Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Zion 100K - an actual race that happened

Early in the Covid Days, most everything got cancelled.  Especially races, which are large gatherings where people tend to breathe a lot.  I was supposed to run the Zion 100K on my birthday in April, but instead we hunkered in Austin for an extra month and a half.  And then spent the summer racing virtually across Tennessee.  Which was great motivation for getting in a bunch of miles, but did nothing for my quest of finishing a Western States qualifying race this year.

It is rather miraculous that the postponed edition of the Zion 100K actually happened AND that we're parked just up the road in Beaver AND that I just happened to hear about it (since I'd cancelled my entry, didn't follow up on the postponement, and wasn't looking particularly hard for races that probably weren't going on).

As soon as I caught wind of it, I grabbed my phone and signed up.  John was more than happy to spend a day in the Zion area.  We drove down Friday afternoon, rolled through the drive-through packet pickup (nice!), and slept in the truck at a dispersed spot just up the road from Virgin.  Super easy.

Geared up and ready to roll:

Even easier was the start.  We had a half-hour window to cross the timing mat, and the race was chip-timed so we would get our individual total time at the end.  Zero stress as I finished slathering on the sunscreen, watched a group of people take off at 5:30 am, used the porta-potty, and ambled across the mat a few minutes later.  I'm now a huge fan of this method of starting a race!

John took a very-brief video of my relaxed race start:

The first several miles in the darkness were very nice.  All morning, actually, was very nice.  I caught up with a few people here and there, chatted a little bit, and agreed with one guy who said something like, "I'm so grateful to be here!  I plan to remember that later this afternoon and still be grateful!"

Me too, all-around grateful.

The only big climb came at about 5 miles in, up to the mesa we'd be exploring for most of the day.  It was a steep, steep trail and all the tidbits of talk I heard revolved around wondering how hard it was going to be to get back down later.  There was a bit of a conga line near the top but no big deal.  Compared to previous iterations of this race, when this climb came later in the day, getting it out of the way early was a piece of cake.

A quick pause to grab my drop bag for a minute, and I was off and running down the road.  These next miles felt great.  I suspected I might regret it if I ran too hard, but I also was enjoying the cool temperature and easy surface so I tried to keep it smooth but didn't rein myself in too much.

Beautiful views!  We could see over to the National Park and it was awesome.  Here's where I'd love to share the scenery with you, but this ain't an FKT run and I wasn't carrying a camera.  Go see Zion if you haven't already (or even if you have).

The sun popped out and I figured it would get hot soon.  But not yet.  The first loop around Wire Mesa on bike trails was great fun.  More views.  A couple guys on bikes who chatted with us.  Trekking along the edge of the mesa for smile-inducing glimpses of the valley below.  Lots of winding around, seeing places we were about to be, and then seeing them again later after we were somewhere else.

That was the farthest-away section.  After each "mesa" we came partway back on the dirt road.  Grafton Mesa was next, another good bit of singletrack.  This one had more elevation change, a drop to the end with another awesome view of Zion, then a climbing, winding return to the aid station.

I saw a few other women off and on, and it was pretty easy to keep my "competition brain" in check.  That part of me definitely still exists!  It was ready to go if I wanted to push.  But I knew the heat was coming, there was zero reason to try to outrun someone, and I had one goal = 19 hours to qualify for Western States.  So I tried to maintain a respectable pace and most of all not dawdle in the aid stations.

The aid stations were great, with more options than I had expected.  They had advertised only packaged food, but they had fruit, wraps, even avocado pieces - yum!  The water jugs were plumbed to a long pipe with 4 spigots that flowed plenty of water at once (and John told me I missed the foot pump option?!), super easy.  Volunteers all wore masks and stayed behind the tables.  Good shade and wind and benches for working with drop bags.

The 6 mile road run back to Goosebump was less than fun.  Partly from the kicked-up dust with every passing truck - I was glad I had a wet buff around my neck to put over my mouth/nose to breathe through.  And the sun.  The bike trails all had partial shade from small trees, but the road was just warm.  Still not super hot yet though, thankfully.

I think the biggest thing is that I'm well trained for a 50K.  Not running (and especially not racing) anything much longer this year means that I'm very much not-trained for anything beyond that distance.  First half was easy.  Second half was about to get hard.

Time to call upon previous experience to figure out how to keep moving, through the next aid station and onto the long 12+ mile loop in the heat of the afternoon.  Ice for my bottle?  Check.  Electrolytes?  Yep.  Plenty of liquid?  I hope so.  Watermelon and little pickles?  Yes please!

That all still wasn't enough to keep my shins from wanting to cramp.  Yikes, that hasn't happened in a while.  Good thing I've got plenty of spare time, and I had already planned to slow down at this point.  I sat for a couple minutes, swallowed a salt tablet, and then carefully proceeded.

The challenge was all the slickrock bumps and valleys.  I love running on slickrock, it's really fun following paint marks on the rock through the interesting shapes and slopes.  Walking on slickrock with delicate shins, not so much fun.  It took some care.

Next strategy was iPod.  Perfect answer to a long afternoon of "just keeping moving".  Podcasts are awesome.  Call it distraction, call it keeping myself entertained, whatever.  The Fastest Known Podcast and Wait Wait accompanied me through the interesting geology.

Eventually I made it to the far end of the mesa, with a wonderful view down to the road that goes to the North Rim.  I waved at whoever might happen to be looking up at that moment.

My shins improved.  I could run a little.  Now to try to find the water station.  Everything I knew about mileages and the map and split times made me realize I would need to be patient - and stretch the water in my bottle as long as I could.  I had swallowed enough Spiz and Drip Drop early in the loop that I knew I would be fine for quite some time, it was more about nursing the last drops in my bottle so I could keep my mouth from getting too dry.

Still, it would be nice if somehow this water stop could happen a couple miles earlier.  It turned out to be a miniature water tank, maybe 7-8 feet tall, with a large drum of water and a bunch of spigots around the outside.  Interesting!  I have no idea how they even got it to this spot.

Plenty of water now, another serving of Spiz and electrolytes, moving better; it was just about heat management at this point.  Which I'm familiar with, recognizing that part of it is psychological (as long as you physically don't push too hard).  Between the walking and the podcasts and more slickrock rocks to figure out, I was doing OK.

Even running some here and there, starting to gear back up a bit.

Back at the Goosebump aid station - more ice, yay!  I picked up my lights, rearranged my pack, even got some ginger ale which I normally consider fairly awful.  The chilly-cold soda was so good.  Several guys were sitting contemplating their feet and I think a couple may have dropped here.

Well, time to see what that steep drop was like!  It turned out not too bad.  Steep yes, but not as slick as it looked.  I picked my way down, happy to have plenty of time and zero reason to try to go faster.

I expected it to be hotter at the bottom, but was happy to see sections of shade here and there.  These next miles were long and filled with many, many ups and downs and turns and wondering where we were wandering off to.  This is the reason I look for race reports to read beforehand, because knowing that this section was challenging was helpful for being patient.

I ran when I could, tried to walk a bit faster otherwise.  The sun was slowly dropping toward the hazy horizon (smoke from CA fires) and I was again grateful - this time for the relatively clean air we'd been running in all day.  More beautiful views and appreciation for this place.

After some undefined amount of time, the next aid station just popped up out of nowhere.  And there was John, yay John!  He was ready to accompany me most of the way to the end.  Awesome.  He helped with my drop bag and bottles, then we were off onto the bike trail that led toward the river.

It was great running and chatting with my husband, telling him about all the great things I'd been listening to (Solvable, Mothers of Invention).  He relayed that today was free National Parks day, so there were a ton of people at the park and he didn't want to get too much in the crowds.  Still, he had enjoyed a leisurely day of looking at scenery.

It finally got dark and we dug out the lights.  The trail weaved around along the rim of the river, that was neat to check out beside us.  Eventually we got to another water tank, where John had parked the truck.  I continued on foot while he drove the truck the couple of miles to the finish.

John's view of the finish line earlier when it wasn't dark out:

A ghost town kind of thing?

Neat photo of runners finishing well before me, the last mile along the road with the mesa on the horizon:

John's view of the mesa, and our trail is faintly visible (with zooming and knowing where to look):

Just a couple straightforward miles on roads (happily it was well less than the 4 miles that the splits suggest), with John coming out to meet me right at the end.  Such a sweetheart!

He also took a little video of my race finish:

I didn't take a finisher medal (travel trailer living means being selective about what you hoard) but John was happy to take this photo for me instead:

So happy to run a race for once, happy for the excellent and beautiful course, happy to finish it, happy to be done in plenty of time and not have to push at the end.  Thank you, Vacation Races!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Grand Canyon - North Rim

We're in southwest Utah where John has started a project installing solar on a huge utility-scale solar farm (over a mile per side!)  He had a couple extra days off for Labor Day weekend and suggested we might drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon?  I love the big ditch, and especially loved the idea of going up to 8000' elevation during a heat wave.  Let's go!

Our first morning, catching sunrise from Bright Angel Point, ah yes, always amazing.  And from a new vantage point for us:

Sort of including the moon in the shot:

Looking down into the Transept valley, with the North Kaibab reentrant on the left, and the main part of the canyon toward the back:

I had no idea there is such a neat little trail here, including a walkway across a very narrow ridge:

John and I had been to the north rim previously on several occasions, but almost all of them had involved a rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) run and none had involved taking the time or energy to explore.  We were excited to take a day just to drive around, do some short hikes, and see everything for the first time.

You can imagine how we giggled when we saw the warning sign - "Under no circumstances..." - and repeated that phrase often during the weekend:

Our comfortable sleeping quarters in the back of the truck, plus a new "kitchen" setup that John created for cooking breakfast oatmeal:

As expected, the North Rim lodge is as impressive as other National Park lodges, although this one is temporarily limiting which areas we can visit (to keep indoor traffic down).  We did get to see into the dining room to glimpse the masked burro, old photos, and interesting sculpture - I love it:

Wow, now this dining area view beats anything I've seen on the south rim, as far as I recall.  We should eat here sometime.

Awesome scenery from a little outdoor outcove tucked away under the building (just keep following paths and stairs around until you find it):

One of several overlooks within walking distance from the lodge (and the nearby cabins look like wonderful, peaceful places to stay overnight):

We took a walk on the Transept trail to get a better view into this colorful side trench:

The other thing we've never done on the north rim is drive out to the overlooks to the east.  Even though it was a holiday weekend, there still weren't too many people around.

Views across the river to the plains beyond, at Point Imperial:

Mount Hayden - and every once in a while I have the thought, "good thing that's not a state highpoint":

Down at Cape Royal, we found a "wedding chapel" which would be an absolutely stunning place to get married.  Love you, John!

My favorite spot was the Angels Window, first the view from the side:

Zoomed in so you can see the Colorado River through the window, plus the people on top of it!  So cool.  Of course we walked out there too.

We boondocked in the National Forest every night, and I had a bead on a spot at a "rim".  Totally worth the 5-mile drive up a slightly-bumpy/dusty gravel road, hoping we could find an open place amid all the other campers with the same idea.  Got lucky with a pull-off, complete with a lovely view down to the next "platform".  I have no idea what's up with those humps of rocks:

Trying to get a picture of Tug and the view, but I think we would need a camera mounted on a drone to capture it:

The next day we decided to hike down the hill a ways.  Not to the bottom (because, "Under no circumstances" and also because, 100+ degrees F), but we were each aiming for the Manzanita rest area/water fountain.

John trekking toward the Old Bright Angel trail at dawn:

He took some pictures of his adventure, which involved a lot of route finding and bushwhacking.  For example, this is (or used to be) the trail:

This too:

He eventually made it to the confluence and the red rocks near Roaring Springs, then crossed to the North Kaibab trail to ascend.

Meanwhile... (quarantine-while!)

I stuck to the more-travelled route and ran down and up on North Kaibab.  It was nice doing a leisurely hike down for once.

Especially since it was already getting warm in the sunnier spots.  The first overlook was still in the shade the first time I came through:

In the middle of the Supergroup rocks, a large layer that tends to be easier to move through than the steeper cliffs of the Kaibab limestone and the Redwall:

Except that the daily mule rides have ground the dirt up into fine sand, so there's a couple miles of soft trail at the top:

The tunnel is so cool:

The trail switchbacking below:

I remember the traverse along the Redwall as being a bit more harrowing the last time I was here (10 years ago) but didn't have any psychological issues with it this time.  I don't believe I've gotten any braver, so I'm guessing there has been some trail work done since then.  There's still the drop-off of course, but the trail is plenty wide and flat.  Very nice.

I can't remember if I knew this once or not, but Roaring Springs is a creek that just comes right out the side of the hill.  Quite a lot of water appears out of nowhere and drops down over pretty waterfalls.  Wow.  I think a lot of the drinking water in the whole area gets piped from this springs (hard to see, so you should go check it out for yourself when you get a chance - just remember, "Under no circumstances..."):

Something we haven't seen in a while:

I enjoyed my climb back up, admiring the rocks across the way:

It was a bit warm on the ascent, but at least we're pretty well heat-acclimated after Moab.

Super fun weekend, thanks for the great idea, John!

And one more fun sighting along the way - we almost did something like this, but elected to keep our trailer and wait for a Rivian electric truck instead.  Nice to see a proof of concept:

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Moab part 2 - trekking and rafting

Greetings from...

John was still away on his rafting class (despite the above photo suggesting otherwise), so I busied myself with more early-morning trekking/running.  We'd previously been to the Amasa Back trail area but I could only remember that we liked it.  Should be a good place to go explore more.

I started up the dirt road, pausing to check out the Birthing Panel with interesting rock art:

Someone adjusted the % grade number - the road does not really drop quite that precipitously:

A closer look - the truck appears to be carrying COVID, with the captions "mask up or belly up!" and "wealth before health":

A beautiful amphitheater of red rocks along Hunter Canyon:

Over onto bike trails, another funny sign:

These trails are wonderful for running (and I'm sure real mountain bikers enjoy them too), fun curves and dips, along with great views:

This might be Whale Rock, although from this angle it reminds me more of a many-humped camel:

The view of the Colorado River, with some haze from Colorado fires:

Now for a different perspective - some pictures from John's rafting class.  They put in at the Potash area where the water starts out calm:

Camp setup on a nice-looking beach, with colorful umbrellas for shade:

Petrified wood, always a curiosity:

Physical distancing (one of several protocols put in place to make this trip happen successfully):

Rafts loaded up and ready to set off for the day:

It must have been awesome to float through Canyonlands:

View of the river from one of John's hikes:

Rafting training in a gorgeous setting, called the Dollhouse:

Getting into some easy rapids, working on steering (John is on the back of the raft taking a picture of a classmate, with their instructor up front):

John's turn - with a little video, cool!

Another amazing view of the canyon:

John took several pictures of rocks so the class geologist could explain them - these are apparently concretions:

One of the more-rocky rapids, which the guides probably handled themselves:

Enjoying a relaxing float:

What the heck?  Human-made or natural?  Even the resident geologist could not come up with an explanation.  If you have any ideas, please let us know!

Red rock towers:

There's no limit to the beautiful scenery and views, especially when John is motivated to hike uphill:

Geology rocks!

Native American granary in the cliff:

And... the voyage is coming to an end, with the sight of the first bridge since Moab:

Back in civilization, John debated taking his bike out on the slickrock trails; I was interested in running the loop and John ended up doing some hiking around/through the area to explore instead of biking.  What a great place to run!

We started out in the nice cool hour right about dawn.  The bike path across the rocks:

It took me a bit to get accustomed to it all - the slopes, following the white dashes around, watching out for bikes.  But then I got the hang of it.  I started running off to the side and aiming for sections of rock near (but not on) the bike route, and that was a lot of fun.  I could bounce off features and take lines that bikes normally wouldn't do.  Plenty of views off to the side to gawk at.  And I wouldn't have to worry about a bike coming up behind me unexpectedly.

I love the scenery (even though the horizon is hazy from wildfire smoke):

Great views down into the nearby canyon:

Yep, it's a nice overlook!

John and I both took a picture of sunrise through smoky haze; at least it was a bit cooler without such direct sunlight on the open plateau:

Hey, there's John!  Barely visible as he walks up a wash:

Another funny sign:

One of several bikers I saw that morning:

Apparently this is the universal symbol for "cliff":

Shrimp Rock:

Fuzzy vegetation:

A view of our campground where Howie was waiting, with Arches on the horizon (barely visible):

More swoopy, fun "trail":

Overlooking Moab and the portal beyond, where the Colorado River heads southwest:

An excellent morning, and we'd love to return and run/hike in that area again sometime.

One last hike before we go, up Bill's Canyon to find a natural bridge:

It's about impossible to capture this on camera, but it sure is an amazing rock structure:

Admiring the scenery - hope we get to come back again soon!  Thank you Moab!