Thursday, 27 February 2014

Swimming and other adventures in cross-training

Today is week three of the boot, and close to week six of my involuntary off-season. Things are healing (oh god I hope) and I'm getting pretty used to a new life of not being a type A neurotic obsessive runner, and instead just being a type A neuroticobsessive human being.

The workouts
Every morning I wake up, drink my coffee, and head to the pool. As far as training goes, immersed in chlorine with a watery wake-up, I have found myself in a softer world. I like the rhythm of the strokes, the stretch, the flipturns like a metronome, the growing light through the windows. I like pull-buoys and kick-boards and the quiet din and hum. I like the underwater lines, the too-exhausted-to-pull-out-of-the-pool arms, the new strength in my body.

Much like running, my fear of change and love of monotony makes swim workouts enjoyable - I do 3000m straight swims AND 3400m "workouts" AND interval sessions, so it is like practically doing three sports.

Making new friends
Swimming is more difficult with regards to the social aspect. In the pool, the only real "social" aspect is the fat grasping fingers of the overweight man with flippers who swims behind me, but doesn't pass me. In the locker room, I have started to make friends with the other "regulars". Normally, striking up a conversation while one (or both) parties are naked might be considered unusual (to put it charitably) or creepy (to put it uncharitably). However, trail running has given me a high tolerance for getting naked in front of strangers - a tolerance that the strangers, sadly, do not always share.

The plan B workouts
I am still trying to heal one injury, so I don't want to incur a new one. As a result, I take a couple days a week to brave my nemesis, the spin bike. (Okay, I also wimped out with the three days of "snow", completely forsaking my 4-years-in-Ontario roots, and refused to drive to the pool).

It turns out that you CAN, in fact, do a spin bike workout in a boot (if the people at the gym are sympathetic, which they are). The downside if that you have to do an hour goddamn spin workout.

the blur is the boot

There are several reasons why I don't like biking. One could be physique. I heard this explanation on how to be a good hill-climber on the bike: "Jump up and down in front of the mirror and make sure nothing jiggles. Then suffer for 15hrs a week of training. You will be a good hill climber." (To be fair, Chessa uses sort of the same program, and it does seem to work for her). However, when my favourite foods include cheese and ice cream with nutella, the jiggle test is a hard one to pass. Also, as an almost-busy-season accountant, I feel like my suffering should be more work-based this time of year.

Another, more compelling reason, is that my ass is allergic to the bike seat. This has resulted in a lot of whining (and potentially some melodramatic-ness), and many in-depth discussions with my triathlete friends about 1) am I wearing padded bike shorts? (sometimes, but they are my Mom's so sorta embarrassing); 2) am I wearing underwear? and a follow up; 3) how many pairs of underwear; because 4) bikers don't wear underwear. Well, I like wearing underwear, so an activity that doesn't require underwear is not an activity I want to be regularly part of. Also I am just balls-out really bad at biking.

I have no motor skills
Both my physio and my massage therapist recommended pilates as a way to get a good workout and build a strong core for whenever the hell I return to running. So I go to pilates class. I am surrounded by 80% super-attractive females with great makeup and 20% ripped guys. So I find the spot at the back of the class next to the girl in baggy clothes. Who, along with EVERYONE else, totally kicks my ass. Pilates is hard! The crunches are hard, the leg stuff makes weird sounds in my hip, and the stuff on my side makes me feel like I am a spawning salmon. 10/10 for a hard workout, 1/10 for me looking at all cool or dignified while doing it.

Maintaining race-weight
I used to run hard for double-digit hours a week, do yoga, and walk I swim and make my co-workers walk to the photocopier to pick up my printing, using my boot as an excuse for being too lazy to do it myself (thanks guys!).

To avoid being able to only fit into business-muumuus by the end of tax season, I've had to restrict my food intake. So far, alright. The issue with running less and eating less chocolate is that I'm a bit grumpier. My work is pretty much all guys. Their collective method of dealing with grumpy women is the chocolate approach. However, as we are also accountants, we have a naturally frugal streak. The result? Discounted chocolate. Highlights have been the Feb. 17th Valentines' day chocolate...and the late-February advent calendar chocolate (discounted to 99cents...this was put in our office kitchen and as at today's date is virtually all eaten).

Other hobbies
I have pretty much abandoned the idea of being a well-rounded and more interesting person with a new hobby. Instead, I am back to tried-and-true favourites of drinking wine, reading books, writing, and googling potential swimming injuries as a way to keep myself balanced, or at least reasonably-occupied.

Weirdly enough, like a training routine, there is an offseason routine. Like a training routine, this one had an adjustment period, and ups and downs. Maybe this is a break from my running life, what I want my life to be - but it's the life I have. And although I constantly smell like chlorine and all the sleeves on work shirts are too-tight, I get to rock out to concerts on weeknights, be visited by old friends, get that perfect 3-glasses-of-wine buzz with my girlfriends, write the hell out of the ideas swirling around in my head, make non-quinoa recipes, and maybe even learn to do a proper goddamn v-sit one day. So, in the end, like a training cycle, I think I'm starting to hit the off-season sweet spot.

See you all in the pool! (seriously, join us).

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Tumbler Ridge

This isn't a story about running or hiking or really anything outdoorsy. I've had it on the tip of my tongue for years and years, but was never quite sure how to say it (I write much better than I speak, things get less jumbled) or how to frame it. It's a job story - sort of. In the end, though, it wakes me up at 2am on nights when the blur of traffic keeps me up, and sits with me deep into a run when other thoughts go away. It's been here, itching at me, for a while - I just needed to find the right words.

And anyways, it is enough like running - the part of running that takes me to strange places, uncomfortable places, places where the skim of politeness and normalcy get sweated off, so just the uncomfortable guts remain.(also, the last couple weeks have been a bit short of run adventures, so here goes)

Fall 2006
I was one week into my job as an articling student at a Big 4 firm in Vancouver. Other students, fresh from training, were photocopying, or finding files, or hole punching. I was getting ready to go to Tumbler Ridge, in Northern BC, to visit a coal mine. It's neither here nor there, but I was barely 22 years old and barely four months into living in Vancouver and mostly vibrating with loneliness in an unfamiliar city full of too much concrete and glass.

Travel time
The plan was to observe the inventory at a coal mine. I was sent up because I was the cheapest available labour. The supervisor on the job was sent up because he was very good at his job. Being very good at your job in a Big 4 firm means working a lot and doing unpleasant things, in hopes of getting promoted and having other people do the unpleasant things for you. In this case, it meant my supervisor had to visit northern BC to look at big piles of coal on the night he was supposed to take his wife out to a nice dinner for their wedding anniversary. So that was pretty much the spirits he was in.

Our flight to Prince George left at 7am. I arrived at the airport way too early for the flight,  and fidgeted in the lounge for almost an hour. My supervisor arrived 10 minutes before take-off, glowering into a muffin and coffee. The plane took off and it was still dark outside. I shut my eyes to sleep - then felt guilty as I saw my supervisor working on his laptop.

The plane we flew on was tiny, and barely half-full. This is an important detail, because it shows just how unlikely it was that my luggage would be lost. But my luggage was lost. Because we would be flying back late the next day, there was no point arranging to have it returned. I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and running shoes. It was expected to get well below freezing.

My supervisor impatiently sorted out our rental car, and we started the 2.5hr drive to Tumbler Ridge. It was a sorta-sunny late September day. The light was milky and muted and the blue sky already had the pale cast of winter. We drove over low hills with trees turning orange, past rivers and cliffs. The towns we went through had one stoplight and a few scattered buildings. At the biggest one, we picked up supplies - a toothbrush for me, and a container of honey peanuts - our lunch.

The town
We arrived in Tumbler Ridge at midday, not as a large town but more as an exhausting of all other options on the road. It was a mining town - there were two coal mines nearby - and in the middle of the day it was deserted. All the buildings were low-rises, all grey concrete. The town was boom-bust - at that time, a nice house could be bought for $25,000. There was one restaurant and one bar.

The mine
I was loaned steel toed boots, a big orange safety vest, and we took a pick-up truck to the mine. The mine was at one of the larger mountains, which was being systematically ground away in order to mine coal. My supervisor told me that, by the end of the mine's life, the mountain would be gone. We drove to the gaping, open pit, standing next to mining equipment that felt stories tall. The truck wove its way up on packed coal to the edge of the pit, the wan sun slanted into the black in the late afternoon.

The mine site office was two trailers that shook in the wind gusts. We spoke to the people working there and gazed out at the huge piles of coal - that was the inventory we would be "counting" tomorrow.

The night
From the mine we went right to the "nicer" restaurant, which was also a club, and had dinner with two of the people working for the mine - who loved the north, the fishing, the endless forest, the quiet. The town was too small for hotels - instead, me and my supervisor would be sharing one of the apartments in the mining housing. I took a shower, washed all my clothes in the sink, and cranked the heat in my room in hopes they would dry by the next morning.

The coal
The next morning, in winds that made the two trailers at the mine site shudder and knock against each other, we went to count coal. Or really, we went to watch a guy with a GPS rod count it, and do whatever accountants do to make sure he was doing it right. This mostly involved getting coal dust blown at my face for hours as low clouds covered the top of the mountain. This was the point of the trip - both of us flown up, drove up, to see the coal. And there it was.

The accident
It was getting to afternoon, and light snow was falling intermittently. We were finishing lunch at a cafe where we were the only people, and preparing to make the drive back to the airport for the afternoon flight. My supervisor got a call - one of the senior engineers at the mine had broken his foot. There were no real hospital facilities in Tumbler Ridge. As a result, the engineer would need to be driven to Prince George, then would fly to Vancouver.

The rental car was in my supervisors' name, so it was up to me to drive the engineer, in his car, back to the Prince George airport.

The drive
Even though it was only mid-afternoon, it was already starting to get dark. The sky was filled with clouds and the air smelt like snow. I picked up the engineer, who had already been given multiple T3s. I am a notoriously bad driver, and 22-year-old me was definitely not any better than now. However, it was pretty much a straight shot for a couple hours down one highway to the airport, so I figured I could do it. Besides, there were very few alternatives.

I started to drive. There were no other cars on the highway. I hadn't showered, and could feel the grit of coal on my skin. The engineer next to me started to talk.

He was old, had been doing the job over 25 years. He worked two weeks on, two weeks off. Had done it his whole career. About how strong his wife was, raising two grown daughters on her own half the time, him gone to the mine site. About how sometimes only work seemed real, and home just a holding pattern.

About how, years ago, he wasn't sure, but he was crying at this point, work was harder, shifts were longer and it got dark and stayed dark for a long time. He was weaker. About how he hit his daughters - definitely one, maybe both. Not just once, maybe a while - a month, a couple years, time can go funny. About - oh god, he was crying so much now, maybe the drugs or the pain or the twilight at 4pm and us the only cars on the highway and I could feel the coal dust under my eyelids, in my throat - about how much he loved them and how sorry he was, he was so goddamn sorry. He knew they loved him, but he didn't think they would ever forgive him, and how could you love someone the right way?

I'm not a good driver at the best of times, and I can't say the right thing at the best of times. I checked each sign - 50km to Prince George, 18km to Prince George. I made sure to get into the passing lane and signal correctly when I passed a truck. The crying had faded, and the engineer was very quiet. I didn't put the radio on.

I thought about the coal mine - on the edge of a soon-to-be-extinct mountain, next to an empty town,  trees and trees for miles and winter already coming in September. I thought of the mining housing, from the 80s, brought back again from the boom-bust-boom cycle. The high piles of coal the GPS contractor clamboured on, to measure grades and volume and all that blackness getting shipped to China.

I arrived at the airport and put the engineer into a wheelchair. I don't think I said goodbye. My misplaced bag was waiting for me at the check-in desk.

I got back into the rental car with my supervisor. We still had a couple hours before his flight. It had been two days without internet, and he needed to check his email. We drove around the town with the WiFi searching on, looking to pirate wireless from a house with an unsecured network. We also took a detour by the local highschool to look at the girls: "this town is so damn ugly, I want to look at something attractive."

We arrived back at 10pm on a Friday night, and drove back down Granville Street with the comforting lights of the city on either side. My coworkers were already out at a bar. I was exhausted and grimy. The drive still made my veins feel like they were filled with something light and corrosive. I showered, changed, went out, drank too much and danced until the place closed down.

Five days later, I was still scraping coal dust from behind my ears. The mine was bought out by a larger company several months later. I'm not sure how much of the mountain is still there.

I know I'm supposed to write about running, about the outdoors, to be funny and self-deprecating enough to be readable, even when I get a bit dark. The thing with life, and maybe running, is the fine line between a bit edgy and really dark. That self-control when all the defenses are down, that scraping scraping scraping away between whatever life is, and the truth underneath. That ability to find our edge, face it, and pull back hard when needed.

And sometimes, at the end of a really long run, at the end of a hard day, when I can't quite find words and everything just seems that much closer, I still remember that afternoon: me driving, us alone for miles with just a weaving flat road, surrounded by forest. The engineer, stripped down to his pain and his grief and his demons, crying next to me. My eyes still watering from the coal dust, looking straight ahead, with my foot as hard on the gas as I could go.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Chilcotin Camping Trip

Windy Pass

I am on day 10 of the 28 day Boot of Shame challenge (the challenge is not doing anything stupid to impede healing), and currently have no actual racing or training to write about. As a result, the next couple posts will be a sort of an Alex trail running backstory, involving my first pretty lame efforts to hike / camp / be rugged / deal with huge overwhelming fear of grizzly bears. (I am happy to provide swimming updates, but so far the only person really clamoring for these has been Craig)

So...instead of writing about my continued rivalry with breast stroke guy in the fast swim lane, I will write about the 5-day backcountry camping trip I took to the Chilcotins with an old boyfriend in August of 2011.

A note about hiking and Mark
When I met Mark, I had done exactly one hike - the Lions - in running shoes. Over the next couple years I accumulated some running injuries but had a firm love of the outdoors. So, on recovery from stress fracture #1, I learned to day hike. At first, my ability to go uphill pretty quickly was only matched by my inability to go downhill with any type of speed, at all. Not too surprisingly, my navigation skills were somewhat lacking.

The way I got into backcountry camping was going to a non-backcountry-camping campsite. It was 9pm, so obviously I was ready for bed. The people at the site next to us were obviously ready to drink for the next four hours. So when Mark told me that if I hiked a couple hours to a camping site I would be guaranteed a good night's sleep at whatever god-early hour I wanted to go to bed, I was completely sold.

Mark and I decided to go camping in the Chilcotins based on a hiking guidebook and the experience of doing exactly two one-night backcountry hikes in the past year. 

The plan
We decided to do the trip as a sort-of-backpack / sort-of-dayhike. We would set up base camp at Spruce Lake, a 13km hike in, do a series of dayhikes, and then backpack out. This meant we could cart in more gear, explore different parts of the area, and not have to break and set up camp every day. Sort of a camping-lite idea. 

The month leading up to the hike, I had pretty severe shoulder pain, which was sometimes sorta-remedied with a tennis ball roll-out. The days leading up to the hike I had a pretty good head cold (in the summer! what the hell?) remedied by Nyquil and a lot of whining.

This was going to be my first "real" hiking trip, as we would be going to a fairly remote area. On short runs, I have overpacking instincts which remain to this day (as evidenced by my massive backpack from Kneeknacker 2012), so for my first "long" hike here are some of the things I brought:
- food for about 10 dinners (we were staying 5 nights)
- a couple Nalgene water bottles of wine (I regret nothing.)
- two books (softcover!)

It took several re-packings for my backpack to reach "only" 45lbs. 

Getting there - Day 0 - Vancouver to Gun Lake
The Chilcotin area is a five-hour drive from Vancouver - head to Whistler, with the jagged Coast Mountains on either side - stiff and icy with glaciers, even in the heat of summer. From Whistler, follow the meadows to Pemberton, with more mountains covered in dense green. From there, the road narrows and climbs, climbs, climbs more along a steep river gorge. Towards Lillooet, the green fades to big, dusty brown cliffs. From the last straggling houses in Lilloet, we turned down a sometimes paved, sometimes dirt road.

By this time, it was approaching late afternoon. The flat blue sky gave way to thunderheads. We were the only car on the road. There was no cell service, and the radio crackled into silence. We passed farms with half-hearted fences and dry grass. We drove alongside Gun Lake, past half-burnt trees left from forest fires years before, and turned up an old logging road to Tyax Lodge. There, we bought the most detailed topographical map we could find, and ate a slightly surreal and fairly fancy dinner at the lodge, surrounded by middle-aged tourists.

Just as the sky was tinging darker, we drove back and set up camp next to Gun lake as the clouds rolled past the sunset.

Really getting there - Day 1 - Gun Creek trailhead to Spruce Lake
We woke up to a clearer sky and no rain, so packed up as quickly as possible. The last part of our drive was on unmarked logging roads. We turned a steep left, then navigated by how many kilometers we had driven. Mark thought this was an excellent time for me to practice my navigation skills. Here's the thing with the logging road network: most of the times, navigation was choosing the right way at a fork in the road. So, a 50% chance of choosing the right route if this was done at random. However, it turns out my navigation was worse than random. This had the benefit of exploring many other logging roads, but the downside of taking a lot longer to actually find the trail head. Finally, though, we drove the last couple sketchy kilometers to the trail head, praying the late 90s Chrysler two-wheel drive could negotiate the dry and not-so-dry creekbed crossings (it did). 

The start of the hike was a parking lot with two other cars, a dilapidated outhouse up an overgrown trail, and a sign warning about grizzly bears. Compared to the packed trailhead parking lots at places like Garibaldi or Helm Creek, it felt like we were really on the edge of the wilderness - more remote than remote.

I need to learn to pack light

Mark helped me heft my way-too-heavy backpack, and I staggered forward. We were off. Us and the many many mosquitos were the only ones on the trail at first. We walked along as shafts of sunlight came through the poplars. The trails, compared to the ones we usually hikes, were dusty and easy. No roots, few rocks. There were no other hikers, but a steady stream of mountain bikers passed us as the day progressed.

My usual hiking pace was described by Mark as a "death march", but the overloaded backpack slowed me down a bit. The amazing scenery made the hike go by (and lessened the pain of being passed by mountain bikers on the uphill). The trail followed the creek, then climbed through poplars, breaking out onto vast meadows of wildflowers.

Gun Creek

We reached our home base for the next several days after about three and a half hours and many many photos - a series of sites right next to Spruce Lake. We were the only people there. After pitching a tent, putting our food in the bear locker (remember: grizzlies), we unpacked the key item: a hammock. The hammock was made of string, barely barely fit the two of us (and not quite fit if I ate a large meal), and was precariously tied to two trees overhanging the edge of the lake. We had a half-hearted meal of bread and cheese, then settled back to drink wine out of special "hiking" cups and watch the sun set over the lake.

best hammock ever

A note on bears and outhouses
The campsite was great as we had it all to ourselves. The campsite, to me, was less than ideal in that it had an open-pit toilet (ie. no door, facing the outdoors head-on) that faced directly into a big, not-at-all-empty forest at the far edge of the site. This meant that every.damn.time at night, I would have to overcome my huge fear of grizzly bears, strap on my headlamp, and then use the outhouse while holding my bear spray in one hand and toilet paper in the other. So I am not a huge fan of the open pit toilets is what I am saying. I also hiked with bearspray the entire trip.

Day 2 - overlooking Spruce Lake and the flu

I woke up to a brilliant blue sky and Mark having caught the same flu I had. I set off several medium-sized flares while attempting to cook breakfast on our little firefly stove and had a hot beverages ready for when Mark finally surfaced. At this point, I was caffeinated, obnoxious, and ready to do a ton of hiking. Mark was ready to go back to bed. We compromised we me reading in the sunshine for a bit, then doing a mellow afternoon hike to a ridge overlooking Spruce Lake.

One of the highlights was seeing a flat plane land on the lake (a lot of mountain bikers are dropped off at the lake, and do a one-way out to Tyax Lodge). Another highlight was the top of the ridge: Cinnamon-coloured, rounded mountains with odd spires and shapes on one side, and the sharp and snow covered coast mountain range on the other side. A final highlight was seeing bear dropping on the trails that looked....recent, and one of my fastest downhills ever to get away from the potential bear.

Oh man...the lake. We got to the far side of the lake, dusty and hot and dirty. The float plane had left. There was nobody, it seemed, forever. We were too lazy to go back to the camp for towels or a change of clothes, so we just stripped down and jumped in. The water felt fantastic. The next best feeling was laying on the dock, back to the warm wood, staring up at the clouds drifting across the blue.

Day 3 - Windy pass to Eldorado Basin circle trip
We woke up the next morning and Mark's flu was not a match for my enthusiasm to do a big-ass day hike and really see the area. We set off with healthy fuel of about a pound of sausage and cheese, a bell pepper, and many cliff bars. The hike was going to be about 27km with 2000m of climbing, climbing up a series of ridges and then descending into a series of bowls.

early keener

The first climb was up the aptly-named Windy Pass. Pretty much as soon we we got above the treeline my pace increased (which is why all photos are thankfully courtesy of Mark). Besides a couple mountain bikers, it was just us on the lonely way up. It never rained that day, but the dark clouds on top of the pass made it feel pretty remote. I felt exhilarated at the top...until I was reminded that we would need to go BACK over the damn pass on our return, plus over another three passes that day. I maybe should have started out a bit slower.

not especially warm

We had lunch overlooking the top of another small basin, before tackling El Dorado basin - one of the biggest climbs and the best view. I loved the huge, rounded mountains, and the dry landscape. What I did not love, as we made our way back to climb, then descend Windy Pass, was my earlier enthusiasm for hiking really, really fast.

El Dorado mountain

This ended up with me sitting at the top of Windy Pass, cranky, with Mark giving me our last Cliff Bar (thank you, Mark!) and explaining to me that, somehow, I would in fact need to get back to the camp on my own steam, so there were limited options besides hiking. And yes, now is a good place to note that, despite having the flu, Mark's more measured pacing strategy resulted in him being able to out-hike me.

the approach to Windy Pass going back

one last downhill

The carbs kicked in, and 1.5hrs later found us back at the camp. When I finally took off my shoes, I had a blister the size of a fist on my right ankle. After grossing out Mark, I popped it and taped it down as much as I could. Then passed out in the tent for about an hour.

A note about washing and hiking
When the weather is warm, I am all for washing off in the nearest body of water. When it is cold out and/or there are huge vengeful mosquitos, I am really not that concerned with personal hygeine. That evening saw me take the shortest "bath" ever. 1) get naked 2) run / hobble into lake quickly enough to out-race mosquitos (not successful) 3) splash water around 4) run out, dry off, and put on huge cloud of bug spray pretty much negating benefits of "cleaning".

The evening saw us cooking on our tiny stove right besides the lake. One of the best feelings was to crawl into my sleeping bag while in the hammock and slowly watch the light fade (the sleeping bag was also good because it was cold and it kept the mosquitos off most parts of my body).

Day 4 - trail run to Hummingbird Lake
I woke up that morning at 7am...and then went back to bed for another two hours. Mark seemed to have magically recovered from both the flu and from the previous day's hike. We decided to do a trail run to Hummingbird Lake - about a 18km roundtrip. Based on the topographical map, the route seemed fairly flat and easy to navigate. As a result we set off without a) food / water or b) a map.

we didn't bring a camera...Hummingbird Lake is at the end of this valley

Early trail running Alex
As a note, this is before my serious trail running days. 2014 Alex (when not injured) carries a running backpack with water and food for any run longer than a solid 30minutes, and welcome "photo opportunities", aka chances to rest and catch her breath. 2014 Alex also embraces "powerhiking", which is pretty much walking uphill. 2011 Alex wanted to travel light, and thought that walking up any sort of incline meant that the run was a failure.

The run to the lake followed high above Gun creek, along a valley flanked by mountains.

This meant that as the run started on a downhill, instead of being happy (downhill is fun!), I was actually cranky because I knew I would be faced with the prospect of going uphill on the way back. I also was a bit nervous about the navigation. The thing is, Mark has an almost unnatural ability to find the right path, but had to hear countless times of "are you SURE?" "this looks weird" "we should be at the lake sooner" (well, yes, but we were slow). After skirting around what appeared to be a small clump of boulders - we were at the lake. It was turquoise, ringed by trees, and had mountains rising at the end of the valley. It also had about a billion mosquitos, excited for the blood of the first humans there in a while. So, 15 seconds later, we were on our way back.

On our way back, in true Alex trail running style, my insistence on navigating us ("I don't think that's the right turn - it looks different") resulted in doing some extra uphill before finding our way back to the main trail. Oh - and it got warm, I got thirsty, and I luckily didn't get any sort of beaver fever after drinking out of the least-sketchy-looking creek.

Two and a half hours we arrived back at the camp, pretty wiped out, and demolished the remaining sausage and cheese as our recovery food. (Fact: the lentils and other healthy food I packed was untouched the entire trip).

That evening Mark made a campire, and on our last night, it was lovely to watch the moon rise over the lake, and then the stars come out through the trees.

Day 5 - Spruce Lake - parking lot - Vancouver!
We got up early (actually early) and tried to pack up our gear quickly...which, due to all the crap I brought, ended up taking over an hour (I've since gotten a bit speedier!). Then, loaded back up with the heavy pack, I teetered down the trail back down to the parking lot.

The morning was gorgeous - the early morning coolness, the waving grass, watching the sun start its rise from the mountains across the valley. As we descended, it got warmer. Our bug spray had pretty much run out, which lead me to discover that it is possible to get mosquito bites IN YOUR EAR. Oh man. By the end, my total lack of upper body combined with little hiking fitness had me staggering along, and I was so happy to hear the rush of Gun Creek that signalled we were almost at the car.

We were both pretty tired, hot, and sweaty. The car had fresh (sorta) clothes. Right as we were going into the creek to wiped off, a group of people on horseback showed up on the opposite side of the river. I'm not going to say I nearly got naked in front of strangers...but it definitely prepared me for my changing-in-parking lots after trail runs.

Oh god food is so good
We finished our hike around noon, and the plan was to get back to Vancouver by the evening. The one thing that was needed was actual food on the way. Going through Lillooet, Mark spotted a Greek restaurant. Although Lilooet isn't exactly known for its ethnic food, we went in and ordered a huge amount of food (and two cokes). Definitely the best Greek food I've had :) Then, as it had been a full three hours since we had eaten, we stopped for milkshakes in Squamish on the way back.

A note about navigation 
The trails were pretty much unmarked, so using the topographical map is key. There were times where taking a different fork could lead at a wildly far-off, different destination than than taking the right one. We used this one.

It was early August, and it would get cold as hell at night. The time were were there it never rained, but it never really got into shorts and t-shirt weather. Hiking over the passes can get quite exposed. On higher areas there were snow crossings, but nothing that couldn't be negotiated in trail runners.

In conclusion
I was seriously underprepared for the hiking trip. I packed way too much stuff, almost burnt down the campsite lighting the stove, and had no concept of pacing. And even when I was cranky and tired, I still loved it (and, thankfully, Mark was much more mellow and knew what he was doing with regards to camping). It was my first trip to someplace that felt really remote, and it definitely planted a seed in me for the desire to go to somewhere new and beautiful and experience it on my own feet.

Here's the thing - three years later, all the edges are smoothed over in my memory - the mosquitos, the blisters, the huge and irrational fear of a grizzly attack, the bonking at the top of Windy Pass. What remains are itchy feet and restless energy and an oh-god-I-just-want-to-go-back. And that's maybe the biggest love of trails - to find somewhere that haunts days at a desk and nights falling asleep listening to traffic for somewhere that much wilder.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

FITS: Season 2

warmest feet in the Vancouver polar outflow tundra

It turns out, I don't seem to always be able to choose my off-season. The last two years, off-season has chosen me. And, this year, it chose me and in particular my left ankle pretty damn hard.

In about a month, I get to take off the Boot of Shame, see where things are at, and start back the slow build towards getting fit enough to get lost somewhere beautiful. It sucks, but on the same page, it's sort of the price of admission of the things I like to do. It's the reaction for a lot of actions I took last fall, and it's all part of things swinging back into balance.

Thank you

The people that have stuck with me along the way have been nothing short of incredible: Ramsey and Allison who constantly checked up on me to make sure I am not doing all the weight-bearing things I want to be doing, my early morning swim partners and soon-to-be swim partners, my co-workers who have mostly not made fun of my boot for at least 10 minutes (and let me take off in the middle of the day for appointments), and my friends who used to run with me and now knit / drink / hang out with me (I still need new hobbies). Even though my weekly mileage is a very horizontal 20km -  I still completely feel like part of the running community.

Really awesome
And, despite not being quite in one piece, I'm part of the FITS trail team for 2014! I am pretty damn stoked. There are lots of faster runners out there, who write with fewer swear words, and are much less likely to get lost. I am so grateful to once again represent a company that doesn't only make damn good socks, but also stands by its athletes.

With the generous support of FITS, here's what happened last year:
- Raced Chuckanut 50k (and got epically lost on a training run)
- did the road racing thing and ended up 10th female overall at Vancouver marathon in 3:03
- Ran R2R2R Grand Canyon
- almost paced Barry in San Diego
- 3rd female (and first place thrower-upper) at the Mt Hood 50 miler
- Came 2nd overall female at Transrockies 6 day run
- had no blisters (even on my 6 day run)
- had warm feet even when running through snow / ice / freezing streams
- wore one pair of socks for 4 of the 6 days on the run and they still smelled pretty good

The 2014 season is currently starting hard in the pool - just this morning I passed a man doing breastroke in the fast lane!! While the only trails I will be running for the next month are from my car to the pool, I'm pretty excited for the rest of the year. I get into daily discussions with my non-ultra friend about why I would rather swim 3000m straight vs a "workout" of 3400m. He thinks doing one thing for a long time is boring and uncomfortable - things which running and audit have both given me a high tolerance for.

I have pretty much convinced (ie. pressured) my buddy into a week-long canoe trip this May,(I now regret all those comments I made about him having "questionable endurance" - Matt, I'm sorry, please don't destroy my shoulders!). The plan is to be back racing by mid-summer, and have one hell of a fall season. Knowing that I have big goals for August, and even bigger goals for December, helps me make peace with wearing my "racing silver" boot and not doing all the stupid things I want to be doing (running, hiking the BCMC, wearing heels, spin class, the ability to run in order to catch the green lights on my walk to work).

Silver lining
Meanwhile, there are some upsides here. (Ramsey has insinuated that being positive will help my foot, so I will do what it takes!) The boot of shame prevents me not only from making poor running choices, but also prevents me from making questionable choices in general. Based on the picture alone, it will serve as a chastity device for the next month. Nothing kills spontaneity faster than having to deflate the air, then undo a zillion velcro straps. Then there is the balance issue - going down stairs in this thing is ridiculous. And this is going down stairs dead sober and heavily caffeinated. So the drinking will be dramatically reduced for a month. As walking is now unpleasant, I will be motivated to stay at work longer (thus earning more money for the eventual physio required). And I will now have time to reply to the ten texts from my triathlete friend telling me to buy a bike already: "Your ovaries won't hurt on a day like today, it's too cold so they'd be frozen!".

I am not actually very creative or well-rounded
The downside is that pretty much all of my writing material is about running. I am trying to think of other things I do that could be seen as EXTREME, but it is difficult.

  • Extreme auditing? That is called busy season at a Big 4 firm. Biggest extreme moment was a toss-up of the full day I spent photocopying, and the time my supervisor ran out of work for me and sent an email out to other supervisors, volunteering me to help out with anything (including car washing and dry-cleaning picking up). 
  • Extreme wine drinking? This I think is called alcoholism. Plus, doing this with the boot would result in an even worse injury.
  • Extreme cooking? Once I made a double-batch of soup.
  • Extreme knitting? Depending on Lucy's tolerance, this is an option.
  • Extreme TV watching? I tried to binge-watch American Horror Story and ended up sleepless and with a crush on a guy that ended up being the serial killer. 
  • Extreme spectating and volunteering? I have a cowbell, plan on chasing down a vuvuzela, and will be the most obnoxious fan cheering on my friends at all of the upcoming races. This is probably the best idea so far.
These are the people. These are their stories.
I will figure out more things to write about. I mean, other people have extreme stories. The time a dog shark allegedly "attacked" my mom and she kicked it, my brother's many rugby concussions, most of Lucy's stories from before she turned 30, pretty much any adventure run Alicia does, the one time Craig did a workout in spandex that didn't match, and any trip home to Newfoundland taken by Katie. 

Until then. I am really truly going to find a goddamn hobby for the next month...unless looking my injury up on google is a hobby, in which case, I am all set.