Sunday, July 16, 2006

One weekend, two passes

Date: July 16
Mileage: 15.3
July mileage: 402.9

I honestly used to think I was in really great shape. Then I did this hike called the Crow Pass crossing, which looks like a gentle traverse on a map but is in reality 26 miles of limb-pounding, joint-jarring terrain broken only by heart-stopping stream crossings. Brrrrr.

Geoff is actually racing this course next weekend, crazy man, so we set out on Saturday to check out the trail. We had no great plan for getting back around (Girdwood and Eagle River, an hour and a half apart by road, are hardly an easy two points to connect.) Also, I've done almost no hiking this summer. But, hey, I had that great biking base. I was insistent on going the whole way.

It was a little after 10 a.m. by the time we left. Despite a heavy drizzle, fog and temps closing in on 40, the hike to the pass was a breeze and I was feeling great. We crossed several glacier-fed streams that were running swift and strong but nothing higher than knee-deep. Soaked clothing kept us going at a brisk pace. At mile 8 Geoff announced that he was going to run ahead to experience running on the rocky, slippery trail. He told me he'd meet me at the Eagle River crossing, which we believed to be somewhere near mile 18 or 20. I continued slashing through overgrown brush. Even though the rain had stopped, the tall, wet grass provided a continuous cold shower.

Finally, the trail descended into the woods and the grass let up, only to be replaced by a group of backpackers who convinced me that I was going the wrong way when they, in fact, were the ones headed the wrong way. We didn't figure this out until I had followed them back up the trail at their turtle pace for more than a mile, only to meet another group of backpackers who confirmed my suspicions. Frustrated, I turned around and jogged back down the trail, only to meet the Eagle River and a shivering, irritated Geoff at mile 14.

Because the river crossing was so much sooner than we anticipated, he didn't want to go ahead but didn't expect to wait for me for so long. The backpackers caught up and we began our river ford together, linking arms while we moved sideways through the thigh-deep glacial torrent. The river was at least 150 yards wide, nearly waist-deep at its deepest channels, with 33-degree water flowing so fast and hard that the slightest movement threw me off balance. As my orientation disintegrated, so did my confidence, and I froze like a novice climber clinging to a cliff, draining all of my strength and energy into involuntary immobility. Geoff, who had already made it across, actually got back in the water to help me through it. Because of my small meltdown, we each spent about 10 minutes in that frigid water. Geoff was near hypothermic by the time we got out, but, mercifully, the remaining 12 miles of the hike was flat and fast, with enough bouldering obstacles and log crossings to keep the blood flowing.

Anyway, we got out at about 7 p.m., more than 70 miles from our car and no real plan for getting back. Luckily, we have some benevolent friends who picked us up and took us to their home. With nothing more than the soaked gear we had carried over on our backs, we ate a warm meal, took a shower, and passed out on the floor.

Today we had this plan to check out my race course, riding 50 mountain bike miles in the process. When I woke up this morning more sore than I have ever been, ever, except for maybe that time I rolled my road bike - well, I figured that the entire loop wasn't the best plan. But I thought that a two-hour ride wouldn't be unreasonable. So I hobbled over to my bike, spent several sharp seconds coaxing my left leg over the saddle, and set out on the Devil's Pass trail. Sure enough, my biking muscles still proved to be in decent shape, and I was able to ignore the subdued screams from those annoyed hiking muscles that kept getting in the way as I pedaled most of the way to the pass. It was great to check out the one leg of the course I hadn't seen before, even if I did lose my bear spray somewhere along the jarring rocks of that technical singletrack. However, after that marathon hike, with the Soggy Bottom 100 only one week away, I probably just officially had the worst training weekend ever ... except for maybe that time I rolled my road bike.