The first stirrings of Spring. Here – in Whistler – there are many snowy days still likely to come. The snowpack is as high as it gets, with many opportunities – still – to play in it. In truth, it will be months (ok, perhaps even well into Summer) before we can truly find “good dirt” high in the Alpine. But the signs are here…
the first black bear sleepily wandering into our backyard
the first ptarmigans crankily warning us away from their hidden nests
the first pollen sneezes
the throngs of Spring Break fair-weather skiers
the palatable restlessness of locals itching to hose off their bikes, surfboards, and hikers
And, true to the calendar, the urge to reflect back on the season that is (in my mind) beginning to end.
It started with the usual anticipation and fluttering excitement of a town hell bent on worshiping Ullr in whatever pagan form we could muster the time, money, and energy on. The whoop whoop rush of getting gear together, passes paid for, and winter jobs aligned in this snow sport crazy town.
Of course – being the second pandemic year (the first year having endured the whole mountain being shut down March 29) there was also the nail biting/opinion flinging/science bending/fear mongering/ society splitting insanity that came with a once in a century full-on pandemic. There were open scraps with the Mother Ship (Vail) in regard to their handling of vaccine passports and treatment of long time local employees: yes…It Got Ugly. Most everyone was pretty sure the mountain would be shut down again but, like lemmings, we could not resist the pull of the cliffs…
As for me – well – I had my own private little anxiety. Early last season I tore my ACL in a backcountry incident (hidden root, early season, binding didn’t release) and lost the whole season. Although I had spent the better part of the year in various sorts of rehab (as best as I could mid-pandemic) and was able to muster a running event in the Fall, skiing spooked me. Call it post-trauma, or whatever, but I now see how injuries can be as difficult – or more difficult – to heal in your mind & memories, as the actual physical injury.
Faking it till I was making it, I marched out on the slopes determined that I was NOT going to let this get in my way. Of course, it didn’t take long until my mind/body disconnect resulted in a crash, pain, and tears of frustration. Although I swore high and low I would NEVER, EVER give in and wear one of those big, ugly, expensive, useless braces the physio and doctors recommended (why would I when, of course, I would work harder, longer, and force my rehab go faster than any of them anticipated), I had to give up my veil of stubbornness and get one of the damn things. It was that, or likely tear up the three remaining ligaments: my choice.
I have to admit: getting that big, ugly, expensive, useless brace was one of the wisest things I have ever decided (or should I say been forced) to do, never mind the kicking and screaming all the way to the physio’s office. First day out, it made all the difference in the world. That should’ve been the end of it, but it wasn’t: I have spent the entire season slowly and surely getting back into skiing. Some steps forward, some steps back…but mostly forward motion.
Yesterday, I hit 52 days (of skiing). Yes…52 days in spite of the pandemic, in spite of an injury. I am so very, very grateful.
A good mix of resort, backcountry (including 4 overnight hut trips = 14 days worth with my friend J), and pure up-hill skinning for the loving sweat of it. I am so very, very grateful.
The snowpack was Big. We had several significant rain/warming incidences followed by cold, long periods of no new snowfall, followed again by huge dumps and fluctuating freezing levels. Persistent layers of instability in the snowpack made for a twitchy and often potentially dangerous mix of avalanche conditions depending on when and where you were. Digging snow pits to assess conditions, stalking Avalanche Canada reports, and constantly assessing the other signs was definitely part of our days in the backcountry. Being pretty new to this sport – and naturally a Nervous Nelly – I found this layered onto my already anxious-about-my-knee state. But…reflecting back, it all went well: we were cautious, we were lucky, we had long, beautiful, adventurous hours in the mountains. I am so very, very grateful.
Our youngest son coached one day a week, worked in a restaurant at night, and has skied/boarded more days than I can even count. Yes, I love that he is living the ski bum life. I am so very, very grateful.
A blended family, our oldest son and youngest daughter came for Christmas (our eldest “girl”, living & working in Vermont, stayed put with travel still being so difficult) but we have booked flights to see her in the summer. It was another peaceful COVID holiday and we were blessed (or lucked out) to Not “catch the Vid”. What more could we ask of Santa? I am so very, very grateful.
Whistler was NOT shut down. Christmas was a whirlwind of Omicron and “everyone” had “it”. Still, the vax rates were sky high, and the case numbers came down enough that, not only did the mountain stay open, but…mask mandates were lifted across the province. I am so very, very grateful.
My husband found a good Doc who was able to help him with his knee struggles. The joy of seeing a man who has worked so hard in his life be able to live his own, albeit late, ski bum life is amazing. I am so very, very grateful.
My running coaches fully supported and fed me a schedule that encouraged a good mix of skiing and running, letting skiing take the lead. I feel encouraged, rested, ready to switch seasons and hit dirt trails again in the near future (although for a while I may have to drive to them). I am so very, very grateful.
As the next chapter of this year opens, I am praying for Peace in the Ukraine. Praying for Peace on this planet. We all need to do better…
Wishing you a wonderful Spring, Peace, and Happy Trails wherever they lead you. Thank you for reading my Reflections on a season to remember.
January 20, 2021. Here I was again: injured, feeling sorry for myself, trapped. Not in a serious way – and I knew it – but my mind was messed up, missing the highs it had come to rely on. Highs only brought on by adrenaline and serotonin induced running and skiing.
In my training log, which in my case is basically a “Dear Diary”, I had noted, “1/2 hr Physio: Failed ready-to-run test. That spot I spoke about (gastroc) really acted up when started Test 5 of 6. Yeah…all I could do not to cry. I am in a super low mood, even though trying every trick in the book to bring myself up. Hard to sleep, hard to focus, just a lack of joy… and tears often just under the surface.”
It had been a month since I had torn my ACL and banged up the other ligaments in my right knee. On December 19, in a backcountry skiing incident, I caught a stick in a tree chute, my binding didn’t release, and well… Hello DarknessMy Old Friend….we’ve come to injury again.… (I couldn’t get Disturbed’s dark and silky version of the Sound of Silence out of my mind). My ski season was shot, I couldn’t run, and although I had been working my ass off to rehab – it was complicated, uncomfortable, and Not going my way at the moment. I had failed the ready-to-run test.
My coach (the 30 year old no-messin-around-one) had obviously read my log and, in response, blasted me a sentence or two: “Vicki – I am havin’ none of it.” Further, and I paraphrase: “This is not a race. Get up. Do the work. You will get out what you put in.” It really woke me up. I could’ve become defensive, leaned into the pity party, but I knew he was right. It was all that I needed to get back at’r.
This was not my first injury. In the past decade – since I had really stepped running & skiing up – I had a few ups and downs with injury. But…I had not lost a whole season of skiing or running to it. This was different. I loved winter: looked forward to snow, to darker moody days, slowing down my running schedule and flipping into skiing. Over the past couple of years I had even taken up backcountry skiing, finding a mentor/friend that has truly been a blessing at this stage of life. At 60, I was feeling silver and strong. I was recently retired: that dream of a 100+ days of skiing was surely going to be my reward…
From the moment I heard the POP!, felt the searing twist and breathtaking slam of my body to the snow – while my leg was hooked and caught uphill – I knew I had really done it this time. I bargained with God for a night (please, please let this be nothing…) then, inevitably, ended up in the clinic the next day.
Still thinking I could “will this away”, the young Doc (I’m noticing, these days, that there are a lot of young docs) who attended me took all of 10 seconds of gentle leg manipulation to come up with a tentative diagnosis: “at least a Cl 2 ACL tear, possibly a Cl 2 MCL tear, and your meniscus could be **cked, too.” The Xray did not find a fracture, though an MRI would be needed to confirm the diagnoses and fully rule out fracture. It kind of shocked me. I did NOT want to hear about a torn ACL. Already I had a preconceived notion that meant surgery. And since the loud “Pop” and tenderness were similar to an incident I had about 15 years earlier (which had been diagnosed as a slight MCL tear which would not require surgery, and went away with a few months for nighttime discomfort without skipping a beat or a day on the hill), I really thought (hoped) the Doc was off. I was ok with her advice to see a physiotherapist asap. “Surgery or not, your physio will be your lifeline for the next 6 months, to a year, maybe longer”. Next she sent off a referral for an MRI. $35 later, I was out the door on crutches making my way to my car where I: (1) made an appointment to see a physio later that afternoon and (2) booked a private MRI for the next day. I was NOT waiting for a phone call.
Physiotherapy. Not even 24 hours after the injury, there I was at Peak Physio. Although I am not one to seek physio, or massage, or chiro on a regular basis, I had come to learn that “they” really knew a thing or two about sports injuries. A couple of times, I had walked in to their clinic with a “niggle” complaint and, within a very short time, had a diagnosis and a plan to make the niggle go away with a few exercises. My coaches were big believers in the power of physiotherapists. I felt trust. Until…
I met my new physiotherapist. She was pretty, young (oh great, they’ve given the old lady the rookie), sure of herself with a strong Aussie accent. Taking a history, and manipulating my leg (in a creepy way: you would know if you’ve ever had your ACL checked out), she pronounced that she agreed with the Doc at the clinic: torn ACL. But she said it without wavering. Like a fact. Then, when I asked her if she thought I might need surgery, she said, GASP, “most likely not, at your age”. It was my first brush up against those words, “your age“. Bristling, I asked what she meant. “Well, generally, anyone under the age of 45 is treated with non-surgical rehabilitation.” Feeling gut kicked, I was starting to put things together. Ohhh….so that is why the young Doc at the clinic told me that – within a year or so – I would maybe be skiing again…with a brace. The picture was not pretty in my mind. And simply NOT acceptable.
Anyway, no use arguing now, especially with those youngsters. I would have that MRI soon. The results would either vindicate – or screw – me. I would do what I could, become an informed patient, and follow orders to get better. I had almost cocky confidence in my ability to heal quickly, and to use grit (aka stubbornness) to my advantage. It would be ok. I was strong. No feebleness here. Hah! Just you wait…
Of course the MRI confirmed the worst: Complete ACL tear. Partial-thickness injuries to the lateral structures including the lateral gastrocnemius tendon, distal biceps femoris tendon, iliotibial band and LCL. Small undisplaced tear in the posterior horn of the medial meniscus. I guess those kids knew a thing or two after all...damn it!!!
And so it began.
I watched my family and friends head out the door, every day, for holiday skiing while the fluff kept piling up and up. I pulled up my big girl underpants and dug into the fact that – for once – I was going to have lots of time to fuss over the holidays rather than heading out to the mountain every single day (I can barely get a tree up most years). I knew I could not let my head get into FOMO. I forced a smile, “Have Fun!”, and a good attitude (most) every day.
I did “some” research: perused online chats, articles, studies on ruptured ACL treatment and rehab. Although I did not recognize it at the time, I was unwittingly forming a bias: a bias towards surgery. Coming from a medical/dental background, I generally trusted main stream professionals and the power of a good reparative surgery. There were no shortage of folks to talk to in this part of the world: ACL tears (and “shoulders”) were as common as root canals. “Everyone” said, “Do It!” But, then came in the insidious…”Don’t let them hold you back…and they likely will because of your age“. Seriously, I was ready for that fight!! I had accepted my age, hell, gone silver (which is a major move for many women, and men actually), accepted my wrinkles as badges of experience, and refused to use it as an excuse. I had never brushed up against this before: surely they jest.
Indignant, I didn’t think it reasonable that anyone should think I would be able to fully get back at’r with 3/4 of a knee. I’m strong, but…. I also felt it was asking for trouble. Sure, I may be able to rehab, but throughout the research articles (which made total sense to me) was the thread, “success through dialling it back”. In other words, as an older athlete, or in non-athletes, dialling back your sport was the key to non-surgical rehab. And, more unsettling to me was the realization that in every case of folks I spoke with, they had dialled it back…even with surgery.
Anyway, a chance meeting with a para-olympian friend really smartened me up. Think about that! Here I was, embarrassed to even mention that I wasn’t skiing that day because I had buggered up my knee temporarily. Really. One has to give themselves a kick in the ass once in a while.
I had great allies: Eric & Gary had my back (Gary, the Soother in Chief, and Eric the No Nonsenser) , but basically they backed away, insisting I follow the professionals’ advice while encouraging patience. My new Physiotherapist took the cranky old bull by the horns immediately: she put me into a temporary brace (while encouraging me to get a custom HUGE one – one I was sure I would leave dust covered in the closet by week 3), and started me on physio exercises right away. She saw me 3 times a week, sent physio homework with me, and said I could walk – with a brace – for as long as I could tolerate.
The UBC Sports Doc appointment was set for January 8, 2021. 5 years ago, I had visited that office with a stress fracture five years ago. 11 weeks later I was up and running and 6 weeks after that, taking part in the 120 Mile Fat Dog. It had gone well, and I was confident it would again. I just needed that surgery.
All my chatting with folks who had torn their ACLs, and who had the surgery to replace it, convinced me that I had to have this surgery. This confirmed my research and natural bias. Soon, I threw down a gauntlet: while speaking with a runner/physiotherapist friend, I mentioned that many thought my age would be a factor. I laughed out loud, relaying that my trainer said I should cry crocodile tears and beg for the surgery! Haha. As we laughed over messenger, I only half jokingly said I would use subtler methods: flirt and arrive at office bearing fine cognac. “He” would see the light.
Doc 2. I call him Doc 2, because little did I know that time, the young doc I saw in the Whistler ER was Doc 1. Actually turns out that she was an orthopaedic surgeon. More on that later.
Doc 2 was not much older than my 21 year old daughter. I swear. A lot more swagger. Certainly not the type I would ever offer cognac to. No, this kid was likely still drinking frat beer. In less than 2 minutes, I recognized that he recognized me as a silver-haired-person. He flat out – without any explanation – said surgery was not an option for me. Why? Well, although he did see in my history that I skied and ran (slowly and infrequently with my old lady friends, no doubt), my chance of full recovery from surgery would likely not be great. I would be left stiff and in worse shape then when I started. I honestly think he didn’t have a clue what he was saying – and how he was saying it; Having taught at UBC, I would have given him a score of “2” – flat out Fail – for his bedside manner and professional communication. Inexperience. Ageism. You could hear the mic drip when he stated, “If you were a 23 year old soccer player, we’d have you right in…” This was my first REAL brush with ageism, and I did NOT like it. Let me the hell outta here. I’m going to find a grown up doctor.
Doc 3. One week later, after blubbering my indignant eyes out on my coach, Gary, I landed in the office of the Amazing Dr. B. An ultra runner and backcountry skier himself with (silvering good looks and) superb bedside manner, Gary absolutely knew what I was in need of. Of course he also outlined that there would be no more doctor shopping. This Doc was experienced, dealt with athletes of all ages, and Coaches really trusted him. They were more wary of surgery than I was, having seen complications with previous athletes. Either way, I think we all needed Dr. B’s opinion.
Now, this time around, the Doc delivered the same news but with sublime expertise (yep – a 10 out of 10 for professionalism). He spent time actually looking at – and manipulating – my knee. He explained the, “if you were a 23 yr old soccer player, we’d have you right in for surgery”. Turns out that, “Yes, if you were a 23 year old soccer, or hockey, or football player with a million dollar contract (or the olympics on the line) we would get you in for that surgery. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. There would be a big push to DO SOMETHING!Again, “doing something” is often not the right thing.”
He then went on to say, “these days, the trend is towards non-surgical rehabilitation“. “Studies have shown that treatment with surgery is no more successful than without.” I left his office feeling fully informed. I still had some doubt because of the overwhelming number of people who had ACL surgery (not hard to find in Whistler) and encouraged me to have it. And I still wanted to do some more “research”, but my heart rate was down and the beast soothed.
Here’s where things got twisted up: this time I researched “non surgical treatment of ruptured ACL”. Sure enough, the studies started popping up. They were not quite as favourable as Dr. B may have suggested they were, but he had placed the caveat, “you won’t really know until you are fully back at it. Late into a long mountain run in difficult terrain and you are tired”. He strongly encouraged me to go for the non-surgical rehab. If things didn’t go well, I could always go for the surgery later on. So, hell’s bells, although I felt fully confident in his advice, I was going to have to make a difficult decision. One that no one else could make for me. The more I looked into it, the more torn I became. You can always find a study to agree – or contradict – with your point of view. But I made a promise: no more doctor searching. I would take a stand, make the non-surgical rehab my job for the next 6 – 9 months. And if I needed surgery (after all that), and in essence had to double this time – well – too bad, so sad. Life’s a bitch sometimes…
Best damed rehab EVER. Fully diving in, my physiotherapist passed me a snorkel and showed us the way. Gary and Eric stood back while she steered the whole process. I met with her 3 times per week to start; after a few weeks, 2X per week.
Almost from the beginning, physio said “walk all you want“. I would start out before anyone even left for skiing. Fully wintered up, with ispikes from Salming (an amazing running/walking shoe for winter icy/snowy conditions) and running poles, I started walking the Valley Trail. Soon these became hikes up snowy trails: following snowmobile and ski/skin tracks.
Along with the bi (and tri) weekly visits to Physio’s office, I went to the gym daily (thank God our gym was open in spite of COVID), walked – then hiked – for hours and started stationary cycling. Everything was measured by time, and itty bitty at first, but increased quickly. My only rule was “stop if there is pain”. Within 6 weeks I was putting in 28 hrs per week. Being a retired old folk has it’s benefits, and this is definitely one of them. I was putting in professional athlete hours to my rehab, and was surrounded by a team of pros (Sports Doc, Physio, Coaches, and eventually a gym trainer). Gary laughed: “Tell an ultra runner they can walk all they want and bingo: 7 hr strolls”. There was some pain, there was discomfort, there was some swearing, some doubt, some knee buckling: you know…like a typical 100 Miler.
Of course, as mentioned at the beginning, it was not all smiles & giggles. At week 4, I had enough success to have convinced myself I was “ready to run”. Half a week later, I failed the “ready-to-run” test, and crumpled up for a few days. The loss of my winter – my beautiful fluffy ski season – coupled with some fatigue from probably trying too hard, weighed on me more than I let on…
Never mind: Eric righted my attitude. By week 7, I passed that “ready-to-run” and added it to my daily routine of walking/hiking/physio/strength/biking which brought me up to 36 hours per week by week 8. I even threw in a couple of careful snowshoes up to Journeyman’s Lodge in the Callaghan Valley. Running was kept on a tight leash: precisely 22 mins per day, with 10% added per week.
At 8 weeks, Physio added ski exercises. This was going at near lightning speed. The exercises were HARD. Like everything-I-had-HARD. But…they were exactly what I needed. And I could see – with each and every one of them – as I returned to the actual movements (running, skiing) why she chose them specifically for me. I was in awe of her expertise: not only her knowledge, but her bedside manners and her specificity as we moved along. I really looked forward to her appointments!! She was more than a nice kid, that’s for sure 😉
By the beginning of March, she let me out on the mountain with skis. My restrictions were: 1) stop if it hurts. 2) stay “on piste, aka groomed runs” 3) wear your brace. 4) skinning is ok, but backcountry is not. This was about when her next two weeks were cancelled due to COVID. The timing was perfect: I added skiing to my list and got out there, able to report back in 3 weeks time.
As I discovered very quickly, it was fairly easy to get fully back on groomed runs. Of course, I did deek into some tree runs (against orders), and there, met my match. I discovered a frustrating (and dangerous) disconnect between my brain and my knee. To try to describe it to non-skiers, it was very much like being an experienced driver. We just drive, and react naturally. Our experience has laid down paths in our brain that drive our physical reactions (and vice versa). It becomes automatic. Now, imagine you are flying down a fluffy hill with trees randomly here and there, terrain uneven and unfamiliar. An experienced skier is able to steer through without much thought to what specifically his or her legs/arms/position in space is. Now that was broken for me. It was a crazy experience: walking, running, exercises, strength training did not bring this on. Speed, unfamiliarity with terrain (which is the essence of tree and backcountry skiing), and the inability to react quickly enough, were a danger.
When I mentioned this to Physio upon her return, she was not surprised at all. She didn’t want to plant doubt in my mind, but wanted to see how things went. And after all, she was away for a few weeks, unexpectedly. So…we worked on that: more physio exercises to challenge that part of my brain.
Long and short…at 15 weeks, my most amazing physiotherapist released me from her care. She sent a letter to my coaches to confirm this, because we both thought they would not believe it. Fifteen weeks: the shortest rehab she had ever seen with a complete tear of an ACL (and banged up other ligaments), even with her young pro athletes.
So…Hah. I said this was going to be The Best Damned Rehab. EVER. Lil’ol ladies Rock, Right?? ;D
As I write this, Dear Diary, it is April 22, 2021. 4 months after the crash on December 19, 2020. I am back at the beginning, so to say. Starting the slow build up to an anticipated ultrarun event (maybe? who knows with the way COVID numbers are rising, in spite of the vaccines). My ski season is over but did get a few days on the mountain before it was closed due to government COVID restrictions. Did get out a few days – after the closure – for easy skins/ski up the mountain. Had to turn down backcountry days with my touring partner. Although my heart is there with her, and during my few days skinning I noticed an improvement each and every time, I figure I’ve pushed my luck enough for this ski season. I am sooo grateful for what I can do! We can push it again for the 2021/22 season: next winter!!
In spite of all of this, I am still not 100% certain I won’t need that surgery. As Dr. B said, “you won’t know until...” So in the meantime, I will follow orders and am happily back with my run coaches and gym trainer. I’ve built up leg/hip strength with this experience, stationary biked more than I have ever before (and didn’t lose my mind too badly), and have even grown some arm muscles (check these guns out). Maybe someday I will need that brace, but for now…no damn way.
Doc 1. Oh yes. I said there would be more on her later. Doc 1 was the youngster who attended to me at the clinic. The one who wrote an MRI referral and sent me out the door with crutches to the physiotherapist. The one who said she had torn her ACLs a couple of times and was back at it. Turns out she is an orthopaedic surgeon. Young, pretty, athletic and low key. Playing ball with the big boys: the medical world was a macho place, but apparently not so much anymore. Her office did call me for an appointment, but in a twist of fate, it didn’t go well. Since I already had an appointment with Doc 2, her office could not/would not simultaneously book in their’s. Since I already had an appointment – within 3 weeks – and their office might not be able to get me in for six weeks or longer…I chose the UBC route.
Something didn’t feel right, and in hindsight, I wonder how things would have gone had I cancelled Doc 2 and gone with Doc 1, at least for a Consult. As it stands, I now am on a waiting list for a surgical consult with Doc 1. It’s been 4 months, I check regularly, and yes…still on the list. I still want to talk with her: it is my belief and background that patients need to inform themselves, and that includes talking to an actual surgeon. So, I rehab and wait. Fortunately, even Dr. B agrees with that route: “get on the surgical list, then if you need it, you have the appointment”. Suspiciously, I kind of wonder if her Orthopod office took me off the list – or keeps flipping me to the bottom… That is beyond my control. Ageism is real. And until a larger swell of older athletes starts to dominate the scene, I suspect I won’t be the last to walk this way.
Private clinic, you may ask? Well, I did look into that. And it turns out that – with a new and recent ruling after a long standing court case – private clinics cannot accept you (even for a consult) until you have a diagnosis from a mainstream BC Medical specialist. Hands tied. I won’t get into that philosophical or political hornet’s nest in this blog.
I grew up a little more this year. Discovered another “ism”, which I wasn’t even aware of. From my writings you will notice I had started to pepper my thoughts with “young/kid/rookie”. Why should I be surprised then, when others notice “old”. We all have our “isms”: sexism, racism, ageism. They can all be harmful and unfair and hold us back: as a society, as a people, as a sex, as an individual. For me, again, I have been spoiled. A little indignation and humbling is good for the soul. May I strive to do better…and be thankful.
I also confirmed that gut feelings are important – but should not completely over-ride sound scientific/medical advice. It’s all too easy these days to find data that will support your biased point of view. Listen, look, and seek advice from experts…then Trust. My patients (when I was practicing) gave it to me, now it’s my turn to give it back.
Honestly, I could not have imagined a winter season and living in Whistler without skiing dozens & dozens of days. But having just lived it, yeah, again I was just spoiled. Feeling super grateful.
Finally, and with regret, I should note I was not the only person hurt this year: in a crazy twist of fate, I saw friends around me, also, get injured (collarbone, ankle, shoulder, leg/knee), saw friends/family lose their loved ones and, more recently, a super athletic dad/husband/friend suffered a stroke. Then there is COVID and the havoc it is reigning on the world. 2021 is proving to be as challenging as 2020, and it’s still early. My heart goes out to all.
Many thanks to my coaches Gary & Eric, of Ridgeline Athletics, physiotherapist, Sharni, from Peak Physio in Whistler, trainer Mandy, from Whistler Creek Athletics, Dr. B, my touring partner, J (who saved my life on Dec. 19 and who I want to be when I grow up), and of course my ever-patient and encouraging (silver fox) husband, Michael. Yes…I Luv you All!!!!
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…
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.
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??
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.
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.
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.
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”….
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 😉 ) 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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!
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 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meadow Park Start, up and over Iceberg Lake, and back down following Flank to Rainbow Parking. About 27 km.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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 😉
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?
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.
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 😉
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.
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 😉 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.
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.
No, this is not a running story, for a change. This is a “simple as pie” story, built to share with any of you who have been hopelessly inept at “whatever”. We all have skeletons, right?
I’ve never been a big pie fan. And, although I certainly know my way around a kitchen, can serve an army for most any occasion, and have become fluent in (most) culinary languages, the “simple” pie has always alluded me. Simple, my eye!!!
I have the genetics: my Mom and Aunts rocked them all. Mom was huge on citrus varieties like lemon, key lime, chiffon variations…from scratch. My Aunts produced fruit pies that would wow Martha herself. But for me…crusts were always a real pain in the ass to make, I never particularly liked them and, well, going vegan (a decade ago) pretty much stopped that charade.
So, I went and married a man who literally worships lemon pies. His Mama was rumoured to have made The Best Lemon Pies on the planet. Every birthday I felt the peer pressure to produce a masterpiece. So, I tried. Over and Over and Over … until the time came in our relationship that I said “***k that” (nicely, and way more lady-like, of course) and found the best pro baker around (damn the cost) to get the deed done.
But…it’s always slightly bugged me. And, I have found – of late – that good lemon meringue pies are very, very, hard to find! I’ve gone to several hot-stuff bakeries (like Pure Bread – need I say more) and they basically do not even attempt to go there. Lemon bars, lemon loaves, lemon cakes … but hell … I’ve got those covered already.
So the mission was on again: find a recipe that works, works well … and is vegan. Here is the kicker: And that no one can tell is vegan.
First attempt (well, actually probably my 100th attempt, but first at this one):
I know, right? Friggin’ magnificent! I was so excited I almost called the press. While making the yellowy lemon stuff, however, I turned my back on the mixmaster and meringue was so fluffy it was spewing out of the bowl.
The yellow stuff , however, was giving me a bit of a headache: I was missing lemon extract, so was trying to decide if I should add more lemon and if that decision would completely derail the attempt. So, I decided to add extra lemon juice, then started to worry that it would not thicken up. Then I added some thickener. But, at the wrong time (of course) so I had to deal with lumps. Shit.
So, anyway, I was still pretty excited about the meringue. I piled it on, crossed my fingers and into the oven it went.
I forgot to mention that it was my Dear One’s Birthday and that two of his COVID biking buddies were coming over for dinner that night. Our bubble has been pretty small with COVID, but we figured we could easy back in with these two mellow men. Easy crowd: male, hungry, lots of booze, so if it didn’t work out, at least there were no real witnesses 😉
But…alas…the meringue fell, just as I forecast it. Michael found me scraping the slop off the slop-catching sheet, and he graciously suggested we serve it up anyway. Candles can cover up most screw-ups right? Especially along with fine wines.
Even the guys laughed. My beloved commented that he could hardly taste the lumps. And the other two just changed the topic and choked it down. With wine. Lots of fine wine.
Two days later, I was back at it. I knew I was close. Could feel it. For runner friends, here is an analogy: imagine getting lost and timing out at 95 miles into a 100 mile race. Yep, that feeling. You just canNot wait to get back out there and fix your broken ego.
I did my research and came upon four KEY factors:
Do NOT over whip the meringue. Ooops.
Make sure the meringue touches the crust and is “sealed” all the way around.
You do not need a boring, icky, regular pie crust. Go cookie or graham cracker! If YOU don’t like it, why bother to make it.
You do not need lemon extract. Add 4 tablespoons of extra lemon juice and just keep stirring for a few more minutes over the heat.
So, there you go: the morale of this story is that it may take years of failure, it may take bludgeoning repeated humiliation, but if you keep on trying … SCORE!!!
BTW … I would never tell his Mama, but guess who he said makes the Best Lemon Meringue Pie ever!? ;D Wise Man.
Jumping all over “!Yes!” in answer to: “Would you like to head out for a couple of nights over Spring Break?”, I was In! Adventure through my first overnight winter back country ski trip was nailed. Two women, alone with the winter wilds of British Columbia mountains. What more could a girl ask for?!
Really, though, although the title of this story is Hut Sweet Hut – and there truly is a sweet, sweet, hut – this is the story of my winter, of finding a new friend and magnificent mentor and – most surprisingly of all – another good life turn well into the second half.
For the past couple of years I’ve dabbled in back country skiing, aka “ski touring” ,”uphill skiing”, “ski-mo” or “ski mountaineering” (the more “macho” version with ropes, harness, crampons and ice axes of which I am not-there yet). Basically, for me, it was the lure of traveling on skis, through the winter – outside of resort boundaries (I spend half my time in the resort town of Whistler) – getting after the quiet and untouched powder while, of course, gazing at vistas and talking to the trees.
The first time I tried it, I dragged along my husband, Michael, and our ski buddy, Dave. Although, previously, I had been invited out with a group of young’uns, “grab your skis! We’ll show you!”, I knew they would want to hang themselves by the time they got through a First Day with me. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and all that.
So, a thousand (or so) CAD later, we had a date with an Extremely Canadian guide and rented gear. The Guide was oh so “Cool” behind his Varnets, and, supremely fit (not that I noticed). On a bluebird April day he showed us the basics (“this is a skin”, “this is how you put them on”, “now get your jackets back on”… “and off”…). We got some absolutely glorious brag shots for FB. I was absolutely hooked. The Boys: not so much. “Why would I want to climb for 7 hours just for 30 turns?” Different strokes for different folks. I was on my own.
In all fairness, not everyone is into the endurance thing, and Dave is a hard working weekend warrior. His time is limited and he basically considers the day a waste unless he gets – minimum – 40,000 vertical feet of downhill in a resort day. I’m more a quality than quantity kind of gal (although some may beg to differ ;). But he does love powder and trees, and I do love chasing him. On a resort day with a big fresh dump of snow, there is no one more fun to be with. But being “on the clock” all the time – I know it’s all the rage to track everything all the time – but I’ve had enough of that already. Yeah, Stava?! Screw you 😉
As some of you know, back country skiing is a little more like hiking (or trail running) than up-lifts-and-down-runs (aka “front country”, or “downhill” skiing). It is all the rage among mountain-snow-country trail runners looking for a way to “keep fit” and enjoy the winter snow while recovering from the physical and mental strains of ultra-running and competitions. The top guns do it, and it’s hard not to see a cross training article that doesn’t tout it’s virtues. It is said that you can “not step” into your runners for the whole winter but, rather, ski tour…then step right back into your runners in the Spring…without skipping a beat. Just volunteered at my 2nd ski-mo race: and straight from the mouths of local mountain babes, “this is waaaay harder than trail running”. They may have something there…
With hiking/trail running you use expensive runners – and lots of sweat – to scoot, hop, grunt (and occasionally even flow) up and down mountains. With touring you use expensive flexible ski boots, skis and bindings (with releasable heals)/skins – and lots of sweat – to travel uphill. You then rip your skins off, reattach your heals, and ski down those mountains. Same sort of scooting, hoping, grunting while ascending but lots more floooowwwwww descending. Both, as I mentioned, require buckets of sweat…but I must say, going downhill on skis is waaaaay more fun than flying down on runners. Hurts a hell of a lot less (usually 😉 when you end up with your head in snow (rather than dirt), too.
Don’t get me wrong, I love downhill skiing at Whistler. And I probably put in at least as many days with Dave and Michael, front country, this year. But there is a definite lure to the peace and quiet of heading outside the resort. A little bit of excitement in that everything is not nicely laid out and controlled for you. And fresh, fresh, turns everywhere as far as the eye can see.
That being said, everyone who has listened to any news – at all – this winter probably realizes that back country “anything” carries risks. You can’t control weather, storms, visibility, avalanche conditions, equipment failures, accidents. You can, however, try to mitigate these risks. You can take the courses (I took Avalanche Safety Training 1 and 2, in six big days), spend a few days with Guides, build up the basic uphill skiing technique in bounds (ok, you got me: that’s against the Rules at WB), read the bulletins, stalk weather reports, pay attention out there, and back away when the hair on the back of your neck prickles. In the end, the most important thing of all (especially for a Newbie) is: when you “really go out”, go with an experienced mentor.
J . My mentor (who I am gob smacked in awe of, in case you haven’t noticed), J arrived, magically, in the form of a Whistler mom, whom I had seen around, but never really connected with before. Our circles were kinda close, but never overlapped, until I took that AST 2 course, previously mentioned. Her son, a very mature 16 year old at the time, took the course with me. Rumour has it that “Mom” was looking for new touring partners. Kids were growing up and wanted to ski with their own way-cool friends and all that. I can’t remember if Kid set us up, “gotta find Mom a play date”, or if it was “the girls at the office” but, either way, it was kind of like a blind date our first day out. Yes, we Moms get ditched. And that’s not all bad… 😉
J comes from a family of Mountaineers. Summer/winter, all out real deal mountaineers. Sister, brother, cousins, Dad. The mountains are in her genes and her experience is from birth. She, in turn, mentored her two boys from early on and they have grown into fine, nearly ready to fly the coop, mountain men themselves. From what I understand, their Dad is a full-on Whistler guy (skier, biker, environmentalist, teaching skiing for at least 30 years, etc.) but perhaps not quite the back country royalty his wife is. J, Iknow you will be horrified by this fawning cause you would never brag on social media…like some of us 😉
So, as I mentioned, this is the year the back country bug really bit me. I’d practiced climbing (skinning) the mountain with a runner girl-friend who was there for the sweat – but not so much the downhill skiing – but now I had a rabid-for-powder-AND-sweating mentor to really move things along. Rad running coaches, Gary and Eric (a USA Ski Mountaineering star himself) gave me their blessing to really chill on the running, even after I had taken the better part of over 3 months to recover from what can only be labelled as burn-out now. With their blessing, I’d run very little and ski to my heart’s content. For the whole winter.
J and I had some amazing single days out there. This winter generally was cold – very cold – for the Wet Coast Mountains (I know you folks from PG and the prairies are laughing). But cold brought fluffy snowflake pillows for us to flow and fall over. The stuff ski dreams are made of.
J was (and is) insanely patient. I was always slowing the operations up: tongue hanging out, breathing heavy, steaming my goggles and barely hanging on to her machine-like uphill pace. J, tethered to me, slowing down, eventually stopping and patiently waiting, then moving on again. If I wasn’t gasping, snorting (probably snotting too), or fussing with some part of my equipment, I was often splatted like an half-dead bug on some vertical something (she probably thought it was horizontal), barely clinging on, one set of toes pointed NW and the others pointed SE. She would walk back, and get me out of the mess.
I was like her kids when they were little: but bigger, clumsier, and not nearly as clever. I thought for sure…each time… would be the last she would put up with it. She showed me pity, though, yay. Amazingly, “we” persevered and quite a few times reaped the reward of champagne powder. I am not BSing when I say that – several times – while chasing downhill, I lost her in the cloud of snow. Yes – that snow over your head and neck feeling. There isn’t really much on this earth that can touch that kind of exhilaration.
Yep, but the flipside of the stuff of ski dreams is the stuff of occasional frostbite. And I went there, unfortunately did that. I had to learn how to transition more efficiently (I’m still so slow) so we wouldn’t freeze to death. You see, you sweat up the hill and need to control your layers so you don’t get too wet. Then, at the top, you need to relayer, transition your skis/skins so the standing and windchill heading down don’t get you. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat…
You don’t really “break” with J. You (ok, I) gulp water and stuff food in your face and try to grab a picture when you can (J is not much into pictures, hence absolutely no, none, nada skiing brag shots like the boys get), and transition. I guess this part is kind of like trail running (I just pray more for breaks with touring). Fortunately, we both whoop and holler heading back down into the fluff. J is efficient and never in a frenzy, but she gets just as excited heading down as I do. That adrenaline rush is addicting. The fluffy sweet icing on the cake.
I also had to learn to kick turn my way up steeper and often treed, sometimes icy/rocky slopes. This is where a lot of the bug splatting occurred. Patient J has taken to watching for ascending routes to cater to my newbieness. We’re better to go a half hour off our route than fish me out of some potentially dangerous flounder, she figures, I am sure. For this…I am sooo grateful.
Really, she taught me how to walk, how to turn around, how to get up, how to eat, how to drink, how to dress, how to stay warm, how not to roast. “We” had survived and I guess I didn’t annoy her quite enough to go running back to her menfolk. Thought my smile might break my face when she outright complimented me on my downhill skiing (ok, so I can do something half-assed) and noted that, last year, there would have been No Way I could have kept up to her where we were going. Yay! Now she was going to teach me to…
Winter Camp. This was totally outside of my reality realm, too. I had skied lots, but always returned to a nice warm house, cabin, or hotel afterwards (and before). I was a credit card/lodge sort of a gal. Heck, I hadn’t even summer back country hiked, except for one time last summer with Jane and friends. I borrowed my son’s school camping backpack and packed so heavy and awkwardly I was almost crushed. Clueless, but at least in the summer the cold won’t kill you. Although I shivered through the night…more on that later.
Add to that, was my all-too-real awareness that Jane liked to go long and hard. We didn’t start at 9 and finish at 3, like a lift day. Dawn till Dusk: bring your headlamp! After one day with J , I was flattened for the night: how the hell was I going to do Three In A Row? Fortunately, I had done some pretty stupid things in the name of long distance running before – and survived – so with that “wisdom”, on we forged.
First of all, I had to go shopping: I’d had a ton of trouble with my equipment over the past 2 years. Patient J had put up with all the holdups, but she stated – flat-out – that we could not have that happening 8 or 12 hours out in the Bush. Bindings, skis, skins, all of my stuff had been a Pain In The Ass. Of course I blamed the operator, the newbie (me), but one by one it turned out that I actually had enough bad luck to have picked up 3 lemons. Trying the skis Dave had recommended, I continued on to test 3 different setups over 3 weekends. Then I bought my New Loves. The difference was absolutely amazing (I think even J would agree with that). My credit card may be burning hot, but so is my skiing now 😉 Heehee…
I also had to search deep into my soul and buy some serious cold protection. Speaking with quite a few folks, including a winter running friend, Scott, who does those crazy run/bike/sled, at – 40 something events, I guiltily purchased a down sleeping bag and down jacket. As a vegan, this was tough. Very tough. After coming to the conclusion that nothing was warmer or more compressible than down, I researched the hell out of it, and chose Patagonia as having the highest level of animal “welfare” (triple layers of independent inspection) I could find. I was sickened by live plucking and force feeding – the horrifically inhumane practice of production factory farming – for down. But (and I don’t like buts, but)…I knew I wouldn’t do well if I was injured and had to spend a day in the snow – immobile – while help came, especially when I damn near froze sleeping in a tent and sleeping bag last August (ok, not really, but in my mind that was the case). I don’t have a lot of natural insulation…and when I stop…well…
We looked at two routes: the final determination would be based on weather and avi conditions, closer to the days of travel. If we were to travel the Spearhead, the conditions would have to be perfect: bluebird days for navigation and cold enough that avi danger wouldn’t rise with solar warming (Spring skiing major risk). There were crevasses to watch out for, and I would need some crash learning (she was thinking about getting her youngest son and me together for some review). We would need to carry a tent and sleep in the snow. How scary and cool – and heavy – is that?
The other option would be a small Hut she had travelled to earlier in the year. She loved it, skiing there had been fabulous, and crevasses would not be an issue. As the weather started to deteriorate, fate chose the Hut.
Now, Dear Readers, I am going to tell you right now, that I cannot tell you the name of the Hut as Back Country Tribal Law dictates that you will be thrown out of your Tribe if you blab. Social Media makes it damn hard to be part of a tribe, right?
I followed J’s trip planning checklist to a T. Finalized the emergency contact plan and synced up the satellite devices. Got the food sorted. Packed as lightly as I could, then re-packed lighter. Weight matters a lot. Ladies: count your TP and be prepared to wear the same clothes for 3 days. You don’t need separate shampoo, hand, and dish washing soap. One small tube of sunscreen will take care of ALL of your skin needs. Facecloth will do for all your towel needs. Sporkatula and mini grizzly killing knife (which you will have in your mini-tool kit for your equipment anyway) will take care of your kitchen and weapon requirements. I was not about to repeat the summer fiasco.
We decided to leave a day early as our Spring Break company was leaving then, so why not get at’r. March 24 through 26, 2019. Timing was good as it meant I could get back to work, afterwards, as was needed for instructor shortages. I was to drop my son’s friend, Jai, at the shuttle to catch his flight back to Vermont (and then on to represent Australia in a freestyle skiing world event in Sweden) at 4:15 a.m. The best laid plans.
At 3:45 a.m., I padded down the stairs to wake Jai up. I knew my pack was upstairs by my list – in the kitchen – waiting for last minute reminders and food packing. I would have plenty of time between dropping Jai off at the shuttle bus at 4:15 a.m. and meeting Jane at 7:30 a.m. at her place in Whistler, to do the last minute things I wanted to get done before abandoning my family – again.
Ears perking up…I heard water running. Holy Moses…could Jai be up and showering already? What a great teen, right? Until…I realized it was NOT the shower. Screeching at my sleeping husband, I realized the water was coming from our washing machine: from the water hookup, a fire-hose-like gush had filled my ski boots, soaked my jacket, vest, 1/3 of the lower floor of the house…
Anyway. After shutting off the water, getting out the wet vac, etc. poor Jai did get to the shuttle with Michael…for 4:15 a.m. He left some of his stuff, but at least got his gear and tickets.
My boot liners went into the dryer as did my wet jackets. I used one of the boys’ snow boots that, miraculously, did not get soaked for the car portion of the trip. Thankfully my nearly stuffed pack (complete with down, which does not soak well) was upstairs!
More thanks: that we were home when the flood happened. That I had to get up in the middle of the night…and found the flood. That it was only – maybe – a 15 minute flood: I shudder to think what a day or two would have done and well know that at any other time it would have been a true disaster. Those of you who know us, well know we are not home in Whistler much…
My heart and mind racing, I got down to the business of moving things upstairs and starting the drying process. My anxious mind thought, ever so briefly, about bailing on the trip but my go-to response, throughout life, has always been “when shit happens, put your head down and carry on”, so I did. My mostly easy going husband, Michael, was fine with taking care of the aftermath (you are a God Send, Honey). After 3 hours of full house hustling, Michael went back to bed and I, car fully loaded, went to start the car.
You know what they say about things happening in threes?
Two. I was going to make it in time. Amazing. 8 minutes away from Jane, I turned the ignition. Clunk. I tried to turn the ignition again. Heart rate up, I started to panic a little: friggin’ car! Once a year or so, it just won’t turn. (Yes, I’ve looked into it, but no explanation, just a quirk.) Running upstairs to get poor husband out of bed again, he padded down and got the thing going. At this point, I had texted Jane…she was calm as usual and, in the end, our rendezvous was only held up by 15 minutes. Thank You, Lord.
An hour + drive “up the Duffey” later, we parked my car. Wow…we were here! I was momentarily struck with a mix of anticipation and joy mixed with a bit of an anxiety-hangover after what the past day had wrought. It was a beautiful morning, and if I could just get going, I knew all would be well once we started kick-swishing up the mountain. I knew we’d settle into the weight of the heavy packs (or at least I hoped) and into easy conversation along with the mesmerizing beauty of the mountains that lay before us. My fumbling around to get going was taking even a little longer than usual, but we did manage to get me loaded up, the car locked, and hiked down to the slippery little bridge we needed to cross. It was the gateway to paradise, and I clumsily (but dryily, thank you) made it over. We started the kick-swishing. It was here that, the promised…
Three. …happened: into the first slippery climb, my back heal slipped out. I thought I had it (with the other heal), but before the thought was complete, my other heal was gone, and I was smacking my forehead onto the hardpacked ground. Not wanting to tell J I was seeing stars, I held still for a few moments, catching my breath, and assessing my aliveness. All parts there, breathe. More embarrassing than anything, it woke me up and kicked my ass (through my hard skull). Get on your game, Newbie. She told you – a thousand times – Use Your Arms. This pack is heavy, you are going to need to beef it up. I think I finally got it, Loud & Clear.
Things went nicely after this. The climb eased off, we were surrounded by our beloved trees, and yes, we settled into the saddle. Bypassing a cabin, we stopped for a super mellow lunch break. It was here, that in hindsight, I realized that J was taking it easy on me. I followed her up a steeper, long climb. Head down, it was getting warm, and we were getting into it. The reward: spectacular views and total immersion in the glory of nature.
The next few hours were spent moving through sticky sun-baked snow, stopping only to make navigation decisions, always keeping an eye on avalanche slopes, primarily to our left (south). Many had already run, but it was eerie nonetheless. We crossed a frozen lake and headed up and away from those slopes into the protection of the trees. Another downward funnel (with some consternation from both of us that some – gasp – snowmobilers had already poached it) and we hit a logging road. This would make for an easy skin to our next challenge: a very scary avalanche path, which we would take great pains to go way out of the way to avoid.
J does exactly what we talked about in class: as a strong group leader, she goes at the pace of the slowest member of the group (that being me, obviously), frequently regroups to make decisions with equal input from all members, then checks to make sure everyone is doing ok along the way. She knows her avalanche stuff, and respects my rookie book knowledge. In this spot, however, she took over: we made our way down a treed section running right (but safely protected) alongside the big avalanche path, even though it was tough going and would require at least as much tough going to get around and back up to where we needed to get to to continue along to our destination. When crossing the actual path – way down and around – we moved one by one: J first, then looking back to signal to me when she was safely in the trees.
You had better believe that I booted it across there as fast as my skis could take me. I’m not sure I even breathed but, still alive, I was happy as hell to move on, no matter how tough the climb to get back up on course. The climb was ok and soon we were back in the trees. The next section was marked with flagging tape. We think, now, those snowmobilers may have been working, rather than just poaching “our” snow, to flag that section.
Seems to me that rather soon after that, we had popped out into a meadow (or over a swamp – hard to tell in the winter) and J announced that we were close to The Hut. We just had to find the dang thing in this sea of white and trees. A short time later…Jane spotted the flag. A tiny red speck to show us the way.
It was 8.5 hours into our hike when, honestly, I gasped and squealed with delight at the sight of the Hut. Half buried in snow, difficult to see from all but the front (Canadian flag side) it was more than I could have ever expected. A proper adorable cabin in the total Canadian wilderness. There was a designer outhouse, wood stacked underneath the overhangs of the roof, antlers over the door, and a frozen lake within a few feet. Towering avalanche slopes to the left, and more majestic mountain summits to the right. I now felt I could gawk to my heart’s desire.
Night One. Having done this for Ever, J got right down to organizing us, even though I was still a bit stunned with the gorgeousness of it all. Into the hut, get the packs off, get the stove going, heat things up cause the cold and dark and fatigue would set in soon enough. The cabin did have luxuries for sure: stacked dry wood inside, a nice wood stove, a propane stove (truly a luxury), a proper counter top, dryer racks, hooks and ropes, a lovely sleeping loft with big soft foamies. There were also wine glasses (who knew?) and fresh coffee beans from a previous fan. Dish soap, cloths, towels, buckets for water. Cards, candles, guest books with entries through the years. It was lovely.
No power, no running water, but that’s what headlamps and axes (to get water from frozen lake) and buckets are for. While J got the fire going, she had me scoop snow to melt in a big pot on top of the woodburning stove. We would save the axing of the lake until after skiing the next day. Boot liners and skins out and hung to dry. Packs emptied and dinner ingredients out, while the next days’ food was hung to hold off the mice for a while.
Big puffy Cabin Booties on. Borrowed from J’s son, I had no clue such ingenious footwear existed! They squish into your pack, puff up like marshmallows, are snowproof/water resistant and prevent damage to cabin floors. Good for chopping wood, getting water, doing anything in the cabin and trips to the loo.
Before you knew it, we were polishing off J’s from-scratch couscous, tofu, veggie and pesto dish. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better dinner but, as you probably know: cold, real hunger and fresh air make Everything taste fantastic. Cookies for dessert and oh my goodness, felt like a baby bear with a big belly. And a Big Smile.
Dishes efficiently “washed” in the snow, more water boiled for the a.m. I could barely keep my eyes open. The last thing I remember that night was Jane reading by headlamp, my leaving booties at the foot of the ladder, and tucking into my new -20C down sleeping bag with my damp gloves (Jane assured me that was the best way to get them dry. Again, who knew your own body could act like a “dryer” in a good sleeping bag?)
Burning (of the first three digits) on my right hand woke me – briefly – at midnight. They were pretty wet and cold during the day (and frost nipped earlier in the winter) so I may have done some temporary damage. Too tired to bother to look…the next thing I knew, we awoke to daylight…12.5 hours later! Now THAT’s a good night’s sleep 😉
Day Two. Sun shining through the window and glistening off snow was a great motivator get out of the pillowy softness/warmth of my amazing sleeping bag and out into the chilly hut. The promise of great skiing prompted us to skip the fire, instead quickly layering up, chowing down, coffeeing up, and stuffing packs with the usual avi/emergency stuff (beacons, shovel/probe, satellite devices, warm clothes, food, etc.), lunch (day 1, 2, 3 sandwiches), snacks (most of our ski fueling was nuts/dark chocolate/c-raisins in one form or the other), and water.
Jane had already spotted terrain she wanted to take on, the day before, while we were travelling in. J was always, always, doing that: quietly analyzing, noticing, observing. While I zoned, she was most likely navigating, or scheming best-lines, or simply filing information away for future trips.
Since it was Spring, our main concern was solar warming of slopes (and rain). Warmth means heavier snow: heavy snow avalanches. She lead us towards a North slope, with a fairly steep, heavily treed and technical climb. For me: very technical. After several of the aforementioned “bug splats”, we arrived at the top of our intended “line”. Gorgeous, however the snow was not the fluffy stuff we had hoped to find. Still whooped and hollared all the way down, but back at the base, J took us back to the easier climb and more familiar slopes.
We spent the rest of the day there. Simply spectacular. Jane laid a track up, and I followed in happily obedient order. Never crossed a track. Grinning and floating, we opened into bowls, squeezed back into the treeline, and finally planted ourselves at the base…and repeat. I think 3 more times? The day, regrettably, flew by.
At one point I was a little spooked when I spotted what looked to me like weird moving snow. “Jane…do you see that?” “Where?” Pointing hard ahead and further up the summit, she spotted it, too. “Just the wind.” Clouds were coming in and the wind was blowing so hard off the summit that it was taking snow dust off like low boiling clouds. I had never seen such a thing: all I knew was that warming + wind + cornices could equal big trouble (and big avis) so it took me a minute or two of frozen gawking before I could settle that “fight or flight” instinct. It was all good. Good to have such an experienced partner!
We had a little difficulty finding the Hut on our way back. Later that night, I would read some of the log entries in the Hut Journal, and found we were not the only ones who had struggled with that. The terrain is like a tricky, tiny detailed puzzle. We went right past it, circled around and came back in – the opposite way we went out!
Standing just off the lake we were able to watch with amazement at the little birds who made their homes (and garden) around the outhouse. Pretty little things (one was actually red/orange – we called her Rosy Finch – but she was a grosbeak) they were digging for bugs on the trees and totally enchanting us. As far as we knew, these were the only critters out there (haha). Us and the Birds. Again, the log would reveal to us that the owners had been followed in by a pack of wolves (they were travelling with dogs). We didn’t even spot mice in the hut. Hung our food, but no problems at all.
Back at the cabin, Jane got us to “doing the chores”. Fun chores. Not like being at home chores 😉 Jane chopped ice encased cut-wood from under the roof extensions, threw them out to me, where I could chip off the ice. From there, she would organize the wood inside the Hut, while I kept chipping. I cut stairs down into the Hut (snow stairs need to be constantly tended to) while she chopped kindling. I gathered snow – to melt, while she got the pot-bellied fire going. We both went down to the lake to cut a hole in the ice and gather nice brown water. Within a short while we had refilled and stacked the woodpile in the Hut, fixed up the stairs, fetched water in one form or the other for the night and the next day, got the cabin warming (along with our stuff hung to dry) and dinner almost ready.
We knew – from the forecast when we left Whistler – that a storm was coming. Sure enough, the flakes started and the wind started to increase just when darkness started to envelope us. Our two-hour fire had warmed the cabin and with J’s cabin kitchen prowess, we were cozy as could be and chowing down on another marvelous chili themed dinner. Perfect for adding Michael grown hot chili peppers. J passed on the hot stuff so, not wanting to carry them back, the whole caboodle was thrown into my dish. (Yum. I have to thank my Indian BFF, Uni friends, and New Mexican relatives for my devotion to all things hot in cuisine.) Anyway, another perfectly lovely dinner, with great company and the promise of another great snooze. Shortly after pouring over the map and making plans for our last day (which could be altered depending on snowfall) it was shut-eye.
This night two, I awoke several times to Hut “shaking”. Heading out to the loo, the storm was clearly on, and I was thankful we were low and covered in snow. For a very brief moment, I wondered if there would be a door when we woke up. This was kind of ridiculous: the storm wasn’t predicted to be that big, but with excitement (imagine the skiing!!!) and trepidation (imagine the avalanche risk) my night-time mind went a little wild. In spite of that, morning came. We could get out the door. And yes, there was fresh snow!!!
Day Three had arrived. No fire again, we layered up (thankful, once again, for my down jacket!!) and got down to the business of getting after that fresh powder! Safety and timing in mind, we had to balance our need to ski with the need to get back to the car – preferably before dark. Even with me as an anchor, Jane figured we could ski till 11:00 and still have time to fully pack up and sweep our way back out the door. Although it took us 8.5 hours to trek in (time on skis), she figured 5 hours back (maybe 5.5). I was a little skeptical: I knew she could probably do it in 3.5, but it was the “me” element that was the wild card. I could get us into some predicaments – for sure.
Still snowing, we got back after it again, wasting no time looking for North slopes today. Tracks covered from the day before, we headed right back for the goods. It was as hoped: long lines, rooster tails, and grins galore. What a glorious morning 😉 We were Very Lucky People.
At the stroke of 11 a.m., we were back at the Hut, finishing our housekeeping and packing. Jane had taught me everything about cabin etiquette while we were there: conserve wood, water, fuel. Re-fill/stack firewood, mind the outhouse rules (for example, burn your TP in the two-hour-fire or pack it out), don’t leave food for critters to be tempted by, fix the stairs, unless you ate it pack out everything you brought in. Leave the place a little cleaner, little more swept than when you came in. Read and follow the listed rules. And, of course, leave a note and donation for the amazingly generous owner.
Such a privilege to be able to borrow a Hut such as this one. Still can’t believe it. And to have it to ourselves? Crazy luck. So grateful.
Since we had started the pack-up the night before, and being that it was such a short trip, we were all skinned/saddled up by 11:30. Snow falling lightly, the visibility started to deteriorate, but looking towards J, she wasn’t one bit worried. In awe of her navigational skills, I had total trust. She backed us right out of there. Across the meadows and back into the flagged forest. Down and over and up and around the worst of the avalanche paths. Up the logging road, then the gully. Back up and into the trees to stay cautiously away from the big naturally sloughing avi slopes, this time to our right. Back over the lakes.
The afternoon warming was making travel tougher. I noticed lots of cracking in the snow, but J pointed out that this was not dangerous cracking (we had been warned about cracking in our AST courses). Still, it motivated me to keep right on her tail, not to dilly-dally or hold things up. Then, as soon as it had started (the warming), the weather changed: cold headwinds had us both heads down and locked into a determined, relentlessly-forward-moving unit.
Wind had scoured across a moraine we needed to bypass making it icy and difficult to grip. I was very, very pleased with my new skins. For the first time, I was able to keep going without having to wince, whine or contemplate taking skis off. For the very first time I was able to take the lead. At the summit we ducked over to the only wind shelter we could find. The hard work was done… and (famous last words)… it was all downhill from there.
I can’t begin to say how exhilarating those last slopes down past Cabin 1 were. We traded off watching each other, ever mindful of the avi risk, but it (the risk) could not take away the sheer joy of that hour. We stopped to look at the moraines before the very last powdery thrill. Heck, I didn’t even know what a moraine was before this trip, now I was practically an expert. Haha. 😉
We knew it was going to be an hour – maybe less – to get back to the car from there. On the way up, two days earlier, J had been scouting out our route home: hopefully an improvement over our path up. We were going to watch for “the bend and the flag-pole ship mast”. Murphy, of course, had other plans: we got a little turned around and had to bushwhack for a while. Of course in my anxious little mind, we were hopelessly lost… J, of course, like a tracking torpedo, got us back.
We ran into our first humans in 3 days (two girls) and made them take our picture. Duffus picture, but we have one, anyway. 10 minutes later we ran into our second group of humans (3 guys). I couldn’t help but smile thinking about how much fun they were going to have in that cabin.
Well, my story is coming to an end. The rest of the trip out ended up taking twice as long as expected. The warming over the past few days at the lower elevation had done a number on the trail. There was a LOT of pushing. 50 yards from the end, I caught a small (but deadly) stick stump, spun around and fell backwards into a ditch. One ski (and pack) basically locked under a log and other ski pointing towards the sky. Crap. Jane was long gone, and here I was turtled all up. Finally managed to get the tips-up ski off, wrangled out of my upside-down-ness and got the other ski off. When just about re-stomping into my skis, Jane had sauntered back to find out what the heck was taking me so long, again.
Red-faced, I was kind of done. Again, my heroine showed me the light: the bridge (the gateway to paradise) was a few feet away, hidden around the bend. A little unsteady across the bridge, I was nervous about falling through the deteriorating snow. Yes, Jane helped me across. She hopped ahead, warning me that the snow was rotten and, calling back, “walk in the high centre, think light thoughts”. Of course I post holed through – up to my crotch – about 2 dozen times. My stupid skis (it had been a love affair up till then) would not stick together and kept falling apart on my shoulders. Jane came back to help, but this time I refused. I do have some pride (ok, not much, but a few molecules) and finally made it up and back to the car.
What an amazing trip.
Feeling suddenly elated, the drive back was easy. Although it had stormed all the way through our trek back, the lower elevations enjoyed warm clouds and some rain. Easy highway drive. Even the thought of heading back to Vancouver (work the next day) couldn’t stress. You know: that feeling when everything is right with the world.
I can’t – ever – thank J enough for her generous sharing of time, knowledge, experience, patience, and humour. J, you are Amazing, Woman!!!
Fully aware that not everyone has the crazy good support of their families like we do: Big Hugs to our Kids and Husbands, too!
One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather. Winston Churchill
…the finish line of my last ultra marathon of 2018. Unlike any other event behind me, there was no joy, no excitement, simply an impatient… get. this. over. with.
The season shouldn’t have been like this. The event was in a magical setting: my home turf of Whistler. The weather was nasty: just like I like it. The hills were technical and steep: just like I like it. My favourite Race Director and his Team had struggled against what seemed like impossible roadblocks to bring it on (including grizzlies and incoming winter): and there it was. The dream race.
But…and no good things come from “buts”… but I wasn’t there. By I, I mean my heart, my energy, my excitement. It had disappeared and I hadn’t even realized it was gone. I had been fooling myself. Fake it till you make it…
I’m just starting to process it. The “it” being the whole past year. The way I have been feeling. The results I’ve had. Talking with my coach, it finally all came blurting out: the realization that I’ve been struggling this year: struggling mightily, struggling stubbornly, struggling blindly, struggling under the radar.
Mine is a cautionary tale, one I will tell not because I want or need reassurance, or sympathy or anything else but rather, to help “sort it out”. Writing at the end of a season has always been a reward for me. As a closet introvert, I find putting pen to paper often exhilarating…but this year…well, it’s a different year. Perhaps my story will help someone else. Reflecting on this, that person may choose to, more wisely, change course.
In a way, it was the year that wasn’t.
The previous year in running had been amazing: I kept it to three events, all out of the country. I was out of my league, and dancing along each step. It didn’t matter to me where I placed. I just wanted to experience each event, to breathe in the sweet air, experience the highs and lows of a few good events. The final, September 2017, was the magical Italian Tor des Geants. I was one of 52% of lucky finishers. It was a mind-blowing experience. That year I experienced 550 km of racing plus travelling and training. I had met people who ate events like the TDG for breakfast, who opened my eyes to a big new world.
Not sure when I came off that high,
but fairly soon after returning home I started making plans for the next year. I wanted more. My family insisted I stick closer to home. Travel and events are exciting but they disrupt the “order” of things: kids, spouse, pets, jobs, houses.
“Fine”, I thought, so I simply picked events close to home. Before I knew it, I had signed up for a 2018 May road marathon, a June 1/2 marathon (road/trail) and a hefty trail 100 km, an iconic July 50 km, an August back-to-back 50 miler/50km and a 120 miler, and then…if anything left for late September… a 110 km in our beloved Whistler. Yes, it would be close to home, it would be somewhat repetitive (in that I’d done several in previous years), but it would be easier on all the players, including my MAC (Most Awesome Crew) who had agreed to party in Manning Park. The mileage would potentially surpass 2017, which delighted the hell out of me. I’d become a junkie…and I wanted More.
During planning, if I had been listening – really listening – I would have heard the quiet “choke” in my coach’s voice. But I wasn’t listening. They trusted that I had used good judgement in the past, and that I would communicate if the going got rough with training. The deal was that I was to honestly lay it all out as we went along.
So, with that, I happily went barrelling towards the winter. Winter is usually another big high for me. Snow and skiing: my family, friends and I relish it. Running would be put onto the back burner and left to 3 or 4 days of the week. Shorter runs – usually in the dark of the city, around my family, part-time work, travel back and forth from Van to Whistler and regular strength training. I also took up backcountry skiing, complete with Avalanche Safety training (6 days overall), and started regular uphill grunts with a friend, and had some incredible days of “real” backcountry adventures with a new found – and very experienced – friend.
What I chose to ignore was theother drops in my stress bucket. Our 15 year old son had experienced a concussion in the summer of 2017 (yes – skiing). He wasn’t recovering “on schedule”. By late October, we were advised to pull him from school. He was plagued with headaches, lack of energy, inability to focus, memory issues, spiking anxiety and panic attacks, followed by depression. Life was an endless calendar of appointments, a worrying whirl of concerns, and yes…downright fear on my part. When a member of your family is threatened with health concerns, well…let’s just say it’s just damned tough to be calm. But you must fake it till you make it…
When it rains it pours.
Yes, there was more. Our girl teen was struggling and in some real trouble. Just when there was little energy, or patience, or attention left, there was a truly scary turn in our first born’s life. Endless drama, except it wasn’t a drama. She (hence we) were treading on dangerous ground. It Was Real.
We sought professional help. It would not be an exaggeration to say if an hour wasn’t filled with worry, contention, or some sort of emotional explosion, there was an appointment to be driven to.
Each person copes differently. I began working on all the things I had to do to keep my sanity (cause if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy)…one of which was running…and skiing…
I did not fully recognize it at the time. The things that normally stabilize and recharge me were starting to fail. I was able to keep up skiing, but didn’t feel my usual “umph” and strength. I ski with the boys, and what I lack in size, I usually make up for in power. I felt no excitement in extra runs, in challenging new terrain, in racing for the first turns. I looked forward to the quiet of the backcountry, but even that was fraught with frett.
It was far more noticeable with my new backcountry experiences. These were hours-long climbs capped off with exhilarating turns and then a rush to beat the dark home. I found myself in an unusual position: I was the one “at the back”, struggling to keep up, thankful for any little break in the day. There was No Way I would reveal this (not wanting to be a pain in the ass and so thankful for the amazing mentorship), but it was tough. I explained it away to myself logically: there were techniques to be learned, constant avi awareness and decisions to be made. These were tough but necessary. I was fighting with new and finicky bindings which were a real PIA. Fake it till you make it.
With running, again, I didn’t recognize it, but my mid-week city runs (which were shortish and not technically challenging) didn’t give me the “hit” of endorphins I had come to depend on. Instead, I was forcing myself out the door. Out into the dark, the rain, the…ugh. No doubt, my training log did not reflect this. Smile, get on with it. There’s much to do so enjoy the time you have away. First world problems. Fake it till you make it.
brings a changeover from skiing to running.
Our son, who had been struggling since late June 2017 with that same damned concussion, was back at school. Since he had lost most of the school year, we were thankful for the support we had from his school, but…he wasn’t out of the water yet and he was anxious about having lost the year. We would take one day at a time and, along with all the professionals, had started to look into his “options” for the following year.
Our other family struggles levelled somewhat, but they had left us frayed and shaken. Thankfully, they were no worse. We were ok. We had help. We were lucky. One day at a time. Fake it till you make it.
The first of my running events was planned for the first weekend in May. Not long to seriously train for a road marathon, but good enough to get the season going. I was a bit disappointed in my result (it was off by 15 minutes) but, hey, I was barely off the snow.
Two events. I didn’t feel excitement for the first and was, in fact, feeling kind of cranky and impatient with training partners for this off-the-grid event. It was what it was, but looking back at it now, I wasn’t me. Just could not get into it. Fake it till you make it.
The other was a shorter event, combined with a family get-away on Vancouver Island. It was ok, but again, I felt that edge of tension that I had not known in previous years. At the finish line I discovered an error in timing. I, gasp, challenged the Director (politely of course). Not “me”: usually I could care less how I place. Usually, I would be grinning so hard at the finish line that the booby prize would have kept me high for a week.
This one I just couldn’t fake. My results were terrible. No…they really were. I was half an hour off previous years. Waves of anxiety had racked me the two weeks before the event. I simply could not pull the power I needed to even try to give what was required. For the first time, I wish I had heeded my fears and not shown up to the start-line.
OK…this was where my running was supposed to get “Real”: two events, both big and within one week of each other.
All things were leading to the first, the 120 Miler in Manning Park. Of all the events I’ve had the privilege to train and run, the “Hundee” was the icing on the cake. I had, previously, done a 100 Miler, a 120 Miler, and a 200 Miler, and these were really where I wanted to be. I loved the highs, the lows, the digging deep, the chance – even with no talent and no youth – to dig into your grit, rise up, and keep plowing forward. I LOVED them. The shorter stuff – really just training runs necessary to get to where I wanted to be. Training for them supplied me with the regular endorphin hits this junky requires.
If all went well, I planned to follow the 120 Miler up – one week later – with a popular and challenging back to back 50 miler followed by a 50 km. A few had done it before…but very few. However, I will never know how it would have panned out as…
…the 120 Miler was cancelled. After a week of changes and revisits, and communications with crew and runners and volunteers, the Race Director was forced to halt the event due to fires. Man, did I fake it through that: revising each new course change and communicating cheerily with my crew, I suffered horrible waves of race anxiety. And then it was Over. Just like that. I may have dodged a bullet.
Hindsight is golden, but my reaction to this cancellation should have been recognized as another red flag: I could have cared less in the end. Other runners looked frantically for other races or attended the park to run where they could, but I just stopped. Dead.
One week later I lined up for the Back to Back. Felt better than I had at any other event this year…which wasn’t saying much. But the extra week had helped. A bit of an “oops”occurred: 60 km into Day One, I attempted a Superman but my knee got into the way. I hobbled to the finish, slept, then lined up for Day Two. Day 2 was tough, but got’r done. Nuff said.
A family holiday in Vermont (my Step Daughter) followed. The knee was swollen and exquisitely sore. I could not run for a couple of weeks and soaked up the time off. Upon our return, I immediately paced (walk/ultra-shuffle) a friend through a heroic (her part – not mine) 100 Mile fundraising event, through the night. My knee was still a little swollen and sore, but… shortly after I was able to run again.
I doubt that the (final) event in Whistler would have happened, if I had run the 120 Miler And the following B2B event. As a matter of fact, now that I am starting to come out of my delirium, chances are 95% that I would not have. But…since I did not run the 120 Miler – and had lost most of my marbles – I put my chin up, got my ass out there and trained for it.
I noticed that I was not sleeping well, “aka insomnia“. That my results were off ,”aka poor performance“. That I was testy with others and my tolerance for normal whining was non-existent. My social anxiety had spiked, “aka emotional changes“. Even heard my doctor mention that my heart-rate was up “aka elevated heart rate“…for me (I usually sit in the 40’s and here I was at 60). However, I didn’t clue in. Weird leg niggles, that I had never experienced before, annoyed me. A pain in a chest bone, “aka abnormal soreness“. “Oh, crap, what now?!” None of it clued in. Of course I didn’t mention this to my coaches: the five signs that I was deep into “overtraining syndrome“. My smiley faces were always smiling. Fake it till you make it…
Well, it all came to a head in Whistler. Waves of pre-race jitters, total impatience driving through traffic to get there after work on Friday. Unable to sleep, unable to focus on the breathing and other relaxation techniques that had served me so well in the past. Made it to the start, somehow.
I knew…within an hour of the event start, that I was in trouble. But I kept on. As people passed, I simply gave up. I couldn’t pull out or believe my mantra. I just told myself that I was going to go on till I couldn’t any longer. There was no power. By that I mean exactly that: like stepping on a vehicle accelerator and “nothing happens”. I stopped frequently to get my heart-rate down. I thought I would freeze at the top (snow, wind) when usually, my firm belief is that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices. I didn’t even have the energy to dress appropriately.
Half way through, I whispered to my husband, “I will never make it”, that my first DNF was certain, and that I didn’t give a shit. He ignored me and sent me on my way (apparently I had sung this song before). The truth was that I didn’t know how to stop, so kept going. One foot in front of the other. Fake it till you make it…
Eventually…on the long climb out, I tripped over a friend who was struggling as well. Her reasons were different from mine, but we were both pretty much a mess. At least I had a purpose now. Having lost the desire to finish “for me”…I made a pact with her that we would finish this damned thing together. I saw a picture of us at the finish line: who was that woman looking so old and thin, shrunken, grey and exhausted?
A few days later I had a good heart to heart (yep, cry) with my coach. Everything came blurting out. The conclusion was that I’d been a dumb-ass. Should’ve communicated my difficulties over the past year. Races could’ve been dropped early on, training schedules revamped to accommodate the stresses of my life. It is very real to say that it’s not just training stress – but all additive stresses combined – that break an athlete’s mind and body. He had recognized it with other athletes who had suffered the year following a “Big Year”. Apparently I am not the only stubborn one. Long and short: if I had just reached out for help, things could’ve been different.
I was dealing with it on my own: or so I thought. I sought professional help, practiced mindfulness and other relaxation techniques, was grateful for all our blessings, ate well, followed the training plan. And, in the past, putting my head down and taking care of business, as above, had worked. As usual, in my own introverted way, I went further underground, dug in deeper.
The thing is…the last 7 years have brought loads of stresses (maybe it Was that mirror I broke…?). Somehow we squeaked along through major health issues, the deaths of my beloved brother and mother, along with major career changes, and school challenges. In short: middle age. We all are equipped to handle stress but there can come a breaking point if too much collides at the same time. I had found the perfect storm.
My personal life and running life had come to collide and I realize, now, that I will be lucky if it’s just the running season that’s lost.
Those smiley faces on our training logs, the comments…all intended to capture our state of mind…which is the very first indicator of overtraining or over-stretching into red zones.
My coaches were kind, confident, and encouraging but it left me shaken that I had been so stupid. I mean, who of us have not read about these things – usually with elite athletes – before. Plenty of warnings. But I was not an elite: just a recreational runner who took up competing late in life. Zooming up to 58 this month, I have basked in “success” for the past 8 years. Who would’ve thought it?!
Some medical tests and real rest. A promise to always be honest with training feedback. As for plans: None at all.
Of all the forms of wisdom, hindsight is by general consent the least merciful, the most unforgiving.
May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, The foresight to know where you are going, And the insight to know when you have gone too far.
Two weeks and a bit since crossing that beautiful – Bellissima – finish line in Courmayeur, Italy. Feeling little surges of energy and looking back, gratefully, at memories and pictures. Almost like childbirth, I’ve been around long enough to recognize that this is one of those experiences where details will be stripped and feelings left in their place. On paper, here are some of my quickly fading memories, thoughts and feelings…
The TOR, TdG, Tor des Geants
is, officially, 330 km (200+ miles), with 24,000 meters (78,700 ft) of climb and an equal descents over 26 mountain passes surrounding the d’Aosta Valle, in Northern Italy. Like all things Italian, directions, distance, and time are a little loosey-goosey. Take for example that our official cross-sectional elevation guide shows 338.6 km, and that anyone out there with a GPS watch (or three) revealed 31,000 meters (101,000+ ft of climb and equal descent), and, that the race started 17 minutes late (this year – last it was more…). Before you assume I am racist against Italiani … take a step back, please … I AM 50% Italian, so believe you me…I get it.
I chose the TOR for multiple reasons: 1) as said, I am 50% Italian, my father hailing from a tiny town in NE Italy – one hour train ride north of Venice – called San Quirino. 2) the distance enamoured me 3) my coaches’ excitement didn’t hurt 4) the timing felt as right as it could ever feel.
First I had to “win the lottery”. Amazingly, not only did I, but my American friend, Michael Hensen, did as well. With limited numbers accepted from each country (I was one of 6 Canadians, the only female, and oldest of the lot) and Michael one of 16 from USA, of 850+ competitors drawn, he calculated that our chances of attending together were some ridiculously low number. I’m terrible at math…and prefer to believe it was just simply fate 😉
It was a 2 year plan: I had to recover from an early season broken foot in 2016, tackle the Fat Dog (124 miles) right off that (a skimpy 6 weeks actual run training), ski my guts out/run “a bit” over the 2016/17 winter season, get the TdG lottery ticket, then tackle four training races before the TOR.
The first, a short one in Whistler, I managed to trip on probably the only technical section. Flying like Superman, I “landed” like a splatted bug on both wrists. One cast and one splint later…I was up sheep creek again. Thanking my stars that it was only wrists and not a lower body part, we kept at it: a 50 Mile race over the border, another local 50 km, and finally, a 100 Km one in Colorado to test my altitude mettle. Which I failed, miserably, at.
But…like all failings, they can lead to the best discoveries. You just gotta get back up! Fortunately, this discovery of my complete ineptitude at racing at elevation (CO was between 10,000 and 12,000 ft) … in spite of expert scientific coaching advice and experience, and a week acclimatizing … lead to a friend of a friend giving me tips on elevation from his Himalayan mountain climbing buddies. Let’s just say it served me well at the TOR, which tops out at nearly 11,000 ft. Nuff said on that.
It takes a Village
Boy, does it ever. Although many of us try to downplay our dedication to the sport, not wanting to bring attention to the inordinate amount of selfish time we need to take from our adult roles as worker bees, parents, spouses … without a (mostly 😉 supportive spouse and kids and coworkers, creative ways to make the time (rising at 4, for example), and a willingness to spend every spare nickel (left behind by kids, etc.) on all things running, adventures like this would never happen.
My coaches, Eric Carter and Gary Robbins: first and foremost, are my number one inspiration. So encouraging, so diplomatic. As elite athletes themselves, these two men embody fair play, thinking positively and out of the box. I turn 57 in a few weeks: with neither talent nor youth, nor a long competitive history … hey … where I’ve gone boggles my mind. I am so grateful. The perfect blend of nurture/tough love, they don’t tolerate whining, and are not afraid to turn me back around when I get off course. At times, when necessary, they send me flying headfirst to where I fear to go. They have a stable of amazing athletes. I’m old small fry, but they make us all feel equally special. Always a very safe place to always return to. The TOR? Hell Yes!
Although naturally a bit of a social loner, I’ve met so many like-minded friends along the way. It makes the “road” much more enjoyable. Some, I only see at races, some only on FB, and some actually out there on the trails. Steve in PG, Fiona in Van, the Capra group, my Ridgeline group, to name a few. Michael H. and I met on-line (no, not that kind of on-line 😉 and he paced me through my first 100 Miler. We’ve been fast friends since and it was amazing to have experienced most of the TOR with him.
Crew. People do the TOR without crew. I have done many events without crew. But the TOR…well, it’s Big. My MAC (Most Awesome Crew) included my long-suffering husband, Michael R., who originally planned to do it alone (maybe with help of Italian relatives). Fortunately, two angels flew right at us: Jay and Glenn. University friends, these guys unselfishly flew thousand of miles only to spend 1100 km chasing around the spaghetti bowl roads of Aosta Valley and mountains. Michael drove, Jay was the director, social media expert and brains of the operation, while Glenn handled photo/movie production, and entertained all with his Big Bell.
Later on, Michael H’s wife, Sarah, and good friend, Troy, joined the (aka) Merry Group of Madmen. They came at a good time. Things were getting tough. We all needed backup and Troy and Sarah – ultra runners themselves – were exactly what we needed. They had a good time: pasta, pizza, vino, views. Or at least they never let on otherwise. They saw us at our best, and our worse. They forced us to smile when we wanted to fetal position it, they never let us down or gave us a way out. They changed our batteries, pushed us along when necessary, gave us never ending support. The list of restrictions for crew, and the location of the bases was difficult, but they just flew with it. I am forever grateful.
My husband, Michael R.: probably no one pays the price more than the spouse. Iron or ultra or golf nerd, all the same. Michael and I get a Sunday morning together maybe once…a year. Mine is long past used to waking up alone. Although he has his fair share of being annoyed with me, he is the first to brag, first to want to pack up and accompany me on adventures, first to stay back with kids if he must. I love you, Honey.
Our brats: two teens, Daria (17) and Liam (15). I really don’t think I trained any more for this event than any others, but I guess I need to use my kids as a reality check. Heard from Liam (through Michael): “Does Mom have to run so much?” Probably because I wasn’t there to ferry him around to friends so much, or maybe because our holidays in USA and Italy were planned around races… Yeah. It kind of spills into all areas…
Dana and Juli, and Nikki: Thank you for your advice. As past Geants I have such respect for you. Why didn’t you tell me it would be so tough? Grazie Mille. XOXOXOXO
The best laid plans…
Gary and Eric laid out the
Gary and Eric laid it out. Not too much, not too little. “Half the field will arrive at the start either injured or overtrained”, Gary cautioned. If nothing else I am obedient. Mission accomplished this time. Arrived at the start in “perfect” shape. Yay.
The Sleep Plan:
Gary laid out the sleep plan. Based on his years of adventure racing with teams, he first of all asked me how long I planned to be out there, to which I quickly responded, “under 150 hours would be pretty damned awesome”. (150 hours is the cutoff) So he gave me a plan for X hours of sleep per night, “Not just for the sleep. As important is getting your feet off the ground, your legs up.” He reminded me that this would be difficult: difficult to let other racers go by, difficult with adrenaline, difficult because of restrictions as to where/how long you could sleep depending on where you landed up. There were cutoffs to meet, restrictions of 2 hour sleep in smaller Rifugios, many different opinions. I decided to follow Gary’s advice, and planned (wholeheartedly) to sleep at each of the 6 major life bases, plus some at smaller Rifugios (huts with limited, if any sleep accommodation, and some food/water). When I actually put the plan to a map, I discovered I would, after 2 days, have to sleep during day hours and spend most of the final nights on the hoof. Yes, this worried me, but trust between my coaches and myself was strong.
The Nutrition Plan:
We didn’t discuss this much. This is not usually an issue for me. It was a niggling concern… but I mostly brushed aside instincts. I carried 2,000 calories in Perpetuem/day and planned to stuff my face at every food bin there was. Usually, eating was not a problem for me, in spite of the face that I (and Michael H.) are vegans. I spoke with a vegan Geant, who said it wasn’t easy, but doable. I was very familiar with real Italian food and was quite the spaghetti bender, if I don’t mind saying so myself. Spaghetti three times a day? No problem. Tuscan bread dry? No problem. Olive Oil? Pour it on. Espresso…and did we say wine? I was also seduced by stories of being able to “ask behind the counter” for other goodies. BUT…it turned into my biggest obstacle. It almost took me out of the event, but more on that later.
On we press…
Getting ready for big events makes me a bat-shit crazy mad woman. The Control Freak takes over. Between Michael H. and I, we even tried to control the weather. Freaking each other out with the weather forecast (for days) of rain/snow (the WORST combo possible) we fussed, repeatedly checked different forecasts, tried to sooth/bluff each other, fussed some more and searched/purchased every possible piece of expensive gear we didn’t already have to handle it. And yeah, I “secretly” hoped for a cancellation if snow made anything but skis a death sentence. I was nervous – very nervous – but Coaches just chuckled on…”at least you have good winter gear”. Like I said: no whining.
in the end was as perfect as it could be. Fortunately for us, the weather shifts in patterns similar to Whistler. It was hot the first day (later I was to discover my first peeling arms from sunburn in decades). It was cold at night (- 15C, I hear). I was almost blown off a bluff. There was snow one night. But I had the stuff: Gortex jacket, and pants, puffy, fleece, guide gloves, toque, layers, hand warmers. In their wisdom, the Italians has a long list of required items you must carry with you at all times. I was randomly checked 2X and now I get it. Those climbs and descents with a little ice/snow and “no miss” passes…well, a few ounces more on your back, over death, now sounds damn good to me. We dodged a bullet. The day after we left it snowed 40 cm at one of the bases and continues to do so.
The Start line
We started 17 minutes late (Italians – time) amongst much fan fare on that beautiful crispy September 10 day. We ran through the absolutely gorgeous ski town of Courmayeur right into the first uphill, a couple of hundred meters from where we had spent the last week (more on accommodation later). Only Jay and Michael were at the start and I am sure they were glad to get rid of our anxious asses.
Days One through Three
Day 1 was a reality check. Three passes. Michael and I declared the toughest 50 Km we ever did. Until day 2, which was our New toughest ever 50 Km. We slept according to Gary’s plan. Slept hard. Unlike the declarations of so many around us at the start – that we would not be able to sleep because of the adrenaline rushing through our veins – I slept hard and fast. Not quite as long as I had hoped because it was disorienting in the life bases, and took time to eat, get organized, etc. Cot to cot, no privacy, light and noisy with no place to lay out/dry your stuff in most cases, it took a bit of discipline, eyeball covers and time to get down and get out. Michael R. said the bases stunk like locker rooms. 800 men? Yeah, I guess so…
Day 1 – we took the exact amount of time I predicted. Soaring views, plunging precarious descents, mellow mountain fields, below, with gussied up cows and their jingling bells. Our first night at Valtournenche. The welcoming embrace of MAC. Feeling good.
Day 2 – climbs so steep we gasped just looking at the faint thin threads winding up the mountain ahead of us. “No Miss” catwalks. Ropes and teetering rocks. Felt the cutoff nipping at our heals. Sleep/crash at Cogne, a town so pretty MAC didn’t want to leave. Feeling super-human.
I had come to realize that over here an interesting phenomenon was occurring. I was being treated with special respect. The number of calls, the number of compliments, the way people repeated my name “Vittoria” Romanin (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me Nonno’s name) and Canadese. I was a woman. I was from Canada. I had an Italian name. Michael H. certainly noticed it, “Never travelled with a Rock Star before.” Now here’s a country where they know how to treat a lady. Heehee…pretty sure that’s why I couldn’t turn the smile off. A girl has to please her fans ;D
Day 3 was hard. Very hard. Even for a Rock Star. My buddy, Michael H., was hurting. Favouring an old achilles injury lead to further injury at the front of his foot. It was a near “death march” getting into Donnas, the third Life Base at 151 km. Weighing heavily on Michael’s mind was his decision to “cut me loose”. Arriving at hot, noisy, crowded Donnas we had made the difficult decision to separate. Troy and Sarah had arrived. Michael H. now had is crew. I found a bed and crashed. Hot, noisy, this is the place where the majority of the field was rumoured to fall. I now see why. I was distressed at leaving Michael H. under these circumstances, but I knew there was no other way. It was shitty. He was so talented. This was not fair.
Just sleep, Vic. Just sleep.
Days Four through Five
I headed out about 10 p.m., Day 4. As luck would have it, an American, David, who we had chatted with earlier, was heading out too. We were both happy for the company. I was feeling pretty good. The climb was the usual: steep and at times treacherous. It was good to chat with this new found friend. A backcountry ski expert with his own shop… the conversation was so good the miles flew by. But…my new friend was hurting. By the top of that first peak we parted and met much later…
Day 4 started out well enough… There were many of the usual “false summits”. And “false endings” (you thought you were at the top until you rounded the corner and found, lo and behold, more.) This course is also nasty heading downhill, particularly in that just when you make it all the way back down “to hell”, someone inevitably sends you straight back up another 12 km over another “little pass”, AKA a vertical shit show, until you hit the real hell (excuse me… I mean Life Base).
I was also starting to reel from the reality of limited vegan food options. IF I was ever to do this again, I would need a proper Nutrition Plan. I would need to practice and I would need help from crew. From past blogs, I assumed the food choices would be plentiful. Usually, I can eat myself around any table, I assured myself. BUT the tables had been “standardized” this year. My options were white spaghetti with plain tomato sauce, occasional real fruit bits and no-cal salad, coffee, water, sometimes polenta, dry tuscan bread, olive oil, dates and dried apricots and not much more. Everything else was laced with animal. I just could not do it. After 3 days, my mind and body started to revolt. Michael H. was fine…guess it’s just the prima donna in me. Weakened me and almost took me out. Live and learn – next time a plan.
This was the case for me at Niel, a beautiful mountain stop. I honestly thought it was the life base, Gressoney. Wrong. All of a sudden, time was beginning to mean nothing. I was having difficulty eating. My Perpetuem intake had dropped to half. My loving husband – after a big hug – said, “you only have 12 Km to go!” Big stupid grin on his face. I almost decked him right then and there. “You’re kidding.” Gleefully and oh so helpfully, “Here – eat! I brought you some polenta!!” Trying not to let my Medusa out, I knew I had to leave. Leave now. Up the 10,000 steps and 6 vertical km (think Grouse Grind/BCMC X 3), over some ridiculous farmer’s field to some stupid refugio and then back down. 12 Km of pure pissed off-ness. To say my mood had deteriorated would be an understatement.
Day 5 – I slept at Gressoney. I only know this because I remember leaving in the morning feeling better with the sleep. Not great. But better. I had started to get those infamous “mouth sores”. Not actual sores, but sore tongue, and funny almost chemical taste. Wish I could just puke and get it over with.
I met up with a young Spanish woman. We spent many hours together. Almost got blown off a bluff together. Separated, then fell in line again. In the end, we parted at the next life base. After a good sleep, I felt better. Determined to buck up and not depend on anyone for the rest of the race.
Days 6 and 7
Day 6: 239 km into it. As mentioned above, having trouble eating. I was already feeling weaker, but the sun helped, and I knew I was well into it now. My low points had forced me to consider the almost inevitable: I was ready to accept a DNF. After all, I was way inover my head.Nice try, Vic, but you are a wannabe. With this in mind, I had nothing to lose. I was going to try to pick it up, even if I dropped. And guess what happened? I ran almost smack into Michael H.
Michael H. had chosen NOT stop at Donnas. He had travelled almost continuously, since then, strategizing his injury would not allow him to move very quickly. I was soooo happy to see him. We rejoined forces, along with his new companion from India, a young brash Indian lawyer (bit of a Star and bringing ultra running to the huge exotic country). The amazing thing is that Michael had started to regain his pace. I suspect whatever was hurting him had now “died” – or that part of his brain had – and he was able to force through. We were all tired. The boys did not have much of a long sleep plan: they would sleep when we had to. I was a pack animal by then. Following along blithely.
We slept in someone’s bedroom – at their Rifugio for 20 minutes, we slept on a church floor – clothes and shoes on – hat over eyes, for 40 minutes.
I don’t even remember the order exactly, but we did end up at the last life base – Ollomont – eventually. 287.2 Km. I did not have to reason too hard with the boys to sleep. I could not eat. Michael R. was getting in my face. My crap was everywhere and no one could help me find it. I am not sure how long we slept. Maybe an hour? Michael H was somewhere. Glenn and Jay reassured me I would make it. Not sure if any of them believed it at that point, but they were kind. And kind of afraid of me, I think. Apparently, it stunk. It was…yep…a low, lower, lowest point.
MAC told me stories afterwards, but apparently, I was in as good as shape as it got. Misery everywhere. I was simply not well fed. There were worse off.
Day 7: 287 km into it. One way or the other, this was going to finish. I confessed to Michael H. that I had accepted that I might not make it, and was ok with that. He violently retorted, “Well I am Not.” OK, well then… We simply moved forward. We had a cat nap at a way-high refugio and a bite to eat.
A very touching memory: one of the guides in this little refugio was grinding fresh oranges. It was the first thing I had seen in two days that looked even slightly appetizing. I asked if I could have one, then proceeded to bite straight into it, peel and all, starving dog style. He grabbed it from me and proceeded to peel it with his knife, breaking sections perfectly. It was the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted and…I may have developed a little crush on mountain guides from that point on…
Moving forward, stopping once in a while for Michael’s foot, and tolerating our young companion’s well meaning advice (he has no idea how close to decapitation he came at one point when he pointed out that I was choosing not to eat enough) we three moved on. It was beautiful – no doubt – but it needed to end.
We slept again at the last Rifugio before the last climb. Last sweet climb. I forced myself a bowl of penne drowned in olive oil. Suck it up, buttercup. The morning was cold. Ice over mud and steep. Step, slide. Replant step, slide. Over and over. The top 1/3 was so steep there were ropes and 3 mountain guides. They must have guessed that our minds were almost lost. A guide billy-goated down to me: “step here and here” qui e qui. “You don’t need the ropes.” …oh mama mia… Crush.
We were up and over! Up and Over!!! Time to Git’r Done. The Kid left us, in the dust. Only 30 km of treacherous downhill to go. We were having such a good time we decided to … Get Lost. Yes, we did. Thank goodness for another Angel. Honest to God Angel, because our gooses were almost cooked. A blonde Italiana, hiking briskly uphill asked us where we were off to? She pointed us back – UP – we turned around, beetled our way back, hardly cursing at all. So many people had passed. I don’t know how many hours it took us off, but WTHell, at least we had a chance to reprieve ourselves. I had begun to hope again.
Some jerks had began to remove flags. It was in the playbook: we were warned this could happen. We were supposed to know our route and recommended GPS guidance. On we go. I could smell the barn. But in usual TOR fashion, it was just the cows. Not the actual barn. That was still 30 Km away. Like a bad movie where the end of the hall never comes. And the cruelest thing: the last 30 Km was not all treacherous downhill, it was undulating ups, downs between treacherous downhills. Is there a cranky theme here?
Still, I could beat my body on. I knew it. I wasn’t injured, but if I didn’t get food I could be dead. Needed to get to the finish. Michael had started to hallucinate. Then – then – then – the (almost) unspeakable happened: Michael H. decided he needed a nap. A friggin’ nap.Now. I could feel the cutoff flames at our heels. I wouldn’t let him. So we did what friends do. He swore at me, “Don’t tell me what to do. I can do whatever the F**k I want!” It didn’t even shake me. I really cared about this dude at this moment and knew – remember he told me – that he was NOT ok with not finishing. Instead of scolding or ditching – as I was prone to do naturally – I reminded him that I really cared about him and couldn’t let him stop. I had seen him help others along the way, and now he needed the help. I was so glad to be there with him, to help him for a change.
A switch flipped and we kept going. We ran into a couple of other annoying unmarked (jerks) forks, but we worked it out. Our energy was starting to come back. We were laughing and joking. We were talking real food, and it was NOT spaghetti. This time we could see the barn.
Sweet, Sweet Courmayeur
Yes, we were here!!! Heros’ welcome. Interview. Photos. Joy. Hugs. Wine.
148 hours and change. We walked onto the finish matt side by side. Again, Italian time meant nothing. Michael’s time was recorded as 22 seconds faster than mine. I guess that was payback for them practically throwing him off the finish line to interview me: haha, the Canadian Woman.
We were two of 53% to finish before the 150 hour cutoff.
Both Michael and I had some leg swelling. Both lost weight.
Michael’s injury is still undiagnosed, but there is a suspected stress fracture, at the time of this writing.
Otherwise, I had not a rub, not a blister, not an injury. My glasses kind of bruised my nose and temples, I guess 😉
As an aside, everyone suffered to some degree. Some more, some less, but I would say Michael and I were some of the more fortunate ones.
Everyone made it to the After/Awards party the next day. It was amazing. Italians love to Par-tay. Love to Celebrate. Love the pomp and ceremony. It didn’t matter if you completed in 67 hrs, or 150 or 1/4 into it: it was the Heart of the Athletes that was celebrated. The ceremony was long for our long-suffering MAC, but selfishly, amazing for the runners. Rockin’ music, everyone recognized…in three languages. Lights, cameras, action. Met up with so many folks we had met along the way. I truly hope our life paths cross again.
My sleep was messed up for several nights. Though I slept hard and long, was haunted by PTSD-like symptoms. I had vivid dreams, so vivid I could not differentiate between reality and dream. My whole body was throwing itself back into climbs. I felt my full core working the climbs, my muscles clenched and released, arms, shoulders, breath. I was back on the mountain. That’s since passed. I have been sleeping long and hard and well.
I put compression socks on the first night and by the time I woke up the next morning, I swear the fluid has squished into my face. Yes, this was me. Just before the Party.
I could not eat much for 3 days afterwards. Lost nearly 15 pounds. Scared myself looking into a mirror. Mouth so sore. Horrible taste. 3 days after, my appetite returned and I have not stopped eating since. Lost some serious muscle, but we will get’r back.
Debriefing with Coaches: So positive. Discussed what went right: dodged the weather bullet. Perfectly trained. No blisters. No injuries. Beat the 150 hr cutoff, one of the lucky 53%. For the most part, the sleep plan was wise and prudent, even though I kind of screwed it up in the end. By sleeping I avoided hallucinations – yeah. And probably sleep walking myself off a cliff. The eating thing…well, we live and learn. Never again will this be an issue. Finally, they reminded me that for something this brutally beautiful…there will always be something. I am grateful. Thank you, Gary and Eric!!!
Getting bursts of energy. Feeling pretty darned good. So thankful. So humbled. So happy to have had the privilege of taking this on. So grateful for good friends, loving family and health. I am a lucky woman. Looking forward to snow…
The Tor des Geants
In a nutshell:
well organized, and over the top support from the community
steep and technical, infamously long and difficult downhills 8 to 30 km
67 countries represented. Lottery.
based out of Courmayeur. Top notch accommodation, gorgeous Mont Blanc views.
new record: young Spaniard, Javi, 67 hours and some change. Superhuman. Jornet comrade, I assume.
if you are a vegan or gluten intolerant…plan carefully. I am not kidding.
My crew (MAC) was the best on the planet: I can never thank Glenn and Jay enough. You make me cry with gratitude at your willingness to put yourself in the way of sleep deprivation, car sickness, jet lag and wine hangovers. Troy and Sarah – it was such a pleasure – thank you!!! Michael R. I love you.
Our accommodation and hosts were absolutely amazing. Message me if you want details, though I plan to put pic on this site.
Valle d’Aosta is a beautifully cool mix of Italy, France, Switzerland as borders have shapeshifted. So Euro. Inhabited by amazing kind, fit, exuberant people. It was an honour to borrow their trails and mountains for a short while.
You will meet the finest people. In my case it was tall and very handsome Dutch men (you know who you are), gorgeous Spanish girls, the most Awesome Americans ever, dreamy eyed Italians, talented confident Indians, spicy Mexicans…you name it. They got it. Ultra nerds with a cool Euro twist. Like I said, the bad memories are fading, and this is all I will remember…
as a woman, you may sit at 13% of the field. Not bad odds 😉 Italians love their cars, soccer and…women.
And finally…Respect, and a tear, for a Fallen Geant and his family. May you Rest in Peace, Yang Yuan.
It’s a wrap. Thank you for Walking through this Giant adventure with Us ;D
Fat Dog 120. Some of you know it as a tough 120 Mile Endurance (Ultra) Run through the insanely beautiful mountains of Manning Park, British Columbia. It nails the elevation gain of Mount Everest and is quickly gaining notoriety for being insidiously difficult. August 12 – 14, 2016 – one month ago – we got’r done. This is my story, my tale of thistrail. Like childbirth, the details and discomfort are fading quickly from memory, leaving bare the emotions of the event.
I have to warn you, the path from planning to finish line were not straight. There was an injury (or two), there was drama, there is a long prologue.If you are only interested in my take on the actual event, please skip forward to “Back to Fat Dog…” several paragraphs below 😉
OK – the preamble: Last fall, 2015, still riding the high of my first 100 Miler experience at Cascade Crest in Washington State, Coaches Gary Robbins and Eric Carter, of Ridgeline Athletics, helped hatch the plan for the year. It would include downhill skiing at Whistler (hell, yeah!) and three events before the ultimate goal (A race) of Fat Dog: (1.) the Boston Marathon (girlfriend weekend, April 2016), (2.) Sun Mountain 100 K (to get back on the trails and increase endurance, May 2016), and (3.) the Edge-to-Edge Marathon in Ucluelet (C race and an excuse to go on a weeklong family holiday in Tofino, June 2016;).
Boston was kind of the wild card: I had run it before and wasn’t a fan. The crowds and the heat (92 F) pulverized me and besides, I prefer the trails and trees. But my friend wanted to give the iconic event a try. What the hell, the speed training would be good for me as you, sure as hell, don’t speed up after 50. Coaches were absolutely on board – hell yeah! –we can help make you one of the fastest lil’ol ladies on the planet (or so, that’s how I read it). The plan included a little more speed work than I was used to in the past. I lapped it all up, put my nose to the grindstone, and was absolutely amazed by the speed (and endurance) that came out of it. Yes…I was getting excited…
You know what they say about the best laid plans:
Yep. April 2, 2016:Twoweeks out from Boston– 1.5 hrs into my last long progression run before the taper – my right foot exploded. 4th metatarsal stress fracture. Not a single warning sign. Just Wham! Hit the bottom of the hill from UBC to the beach and – an axe through my foot. Unravelling the What? Why? it appears that I was quite the idiot for training exclusively on pavement. Prior to that, my feet had become used to ski boots and softish trails. I thought I would toughen them up for that concrete jungle we call Boston (you know what they say about training “specificity”). Coaches had recommended (unbeknownst to me, the reason) tracks (oops, they are padded) and assumed I would be on trails part of the time (I live in Whistler and Vancouver). It all knuckled down to a gentle, “Vic, even the elites stay off concrete whenever they can.” Hard lesson learned.
So, I lost those three races, including the girlfriend weekend, flights, accommodations, and race entries. Fat Dog was, at best, now a big question mark.
The next 11 weeks were a flurry of X-rays, Docs (sport and foot), and careful planning by Coaches to keep some endurance up. Aqua jogging interval training, walking with soft cast followed by hard soled hiking boots/shoes/cycling shoes, and a strength training plan (accommodations for bum foot) by Lewis Morrison of Peak Centre. They tried to get me on a stationary bike, but after an hour (or three) of staring at the walls, TV, magazines, my phone, I was in the “kill-me-now-and-why-the-hell-would-anyone-voluntarily-sign-for indoor-cycling/spin-classes” (Hah! Triathletes of course). So, we ditched the bike.
The sport doc recommended the Exogen, a bone healing system which was a little off the grid. I would heal, but the Exogen may help heal faster and better. He had seen super results with his Olympic athletes and one of my Coaches had used it for a “similar” fracture, so we gave it a go. I found a used one for $500 bucks, in pristine shape, from a female athlete who turned out to be a wealth of info and giggles. Hell of a bargain considering she purchased it for $4,000 and some change.
Well, I’m sure by now you’ve heard the saying: life is 90% mental and 10% in your head. Yeah, well, in athletics (especially endurance athletics) it’s really the case. You can train your body to the best of “it’s” ability, but your head can really make or break you. Your body and your brain have important feedbacks. Keeps sport psychologists in business.
Studies have shown we also have a limited capacity (imagine water in a bucket) to cope under stress. Work/life stresses can start to fill our brain bucket so the mental reserves/coping begins to get squeezed out. Our physical bodies feedback to our brain and our brain back again. Simple, right?
Although most were unaware, my small bucket was filling rapidly: the last year (hell – the last 5 years) had delivered some significant blows (drops in the bucket): (1.) my cancer diagnosis August 31, 2011, (2.) my precious brother’s illness and death August 31, 2013, (3.) my beautiful, brave mother’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis in January 2015 (4.) followed by her death November 2015, (5.) recent major career decisions/changes, (6.) 16 year old daughter who has discovered the wild side (oh Lord…help us now).
Grief upon grief. Worry upon responsibility. All this while real daily life was swirling. To say I had began to feel jumpy when my cell rang, or that there were days that felt like I was moving through sludge would not be an overstatement. Middle Age Madness. I was not coping well.
So, there I was. Friggin’ broken foot. I know: too bad, so sad and get overit (TTFU would also apply). That’s true. And it’s not like I was broken and stuck in the backcountry orthat a tiger was chasing me. Hardly life threatening. No one was holding a gun to my head. I do count my blessings and the list is ridiculously and embarrassing long. There are far more serious issues in the world. People experience loss all the time (divorce, death, bankrupcy), betrayal, abuse, war, natural disasters… I should’ve coped just fine.
What I was actually getting to (in a long winded sort of way) is that I had, albeit temporarily, lost my cure, my drug, and maybe even my fix. What coping I did, was aided by running. From the first step, my breathing falls into line and, with it, my thoughts. The hypnotizing sound of your own footsteps, warm embrace of trees, soft sounds of nature (well, maybe not so much in the City) all act as a beautiful form of meditation. The long distances, intervals, and running with a pack give me the rush and pure sense of well-being (runner’s high) that I believe we were all made for. It would not be much of a stretch to say that an athlete, without their adrenaline fixes, their highs and lows, suffers mentally and physically. Hmmmm…sounds a bit like addiction, eh? Like I said, my fix was being threatened.
It was a long 11 weeks. No excuse: I had lots of support and the coaches kept me busy. The aqua jogging intervals helped keep the endurance up but, more importantly, gave me some semblance of an adrenaline rush and tired me out (in a good way). Gary repeatedly stepped into the shoes of a shrink. Both coaches, Gary and Eric, each in their own way, made sure I kept my expectations real: “Let’s get youthis“, tempered with, “we gave you a 1% chance of starting, and a .5% chance of finishing”. The walks got me outside in the fresh air. I used the Exogen two – sometimes three – times a day. Followed recommendations to a T: bumped up calories and protein, figured out how to get more sleep in. Even though my foot started to feel better at about 7 weeks…neither Coaches nor Docs would budge to let me cheat.
Fast forward 11 weeks to June 20, blessed June 20, 2016: the Docs gave me the go-ahead to start training. “Stop when it hurts”. Yay! After a figurative high-five and champagne (over the phone), the Coaches hatched a plan to get me to FD with – hold your breath – 6 weeks training. This, after no real trail running since November 2015. I’m sure Gary and Eric’s stress buckets were overflowing half way through coaching me through this. And – you will notice this as a repeated theme – I will never be able to thank them enough.
So, from week one (16 hours of hiking “real” terrain with some actual elevation gain, and including a SQ50 O-run plus a pool session and a couple of strength sessions) through week 6 (which cumulated in a 4 hour trail run on Saturday followed by a 61.5 k “Double Rubble and then some” on the Sunday), we had done all we could.
During those 6 weeks (in particular the first two weeks) my joints, ligaments, and muscles from the knee down would have to learn to work with each other again. There was discomfort. There was lots of talk about how lousy endurance runners are at interpreting discomfort/pain. I was second guessing the niggles and owies – a lot. Amazingly, endurance was not an issue. That aqua jogging did the trick. What was the issue…was what was in my head. I had lost so much confidence. I trust in my training and usually this acts as a powerful ally. What I could not trust in (actually, no one could), is that my foot would hold up…or that I would be able to pull the actual 120 miles off with so little training.
I had worked hard. Rehabbing and healing is hard, hard work. But I had not been able to put in the miles nor the intensity my teammates did, the miles that give me confidence. It was this that was the main complicating factor. I was glad it was taper time. I was tired.
Now that it looked like it was going to actually happen, and now that the sharp 11 day taper had arrived…
Back to Fat Dog…
Planning for a “100” is like taking on a small military operation. I’m pretty sure most us (ultra-nerds) take over a room (or at least a large table 😉 with our lists, sticky notes and cue cards, mandatory racer (and pacer) gear, nutrition stuff, drop bags, etc. Planning is critical. Visualizing just as important: I could see myself at the end, but was having trouble with the stuff in between. I focused on trying to align drop bags and Crew with a wide range of times, thinking about the start and that big hill, remembering the hurt and the bliss of Cascade Crest. I hyper focused, overpacked, over prepared. Had no idea how I would handle the sleep deprivation – after all, this event would take me over two (not just one, like my 28 hour Cascade Crest) nights. I was very uncertain how my foot would hold up – heck how my body would hold up – with so little time to train. But, it was my choice. Time to stand up and git’r done.
Some pacer drama ensued. This one I can laugh at. Another prime example of, “shit happens”. OK, first of all I “gave” my now friend, (and CC Pacer from last year), M, up to a team mate, way back when I broke my foot. Why hold such an amazing talent back with so many uncertainties whirling around me? So, when it looked like I was going to run the FD after all…I was scrambling. Folks were either booked into their own races, or had pacing gigs already. Two amazing women in my life tried to help: My “Boston” friend, made a gallant attempt, but that didn’t pan out. I searched, and begged/bribed and turned over every lead I could. My wonderful sister-in-law, Wendy, offered to step up for Leg 6, but one week before the event, she was riding Khyber Pass and….
Ow! Oh, Wendy ;( Clearly I had “pacer curse”. And it sucked up a disportionate amount of my now limited mental reserve. I was really intimidated to take on the two nights alone. But it looked like I had two choices: drop out OR suck it up buttercup. Gary helped me dig deep and look at the bright side. There was a good chance I would buddy up out there, or I could enjoy my time alone. It wasn’t “the alone” I was worried about. It was not the cliff drop-offs nor the bears, but rather, getting lost. I wasn’t sure how much of my limited sanity/sound judgement would be left after 40 hours and this worried me – big-time. I’m the woman who got lost on – promise you won’t laugh – the Whistler 50, Lost Lake trail. Clearly marked, and clearly urban, I missed a marker in the dark and…yep – the dork who did the extra 5 km…
Time to get the show on the road:
Our kids and critters (aka the Zoo) safely tucked away with my Aunt Vicki and Uncle Charles, “Crew” aka (enthusiastic, handsome, chatty) Husband, and I drove out to Manning Park a day early to scout out the crew points. I made sure he was given a “nice” schedule – one where he could sleep most of the two nights. After all – one of us would need our sanity in order for the pack to survive. Next day we attended the “electric” mandatory meeting in Princeton, followed by settling into our Princeton hotel.
My mantra (always important) would be “relentless forward movement” with generous splashes of “gratitude“. Not “strength”. Nor “whoah”, the soft little sound you make to calm horses (my daughter is an equestrian) which works like a hot-damn on me, too. Nor “strength of an ox, speed of a cheetah, and when all shit hits the fan, you will prevail”, like in the past. I just needed to keep moving forward. Gary and I figured between 40 and 45 hours. I could do this.
I was ready for it – the inevitable hurt/periods of bad attitude which were part of this sport. After all, if there were nothing to endure… This is what many of us come to this spot for. This, because the flip side of the hurt, of the dark, is the sheer euphoric bliss. Colours brighter, senses heightened, primal transcendence of worldly concerns. (Did I write that?) It’s not always like this. Yes, I had doubt: this could be a miserable humiliating suffer fest. But, you know, I felt that flutter, that gut feeling. Terrifying, no happy ending guaranteed, but just – maybe – within reach.
At some point, we were advised the event would add an extra 2 miles distance, and 240 m elevation gain, to accommodate moving the exposed Heather Aid Station. So now, the run was 122 Milesand the elevation gain would be greater than Everest. A good friend reminded me to suck it up buttercup cause that’s only 1.6% more. Thank you, George.
Been meditating for a few years now, and breathing usually conks me quickly. Not this time around. Of course. But here we were, everything was prepared, breakfast eaten, coffee consumed, restless chatter among friends/teammates and soon to be friends. Perfect weather. There was nothing more I could do to prepare.
The start: Photos with teammates (they looked awesome and practically pawing at the ground) and Gary at the start. We all needed to put foot to ground, desperately. I hung back – no use doing otherwise. My goal, after all, was to finish standing up and smiling. Of course in order to do this, I had to beat the sweep. I later found out that everyone, everyone, was unusually nervous before the event. An event of this magnitude has that effect on folks.
First Climb: From practically the first step, there was a crazy bottleneck. Everyone had to cross a tiny goat bridge, then climb straight up for about 2,000 meters. It was slow going, but felt good. I fell in step behind a fellow who was familiar with Garibaldi/Rubble Creek. We hit it off and you will hear more about “K” as we go along. Folks started dropping (DNF), even on this first climb. OK – Vic, just keep moving. Came across a man bleeding from a hand gash. Gave out my first bandaids (useless), then used my mother’s scarf (tied to my pack for luck) as a sort of tourniquet. She would’ve been pleased that it went towards a good cause. By the time I was half-way through the event, I had given out all emergency stuff: the bandaids, blister stuff, Tums, the electrolytes, the Advil, the Sunscreen…. Being a back of the pack-er gives you a new perspective on a whole bunch of stuff.
Second Climb: Heat of the day. I was moving along with K, who had run it before. He warned me that this was a steep one. Somehow, that got to me. Weird, because I love climbs. I felt suddenly and overwhelmingly exhausted. Deep exhaustion, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-and-how-the-hell-could-I-do-this kind of exhaustion. Fortunately, Gary had coached us on this: “The lows can hit you at any point. Could be ten miles in, could be 90 miles in, could be multiple times.” So, with K to follow, I dug in. One foot in front of the other, repeat. At the top, teammate N was working the Trapper Aid Station. Good to see a familiar face. She reassured me that we were not that far behind (yet) the rest of the crew and helped “fill’er up” 🙂
Bonnevier: It was dark (night one) when we pulled in and had first meet up with Crew (Michael, Husband). Popped some major heel blisters. Michael did everything he could to help K and I, but it was looking like my new friend was feeling the effects. We lingered for far too long…then finally headed out with Crew’s urging.
Third Climb: Beautiful pitch darkness. It was night and we were deep in the trees. I was safely with two men, K and “very tall young military guy”, from here on known as “VTYMG”. Yakking it up and moving along very slowly. I was beginning to feel pretty damn good again, and the truth be told, if I wasn’t so worried about that getting lost thing, I could’ve powered up that hill. But I didn’t. The choices we make. I was acutely aware, even at this point, that if we kept moving at this snail pace it was going to be a very looooong event. And, yeah, it was. The flip side is that, unlike previous events, where I could trust in my body and training, I had little confidence. 6 weeks trail training, an 11 day taper, and a newly healed foot which I was testing on a 122 Mile, Everest gain (and then loss) course was near to madness. Screw the time – just make it through. If you can pull this off safely, next year will be your year.
We made it to the River Crossing – gosh damn that water felt good on the feet. On to…
Heather AS: (the infamous extra 2 miles) brought us morning light. Again, we lingered far too long. Honestly, I think about 10 hours of this event was eaten up lingering at AS. Coach had warned me against this, but this year was different. I promised myself that I would use this sting and experience – in the future – to avoid dallying.
While VTYMG still lingered on at the aid station, K and I climbed out of the Heather AS and into the light. The next few miles were really pleasant. Morning cool, flowers, easyish terrain. It felt like dancing. The scary bit of rock that had turned off my Boston-friend- almost-pacer, seemed like nothing. The downhill (usually my nemesis) didn’t seem all that unreasonable. Unfortunately, my buddy, K was really, really struggling at this point. I stayed with him for several more hours, tried to convince him that he needed medical attention…but he continued to drag along. I had to make a decision: blow this event entirely (the sweeps were licking at our heals) or leave him. It was a bitch of a decision, but in the end mutual, and I moved on.
Nicomen Lake AS: was somewhere halfway down that descent. Teammate J and lots of friendly folks were waiting. Two bottles of To-kill-ya and 6 or 7 bags of “herb” were offered by a friendly young man. How did they know I was straight outta the 60’s/70’s? Laughing, I moved on to look for some real food. There was none! Crap and dagnab it!! Crankiness was inevitable with neither coffee nor real food after 24 hours of travel. Thank Gawd my old fashioned Perpetuem could keep a corpse alive. Note to self: next time you decide you will be at the back of the pack – bring real food!! Those bloody front runners had devoured it all. Again, a new lesson in back of the pack perspective.
Cascade: from Nicomen to Cascade I was on my own. From Cayuse Flats to Cascade was a short, devilish series of climbs. It felt good. Race directors love these things. And man, this course director was something else 😉
Crew was waiting at the AS. I devoured some food (I’m a hard core vegan, but screw that – I almost bit the hand of the poor voly who unwittingly got in the way of me zeroing in on the last cheese wrap – the only food besides a banana I quickly stole while they weren’t looking). A lovely young woman, who I discovered was the fiance of VTYMG, helped me with my feet. She was waiting for her man and planning to pace him the last leg. I told her I had spent the first night with him and that he was ok but very tired at that time.
After far too long, again, I left with another runner, T, who had been “leapfrogging” with us for miles. Quite the character, I was happy to set out for the second night with him. He was to meet his pacer at the beginning of Leg 6 and – if I could keep up – we could threesome it up that last bloody hill. Hah! If I could keep up.
It was a good matchup. Both a little older, we grumped through the 3 km highway section (ugh), enjoyed a nice rolling section, then hit the horrendously buggy “Swat’um” (actually Shawatum) flats which seemed to never friggin’ end. I was stung twice and we were tormented by black flies and mosquitoes. There was a New Mexican (my husband is from NM, so it was hilarious how familiar he seemed) limping along behind me with 100% Deet in his pack. He kindly offered me some – which I gladly splashed on. Melted my legs and pack, but what the hell. These were desperate times.
Finally finding the Swat’um AS, in which everyone had bug tents to retreat to, I scarfed some more food (yay avocado enchiladas). I bullied T into moving his butt back on the trail. His sweet wife was so wonderful and grateful her husband had a companion for the trail. And I was grateful for his company, too.
Do you remember K? He came trotting along as we were heading out! One of the most interesting and endearing people (never mind tough and enduring) I have ever met, was crossing our path again.
It was soon headlamp (night 2) time, again. We were about 34 hours into it and I was not one bit tired. The bugs started to drop off with the cool of the night, and I could taste – literally taste – the last leg (Skyline) ahead. For a brief moment, I recognized that my Ridgeline friends would be pulling into the finish line about now (turned out I was right about that – Yay!!!! Team!!! Absolutely Amazing!!!). You could feel the anticipation – the sheer let’s get this f’n thing done. I knew I was going to make it now, and with impatience for being so far back in the pack, I was ready to rock.
Skyline: 102 Miles in. Night two. The last leg.The infamous last leg. We were about to experience it, and all I could feel was excitement and anticipation. Crew wasn’t there (did I take so long I missed him?) but T’s wife and Pacer, W, were. That lovely woman had dragged Tim’s coffee along that horridly long and difficult road to get to us. I finally got to meet W, T’s pacer. Instantly liked him: he had never paced before – had only done road marathons – but he was obviously a fit backcountry kind of guy. T & W were entertaining as hell. It was one of those times when you realized a man and his buddy…well, it’s really a very special bond. We girls don’t have the patent on that.
I answered all the “sanity questions” and felt 100%. We all did. And all I can say is…what happened over the next 20 miles shows you how effective those sanity questions (a series of questions and answers we had to be able to regurgitate 102 miles into the race in order to be able to continue for the last 20) are.
Crew came along, just as we were leaving. He reported that someone had said there was a big guy wandering a few hundred meters away – hallucinating. VTYMG’s fiance was waiting, ready to pace. She ran off to find the hallucinating big guy, which was confirmed later to be VTYMG. Also trotting in was Mr. K!!
As we’re dealing with complete disclosure here: the other boys were perhaps not too happy to have K along because of concern about his state of well-being. T and W made it pretty clear that they would be patient, but not too patient with K (and myself if I chose to stick close to K). As it should be, the goal was for T to finish this thing – no holds barred.
As hinted to, above, what happened over the next few hours opened my eyes to the craziness of staying awake for two nights. It was pitch dark and we were climbing like fireflies, higher and higher. K started retching behind. We heard others loudly puking below. We passed runners with their pacers that were sitting (or laying), unable to move.
T stopped to pee, again. While I averted my eyes and “patiently” waited, I spotted a bright light. There was a truck, a big, bright truck several switchbacks away. Several young men were trying to load a huge TV screen (strange, it was “on”) into the back, but having a hell of a time. They kept moving it back and forth, tipping in and out of the truck to try to make room. What the hell was a truck with a TV doing up here? A lodge? Strange…no cell reception or internet or anything. Maybe they were telecasting live results? Turning to K and pointing to the truck, I asked him what he thought was up. He couldn’t see it, but then again, he was so tired, he probably couldn’t see his nose. He asked me, “where?”. Impatiently (what was it with these boys?) I pointed to the really obvious, bright goings on, on the side of the mountain. “Vic – I don’t see it.” Right there! I pointed right at it again. “Vic – you are hallucinating.” By then the other boys had joined up. This time it was their turn for impatience. “Vicki. There is nothing there. You are hallucinating.” I looked again, and it was still there. My heart in my throat, I told K, the paramedic, I didn’t think I was capable of such madness. With pure gentle patience he said, “Yes you are. We all are.”
So we carried on. Our merry band of pukers, pee-ers, hallucinators (T soon started seeing cups and saucers on the trail). I refused to look off the trail after that. Once I stopped and asked K if he could see the paintings on the leaves fallen on the trails, but he reassured methat it was just mybatshit-craziness. As they say – this, too, shall pass. And it did. Hallucinations stopped, just like that. I was fearful that things would escalate. That myself, or one of the boys would consider it perfectly ok to step off the very steep and dangerous trail into the abyss. On one hand, I vowed NEVER to do an event I thought I would have to do a 2nd night through again, and on the other hand, I was happy it was dark and I couldn’t see what was above and below!
K was, however, losing ground. His electrolytes (and probably blood sugar) were off balance, at the very least. I started to become impatient (and I feel absolutely horrible about this) and tried to convince K that he MUST get help at the next AS. Unfortunately, as a paramedic, he knew just enough to reason himself out of reason. He knew the answers – just enough to possibly hang himself. T and W were pulling ahead and I was getting pissed. Pissed at K for being so unreasonable, and really pissed at T & W for daring to pull ahead. Would they leave me with K, alone? That frightened and panicked me, because I really had no idea what would happen with him next. And – what if my mental state deteriorated even more? THAT was scary. I bullied K along till we finally caught up to T & W. As a gang, we finally reasoned K into sleeping a little at the next AS. I honestly thought I would never see him again. Felt crappy about that, but…as you can see, these were desperate times and unless I was going to join him (which I had absolutely no intention of doing at this point), I had to move along, again.
With K safely tucked into an emergency blanket at the aid station – high on that exposed bluff – T, W, and I made haste (finally) to get this thing finished. Up and down and over and across we went. Passed lots of suffering folks. There was some very, very, sketchy terrain. W was fantastic: so nice to have someone to fall in behind, guiding our every step. He fussed and damn near coddled T. The arrangement was: W in front, T in the middle, and me, behind. I caught T as he was just stepping off the thin trail to certain death (he was falling asleep). Both W and I were on him, loudly and angrily, as he (T) got sleepier – and sillier. This, too, passed when the caffeine from the last AS (or the morning light) kicked in.
Morning had arrived (6 a.m.ish, Sunday). We just had to get over those last series of climbs and it would be home free. And it was exactly like that. The climbs were what I expected. All good races have diabolical and nasty climbs before the grand finale and – Boy oh Boy – this one was no exception. As the sun arose, I had another little vision- but minor – really. We met Peter, the Course Director, at the last aid station. Such a nice man – but he was clearly exhausted and in no chatty mood. On we went…
At the top of the last climb, I was beginning to feel like Super-Bitch again. There was a little patch of technical downhill, and Lord, you would’ve thought the boys were wearing high heels. Come on Boys…let’s move it!!! To paraphrase, “Well, Miss Priss, you take the lead!” I didn’t have to. The technical bit ended, and the boys finally started running. It felt amazing. Down and down we went. T started to slow it down, but I wouldn’t let him. With W’s clear approval, I bullied, teased and dared T to move much faster than he wanted to. In my defence, the road here was wide, non-technical and it was daylight. The kindest thing to do at this point was to get this friggin’ thing done.
Cajoling turned into laughter, laughter into runners’ highs, runners’ highs into crossing the finish line (T and I together) to the hugs of each other, Gary, Michael, my team mate, Peter (who rocked it at 33 hrs), and so many others. Yes! Sweet Yes!It was done. About 10 minutes short of 47 hours (cut off was 49 hours). We had started out at 10 a.m. on Friday, August 12 and here we were – two mornings later – just before 9 a.m., Sunday, August 14, 2016.
And…my foot…was fine ;D
Ridgeline athletes rocked it. In the 122 miler: One podium (Hilary), one top 10 man (Peter) and two top 10 women (Hilary and Melanie). One top 10 man in the 70 miler (Ben). Gratefully, I can report my squeaking out of a 16th (women) – 90th overall.
I was the oldest woman in the race. Yay to BD’s! I turn 56 in October.
112 folks finished. 57 dropped.
I reached my goal: Finish standing up and smiling!
The weather was perfect (especially compared to nasty 2015).
K finished after all. He’s the race hero to me.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am for my coaches care. Gary Robbins and Eric Carter – you’ve earned the respect, admiration and loyalty of every single one of us. Thank you!!!
Thank you, Matt, Nadine, Josh for so selflessly serving all of us at those hot (and buggy) Aid Stations XXX Hope I didn’t miss anyone else!
Again, words cannot convey how grateful and full of love I am for my patient, handsome husband. You not only put up – and fully support – this middle age passion of mine, but you make good Crew! It just doesn’t get any better XO
Here’s to next year!!
If you are going through Hell KEEP GOING. – Winston Churchill
The key to endurance is enduring. The secret to endurance is ENJOYING. – Pearl Izumi Ad