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Showing posts from June, 2012

On the road again

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Well, Mount Whitney left me with shin splints. In truth it was a while coming, but after descending 7,000 feet of rocks last Tuesday, I was fully hobbled for a few days. Rest, ice, repeat. It's really only my right shin that's causing me grief, but enough that I had to cut running out of my routine. Ah, well — what better time to go on a bike tour?

My friend Leah, a school teacher in San Francisco, is all about making the most of her summer break. Even though she just returned from San Diego at about the same time I was limping home from the Sierras, she's raring to go again and the window is perfect for both of us to spend a few days pedaling through the ancient forests of Humboldt County. She outfitted her Surly Long Haul Trucker with mountain bike tires, dropped the stem, and installed a front rack for her own ideal bikepacking rig. We headed out to the Marin Headlands on Sunday afternoon for a test ride, and were treated to a rare brilliantly clear day.

Leah's fri…

Mount Whitney

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It was to be my most ambitious endurance effort yet — a single-day climb to the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48. Twenty-two miles, more than 7,000 feet of climbing, to an altitude of 14,500 feet. The date was August 2001, and I was 21 years old. My dad had applied for a permit back in January and invited me along. When he landed what was even then a difficult permit to get, he said, "It's once in a lifetime, but it won't be easy. Do you think you're up for it?"

I enjoy taking solo trips from time to time. Beat was in Switzerland on business, and I decided to spend two or three days in the Sierras for UTMB practice — working on techniques in uphill "speed hiking" and downhill jogging. But after two days of solid five-hour efforts at altitude, and a rough night in of sleep in camp, I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling partially shattered. Sunlight was just beginning to touch the floor of the canyon, and I felt a familiar empty-s…

Give me oxygen

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My car thermometer registered 102 degrees when I arrived at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor's Center in Lone Pine. A furnace wind whipped through the air as a motorcyclist pulled in beside me. His face and helmet were coated in ochre dust that was streaked with sweat, and he was wearing a leather jacket despite the heat. He told me he just rode in from Death Valley, where the mercury topped 120.

"Wow, I've only been to Death Valley in January," I said. "I should head out there just to see what it's like."

"Are you going that direction?" he asked.

"No, I'm here to get a permit for Mount Whitney," I said. "I'm hiking there tomorrow."

"In one day?"

"Yeah."

"Have you heard of that race where people run from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney in a day?" he asked.

I laughed. "You mean Badwater?" I found it humorous that this random motorcyclist had heard…

Take me higher

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Why is elevation so alluring? What is it about a distressing lack of oxygen, cold temperatures, rugged terrain, high winds, and harsh exposure that continually lure me to higher heights? I'm not even a rock climber and likely will never try to become one (too klutzy, oh so klutzy.) But like John Muir who once traveled these same granite mounds, the mountains are calling — and I must go.

Earlier this week, I went in search of ideas for two to three days of trail running possibilities around the Yosemite Valley, and stumbled across an open permit for Mount Whitney — a broad mountain that reigns over a beautiful cathedral of granite spires, and also happens to be the highest point in the Lower 48 United States. It was the sole Whitney opening in the entire month of June, a single day permit for June 19. Too serendipitous to bypass, I grabbed it and began scheming an acclimating/hiking trip instead.

I've been to Mount Whitney, elevation 14,505, once before, way back in 2001. That…

By the numbers

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On Friday, Jan and I set out for an afternoon ride through the enchanted woods, also known as Forest of the Nisene Marks. Jan wanted a much-needed break from his job search and was looking for some solid hours on the bike. I'm always game for adventure but in order to agree to a five-hour ride, I needed to disclose my growing list of disclaimers: Hamstrings tight; Calves still cramping; Tired and prone to timidity; May walk the steeper hills. We logged 13 miles and 3,200 feet of climbing on the Aptos Creek Fire Road before launching into the technical singletrack of Soquel Demonstration Forest for an eight-mile loop with 2,000 feet of heart-pounding descents and climbs.

We decided to climb back to Aptos Creek on a trail rather than take the long road around, which nearly proved to be my undoing. Grades that were sphincter-clenching during descents proved to be nearly unclimbable for my weakling legs. I mashed the granny gear until my hammies bunched into tight knots, then used a …

Because it's beautiful, that's why

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Ultrarunning is an eccentric sport, so it makes sense that people have their own eccentric reasons for getting into it. I was exposed to this community for years before I developed any interest in participating. My first glimmer of intrigue sparked about three years ago, when I was traversing Heinzelman Ridge in Juneau. From a high point I could see mountain ridges rippling like waves across the Juneau Ice Field — all of these mountains I wanted to visit but would never be able to reach in a day. For my own reasons — bears, wolves, unpredictable weather, and the potential onset of disorienting fog overnight — I didn't want to attempt solo backpacking trips in the alpine of Southeast Alaska. But if I had the ability to move faster, I realized, the possibilities would be greater. The more efficient my steps became, the more mountains I could visit. Distance — not speed — was my overlying motivation to become "a runner."

Ultra-racing is a fun and challenging way to develop…