Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 6, 2017

Spartan Super Race, Eden Utah, 5 Aug 2017

My first obstacle race.   I've done just about everything else, but this new obstacle craze has eluded me and I had to see what all the fuss was about.  Plus, since getting Mono in March, I have been doing a lot more strength training instead of cardio, so I felt ready for a challenge.  I am also happy to report that I finally am back to 100% after 5 months of taking it easy.  Darn Mono.

The Spartan race was in northern Utah just a couple of hours from home.  We combined it with a dog agility show in the same area that weekend, and Spot and I both got a good workout :)    

There are three distances of Spartan, the Sprint (3-5 miles), Super (8-10 miles) and Beast (12-14 miles).   I chose the middle distance because that was the distance offered at the race in Utah.   Perhaps someday I'll try the other ones.  

So...no experience in these races, but I knew from watching the race on TV that gloves and calf sleeves might be handy.   Plus I had been working on pull-ups a lot.   It was hot on race day, in the 90's even though the race was held at the Nordic Valley ski resort.   

If you need help on an obstacle, get a friend to push on your derriere!
The Spartan race series attracts a HUGE amount of people.   We parked at least 1/2 mile from the bus shuttles in a big field, stood in line to get on the bus, and joined throngs of people heading for the start.  My start was at 11:45 am, but waves of up to 250 people had been starting every 15 minutes since 7:30 and would continue all afternoon!  4000 races would eventually finish the event.  That's big.  

So a midday start, it was really hot, and I was hoping some of those famed water obstacles would be first.  Unfortunately, I stayed dry for quite a few miles of the race as we went up to the top of the ski lifts and back down.  Obstacles were interspersed along our climb up the ski hill, and it was STEEP.  We went over, under, and through walls and haystacks, carried buckets of rocks and sandbags, traversed across walls, and crawled under barbed wire.  Uphill under barbed wire.  Like hundreds of feet of it.  My least favorite part of the race was the barbed wire.   It lasted forever.  And got me dirty, which I had not been until then.  

Mostly we were hiking up steep dusty hills along the ski runs.  I was amazed at how many people I was passing, and even more fell behind as ran back downhill.  With hundreds of people starting every 15 minutes there were racers all around me.  

Then we climbed up, over, under and through various types of walls.  We carried heavy Atlas stones, flipped a tired, climbed a rope, hoisted a sandbag in the air, and well, you get the idea.   Each event is different and the obstacles are never the same either. Check more out here: https://www.spartan.com/en/race/obstacles/obstacle-details

I managed to avoid doing any Burpees (a pushup then a jump in the air, 30 times in a row) as punishment for not finishing an obstacle.  At least until the last mile, when I was unable to get across a twisting monkey bar.  I'll have to train harder for that one next time.  I also proved unable to throw a spear into a hay bale.   If you find me looking to buy hay in the future, I'm probably using it for spear practice rather than needing bedding for the chickens!

The final obstacles took us through a pond, and across muddy ditches.  FINALLY, I got wet. The water felt amazing!   Too bad it was so near the end, even drinking a cup of water at 6 aid stations I kept getting hot, dusty and thirsty.  

At the finish, we ran and jumped over fire.  Cheesy?   Actually, for most American this type of race provides a challenge and an adventure that maybe is hard to get any other way.   It was fun.  

My results are atypical, if I do say so.   I finished 36th woman out of 1280, and 236 overall out of 4000 racers!    I'm still not sure if I like this type of racing, but it seems to suit my strengths...perhaps I will try the Competitive category next time.    Even Jim liked the look of the race and said he will join me, too! 

Lots of burpees....

My wave starts with hundreds of people

The kids had their own race with mini obstacles!

July 5, 2017

High Creek Canyon Backpacking

Welcome back (to me).

Mononucleosis.   Yuk.  You're supposed to get that in college, not at the age of 30 something.   Hah.   Much complaining later, I knuckled down to really try to NOT DO ANYTHING physically demanding for as long as it took to get better.   I skipped a half marathon, a 50 mile run, and my favorite adventure race of the year, and didn't run a step for 2 months.   That's probably the longest I haven't run in 20 years.

I found out I could do strength workouts (slowly), and I took the dog for lots of walks.  I tried to keep training dog agility with Spot, but I would end a 30 second run wheezing and trying to catch my breath.  Wait...I always do that.  

Many times I thought I was better, and then I would try a 1 mile run, and then need to sleep for hours the next day, my energy was gone.  It's been 3 months now, and I think I'm finally getting back to normal.  Yay!

So we canceled all big summer plans which included lots of biking and hiking, and we are enjoying being in Utah for a hot summer.   Which includes exploring Utah now that I am feeling better.   I had been getting the itch to go backpacking, and we thought taking the dog with us would be fun.  

The Wasatch mountains are beautiful, but they tend to be steep and dry and not have many good places to camp.   I wouldn't say they are flatter in northern Utah, but we found a hike next to a stream, which would be good for Spot.  

High Creek Canyon lived up to its name as we drove up a narrow rutted gravel road to the trailhead.  The creek was in spring flood stage, and I hope I remembered correctly that all the creek crossings on the trail had bridges!   The snow this year had been almost 200% of normal so now that it was all melting, the streams were high everywhere.

We had the trail mostly to ourselves with only a couple of cars in the lot.    I kept Spot on the leash as we started up the trail, partly because of the fresh cow poop everywhere and partly because I was being overly caucious about his safety.  The first two crossings of the creek were on nice new bridges, but the third one was a rickety old thing that we had to cross on hands and knees ourselves.   The water was over Spots back and moving very fast.  I thought to carry him across the stream, and walked across myself to see how it felt.  Barely keeping my balance with my walking poles, I figured a wiggly 50 pound dog was a recipe for disaster.  The bridge it was.  Spot was cajoled to sit on my lap, and then I inched my way across.

We really hoped there were no more sketchy crossings.  Of course, there were, but the water was lessening as we walked up the canyon, and the logs were just big enough Spot could get himself across with a firm hand on his collar.  

The trail was a little sketchy too.  This early in the season, no one had done any trail maintenance except the cows, and there were large deadfalls to walk around.  It was a very Wasatch-y hike.  Dense forest, steep trail, thick underground, and no flat spots anywhere.   Certainly the opposite of walking through the Redwoods or across an alpine meadow.   

Somehow a horse had gone up and around all the deadfalls, and we heard about it later meeting a runner with his two dogs coming down the trail.  He had been up to our destination for the night and back again, saying that the lake was still mostly frozen.  A couple with two horses had tried to make it up there on a snowfield, and the horse had fallen and cut itself up.  They were slowly limping back down the trail. 

We met them a mile or so later, and could see that it would be a long slow descent for them.  It was already 6 at night so hopefully they would be able to make it down before dark.  We were hoping to find a campsite before dark, and had seen only 1 place in 5 miles that was flat and clear enough to pitch a tent.  When in doubt, go higher, and the trail complied.  It was steep, but the views opened up of the valley and several waterfalls.  There was evidence of some really major avalanches over the winter, with tress across the valley bent at 90 degrees or snapped off.  

Just below the lake we reach snow crossings and decided that we really didn't feel the need to camp by the frozen lake.  We found a decent flat spot across what was now a really tame High Creek and Spot watched us set up camp.  He wasn't too excited about his rehydrated dinner, but did enjoy digging in the dirt.  Right before crawling into the tent for the night.   Luckily he's a self-cleaning dog.

Our tent is small even for two people much less a dog, and our gear is lightweight and fragile.  We tried to cover the bottom of our sleeping mats with a foam pad to give him a place to sleep.   Spot had other ideas.  Given the opportunity to be close to us, he decided to lean against Jim's feet all night and lay his head on the very delicate mat Jim was sleeping on.  Somehow the sharp teeth and nails didn't pop anything all night, but no one except Spot got a good nights sleep!

We woke up to him snuggled between our bags.  
It was fairly chilly out but this is a dog who lays in snowbanks for fun.

A nice swim in Bear Lake on the way home to really tire the dog out.  
He didn't move much for 2 days.

This isn't Bear Lake, but it wants to be.  Actually, it's Silver Lake, closer to home.  It's pretty too.

And then....bacon covered Aspargus.  Because I can.

April 11, 2017

Secret Slot Canyon, Southern Utah

I love the idea of slot canyons.    Beautiful smooth rock carved by water into gorgeous shapes and textures, a little adventure in finding them, and a physical challenge to get through them.  Right up my alley.    I kinda think of them as America's answer to Europe's Via Ferratas.   No two are alike, they have varying difficulty levels, and some of the best ones require being far off the beaten path.   Add in some rock scrambling and route finding and that's why I find it all so fascinating.  Oh, and they are both a little dangerous, and very weather dependent.  

So I do love the idea of slot canyons, but the reality of them is that they are quite tricky to both find and enjoy.   The best time of year to go through them (spring) is also when the water is super cold.  And most of them have water obstacles of some sort, although wading in ankle-deep stuff is a lot different than swimming through murky stagnant water.  Unfortunately, we can't make more of them as is done with via ferratas.   And I'm not terribly good with technical rope skills which means a lot of slots are way out of my comfort level.  

Skinny Secret Slot
I've been eyeing the slot canyons down Hole In The Rock road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for years.   Amazing slots.  Fairly easy to find, albeit navigation is still important.   But this year was a very wet winter, and the normal slots have higher than normal water levels.  Having waded through hypothermia-inducing water in Little Wild Horse slot canyon, we weren't excited about swimming.

Enter Keith of Earth Tours.    Without much experience in slots, we decided to hire a guide...the plus being that he would show us some slots off the beaten path.  Boy, did we ever.  Not only did we not see any other people the entire day, but we barely saw any other footprints!  At least, human footprints.  What we did see were animal prints off all sorts, including fox, turkey, coyote, rat, bobcat, and mountain lion...amazing.

Moki Marbles
The 6 mile loop hike with Keith was slower than our usual breakneck pace, which allowed us to look for prints, enjoy the scenery, and check out some really unusual rock formations.  Keith was a geologist and was able to explain the layers of rock and how they formed, as well as knowing just about everything else about the desert, including the plants and animals.

I was most fascinated but the Moke Marbles, round balls of iron ore, which somehow leach out of the sandstone, group together, and then pop out of the softer sandstone as it erodes away.  We saw thousands of these things all over.   Tempting to pick one up and take it home...but no...we left them for future visitors to enjoy.

We also passed by some really delicate balanced rocks.  A harder layer of rock had broken off from the mesa above and fallen down on the slick rock.  As these boulders somewhat sheltered the sandstone they landed on from rain and weathering, many of the boulders were now precariously balanced on delicate slivers of sandstone.  A toddler could have knocked them over, but it was a testament to how isolated an area we were in that they were still pristine.

Of course, the highlight of the route were the slot canyons, several of them.   One of them, Keith was surprised to see, had a small rockfall where he typically stopped for a lunch break!  He hadn't been through since last fall, and each year rainfall and floods bring changes to the canyons.   The rockfall now formed a small pool instead, but we were able to navigate around it and continue on.

The final slot of the day was appropriately the deepest and longest and most challenging.  So challenging, in fact, that we left our packs behind to avoid dragging them and getting stuck in the rocks.   We would walk back for them later.   The slot had enough challenges for us even lightened of our packs...in fact, I got the idea that most of Keith's clients weren't able to get all the way through the slot, turning around to backtrack at a fallen log blocking the way.  I wasn't going to be deterred, and we inched our way high above a pool of water to continue on.   Of course, the question with slots is that you never know what's coming ahead, and whether you will need to back track.  Without a rope, we knew we always needed to be able to reverse course to safely escape if necessary.

The slot tightened into a really enjoyable deep crevice.  We used all of our recently acquired slot skills, and stemmed, bridged and chimneyed our way along the dark crack.   Eventually the bottom of the slot dropped about 10 feet, with no easy way to work our way down.   This is where we all regretted wearing shorts and t-shirts on such a warm day...we had no clothing left to save our skin!  We wedged an elbow here, a knee there, and with minimal damage and Keith's helpful shoulder, were able to do a controlled slide down to floor level.   Now we were committed to the slot, as getting all three of us back up again would have required a lot of teamwork and a bit more loss of skin!  Luckily that wasn't necessary...the slot ended shortly afterwards into a sandy wash.

Jim and Keith wedge themselves high against the narrow walls to avoid a pool of water
I tried to pare down my photos of the day, but we saw so much amazing scenery that I couldn't decide what to get rid of!   Lots of animal prints and balanced rocks made the cut.  

Keith and his extensive knowledge of the desert terrain made the day very enjoyable.  Plus the weather cooperated and gave us the warmest, sunniest, calmest day we had seen in weeks.

AND....we kept our feet dry!

Where were we?   Keith swore us to secrecy about the location of his slot.  All I can say is that we were somewhere in Southern Utah.   If you do identify where this slot is, please do your part to keep this off the beaten (Internet) path!

Turkey dragging feathers
Rat prints on a sand dune
Mountain Lion

Balanced rocks

A young slot canyon

Frog eggs in a reflective slot canyon pool

Moki Marbles
Moki Marbles in an evaporated pool

Keith and Dawn head into the canyon