Friday, July 10, 2009

Rawlins, WY

After you get out of beautiful western Wyoming with Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, there is a whole lot of nothing. I did not have it in my mind to spend the last night in iRV at a treeless KOA in Rawlins, Wyoming, but thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction in western Wyoming that is what happened. I will admit that the nothingness in Wyoming has its own beauty. After standing in the KOA and finding the largest hill within short running distance, I mapped out a rough way to get there in my mind, set my alarm for 5:30am and went to bed.

I set out just after sunrise for a hill that had all kinds of telecommunications radios on it. I couldn’t find a path right away and ended up running through the low scrubby grasses and bushes that entirely populate Wyoming. Soon I connected with the path to the top. There were some steep sections, and after being at sea level for most of the previous week, I noticed the 6800 foot elevation. I got to the top and was rewarded with a nice view of the State Pen just outside of town. The typical Wyoming rolling hills and a few antelope were also part of the scenery. I ran back down, Faith and I packed up iRV, and we were on our way by 7:15am. It was a nice 6-miler to start the day and a beautiful morning.


As soon as we checked into the campground I went to the info center to inquire about running trails. Before getting there, I noticed warning signs everywhere about bears and even more signs about buffalo. I talked to the first ranger, and she said that if I enjoy running in meadows, there were some good trails nearby. Then she considered what she had just said and added something to the effect that there was a decent chance I might be pursued by something because I would look like running prey. Nice. She said that one buffalo a few weeks earlier had tried to gore a woman in a phone booth. She added that some runners get attacked every year. Nice. She said that she had been charged recently by a bear. Apparently all of the rangers are required to carry bear spray.

She then called in another ranger who she said was a runner. He said that a lot of the rangers don’t get as much exercise outside because of the dangers of being in bear and buffalo country. He said I might be okay close to the canyon because there were fewer bears and buffalo there. We kind of mapped out a route and I went to bed that night thinking I would get up early and put in 10 miles or so in the canyon area. As I went to bed, my spouse mentioned something to the effect that she was not wild about me being gored by a buffalo. I must admit that I am not wild about the idea either. When my alarm went off at 5:45am, I turned it off and went back to sleep. Yes, I wimped out in the face of possible de-bowelling by a bear or goring by a buffalo. I still feel bad about it. It would have been a good run. I know that because we hiked around the canyon later that morning and it was cool. Next time I come west, I will buy bear spray.

Glacier National Park

I was originally kind of excited about the prospects of running at Glacier National Park. I heard there were great trails to be run. My anticipation was quickly tempered after our arrival. I knew Glacier was bear country and was already a bit apprehensive about running there. When we checked into our campground, my fears were magnified by the ranger. She said there had been bear and cougars near the campground lately. I asked her about running and she looked at me like she didn’t approve of the idea. She asked me if I had bear spray. When I replied that I did not, she said that I could pick some up at the camp store. When I went to the camp store, I found out that the cost of their bear spray (basically strong pepper spray) was $49.99. After considering this, I decided to not buy it. I did, however, find a bell that I could attach to my shoe for $4.99. I bought the bell. I guess that indicates that I place the value of my life somewhere between $4.99 and $49.99.

When we got into our campground, I discovered that our particular campground really didn’t have any trails very close to it (we were on the west end of McDonald Lake, which is one of the lower spots in Glacier). I wasn’t sure when I was going to run or where. The next morning we got up early to get to Logan Pass so we could do some hiking up there. There are really some great hikes available up that way and I would love to do some running up there, but I didn’t have the time this trip. We got back to the campground sometime after 6pm and I decided to chance a short run.

I attached the bell to my shoe and set out. People in the campground looked at me kind of strangely as I went by and dogs all over the campground went crazy when they heard my jingle. I pressed on. I did find a short trail about ¾ mile from the campground and, after running it once and not seeing bears, decided to run it again and hope my luck held. Part of it went through a burnt-out part of the forest and every black stump looked like a bear. I decided to break off on a side trail but shortly discovered a pile of poop in the trail. The recommendation from all the park literature said to turn back if you find fresh bear feces so I looked at it closely. I was 95% sure it was horse crap but decided I didn’t want to stake my life on my poop-reading ability so I turned around. My run ended up being 5 miles and I encountered no animals but deer and squirrels. The bell made me feel a little safer, but only a little.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Washington to Montana

I did an 8-miler this morning that wasn’t supposed to be that long. I started out trying to find a route around the lake we were camping beside. I did find some roads and trails that made their way around it. I got out about 3 miles, where I was planning on turning around, and saw what I thought were some trails on the mountain that I was near. I was lured and decided to try to run up it and found a road that started up it. Before long, however, it dead-ended and I decided I did not have the time to try to summit this mountain so I found a different way down the mountain and ran back to camp.

Yesterday, I did 5 miles from the rest stop that we were at on the eastern side of Steven’s Pass in central Washington. It was a nice out and back with the snow-capped mountains in the background. Part of it was on an abandoned road and part of it was on Route 2.

The best run in the last few days was three days ago around Crescent Lake in the northern part of the Olympic peninsula in Washington. This was a beautiful lake, amazingly clear, crammed in between some sizable mountains. I had scoped out a trail that followed the edge of the lake, and decided not to try to run up any of the mountains to give my ailing posterial tibial tendon a break. I think I ended up getting 7 miles in on a mostly flat single-track trail. It was a perfect morning to run. I did have to leap over one snake that I didn’t see until I was in mid-stride.

Now, on to Glacier National Park and whatever possibilities that provides.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cape Lookout State Park, OR

Well, today I learned of another thing that I have to fear when I go for a run by myself in the woods. I've mentioned some of the rest of the list before:

1. Bear Attack
2. Big Cat (i.e. Mountain Lion, Cougar, or Bobcat) Attack
3. Simultaneous Bear and Big Cat attack
4. Tripping and falling over the edge of a cliff
5. Being head-butted over the edge of a chasm/abyss by a Bighorn Sheep
6. Broken Ankle
7. Torn Ligament
8. Venomous Snake Attack
9. Amorous Elk Attack

...and now, after this morning's run...

10. Escaped convicts with large weed whackers attack

This morning I was thinking of just running along the beach. But after pulling into this state park and looking at the terrain, the mountains beckoned. I figured I could finish on the beach. I started up a trail towards the lookout on Cape Lookout, about 5 miles one way. It was a nice trail through the forest that rose up to a great spot with a great view of the ocean, the beach and the birds below. On my way back, I started hearing loud noises and soon caught from behind a group of about 8 guys with large weed wackers and "Inmate" written on their t-shirts. It was difficult to get by them because I approached from behind and they couldn't hear me. I was just hoping that their release from prison was imminent and they had no reason to go crazy with the weed whacker.

I did get by them and continued down the trail and finished up with a couple miles on the beach for a total of 12 miles. Did I mention how much I love Oregon beaches instead of New Jersey beaches? There are not many people, rocks and cliffs, and lots of beach.

Wow, looking at my list above, I seem kind of paranoid. The runs are really great in spite of an occasional paranoid thought. Fears must be conquered, lest we become a quivering mess.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Del Norte Redwoods Coast State Park, CA

Yesterday was the last day of my Masters Program and I can now be unencumbered by the thought process. I took my last finals near Hoover Dam last week, handed in the final copy of my 90 page research paper, and handed in the PowerPoint presentation I had to make about my paper. Yippee! It was only a year-and-a-half but it is nice to finally be done.

I went for a run in the park this morning, about 6 miles. It was very nice running under the canopy of the Redwoods. This forest had been clearcut probably about 100 years ago so there aren't many old Redwoods. There are a lot of really big stumps, however. As I was running, I noticed that most of the old stumps had produced a bunch of young Redwoods that were growing up from their roots, sometimes more than a dozen young trees growing around one stump. It occurred to me that it looked like a group of young gathered around a grandparent or parent's grave, drawing strength and inspiration from those that had gone before them. It was a nice run and no bears or mountain lions.

Bodega Bay, CA

These are the kind of beaches that I like: hard to get to, rocky and not many people around. I went out for a run this morning that I thought wasn’t going to be very special, but it turned into a really nice 6-miler. Our campsite was on the bay but I knew that it wasn’t too far over the hill to the ocean. I ran over the hill and followed a single track path that went along the top of a cliff above the ocean. The air was cool and the wind off the ocean was refreshing. There were a number of wildflowers blooming and the plants were quite interesting. There were excellent views of the ocean crashing into the rocks below. While running, I spotted a path down the cliffs to a secluded beach below that the whole family would hike later. I have come to enjoy not knowing exactly where I’m going when I start on a run and then just improvising as the spirit moves. Sometimes I have to backtrack when a trail dead ends, but that is okay.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kings Canyon, CA

This is definitely the nicest campground we have been in yet. There is something about the tall trees that is cool and the campground is not crowded. I’ve got to learn, however, to read trail maps better. I went out for what I thought would be a relatively easy 9 mile run just before 7am. My first problem was that I couldn’t find the trail head, so I just kept running and looking for it and eventually found where I expected to finish, and figured I’d do it backwards.

I was a little spooked after seeing the two grizzly bears on the hike the day before and was concerned about being eaten before I was fully ripe (okay, maybe I’m already past ripe). I started out on the trail and decided to sing grizzly love songs so that they could hear me coming and know my intentions were peaceful. I didn’t want to surprise anyone. I soon added cougars to the song, as I heard they also roamed the mountains. The song said something about loving all creatures, although I did admit that squirrels were an exception, but I didn’t think they liked squirrels either. I kept singing for maybe a mile, but then the ascent turned punishing and I was forced to stop singing and just huff and puff. I hoped they would hear my huffing and puffing and be forewarned of my arrival.

It was a tough go until I got to the top of the mountain, but as always out here, well worth it. The reward was great views of the canyon and nearby valley and relatively flat running on top. I could once again resume by bear/cougar love songs. I did see, however, numerous places where people had piled stones on top of each other and figured that they must be memorials to people who died of simultaneous bear/cougar attacks and were ripped to shreds. I added to my song that I did not want to be a Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” story.

After running around the top of the mountain a little, I had a nice descent amongst the large Sequoia trees and made it back without seeing any wild life but birds and squirrels. The run was 10 miles and took longer than I expected, but I wasn’t expecting quite that much of an ascent.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

I may turn into a trail runner yet. I had never done much trail running before, preferring to stay on dirt mountain roads and not venturing to run on rougher stuff. But so far, I have had one great trail run after another out here. Today I ran the two miles from our campground to the Bright Angel trailhead with a bottle of G2 in each hand and a small fanny pack with my camera and two strawberry Nutrigrain bars in it, starting at about 6:20am, and plunged down the trail. I had a little fear and trepidation, as I knew the trail was narrow and probably technical (lots of rocks and logs to dodge). A broken ankle, torn Achilles, or small trip could be disastrous.

Because of this, my pace was slow but steady. The early morning light in the canyon was very nice. I had shade much of the way down. I passed some campers coming up the mountain and a few early risers going down. After the first mile or two, there was no one else going down.

I was enjoying the run, even though it took a lot of concentration and looking down at my feet. Suddenly I turned the corner and stopped short. There, about 10 yards in front of me in the middle of the trail, was a bighorn sheep (see picture at left) with huge horns. He just stood there and stared at me. I didn’t move and looked back, hoping he would trot away. After that didn’t happen right away, I started talking to him. “Hey sheepy, just trot on down the mountain, I would like to keep running,” and so on. I was apparently not convincing him to move, however. I kept talking and he just kept looking at me for more than a minute. I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I bent over and picked up a rock, in case I needed it for self-defense. As soon as I did that, he moved to the side of the trail and started eating some leaves or a shrub or something. His butt, however, was still on the trail and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pass that close to him. After a few seconds, he turned and looked at me again, and then started trotting towards me on the cliff side of the trail. I was happy to say on the inside of the trail, but unsure what his motivation was. I gripped the rock tightly and just watched him. He just trotted past me, on the edge of the precipice. I could have reached out and touched him. He kept trotting and I was more than happy to continue running.

I finally reached the bottom of the canyon (4.6 miles from the top, 6.6 from the campground). There is a nice little campground at the bottom that is near the source of a creek so it is very green and shady. I took a quick break to talk to a man about a horse and then had to make a decision as to what to do next. It was 1.5 miles to the edge of the Colorado River gorge, 3 miles to the actual river, or 4.6 miles straight back up. I decided I didn’t have time to do the river, but felt well enough and had enough time to get to the gorge.

It was a nice run across the floor of the canyon to the gorge. It was hot and basically desert, but early enough in the morning that it was okay. The view overlooking the gorge, Plateau Point, was gorgeous, and the first time that I had actually seen the river in the canyon. I had a drink, a Nutrigrain bar, looked at my GPS (8.09 miles), took a few pictures, and then headed back.

The way up was hard. I started running and tried to hold that as long as I could. I have to put quotes around “running” because it was quite slow but could marginally be considered running. It was getting hotter but I struggled on. Eventually, I did have to resort to walking, and would try to run when I had shade. About a mile from the top, I sat down for a few minutes in the shade and had my second Nutrigrain bar. This provided the needed boost for me to summit the trail. It had been hard and I took a few walk breaks on the two miles back to the campground.

I got back to the campground, asked the kids to bring me a Mountain Dew, and sat down exhausted at the picnic table. I looked at my shoes and discovered that I had carried out a significant portion of the canyon with me on my shoes and legs. Somehow that made the journey more satisfying. It was definitely worth it and I would do it again in an instant. Having said that, I will probably be feeling it for a few days.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Denver to Grand Canyon

I have discovered that running has taken on new meaning for me on this trip. Rather than running to stay in shape or to train for a race, I am running to explore. I carry my camera and make stops to snap photos. It has been a great thing and has allowed me to see some magnificent sights that I would otherwise not have gotten to see. Unfortunately, this usually involves getting up at 5:30 or 6:00am in order to take the least amount of time away from the rest of my family as possible. I have always been an evening runner at home. I have found, however, that I do really enjoy the early morning when the day is new and there aren’t a lot of people around.

On Friday, our last day in Denver, I went to Cherry Creek State Park just south of Denver and ran 6 miles. As runs go, it was nice, but nothing compared to what I had done the last few days. Saturday morning, at a rest stop south of Colorado Springs, I ran 4 miles on a road that ran along the interstate. This was high desert country and there just wasn’t much around.

Saturday evening we arrived in Mesa Verde and set up camp for the first night in an actual park. We bought tickets to tour the Cliff Palace cliff dwellings at 9am the next morning so I was going to have to finish my run by shortly after 7am. There were two trails that looked interesting and I thought I might have time to do both if I was gone by 6am. The first trail was Point Lookout Trail which climbed over a mile to the top of the big mesa you see when you enter the park. It was only about 600 feet of climbing but the view from the top was incredible. On the way up I was singing out loud so as not to surprise any bears. I just made up miscellaneous bear songs as I went. This mesa is the highest thing around and gives you a great view of the surrounding valley and the park entrance. It was a rush to stand on the top of that thing. I enjoyed it a little bit and then ran back down. I then went out on the Knife Edge Trail, which is about a mile out along the side of the one mesa and also had a nice view of the valley.

This morning, at the Grand Canyon, we hiked to Cedar Ridge, about 3 miles round trip, on the South Kaibab trail. It was a nice hike and the kids enjoyed it and climbed back up like it was nothing. I went out for a 4 mile run in the afternoon along the Canyon Rim Trail. The views are just spectacular. Tomorrow, I think I may try running part way down the Bright Angel trail.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marble, CO

On Tuesday, I went for a seven mile run, which consisted of running up a mountain with 1000 foot of ascent and back down. The town of Marble, where our cabin is, is situated at 7950 foot elevation and everything goes up from there. The views are quite spectacular all around. This run was just on a dirt road up to a lodge.

The real fun/craziness was on Wednesday. My friend Dean and I decided to make the trip around Lead King Basin, through the town of Crystal (which we hiked to on Tuesday), and back to Marble. He had done it once before and described it to me and it sounded doable as a run. He was going to take his mountain bike and I was going to run. We figured I would pass him going uphill and he would pass me going downhill. We originally thought the whole route was around 13 miles (information on this route was somewhat sketchy) but as we researched it a little more it seemed like it would be closer to 15.

We took off at 6am from Marble. I quickly passed him on the first ascent as he had to get off the bike and walk due to traction issues. I "ran" the first mile and three quarter (it was steep so "run" is a generous word) but started walking after that, as the trail kept going relentlessly up. I soon came to a raging stream with no bridge and no readily apparent way to cross it. It was too deep and fast to wade through. I found a dead tree across the water just downstream and considered trying to cross on it. The stream was about 8 feet wide at this point. It was here that I started to debate with myself the wisdom of this trek. Dean had not caught up to me at this point and I didn't see how he was going to get his bike across. If I slipped off the log on my way across I could be toast. I really wanted to see Lead King Basin, supposedly one of the prettiest spots in Colorado, so I decided to cross the log and go on by myself. I successfully crossed and hoped Dean would just turn around and go back and not try to do something foolish with his bike.

As I continued on, the road just went relentlessly upward. I was walking almost the whole time. There were now piles of snow beside the roadway, and soon on the roadway, that I had to cross. I now realized that this road was not navigable by anything but by foot, and if I had a problem no one would find me until July when the road would be navigable by vehicle. I was hoping that Dean hadn't gotten swept downstream. After 4.75 miles of relentless climbing and treading over snowdrifts that were over two feet deep (fortunately it was hard packed snow and I stayed on top), I decided I had to decide about whether it was worth going on. I had been going up switchbacks and it seemed like I was getting near the top. I decided if I had to do one more switchback I would turn around. Also, if I wasn't at the top in the next quarter mile, I would turn around. Well, there were no more switchbacks and after a quarter mile I seemed to be really close to the top so I continued on.

At 5.5 miles and 10,916 feet, I finally reached the top and got my first views of the basin. Spectacular! I took a few pictures and decided I should turn around. I knew what was behind me and that it was all downhill and it was shorter than going on. I also figured that I might run into Dean, if he was fool enough to still be walking his bike up the mountain, and convince him to turn around because the whole endeavor was too ridiculous. I started running down the mountain and after only 3/4 mile, there was Dean, walking his bike up the mountain. We decided to attempt the whole original route rather than just going back down the mountain. We made it back to the top and started down the basin.

The views got even more spectacular after we rounded a corner into the main portion of the basin. It was so lush and green with cascading streams and waterfalls, while being surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks. The run down was great. We did have to cross some streams at a few points, and I did end up getting both feet soaked in the process, but I didn't care at that point. The descent did get very technical, but we finally made it into the town of Crystal. From there, we knew the way back to Marble. We arrived back, tired, but satisfied and not dead.

I learned a few lessons from the trip:
1. Dean has a bad memory.
2. The Lead King Basin circuit is over 16 miles, not 13.
3. Mountains are tall.
4. I would rather have company than be alone in the wilderness.
5. Colorado mountains are much cooler than Central PA mountains.
6. Scaling 3,000 feet in 5.5 miles is hard.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Glenwood Springs, CO

This morning I went out on the tamely named "Boy Scout Trail" and was brought to my knees by its soul crushing ascent. It was supposed to be a 2700 foot ascent in 3 miles but I don't think I made it to the top. The trail started to fork and I think I took the wrong one and eventually turned back and decided I didn't have time to try the other forks. It was a great run, in any event, with spectacular vistas. I thought I was a mountain runner until I went up this one, after which I discovered I was merely a hill runner.