The Beauty of Sweat Equity

2020…

I don’t have to tell anyone how different this year has been. Everyone has been struck by it, in one form or another. I would feel guilty not to mention the very reality that many have suffered – physically, mentally, financially – by the devastation racked by not only the virus, but the confounding troubles of climate change, whirling political and racial strife, along with the uptick in just plain meanness and self-centredness that seems to be air-blasting the very cores of our values.

Now that I’ve gone all deep & dark, I need to recognize I’m really not sure why I have been so dang lucky. Really feel that way: lucky to be born when/where I was, lucky to have a couple good friends, loving family, opportunities, health. I’ve loved & lost. Been sick & recovered. Schooled, worked, retired. Screwed up, fallen down and bounced back up. Been given the gift of aging and, so far, a strong body I plan to wear out on plenty of adventures. I am a grateful, silvering, mom/wife/retiree, with a growing passion for mountains moving (by Halloween) into her 60’s. This is the story of how my COVID-19 2020 100 Miler was pulled off…

February 2020

Lots of fuss and excitement when I was lotteried into the TOR! My second go at it, Husband was at least as excited as I was. The only issue (if you want to call it that), was that my 30th year Dental School Reunion (on a Greek Cruise Ship) was overlapping by 2 days. Such a flurry of scheduling.

Splendido! o no.

At Michael’s (end of February) Retirement Party (who knew it would be the last big gathering of folks) we all clinked glasses, and chatted about how exciting the year was going to be for him. I would finish up the year at UBC, kid would finish up high school (including a whole bunch of electives within the ski coaching world), and attend a competition in Eastern Canada. What a busy, happy, overlapping hot mess. What to do, what to do, how to do it all??

In the Nick of Time. Michael’s Retirement Party, One Week Before the World Started to Shut Down.

Well, dear readers, you already know the answer to this: within several months, the race was down (ALL races were down: land, snow, water, wherever), all planes landed, all cruises docked. Our world was rocked and it was quite unbelievable. During this time, we put our house up for sale, watched as our son’s high school plans and ski season fell apart (the ski world imploded too), and university clinics (where I taught part-time) were closed. It was quite unreal.

We were swept in to the New Reality. Miraculously, our house sold. We had trouble giving away perfectly good used goods (downsizing) because the new reality was that no one wanted to touch anyone else’s stuff. We started to wear masks everywhere. We started to accept the strange reality that gatherings, and hugs, and crowds were NOT OK for now. We learned bubbles were not just in glasses, bottles and burps. Our ski season abruptly stopped. Even the little mountain huts that we ski toured out of were, all of a sudden, looked upon as festering pots of germs.

As athletes, we started to adapt: no gym? Well, there was always the park, backyard or basement. Gym equipment (even a barbell) and e-bikes sold out across the first world. Bottles of laundry soap for weights and virtual on-line body weight strength classes filled in for trips to the gym. All of a sudden, I was even more grateful for the solitude of the trees I could find outside of my door.

On street sidewalks and even paths to more remote trails, folks were walking wide swaths around each other, not smiling or saying hi and generally walking head down. I found that very, very unsettling. It was strange and spooky.

Sadly, We All Learned What A Virus Can Do

June 2020

With house sold, and move to Whistler complete, and everyone at home, and no work place…a bit of freedom opened up! For the first time since I was a kid, there was a free summer. I was not interested in grabbing onto any of the myriad of virtual races/challenges that were offered (humans do adapt!). When invited along by a wonderful friend on several week-long hiking trips, I jumped at the chance. These would be my first everything-on-your-back Long kind of trips. Although under the tutelage of said friend I had done a night or two away hiking and ski touring (the joy of Huts), this was pretty exciting.

A Winter Hut Memory

July 2020

Two glorious eight day/seven night hiking trips: South Chilcotins and Nootka Island, filled out most of the month along with some day hiking with family. Some running was the icing on the cake.

Smelly & Bug-Bitten Never Felt So Good.
Stopping to Really Smell the Flowers

When I got back from all that hiking, I began to realize that I really wanted (ok, craved) a big goal running event. Even though I had started the year with that and had started training, it was never sustained, being interrupted by one thing or the other. I felt compelled to bring something together and together. Euro travel was gone, WAM 175 (a Coast Mountain Trail Running Series event) in Whistler was gone. Hey…why?? not?? Why not do the WAM 175 in it’s original beautifully schemed up/dreamed up Gary Robbins’ 100 Mile vision. It was in my backyard. I did have a drawing of it…basically on a napkin. What could go wrong?

From drawing on a “napkin”….

Can you see the Pterodactyl?? Arcteryx should “heads up”, right?

VAM 165

So, with the blessing of the man himself, and a non-GPX map of the original course, I set out to convert it to a digital GPX version. First of all, I took a basic overview evening course (coincidentally with Coach Eric) on digital navigation. Then, of course, I peppered Eric mercilessly with my dumb questions. With only some slight eye-rolling and eye-brow twitching (pretty sure ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) from Eric – he refused to do it for me, dammit – he somehow coached me through. In the end, I pretty much did it all by my lonesome!! Old persons rock, right?! So from there I had navigation on my watch, on my phone (Gaia), and was swept deeper under with determination to get this done.

To digital display…

With A Little Help From Friends, the Pterodactyl Was Brought to Life
See?

Now to find someone(s) to do it with me. This 100 mile route was “in my backyard”, but traveled through some terrain where it was not advisable to be alone: bears, (including grizzlies), natural hazards, off-trail sections, plus the fatigue and navigation issues that come with every 100 Mile adventure. Finding trail buddies was NOT easy and, in fact, was the biggest factor to almost de-rail the whole deal.

Now, you have to remember this was late July. People were starting to fall into one of three camps: (1) those who had completely fallen off the athletic wheel with the pressures of COVID, (2) those who had completely worn themselves out with virtual training/racing, and still had other plans (3) those who had been swept away by family they owed summers previously-stolen-away-by-races to. I asked a few folks, and got kind of wishy washy answers. Fair enough. So with my confidence deflating and doubts creeping in (why had I waited so long, was this a dumb idea?…) we took a breather and the opportunity to visit family in Prince George. It had been too long.

When we returned, this thing was still rattling around my brain. I had been training around the hikes, and trips, but a long sustained normal series of training blocks just had not happened. Even if I could find folks, was I fit enough? So I started to get a bit more real. I would put something out on FB (and fail publicly if no one responded), looking for folks that would be into a “fun adventure”, “a big beautiful hike over a weekend”, you know, that sort of thing. Haha, I’ve never on-line dated, but I imagine it starts something like that.

As an aside: this is a Black, not Grizzly Bear, track but still HUGE.

Lo and behold, three – and only three – amazingly fine runners took me up on it. I shall identify them as N, M & R. I knew we were a motley, not fully trained up crew. First clue, “I’ve been hiking, not running this summer….are you sure you are hiking this?? Think I’ve got 50 miles, but not sure about more!” But with great attitudes, lots of trail running experience, and a thirst for adventure, on we ploughed.

Recon Missions

So, it’s one thing to have a GPX map. It’s another to have a route where there have actually been boots to the ground. What I mean is that, although large sections of the course had been actually covered in other (altered) versions of WAM, there were sections on this original dream that were never actually cleared (overgrown &/or off-trail) or even approved for a large race. We would need to recon each step, especially when considering that sections would be covered at night, and without race flagging.

This was early August. My original dream date of mid-August was blown past, so September 18 through 20 – with a 48 hour limit – was decided upon. One week before, the actual race would have been held, had COVID not knocked it (and most others on the planet) out. Not much time, and many footsteps to go. Dividing the course into six natural sections, ranging from 20 to 42 km each, my buddy N and I set out to recon hike them.

Glidin’ & Slidin

Feeling the “fire” licking at my heels, I knew we would have to “move it” on the few days that were available. N’s professor schedule was very busy, and she had not trained for more than a few kms at a time for months. Regardless, she was willing to hike sections with me. In 11 days we completed good chunks of 4 planned recon hikes … but paid the price. With an unexpected difference in fitness (and hence, the ability to maintain pace), timidness in challenging terrain and grizzly country, new rules with traveling through Vail’s Blackcomb, and navigational (gadgets vs real dirt) issues, we almost broke up!! After some major diplomacy (ok, sucking up) to my long-suffering friend, and conceding that it was just all too much, I knew I had to turn my sights to other semi-willing victims to share the burden all around.

A Difficult Time

Meet my husband, Michael, and our friend, D. Over the next weekend, we hiked the next big 40 k section: one day taking the Blackcomb and Peak to Peak Gondolas to the highest place they would take us, then hiking up and over to the High Note, around the Musical Bumps and down Singing Pass. The next day, husband was all worn out, but D graciously accompanied me up Khyber to the Peak, where we caught the Gondi back down to the village. D was not a runner, but fit and with a great sense of direction even without a map. True mountain man. Although there was some overlap Day 1 and 2, it gave me a good refresher of the route…and nearly the loss of another friend! Soon afterwards, sure enough another friend called, laughing and saying D said I “tried to kill him”. Poor guy!! And I was even playing nice ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thank you! Sorry!! XO

At this point, M stepped in to take on the most challenging of all the routes: me armed with a bear banger, horn, and spray, it was the 42 km section that would take us through Grizzly country (actually, there was that possibility on the entire West side), and off trail to areas I had not been to yet. M is young, super strong, super confident, and bounds through most trail crap like it’s nothing. Long legs, a keen sense of navigation, hunting, bush experiences and many 100 milers (he’s fast and sure-footed) under his belt, let’s just say this was nutin’ for him.

Trust Me…

To say I was grateful for his company that day, would be a major understatement. I had fretted about that section for weeks. N had backed out of it. I knew I couldn’t count on husband or D by this point, and R (M’s life partner) was not able to make it that day. When that big, “young pup” came bounding along, it truly became a Big Fun Adventure. We started early, finished near dark, and even had a little excitement when a bear (not sure what colour) snort/barked at us from bush cover while we were bushwhacking our way back to the truck. It was everything I had expected and more: more bear signs, Ugly off trail sections and a little getting-off-route to add to the already over-stimulating experience of being that far “out there”. Gorgeous!

Well Placed Intentions

Following this, Michael came back with me to “flag” some sections I was concerned about at night. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and was not able to make it back to the final section (which I knew we would be traveling through the night). This section has always been my nemesis: I have literally broken a tooth, hand, toe, one race (my very first trail race) and wrist on that trail (my third race on that trail), been lost for 6 or 7 hours another time, spinning around with hallucinations at the end of a 100 Miler. So, what was I thinking??? NOT. My one and only regret, really. I should have made time to go there and flag it every 2 bloody inches, just to have the reassurance. But, No. I was getting tired/cranky myself. Pushing it at that point – I have found from experience – could lead to the opposite of what you want: injury & burnout. The choices we make ๐Ÿ˜‰

All Hands On Deck!

Almost …at the start…

So, Dear Readers, there we were. Nearly at the Start. The packs were packed, the moving Aid Station (husband’s truck) was as good as stocked, the route plan/timing/trail buddy sorting/navigation gadget fussing, over with.

Think Pink

We had agreed that this would be FUN, NOT a race. An adventure in a beautiful area with like-minded friends and an appreciation for the opportunity to suck in the fresh mountain air and beat our bodies to happy exhaustion. You know, like our genetics most likely meant us to. We were going to take a weekend to hike a gorgeous, challenging 100 Miles with about 8500 meters of elevation gain and the same of loss. We would celebrate each moment. I was deeply, deeply grateful for the company that enabled this, and humbled by their unselfish, gracious gift of time. Underlying this was my determination to keep it as true to Gary Robbins’ original route design, as difficult and as tempting it was, at times, to vary it. It was an inspiring moment, laced with the “usual” nervous anticipation before any big endeavor.

Then, a few days before, it happened: after a summer replete with lots of rain, cool nights, and the near assurance that smoke/fires would not be an issue for us this summer/fall, along came thick, dark, dangerous smoke from south of our borders.

Smoke.

Watching helplessly, I could only wait and watch and cross fingers. The air quality/smoke rating hovered at 7, then 8, then forecast for 10+ (the worst: not safe for outdoor consumption). I bluffed cavalier with my team, but just 24 hours before, I had to take a stand and press them for commitment, one way or the other. I had not a Plan B or C until this point, but knew there was a very real possibility I would not be able to pull this thing off in spite of my stubbornness. I knew I was heading out the door and into the bush one way or the other – and stated so – but did not expect them to necessarily feel the same way. I just needed to know … and now.

Two agreed that they were “in”, no matter what, but when the most timid (and let’s face it, the smartest) of our group drew the line at an 8 rating Or Less – remembering that this was less than 24 hours from the start and no guarantee the smoke would clear before snow started falling – I did a Hail Mary and formulated a Plan B. If my spooked trail buddy was “out”, I would leave her sections for another day, get the 4 toughest-to-navigate sections done with remaining buddies, then get some sleep and do the last two on my own. It would not be Plan A, a through-and-through, one foot in front of the other, relentless- forward-movement-kind-of-thing like most 100 Milers are, but I would cover the course. Really, that in itself, would be just fine.

Please, Please, Please…

The night before, the rating held at 8, and it was “game on”. N and I agreed – as originally planned – to leave her truck at the end of Leg 1 – while Michael drove us to the 4 a.m. Friday, September 18, 2020 Start. We would use my InReach, set on “track” with the shortest interval, so the crew could follow along and we could coordinate throughout the days. I already knew we would be holding a steady pace – as this was not a race – and was fairly confident in my estimations, however, it was reassuring to have this backup.

Leg 1

Meadow Park Start, up and over Iceberg Lake, and back down following Flank to Rainbow Parking. About 27 km.

Smoke & Smiles

It could not have been a more perfect morning. Dark and quiet, we ladies chatted and snaked our way up the mountain. It was a glorious way to start any day: with a strong, brave and brilliant friend, far from the worries of everyday frets. Yes, we went off route a tad or two (it’s funny to see on FATMAP), but mostly it was a glorious, gabby celebration! We saw the orange sun rise through the light smoke, the stunning vistas afforded by getting up high, and the pure happy adrenaline of moving through the mountain on your own two feet. Stunning Lakes only accessible by sweat. Gliding down the long descent, we were soon we were back at the parking – about an hour earlier than planned – where R would take over for N. Hugs and air kisses (strange but awesome in these COVID times) and giggles abounding, I scarfed food and on we went.

Easy Peasy

Leg 2

Rainbow Parking, Rainbow Lake, Hanging Lake, Madeley Lake, through Callaghan, down and round Flank back to “Foremost” parking lot in Function Junction. About 42 km.

Those of you who have been part of my “crew”/”posse” or whatever gaggle we belonged to when we were traveling the route I blogged about, know by now that your “name” will be brought up sometime along in the story. Who I travel with and how the adventure unfolds is so much more important to me than any result could ever be. It’s the process, the feelings, the experience, the good/bad, funny, bloopers that make adventures like this so special.

I’ve already spilled a couple of things: here is another. R and I had NOT had a chance to hike/run together before. I had met her, knew she was M’s lady, knew that she was young, strong, brave and an excellent competitor, but I really did not know her. In all fairness, this thing was pulled together so fast that although she tried to avail herself, with her (and M’s) busy work schedules, it just didn’t happen.

We were about to embark on the most difficult leg. The leg that – quite literally – dried my mouth out thinking about since the initial scheming began. I have a deep fear of getting lost – and have done so enough times to prove I am entirely capable of it. There were lots of seriously overgrown trails, off-route bushwhacking and worse, sections from Hanging Lake to around Madeley Lake that had not been mapped on Gaia yet. AND, this was the Grizzly route. Soooo, when R mentioned they had made the decision to not only switch this leg with M (who I mentioned I did the recon with), but that she hadn’t loaded the map into her watch for navigation, my mind almost blew. Two choices faced me: melt down or put your big girl underpants on and get going. I chose the underpants.

I had reconed this thing. Sure, sometimes I did blindly hang on to an invisible rope tied between M and me during that recon, but it was not my first pass through. I had a decent navigation watch and semi-decent Gaia map (and battery backup, though I knew this would be another challenge to keep everything powered up). Pretty sure M had no idea of how intimidated I was by this section, and he probably innocently, in a young-male-sort-of -way, dismissed the difficulty of the route when describing it to R. Men.

Fairly Self Explanatory

Smashing down my dread and insecurities, R and I settled into chatter and bear calls. Both packing bear spray, and me with bear banger and horn close by, we soon got into the beauty of the climb. Something clicked and I was ok. R was super strong. The route, the lakes, and the mountains unfolded in front of us. I discovered I remembered more from the recon than I thought. We had a few navigation fumbles but, really it was a great day. We had one incidence: R stepped into a patch of ground wasps and was stung numerous times. Taking Benadryl, she soldiered on, basically dismissing and ignoring her swelling leg and accompanying burning.

Owwwww……

Crazily upbeat, and with an elevated sense of adventure clearly in her soul, we started to spill our trail secrets (“what’s spilled on the trail stays on the trails”) . I learned this young woman was not only strong, beautiful, a professional and deeply in love with her mate, but that she had endured – and survived – two serious and life-threatening backcountry incidents within one year. The fact that she was even out there with me (it was her first forage back) stunned – and humbled me – to my core.

Bush Whacking

As the daylight waned, and as R clearly stated a few times, “I wish I had a helmet cam on right now because No One would believe this”, we finished bushwhacking our way back to the truck, and the waiting boys. A little more stung, scratched, bruised, and bloodied than when we started … but still packing energy and optimism to carry us on to Leg 3 and through the night.

Leg 3

Forecast (the old Olive’s) Parking, Train Wreck, Jane Lakes, Crater Rim, Riverside to Lower Cheakamus bridge. About 27 km.

This was a long Aid Station break (they were, from here on in). This is where a race would have been different: we would have scarfed food, changed stuff over and skedaddled out of there, eyeing those around us, Quick. None of that. Coffee was served, pots of food were warmed and lots of smiles/chatter all around. Finally, the boys kicked us out of there, so M could get some sleep (he was up next, in the middle of the night) and Michael, ditto. Oh yeah, and we were able to drop all the bear weapons. Crossing under the highway to the East side, we had only friendly black bears to contend with, so yay, less stuff to carry.

Train Wreck

R and I settled back into a rhythm. The night was beautiful, but cool. We had our rain gear and were prepared for the forecast of 10 mm or so overnight. No biggie. I had noted that there was also some mention of thunderclouds, but really didn’t worry about it much. Unlike Manning Park, Colorado, or Europe, Whistler rarely endured proper thunder and lightning. I did have a brief flash of memory through my pea-brain though, barely enough to even register, that R previously mentioned that the only thing she was afraid of was lightning (not grizzlies, getting lost, injury, killer bees…)

Famous last words. Within the first hour, it started to sprinkle. By the time we stopped to pee – and find my lost poles (somehow I misplaced them on the side of the friggin’ trail) – we were scrambling to get jackets on over wet clothes. And yes, although I didn’t see the flash, I did hear the slow and loud rumble of thunder (or was it a jet-plane?). One minute later, another very bright flash and crash. Karma was coming to get me.

I started to count between the flash and the crash, and knowing that we were quite sheltered – and would be more sheltered once we entered the thick forest a little ways above – we talked our way through it. Fortunately, this section was at one of the lower elevations. More fortunately, there were no ridges we needed to navigate or escape from.

The rain worsened. It POURED for 5 hours. I suggested we hunker down for a while (I was worried about R), but she chose to keep moving. Honestly, I can say – with great certainty – that if we had chosen to hunker down at that point, I don’t believe I would have been able to carry on.

100% my fault. I broke a Golden Rule: took clothes out of my pack that would have helped keep me warm and dryer. I not only left my rain pants back at the truck (who needs them for a measly 27 kms with a 10 mm forecast in the sheltered forest??) but also puffy insulation for under my rain jacket. By the time we were a few kms from the truck, I was soaked to the bone, water running off my legs, and teeth chattering. R came to my rescue, pulling a puffy out of her well stocked pack, and throwing it over my miserable carcass. Within minutes that puffy brought me back to life and we made our way down and out through a very slippery, treacherous section where we both needed our wits about us.

Back at the truck, again a little early, were the awaiting men. M was dry and springy. It was the weirdest thing: like an alternate planet. We ladies had just been absolutely STORMED on – in the most miserable sort of way – and the boys had slept right through it. They didn’t hear the rain, or the lightning, or anything. Women and their dramatics, right?? Jeesh…

Leg 4

Lower Cheakamus Bridge, W Riverside, Khyber, High Note, Musical Bumps, Singing Pass to Lot 1 (main village). About 35 km.

Ruchel was done. She had been an absolute joy to travel with. Though she was the one terrified of lightning, she saved my life, I swear it. M helped her get dry, warm, fed and off to bed. It was M’s turn and he was ready to rock.

This old lady, however, was chattering cold again and soaked through to the bone. Had a helluva time working my hands and getting changed. Struggling in the truck, trying to maneuver and eat was not easy, but thankfully there was no rush and I was able to sort of get my shit together. After a loooong time, M and I were heading back up the trail, this time a nice 1700 meter climb.

Flashback to Part of the Climb with D

One of my goals this event was to try to practice a few things I had been meaning to improve upon for future events. One was to eat more “real food”, hopefully to stabilize energy levels and avoid the inevitable sugar poisoning that always comes for me after long events (too many gels!). I started here by scarfing down another whole burrito.

Did I Have to Scarf the Whole Damn Thing??!

Well, as you can imagine, although my appetite is quite famous, this did not “sit” well. Within not too long a period of time, I was whining to M that I had to slow our near crawl down even more or I would be spewing that burrito. He cheerily admitted that he had never puked before in an event (it’s pretty common, Dear Readers) … to which I rebuked that I hadn’t either, but there was obviously a first time for everything. With me being all sick and cranky pantsed, M, the wise young man, slowed his steps, changed the topic to politics and up the mountain we went. Me, again, with an invisible rope tied to M.

When the Going Gets Tough, Plaster On a Smile
Classic High Note View – Another Day

Sure enough I started to feel better. We saw in another sun rise. But, damn, this time it was cold and foggy with a bitter wind. I was ok, and truly enjoyed trucking along behind this confident and sure-footed mountain man. But I was losing some ground. My other nemeses were creeping in: cold hands (which made it difficult to get calories) and fatigue from sheer hours out there. I literally checked out – in my mind – when we got a little off course on the top with winds and let M carry that burden. By the time we got to Singing Pass, I was totally faking it. You know, fake it till you make it, and you usually will. I just plastered a smile on my face and followed along. Thank God for M!!

Leg 5

Lot 1, up the Ascent Trail, past the Rendezvous and up past Alpine and Decker Loops, back down closed trails and service roads, the Ascent Trail and Base II Parking. About 22 km.

Lot One @ Village. About 128 km in. Fake News.

We were about 128 km in. Two sections (5 & 6) to go. Less than a marathon distance. Really, only one BIG hill left to climb. So close, and yet so far away. This is the point where things have a tendency to go off rail and you need to start digging in. Even in a FUN adventure event ๐Ÿ˜‰

Coming off the mountain where we had been, literally, the only ones (even the marmots were smart enough to hole up) with swirling winds, low vis, and many km under our feet … to the busy Whistler main parking lot, complete with Michael’s happy cowbells and neighbours cheering us on and the chatter of crew … felt overwhelming to me. I used the truck as sort of my hole to hide in. I needed to warm up, change into warmer clothes for the night that lay ahead and force feed. My poor husband got the brunt of my snarls but we got through it. Got a picture. Finally, Matt and I headed out. Pit stop at the main Blackcomb Lodge. And up we went.

Looking back, it is really quite remarkable to think what we went though to get to this point. This Blackcomb stretch should have been a slam dunk, both in recon and actuality. But it wasn’t: from the very get go. Previous to Go Day, challenges included conflicting info from Vail about when the mountain would close all it’s official trails. We needed to travel the Ascent Trails and the Upper Trails out to the Decker Loop in order to stay true to Gary’s plans. And in all fairness, this is a gorgeous section! Who would want to alter this beautiful tail on the Pterodactyl?

Views to Die For

BUT, while reconning, N and I tortured ourselves about how much trouble we could get into for “trespassing” on those closed trails. Or worse – our passes could be pulled! Having very different comfort levels about “bending rules”, we clashed about what to do about that, potential winter weather on the top, and even the actual route. As I mentioned, this pig-headed clash of two stubborn personalities got us into a pickle. So silly, looking back now.

THEN, all of a sudden,Vail changed the dates, and we were allowed up on weekends! But what if we needed to travel after hours? And what about the sabotage of the Squamish Gondi? Surely security would be so tight up there! On and on our conspiracy theory muddled brains flew into full fledged paranoia.

A Beautiful Ascent

Anyway, in the end, N decided not to accompany this section. M stepped in and he and I quietly tip-toed our way up past the Rendezvous Lodge and carried on … just like a couple of thieves (though we never stole anything but long glances as the beautiful sunsets and silhouette of the mountains, I swear!). It was immensely rewarding to hear M ponder out loud, “I haven’t been up here for about 15 years. Whistler is HUGE!” It was fun listing to him read off all the lumps and bumps of “Cowboy Ridge”, etc., and it was awesome to relax into his re-found familiarity with the area. We did alter the route back down to avoid having to get near the Rendezvous (with likely security and equipment) which ran us a a touch off course, but we still stayed true to Gary’s original vision. Near Base II, all of a sudden we were off course and a little turned around. Again, I checked out in my mind and let M carry the burden of finding our way back to Base II and the crew. Which he did ๐Ÿ˜‰

Leg 6 – the last one.

Blackcomb Base II through Comfortably Numb and back to Riverside. As many km as it takes…

It was late and dark. A perfectly clear night. The crew was cheery. They had basically been welcomed – by security – into a nice little parking spot that was closed off and ideal. I knew I was starting to really lose it (oh, yes, there are varying degrees, for sure) and made the decision – for the first time ever – to have a 20 minute nap. Grumpy, introverting, and needing to reset, I asked for 20 – 25 minutes to close my eyes. Sitting in the truck fully dressed with headlamp and all, I closed my eyes… then heard the words “it’s time to wake her up”.

Back on the trail with N, she was super chipper! And super chatty. The little snooze helped. But … this last leg was Really, Really, Really my nemesis. Since the very beginning of planning I had made it very clear that I would have to depend on someone for navigating this last section. As predicted, I was close to 40 hours into it: the hallucination zone. Though N & I had navigated this section quite easily during recon, I knew full well that damn maze of trails, dark, and hallucinations could de-rail me again. Checking my attitude, I leaned into my friend’s chatter and became engrossed in her amazing stories.

N & I had a full-on discussion about the Art on These Walls. Of course she took a picture to show me afterwards how loony bins I was… Brat.

Unfortunately – I have to admit – my last bit of hope that this would all finish as planned, was when N started to have doubts about the route and started to give me options. I had little energy, and I needed that energy to put one foot in front of the other. My mouth was moving but I could not think clearly. I was starting to see art-work everywhere throughout the forest. The snooze had helped: the hallucinations were held off a few hours, and at least they didn’t walk! But … I had not a friggin’ clue where I was. Ultimately, we decided to cut things short. Nadine would do the calculations and bring us back to the truck at Riverside at precisely 100 miles.

My mind was messed up: total acceptance along with the flip side of total denial (that I would not be able to finish this last leg precisely as we had originally planned). Bliss that we were almost done, and the stubborn dread that I hadn’t crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. Pride & shame. Yes, in my mind it was just that dramatic.

So, it was done. 48 hours later, including all the long truck breaks, navigation challenges and the mostly-hiking pace, N and I found our way back to Michael’s waiting truck and a sleeping resort. Big hugs, many thanks; we did not have the heart to awake M & R. Although we planned to crack a champagne, no one but Michael was game at this point. N got back into her truck and drove back to Squamish. Love that woman!

For those of you who are gadget geeks (and those of you who are not – like me), my gadgets were a necessary pain. I carried a Suunto Spartan watch, InReach satellite device (the old big one), an iPhone 8, a 2 port battery pack with capacity for 4 charges, and cords. Michael would change headlamp batteries, and power devices each time I returned to the truck (5 stops).

Unfortunately, my watch could not quite keep up in spite of battery packs. Fortunately, N is a digital map expert (geologist, professor, brainiac geek: and I say that lovingly ๐Ÿ˜‰ so she was able to painstakingly piece together data (from our 4 watches) to formulate an accurate track of our completed route.

My InReach survived well into Leg 5. Crew were delighted to have been able to follow it along from home & truck. Can’t recommend that device enough. My phone navigation worked better than planned as well, but only because reconning this project forced me into really getting into the dos and don’ts of battery life preservation.

Thanks to this project, I learned everything I now know about digital navigation, which previous to this event was a big fat zero. Let’s just say, even old dogs can learn new tricks. Going shopping for a new nav watch!

Approximately 102 miles, 8500 meters elevation gain, and the same 8500 meter loss, we had done it. The “pre-grizzly” WAM 100 miler, complete in it’s spirit and it’s steps.

Wrap Up

I have no illusions that I could have done this on my own. I am eternally grateful for the company and selfless sacrifice of the time and energy my trail buddies laid on the ground in order to enable us to pull this thing off. Nadine, Matt and Ruchel, Michael and Dave: my heart is full with wonder and gratitude!! Boy … do I owe each and every one of you. Thank You!!!

Gary & Eric: your coaching and friendship are second to none. It amazes me that you have such faith in one such as I. Deeply humbled and grateful.

Gary: your Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 Miler is Big & Beautiful. Truly world class. I look forward to the day you can bring it on!

This course was originally schemed up by Gary Robbins’ and nearly brought to fruition by the team at Coast Mountain Trail Series until it was derailed by “new” grizzly sightings in the area (that’s what we mean by pre-grizzly), and presented in an altered form.

Grizzly “management” is deeply controversial, and I will make no comment, other than to say that I feel sooo fortunate to live in an area with such abundance of wild life, stunning scenery, usually clean air, lots of trails and a community full of folks with a passion for all things mountain.

This is my personal blog and all choices were my own. I fully respect differing opinions on how I might have handled things. Hope I have been forthcoming enough about the route that, if you decide to follow any of it, you do your own careful recon, travel with others and take all necessary precautions for all hazards, including weather, elevation, wildlife, injury, navigation, hydration and nutrition. GPX tracks are posted publicly on AllTrails, Gaia (called Gary’s Original WAM 175) and FATMAP as VAM 165 (though FATMAP elevation gain and losses are woefully inaccurate over a 100 Mile distance).

Thanks – once again – for following along on my Tails of Trails.

13 thoughts on “Whistler Alpine Meadows: A Surprise 2020 Gift

  1. Vicki, you are one amazing cookie……. Your perseverance, stamina and just plain stubbornness are what gets you through these endurance ultras. Congratulations on another job well done. Love Michael

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  2. Simply wonderful! You, your journey, adventure, and your write-up! Youโ€™re a bright light and what a pleasure to read your tails of trails (Iโ€™m almost certain it would be as pleasurable to adventure beside you). Congratulations to you and your team.

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  3. Dear Vicki I was blown away by your account of this wonderful and exciting trip. If this were in book form it would have been a ‘page turner’. On the one hand I was so tempted to speed read but I forced myself to slow down so I could savor all the details. When you wrote about being so cold in the rain with wet clothes and numb fingers, I had to put my Patagonia jacket on (even though it’s 79 degrees F in my house in Boca ๐Ÿ™‚ I truly enjoyed every word and photo of you adventure. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Hugs,
    Michael

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  4. Oh Vicki! You inspire me by how gracious and humble you are. And positive, and determined. And all with a big smile. I love that you love it.
    What a run! Every leg I pictured the route and as I read on and I pictured you after 5 hours of rain and a whole day later, I couldn’t believe you were heading out to Singing Pass next, and then, and then….just incredible!
    I’m lucky I get to go out with you in the mountains sometimes. Can’t wait to do more adventures with you.
    Hugs,
    Jane

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  5. This was a riveting read. You put paid to a couple of often articulated premises:
    (1) sciencie types canโ€™t write well. (Back in my day there was a rumour that English students were charging science students to write their essays). I read every word of this adventure!!!
    (2) 60 year old women lose muscle (endurance, spark, sex appeal… pick your assumption. Never mind that nonsense about runners having bad knees. ). Thanks for showing me whatโ€™s possible. I crewed for someone who did WAM and saw the strongest runner I know break down in tears. Itโ€™s definitely a bad ass course!!

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  6. Dear Vicki – thank you for this beautiful inspiring story of your epic run with through the Whistler mountains. Your determination and perseverance is amazing, as are your lovely family and friends who supported you. Reading this many miles from Whistler – restricted from travelling home to BC right now – you and your running adventure really brightened my day ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š Thank you and warmest wishes, Katherine

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