Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hammy Slammy in Hillabammy

1-24-10
Hammy Slammy in Hillabammy
Hillsboro, NH - Henniker, NH
32 Mile Run
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I love traditions and there is none better then the tradition started a few years ago by myself and a few friends then to run at least a 50K in every month as possible. Typically we'd start the trend anew in january and see how far it would carry us. The original plan was to run the Boston Prep 16 Mile in Derry, NH.. twice. A stunt we had managed to pull of the last 2 years previous. But a visit to the races website just 2 1/2 weeks out showed the race as all ready full with "no exceptions." Last year, after the race had filled, I contacted the RD and managed to weasel myself in. I didn't want to go through the trouble this year with the "No Trespassing sign" clearly sitting at the races front door. So I contacted Josh to get a feel for a new plan and what I got in return excited me, "I'm ahead of you Sherpa.. 16 mile loop here in HIllsboro.. Run it twice.. at our pace." It sounded great.

So in typical Sherpa-style I arrive for our predetermined 9am start at 9:45 hoping Josh and the gang had waited. Indeed they had. I quickly assembled my needs, readied myself and we stepped out the front door. Temps held steady in the lower 30's, Josh and myself trotting slowly down the dirt road and Leah on her bike. I didn't care how fast or slow we went.. I only cared about the miles. No word of a lie.. I was nervous as hell. Even though my running streak was now up to 24 days.. I hadn't completed a long run since some time in November. Could I hold up? Can I still do this? What if I bonk or peter out and want to quit?... ah yes. It's that same level of uncertainty, that level of risk involved in thee adventures that lures me to them. And without a second thought, I was running down a long road.

Josh designed a route for us using the mapping software on runningahead.com and google maps. I really liked what he had in store for us. We meandered out of the neighborhood he currently lives in, ran under Route 9 (RANH Route) and ran down a road just parallel to the highway yet offers a much more scenic offering. I quickly realized how much more I would have enjoyed this stretch of the Run Across NH if I had taken this road instead of Route 9. We ran along side the Contoocook River all the way towards Henniker. The river ran smoothly, gurgling every so swiftly towards the Merrimack Waterways. We on the other hand enjoyed the great conversation in getting caught up.. and catching each other up on those we know. Yes.. we be gossipers for sure.

As we entered the town of Henniker we both stopped for a bio-break. I walked off of the side of the road and began to do what I do.. when I did what I tend to do. I was not happy as I dashed off into knee deep snow for cover from traffic rushing by and yes.. even the local police station about 200 yards away. Josh went ahead as did Leah while I tended to myself. I gave my gloves to the ultimate sacrifice, left the snow encrusted woods, and caught up to Josh to fill him in on the hold up. Within minutes I had a few new nicknames the likes of Poo Poo Picasso and Doo Doo Da Vinci. After rounding the turn in Henniker we were now all ready half way through the first loop. The work is now really ahead of us as the larger and more frequent hills on the route lay before us. With an equal amount of straight aways along the way, it was easy to pick up some time. Soon we made it to the Emerald Lake Area. This final 4 mile stretch to complete the loop was mind numbing and slow. The roads are dirt.. now mush from the rising temps now in the low 40's, filled with potholes that resemble the likes of a mine field.. and after almost 16 miles of running.. the boys are getting tight and tired.

After loop one we duck into the house to clean ourselves up, to refuel, to get reorganized and to pick up Loni. Loni seemed on the fence about joining us earlier in the day and I was most excited to see her ready to go upon our return. After snacks and drinks (some of us literally), we stepped back outside and began to run once again. With fresh legs in the group and after a short rest, we had some spring back in our step as we plodded along, though I feel like as a whole the group was more tired then anything else. I know I certainly was but I also had a bit of drive to push the envelope a little bit. So as we took the turn back onto the road parallel to Route 9, I opened up the gas a bit and fell into rhythm. Having the iPod blaring helped, and with leah by my side to keep my mind occupied, I pulled away from Josh and Loni for a little bit to allow my body to finally experience a little flow.

As we reached Henniker.. all that Jazz had come to a screeching Halt. Loni was thinking of turning back to home a few miles early though we wouldn't let that happen. Josh and I were tired enough that our running turned into faster walking with a few moments of impressive shuffling thrown in for the hell of it. Either way, we were still laughing hard enough to make our faces hurt. The once sunny skies were now overcast as the temps continued to rise ever so slightly. A chilly wind graced our faces every so often and as one cohesive unit we made our way back towards the farm. Emerald Lake was even longer this time then it was last.. or so it seemed.. yet we survived. We dragged our feet across thawed out roads and arrive once again at the residence of Ms. Loni.

A HUGE thanks goes out to Josh for hosting the first 50K of the new year and for waiting for my butt to get up there. We really did have a great time laughing and yucking it up the entire way. This is what it's really about. No one wore a watch, we had no expectations or constraints... we simply ran.. and had fun.. and enjoyed it for what it is.. Always an Adventure. It's always nice to know you've still got it. As endurance athletes we sometimes take advantage of our base level of fitness... but we also sometimes forget just how far that level of fitness can carry us. On this day.. it carried me 32 miles.. on day 24 of the streak.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pinkham's Grant

For the past week and the next week to come, I've been staying at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Pinkham's Grant, NH taking a Wilderness First Responder Course. At the completion of the course I will indeed have (hopefully) received my WFR Certification necessary for my work in the Outdoors. I'm very excited about this prospect and I've been not only learning much about Wilderness Medicine but have been enjoying the savage landscapes as well.

For those unaware, PInkham Notch is the trailhead for the famed Tuckerman's Ravine at the base of Mount Washington. Home of the world's worst weather not to be outdone during the winter months. This time of year, hikers from all around the globe descend on Mount Washington to try and hike many of the mountains storied routes; some as preparation for summer attempts on Everest. Though I have yet to make it to the summit while on my stay, I have continued to extend my streak of daily exercise.

Monday I ran 3 miles on Route 16 heading North just past the Wildcat Mountain Ski area, turning around and heading back.
Tuesday I ran 3 miles on Route 16 the same route as the night before and followed the run up with a 1 mile hike of the mountain which concluded with a suicide sledding trip down the groomed slopes.
Thursday an easy mile in the notch and Friday saw an easy mile here in Epping upon my weekends return.
Running on Route 16 is tough. Not only am I at 2000+ feet elevation, but I fight constant snow in single digit temps with winds blowing over 40 mph not only causing the snow to sting but dropping the windchill to well below zero. It's been tough to get out there and run everyday.. but even if for one mile.. just 8-10 minutes.. I'm making it happen.

But Wednesday is where the real story was. There was no run.. but I did enjoy a wonderful trip to the summit of Wildcat Ski Area known better to the peak-baggers about as Wildcat "D" Peak. Marion, from UNH, drove the 2+ hours to join myself and 6 others from the WFR course on a night hike of Wildcat. We met at 7:30pm at the PNVC, drove the half mile to the ski slopes parking lot, suited up in a stiff 40+ mph wind, dawned our headlamps and began our climb of the mountain.

As soon as we hit the ski slopes the wind whipped the snow in circles, shook the trees hard enough to hear the clatter of branches collide against each other with a faint whistle and moan. It was a damn cold night yet the higher we climbed and as the ski slopes wound their way over ridges and into sheltered area's, we enjoyed many moments of calm to no wind with just an ever dropping temperature. About 1/3 of the way up the mountain, the snow guns were blasting a mix of water and chemical into the frigid air causing a constant snow storm for the next few miles. These guns are loud as the high pressure hose shoots water out. There was no way of hearing each other and out group had begun to truly spread out. I am not that great a hiker in the mountain, slow and steady I get there.. not without a slow slog and some infinite complaining.

As I marched higher and higher, I continued to move on without my shell on. Thankful for the thought of layers, only my outer most short was caked in ice to the point that not only was it soaked but frozen. I couldn't straighten out my arms as ice covered me from head to toe. My pants were stiff and the snow-guns covered me with icy spray.. my headlamp had a solid half inch of ice on it making it very difficult to change the modes on the light or turn it off... yet we continued on as I started to pick up those fast few who took off out of the gates.. just like in a race, I caught those who were a bit over confident at the beginning.

Emily was struggling. Only wearing one shirt she was soaking wet, slowing down quickly yet in high spirits. Feeling "out of shape" she continued to push on to the summit regardless. Her hair was encased in a layer of white armor, ice from the snow-guns had clumped her hair together. She stopped at about the 3800' mark and asked if her ear was white. Upon looking, I was indeed surprised to see the early signs of frostbite occurring on the top of her ears. Her only hat was a knit hat attached to her pants, filled with snow and wet, she took out her neck warmer and placed it on her head instead. Trying to encourage her to put her shell on, she refused with the top in sight. We continued on..

We finally made it through the snow gun's after struggling through knee deep heavy wet snow close to the guns turned into mounds of new powder on top of frozen groomed trails. Now that the guns were behind us, the trees grew smaller in height and the winds returned. Wet, tired and slowing down, the winds chilled us to our core. As we reached the top of the ski slope, the temperature read 4 and the winds howled out of the WNW at 40+ mph making the windchill around -20F. We all huddled inside the ski lift station, still warm from the days ski operations. We all took off our soaked layers, and put on our down jackets, goggles and face protection. We marched out of the lift house and made our way to the Appalachian Trail, walking the last 50 yards to the summit tower.


We all huddled on the tower as the wind whipped and howled through the summit communications tower, a small metal structure barely hanging on and once blow over by hurricane force winds during a nor-easter. Below us is 2 to 3 feet of unbroken snow. Original hopes of hiking the ridge a few miles to Wildcat "A" were dashed upon our inability to locate the Wildcat Ridge trail. Since the last big winter storm.. no one had been across making that trek a few hours longer then normal.. if one could even locate the trail during the day never mind at night. So.. we all turned around and returned the way we had ascended the peak. Headfirst into ferocious winds.. I had to stop and put on my goggles as my eyelashes began to freeze shut. I was so cold yet smiling brightly.. embracing the harsh environment and the extreme's of being at over 4000' once again.. at night. I took out my sled, sat it on the groomed slope and zipped down the ski mountain at speeds approaching 25-30mph at times. With nothing but a headlamp to light the way and having to constantly wipe my goggles clean it was a suicide run in not having much of the ability to see... the world rushed by as even the darkness seemed to move. What an amazing rush as plumes of powder filled the air behind me..

As I return to the great north again next week.. I look forward to sharing tales of more great adventures with you.. and I also look to continue my streak of running and hiking.. day 10 awaits!

GO PATS!
SJ