Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Long Trail: Day #2

"The mountains are calling and I must go." ~ John Muir

Long Trail, VERMONT -- I awoke on the morning of Day #2 to the familiar sound of an alarm.  In a moment of complete confusion I almost forgot where I was for it was not my bed that I lay nor my alarm that chimed.  At exactly 6:00 am our shelter-mates awoke to their pre-set watch alarm.  I immediately sat upright on my sleeping pad but neither Jay nor Karen seemed to notice the strangely misplaced sound.  Jay would later tell me that it wasn't the alarm that woke him but rather my stomach that began to churn and growl some 2-3 hours before.  It may have been earlier than I would have wanted to get up but I hadn't slept more than 90 minutes at a time and I almost felt relieved that the morning had finally arrived.  I think I saw every overnight hour on my watch.  Each time I felt a limb go numb I would roll to my back or side and look at my watch...12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00.  And apparently I make a lot of noise because both Karen and Jay commented that every time I changed positions they woke up as well. 

With one day of morning routine to draw from we were just as slow at getting to it.  I watched the end-to-enders once again move with curious coordination and precision as breaking down their sleeping set-ups seamlessly melded into getting breakfast cooked.  We wished them well a little before 8:00 am as they continued on their way south.  It took us another 30 minutes to finally set out for the last 11 miles of our trip. 

GoLite Comps in the mud.
Aided by a gradual descent for the first 0.9 miles to VT73 we moved swiftly only pausing to take a picture of the Great Cliffs of Mt. Horrid.  The cliffs are closed for much of the spring and summer as they are a protected breeding ground for the peregrine falcon that call these woods home.  In looking at the map, the second day would be defined by the ascents of Cape Lookoff Mountain (3216') and Worth Mountain(3234').  The plan was to hike to Sucker Brook shelter, take a break, and then finish the day with the big climb of Worth Mountain.  Thanks to the overnight rains and humidity that lingered above 75% for the second straight day everything on the trail was wet...including the plethora of roots and rocks that littered the steep descents from our climbs.  The combination of the elevation and the trail conditions made the travel much slower than the previous day.  We arrived at the Sucker Brook shelter trailhead but chose not to walk the additional 0.2 miles down the spur as we had already put enough miles on our legs and the toughest miles were still to come. 

Pushing off from our 15 minute break and heading up to Worth Mountain it began to rain very lightly.  Jay and I looked at each other and decided that we'd probably just keep walking unless it started to rain a little harder.  Not a minute later the skies opened up and it began to pour.  We ditched under an evergreen to put our rain gear on which gave Karen a chance to catch up.  Perhaps the first technical mistake of the trip was opting for the EMS stash jacket instead of the poncho.  Jay slipped his poncho on over his pack while I put my jacket (with long sleeves of course...and it's 80 degrees) under my pack.  My already heavy EMS 3000 absorbed the rain like a sponge adding what felt like another 5-10 pounds.  As we climbed the trail began to look like a river as the water rushed downhill from the higher elevations.  Any idea of keeping our feet reasonably "dry" was now out the window as we splashed and slogged uphill toward the summit.  Luckily the rain only lasted for 30-40 minutes of our nearly 70 minute climb.  From the summit of Worth Mountain to Middlebury Gap and our drop vehicle was mostly downhill and only 2.7 miles.  We would later learn (from a sign near the trailhead) that the wilderness from Worth Mountain to Middlebury Gap is, perhaps not surprisingly, owned by Middlebury College.  Buoyed by the idea that we were less than 2 hours from the end the last few miles went very quickly and by 2:30 pm we were finally at the LT parking area on VT125. 

As a result of our Long Trail Brewery kitchen experience from Friday we wasted no time in getting ourselves and our gear into Jay's car and heading south on VT100 toward our well earned reward...burgers and beers at the brewery.  Our two days on the Long Trail were a great learning experience and have given me an appreciation for the preparation it's going to take to complete the 272 mile trip.  I need to refine my gear as my pack is still way too heavy.  I also need to do more backpacking to improve my technique and efficiency on the trail.  While there is much to be done, I am incredibly excited about the adventure.  I couldn't have asked for two better trail mates than Karen and Jay.  They were both very consistent and very strong and simply great company.  With a little good fortune I'll get back out on the LT this fall to compare the conditions.  Until then, I'm thoroughly enjoying sleeping in my own bed.


Sunrise shelter to Middlebury Gap (VT125)
11 miles (1977' elevation gained) in 5:39 minutes (moving time).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Long Trail: Day #1

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."  ~ John Muir

Long Trail, VERMONT -- I don't exactly recall when the he idea to 'end-to-end' the Long Trail (LT) was born?  All I know is that since the seed was planted in my mind I have thought about little else.  At 272 miles, the Long Trail is the country's oldest long-distance hiking path and was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail.  I'm only a recreational hiker and have never backpacked yet in the summer of 2011 I'll set off from the MA-VT border and head north to Canada with my buddy Jay, a support team, and an unfulfilled dream.  This past weekend Jay, Karen, and I spent two days on the LT and covered 30 miles in an attempt to see the path firsthand and begin the long slow process of gaining backpacking experience. 
Friday afternoon, on our way to our northernmost car drop, we met Jay at EMS in Concord.  We had stopped to pick up a few last minute items including a UV water treatment system, the SteriPEN.  Having done a little research it seemed to me that UV was one of the lightest and fastest systems on the market.  Funny how a "few last minute items" at EMS almost always adds up to $150.  And in true Jim Dunn-like cooincidence we ran into teammate Mike Sallade who was browsing EMS during a break from work.  We arrived at the LT parking area on VT125 around 5:00 pm, transferred Jay's gear to my car, and headed back down VT100 to grab dinner at the Long Trail Brewery.  The plan was to grab dinner and then hike the 1.4 miles in to Tucker-Johnson shelter for the night.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  Little did I know that the brewery's kitchen closed at 6:00 pm.  We didn't arrive until nearly 6:30 pm but the waitstaff was kind enough to recommend a pizza joint down the road.  Ramunto's Brick & Brew Pizza was a great little find.  Turns out they've got live music on Friday night and one of the most extensive speciality pizza menu's I've ever seen.  And, among the nearly dozen beers on tap they had Long Trail!  The downside was that the music, pizza, beer, and conversation were far more interesting that the final packing and hiking we had planned for the evening.  Somewhere between the wings and the last round of beers we decided to camp in the parking lot on VT4.  We would head out of Sherburne Pass in the morning on our way to Sunrise shelter...our first 19 miles on the LT.
Without any backpacking experience getting ready on Saturday morning seemed to take forever.  That was, however, no fault of my new JetBoil personal cooking system.  Two minutes to boil 2 cups of water was amazing.  We all ate our own doctored version of quick-oats with me opting for the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, walnuts, and dates version.  Washing it down with Starbucks VIA instant coffee we were ready to roll.  The first few hours on the trail were a mix of excitement and a stark realization that the Vermont wilderness is vast...beautiful, but vast.  With the exception of the ever present mud, the trail was pretty easy for those early miles.  The trail was pretty easy (minimal roots and rocks) and the elevation change modest.  Making good time we stopped for lunch around 1:00 pm and refilled our hydration bladders at David Logan shelter.  The shelter system on the LT is really impressive.  On the 19 mile stretch of trail we hiked that first day there were no fewer than four shelters all providing enough floor/bunk space for at least 8-10 hikers.  And each of them had a water source (marked) in very close proximity.  Two of them even had privy's!  We contoured for the most of the rest of the afternoon around Mt. Carmel (3365'), Bloodroot Mountain (3485'), and Farr Peak  (3522') arriving at Sunrise shelter by 5:30 pm. 

Because we hadn't seen more than a few other hikers all day we expected to have the shelter to ourselves but when we arrived we found that two end-to-enders had already arrived and set up camp.  In a way, it was actually a blessing.  The two young folks had been on the trail for 14 days as they trekked south.  We chatted with them watching how they moved around the campsite with incredible economy and purpose.  We broke down our packs and set up our sleeping arrangements.  Although overcast with the threat of rain, knowing I would be out of the elements I decided to use my Sierra Design bivy and a sleeping pad.  The next adventure was dinner.  I'm pretty finicky so the thought of freeze dried food from a bag was not terribly appealing.  Hunger has a funny way of changing one's perspective.  Within 15 minutes Karen and I were enjoying our first 'dinner in a bag'.  I hate to admit it but the Mountain House terriayki chicken was fantastic.  After dinner Jay and I made water filling our hydration bladders and an additional 4 liters for breakfast the following morning.  By the time we made it back to camp our end-to-end mates were already racked.  Noteworthy because at 7:30 pm the sun had yet to set.  I wrapped up some last minute business while Jay tended to his feet with some good old fashion backcountry surgery (see above).  Despite a couple of blisters and some aching knees the three of us fared pretty well on Day #1.  Jay was a great trail leader keeping a strong and steady pace all day while being ever mindful to keep the group together.  Karen was predictably rock solid keeping up with Jay & I despite the unfamiliar weight of her pack and the slippery muddy mess of a trail we negotiated for most of the day.  As we closed our eyes we all eagerly anticipated what lay ahead on Day #2.

To be continued...

Sherburne Pass (VT4) to Sunrise shelter
19 miles (1929' elevation gained) in 8:39 minutes (moving time).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Broken Boulder Dash

"The greatest achivement of the human spirit is to live up to one's opportunities, and make the most of one's resources." -Vauvenargues

Madbury,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Brayden and I headed over to Kingman Farm early this morning to ride the Broken Boulder Dash course I had set the night before.  There were a handful of flags pulled and replaced but all in all everything seemed to be in place.  By the time we got back to the trailhead Michael and Alex had arrived and were setting up.  Today's race was a 3C Race Productions event, but aR (ie. me) had been hired to design and mark the course.  A really easy task considering that 90% of the course was identical to our Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race.  As competitors began to arrive it appeared that the field would be rather small, but enthusiastic nonetheless.  I had made the decision to race as soon as we were asked to help with the event.  Measuring at 5.5 km it would be my shortest trail race of the year.  Generally speaking I've attempted to avoid these distances for two reasons; 1.) I'm not very fast and 2.) fast is something I'm not.  But because I was already there, knew the course, and needed to put a run in this weekend I figured I'd give it a go.  After I gave the course description and Michael gave the command to step to the line to my surprise there were very few takers.  The usual cast of characters (including teammates and friends) that dominate me and the rest of the Top 10 weren't around.  As the "RUNNERS READY..." command was given I realized that I had been presented with a very unique opportunity.  With "GO!" I led the field of 44 from the parking lot into the Kingman Farm trail network to race the course I had designed.  Having never been in the front of the field at any race I was actually a little unsure as to how to race from that position.  The course begins to climb the shoulder of Hick's Hill within the first few minutes of the start and early on I could sense someone(s) close behind.  By the time I reached the main doublewide track I stopped hearing footsteps and attempted to settle into a comfortable, but hard, pace so as not to give back what I had worked hard to establish.  Just as I reached the low point of the course I could feel (and hear) someone close on me.  When I looked back over my left shoulder I realized it was fellow snowshoe competitor Phil Erwin of New Durham, NH.  Phil is a very talented snowshoe/trail/mountain runner and happens to be in my age group (40-45).  But for everything he has going for him, he's not familiar with the Kingman Farm property.  As we raced, he off my left shoulder, I started to get the feeling he was using my knowledge of the trails to his advantage and was waiting for his chance to strike.  When we reached the start of Hick's Hill we were almost side by side.  After the first prelude, a gentle little climb, the course narrows to the switchback singletrack where passing would be difficult on both the ascent and descent.  If Phil was going to challenge I knew he may have missed his opportunity in the open fields.  As we began the climb I felt him slip back as I pushed hard silently grateful of my many repeats up Mt. Blue Job.  As I negotiated the steep and narrow switchback descent I stole a couple of glaces back to determine how much time I had gained.  But to my surprise Phil was nowhere to be seen?  I assumed that I had put some time on him in the up but couldn't have imaged I would have gapped him so significantly.  A few quick looks back in the last 200 meters showed no other contenders and I cruised across the finish line in first place with a time of 23:12.  As soon as I finished I heard a voice call out from a few meters away, "What happened?!".  It was Phil.  He had finished a minute or so ahead of me as a result of a missed switchback.  I'm not sure who felt worse, me as the course setter, or Phil for missing a chance to catch and pass me on the singletrack descent?  Opportunities for a race win are few and far between for a 41 year old trail runner like me.  In fact, as far as I can recall, it's the first race I've ever won.  I really wish that every runner had the chance to feel what it feels like to race at the front of the pack.  It was really, really cool and really, really hard but easily one of the most special experiences I've had in my very fortunate athletic life.

PS.  aR had a very good day for a very light showing with Austin Stonebraker in the Top 10 (6th), Timmy Lindsey in the Top 20 (18th), and Gary Reuter 27th overall.

Broken Boulder Dash RESULTS

NEXT UP: Bradbury Mountain Breaker