With Robert consistently running for the last year or two, this felt like a great day to take the whole family out for a run. The event is free, donations for a good cause, and it is overall just a fun day. Damon brought his bike and rode around midtown, while Tripp, D, and I joined Robert in running a 5k.
In the cold before the race, I got to do a quick interview with a local radio station. The next day, I had an e-mail from a peer who heard my voice on the TV and turned around and took video, and another high school friend commented on it. My “I survived the TP crisis of 2020” Ugly Christmas Jumper was on full display, while I talked about bringing the family out for the run.
The lowlight of the day was coming back to our truck being keyed by an unhappy parking-neighbor. The highlight was enjoying a quick run out of Sutters Landing park, seeing a few TBF friends, and overall just having a fun holiday morning with the fam. 8:30s isn’t a great run pace, but I did get have a good time, and a 26:23 finish.
Given 2020, and the death of run events, a few companies started hosting virtual runs. One in particular has Harry Potter themed runs, and some amazing finisher medals, so I signed up for one for Tripp and I to do.
Tripp had never done a 10k before, so this was his first chance to try some distance running. He definitely didn’t start out at a 5k pace, which is great because I didn’t want him to gas out early. However, one thing all runners have to go through is learning how to fuel and run, and learning to push yourself during the ups and downs of each run. Being ten, and having done nothing longer than a 5k, that was a bit tougher than expected.
Gu, shot blocks, all the “gross” stuff we take for granted, Tripp was finally introduced to, and it did help us complete the whole 10k. We ran most, walked about five times, and finished. Our time wasn’t great, but for someone of his age, just finishing the run is a great accomplishment. So bibs and medals were definitely earned, and we have another set ready to go as soon as we’re ready.
Finish time: 1:14:27 Pace: 11:50 Total distance: 6.29mi
Five of us headed out to Loon Lake to take our first backpacking trip as an entire family (well, most of the family). Two new frame packs for the younger boys, one borrowed one for Jade, and D and my gear, and we headed out to Rubicon Reservoir.
Our original reservation was for a trip from Emerald Bay west into the Desolation Wilderness, but weather restrictions advised that only very advanced hikers take the trip, so I found a new destination to Rubicon. Our first stop at the parking lot was met with tons of Jeepers ready to take the Rubicon Trail, north of the lakes, but our path followed the south side of Loon Lake, Spider Lake, Buck Island, and Rockbound Lake, 9.5 miles to our reserved camping spot. For three members of our family, this was their first overnight hike. Damon was not excited, Jade was cautiously optimistic, Tripp was ecstatic, and D had been hoping to traverse the PCT or TRT for years. For me, I was looking forward to doing a great family-bonding item.
As would be expected with a whole family, there were tribulations across the 4+ hours of hiking. From the backpack tipping over our smallest member, to a plethora of bugs at the final resting spot, and disappointment in eating just “snacks” for two days, the overall experience was one that wasn’t too great “in the moment,” but as a parent of five kids, I know often that looking back at experiences like these have more fondness than the feelings “in the moment,” so I was hopeful that it would create lasting memories for the kids.
Tripp learned some important items during this hike, hopefully that will last. The first is, you may not know when you’re out of energy, but some food and some calories can reinvigorate you to keep going. Jade learned to persevere in a way different than the other trials she’s been through. Damon, while maybe the least enthusiastic about the hike overall, did come out with a desire to do it again, though maybe in a smaller chunk.
The views were pretty marvelous at times, and the areas we got to were peaceful, for the most part. It was quite interesting, seeing and hearing the Jeeps across the lake, navigating very technical four-wheel courses. But for us, it was lakes, trees, rocks, and trails. Stream crossings, small waterfalls, rock hopping, and tent setup were the key moments of the days. Four hours isn’t a super long time to hike, but for those that don’t do it regularly, especially with a heavy pack on your back, it can be quite the difficult adventure.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! But having done it once as a family, I’m not sure I can convince anyone else to go do it again. Hopefully we will, though.
A PW, a slow race, plenty of social time, and the time I deserved!
In the year prior to this half, I ran a total of less than 10 miles. That includes the two 5k races I did ahead of this half, including one the day before. So could I expect a good result? Definitely not. But perhaps, given that, finishing is its own success? If so, I’ve definitely lowered my expectations.
My splits for this race highlight a moderately slow start, and continued and consistent slowdown through the course of the race. I walked once at mile three, then by mile nine, was doing walking, then jogging, then walking, then jogging through to the end. I did meet up with a fellow slow runner at that point, and we spent most of the last hour chatting about racing, friends, etc. Just a nice “get to know you” and “encourage you along” chat to reach the finish line.
With absolutely no training, it’s about the best I can expect, so in a way, I’m happy I went forward and completed the run, but there’s nothing about this that says “I kickstarted back into running,” nor did it lead to a refresh of being a runner. It was just a nice day for a longer run, and a good excuse to get some miles in that I haven’t done in several years.
Unlike the CIM run, this time it was just Tripp and I heading out, so we chose to run together through the whole race. So when I was lagging, I got pulled by him, and when he needed some encouragement, I was able to push him along.
I’m no longer a consistent runner, so having someone to run a small race with is great, and signing up for this 5k with Tripp gave me motivation to register for the half marathon too (he’s too young to sign up for the half), even if I hadn’t planned to train for a run.
Now, getting a nine year old ready for a large scale race with an early start time? Let’s remember to bring warmer clothes next time, and a warm drink! Our final of a 26:15 was about a half a minute faster than our CIM run, so I’d definitely count this as a win for family time, and I’m pretty sure it’s a PR for an official race time for Tripp.
Deterding’s principal is an avid runner. Tripp’s teacher definitely encourages the kids to get out and run. So ahead of CIM, a group of students all decided to do the 5k fun run, and I decided to join them. Tripp did great, and stayed a corner or two ahead of me the entire run. That’s what happens when he runs regularly and I don’t. For me, it was no PR, with a 26:34, but it was a FUN run anyway, right?
Robert brought three geocaching friends, Vincent, and myself to Mt Whitney, for his third (I think) attempt at reaching the summit. The prior two were early morning, one-day attempts. This was going to be the first try at a base camp, overnight trip; the goal to have an overnight stop to acclimate to the altitude, and hopefully overcome some of the issues stopping the previous attempts.
Reserving a permit to climb the peak is difficult: you try and book across many days, and hope you get in on the lottery. Obviously, Robert was successful, and so we headed down to start the two day trek.
Planning for a Backpack Trip
Backpacking itself isn’t terribly complicated. Plan your calories, pack your gear, don’t get too heavy. The last backpacking trip I took, it was Death Valley, warm, dry, and so it was sleeping under the stars. Hiking Whitney is a different beast. The weather can turn, someone may not summit, and most importantly, you have to carry out all of your waste. And by that, I mean your poop. 160 people climb Whitney daily, and this is all rock. There’s no way to bury that waste. Some people stuff it in rock crevices, and it just sits, being gross. Part of the permit process is ensuring you have bear canisters for your food, and poop bags.
Each of us brought extra bags. We had our food. We had our tents. Robert, Vincent, and I had already done Beveridge, and this was simpler. Besides packing and planning, the only other item we planned was heading up the day before to acclimate to the beginning elevation, visiting the trail head, and just killing time before the start.
Morning, Day One
4:30am, we started our trek. Making our way from Whitney Portal out to the base of the trail is just a pleasant mountain hike. While not “easy,” there’s nothing about it more difficult than managing the weight of a pack, managing five people all hiking together, and just going. In all, the first day took us just over four hours, so it’s obvious how people can up-and-back in a day. However, our goal wasn’t to race, it was to hike, to camp, and to acclimate as much as we could, hoping that everyone would avoid altitude sickness.
Mt Whitney Trail Camp – High Camp
Arriving late morning, it was now time to hang out for 22 hours. We were not the only ones at camp, but it wasn’t horribly packed. While we spent time refilling water, eating lunch and dinner, setting up tents, and preparing for the next day, we also spent time chatting with others at camp.
One interesting group was a team who were studying the affects and causes of altitude sickness. They were camped and collecting volunteers to hit the clinic in town and look for a micro-hole in the heart, to determine if its a factor in who does and does not suffer (patent ductus arteriosus or atrial septal defect?)
As Vincent had suffered twice from altitude sickness on the previous two attempts, he expressed his willingness to participate in the study after the hike.
Evening – Day 1
As we approached evening, a few things happened. One, the weather began turning south (slightly). Two, we all began to get tired and prepared to sleep. And three, Vincent started feeling ill, headaches, weariness, slight nausea. This wasn’t good news for summiting the next day. As it was, it seemed like Vincent would have to stay back. In the end, it was decided that if we couldn’t make it, Scott, Robert, and Vincent would stay behind. Robert had his heart set on summitting, but staying with his son was more important to him.
So we went to sleep, and prepared for a 6am wakeup to start the summit hike.
It was raining heavily at departure time, so we gave it a half hour to see if it would break. Then another half hour. Then another. When the skies finally cleared, three of us decided to start the trek up to the summit, just half the group.
While Eric was a runner, and the general fitness of the three of us was good, I’m not sure the mental state was. With every opportunity, the other two with me wanted to stop and rest, which is fine, but a one minute break and then getting moving again is different than a ten minute break every ten minutes. It took quite a bit of coaxing to keep the three of us heading up to the summit, and I’m glad I put pressure on our pace because…
Summit and Storms
We made the summit, and just in time. With a few minutes to grab the geocaches at the top, sign the log, and take a few pictures, we had to make a hasty retreat. The weather had turned.
Never in my life have I been inside a storm. At 14,500 feet, you’re not in a storm, you’re IN THE STORM. This had to be one of the scariest moments of my life. We began rushing down the hillside. As we approached one overhang, we joined several other hikers in staying in a slightly safer location while some of the worst passed. We continued to trek down when it was a bit safer, until we reached Trail Camp and began teardown.
The remainder of the downward hike was fairly uneventful. We continued all the way down the mountain, met up with the other three who had participated in the aforementioned research study, and made our way home. For me, this was a success! I’d love to be able to spend more than five minutes at the top of Mt Whitney some day, but if not, I can at least say that I made it to the top of the highest peak in the lower 48!
A Geocache, A Stubborn Ass, A Packmule, and A Billy Goat
A primer before I start. For those who don’t know what geocaching is, it’s like adult hide and seek, with GPS coordinates leading (typically) to hidden items all across the world, where the adventure is in finding and signing the log, often hidden in public places, or taking you out to amazing locales across the world. This cache falls in the latter category.
About six months ago, my father in law, an avid geocacher, heard about a cache that can be “claimed” by visiting a cemetery near the headquarters of Burning Man in Nevada, followed by a hike to the most remote ghost town in California, down in Death Valley. The cache, though posted in 2002, had only been found four times, yet was on the bucket list for many cachers. When word of a potential archival of the cache came downwind, the drive to get this cache by Robert went from desirable to urgent. Within weeks, he had put together a team of himself, the geocaching guru, his son, the young, fit, and energetic one, and myself, who he just called “the brains.”
The location of the ghost town, Beveridge CA, lies between the Inyo Wilderness area and Death Valley. It’s situated in a valley about 5,000 feet in elevation, where a spring supplies water down the gulch. Getting into the town means about 6,900 feet of vertical ascent, followed by 1,300 feet of descent into Beveridge Valley. Fortunately for us, several people have blogged about their trips into the town, but with multiple options in, we chose the path outlined by Matt Clapp in his blog, as it seemed the most straightforward and achievable route in.
Our virtual guide took the trip in two days, ten hours of hiking in, and eight hours of hiking out, with regrets at not giving himself enough time to explore Beveridge. Our drive time would be eight hours, so we knew a two day trip was not at all possible, so our plans were to give ourselves four days in total. One day for travel down and sleep at the base of the trail. One day for hiking in to Beveridge. One day to explore, and possibly grab some of the other area geocaches, and one day to return and drive home.
With this plan in place, a key part was missing for all of us. None of us had ever gone backpacking before. Probably a bad idea for a trip considered for experienced backpackers only, but that meant that we all had to make a trip to REI and pick up gear. An hour into working with the sales guy, and we were outfitted with new sleeping bags, a sleeping pad (I already had two), and Osprey trampoline-back 65L frame packs. We each tried out the whole selection of appropriately-sized packs, and we all landed with the same one for size and comfort.
Subsequent trips got us the key element which every guide had pointed us to… water storage, and tons of it. We knew there would be no water until we got to Beveridge (and hopefully the spring was still running!), and eight liters was the suggested amount. MSR makes a ten liter water bag which we figured to be perfect for the hike. Add in the camelbak-like tube, and Robert’s water pump, and a Delorme emergency satellite beacon which Robert invested in, and we were set.
Last plans were for clothing and food, which I calculated to be about 10k Calories each, and we each took slightly different approaches on. Robert packed a jar of peanut butter, tortillas, beef jerky, and salami. Vincent made some oat and Nutella energy bars. I grabbed pistachios, cashews, jerky, trail mix, and nut butters. On top of all that was five boxes of Honey Stinger waffles, which were my only fuel for my Half Ironman, and I was very comfortable with. Everyone limited their clothing to one or two items of each type. Add in the final necessities like first aid, paracord, knives, etc. and our planning was complete.
Departure and Early Starts – Friday
A 6am start from Sacramento got us to the trailhead just before 6pm. We lost about an hour to a wrong turn (Hwy 4?), breakfast and lunch added a bit of time, and our trust in Google. We Four-Wheeled it along Google’s chosen route, which took us on 4WD roads when a groomed path suitable for most vehicles existed with just a single turn. However, since the goal of this blog is the hiking,
I’ll just leave it to say, if any of you choose to go into Death Valley as we did, just take Death Valley Rd to Waucoba Saline Rd, and skip any “shortcuts” you’re offered on Waukoba Rd or other such roads. 4WD is still helpful to get you the closest to the base of the mountain, but we didn’t cut out too much more than what any SUV could have done.
After final prep of our bags, we figured that we still had about ninety minutes of daylight left to get a head start on our journey. Had I known what finding a good campsite would be like, and what sundown really felt like on the hikes, I would never have chosen to start hiking at 6pm, but the choice this time was fortuitously good. We got our start into the trip and cut an hour out of our “day one” hike into Beveridge.
The first mile and a half of our journey was along the “road”… if it can be called that. Clearly the road existed in a usable fashion at one point, but it is now mostly a broken jumble of rocks, with a one to two foot crevice down the center, which one constantly has to jump or climb across as either “side” of the road may exist or not at any given point.
About four full washouts exist within that first mile and a half (well two, but encountered both high and low on the road), though these weren’t too difficult to navigate across. We cleared a mile and a half or so of hiking, and 420 feet of elevation gain, before dusk and the discovery of a fairly flat place to set up camp got us to call it for a night.
This was the first test: can any of us get sleep, without tents, under untested sleeping bags, in the middle of the desert night? The area was quieter than I think I’ve ever been in for an extended period of time, and while I’ve spent time in places like Yosemite Valley, and have seen the multitudes of stars visible from a more remote location, I can confidently say that I have never seen more stars than I saw that night. Death Valley is a “dark sky park”, with no civilization, no lights within the peaks, our three days were across the new moon, and the stars were just amazing.
I can proudly say, I was the first to fall asleep, and didn’t get up until dawn. It’s a very new experience to me, being in “bed” for almost twelve hours. And yet, I got somewhere between six and ten hours of sleep… I have no idea how much. Around midnight, I awoke, and just stared at the stars for countless minutes. I shifted many times during the night from one sleeping position to another. I’d awake to a body part being asleep, only to relax, and some time (five minutes? fifty?) later fall back asleep again.
We all awoke around dawn, had breakfast, and got packed up to leave once the sun arose, around 7am.
The Main Hike and Little Mistakes – Saturday Part One
Our guide blog breaks this trek into five main parts: the road, the wall, the ridge, the traverse, and the descent. We were a mile and a half into “the road,” what our guide blog said was a 2.3 mile road with 1800 feet of climb. We’d been climbing most of the way, and so were pretty confident that we were approach the beginning of the hardest part of the journey, the great white wall. With hindsight, let me say now, that this was wildly inaccurate, and that inaccuracy eventually led to many, many bad assumptions on where we were. Eventually, I figured out a better way to gauge our progress, but at this point I was just going by the key distance elements and the “feel” of where we were.
It took us just over two hours to reach the wall, a location I was expecting to hit in just thirty minutes or so. Fortunately for us, the wall has a definite starting point, which was very helpful to getting us situated in location.
There are three posts, surrounded by rocks and chicken wire, which we were looking out for which signaled the beginning of the wall. We knew already that this would be the toughest part of the journey, and having a very clear guidepost (literally), plus the change in trail type from the road to a more traditional trail, brought us to stage two, just after 9am. We stopped for a bit, to catch our collective breaths, prepare for the next part, and set out.
The Great White Wall – Saturday Part Two
Four hours. That’s how long it took to climb the Great White Wall. Our expectations from the guide blog were this: “Start your ascent of the Great White Wall for 1600 vertical feet of switchbacks in under a mile. There is one stretch of scrambling on the ascent. Otherwise, it is a steep but walkable trail.” Under a mile, 1600 feet. Now I can’t tell you who is right: my GPS says it was over two miles, and this was my second clue into that navigational mistake that’ll come bite us later, but the blog came from a much more experienced backpacker who also was tracking his information via GPS. I hadn’t yet noticed the wide discrepancies between our guide distance and my personal distance, but eventually I will figure it out. As for the wall? Describing it as a “steep but walkable trail” is somewhat correct… at least to start. Most of it does fit that description, but definitely lacks nuance. The whole mountain range is built out of crumbling granite. That decomposed granite that gets used across all of our parks to make nice walking trails? That’s what the entirety of the mountain is. Sections of granite that look like solid hand and footholds might peel off the rock at any point, and even sections that were stable when you stopped to take a breath might shift underfoot thirty seconds later. And areas of the trail that were once walkable might now be a giant washout you have to cross.
By 1:09pm, we had finished walking the wall, guided by countless cairns placed along the trail by those who came before us, and generally made it to the top with little-to-no issues, except for some tiredness and general slow-going. At this point, done with just the first two of five main sections, and past midday, it was definitely becoming apparent that our plans may need to shift, but we were all accepting of that and prepared for the eventuality.
The Ridge, The Traverse, and the Big Oops – Saturday Part Three
At 1:35pm, Robert posted with his Delorme that we had finished “The Ridge” and begun the traverse. This mistake of mine comes from this quote:
“After reaching the top of the Great White Wall, continue climbing on the trail along the ridge.
Briefly descend to loop around the right of a peak and continue ascending on this trail until you reach the start of the traverse. Once you turn the corner you will lose sight of Death Valley and be able to spot plant growth upstream from Beveridge.”
If I had been looking at the topo maps, and not mostly the satellite maps, I would have understood the error in reading it this way. Take a look at this map:
You’ll notice that the end of the wall to the traverse is quite a long way. This is not brief… but that’s what I expected it to be. The ridge isn’t described as a three mile long ascent of thousands of feet, but by my GPS, it was. So when we looped around the peak and left what felt like the end of the ridge trail, we though we’d reached the next section. However, it just kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing. The topo version of the map makes it very clear that we were still on a ridge, but my experience with ridge trails were much more clearly along the top of the mountain lines, as we had been previously, and it didn’t feel like that then. We were still encountering many sketchy areas of washouts, loose terrain, and difficult steep-grade climbs, and it just didn’t seem to end. The actual end of the ridge was over eight hours into our Saturday hike, and took us about four hours!
Now to the big mistake. We missed some cairns. Like, five of them right next to each other, guiding us in a specific direction, and a row of rocks placed to prevent us from going the direction we did. By all distances, we should have been done with the ridge, done with the traverse, and beginning our descent, and at this point, we could now see the glorious valley that was our end destination. And we saw a cairn, possibly two. So Vincent and I began descending a VERY sketchy area of rockfall, trying to find the full trail that the two cairns were guiding us to. However, we weren’t on the path at all. The one cairn, Robert later surmised, was just an attempt by a hiker to say “I got here!” to a great outcropping that looked like the Lion King rock. We descended way farther than was safe, and finding our way back from there, after about 30-40 minutes of wrong going (look at the mile 7 marker), meant climbing up rocks and scree in order to scramble back from a very dangerous area.
Once greater prudence forced us back, we found the hugely obvious directions as we were ready to hang up our hats for the night, and pushed on a ways into what I now know was the midpoint of the traverse. It was at that point of finding our “new” correct path, that I made some key learnings. I, the “brains” of the operation, had saved into Google maps offline versions of the area. I had also saved the entirety of the blog. Using the terrain map on the blog, and the terrain map on my phone, I could coordinate the two to ensure we were on the right track, and to get a feel for how much more of any type of terrain element we had left. I could now see clearly the ridge portion, the traverse, and how far along the track we were. Even though we hadn’t had cell reception since we were on Highway 50, I could still use the technology at hand to make our navigation a more active process.
We set up camp at about 6:22pm, thankful that we were back on the right track, sure that we wouldn’t make it into Beveridge in the last 30-60 minutes of light (we hadn’t even started the descent yet!), and glad that we found a spot we could stop. At this point, the discussion turned to what the rest of the hike would look like. Collectively, at that point, we agreed that we would be departing Beveridge about noon to head back, instead of spending all day and sleeping in Beveridge as originally planned. Clearly, our pace was much slower than we anticipated, and expecting to hike out of Beveridge and drive home in one day was not realistic.
Beveridge and Footprints in the Sand – Sunday
Knowing that we survived a mistake, that we were heading in the right direction, and we’d be in Beveridge that day, I would say that spirits were up the next morning. We had a clear path to travel, we were making good progress, and it felt like we had success in hand.
The descent into Beveridge was fairly unremarkable, except for the rattlesnake encountered by Robert. We rounded a few more “fingers” of the mountain on the last of the traverse, and headed down. We had already seen a couple of interesting remaining artifacts from the mining era along our trek in quite random places, but it was fantastic to not only begin to see the valley in earnest, but the first item we knew was directly associated with the town, the “tram”. I have no idea how it worked, but the cables stretch several thousand feet, and at one point there was a pulley still attached to the cabling. We descended the last part of the trail, after taking a few required pictures at the tram, and finally made it to our destination!
We had a few landmarks in our list to go view, but priority one was water, and priority two was getting enough pictures to satisfy the geocaching requirement. Arriving around 10am, three hours after departing that morning, we had about two hours to walk around the area, eat enough food for the trip back, and refill 30 liters of water. After snapping a few shots of the mill press, I quickly headed to the water to ensure it was still available for us to pump… otherwise we were likely calling a helicopter for a very expensive rescue. Fortunately, even after years of drought, the spring was still active and we’d be able to refill before we departed.
There only exists left in the main part of town a few key items. A large mill press, that for the life of me I can’t imagine bringing the parts in and building within such an inaccessible town, some bed frames, a couple of collapsed cabins, and two very intact toilets. One, an outhouse built overhanging a cliff so that the leavings drop down the side of the mountain, and one an open hole built over a large stone-walled opening. Above and below the town are also some other cabins, but given our two hour stopover, and the expectation that it would take that full time to refill our water, we kept our wanderings to the main part of town.
On the water, Vincent and I started trying to refill my Nalgene bottle. About fifteen minutes of pumping later, and we had gotten about 400ml filled. Not a good omen for doing 10L worth of refill. However, shortly thereafter, Robert came with his dromedary bag, and once the pump sealed well onto the receptacle, filling was a breeze… or at least I’m told. Robert did the bulk of the pumping, filling all three bags in under twenty minutes, a much better experience than I had with my Nalgene.
After our two hours were up, we were rested, fed, and resupplied, we donned our packs and began the ascent back to the truck. Our all-day exploration limited to two hours, it was a bit of a let-down to expectations, but in actuality, unless we planned to hike all day and bushwhack our way out of the main town, we had sufficient time to see everything that Beveridge had to offer. I can’t believe that there was a post-office servicing this town for a year… there isn’t much of a town to begin with! Our mission complete, it was time to wind our way back on an uphill again. You’d think after nearly 7,000 feet of climb, I’d be used to this, but I would say that ascent was the toughest of the trip, as I was already fairly tired, and was definitely looking forward to days of descent.
Returning along the path had one very large difference than arriving. Yes, we had more experience finding the cairns and had a pretty good idea of where the trails were heading, but there was an even easier way to find our path… our own footprints! By this time, we had a fairly good feeling of how we worked together as a team, and while there were some back and forths on who was doing what on the trip to Beveridge, for the most part on the return, we each had a particular role. I scouted ahead as far as the next bend, spending the time where I had additional speed to travel the trails, look around, and determine the correct path to take, while Vincent supported Robert as they persevered through the trails.
Also, having a chance to be ahead meant I had time to take some pictures of the area that I didn’t have time, or leftover concentration, for on the way into town. All-in-all, I took over 200 shots of the area during the trip, the majority of which were taken during the return.
While we mostly took about ninety minutes per mile traveling into Beveridge (by my GPS, that is), our return through the ascent and traverse was closer to an hour per mile. This boded well for our entire return journey. As we approached 6pm, we reached a large plateau that I believed was nearing the Great White Wall, though in actuality was about 2/3rds of the way through the traverse. This offered us a great place to find nice, level sleeping ground and wind down for the day. However, that feeling of relaxation was short lived, as it began to get very cold as the winds picked up… and I mean picked up. Looking at the weather data, we were experiencing 50 degree weather and 40 MPH gusts of wind through the night. Vincent built a wind shelter out of rocks, Robert sat and rested till he was ready to sleep where he sat, and I climbed into my sleeping bag early since I had the least clothing with me. It was a very eerie experience, hearing the gust build up in the valley before it actually reached us during the night. You could hear the howl very clearly, and knew to expect some strong gusts shortly thereafter.
Homeward Bound – Monday
While we encountered this at a few points along the hike in minor form, I think this is the place to address one piece of the preparation that was enlightening for me. Vincent has run a 50 mile trail run. I’ve completed a Half Ironman and most of an Ironman. I forget sometimes that one of the key things that athletes learn as they begin endurance training is how to eat while they train. Many people lose their appetite during exercise. Overcoming that is a learned behavior. One of my coaches once admonished us “Fuel Early, Fuel Often!” So on the large descent portion of the journey, when Robert was the most fatigued, Vincent had to regularly admonish him with “Eat, Dad! Eat!” Even though he is in the best shape of his life, that skill, fueling during exertion, is something that he likely has never had to encounter before. This proved to be a definite issue at times, as he would be severely lacking energy after a strenuous part of the hike, and Vince and I both knew what a part of the problem was. However, after you’ve bonked, it’s REALLY hard to have the stomach to get down food. Vince was regularly pushing more and more food on Robert, and watching him closely.. giving him two Honey Stingers on a break when he was likely willing to manage one, or hounding him until satisfied with the results. It was one of the few points of frustration on the trip, but serves as a good reminder of that piece of training that is so far behind me, I don’t even think about it any more.
While the last parts of the traverse continued to progress at the one mile, one hour pace as before, once we reached the ridge trail, and then onto the wall, our pace slowed down considerably, as this was the most difficult part for Robert to manage. Unstable footing is much easier to handle while ascending, but descending where you cannot trust your footing is quite difficult.
This especially held true when we got to the giant washout. There’s one section of trail where, instead of following a trail or switchbacks, instead you must scramble straight up (or down) a large washout. This means that there is no good way to know where you are or aren’t pickup up the trail, and there is zero solid footing to deal with. As the lead (or Billy Goat as Vincent put it later), I went part way down the washout, then unsure of where we’d catch up with the trail, headed off of the washout and climbed along the rocks beside it. I feel pretty confident scrambling around these steep areas, so I moved back and forth along sections of the washout, looking for where we’d pick up the trail.
In reality, I probably could have continued on the washout and found my way, but this was the role I was playing, and enjoying, so I was trying to do my best to minimize any delays for those behind me. The upside to this is that I got some fun rock climbing. The downside is that the pants I had spent way too much money on to handle this type of excursion didn’t survive the trek… at all. I got a giant cut all along my bottom as I was climbing over and around rocks.
The descent down the ridge, and down the wall, while long and difficult, were fairly uneventful compared to the trek in. All of us were surprised at how much rougher the trails were than we remembered them from just a day or two previously. We got to the bottom of the wall, stopped for about twenty minutes for a breather, and continued down the road. One last stop happened at our first night’s camp spot, where we relaxed for fifteen to twenty five minutes (depending on when each person got there), before making the final hour descent to the truck. That descent was fast, and it was a great relief to find ourselves back and the truck by 3pm, with time enough to make it home and sleep in our own beds for the night.
KFWB GPS, the team that placed this epic geocache, GCB416, deserves grand kudos for bringing us out here. If the tone of this blog feels negative, it’s mostly because I like blogging about my learnings along these types of activities, and the process of blogging for me is quite self-reflective. I had a wonderful time going out and tackling this adventure with my family, and that never would have happened without Team Bardini’s drive to accomplish and tackle great things. It is an experience the likes of which I probably will never have again, and that in itself is a very rewarding feeling.
Tripp’s first triathlon, he was two days into riding a bike. His second year, he was just a few weeks out of floaties and swam the race without them. This year, Tripp had three real attempts at riding without training wheels, but decided to race on a two wheeler. As he said, “four wheels makes you heavy, I’m going to go faster because I’m on two wheels!” So with one trip two weeks ago to the park, where he successfully went a few hundred yards on his own, to last week with D on a slightly longer stretch, and last night with me for a last attempt, and a successful circumnavigation of the park, Tripp was ready to ride his first long stretch on his own.
Tripp started the race thinking he’d be the fastest swimmer; I had unfortunately mentioned that the dolphin kick is the fastest swim stroke to D, and he loves swimming underwater. The leadup time to the race, from breakfast to arriving at Arroyo Park, we talked about how the only person he was really racing was himself, and that as long as he did better than last year, he was doing great. He was geared up with his tri-suit (an Aquasphere “core warmer” wetsuit), his new-old bike (Damon’s previous bike), and his fastest running shoes. All that was left was four hours of waiting till the 11:34am swim start, the 54th wave of the day.
After a great breakfast at Noah’s, and a bit of a scare on arrival times (don’t ask), we made our way out to Arroyo Park to pick up our bibs, shirts, and get set up for the race. This being our fourth time doing it, setup went pretty smoothly, and we got to spend the rest of the time wandering around, watching some swim starts, and relaxing for the hour before our race start.
Tripp was pretty eager to start this year, and we were lined up first for our wave. With just about thirty seconds between the pool entrance starting “gun”, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Just in the water, and off we go! As expected, Tripp spent more than half of the time under the water, and the rest swimming along the top and getting a breath.
He can swim about 40 feet without a breath, since he can swim one length of our pool at home, so he did what was most comfortable, and just kept going strong without need a rest on the ropes, like last year.
Unfortunately for Tripp, he was still the last one out of the water. It was a disappointment for him, but as I told him before the race, as long as he does better than he had done the previous year, then he’s doing great! His results were a minute and a half faster than last year, including T1, so there’s no question that he improved, big time.
I’m very proud of Tripp for making it out on the race without training wheels. About a year ago, I tried to get him to start without training wheels, and he was just not going to do it. One fall, and no real start, and he was done. This year, he still wasn’t too sold on going without the wheels, but I had him go out to our neighborhood park and try, and after a few false starts, he was able to get about twenty feet on his own before a crash, and finished off the attempt with one, slightly downhill, hundred foot run.
About a week before the race, knowing that we’d have to make the go/no-go decision, D took him again to our park, and was able to get him to go a bit further. It wasn’t a long trial, and it didn’t do much to help make the training wheel decision, but neither was it a bad experience. So two days before the race, and I take Tripp on one last park run.
This time, he rode around and around the park, and crashed only a couple of times. Whatever it is that is the difference between going and falling (confidence?) happened, and it was at that point that Tripp was no longer deciding whether to use training wheels, there was no way he would.
So at race time, he took off pretty good, and I was jogging alongside him again. However, when we got to the first turn, about fifty feet into the race, Tripp ended up in the dirt. I realized at that point that my attention was going to have to be a lot more focused than before, because there was a good chance of bad things happening. The next straightaway went without a hitch, and Tripp was aware enough to slow down at the turn, and while he ended up in the bench, it wasn’t an awful spot to be in. And then came the first downhill. Scary, fast, and fortunately I was there enough to grab the handlebars and keep him safe. Unfortunately, that’s when confidence kicked in for me, and I began letting him do his thing a bit more. I didn’t mind if he fell, falling is part of learning, I just hoped he wouldn’t hurt himself so bad that we couldn’t finish. The next fall was almost like that. About half way through the bike route, Tripp fell, scraped up his hands pretty bad, and hurt enough that for a few seconds, the whole thing was over in his mind.
Fortunately, Tripp is a pretty resilient kid, and he was able to get up with some encouragement, get going, and get over the issue and move on. I think there may have been one more fall on the second half of the ride, and one more section (narrow passage through cement pillars) that I helped him through, but overall the back half of the ride went smoothly.
All that’s left is the most important, how we finished. A quarter mile run, for Tripp, is nothing. And this year, he completed it 41 seconds faster than last.
All in all, Tripp cut six minutes off of his time from last year till this. If I could cut 30% off any of my race times, I’d be ecstatic. Tripp was very happy with how he did, enough so that he’s ready to do another one again. So while doing these isn’t motivational enough to get him running much at home, or thinking of anything like “training,” he is having enough fun that he wants to continue doing these, and in fact would like to do more than one a year. The real question is whether or not next year, he’ll want to do the individual divisions, or still stick with parent/child.
I can’t start a blog about Big Sur without starting at the beginning, with registration. Getting in to BSIM is difficult at all times, often voted as the bestdestinationmarathon, many more people want to run Big Sur than are allowed to.
The 2015 registration process was split into five stages. Four traditional signups across different times of the day and days of the week, ostensibly to create some equity across regions, work schedules, and time zones, and one lottery. On the first traditional signup, Harry, Joy, and I were all at our desks, frantically hitting refresh to try and get in. Within four seconds, the seats were sold, and Harry successfully got into the race, but Joy and I didn’t. The next three were similar situations, one I tried to do remotely via phone as I was in San Francisco at a work event, one I missed due to being out with the family, and one I had a similar situation as the first. Joy successfully registered in the next three rounds, but I was left to the luck of the lottery. Fortunately for me, I was successful in getting into the race with the lottery, so all three of us who were training for the race were able to get in. Yay!
Out of my three previous marathons, I had a variety of training, from constant and consistent, to severe under-training. My undertrained races proved that by mile fifteen or twenty, I would be cramping and underperforming. Knowing this race to be one of the most difficult to complete, I knew I couldn’t scrape by, but would have to be amazingly consistent in my pre-race work. If you’ve read my blogs leading up to this, you know that I completed a lot of races leading up to this, enough to help ensure success. Yet, just racing would not be enough: I should be running 30 miles a week at minimum. And yet, I didn’t. Life, as always, as well as a lack of training partners running at lunch (kids keep me from early morning training), meant that I was very consistent in my long runs, yet barely if ever ran my weekday runs. What I learned from this training is that, enough cross-training and enough distance building means that I can complete a run by just building up my long distance training, but I can’t get any faster or better without adding in the base work during the week: hills, track work, and mileage. My training wasn’t good, but it was enough to do a consistent and full marathon instead of a half marathon plus some walking. I didn’t run the whole thing like my PR, but nor did I find myself unable to run the last few miles, either.
The Bus Ride
Over five percent of Big Sur’s budget goes to buses. That’s over $150k, for bus rentals. Why? Because how do you get over 8,000 to the start when the roads are closed, the parking lots are where you stand to prep the start, and there are no hotels nearby? You bus all of them, one way, in one shot. 185 buses taking 8,000 people from fourteen locations to eight different start zones. So at the buses, by 4am, to hit the starting venue by 5:30am and have the race course cleared for the starting gun at 6:45am.
This is the first race that I have ever done where runners, and not the type who go in a pack and celebrate running as a big social event (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but the real runners stopped to get out their phones and take a picture. Anyone who didn’t, either didn’t have a case that could carry their phone, was drop-a-phone-phobic, was blind, had already run it several times, or had no sense of beauty. When else do you get to actually exist, not behind windows, but out in the clear along the PCH for four beautiful hours?
The route begins at its namesake, in Big Sur State Park, and winds its way up a closed-to-traffic Highway 1, finishing in Carmel. Between the iconic Bixby Bridge, the ocean views along the whole route, and the top of Hurricane Point, there is practically no point which isn’t awesome in its beauty. And while one friend of mine said that his PR is on Big Sur, I followed the advise of the rest of my running friends and took advantage of the scenery to make this a race I truly enjoyed, not just ran. And yes, I took some selfies, too.
As you can tell by the rest of this blog, the race itself wasn’t as big of a goal as the venue; however, out of the three marathons I’ve done so far, only the first was truly successful. The second and third were plagued by undertraining and cramping, and so my goal was to do a good race, even if not my best. Running the whole course with a 9:32 pace, I’d consider successful for that goal.
The first ten miles, leading up to heartbreak hill, I kept a pretty relaxed pace of low 9s, running with both Harry and Joy for the first few, and keeping my heart rate in zone two. A quick pit stop before the big hill, and I was heading up to catch up with Harry. The whole way up the hill, my mind was on relaxed and easy running, and I averaged 10s all the way up, though my heart rate jumped up into the 170s to get to the top. I had been warned not to blow out my quads on the downhills, so I kept my same mid-9s pace on the way down.
By the next few hills, I still kept up the same mantra, relaxed on the way up, slow on the way down. Not long thereafter, I caught back up with Harry, and we were running together again. Then, we got to the the first big hill after mile 22 in the Carmel Highlands, and things changed for me. To quote the race organizers: “Just the mention of the Highlands strikes fear into the hearts of Big Sur vets. It is a series of short steep hills made all the more brutal by the sharp cant of the road which wreaks havoc on tired quads and tender ankles.” About half way up the hill, I began to feel like I might cramp up, and I know from my previous races that once I reached that point, there would be no turning back. I said “good luck” to Harry and began walking up the hill. I reached the summit, and said “screw it” to my plan of backing off on the way down. I knew, if I was going to do decently, and be walking up the hills, I’d have to make up time downwards, and if I was going to cramp, I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I could. So up the hill I went at low 9s for the first half, 15s for the second half, and I came down in the 7s and 8s. Shortly thereafter, I shocked Harry by catching back up with him. “Never thought you’d see me again, did you?” “No” was the honest reply.
Harry and I paced each other through the easier sections, and I kept up my walk/run up and down the hills, and we kept going this way till around mile 25. Then, looking at my watch, I had a realization. The last time Harry and I did a big run together was a couple years ago at Shamrock’n, and when we got near the end, he fell back and I pushed it in to the finish. Had he known that he was going to be eleven seconds off his PR, that would have been enough motivation to push it into the finish. So knowing his marathon PR, and looking at the time, I realized that if instead of pulling back as we both felt like doing, we just pushed a little harder, Harry would PR in Big Sur! My fastest mile on the race was mile 24 (assisted by a nice long downhill), and my final mile was in about eight minutes. I had enough left in me to push a bit harder than Harry into the end, so I came in front of Harry, but he got a PR! Harry finished in 4:10:06, beating his 4:10:52 PR, and I finished in 4:10 even. The end result was a race I did about spot-on to expectations, and enjoyed tremendously.
Anyone planning on doing more than a marathon to check off that tick on their bucket list should plan on doing Big Sur. There’s a reason that it sells out so fast, and is consistently featured in magazines and top race lists, it’s worth every bit of training to go run this course. And while I may not do it again, I’m extremely happy that I did it.