Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: Born To Run


This book is all over the place. I first heard about it through my running friend Nathan Sanel. Nate was shopping at Barnes and Nobles one night and noticed the book sitting on the wall behind the register. He asked the clerk if he could look at it, he ended up buying it and read it. Nate told me about his new enthusiasm to run, how great the book was and his new found enthusiasm for life in general. He also mentioned that the book had been discussed quite a bit on the Ultra-list. I had looked over these postings, but was now growing more and more intrigued.

So I went out to Barnes and Nobles myself one night, and Sarah bought it for me as a gift. A gift for which I am eternally grateful. I've read a few books, slowly... I even have a few books here that I keep on the coffee table. I poke through them, slowly and at my leisure. But Born To Run became the first book in my life that I couldn't put down. I was hooked from cover to cover and ended up reading the entire book in less then a week. It was the PERFECT book to read while heading into the Vermont 100 because just like Nate, it was one of the most inspirational books I've ever read.

The book tells us the stories of those Leadville 100's where the Tarahumara indians ran and showed us mere mortals what long distance running is all about. We learn about the lives of the Tarahumara, their intricacies, their predators and the keys to their very existence. The book goes on to tell us of their eating and drinking habits, their amazing ability to run mile upon mile without getting tired... just a simply amazing look at an indigenous people.

The real meat and potatoes of the book describes Author Chris McDougall's journey to find out why his foot hurt when he run. A journey that no shoe company should be too excited to read. The barefoot revolution just got a proverbial boost of energy while the running shoe companies got a shot in the foot. With Vibram Five Fingers being mentioned in the book, the prices of these barefoot running tanks have gone up.... and rightfully so. Chris does an amazing job giving us various scientific explanations of how we homo sapiens were born to run, for survival and now for pleasure, and to do so minimally.

This book is by far the most important running book of our generation. I highly recommend it to runners and non-runners alike. If anything, it brings what many see as "crazy" to being "plausible." READ IT!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

RR: 2009 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run


Chariots Of Fire - Vangelis
The above song, Chariots of Fire, echos through the damp morning air. The sun yet to rise, as runners mill about making their finally preparations towards the adventure of a lifetime. A chance to see Vermont's Charm up close and personal. To hear it, see it, smell it... it beckons to them. It calls their name. Years before, this song would be played via grand piano on the ground of Smoke Rise Farm, the old race venue. Nowadays, it blares through the speakers of a PA System at the races home known as Silver HIll Meadow, loud enough to give you chills as you walk towards the tent. Loud enough and meaningful enough that if you've been here before, you may get a little choked up. I know that this morning I was. Tears welled in my eyes and for the first time, yes, I actually was excited to be running this race.

With my lucky bib #100 secured to my shorts, I stood under the tent gnawing on a plain bagel and sipping some boost before it was time to step out into the rain. Rain that seems to be never ending this summer in New England. Over 10 inches fell in June which is more then twice the normal. So seeing rain at the starting line wasn't very surprising to say the least. Adam Wilcox seemed rather anxious to get to the starting line. While I was still half asleep, Adam was wide eyed and bushy tailed. A years worth of hard work was finally coming to a head. "What's your rush Adam? You've got 100 miles and all damn day to cover them." We laughed as I asked my brother in law Mike to hold my Bagel, I handed it off, smiled and waltzed out into the light drizzle and at the back of the pack of runners. 3, 2, 1.... We were off... in typical ultra running fashion... walking across the starting line.

Adam and I hung close as we'd talked in the weeks before the race about trying to hang together for a while. We bounded down the road and quickly found ourselves passing the slower crowd working our way up into the middle of the pack. We passed Bob Dunfey on the first trail section, which was a collection of water and sloppy mud, and I thought about Bo's goal to run Sub 22 Hours. I decided to ease off the throttle a little bit here and start to settle into the race and enjoy the ride. The further along we got, back out onto the Vermont country roads, the sun slowly began to rise and we made decent progress on our way up and down the local non-stop hills.

Adam and I picked up another runner on the way to Taftsville. It was Eric Ferland. Eric is also a resident of New Hampshire and trying his legs out at his first 100 miler. We all ran comfortably together, well actually I think Adam and Eric ran more comfortably together. I really didn't feel good running with these guys, their pace was a little more excellerated than I like in a race of this distance. I am also 100% certain that these two had trained much better then I in the weeks and months leading into the race. So, I ducked off into the woods for a bio break in the hopes that they'd get just a little ahead of me. This allowed me to take a few steps back and enjoy the race at my pace. I always keep it in my mind how important it is to run a race at my own pace and no one elses. We stopped at the aid station just down the road from Taftsville Covered bridge where I was greeted happily by Dot Helling. Dot is an ultra-running legend in these parts, having won the VT100 a few years back and serving unselfishly on the race committee. Dot helped fill my water bottles and got me on my way after a nice big hug. Always great to see Dot's smiling face, I only wish we saw it more.

Adam and Eric had headed out of the aid station just ahead of me and I slowly made my way up the road eventually catching up to them. We continued running the hard gravel roads, catching up to Michael Hall, who was also trying his luck at the 100 Mile distance. I felt like a tour guide, this being my 3rd VT100 and all, giving the guys a heads up on what lay ahead. "Some more roads and then we dump out onto some great trail sections. Once we come out of that, its only a few short road miles to the first handler station." I think the guys liked knowing what was coming up and we al took advantage of the opportunity to run together for a few miles and enjoy the conversation that made the time go by. The horses were passing us now in full swing and it was great to see their elegant beauty as they trotted down the road. Ok... honestly we wondered what the hell the white powder was that wafted through the air after a team of horses trotted by. It was NASTY!

Pretty House: Mile 21 Run Time: 5:05


As we made our way into Pretty House it was great to see all of the people lined up once again along the side of the road. Their cheers and whistles really gets your energy flowing. It pumps so much life into you. I found my crew and immediately ran over to the chair. I sat down and asked for a change of shoes. I had been wearing my Brooks Cascadia's and unfortunately, the shoe squeezes my toes too much and a blister had formed on my big toe. I decided to leave the blister alone for now, and just change shoes. I changed into my Brooks Adrenaline ASR 5's, my favorite running shoe and immediately felt better. I knew these shoes would handle the long distance and the pact gravel roads better anyway. I thanked my crew and chased Adam down the road.

Upon catching up to Adam it was apparent he might be interested in slowing it down a little bit. I think his excitement had been putting some extra kick in his step. I didn't want to hold the kid back, but I also felt part of me was keeping him safe from blowing up. We ran a little with Norm Shepard (also from NH) and took to the hills heading out of Pretty House. I really had to go to the Bathroom back at the aid station but I had all ready taken too much time in there. I had no TP, but Norm did. "Norm, you have any TP?" "Depends... how much money do you have?" Thankfully I received a few good will napkins from the guy and I began hunting for the perfect location. As we marched up the hills on this part of the course, I couldn't help but realize that there were few places to duck off to do the deed. Either it was a ridiculously steep uphill into the woods to the right, a worse downhill into the woods on the left... or not enough vegetation to hide you. I was growing desperate, starting to sweat... and then finally... PERFECT! Off I went. Of course, once I emerged from the woods, the chaffe had started...

Once I got back onto the trail I began my push to try and not only catch the guys, but to make up for lost time. The course wanders through some winding trail sections eventually treating us with one of the longer climbs and steeper downhills on the course. The fog and low clouds was still hugging tightly onto the landscape. I was now away from the group, trying to hunt them down while leap frogging with a group of bright yellow wearing Reston Runners... Jim, Jim and Tim? Poor Tim was left out on the letter "J" memo... I had been running near these guys so much earlier that I realized one of them had changed socks. He was no longer wearing Pink Flamingos, and now had on snowflakes. I surprised him when I pointed it out.. and he awarded me some extra points. And then... Vermont awarded me some points as we topped out onto Sound Of Music Hill. And as I looked around to see the killer view into New York and New Hampshire... I was disappointed to stare into nothing more then a thick bank of fog. Rats! And then, I was forced to look down as the horses had done a number on the course. Weeks and weeks of heavy rain had left the meadows soft and mushy. Put over 100 horses on it, and you've got the makings of a crater field. I still to this moment have no idea how I ran down off of sound of music without twisting or breaking an ankle. But I did, and just before the wood shed, I caught Eric and Tamara Buckley Johnson, from California. We continued running downhill towards Stage Road. Eric just ahead, Tamara and I together, she is so lovely, and I pointed out all of the Maple Sugaring hoses to her. Going from tree to tree, these tiny plastic hoses drive the Maple sap to large holding tanks. I told her she was likely to pass a few sugar houses along her 100 mile journey so keep her eyes open.

Stage Road: Mile 30 Run Time: 6:52
We ran into Stage Road and once there I found myself with Adam and Jeff Waldron. We were all frantically getting what we needed from our crews. While my crew worked on my bottles, I went over to the aid table to pick at some fruit. Adam took off first, then Jeff... and then I followed. It was finally getting hot out. I doused water on my head, and smiled... I LOVE the heat.. bring it on! Just outside of Stage Road the course turns off the pavement and you climb up Suicide Six Ski Area. The slope is insanely steep. So steep that you end up passing a few protesting horses who refuse to carry their riders much further. I started passing a few runners as well as I LOVE climbing. I caught Laurel Valley, who would catch me after the top. Jeff and I wandered on together for a short ways before we caught up to Adam. The three of us were now together and moving along rather briskly. I was comfortable though and still stubborn on taking my time. Jeff took off ahead of Adam and I while we moved through the hills together at a good pace.

My crew had switched me to my waist pack, but never gave me any drink mix to go. I was pissed. They do a good job, I even wrote down in the crew book to give me the mix to go. It was the whole reason I wanted the waist pack... but they never gave it to me. Now I was forced to ration out my energy drink from here through to 10 Bears #1... which is no short run and the heat of the day is really starting to pour it on. As we neared the next aid station, there was local jokel Drew Hawley ranting and raving us on. Talking to us about upcoming hikes in the White Mountains that at this particular point in the worlds history, we really could have given a shit about. He means well but my god... who the hell cares about hiking Owls Head while we're trying to run 100 miles. With him was Larissa Dannis who would be pacing Gillian Barbato, a 100K runner, later in the day. Adam and I ran into the aid station, he moved through quickly while I stopped to get some ice cubes in my water bottles. I knew it would not only keep my drinks cold, but as the ice melted, it would aid in keeping them full with the drink pacing I was now having to implore.

A large group of us played leap frog for quite a ways. We ran through the reservoir, filling up on ice at an unmanned aid station there, then headed down into town. The pavement on Route 4 was piping hot as we made our way to Lincoln Covered bridge. Race crews gave us a choice, run to the bridge or head through the river like the horses. I never had this choice before.. and why would I want soaked feet? I stayed on the road and baked it out. We crossed the bridge and to the aid station (8:34 Run time = 39 miles). Adam mentioned that he hadn't pissed in awhile and he was starting to get worried. I told him to dip some watermelon in salt and munch away. Not only would it help.. but the Watermelon out on the course was damn tasty. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite race foods. We left the aid station and continued on up the long and never ending hills. A few miles out of the aid station we saw a horse off in the weeds with it's rider. The rider was frantic and calling for a vet... we notified the first race vehicle we saw just a few minutes up the road. We walked and walked and walked. The heat was really turning on now.. sweat pouring off my face. Jeff and Adam always seemed to be just ahead of me. I didn't want to chase them down, I needed to remain comfortable. I talked with Tamara for awhile about beautiful Vermont, San Francisco and life. She is such an amazing woman. Friendly, strong, stubborn and full of life. Perfect words to describe any ultra-runner.

As we topped out in the meadow I had caught Adam and we started to run together again. We headed down hill and eventually into Lillians. Adam used the worlds hottest Porta Potty. I've used it in years past. It sits out in the sun. It's so hot in there that as soon as you walk in, your body breaks out into a drenching sweat to try and cool you off. Its not fun. I borrowed some petroleum from the Aid Station and rubbed it on my chaffing nipples. The damp, humid, wet conditions of the earlier morning still has me soaked. My nipples rubbed raw from my shirt, I had all ready applied balm at the start, again on the way to Stage Rd.. and now here. Was this a lost cause? The pain was starting to tell me yes. I started walking and Adam quickly followed. We ran the paved section of Route 106 together, then back into the woods, across Jenne Farm and down into 10 Bears 1. As we headed into 10 bears I told him I was going to take a bit of a break to gather myself. And he decided he was going to head on ahead. I wished him luck and now.. I was running alone.

Camp 10 Bears #1: 47 Miles Run Time: 10:25

Getting into 10 Bears the first time is a minor stepping stone in this race. If you are trying to break it down, you've done the wetter, muddier earlier sections. You've conquered some of the more challenging hills. You've completed what I think is the longest loneliest sections between handler stations and you're almost half way there. It is also the first mandatory medical check point. As I ran into the station I walked right over to the scale and got weighed. I answered two questions, My name and what I weighed in at at the start. I now weighed 156 pounds, down 2. I got the OK to continue and I went over to my crew. I got some Ibuprofen to ward off some of the pain I was experiencing. I NEVER take pain killers during a race.. and I was shocked myself that I even decided to this time. My left hamstring was screaming in pain and had been since the start. I re-injured it running the pemi-loop a few weeks before. And also, my left IT Band was letting me know that my level of training heading into the race was sub-par. Shame on me... I was feeling the tiny revolt my body was trying to conjure up... but I'm stubborn, and determined to ignore it and push on. I told the crew I'd need new shoes at Tracerbrook and socks.. my feet are soaked from some of the meadows. My pacer Steve had showed up as well, and its comforting knowing he is all ready there and ready to go when the time arises.

I headed out of 10 Bears 1 sporting a slight limp, still a tiny bit ahead of my goal times, and determined to get my third buckle. I headed out up the road and immediately started a run after cresting the first hill. I ran a few miles before negotiating Havok Hill. I know the 10 Bears loop really well having run it a few times with some of the race organizers in years previous. I really took to it systematically, concentrating on each tiny section, what was ahead and how to attack it. I ran down the hill and into Pinky's (halfway), through the graveyard, across 106 again, Up the long driveway and back into the trails. The trails were soaked, muddy and home to plenty of ponding. Large soaking mud holes had formed and it was a trick to run around. I had caught back up to Jeff, he wasn't talking much. Neither was Joe Laskey as I passed him. Only Norm Shepard seemed to look well. We ran into Birmingham's where I munched on more fruit and enjoyed the music. Jeff caught up and we left together. Jeff had been having a rough day. First it was his hamstrings, then he didn't feel good. Then he had a shin splint going on, and it appeared as though he may have been over heating. The kid lets things get to him way too quickly, and I think mentally.. in this game,... he may just be a little weak. He mumbled his pains to me at a million miles a minute. I had no idea what he was saying but before you knew it he was gone. Across the meadow, back on the trails and down the long driveway. We ran down the road... down down down.. and finally into Tracer Brook.

Tracer Brook: 57 Miles Run Time: 12:42

I ran into Tracer Brook and picked some fruit off of the Aid station table. As I ran in, Jeff was running out. As I sat down in my chair I noticed a sign, "Mile 957 John!" Yes... this was my 10th 100 mile (or more) run... and the crew was counting UP the miles for me. Except they were wrong... I had run 125 miles Across NH in October.. they were 25 miles off. It was really 982 at this point in 100 mile runs... but I'll take the encouragement. hehe. So when I'm not being a pain in the ass, I'm sitting in my chair at the aid station and popping a blister. The one on my right big toe was big enough now that the pressure was really starting to takes its toll on my stride. Sarah gave me a lancet and I carefully poked 3 holes into my skin. I squeezed the serum out then put a fresh sock on. I put on a new pair of shoes, laced em up and got ready to go. On my left foot, painful blisters on my big toe and two of my smaller toes that I dared not touch. Simply washed my feet, new socks and lets go. I told Jeff's crew that I didn't think he'd been eating enough and they concurred. Hopefully the kid was sustaining his energy, but I knew otherwise. His lack of eating was causing him to dive deeper into his brain, and I could see the struggle as he carried on.

I took off headed for Margaritaville. From Tracer to the Margarita Paradise is the longest most exposed hill on the course. Prospect Hill is slow and hot. As I climbed up the road I saw a runner staggering around. He stopped and bent over forward. As I approached I told him that if he was going to puke he should just do it. He glazed over at me and said, "I'm dehydrated." I looked and the guy was out of water. Wtf? Tracer brook was just behind us, how could he be out of water all ready. I gave him some hope in knowing that there was a unmanned station at the top of the hill. He once again had reason to push forward. Even Tamara was walking slowly up the hill, I encouraged her to stop and enjoy the view towards the South and West, which is by far one of the more spectacular views on the course. I crested the hill, got some water myself and took off running for Margaritaville which I knew wasn't far away. As I got close to the station, I saw Andy Hawley again, he talked to me about hiking (rolling my eyes) and I left him in the dust as I headed up the final hill to the aid station.

Margaritaville: 62 Miles Run Time: 14:06


As I ran into the aid station I had one thing on my mind... Solid Food. It is definitely dinner time and all I was craving was a cheeseburger in paradise. Thank god they had a few served up on a rather large platter. With the music playing Jimmy Buffett, I looked around and noticed that the amount of crews present as aid stations was starting to get smaller and smaller. It was eerily quiet actually. I watched as Jeff took off ahead of me, Adam and Eric were no where in sight. Neither was Michael Hall... or Nathan Sanel for that matter. I was chasing everyone... or was I? As I stood in the road and lathered my nether regions with a good glob of Bag Balm, I smiled happily at my crew and told them I'd see 'em at 10 Bears #2. I took off down the road and soon chased down Jeff... I didn't actually "chase" him but I caught him.. because he was walking. Now Jeff was adding an achilles injury to his list of quandaries during the race. As I came up behind him, he looked back, saw me and started shaking his head. His eyes were a bit welled up, crackle in his voice... he was now really struggling and thinking about his race being over. "I can't run anything dude." "But you're walking right?" "Yeah.. but barely.." "Barely nothing... you're walking. If you can continue waling you can continue moving forward... keep going. No quitting.. it'll go away."

I thought about my own issues as I left Jeff behind me. I wandered in and out of Browns School house very quickly after just a quick fill up of water and some more fruit. My IT Band was killing me and had locked up on a few downhills. My hamstrings were screaming in pain so bad that from time to time, the wind was knocked out of me. The blisters on my feet were growing closer to a stage of not being manageable... but none of this mattered. It's expected. I'm running 100 friggin' miles.. it's not supposed to feel good, so as I rumble down the roads and trails of Vermont, I resolve to myself to embrace the pain and use it as fuel.. fuel to get me to that finish line. As I rounded the final downhills and turns and headed towards 10 Bears #2, I was running beside AJ Johnson. As AJ spoke his words were geared towards NOT being able to make it to the Sub 24 hour cut off. I stopped him mid sentence and told him... "if you can make it to West Winds before Dark, you've still got a chance." He had worries about his virgin pacer, the night, the pains, slowing down.. but with a few more words of course knowledge and encouragement, AJ and I ran into 10 Bears together. I wished him good luck and I'd never see him again. (He did make it.. 23:25)

It had been a weird day thus far, and now the race was about to change. For most of the day I'd been fighting the urge to run ahead, to speed up and to chase people down. I didn't care too much for who was ahead of me or who was behind me. My goals were not on catching people, or picking up the pace.. my goal was to maintain and finish in under 24 hours. So far, everything was running smoothly. Surprisingly with what seemed like a higher level of negativity then normal. Most people I had run into felt like giving up, counting off reason while they'll never make it in time.. and then the thoughts started to sink into my head. Am I undertrained? Were a few of those naysayers right?? Right in saying I'd never get the sub 24 this year with the training I've done. My friend Adam had a good answer for me when he reminded me that I'd all ready run two 100 milers this year and finished Pittsfield Peaks on 7 minutes slower then the year before. Were all my days in the mountains going to pay off... or make me pay? Time was here and time was going to tell. 10 Bears #2 to the end is the last 70 miles... this is when the race finally starts.

Camp 10 Bears #2: 70 Miles Run Time: 15:47

As I got into 10 Bears I weighed in and answered some more quick questions. I stumbled off the scale and felt a bit light headed. As I re-focused my eyes, I noticed Dr. Renaldy was checking me out. Damn,... I better think of something. I stuck my hand out and shook his "I'm still sweating like a pig doc... pissin' too." He told me that that was good and that I looked great. Little did he know I was a bit light headed and really felt like I was over heating. The temp of the day was starting to cool and here I was feeling like I'd just run through a damn furnace. My skin was red, face flushed, I was dying. I needed ice water, food and a seat. I weighed in at 157.. still one pound under but doing great. I sat in my chair and changed me shoes one last time. Mike Silverman gave me one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich. Toasted bread, melted swiss and a slathering of honey mustard. Thanks Mike! After a quick breather in my chair and my crew telling me I was ahead of last year by an hour, I took a slightly longer rest before taking to the course. I had a pacer now, Steve VanOrden and the race was about to begin.

Steve is the consummate gentleman. And when I say gentleman.. I mean... Gentle Man. While shopping for new running shoes one day in the EMS I worked in, I made a new friend and sparked the imagination of a man who struggled to run half marathons. Inviting him to slow down and hit the trails, Steve took it upon himself along with my advice and trained for his first 50K in just a few short months. Steve finished that 50K and in an excellent time. A month later after not having run much in between.. Steve ran the last 25 miles of the Run Across NH with me on a whim. He trained all winter, flew to his home town in Oregon and ran the MacDonald Forest 50K there in May. Steve is no longer a struggling gentle giant of the half marry circuit. Steve is becoming quite the ultra-runner. He is positive, courageous, thoughtful, insightful.. and motivating. He would become the perfect pacer for this year.. and exactly what I needed.

We headed off down the road and took back to the trail leading out of 10 Bears. We climbed what I call Bitch Ditch... a steep and never ending climb up a drainage trench. Steve walked beside of behind me, never pushing me and allowing me to make my own pace. I struggled up that climb as my hamstrings tore, ripped and screamed. I trudged along, breathing heavily and still feeling like I was over heating. After the climb, we wandered through some expensive farm properties, down more gravel roads and I was surprised to see that for the first time in 3 years, the house party that is usually taking place here wasn't this time around. No loud music, no happy voices, no clanging bottles... just silence, a light breeze and a setting sun. We turned onto the singletrack section and I struggled to run. My IT Band hated the downhill sections.. I felt like I was losing a battle with my body... but I was still moving forward... I was never nervous, never had a sense of urgency to push.. I was just running and enjoying the run.

"You still having ass problems SJ?!" Mike Frank from Maryland had caught me and was passing on by. He joked with us a bit about my usual chaffe problems, my struggle at this years MMT, my disgusting looking feet... and of course my report which included the now infamous SUCK BOY from the 2008 MMT 100. Mike really helped me keep my spirits high and my legs moving for a bit.. and for hours after this moment in time, I would continue to chuckle my way through the woods. Thanks Mike! Steve got a good chuckle himself because he'd heard my stories in the past.. but he'd never heard another soul mention them until now. It brought life to bits of folk lore. We ran into Seabrook where I grabbed a Mountain Dew and a quick cup of soup. I stood there and drank both and then continued on telling Steve to catch up once he was squared away. My deteriorating condition had caused us to take way too much time getting this far and I knew it. We marched down the road and I caught Laurel Valley who I'd be leap frogging all day with. She smiled, "you again!?" and we entered my favorite place on the course together. My favorite place is a meadow that we enter just as the sun is setting. The sky is turning into its darker colors, all you smell is the scent of the growing grass/hay. The light wind blows, the leaves rustle and the tops of the blades or grass wave to and fro. The hill sides are turning into shadows of a day gone by now... and all you can smell is the dew reappearing after a long days heat. We re-entered the darkened woods and I pushed to get to West Winds without needing the head lamp. We came out on the road, went up the driveway and there we were... West Winds before dark...

West Winds: 77 Miles Run Time: 17:50

I asked my crew for a check on the time and my brother in law Mike told me that I was there at the same time I was there last year. My hour lead was gone and a sense of urgency had arrived. I wanted my 3rd buckle.. and now I knew I was going to need to dig for it. "Well... I guess I'm just gonna have to run a little more thats all..." I grabbed some more soup, refilled on gels and boost. Got my bottle ready and grabbed my handheld flashlight. Steve was ready quickly as well, we thanked the crew and we were once again off down the trail. For as close to the cut off as I knew we were going to be, I still felt rather relaxed. Telling myself not to worry.. just keep moving and you'll make it. No worries... I never pushed myself exceptionally hard... I just started to run a little more...

We saw a line of headlamps up above.. and when we got up above we saw a line of them down below. From West Winds to Bills is brutal. It's broken up into two 4 mile sections that are the longest 4 mile sections of your life. The hills are frequent and relentless. You have to work hard to get anywhere and any time you get into a groove and start to run... a hill quickly breaks you out of rhythm and sets you back to square one. This section becomes a real test, its what separates those who want it bad.. and those who only want it. We ended up running into a runner from Nova Scotia named Dave. His pacer was a drill sergeant. His pacer was consistently 50-60 yards ahead and running like a bolt of lightning, stopping only long enough to yell for Dave to get going and catch up to him. Dave moaned and groaned behind him, every once in a while kicking it in to catch up and maintain a pace for awhile.. only to stop and ask to catch his breath. The dude was struggling, his pacer didn't care, "come on.. lets go." We went back and forth with Dave and his pacer for a while to the point where his pacer was even trying to get us going. Steve and I would simply end up looking at each other, smiling and doing our own thing. Every once in a while, without saying a thing, I file in behind Steve and he'd automatically pick up the pace. We put together some great long stretches of running, uncomfortable running... running that hurt but it was better to run then walk. We were making great progress, past cow shed and finally to the hill before Bills. We climbed and climbed and climbed... and then, in the still of the night appeared a light in a far off field. We were there.

Bills Barn: 88 Miles Run Time: 20:59
I ran into the aid station and gave my crew my bottles. I told them NOT to touch me as I didn't want the aid station crew to see my needing any kind of assistance. The medical staff here are historically notorious for being a bit over the top with heeding caution to the runners. Last year they sat me for 10 minutes when there was nothing wrong with me and when I asked repeatedly for a reason as to why I was being stopped... no one gave me one. I stood on the scale and weighed in at EVEN 158. I was psyched, got off the scaled, grabbed food and left the barn before anyone else had the chance to give me a look over. I went to my crew, got my bottles and told them we'd see them at Polly's. Steve and I left Bill's painfully and slowly... but headed in the right direction.

Its night time.. its dark, quiet and lonely. Just me and my pacer. It's getting late and I'm getting tired. The glow of my headlamp is hypnotizing. My hand held can only do so much. I can't handle conversation, so things remain quiet as we push on. Every now and then I file in behind Steve and let him dictate the pace. He's doing a fine job as we stroll along. We hear various sounds from the woods. Bull frogs, peepers, crickets, owls, some weird shrilling screech... fire flies flicker about and Bats swoop down to snag the moths aiming for our lights. Somewhere in the process we lost Dave and his pacer... and I start to fall asleep. I feel my head drooping. I weave from left to right on the trail. Steve tries talking to me to keep me awake, and even though I can hear him, I'm not translating what he's saying... I'm really struggling... and then.. John Holt and his runner plus a few more catch us and ask us how we're doing.. "I'm sleeping." John asked me if I wanted a 5 hour energy shot. "They taste nasty but they might work." I said sure and I wait for him to hand one over as his pacer says, "oh sure.. hand it out to the competition." I muster up a tired smile, get the bottle and chug the nasty elixir as fast as I can. Its the most disgusting drink ever and burns my throat as is oozes down... "YUCK!" I remember thinking how it better work... as we began to boogie again.

Pollys: 95 Miles Run Time: 22:03
We stroll into Polly's at a slow clip as I'm finally starting to come to. I tell Steve we need to be in and out of here... he needed to stop to refill his bottles. I grumble but resign to wait. I say hi to the crew and walk right to the station table for fruit and junk. They fix Steve up, I wave thanks and we leave... Sarah yells "Good luck John!! You're gonna do it!" Damn right I'm going to do it.. I didn't come here to NOT do it. Despite being undertrained, I was listening to Adam and banking on my experience. The fact that this WAS indeed my 10th run of 100 miles or more since I started running them in April 2007, this WAS in fact my 3rd Vermont 100 and this was in fact... why I do this stuff. And then, that energy drink hit me.. it works all right. It felt like I had drank a bottle of shwartz or whatever gas it is that Barf throws into the winnebago in Spaceballs The Movie. I was going for it.. and Steve... Steve was now being dragged along. I started to put a little kick in my step knowing that most of the next 3 miles are down hill or flat. We cruised into the final aid station where I asked Steve for a check on the time of day. He told me... things were close.. but I knew I could do it. I put my head down and dug deep... we started climbing the hills as we took on the last 2 miles. We started passing a few runners, we hit the last road section and I passed a few more, "Turn right up here and then left is the last climb..." we do as I say.. into the final climb past the sign that says "1 mile to go!" I ease off a bit to save a little for the final push, we hit the top and re-enter the woods and the single track. We pass Dave Humphreys, "Where you been Sherpa?!" "Sleepin... no really!" He laughs as he just got "sherpa-d" and we pick it up a little more.

I thanked Steve for helping me and for coming up to Vermont. We passed a few more runners.. in fact in the last two miles we managed to pass 10-15 runners and their pacers. It felt so good. I spotted the glowing milk jugs and two runners ahead. I would later learn it was Chrissy Ferguson and her pacer. I turned to Steve, "The finish is just ahead, let ease off and let those guys enjoy their moment.. and then we'll head in." We slowed to a slow trot and listened for their moment. They crossed the cheers went off and then we picked it up again. Down the final hill, someone asked for my number and I yelled back, "Number ONE HUNDRED!!!!" The cheers went off as we ran towards the finish line and that illuminated Finish Line Sign. All I could do was smile and laugh, I had had so much fun. Just as comfortable as I had run most of the day, I cruised across the finish line and jumped into the air clicking my heels. As I landed back on earth.. I kept laughing and thanked my pacer and crew for their work... We did it... WE DID IT! Bib #100, for the third year in a row finished the Vermont 100 in under 24 hours! I couldn't be more proud. As much as I know that these events are physical, I knew that my mental training would over come.. and it did. It wasn't about who I beat, who I didn't beat.. it was about the journey... the amazing journey through Vermont's Hills. I cannot wait for #4.



Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
173 Finishers 249 Starters (260 Registered)
69% Finishers Rate

Sherpa John Lacroix
23 Hours 27 Minutes (2nd Fastest 100 Mile Time)
66th place out of 173
10th of 16 in Age Division (M 20-29)
3rd Consecutive Sub 24 Hour VT100 3 for 3
10th 100 Mile Run

Congrats to ALL of the runners out there:
Adam Wilcox for finishing his first ever 100 miler. You are one strong kid and you deserve to have done as well as you did. Congrats Bud.
Nathan Sanel.. wow Man.. Jack Pilla is a great coach and you are every bit as dedicated a runner as you needed to be. So proud of you for achieving your goal and rockin out a sub 21 hour time.. Awesome Nate!
And to those who did not finish.. kudos to you for even getting to the starting line. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication both physically and mentally. There is ALWAYS next year.. and just remember.. though many say it's one of the easiest 100's, it sure as hell 'aint easy.
(Pictures Courtesy of Sarah Chretien and Miriam Wilcox

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

VT100 Interview: Adam Wilcox

21st Annual Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
July 18-19, 2009
Woodstock, VT
-----------------------------------

Name: Adam Wilcox
Age: 27
Residence: Candia, NH
Birthplace: Concord, NH
Occupation: Mechanical Engineer
Years Running: 3
Running and Other Accomplishments: 8 ultramarathons since I started this crazy business in May of 2008.
Hobbies: Rock & ice climbing, hiking, motorcycles, cars.

SJ: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Adam about yourself and the upcoming Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run.
AW: You're welcome. Glad to be here, John.

SJ: Tell us a little bit about how you became an ultra-runner.
AW: For me, ultrarunning was a natural step up from hiking. In the White Mountains, I worked my way up to 30 mile day hikes within a few years. Seeking a way to get some exercise during the work week, I began running around the neighborhood as a way to improve my speed and endurance in the mountains. It took me a few years to be able to run more than a few miles at a time, but it came to me eventually. In April of last year I ran my first race, a 20 miler, and had a great time. 3 weeks later, I managed to convince myself that a 50K isn't THAT much farther than 20 miles, and I managed to complete my first ultra. 3 weeks after that I was doing my first 50 miler, because 50 miles isn't THAT much farther than 50K, is it?

SJ: How have your hiking experiences played a role in your training for ultras and the 100?
AW: Hiking experience has been crucial. Hiking gave me the drive to go just a little bit farther every time I went out, to get early starts and commit to visiting just one more peak before heading for the car. In the mountains I learned how to stay on my feet for 12+ hours at a time, and to just keep moving steadily onward.

SJ: What was your progression through the different race distances, did you run a marathon before an ultra?
Aw: I have still never run an official marathon. My first race was the Eastern States 20 Miler, an event I still enjoy, and within 6 weeks of that first race I had completed my first 50 miler. I'm thinking I might do my first 5K in August, just to see what it's like.

SJ: How has the sport of ultra-running treated you to this point?
AW: Ultrarunning has treated me quite well. I've made close friends and managed things I never thought possible. The day after an ultra, I feel like I can handle anything that gets thrown at me in life, which has helped me pull through some tough times. Just one step at a time.

SJ: How long do you see yourself participating in ultra-running?
AW: I'm not sure. Right now my focus had been on Vermont as my first 100. Afterwards, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I can tell you that if I don't buckle, I'll have a score to settle for the next year.

SJ: Do you have a favorite race to this point?
AW: That's a tough one. I'd have to say the Vermont 50, followed closely by Pineland Farms.

SJ: What is the toughest Ultra you've completed?
AW: Pittsfield Peaks can always be counted on for a tough race. Not only is it the longest I've done so far, 53 miles, but it's also had the most elevation gain and the toughest terrain. I seem to remember something about carrying a boulder at the end of the last one, but it's a little hazy.

SJ: So tell us a little about your Vermont 100 Run... when and why did you decide to take on the 100 Mile Distance and in Vermont?
AW: After pacing at last years' race, and getting to see Nate Sanel really fight to get in under 24 hours, I couldn't wait for my turn. I remember being at the start and seeing everyone head off into the night, I wanted to go with them. When I finished the Vermont 50, I looked inside and asked myself if I could turn around and do the course again. The answer was yes. I signed up for the Vermont 100 a few weeks later on the day registration opened. I've thought about this race every single day for the last year.

SJ: Supposing you are nervous.. what are you nervous about the most?
AW: I have some general anxiety, but I know that I've done everything I can do to prepare. Beyond that, it's out of my control, so I might as well just enjoy myself.

SJ: What previous running experiences will you take with you through to the finish line?
AW: Every step of every race and training run for the last 365 days has been an experience that I'll take with me to this years' finish line.

SJ: Buckle or Plaque?
AW: Buckle or bust!

SJ: Do you have a time goal or ANY goals for that matter?
AW: While I would be happy to simply finish, 24 hours is the real goal.

SJ: Who is your pacer and who is your crew?
AW: My father and lovely wife will be crewing me this year. They've helped me out at previous races and I've been impressed with their dedication. My pacer will be a friend from my climbing life, Keith. He's talented triathlete with some interest in ultras as well. I've trusted him with my life while ice climbing and I'm sure he'll be a huge asset to me late in the game. I know I can count on them all.

SJ: What is your overall race strategy?
AW: I'm going to try to run a steady race and conserve my energy early on. I'm told the real race starts at mile 70, so my goal is to put myself in a good position there. I want to have a little time in the bank AND still have gas left.

SJ: What are you excited about the most?
AW: I'm just excited to see whether I have it in me.

SJ: Will you be camping or staying in a local hotel or Inn?
AW: I'll be staying in my tent at Silver Hill Meadow, where the race starts and finishes. I don't mind sleeping on the ground at all, and I think the commotion on race morning will prevent me from oversleeping.

SJ: Any other 100 Milers that interest you?
AW: I'll cross that bridge after I've recovered from Vermont. Some of the mountain 100s out west catch my interest, as well as Massanutten and possibly Rocky Raccoon.

Adam we wish you the very best of luck this weekend and hope your training and ambitions find you at the finish line in under 24 hours. GOOD LUCK!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

VT100 Interview: Joe Laskey

21st Annual Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
July 18-19, 2009
Woodstock, VT

-----------------------------------

Name: Joseph Laskey
Age: 44
Residence: Monroe, CT
Birthplace: England
Occupation: Accountant
Years Running: Marathons: 14 years Ultras: 6 years
Running and Other Accomplishments: Winner 2007 Lake Waramaug 100k, Won the 2007 Roxbury Marathon

SJ: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Joe about this weekends race. Tell us a little bit about how you became an ultra-runner?
JL: I was trained to run a PR marathon at Boston 2003, It was hot, I didn't have a fast race and decided to try something different. The I found the Vermont 50 in Sept 2003 (yes the rain year!). I finished 19th out of 98 people and had never run more than 30 miles before the race. I was hooked !!!

SJ: How many times have you run the Vermont 100? And what were your years/times?
JL: Four Time; 2004 - 22:18, 2006- 24:15, 2007 - 23:28, 2008 - 23:19

SJ: Of those finishes, which was your favorite?
JL: 2004 just because it was my first 100

SJ: What other 100's have you run?
Western States 2007, Wastach 2007

SJ: You had a little bit of disappointment last month at the WS100, can you tell us what happened?
JL: I ran the first 70 miles of The Keys100 and had hydration issues 6 weeks before WS. The cold New England June didn't help prepare me for the Canyons and the 100 degree heat. I was part of the sodium study and my reading was 178 at Robinson Flat, it was a struggle to make cutoffs after that.

SJ: What do you think makes Vermont unique from other 100 milers?
JL: The Green Mountains!

SJ: What are the keys to success at the Vermont 100?
JL: Patience.

SJ: Any advice for the first timers joining us at Silver Hill Meadow?
JL: Drink and eat Early. Run within yourself and walk through the bad patches.

SJ: Buckle or Plaque?
JL: Buckle

SJ: Do you have a time goal or ANY goals for that matter?
JL: 23- 23:59 :)

SJ: Who is your pacer and who is your crew?
JL: No pacer, my wife and kids crew.

SJ: What is your overall race strategy?
JL: Drink and drink !

SJ: What are you excited about the most?
JL: Seeing friends old and new!

SJ: Lastly, One word to describe the VT100.
JL: Hometown Race ... ok two words :)

Thanks Joe and Good Luck!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

NEW RECORD!

On Thursday, July 9th, 2009; Al Bernier, Adam Wilcox and myself parked at the base of the Gunstock Mountain Ski Area and set off on a wonderful adventure in The Lakes Region of New Hampshire's Belknap Range. Back in November 2007, myself, Al, Dave Dunham and Kevin Tilton set the bar at 8 hours for the peaks comprising the Belknap Range Peak-bagging List. I've wanted to return for some time and challenge our own record and today was finally the day.

There was no time for pictures on Thursday, but we did take a little time to harass a porqupine. I'm not going to write a long drawn out report about the adventure because I know that the time we set on Thursday could easily be broken by more talented runners. The trick is figuring out how to tackle the peaks in the range in a way that saves you time and has you finish the mission reasonably fast. Our time and the new standard for the Belknap Range its at 6 Hours and 35 Minutes for the following Peaks: Rowe, Gunstock, Belknap, Anna, Mac, Whiteface, Piper, Straightback, West Quarry, Major and Klem.

For pictures of the range, I would like to invite you to view Michael Halls report from a month or so ago as he spent a day in the range. His recap of the adventure there is well worth the read. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tradition For The 4th

For the 17th year in a row, I carried an American Flag and took to the rocky slopes of the Northeast's Highest Peak, Mount Washington (6,288'), to celebrate the 4th of July Weekend. After spending 12 hours on the mountain, I sadly never made it to the summit for only the second time in the years carrying on the tradition. What lead to the failure to summit was a series of blunders, poor decisions, bad weather and a one of a kind adventure through a seldom travelled place. This is the story of our Raymond Cataract Adventure...
---------------------------------
When: July 5, 2009
Where: Mount Washington
Miles: 6.5
Time: 12 Hours

---------------------------------
In all the years that I've been hiking in New Hampshire, in all the times that I've taken to the mountains in the area of Pinkham Notch, one visible feature always stood out to me. ON the slopes of Mount Washington, right in between Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines, is a large series of waterfalls. The Cutler River flows from the high plateau of the Alpine Garden and tumbles down the mountain towards the Ellis River. This waterfall is best seen from the slopes of Wildcat Ski Area, and is visible at times while ascending the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It is known as the Raymond Cataract, and my curiosity of its grandeur had finally got the best of me. I've taken many ways to the top of Mount Washington and this year called for a change. The options were to either ascend via Nelson Crag Trail or via The Raymond Cataract. I left the choice up to Sarah, telling her that I didn't think the trip up the Cataract would be too bad. She reluctantly agreed to travel to the Cataract and so it was..
(Picture of the Cataract [Center} May 2007)

I set my alarm for 4:30 am to much of Sarah's disapproval. I then re-set it to 5am... and when it went off at 5, the snooze button got quite the work-out. I eventually shut the alarm off and we both fell back to sleep, waking at 6:30 and hurriedly stepping out the door and heading north. I mentioned to Sarah that it was very likely that we were now going to have a rather late day, but of course we'd have to see how things played out. When we got out of the car at The AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitors Center the wind whipped through the parking lot. There was a slight chill in the air and the mountain was completely obscured by clouds. We stepping inside the center and filled out the trail register in the event of an emergency. And as we started hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine trail I was quick to realize two big mistakes. I never packed a compass and I left the description for what we were about to tackle back in the car. The description was another mistake. After some online research I found a copy of the 1969 AMC White Mountain Guide which had a rather vague description of the then over grown Raymond Cataract Route. It's been 40 years since that description was written and it was the last description to grace the pages of "The Bible" and even then the route was described as overgrown.
(The Description)

So with no description, no compass and the bare essentials, Sarah and I continued hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The sun was finally out and it is a god send. 30 of the last 40 days have been rain here in New Hampshire, so any chance to play in the sun is an opportunity to be taken advantage of. We soon came to an unmarked trail junction where a fire road heads north towards Huntingtons. We decided to take advantage of the possibility of a short cut and headed down the fire road. The ground through here was overgrown, moss covered and absolutely saturated. We passed over the Raymond Path and immediately we came to a first aid box just before the cutler River and to the left was a trail I had never seen before. We travelled a few feet up the path and saw a sign hanging from the trees explaining that the Lions Head winter route was currently closed for the season. We decided since we were virtually right next to our river, that we should enter the woods here and begin our bushwhack.
(The Fire Road)

(Lions Head Winter Route)

About 30 yards into the woods I looked to the left and spotted something on the ground. I wandered over and picked up a leki hiking pole. This was an odd place to find such a thing but considering our close proximity to the Lions Head route, I was not that surprised. I handed the pole to Sarah as we proceeded to carry it with us with the intent of adding it to our collection of poles. After climbing a few hundred feet along side the river, I glanced across the river and spotted something else. I crossed the river to investigate and what I found was an old down sleeping bag which had obviously been washed down from up stream. What was mysterious to us is that where we were, and what we saw from here on up, gave us no indication that there is any suitable place for camping making this sleeping bag slightly out of place. A few more hundred feet up the trail and Sarah yelled, "A BONE!" "A What?!" "A Bone!" I walked over and we quickly ruled out the possibility of it being a scapula and identified it correctly as a moose antler. We joked about our findings and wondered what the next thing we would find would be. Sarah guessed a Boot and my guess was the body of a missing hiker who has been missing since June 9th. But trust me... We were NOT looking very hard for that.

We continued our bushwhack up the mountain which was going ever so slowly. It wasn't a terrible whack but things were definitely starting to get thicker the higher up we went. From time to time we would follow along small herd paths which had been travelled by animals, We spotted a few old boot prints from other hikers (surprisingly), yet no sign of the remnants of an old trail of any sort. In my naivety I thought for sure we'd find the old trail and be able to follow it... not so after 40 years of dormancy. We came to a spot which was a little bit open and warranted a break. We'd left the fire road some 2 hours ago at this point and I could heard the roar of cascading water. I told Sarah I was going to head left and check out the waterfall and I'd be back. I carefully whacked over to the tight drainage and lowered myself cautiously the rocks below. Here I was, after so many years finally face to face with this magnificent waterfall. I stopped for a bio break, took some photos and even spent some time to set up my tripod for a few snaps. While I was gone, Sarah started to freak out at my length of absence and she started blowing her whistle and calling my name. Never once had I heard her as I was all smiles in the water. I took my shoes and socks off and waded in to the other side and felt the mist falling across my face. The sun shone brightly above and this had truly become a place of pure ecstasy.
(Sherpa and the Cataract)

(close up)

(View across the Valley from The first fall)

I made my way back to Sarah at which point I was mildly scolded for the time I had taken over there, it must have been a half hour or so so the scolding was well deserved. We continued up the slopes of the mountain as it grew ever steeper the further along we seemed to go. Trying to bushwhack our way through thicker and thicker trees and spruce, it was no picnic and getting worse. The worst parts were where a random ledge would appear before us and trying to find a suitable way around it was a chore. We still made decent time ascending the slope but started to wonder if we had gone up the right drainage. Was this truly the waterfall I've been looking for? In the description it mentions a part of the waterfall where the trail actually travels BEHIND the falling water. This is what I wanted to see, this is what peaked my curiosity, I had to find it.. I needed to wet my soul and dare to explore further. The forest grew thicker and thicker, it was getting tougher to find a route through the trees and we were using our entire bodies to push, pull, crawl and almost cry our way up the mountain.
(Sarah trying to find a way up through the thick brush)

And then the sound of the rushing water grew louder again. I told Sarah I wanted to travel left again and check out the river. I pushed through the brush and emerged at a rocky opening some 30 feet above the flowing water. Like a true explorer seeing someone so magnificent for the first time that it takes your breath away, I had found it. It could have been the fountain of youth for me when I saw it and I called Sarah to come over. I travelled back through the trees and found her then led her to what I found. We both stood on the cliff side and gazed out over the small open expanse, as the water came roaring off the top and pounded down on the rocks below. The fall has to have been 130 feet high, with all the rain we've had the foaming water was a magnificent sight. High winds blew the misty air abound and I told Sarah I was going down for a closer look. And as I looked closer, I saw it, As the water cascaded down the mountain, you could see where the trail had once travelled BEHIND the waterfall. I had made it, this is what I had come looking for and it was a truly fulfilling moment in my life. I went to the bottom of the falls and took a few photos of its magnificence. I took a photo of the water cascading further down with the valley out in the distance. This place was magical indeed and one of the true hidden spectacles left in New Hampshires Mountains. I crossed the river and scrambled up the side of the river grasping tightly onto moss, curious over grown weeds and by pulling on spruce roots. Before I knew it, I was on the far side of the river, staring right into the small space behind the waterfall. To think that this was once the route over 40 years ago, not knowing how many people have been here since.. I knew I needed to seize the moment. Sarah told me she didn't want me going behind the waterfall... but this is why I had come here. I ignored her and carefully made my way behind the fall. The water rushed beside me, a cold wind blew the mist back in and I was awe struck. The space got smaller and smaller until I had no choice but to step in the water and crawl under getting soaked in the process. It was beyond cold but I had done it.. I made it through... and I loved it.
(The Highest Fall)

(The water continues on)

(The Fall - High Sarah!)

(Rushing Water)

(I'm Going in!)

(Sarah Stays Safe)

From here our entire day changed. What was a relatively harmless bushwhack turned into all out mayhem. Having forgotten the description now wrecked havoc on us. No compass made it even worse. I thought I had found a clearing off to the right so Sarah and I scrambled up along side the waterfall and then headed for it. When we got there it was nothing more then another moss covered, saturated river bed. We simply turned to head uphill. The brush got so thick that it was tiring to move aside. We couldn't see our feet, we couldn't see anything. Nothing left, right, forward but only occasionally back could we see subtle views of mountains rising above around us. Our legs and arms were getting scratched to hell and it was slow and torturous. At one point we found some more interesting items in the woods. This time it was silver shiny fabric that was just laying on the ground after having been torn off the pants of some wary hiker. It was definitely some kind of insulant and not very old. We finally emerged after a few hours in a small area of low lying krumholz. We made quick work of walking through this area. As we hiked along I had told Sarah that I thought we were drifting too far right all this time. After emerging into the opening and glancing down at the view, we had indeed drifted too far to the right and we were only making things worse for ourselves.
(Sarah Emerges from the scrub)

(How ya doin Sarah?-Movie)
video
(Sarah's In The Scrub)

After the short open area, we quickly realized that we were once again heading into the trees. Things had all ready been tough on us up to this point with a few touchy moments where our exhaustion and emotions were getting the very best of us. I was really feeling guilty for dragging Sarah up this route. Sarah is not one for bushwhacking to begin with and if I knew things were going to be this bad, I would have never taken her up here. She was tired, freaking out, falling, stumbling... you name it... just having a horrible time and it was all my doing. She lost her nalgene at one point and at some point not far after.. she lost her sanity. I did my best to stay calm myself but after a while I even began to lose it. It felt like we weren't making any progress and I knew we had continued to drift to the right. I was beyond frustrated and the scrub was now so thick and in places it was nearly impossible to push through. I started to tear up and even hyperventilated a bit in not knowing if we would make it off the mountain before dark. It was pretty evident around 3:30 that we wouldn't be making the summit today, it was now 5 pm. The sun had slipped behind the ominous clouds that shrouded the summit and the winds continued to increase as the temperatures dropped. A lot of people question how someone could die on this mountain, and after today I'll never question it again. Because death is a very real possibility up here, and for a short time I thought we would be facing the possibility. We soon came up to yet another piece of junk. A HUGE section of sheet metal had blown off of the summit and had rested here. I picked it up and started thinking about how we could use it to build a shelter if needed. Sarah asked, Why don;t we just go back down? Or Left? I stopped to think about it and knew the best route was still up with the Alpine Garden now finally within our sights. If we could make it there, we could walk to the Auto-road or descend via Lions Head. The plans were running through my head as we continued to do the only thing we could do... PUSH UP. It was frustrating, aggravating, scary and insane.
(The Sheet Metal Shelter?)

(Taking in the view)

After countless hours of what seemed like no movement we finally emerged from the thick scrub and out into the reaches of the Alpine Garden. We stopped to put on warmers clothes. Pants, jackets, winter hats and gloves. The wind whipped across the landscape at around 40 mph. Peak gusts were approaching hurricane force (75 mph) at various points throughout the day. The clouds loomed dark over head as they encased the summit cone. We had emerged near to Huntington Ravine affirming that we had indeed gone WAY too far to the right. We now rock hopped our way across the Alpine Garden until we reached the Alpine Garden trail at around 6:30pm. It had taken us 7 1/2 hours to travel ONE MILE. We sat down on the trail and took in a deep breath. A hiker came by all bundled up and he asked us if we were ok. We were now, as we were happy to finally be on a trail. As I looked up at the summit cone I was disappointed that I wouldn't be sumitted today and for only the second time on the 4th of July Weekend in 17 years, The other time was a torrential rainy day in 1994. Sarah and I decided to take Old Glory out anyway and to at least cary out the tradition of letting her unfurl in the wind and taking some time to remember America's spirit.
(Let Freedom Ring)


After our break, we started to wander down across the Alpine Garden Trail towards Lions Head, our descent route which we hoped to finish just before dark. We found the headwaters of the Cutler River we gave us the gorgeous waterfalls earlier in the day. We stopped to appreciate where it all begins before heading on. What sunlight did peak through the clouds offered unique reflections in the water on the trail. The cairns marked our way and we soon found ourselves descending Lions head. We stopped for more photos and created a "weather video" for you to see how the wind was up high all the while looking down into the still snowy Tuckerman Ravine. I stood atop the cliffs and let old glory wave once more... sad to not be on the summit but again proud to be an American.
(The Headwaters of Cutler River)

(The Alpine Garden Trail)


(Sarah's Lovin The Quartz)

(Old Glory from Lions Head with Tucks in the Background)

(The Wind - Movie)
video
We stopped at Lions Head to fuel up by eating our last sandwhich and some fruity snacks (junk food) before heading the rest of the way down. We felt so alone on the mountain as there wasn't a single person in sight. On the way down off Lions Head we encountered a hiker heading up the mountain in sneakers and nothing more than a small hydration pack. I smiled because I knew what Sarah was thinking and then she said it... No Sarah.. it's not too late, it's never too late in the day and his journey is his own. We met a father and son looking for Hermit Lake Shelter. We continued down the trail enjoying much light conversation and laughing about the day, talking about where we had messed up and how safe we really were. It was a nerve wracking yet enjoyable experience. Pretty certain we travelled on terrain never travelled before, and we still got to fly the flag. And I finally made it behind that waterfall. God Bless America!
(The Route)

Happy Trails!
SJ