here already on his bike and met us on the trail. He had water and Gatorade at the Trooper. We filled up and ate food out of our packs. Tom was expected around six hours so we figured we had enough water that Ross could give him the message to go to Molino. Just as we crossed the road to the trailhead Tom came driving up. At least now we could grab some more food and change into t-shirts. The portion of trail through Redington and Bellota Ranch is very runnable as it gradually descends for six or seven miles before coming to West Spring Tank. From there the trails climbs steeply to East Saddle before dropping over the north side 1.2 miles into Molino Basin. The entire section from Redington to Molino is advertised at 10 miles.
The pace and banter through the mid-day was very casual. The temperature never seemed to get above 70 degrees and there were wispy clouds to take the bite out of the sun. Every couple of miles we stopped and snacked and talked. Someone mentioned that the reason they had decided not to run the whole thing is that they hadn’t done enough training to get ready for it. I said “This is what you do to get ready for other runs.”
The 10 mile section took us about 3 hours. The climb up to the saddle was slow going but the reward was you could see the world below on both sides of the saddle. We arrived at Molino before 4pm and ate dinner.
Dinner for me consisted of a thermos of still warm mashed potatoes and bacon, a cold chicken burrito, cantaloupe, salt and vinegar chips all washed down with an Ensure. I really felt good after that. Chris, Steve and Jerry were elated to be finished while Matt, Mike and I were watching the sun drop by the minute. We spent 45 minutes or so socializing and packing warm clothes and flashlights for the night traverse. Eventually we walked out to the trail and ascended our way to Prison Camp.
By the time we reached the Sycamore Reservoir TH the sun had set with a pale glow in the background of the Arizona Trail sign. With the wispy clouds the sunset was awesome as a backdrop to the many rock formations in the front range of the Catalinas. It was still dusk as we descended to the reservoir and luckily just light enough to manage our way up to the Bear Canyon intersection without turning on our lights. We began the descent to Palisades with adapted night eyes but nothing could prevent some trepidation crossing the landslide ruts that crossed the trail. Maybe the drop-offs below looked worse because of the darkness. Right after crossing the first slide Mike slipped off the trail and I thought he was going down. Just as I was reaching down to grab his hand he caught a foothold and steadied himself. Hmmm, good time to pull out the flashlights.
We reached the Palisades junction sign and discovered there was a washout right at the bottom where trail used to cross. We climbed up over the boulders and searched for signs of trails in the bushes and overgrowth. Matt turned out to be the best route finder in the night and once again was on while Mike and I were getting poked in the head with sticks and Cholla branches. Here again maybe the darkness exaggerated the poor condition of the trail but I found it to be overgrown so badly that our pace became a slog. It wasn’t pitch black due to the city lights which became lighter as we got higher. The moon was unsubstantial at about less than a quarter darting in and out of light clouds. We finally reached the bench rock overlook and took a snack break and broke out some warmer clothing. The trail from here to Mud Springs never improved except through the large boulder section where the weeds are less. As we approached the gully leading up to Mud Springs we could look off to our right and see the black abyss of Pine Canyon. I felt like we were headed into the belly of the whale as we crawled through the rocks and trees in the gully. Except for several matchsticks across the trail after the springs, the trail was easy to follow on up to Showers Point Campground. About a mile from the campground is where I began to feel chilled as the wind whipped up.
We stopped for a bite to eat just before the dirt road leading to Mt. Lemmon. I had already donned my light shell jacket over my long sleeve Coolmax shirt. Due to the Camelbak making my back wet from sweat I couldn’t get warm sitting there. This is the first time the thought crossed my mind about hypothermia. Oh, I wasn’t even close, but conditions would get worse being it was only 10pm. Doubt crept in so I got up and moved out briskly to the restrooms at Palisades. Palisades is where our run plan first encountered a symptom of failure. The water spigot was capped. We had gone the last five and a half hours without a refill. Due to the extraneous weight carried in our packs it is hard to accurately determine how much water remains in the bladder as you are going along. Each of us pulled our bladders out of our packs and were reminded of a bad dream during Christmas. We each had around 20 ounces to carry us five miles up the road to the fire station. This was doable. Unspoken thoughts start to occur when fear creeps in. I went into the bathroom out of the wind and put on my pants and stocking cap and wondered if it made any sense to call Trish to ask her to drive up and get me. It felt good in the bathroom with no wind and I could sip my water but I was low on food. I knew we had our food and water drop five miles up a paved road. How long could it take; an hour? Mike was in the other bathroom and Matt seemed just as calm as ever. We rallied up and fast hiked up the hill till we got warm. The wind was blowing at our backs as we watched the city lights. Once we topped the hill above Spencer Campground there was renewed motivation to shuffle down to the Butterfly TH.
One drawback to wearing pants to stay warm is that when sweat is generated through body heat then all the cuts and scrapes from earlier shiggy get reinvigorated. This happened several times through the night. We reached the fire station at midnight and found the stash that Tom dropped earlier in the day. There was light from a lamppost to see so we huddled behind the building to avoid the wind and eat our dinner. I had a Rockstar Juiced in my bag which provided the equivalent of about four cups of coffee. I also had a chicken chimichanga and more cantaloupe. We finally realized we had better get our butts off the ground and get moving to stay warm. Unspoken thought number two occurred as I watched Matt and Mike putting on more warm clothes. “Why didn’t I pack more clothes?” “I wonder if they have anything to spare?”
We reached the Oracle Ridge TH and read the sign that said 12.5 miles to Oracle. At three miles an hour we’ll be done by 4am, cool. Not quite. I never realized there could be so much uphill on a gradually descending ridge. There were several other criss-crossing road options and since the route used the road at times it was sometimes uncertain where we were. At times we would veer off trail onto cattle trails until they died out and we backtracked to the real trail. At least twice I felt sleepy and wanted to fall down into the weeds near the barbed wire fence and take a nap. I occasionally wondered why it looked like Mike and Matt never got sleepy. Maybe they were but I just couldn’t tell. Unspoken thought number three occurred at this time. “Do you guys want to stop and take a 10 minute nap?” But then I thought, “What if we wake up and the sun is shining overhead?” “Trish will definitely be worried because I didn’t call.” I last talked to her at East Saddle and joked that I would either be home in time for dinner if I opted out at Molino or in time for breakfast if I went all the way. It had been twelve hours since I talked to her last so I figured she was already wondering where we were; so the nap was out of the question.
There was not much talking. We took turns leading trail depending on when one of us would get off and the one behind became the new leader. After 5 hours we finally reached the AZ trail intersection that drops to Cody Loop Road in 1.8 miles or Mt. Lemmon Highway in 2.4. We had our hearts set on the 1.8. I called Steve Olsen at home to give him a heads up and his wife answered the phone and said he was already at the trailhead. I called his cell and he answered and said he was at the end of the 2.4 mile section. Luckily he was amenable to finding the other trail and we shuffled our fastest 1.8 mile split for the entire night. Steve was there when we finished and took our pictures. It was just after 6am and there was distant light in the sky. Steve took us to Circle K for cappuccinos and then brought us back to Raoul’s place to our cars. We grabbed our stuff from Steve’s truck and exchanged congratulations. I told Matt, “I’m not crazy; you’re the one who’s crazy." "Wait at least a month before announcing the next boondoggle so we have time to reminisce about this one.”
In the end we spent 23 hours and 12 minutes traversing 60 miles on ‘pointless, unnecessary work.’ Thank you to Tom Kittle for spending his day with his kids driving around the mountains; Ross and Pam for being out there especially at Molino with cheerful faces; and especially to Steve for his generosity and sacrifice early in the morning to help out our wayward souls. For future double range crossers who want to raise the bar I would suggest an extra jacket and start two to three hours earlier as you will still have light up to Mud Springs on Palisades. The extra daylight would enable a Box Camp trail option letting you out further up the road past Spencer Canyon. Another idea would be to start in Oracle and get Oracle Ridge and it's myriad option of trails done first. If anyone is up for an adventure let me know, I am an official boondoggler.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Training and racing are physically and mentally taxing. This is especially true when performed during a progressive training schedule leading to a goal event. Inner dialogue is something we all deal with and hopefully find a way to channel the negative thoughts into positive results. It’s not easy and it’s not usually pretty. I beat my brain up many times from convincing myself to keep going and sometimes just to get started in the first place. Many times it’s repetitious mind games that cycle through our heads which turn into mantras. Sometimes it takes awhile and sometimes it doesn’t always lead to success. The key is to always come back even if you take a break. Never completely give up; you will never forgive yourself.
Here are three recent examples of problems that I have dealt with and their outcomes.
Setting – 9am Wednesday morning: I look out the living room window and see the neighbor’s flag waving at a 45 degree angle east to west; temperature gage says 51.3. What's that...like 30 degree windchill factor? It’s time to take the dogs for their daily walk and ball throwing of 20 minutes before I go out on my daily run. It’s also my warm-up walk. I’m bundled up with a jacket, scarf, long pants, stocking cap and gloves. I head out the door with two leashes and two dogs.
Inner Dialogue – Brrrrrrrr…f**k…do the treadmill today…only ran 5.5 miles yesterday…got to do 8x400...not on the treadmill. Did 6x400 last week…need to make progress...10x400 next week...can't skip this week. I could go tomorrow…the wind’s only 5-10 mph and the sun’s breaking through a bit. What if it’s windier tomorrow, then I’m screwed…got to go today. I can run them downhill with a crosswind…could also run east to west, wind at my back…recover into the wind. I don’t need this shit…speed kills. The trees are moving, this sucks…got to go today…f**k!
(Repeat three times and then put on shorts and T-shirt, Garmin GPS watch, sunglasses, hat on backwards and head out the door.)
Result – Ran 3.5 mile warm-up, half of it into the wind and was chilly. Started the 400s at the top of a mile-long gradual downhill and turned around and ran up the grade on the recoveries. I need as much help on leg turnover as I can get. The extra momentum provided by the downgrade lifted my spirits so I pushed harder. I finished with a half-mile cool-down and walked into the house sweating and feeling good.
Setting – Leadville 100, mile 43 going up Hope Pass outbound: I left Twin Lakes, mile 39 aid station over half an hour ago. I’m almost halfway up the ascent to Hope Pass. I’ve never done this race before. I paced a buddy last year on the last 24 miles in the dark. It appears to be the easiest of the 100-mile Hardrock qualifiers. The course has a lot of runnable surface except for Hope Pass, twice. I need a qualifier to enter the Hardrock lottery. Training went well leading up to the race. We flew in two days before the race; not too much recent acclimatization to the elevation. I’ve been on what I think is a conservative plan this far into the race and still flirting with the sub 25-hour buckle.
Inner Dialogue – This sucks…(stop on switchback, bend over, grab knees, gasp, look down below and see a train of runners in various states of fatigue)…I’m never doing a 100-miler again…at least not a mountain 100…(continue plodding). What’s that sound? Funny…someone’s puking…poor bastard…my quads are blown…not even halfway. Is that thunder? Shit…the weather over Hope usually sucks…no rain though…no lightning…where’s the lightning? Man, just one close lightning strike…not enough to kill me…just end my race, concussion maybe…not my fault, can’t blame me…I tried. (Stop, bend over, gasp, gasp). Is that Hopeless aid station? That’s not topout!…f’ing liars. Wow! It’s sunny, no rain, no lightning, damn, I have to keep going…no excuses. It’s all good.
Result – I finished the race almost 4 hours slower than my goal. Coming up Hope Pass from the other side was worse than the outbound side. I got back to Twin Lakes, mile 61 aid station coming back at sunset over an hour slower than my pre-race plan. My quads were shot but I did a lot of walking in training and put myself in gear and walked the remaining 39 miles. Got my Hardrock qualifier.
Setting – Ran this morning for the fourth day in a row; heading to the gym in the late afternoon for weights and core-work: I’m working night-shift temporarily and have been on a new workout regimen. I run every morning before lunch Monday through Friday and take physical training time later at work to do a second workout. I alternate days with upper-body and leg weights. I do abdominal sets, core-work, and push-ups. I finish the workouts with 30-40 minutes on the stationary bike. Today is day 4, Thursday; I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the dinner I brought for later. It’s time to go to the gym.
Inner Dialogue – I’m hungry…you just ate 3 frickin’ snacks…save it for later. I don’t need this crap. One day off…who’s gonna know, gonna care…no one cares, why should you? Give it up for one day. I’m tired…you were tired yesterday…you’re always tired. One piece at a time…abs, weights, bike, done…I’m hungry. Just skip today…that will lead to two days then it’s the weekend then it’s a whole week then a month then three months then six months. You’ll be soft as hell…you’ll have to start over…it’ll take six months to get back…you’ll kill yourself doing it…you know it. Just do it.
Result – I left my desk and changed into gym clothes. I was tired. I walked to the gym and started my abdominal routine, went through the upper-body weight routine, and then finished up with 30 minutes on the stationary bike while reading a book. I’m not tired anymore. I’m not even hungry but I know my body needs some carbs and protein so I feed it. I will finish the work week on Friday with a morning trail run and a yoga session in the afternoon; that always makes me feel better. The hard work will be done except for an 18-mile long run on Saturday.
Go ahead, talk to yourself, work it out, rattle the noggin' and get in gear.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Occasionally I get asked why I wear my hat on backwards. It makes me wonder why anyone would bother to ask. My usual response is, “I like it that way…shit…I don’t know” Today on my daily run around the military post I waved at a couple of soldiers sitting under a ramada smoking cigarettes. They waved back. They see me run by every day. Being an officer in the U.S. Army it might come across to them as out of uniform to be strutting around in non-Army running shorts with my hat on backwards looking unprofessional. So it occurred to me that maybe I should come up with a good response for the next time someone inquires:
“Why do you wear your hat on backwards?”
“Because I can;
Because I’m a punk;
Because I’m an asshole;
Because I’ve earned the right;
Because I’m fast and I don’t want the wind blowing it off;
Because I’ve been wearing it this way since high school.”
“Aren’t you in your mid-40’s? Are you trying to make some kind of statement?”
“No, not a statement, a representation.
It represents my disrespect for authority;
It represents my disdain for society's opinion;
It represents the fire in my soul;
It represents the dust trail left in my wake;
It represents the sun at first light of day;
It represents my fatigue and determination;
It represents my eternal spiritual youth.”
“What do you mean by your eternal youth? Are you trying to deny your age?”
"Not at all..."
“Wearing it reminds me of stealing apples from a farmer's tree on cross country training runs;
It reminds me of jumping into the river from the top of the train bridge;
It reminds me of running through cornfields hiding from the cops after curfew;
It reminds me of rebelling against my parents;
It reminds me of unbridled enthusiasm and untiring summer days off from school;
It reminds me of staying out all night and then doing it again the next night;
It reminds me that I don’t have to grow up if I don’t want to.”
“So why do you really wear your hat on backwards?’
“Because I can.”