Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7 Days & 6 Nights

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love’ -Aurelius

Another morning waiting for the alarm to go off, laying in bed not sleeping.  I had strung a few of these nights together recently.  First there was the excitement of Friday’s win capped off by Maya Moore’s buzzer beating shot in Indy. 

That was followed by a night spend tossing and turning after a missed opportunity to clinch the title in game 4 and now on this Wednesday morning I lay staring at the ceiling waiting to hear Ali’s alarm go off.  The excitement, the unknown of a game 5.  No matter what happened tonight, win or lose the season was over.  This long ride I’d been on since the beginning of June calling every game, home, road, preseason, playoffs.  It ended tonight one way or another.

There was an air of excitement at shoot-around, a focused Lynx team went over Indy’s sets again, at this point knowing them probably as good as the Fever themselves.
They answered the same media questions they’ve been answering for the past two weeks, and finally after a long afternoon it was game time.
Both teams got off to slow starts, just battling as you would expect with two teams that by now are playing for the seventh time this season.  At the half MN led 27-21 after their defense held Indy to just 4 second quarter points.
In the 3rd the Lynx hit the gas, Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff always preach about finding those moments of separation.  Well the Lynx found one and pulled away to win their 3rd WNBA Championship in the past 5 years.  Afterwards I was backstage watching the players and coaches celebrate, thinking how happy I was for all of them.  It had been a long season with tons of ups and downs and yet this team found a way to accomplish their goal.  Coming together and playing their best on the biggest stage.  Nothing had been easy and it was fun to see the smiles on everyone’s faces at what they had accomplished.  I kept thinking to myself, how lucky am I to not only get to call this game but to be back here and join in the celebration.

At the party afterwards in downtown Mpls, shortly after head Coach Cheryl Reeve had doused me with champagne, word came out that Prince, who had attended the game, had invited us out to his Paisley Park Studio for a personal show.  It was already nearing midnight, I was exhausted and had a big weekend coming up with the Wild Duluth race and then a pretty ambitious hike in the Grand Canyon.  I told Ali I didn’t think I was going to go…I was tired…Ali said ‘You are going to that show for both of us!  This is a once in a lifetime experience you go!’

So I hitched a ride out there and walked into Prince mid-jam session on stage with a few others playing a full on show to less than 100 members of the Lynx team and organization.  The players loved it, dancing well in to the night as Prince played past 4am.
Ali was right it was a once in a lifetime experience and I woke her up at 4am to tell her all about it…Prince shredded and I love it!  Had no idea what to expect but again found myself telling Ali ‘I am the luckiest guy ever!’

The next day was a rough one though, I had to work for a little bit to get ready for the Championship parade and rally on Friday, also had to pack for the Wild Duluth race and my trip to the Canyon as I would be leaving right from Duluth.
 Got a call that afternoon from our PR manager saying that I was invited to breakfast at the Governor’s residence Friday morning if I wanted to tag along…well of course I did!  Can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so in addition to my running gear, hiking gear, parade and rally gear…I would also be bringing a suit with me that  morning.
We took a bus over there, had a complete breakfast of salmon lox, quinoa/kale salad and cake…to go along with the coffee, all before 10am. 

It was a really cool experience to be in the Governor’s residence, just a few weeks earlier I had run by there as part of my solo running of the Twin Cities Marathon.  Plus my mom works on a committee to decorate the inside so I finally got a chance to see what she and her crew work so hard on.
After that it was back to Target Center to change into parade clothes and then to the parade start.  I found my car, a red convertible driven by one of my co-workers….he claims he can drive a stick but may have met his match with that car. 

We stalled out a few times as the parade got started, but I didn’t worry, it’s gotta be hard trying to drive a stick at like 5-10 mph.  But as we got closer to 7th street, where the big crowds were, I started to smell something burning.  I looked at the front of the car and smoke was billowing out from under the hood.  The cops who were policing the parade noticed too and told my driver ‘You gotta get that thing off the road!’ so he gunned it, nearly dumping me off the back in the process, and we ‘won the parade’ by being the first car to Target Center. 

After the parade there was a big Rally at the arena that I had the chance to host.  It was a blast, up on stage in front of all the cheering fans getting to interview the players and coaches was so much fun.  Again, standing off to the side by the 3 Championship Trophies while the video montage played I was able to take a look around and think ‘Good golly am I a lucky dude!’ 

Once that wrapped I grabbed a quick lunch with my parents before hitting the road for Duluth.
I was meeting my buddies Mitch and Andy up there with plans to run the Wild Duluth 100K.  I had wanted to do this race for a while and had run the 50K a few years back but on a vastly modified course due to flooding and was excited that we were back on mostly the original course.
But I was also gassed…it had been a long week, a longer month and a really long summer.  I had not gotten in the type of training I wanted to for this event, and honestly had added it only about a month before when it became clear we just were not going to be able to make the Zion Traverse happen.
Earlier in the year I had a similar experience with the Afton 50k, added it late was under trained and tired, and had to bail posting my first DNF.  That one ate me up because I knew I could have finished but just was out of gas. 

Going into this one, I was out of gas and I knew it.  But I still wanted to run, wanted to spend a day away from arenas, computers, the indoors.  Wanted to get out in the woods and see the fall colors, run with my friends, just enjoy the day not matter what happened.
I came to this race with no expectations and my only goal was to be able to fly to PHX the next day and then kick off our Grand Canyon adventure.
So after a funny and awkward dinner (thanks to our very strange waiter) we crashed at the hotel laughing at how ‘Guys weekend’ had changed…into bed by 10 and up at 430 rather than the other way around.  

The plan was Mitch and I run through 42 miles, Andy meets us and pace us to the end.  That was the plan.  We started in the dark, it was cold but not unbearable, clear skies as we headed out following our headlamps up the hill away from Bayfront Park, caught the sunrise over the city on the ridge and then buckled in as we rolled towards the turnaround.
The first couple of aid stations flew by, then we hit a stretch that wasn’t that long in terms of miles but with leaves all over the trail we were stumbling, kicking rocks and roots and constantly having to stop and look around to see if we were still on the trail.  Eventually we made it through that section and ended up back on top of the ridges headed towards Ely’s Peak with beautiful sweeping views of the St. Louis River heading towards Lake Superior.

We hit the 20 mile mark feeling good, chatted with Andy and then headed out.  The next two sections were familiar as we’d run and hiked over them many times in the past few years.  Some ups and downs but a decent amount of runnable sections and then the mountain bike section.  Tons of rollers so you felt like you were constantly going up or down and it was exhausting.  On a bike it would have been awesome but having to charge these little hills and then not get much momentum on the other end was mentally frustrating and physically draining.

Somewhere in this section Mitch mentioned he was not feeling it today.  He had a huge summer, running hard at a number of Ultra’s and posting some amazing times.  I was really excited for him and the job he did and could totally understand if he was spent.  I too was pretty beat after my week but was having so much fun enjoying the sun, woods and friends.
We hit the turnaround in about 7 and a half hours and Mitch decided that was enough for him. I had told him earlier that I would be fine bailing too, I was thinking ahead to my trip to the Grand Canyon and the 40+ miles we planned on hiking with 40lb packs on our backs and thought sometimes you gotta live to fight another day.

But I felt so good and was having so much fun that I told Mitch I wanted to get at least another 10 in.  So he waited for Andy, I headed out and would see them in a few hours.  
Leaving Mitch was hard over the years the two of us have gotten each other through some tough runs and pushed each other in others and I don’t think I ever would have gotten out of the Grand Canyon in our Rim to Rim to Rim attempt if it wouldn’t have been for his great attitude.
But I knew he was fine, not hurt and had a ride coming so instead I just settled into a steady run back through the mountain bike rollers, up on the ridges, down the ravines, surprised at how good I felt and how strong I was still running.

My mind drifted to the summer.  It had not been an easy one, my schedule did not match up with Ali’s at all.  It seemed like every time I was home she was gone and when she was home I was on the road.  We had survived it and in the long run will be better for it not doubt but it hadn’t been easy.  But at the same time the ride of calling a championship season and series that went the full five games was a blast and literally a dream come true.  From the days of dreaming calling professional basketball to actually getting to do it, it was a trip!

Eventually I made my way back to the aid station where I was going to meet Mitch and Andy and as I rolled in felt that I was good.  I had accomplished what I set out to do, have a fun day running in the woods, racked up roughly 43 miles, and I still felt good which was awesome.  I wanted to keep feeling good and be ready to roll at the Canyon so I went to the officials and told them I was ‘Opting for the short course’ and we headed back to shower and get some grub at Fitgers.
Once again we crashed early and the following day I was the only one to rise early as I had a flight to catch.  It was so cold in Duluth that night I had to scrape frost off my car at 7am the next morning.  Fueled up with a coffee and hit the road, rolling into my parent’s driveway a little after 930.  Hopped out, tossed some of my left over running food into my hiking pack and then tossed that into the Pilot.  Said a quick hello/goodbye to my Mom who would be heading to Paris the next day, then my dad drove me to the airport where I caught a flight to PHX.

I landed in PHX to 90 degree temps, a far cry from the windshield scraping I had to do that morning.  Met my buddy Matt and his son and we headed to Matt’s place.  Due to storms ripping through the Canyon that afternoon/evening we opted to stay at his place and then head up early Monday morning.
That was just fine with me, another night in a real bed to help my legs recover and try to get caught up on some sleep.
We were on the road a little after 4 the next morning, jamming Bruce Springsteen, swapping stories of adventures we’d had since the last time we saw each other.  Recounting our trip to the Canyon last fall and the epic games of Uno.
Watched the sun rise over the walls of rock that line the road leading to Grand Canyon National Park and at 8am had parked at the Tanner trail head on the east end of the south rim.  We got out of the truck to a roaring wind and freezing temps.  Both of us pulled out our rain coats, hoods up to keep us warm as we loaded our packs and got ready to drop in.  The wind was incredible, similar to what Ali and I experienced our first trip to the river and back.  It just assaults you from every angle and it whips around.

We loaded up and dropped in and as soon as we made it through the first switchback and were below the rim, the wind dropped completely.  I don’t mean it was a light wind, I mean there was no wind at all and it was warm again.  So we stopped to shed our jackets and long sleeve shirts before continuing towards the river.
The Tanner trail is challenging, it’s a primitive, unmaintained trail with a lot of huge steps up, down, over and around rocks.  You rely a lot on your trekking poles and balance and like many trail runs, it’s hard to go fast but easy to get out of control.  So we took our time, following the trail to Stegosaurs Rock and stopping to look west towards Mather point the classic Grand Canyon viewing point.

After that roughly thousand foot drop we had some level terrain for a while as we wound along the buttes in front of Desert View Watchtower and finally turned north at the top of the red wall and caught our first glimpses of the river.

Until Mitch, Greg and I ran the Rim to Rim to Rim in the spring of 2014 I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  I don’t know that I’d ever even seen if from a plane.  When we looked down into it that first time I was shocked at how much as going on.  I had thought it was pretty straight forward, a canyon wall, the river, another wall.  I had no concept of the buttes, mesas and slot canyons that make up the Grand Canyon.  There is nothing straightforward about it.
It was beautiful in its chaos, the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  I remember hearing it once referred to as ‘God’s Playground’ because like a child’s sandbox it was constantly changing due to the wind, water and other elements.

A week after R2R2R, Ali and I had gone down to the river and back out on the corridor trails, taking our time and I got to see it from a whole new perspective.  It literally was always changing, the canyon walls change colors as the sun moves across or water falls on them.  The river can go from bright green to chocolate milk and back again, the walls look like layer cake, the green shale layer, the red wall, the white frosting layer.  It never ceases to take my breath away and my buddy Matt is a great guide.  He loves the Canyon more than anyone I know and has a ton of knowledge of the history not only of the nature side of it, but also of the trails we would be on.

We had gone this way last fall when we camped along the Escalante Trail, but on this trip we had ambitions of making it to the confluence of the Colorado and the little Colorado.  It was a serious under taking and everything had to go right for us to get there and get back to the airport in time for me to catch my flight back.

We made it through the red wall, worst part of the trail as Matt likes to say, and then hit the long, sloping green shale section.  The last part before we would hit the river.  The sun was on top of us and warm now despite the menacing clouds to the west. 
This section is just a quad crusher, it’s a constant slope forward and to the right, with loose gravel underfoot that makes you slip and slide the whole way down.  Matt liked to recite a line from the trail guide that described this section as ‘Piling on to an already weary hiker…’  So we slipped and slid our way down until finally reaching the wash that led to Tanner Rapid and the river.

From there we had to find the Beamer trail that would continue east along the river towards the confluence, roughly another 3 miles to our campsite.  After a few starts and stops (trail guide said it was along the river but turns out it was actually above the river for the first section following some bluffs and rock outcroppings) we found it and followed the cairns until they dropped us into some tamarisk and from there it was route finding all along the river.

It’s amazing to be that close to the Colorado it’s such a massive river and you think how far it travels, how Powell and his crew ran it totally blind back in the day.  Today, after the recent rains, it was running a chocolate milk brown.  As Matt said ‘Too thin to plow but too thick to drink’ that was a great description of it.  We were right next to it for stretches and you get to see how fast it moves, the eddies that crop up along the shore, the power and sound of the rapids. 

We talked about the river, the dams, how we can help to keep this area wild.  There was talk recently of putting a gondola from the rim to the river and carting people that way.  Both Matt and I had signed petitions against it, he even posted comments in a public forum against it and as of now those talks had been tabled.  But the next big issue, and one that has not been tabled, is a huge development just south of the main entrance to the park that would put a huge stress on this environment.  Sometimes there are places that should just be left alone.  Places that should remain difficult to get to, places that make you work to enjoy them.  This, in my opinion, was one of those places.  If you want to experience the Grand Canyon in this way, you need to be fully committed to doing so and putting the effort in.

We eventually found a campsite, really cool little spot tucked under some sweeping trees that we dubbed ‘The Secret Garden’ after the Boss song.  Set up our tents and then set about getting water.
We gathered our bottles and went to the closest wash and attempted to use the new UV filter I had…well bad news, the water was way too thick and cloudy for the UV pen to work.  We thought with the pre-filter it would clear it enough to make it useable but with the recent runoff there was no way it was cutting through there.  Luckily we had iodine pills so after filtering out as much sand and dirt as we could loaded up a few bottles for the next day.

As we were working on the water a rafting party pulled over to the other side of the river from our campsite a couple hundred yards away.  We waved and then a few minutes later saw a kayak leave their site and head over to our side of the shore.  We didn’t think anything of it but saw a guy get out on the shore with something in his hands and wander around.  We couldn’t for the life of us figure out what he was doing and then it struck Matt.  Rafting parties will sometimes share beers with hikers as a sign of goodwill.  Maybe this guys had some beers!  So Matt took off like he was shot out of cannon.  Bushwhacked through the tamarisk and found the guy, returning with 4 of the muddiest, most amazing Modelo’s I’ve ever tasted.

While he was doing that I was gathering up the water and noticed huge dark clouds to the south seemingly headed our way.  We booked back to our site, the sky started to spit but under the cover of our trees we barely got wet.  We cooked up dinner and then decided to boil some water too so that we could save the Iodine for our trek to the confluence the next day. 

After a few games of Uno (my previous canyon dominance was nowhere to be seen this trip, I blame it on the fact that we were not using real Uno cards but ‘Cars’ branded ones) we crashed to the most glorious sleep I have ever had.  

The plan was to be on the trail by 6am the next day so alarms were set for 5.  We would pack everything up but just bring day packs to the Confluence then come back grab the bigger packs and head to Tanner to sleep before climbing out the following day at 3am to get me to the airport.
Sometime in the middle of the night the skies we had been seeing all day opened up and we got dumped on.  Thunder and rain rolled through in two different batches, peppering our tents through the trees.  It was so nice to hear it and just bury myself deeper into my sleeping bag, warm and dry.
My alarm sounded at 5am and I popped awake, stuffing my bag and pad into their stuff sacks and then hollered over to Matt.  He let me know it was still raining and recommended we hold off a little bit.  I had been so excited to get going I hadn’t even noticed the rain.  So I laid back down in my tent and drifted off, around 6am Matt woke me up and we went out to check the skies.  The storms had stopped but there was another round coming behind, you could see it descending the south rim and heading our way.

We crawled back into our tents as the rain began to spit and debated our options.  We had set a hard turnaround time to make sure we made it back to Tanner before it got dark and this delay was eating into it.  The rain spattering on the tent eventually caused me to drift off again and when it finally stopped around 730 we again discussed our options.  We felt like guys on Everest who are so close to the Summit but because of the turnaround time are unable to make it. 

In addition to the timing, the next 5 miles to the confluence was on ridges along the canyon walls and we didn’t really know what they would be like after all this rain.  So finally at 8am with our time goal pretty much sunk we decided instead to pack up and head all the way back out.  One day after 13 miles down, we’d jam out 13 miles back out.  Camping at Tanner and doing some day trip exploring would have been fun too but heading out at 3am in the pouring rain was not something either of us felt like doing.

So we packed up and headed out, the path we followed the day before had become a stream forcing us to the side for long stretches.  It was disappointing not to make it all the way there, especially for Matt who had been eyeing this hike for nearly 10 years.  In the end though we knew we made the smart, and safe decision.   We used the last of the iodine at Tanner Rapid and began the slog back up that sloping green shale layer.

After that it was heads down, powering through the red wall and rewarding ourselves with some tuna fish and an amazing view of where we had come.  Then belted in for the long rolling trail on the buttes in front of Desert View and when we hit Stegosaurus rock we looked to the west and our jaws dropped.  Black thunderheads with sheets of rain pouring down into the canyon.  Not what we had wanted to see as we had been lucky to stay dry so far, lots of dark clouds moved in and out over us so far this day but what we were looking at now would not be much fun.
We planned on taking a break there but suddenly both felt fresh enough to attack the final climb hoping to make it out before getting soaked.

Again we got lucky, the clouds moved straight over to the north rim and as we climbed they gave us one of the most beautiful sunsets ever.  Sometime around 6pm we climbed back out, popping above the rim like a couple of gophers.  We were dirty, exhausted, but smiling at the effort and how much fun it is to experience something so beautiful in this manner.  We were greeted by flocks of people with tripods and cameras peering over the rim to try and capture the sunset.

After that we bombed back to PHX and the following day I headed back home.
We joked along the way that there are many first ascents of mountains and descents of canyons and caves but I may have posted a first too.  First person to start a week partying with Prince and end it at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Not sure if that’s a first ascent or descent or maybe both but I do know it was one wild ride.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Solo TCM

"It doesn't matter how slowly you go, as long as you don't stop" Confucius

Most of these posts start out with an early alarm and me rising in the dark of a morning before taking on some endurance run through the woods.
This one is a little different.  There was no alarm this morning, unless you count the alarm that went off for Ali.  I rose about 20 minutes after it went off as I usually do, and began to get lunch and coffee ready for the two of us.
We were two days away from the Twin Cities Marathon, it would be my 8th consecutive running of it and Ali’s first.  We had planned to run together, me pacing her to the finish, but as was the case much of this summer I would have to miss it due to Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
Instead, feeling well trained and wanting to keep my streak alive, I would be running it on this day, self-supported.
Ali left for work, I made sure I had everything, hopped on my bike and rode the 3 miles into work with my hydration pack in my backpack, shorts, running shoes, snacks etc.
The day was fairly normal but had a strange air to it, a normal morning then after lunch I planned to run the entire Twin Cities Marathon course.  I went to a morning meeting, worked on my game prep for Sunday, covered practice and was back to the studio around noon.
There I changed into my running gear, loaded up my pack and stepped out to 7th street to begin my journey. 
The TCM course starts at the Vikings Stadium in downtown Mpls and I was luckily not too far from that.  Thought about taking the light rail but figured that would just take longer so instead started my gps watch and ran down 7th to the starting line.
When I got there a lot of the barriers and stuff they would use Sunday for the start line were there so I had an ‘officially unofficial’ start line. 

To zero fanfare, outside of a couple of strange looks from people driving by at a guy in a hydration pack
running down the street, I started my 8th consecutive running of TCM.
The first couple of miles normally so loud with the cheering spectators and chilly in the shadow of the buildings was almost the opposite on this day.  It was a beautiful sunny fall afternoon, quiet as I went block to block getting stopped at every red light until I got to Hennepin and turned left, finally stringing a few lights together as I made my way towards the sculpture garden.
Turned up the hill next to the Walker and began to make my way towards the Lakes, finding my stride and thinking of past marathons.  This time there was no Alan Page standing on Douglas St. playing his tuba as I ran past, though he would be back out there Sunday.
I thought about Ali having to run alone on Sunday, wishing there was a way I could run and do the game but with a 2pm tip-off to accommodate a National TV broadcast everything would have to go right in order for me to make it on time, and with this being my first time calling the Finals it was a risk I just couldn’t afford.
Those thoughts bounced around my head as I rounded Isles and made my way towards Calhoun.  Once there the sun bouncing off the waves of the lake transported me back to summer afternoons at the cabin when we would swim all day and then lay on the dock to warm up and watch the sun dance along the waves.
I headed up the hill to Harriett remembering a few years ago doing TCM a week after an Ultra Marathon in Patagonia when I got to that hill about 6 miles in and my legs already felt gassed.  I had a goal that year of just getting in under 4 hours but on that hill the 4 hour pace group flew past me, I felt like I got swallowed up in a wave and then they were gone.  I thought about giving chase but decided instead to just run my own race and eventually caught and passed them to finish under 4 hours. 

Made my way to the south end of Harriett and headed down Minnehaha Creek, making sure to stay on the road (or sidewalk) instead of following the bike/running paths to make it more like the official course.
The thing that always stands out about this stretch is the hills, you don’t notice them when you’re on the path next to the creek but on the road there are some hills.  Nothing crazy just they can take you by surprise if you’re not ready.  I made a mental note to be sure to remind Ali about them.
As I got back closer to the creek I heard something to my right, looked out towards the street and there was my brother Alex.  He had taken his lunch hour and driven over to find me, following the crumbs of a trail I left on Instagram. 
He had Gatorade and Cliff bars for me, a little rolling aid station.  I kept running while talking to him, accepted a Cliff bar and then he said he had to get back to work and took off.  We would meet up later that night to pick up our packets to the Marathon.
After he took off I thought about his upcoming race.  Alex has always been faster than me, we’ve run a number of marathon’s together with him always finishing first, this Sunday would be the first marathon we would not run together (well we would usually start together then I would let him go) and I was excited for his race.
Alex had committed himself in the spring to seeing what he was capable of.  He changed his diet, built a training plan, dialed in and had a really good summer of focused training.  Some of the times he sent me were eye popping.  He was getting faster as he was getting older which is not normally the case.
We didn’t get to train together very much this summer due to my schedule, and I feel I would have only slowed him down, but I was excited to see what he had on Sunday.
The journey continued over to Lake Nokomis where a group of folks in classic cars were taking advantage of the weather slowly rolling around the lake all waving to me as I passed.  Headed up the short hill to Melo Glaze doughnuts, the siren song during the race…smells so good but you must resist.  I wasn’t racing today, had some cash maybe I stop?  For my sake (good or bad I guess) I hit a green light at the corner and decided to take advantage as I had to meet up with Ali at the finish line around 430.
Rolled into Minnehaha Falls and decided to take a quick break to refill.  Luckily Sea Salt the little cafĂ© there was open and allowed me to fill my bottle with cold water, I used the rest room, took a quick look at the falls and then headed out already 16 miles in. 

The next stretch is always the worst.  West river road is a long, flat stretch with very little crowd support.  Today there was none.  I put my head down, focused on what was in front of me and staying in the moment and began to tick off the miles.
One thing I told Ali earlier in the week, when it gets tough to relax, don’t push things.  I told her think of Fred Couples and how easy and relaxed his swing is just back and forth like a metronome.  So I geared down a bit during this stretch, let my mind wander and my legs tick off the miles.  Next thing I knew I was pulling up to the Franklin Bridge and headed towards St. Paul.

Crossed over and thought about all the times I’d seen my Gramps and parents on this part.  Always with a sign, cowbells, cookies whatever I needed.  My Gramps at 90 now would be out there Sunday to cheer Ali and Alex on, while my parents hopped around between there and the finish line.  I thought about the great picture my mom got of Alex last year high fiving Gramps as he ran past, big smile on his face.
How every time I pass him he would say ‘Want me to run some miles with you?’ and how no matter if I felt rough at that point or not I always headed up to Summit Ave with a smile on my face.
This time as I turned on Summit I had to wait at a light and decided to give my legs a little break from all the sidewalk pounding and instead run down the grassy boulevard in the middle.  It was a little more challenging skipping over the roots and rocks but the dirt felt much better than the concrete.
I was gonna be pretty close to the finishing time I set with Ali that morning.  Might need to pick it up a little if I had any left.
Started getting a few cramps in my legs as I neared the Governor’s residence, slowed down to try and stretch them out.  Remember to tell Ali this stretch from Lexington to Dale is longer than you think and slightly uphill.  Man I hope Ali has a good time on Sunday.  She is so strong and has trained so smart that I really feel she can handle it and have a great race.  But so many things can go wrong on race day. 
Remembering my first marathon where things felt great for 15-18 miles before the wheels fell off and I limped to the finish, I hoped that she would not have to deal with something like that.
My mind snapped back to the present, there was the Capitol off in the distance.  The finish line was near, normally I hit an extra gear at this point and bomb down the hill but this time I just stayed steady.
Had to stop at stop light before finally hitting the bridge and pushing on towards the finish.
They had already dropped off some of the finishing line barriers so I had an ‘officially unofficial’ finish line my 8th consecutive TCM was in the books.   This one a little different as my gps said my final mile total was 27.6 miles and 4:17, must have played from the Championship Tees….

Ali was parked down the street, I changed quickly then we drove to the TCM expo, met Alex and picked up our packets. 
First time I’ve ever finished a marathon then gotten my number…Alex and Ali both had awesome days on Sunday.  I was so proud of both of them for the dedication they showed in training and the focus they showed on race day to go out and accomplish the task at hand. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Finding The Focus

'All we have is this journey we are making and the attitude with which we make it'- Lizzie Hawker.

For the past few years my training hasn’t always been focused in terms of the day to day plan.  Run 5 miles this day, do speed work or hills that day.  Saturdays are for long runs and Sundays are for recovery.
Instead much of it has been centered around feel and fitting in workouts when I could between road trips and games when I was back home.
The one thing that kept training focused during that stretch was a number of races scattered through the year that not only kept me honest but also gave me chances to get in long runs and plenty of time on my feet as well as keep the mind/body engaged & sharp.
This summer due to a scheduling quirk things have changed, I was able to ramp up early in the season for a couple 50k’s and kept training solid during that time, but then there was a huge gap.  Nothing was planned from late May until Twin Cities Marathon in October.
At first blush this seemed like a great opportunity to really get back into focused training without having to take time to recover from some of the longer races I normally do during the summer time.  A chance to try some new training methods (HR training, hills, speed-work etc.) and at the same time allow my body some much needed time off after years of building a base.
But soon after the Superior 50K I already missed having a race on the horizon and haphazardly threw Afton 50K on there.  I wanted a challenge and little did I know it would be more than I bargained for.  My body was exhausted from moving apartments, travel and a summer cold and I was forced to drop after 24 miles, more so due to malaise than any real injury.  I was just plain tired, worn out and wanted to relax.
But that bothered me and I wanted to get back to where I was before, build back my ability to push through those mental barriers and finish no matter what.
Despite a ton of travel I tried to ramp things up, looking at my calendar and seeing where I could put in some serious time on my feet.
We had a noon game right before the All-Star Break, I hatched a plan to cover a chunk of the Border Route trail at my cabin in a self-supported run with my brother and my cousin.  But like Afton it was a bit of a half-baked idea.  I went into it tired, having just finished 17 straight days of working or traveling, dehydrated, and without the proper nutrition I needed.  The first 13 miles were great, bushwhacking through the woods with great conversation and incredible views when we got up above the Border Lakes.
As we neared the Rose Lake waterfall I was hit with a cramp in my leg that forced me into an incredibly painful march over the final four (probably the toughest miles of the whole thing) as cramps attacked my legs up and down.
My brother & cousin were bothered by cramping due to the heat & lack of sodium/electrolytes but not to the extent that I was.  It was frustrating, the two times when I had time to actually get out there I was not prepared and both ended with me searching for answers.
Was it the new HR training that was messing me up, not going fast enough, not pushing hard enough, not enough hills?  Was I not eating enough, I’d dropped some weight but thought that would help not hurt but was I not fueling properly and if not why?  I had been doing these types of runs for years why now am I suddenly acting like a rookie who has no idea what he’s doing?
After some serious soul searching, and discussing with Ali, going over every detail of what went wrong, what was different, what went right, and why the change, we still didn’t have too concrete of an answer except this.
Much like when I was a rookie in these events, the excitement to get out trumped all.  I would drop everything to hit the trails, in my haste forget water, electrolytes, food, wouldn’t care the time of day or temp just get out there.  I was pushing everything, pushing the pace even though I might not have the fitness for that speed at the moment.
I needed to slow down, to really pay attention to what my body was telling me, what it needed to go on and be mindful of the pace so that I didn’t go out too fast on a hot day & blow up.  Maybe lay off the coffee on a humid day so you don’t go into it already at a deficit.
All of those things and other factors, namely needing sleep and proper rest, played into my early season mistakes.  I would love to say that since that recognition all is right in the world and I am bounding over trails like a deer again but that’s still not the case.
Little by little I am making the adjustments, it’s not easy when you only have a small window to commit and you want to do everything in that window.  Need to really focus on the most important parts of the training.  For me right now that’s not speed, but instead regaining the endurance.  The ability to move for long stretches without stopping, to put in the time on my feet.
To drill down on the nutrition, sodium, hydration needed to keep me moving.  Every run is a step in that direction but also the recognition it doesn’t end when the run does.  The recovery & pre run planning is just as important.  Rather than think I can just toss in a 50K the morning after a game & a week of moving/travel realize that doesn’t set you up to be successful.  And if I am going to do that then the time when not traveling/working needs to be spent wisely to prepare for that rather than trying to jam in more meaningless junk miles.
Less than 2 months away from a big October I am glad I was able to spot these things and start to figure them out, with Twin Cities followed by the Zion Traverse, followed by a Grand Canyon excursion, I need to be able to move slow and steady for many hours straight but also recover quickly in between and fuel right so I can wake up the next morning and do it again.
So while my time earlier in the summer was without purpose, that purpose or goal now looms large.  The rest of my training may be haphazard in terms of when it happens and where, the focus before during and after each effort must be there. 

Monday, July 6, 2015


Photo courtesy of Kelly Doyle

‘Runs like a junkyard dog with a brain of brass’-Phish

There is a first time for everything and Saturday in the Afton Trail 50K race provided another first for me.  Back in 2010 it was my first ultra-distance race, the first time I ran beyond the 26.2 mile marathon distance.  There were many little trials in that race, dealing with heat, forcing my way through some tough times fighting dehydration and fatigue but in the end, thanks to some great folks who helped me along the way I made it to the end.  My first Ultra. 

Fast forward to this past Saturday and again battling the heat, the hills and everything else that course throws at you, I didn’t make it to the end.  24 miles in I decided enough was enough and walked off the course for my first ever DNF.
(Now I do have 2 DNS’s-did not start- to my credit…one Twin Cities Marathon in 2006 when I was training but moved to Michigan and couldn’t do it and the Square Lake ½ Ironman when my body was totally trashed from my first Mt Hood 50miler and other tri’s that summer & I bailed)
I read an article recently about learning how to differentiate a DNS and a DNF.  Basically it came down to knowing, and listening to your body and deciding whether or not you were ready for the race.  How not starting is sometimes better than starting and not finishing. 

In the month or so since running very well at the Superior 50K, I had started a new training plan which was based off heart rate readings.  Trying to go slow to keep the HR under a certain number while training your body to become more efficient so that you can work harder without raising your effort level.
The training was going well, I was seeing progress, but in order to keep my HR around that number I didn’t do many hills as your heart rate soars when you hit the hills.  Also due to work obligations and travel I hadn’t been out on many trails and a lot of my running was either on treadmills in hotels or around the city street where we were. 

But still in the weeks leading up to Afton I felt like I could get through it and it might be one of those races where you have no idea what to expect & have a great day. 
Well Sunday of race week I got up ran 6 miles then spent the rest of the day moving from our old apt to the new, and Monday was the same thing, from 8am till around 4 I hauled stuff down the stairs, cleaned and organized and by Monday night was totally spent.
Got in a little run Tuesday but my legs felt like sacks of wet sand during our three mile run around the lake.  Figured if I took it easy, and didn’t bike the long way to work I would recover in time for Afton.  

But by Thursday of that week I woke up and thought I had a cold.  My nose was all stuffed up, eyes were burning trying to keep them open and all I wanted to do was sleep.  Looking back I should have really listened to my body at that point but figured I was just tired & it would pass.  Get one good night’s sleep I kept telling Ali & I’ll be fine.
Turns out I was sort of right…got a great sleep Thursday and woke up Friday feeling much better.  Legs were still heavy but again figured I’d done this distance enough I’d be fine.
Worked late Friday and by the time I got to bed it was around 11 with a 430am alarm set.  Just one more solid night’s sleep I bargained with myself & you’ll be right as rain. 

Except I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed, turned, got up and had some water, laid down & had to pee, I stared at the clock, I tried to envision a good race but couldn’t focus on it, finally drifting off sometime after 1, only to wake up at 230, drift again then BAM alarm hits & it’s time to go.
We made it there on time, watched a beautiful, Canadian Wildfire colored sunrise and then we were off.
I’ve run these trails so many times I could tell you every inch of the course but for some reason that day everything seemed to take longer.
It was longer through the prairie to get to the downhill, the stairs seemed longer, the trail back to the prairie longer, and by the time I made the climb to the campgrounds nearly 10 miles in I was shocked only to be there.
It wasn’t that I was running slowly, it was just one of those days where I was not dialed in and everything seemed to be a big effort.  

As I climbed to the campground I asked myself ‘Are you having a good race, or a bad one?’  Honestly I couldn’t tell, everything just felt blah.  I decided there to have a good race, I picked up the pace, tried to talk to some folks and get some energy going but just never found a rhythm.
I made the first loop in 235, happy with the time and thought okay just one more.  But I wasn’t that into it and my legs were getting heavier with every step.
The flat stuff was fine, I was dealing with the heat well, my nutrition and hydration were in order but I just had no strength on up or down hills. 

 Made the 2nd loop through the prairie, up the stairs, through the aid station, back to the prairie, sun high, heat really smacking me on this second loop.  Okay I thought this is it, I promised Ali no blowups and I feel on the verge of one, I’ll stop at the next aid station & call it.  But I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Hit the aid station & began the long slow climb up the road away from the river.  Feeling my pace slow with every step.
Why is it so hard to stop?  What was keeping me going and why?  I didn’t have an answer except that this was what I did.  I push through things like this, I got into these distances because I like to test myself and see just what I’m capable of.
But what happens when physically your body is slowing down & your mind begins to match it.  What happens when you are just plain tired & don’t feel like pushing anymore?
I lugged myself up that hill, then started to run again, hit the downhill on the other side & realized that was it.  I was done.  

In my mind I knew I could keep going, it wouldn’t be pretty and it would take a long time, but I’d done it before in much worse physical states & made it to the end but today that wasn’t in the cards.  I just didn’t have it.
Running the flat along the river I knew I could turn up the hill to the campground & keep going or cut straight through & call it a day.  If I went up the hill then I was finishing this thing, risking a blowup and being a pile for the next few days or cut straight & pull out.   

I went straight, ran into the aid station & found the ham radio operator and told him I was done.  The volunteers were great asking what I needed if I wanted to just wait a few minutes & continue but I didn’t.  I knew if I gave myself that time I would talk myself into going and then what….
I was lucid, nothing was wrong I just had zero strength or energy on the hills and frankly just wanted to sit and relax and recharge my body after a long couple of weeks.
They took my bib, I began my nearly mile walk out and back to the car. 

As I approached the finish line I saw Ali on a picnic bench having finished the 25k.  She looked over & saw me walking through the parking lot & thought she missed me finishing.  But nope I dropped at mile 24.  She had a great day & I was so proud of her for how hard she ran and the PR she posted.
We talked and she said I made the right decision and we chatted with some other runners for a bit then headed out. 

Dropping was hard, very hard but at the same time it was easy too.  Stopping running was easy, dealing with the second guessing since is the hardest part.
Could I have finished?  Probably, but for some reason I just didn’t want to that day.  It didn’t matter to me that much.  What mattered more on that day was stopping while I was ahead & making sure I didn’t blow-up and put myself at even more of a deficit than the one I was at going into the race.
In the end it was a great learning experience, a great training run, and for once I listened to my body and feel that I made the right decision.  Get back to training the right way, making sure I get proper rest and reset my mindset as it pertains to these events. 

When I told my Gramps the next day that I dropped his response was ‘Good, I wish I was there to see it’ he is a big proponent of understanding your limits on any given day, and he’s right that day I reached my limit and had to pull. 
Hope it doesn’t happen again but if it does I hope that I have the ability to make the right decision. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Original Tough Mudder...Superior Spring Races

"If  you want to have the time of your life....change how you use the time in your life." Tim Fargo

Running and racing on the Superior Hiking Trail is something that is very special to me.  For every summer of my life, except one, I have ridden or driven along highway 61 North to our cabin.  Highway 61 follows the curve of Lake Superior to Grand Marais and beyond.  But it's that stretch from Duluth to Grand Marais that is so special.
In those car rides I would stare out the window, either into the woods or at the lake, music pumping through my headphones imagining running, jumping over the rocks up and down the hills.  Sometimes running, sometimes riding a horse (always wanted to be a cowboy) and imagining what I would find in the woods.
As I've gotten older I have had the chance to explore those trails via running and hiking and they have lived up to and exceeded my childhood imagination.
Running the Superior 100 last fall was amazing, to be able to experience that with my family and friends was really special, but this would be different.  This time instead of trying to survive I wanted to helped that it was a much shorter race and I felt in pretty good shape in the week leading up to it.
Ali and I were fresh off 7 days in Zion spent hiking up and down the Canyon plus I had an early season 50K under my belt on a much easier and less technical course where I cracked the 5 hour mark.
But a few days out from Superior I felt a twinge in my hamstring and wasn't sure how it would hold up, add to that 4 days of pouring rain had turned the course into a mud pit and I was worried how my hamstring would respond.
 I treated it as best I could and on that Friday we headed North & wished for the best.
This race would be different from others in that Ali was going to run the 25K, her longest race to date.  Last fall she ran the Surly Trail Half-Marathon and like me, fell in love with trail running, and after hiking the SHT and pacing me last fall she wanted to take on this challenge. 

We made it to the Cliff Dweller around 11pm Friday, set our alarms for 5am and crashed to the sound of Lake Superior blasting the shore below our window.
I woke up juiced the next morning, sun was shining and while it was a chilly 40 degrees and there was fog over the lake it was shaping up to be a good one.
My race started at 7am so Ali dropped me off then went back to pack up her stuff & get ready for the 9am 25K start.
I took off feeling good, it was chilly, and I decided to bring just a handheld bottle despite aid stations being as far apart as 7.5 miles.  John Storkamp, the race director, told us that when we encountered mud to plow right through the middle, don't try to widen the path.  Well shortly after leaving the pavement we hit mud, and jumped right in.  
The start was slow, a long train of people making their way up hill through the mud.  I got a little frustrated, wanting to push it but kept telling myself to be patient.  I fell into a group of people and we started chatting about different races we'd run, running documentaries we'd seen and books we'd read.  It made the miles fly by and suddenly we were at the first aid station.  I turned to a woman in the group and said 'Where was that massive hill I remember from the 100?' she said I think you just went down it...seemed so much bigger going the other way (and it was as I'd find out later)
In the 25K this is the aid station where you turn around and head back so I was thinking about everything Ali would have to deal with in her race and hoping she would find people to run with to make it fly by like I did.
I left the aid station with Nicole, we carried on chatting for a while before I decided I felt pretty good and my hammy was holding up.  I pushed on ahead and with the sun now warm on my back wondered if I could get after it the rest of the way.
I was 10 miles in when I pushed ahead, slopped through the mud pushing all the time leading into the next aid station.  I grabbed a few fig newtons, filled my bottle and took off up Carlton peak.  
During the 100, we came down Carlton this way right after my blisters blew.  I don't remember much of it as I was in a ton of pain.  I had flashbacks at the aid station of taking off my shoes and the medical woman recoiling at the sight of them covered in blood, and saying 'Nothing we can do for them...'
This time around I was pushing up the hill, and I wanted to redefine my idea of what was runnable and what wasn't.  
If I could see the top of the hill it was runnable, if it wasn't switchbacks, it was runnable.  This stretch was a long, gradual uphill so I kept pushing finally scrambling to the top where a guy dressed like Daniel Boone was standing.  He was the turnaround point for the 50K.
As I made my way up to the top he said 'John I just opened this for you' (my name was on my race bib) it was ice cold New Castle beer.  I took a swing, ran around him and looked at my watch 308...
On our way up North we stopped and had dinner with my buddy Mitch who ran the 50K a few years back & was doing the 25K this year.  He ran the 50K in 630 while battling a knee issue.  He said I could probably get it done in 6 hours.  So with 308 out I wondered...could I get back in 6 hours?
I pounded down Carlton peak, leaping over rocks, sliding through the mud in my mind saying 'let your body flow over the trail' I hit the wooden bridges slowing down so as not to slip on their wet surfaces, looking to make up as much time on this downhill as I could. 

Hitting the aid station I realized I was out of Nunn and would be drinking just water the rest of the way.  It was warm now so I took a salt tab too and put down a few more fig newtons and took off.
The thing that frustrated me so much during this stretch of the 100 was how runnable it was but at the time my feet were ground beef and I just couldn't run it, not even really a shuffle.
This time around though I could run and pushed myself through.  I literally threw myself at the huge swathes of mud skating to the other side, sometimes stepping down in spots where the mud came up to my knees.
I knew there was one solid uphill in this stretch that I would need to walk so I vowed to run until I got to it, passing a number of people along the way.  Finally I came to it and used it as recovery before pushing once again when I reached the top.
During this stretch my mind was blank just repeating my flow over the trails phrase, my eyes so dialed in on the trail a few steps ahead to keep myself upright.
I hit the last aid station and looked at my watch, there might be a chance I could catch Ali who started 2 hours behind me.  We originally pegged her finishing around 4 hours so I grabbed a sandwich and headed out. 
As I walked towards the trail letting my food digest an aid worker said 'You can make up a lot of time over the first few miles' so I took off wanting to catch Ali and maybe finish together.
During the 100 this stretch was with Paul and Alex, and it was hard...really hard.  This time though I ran up the gradual climb again redefining what was runnable, pushing to make up that time until I hit the mountain... 

The giant hill I didn't notice on the way out was there on the way back...I pushed my knees down with my hands, huffed and puffed power hiking to the top (Great quote from the 100 on this hill.  Alex said 'You're almost there' to which I replied 'Except that I'm NOT!')
I knew at the top there would be some flat ridge running before dropping down and going back up a long set of switchbacks. 
I pushed on the top until I felt a cramp coming on.  Being out of Nunn and low on water I went to grab a salt pill when I suddenly found myself on the ground.  Took my eyes off the trail for one second and BAM down I went.  I was fine, a little sore, but mostly bummed that I had lost all but two of my remaining salt pills.  I got up, brushed off, took one and took off.
In the distance I kept seeing women in shirts similar to the color that Ali was wearing so I'd take off, pushing to try and catch her only to find out it wasn't her.
If she was going to finish in the 4 hour range I was close.  So I kept pushing, floating down hills, feet skipping just over the rocks and roots, mind blank with my goal of catching Ali.
More mud, sloppy after 50K and 25K runners had gone through it.  I laughed watching people trying to go around and sneak past while I just jumped right in and plowed through getting mud on my face and all over my clothes.
I put my head down to power hike the switchbacks where during the 100 I had seen bags of flour littering the trail as my mind began to desert me.  I huffed and puffed and started wondering if I was part canine cooling myself through panting.
Hitting the top I could hear the finish line but knew there was a long way to go.  Again I pushed, passing more people, totally surrendering to the trail and letting it carry me down.
Finally I could hear the rushing of the river and knew I was getting close.  I hadn't caught Ali, I hoped she had a great day, and in the back of my mind feared something happened & she had to pull out. 

Over the bridge and back on pavement, during the 100 Paul, Alex & I strolled thinking we were pretty much done but it's still a ways away.
Cramps started to hit me, I slowed a bit, they left I pushed again, had a shot to get under 6 hours.  Saw the final stretch, pushed down the hill, tight turn around the pool and right through the finish line, hearing them mispronounce my name above the din.

There was Ali, she'd had a good day & just like at the 100 we shared another finish line kiss here.  The smile on her face lit up the whole place.  She was so excited, I felt bad I hadn't been there at the finish but was so glad she had as much fun as I did. 

Ali had a great day finishing in 3:30 while I was able to crack 6 a few seconds finishing in 5:59, and if we get some lottery luck we'll be back next year.

*Many photos courtesy of Mike Wheeler & Rock Steady Running*

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started & know the place for the first time." TS Elliot

After missing the airport shuttle, dealing with a surly cab driver, fighting the rental car company (and ending up in a 'Mid-Size Nissan Versa' with no power windows or locks) driving hours through the rain, and a soggy sleep at the bottom of Zion Canyon we loaded our packs for a night in the backcountry as the gray clouds gave way to the blue skies of Southern Utah. 

Last year Ali & had spent about 36 hours in Zion Canyon and were hooked.  Driving through the mile long tunnel from the East end into the canyon on Mt Carmel Highway, hiking to the top of Angels Landing, sleeping under the eyes of the Watchman we knew we'd be back there was so much left to explore.
This year we had plans to spend 3 days in the Canyon.  One night in the backcountry of Potato Hollow, and a long day hike on the East Rim.  Those were the plans, but as this trip unfolded we realized that plans were meant to change.
Our packs were heavy as we parked the Versa at the visitor's center & hopped on the shuttle to the Grotto.  We had to carry water not only for that day's 9 mile hike to the camp, but also for dinner, coffee and breakfast & the hike back the following day.  There were two springs located along the route but only one had water in it according to the Ranger so we didn't want to take any chances.
We shouldered our loads, leaned into our trekking poles and began the two and a half mile climb up Angels Landing to Scouts Lookout, the first section of our journey. 

Angels Landing is a very popular day hike, last year we took the trail up, through the 20+ switchbacks of the aptly named 'Walters Wiggles' and followed the chains all the way out to the top.  This time we would head back out of the canyon once we finished the Wiggles.
There were a ton of people on the trail as we expected, many commenting on our huge packs (Ali's was nearly as big as she was) and wondering where we were headed.
We got to the top, drank in the view, shed a layer as the sun and packs had heated us up.  We kept climbing, this time back and away from Angels Landing following cairns over the white rock which marked the path.  

We topped out and began to head down the back side into an area that made us feel as though we were on the moon.  Nothing but white rock rising to the blue sky, we were down in a little rock valley, steep walls rose on three sides and big buttes dominated the fourth.  We followed the trail through the valley back into what felt like a slot canyon, not sure where it would take us.  Then the trail turned and we leaned into a set of long, steep switchbacks.
I had noticed on the map we would climb about 1,000 feet in this section but I didn't expect it to come like this.  On the side of the canyon wall these switchbacks seemed to never end.  They would go on for so long you thought you were nearing the top only to turn and do it all over again before we finally topped out on the West Rim. 

At the top we could see far to the north where there were huge red rock walls covered in snow.  Apparently the rain we dealt with in the canyon the day/night before was snow up on the rim around 7,000 feet.  We followed the Telephone Canyon Trail as it was a shorter route to our campsite and with a big bank of rain clouds behind us time was of the essence.
The Telephone Canyon trail was rolling hills, slightly muddy and not very scenic.  The sun was warm but this high up the wind whipped and chilled us as we put that original layer back on.  Finally after what felt (and turned out to be) much longer than the 1.8 miles we reached the Potato Hollow trail.
This dropped down along a ridge with a huge canyon to the left, buttes and plateau's that looked like they could be greens on a crazy golf course.  We were wowed by the sights but with the clouds nipping at our heels getting antsy about finding our camp.  

We finally got on top of the next mesa, ran into some guys who said we weren't far from camp, and after a long downhill ended up in this big meadow and found our campsite.
The wind was insane, never gave us a break and made setting up our tent a challenge.  Not only was it a fierce wind but it was cold too.  We pulled on hoodies, got our camp set up and went to explore the area.
Ali found a path that ended away from our campsite heading north through some small bushes, we followed it and all of the sudden it gave way to a huge canyon dropping some 2,000 feet and nothing but canyons and mountains literally as far as the eye could see. 

We drank in the view for a while before the rumbling of our stomachs forced us back to camp & dinner.  We ate sitting on downed logs, drowning our freeze dried food in Tapatio hot sauce and around 7pm with the wind too fierce and cold to play cards outside retreated to the tent and the warmth of our sleeping bags.
Darkness fell and we drifted off to sleep waking from time to time as the wind roared out the canyon, attacking our tent in bursts and vanishing.  At one point before drifting off we heard a noise outside the tent, our packs were out there and our food, Ali popped up 'Did you hear that?' Yup I did...'Are you concerned?' she asked earnestly.  Hmmm I thought, whatever is out there I hope it stays and I don't want to deal with it...she unzipped the tent flap and just a few feet from us were a pair of mule deer sniffing around not concerned with us at all.
The next morning dawned to sunny skies and temps much warmer than the day before, so warm in fact we went with shorts for the hike back.  Coffee by our canyon and a quick breakfast then we re-shouldered our loads and began the trek back to Zion.
On the way back we took the West Rim trail, adding miles but making up for it with incredible views of the back side of Zion and rewarded ourselves with a dip in the cool waters of the Virgin River when we finally made it all the way back to the Grotto at the foot of Angels Landing. 

Weeping Rock/Hidden Canyon/Observation Point
After a great meal at the Whiptail Grill in Springdale (a must stop) we crashed at our new campsite and made plans for the following day.  We originally had planned to hike Cable Mountain but that was a 16 mile round trip day and we weren't sure we wanted to commit our final day to just one hike.  Instead the following morning we loaded day packs with water & lunch and took the shuttle to Weeping Rock.
Weeping Rock is a short, steep hike to a small cave-like area where the water is forced out of the rocks and drips down the canyon walls like a shower and results in cool hanging plants in this little cave.  We then headed up the East Rim trail and branched off to Hidden Canyon. 

The trail wraps around the face of the canyon as you hold on to chains bolted into the wall, and back into a sandy slot canyon.  We had to scramble our way over bounders and downed trees, finding a small, free standing arch and some really cool formations in the sandstone walls.
Eventually the canyon was too clogged with boulders and downed trees to continue on so we turned back and reaching the main wall again decided to head up towards Observation Point on these switchbacks Ali had noticed the day before when were back at Scouts Lookout.  This trail was steep, and started out with a series of switchbacks before following slot canyons back towards the East Rim, then wrapping around the canyon walls and going up and up and up. 

Never before have I been so grateful for my trekking poles.  Originally I was down on them, thought they were a waste of money but after my trip to the Grand Canyon last fall on a primitive trail on the east end I knew I was wrong and on this trip they were invaluable.  Both Ali & I had them and they made a huge difference in getting us up and down the canyons.
As the path wrapped back around to the front of the canyon it was like the world opened up and all of Zion Canyon was right there in front of us.  

It's a view that takes your breath away, we were looking down on Angels Landing, and it looked tiny from where we were.  You could see the Virgin River winding to the west, all the familiar landmarks that make up the canyon but they were all so small from up here.  It was amazing; the sky was a bright desert blue, we had red rock at our feet and walls of red, black, and white rock forming a corridor in front of us, the blue of the river, the green of the plants that grow alongside it.  So many colors, all so vibrant and beautiful from our vantage point, it felt like we couldn't take enough pictures even though we knew none would do this justice.
If this was going to be our final day in Zion we did it right I thought while at Observation Point, we were set to leave for Bryce the following morning even though we didn't have any concrete plans there yet.
Winding back down the trail we took the shuttle halfway back to our campsite, getting off to cool down in the river and follow that trail back to the Watchman.  Both of us talking about how much we loved this place & didn't want to leave...

The Narrows
 Wednesday was moving day, we packed up with a plan to drive to Bryce but we had the feeling we were leaving trails un-hiked.  One of those being The Narrows, a trail that Ali had been really excited about since our first trip to Zion.
The Narrows trail was basically just walking up the Virgin River through the narrowest part of the canyon.  The year before we didn't know much about it and early in the season it's often closed as the river is too high and fast from the winter run off.
This trip though we'd seen a number of people dressed in waders with wading staffs who were hiking back there. 
We loaded the car and decided to make a quick stop for some memorabilia at the Visitor's Center on our way out.  As we walked back to the car there was an older woman decked out in Narrows gear in the parking lot.  I stopped her, asked where she rented the outfit, and then we decided we were going to do it provided we could find a campsite for the night.
We turned into the South Campground, a first come first serve site and within our first loop found an open site and put up our tent to stake our claim.  We then headed to Springdale to rent our gear and take on the Narrows. 

Renting the gear was quick and soon we were in our rubber waders and water proof shoes on the shuttle all the way to the Temple of Sinawava where we began to follow the river back into the canyon.
The water was chilly, yet to be warmed by the sun that hadn't gotten over the rim of the canyon.  We walked through water up to our shins for a while, skirting the shore when we could then plow through it with the aid of our staffs when there was no room on shore.
The water got deeper at different spots as the river carved out the bottom to get around big boulders, and through little water falls.
Every where we looked we said "Oh my gosh, look at that!" "Look up! WOW!" The walls rose steeply on each side and the light playing on them changed their colors and you could see the wear that the years of the river wearing down the walls took.  Sometimes there were big caves carved from the sides, other times the walls were strong and straight like the side of a skyscraper.
We made it through the Wall Street area where the walls get so narrow the sky looks like a small strip far above your head.
We followed a side canyon for a while before it got too deep and forced us back and eventually that happened in the main canyon too.  The water began to rise, getting up around my chest and Ali at 5-1 would have flooded her waders so we made the decision that was as far as we could go.
In all we waded up the river for over 3 hours and it was exhausting.  We turned and headed back down, reaching the shuttle around 5pm climbed on for the 40 minute drive back and Ali promptly fell asleep.
Too lazy to cook dinner we stopped by the Whiptail again after returning our gear and crashed under the nearly full moon in the tent.

The East Rim
Rather than try to blast to Bryce Canyon for a day, and on our way back have to battle the traffic created in St. George from their Iron Man event that weekend & risk being late returning our rental car we just upped for another night at our site and headed out to explore the East Rim.
We climbed out of Weeping Rock again, making it two miles up the wall before branching back into that familiar white rock we ran into on our trip to the backcountry.
There was no real path so we followed the cairns over the ups and downs of this crazy rock, desert section of the park.  

Salamanders skirted our trekking poles, and a snake hopped out of the way at one point, as we made our way back towards the east rim.
We knew we were going to have to climb again but we didn't anticipate how steep the climb was going to be.
It started off switchbacks then it seemed to just turn and go straight up the side of the canyon wall.  We leaned into our poles, both cursing the map that only showed a few little squiggles not this monstrosity of a climb.  

We finally wound our way around the wall and ended up looking towards Observation Point, Angels landing and the rest of the Canyon, we were about even height-wise with Observation Point but really far back looking out towards it all.  We stopped up there for lunch and carried on until we reached the prairie of the East Rim, tagged a sign and turned around to head back.  It was officially our final day in Zion...
As was custom by this point we took the shuttle to the lodge, grabbed a snack & relaxed on the outdoor patio looking up at the walls of the Canyon, then went down another two stops before getting out cooling off in the river and following it back to our campground.  

A full moon was coming, we'd miss it by a day, but a nearly full moon was always off to our left chilling over the walls in the bright blue sky waiting for evening to really show off.
That night after dinner we headed up the Watchman trail, a short hike across the river to catch the sunset.  Clouds obscured it in the distance but it was clear above us and the moon lit up the Watchman like a spotlight. 
We sat in silence, watching as stars began to pop up as twilight descended upon the area.  The silence was total, but not smothering, it was a comfortable silence.  You got that feeling that you were right where you needed to be.  Our bodies were tired from the effort of the week hiking, but our minds were fresh and relaxed.  

Finally we strolled hand in hand back to our campsite at one point turning our headlamps off and realizing we could do the hike by the light of the moon (we didn't but we could have) and along the way had to stop while three mule deer climbed up onto the trail after getting a drink from the river.
Finally the day had come; we had to leave our canyon paradise.  A leisurely breakfast at Wildcat Willy's and then we were off, winding our way back to Las Vegas where we would fly out the following morning.  
Along the way we stopped at Hoover Dam, what a contrast that was.  We went from one of the more amazing feats of Mother Nature to one totally man-made.  We left the Dam with an unsettled feeling.  Are dams good or bad, after watching the documentary Damnation, they make a great case for getting rid of deadbeat dams.  But what about something like Hoover Dam?  Was it helping the environment, or was it just fueling the decadence of Vegas?  What about the canyon behind it that is now underwater, could it have been as beautiful as Zion?  We didn't have any answers to those questions and were glad to get on the road and put that wall of concrete in our rearview mirror.

There is nothing quite like re-acclimating to society, and no faster way to jump back into the waters than in the excess of Las Vegas.  We enjoyed our first shower in a week, washing away the layers of red dirt and sand, had a great meal and crashed on a huge, soft bed full of pillows, a nice treat after 7 days sleeping on the canyon floor in our tent....