27 July 2019

Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail (Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass)

We have amazing trails in the Pacific Northwest. The big daddy is the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Canada all the way to the Baja California border. This trail is divided into sections and section "J" covers the stretch between Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass. I'm sure other sections are just as fabulous but being close to home, this specific section has additional appeal. I ran it for the first time last year and this year I had some friends that wanted to give it a go so I jumped at the opportunity to experience it again.

Let the adventure begin!

This year I was accompanied by Seth Davis and Greg Luloff.

Point-to-point adventures are a blast but they do require logistical planning or just a ton of support. In this case, I dropped a car off at the finish with the help of Seth who met me there and then drove me home and Greg drove us to the start and would then take the Steven Pass bus back to retrieve his car a couple of days after we finished.

Last year we started in the morning and this time we started in the evening. The goal this time was to maximize our time in the daylight and an added benefit to me is that I would hopefully end up seeing all of this section in the daytime.

Section J is about 75 miles long. That's a "nice" distance in that it's long enough to be a genuine challenge if you do it in one or two days but not so long, at least for a person that runs ultras, that it's too daunting. For sure that's all relative but hey, my blog and my perspective. :)

Starting in the evening is kind of cool. It gets dark when you are still fresh. Shortly after starting we got to the top of the Stevens Pass ski area and had to turn on our headlamps.

One awesome feature of this part of the PCT is that water is plentiful. I only carried two bottles and a filter and I never even drained both of my bottles before I was able to top off. I don't think we ever ran more than about six miles without encountering water and usually, it was just two or three. Nice.

Here we are getting water in the dark.

One other thing that is super, SUPER plentiful on the PCT this time of year is mosquitos. As long as you are moving you're good but if you stop next to some standing water, watch out. I have always managed to attract these pests more than anyone I happen to be with and at this spot here where we decided to filter, I was overwhelmed to the point that I grabbed my pack, bottles, filter and had to run away. I went about 500 m before I got any relief.

This trail has everything! It has bridges.

It has amazing views.

It has long climbs.

It has long descents.

It has sections that are incredibly green.

It has sections that are incredibly rocky.

Did I mention the views?

And all the water?

I usually learn something (sometimes a lot of things) on every adventure and this one was no different. Here are some of the things I learned and confirmed.

Lesson #1
Keep your feet dry.

I have had (very!) wet feet before but only for about 5-6 hours at a time like during a 50k. Because of the relatively cool summer we have had and the recent rain and the humidity, the trail was really overgrown and all the brush was wet. Although the trail surface itself was dry, every time you brush up against a bush or fern, the water on the plants would soak your shirt, your shorts, and it would run down your legs and soak your shoes and socks.

I had never experienced trench foot (macerated skin) until this day. I'm guessing that my feet were wet for at least 18 hours? And although my shoes drain pretty well, I guess my socks hold on to moisture more than I thought and my feet suffered.

I didn't notice anything for ages and then with about 15 miles to go, I started to notice some discomfort in the balls of my feet. This got progressively worse until I was reduced to a walk for the last 10 miles. The last descent from the Kendal Katwalk was really painful. Ouch.

In retrospect I got lucky and most of the cracks in my skin healed up in one week but for that week I could hardly walk much less run.

The solution? Since carrying spare shoes was not practical in this case, I think using socks that perform better when soaking wet would have been the ticket.

Lesson #2
Pack appealing food.

We have all experienced sweet burnout or the inability to eat food bars. My pallet can only tolerate bars and gels for so long and these days that amount of time is just a few hours. This happens to me regularly in a race but it also happens in longer efforts that are not a competition. I've had extensive experience with this before so I knew what to expect and my solution was to pack sandwiches. Lots of sandwiches. I chose almond butter and jam because I thought they would travel well but even these got less appealing over time. They were too sweet.

With about 20 miles to go Greg offered me a "breakfast burrito". Amazingly, this had also traveled well and it was delicious! Savory always wins in the end during a longer event and as long as your burrito does not have loads of sauce/moisture it should be fine 24 hours after you make it.

Lesson #3
Take the time to find your route.

Just 8.5 miles into our run we (read: I) took a wrong turn. We all had the route on our phones and I was carrying my Garmin inReach but we never took the time to look at them. We got to an intersection in the dark and I announced with confidence that the PCT was "that way". 1.5 miles later we found ourselves crossing a dirt road and I didn't recall any roads from last year... We looked around and behind us where the trail left the road was a "Tunnel Creek Trailhead" sign. I also did not recall any such creek. So we all got out our phones and sure enough, the PCT had been the other direction.

Of course, this detour was all downhill so getting back on the route was all uphill but to the credit of Seth and Greg, they didn't complain one bit. I felt pretty foolish as we chugged back up the trail and luckily, I think everyone was okay with these three bonus miles. Probably because it was just three. :)

Lesson #4
Sort and test and re-evaluate your gear.

I was carrying an ancient water filter/pump. My old MSR was probably from the 90s but it was still working and it was all I had. Little did I know, technology had left me behind and these days, I would only take this pump if I was car camping. Seth had a super slick soft flask that had a filter in the lid so all you had to do was dip the bottle and you were ready to drink or fill up some other container. I purchased one as soon as I got home.

Lesson #5
When you do stuff, do it with compatible people.

If you are going to tie yourself to a group for 24 hours (or longer), you better get along with everyone in that group. Greg and Seth are very laid back, the way they handled my route-finding blunder was indicative of their attitude during the entire adventure. They were always super positive.

Here are all my pictures and videos.

25 July 2019

RAMROD (Ride Around Mt Rainier One Day)

I. Love. This. Ride.

RAMROD is perhaps the most scenic, iconic, and challenging recreational ride in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years I have ridden it loads of times and although some years have been harder than others, it's always been an awesome experience. This year I rode it with my good friends John Phillips and John Ospina and a friend of John Ospina's Mark. These guys drug me around the mountain without complaining and waited for me at rest stops. Good friends are great to have.

Prior to the ride this year I was extremely flattered to get approached by the current President of the Redmond Cycling Club (Joseph Matthews) who said he wanted to feature me in this year's edition of RAMROD Stories. We did all the filming and interviews in one afternoon right by my house and through the magic of editing Joseph came up with this. The whole experience was super fun.

The RAMROD Story experience also made me smile as the days of 7:15 are LONG gone but it also proved to me that you can enjoy events across a wide spectrum of fitness levels. Here's to getting outside for yourself no matter what your speed.

These days my friends and I have a pretty reliable RAMROD routine. We start around 6:00 AM, ride relatively fast between aid stations but we also stop at every aid station and enjoy ourselves and the services the volunteers bring to the table. Speaking of volunteers, one of my friends (Tony Callen) was at the Box Canyon rest stop this year serving up my favorite treat in this ride, chocolate croissants.

The weather was perfect! This time in July, the weather is rarely bad, we only needed arm warmers and thin gloves at the start (which were shed in pretty short order) and it never got too hot.

Every section of this course is scenic in its own way. The first 70 miles are very green and you ride past some very pretty lakes. The middle of the ride obviously features Mt Rainier and the last 40 miles are also scenic in their own way.

You know that feeling when you get a new bike? I had it. This was going to be my first long road ride on my new Thesis OB1. It's my first 1x (only a single chainring) road bike and I was excited to see how it performed. The result? Awesome.

There were a few times when I was wishing I had that in-between gear (the cassette is an 11-speed, 10-42) but it was much less than I anticipated. And the bike climbs and descends like crazy.

We started out in a pretty small group and only collected a handful of other riders. That was great and we were moving along smoothly. Then, we started to collect more and more people. Some of whom had different agendas and varying amounts of pack riding experience. I should have known this was going to happen. :(

Soon we are surging like mad when a particular person hit the front. Some people seem to take a very long time to learn that proper paceline riding is achieved by maintaining the speed of the GROUP rather than having every person pull at their own favorite speed... Needless to say, I burnt a few matches closing gaps when these people would sprint off the front.

One such surge was just outside of the second aid station and it was a massive effort for me. Too much in fact, I was just about to let this guy go when I saw the aid station and he slowed down. At that point I was still at least 50' behind him with perhaps 40 riders on my wheel. Argh.

As we rolled out of this aid station I realized right away that I was cooked. Totally. And I was not even halfway into the ride! :( Then we rode up this tiny rise and I was off the back like a sack of bricks. After a few seconds I realized this was not one of those times that anyone was going to wait for me so I just tried to get stuck in at whatever pace I was going to be able to maintain. I also decided to cram some food in my face and chug a bottle.

Wow, I was moving s l o w l y. Nothing to be done except enjoy the scenery. So I did, all the way up to Paradise, and down to Box Canyon.

Which is where everyone was waiting for me and where I saw Tony and had my chocolate croissants.

I was feeling better! But I also knew that I was close to blowing up again so had to walk the line between going hard and making it to the finish. As we rolled out of the Box Canyon rest stop, Joseph came with us! That's right, he's not just the President of RCC, he loves to ride too.

In the ensuing miles, John Ospina and Mark slowly slipped up the road and finally I was just riding with John Phillips. We maintained a relaxed pace, mostly because it was the only pace I could maintain! :) For the first time in ages, people were passing me going up Cayuse Pass. And I gotta say, good for them.

Normally I would have pictures of my massive turkey, cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich but for some reason I didn't have the motivation to pull out my phone so I just at my lunch at the "deli stop" and enjoyed every bite. Sometimes there just is no substitute for a sandwich, potato chips, and a Coke.

The last 40 miles of this ride is best in a group, the bigger (to a point) the better. For some reason our timing must have been off as there were no other riders moving when we decided to make our exit. Oh well. I probably pulled about 10% of the time during this section, I was running on fumes and the smallest rise would have me drifting off the wheel in front of me. I hate it when that happens. But here's to good friends! Every time it did happen, they waited for me or slowed down. We finally got to the Mud Mountain turn off and then I knew I would make it to the finish.

Just before the finish we got one last shot of the mountain.

And then we were riding into the school.

And then we were eating ice cream!

Huge thanks to John, John, and Mark for towing me around all day. And to Redmond Cycling Club for putting on this extraordinary ride year after year. I have so many memories of this event, both great ones and painful ones, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. Here's to doing it all again in 2020!

Here are all of my pictures and videos.

Nutrition (before)
  • water
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)

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