Sunday, October 23, 2011

Never give up!

I haven't posted for the past few weeks.  I got myself into a funk after the Reach the Beach relay and the one year anniversary of the accident.  I figured I completed my goal of running with the Red Eye Runners in the relay, and I somehow figured things would be about as good as they were going to get after one year had passed.

Before I get too far ahead, I want to give a shout out to Deb Livingston for running a great race at the Grindstone 100.  She took honors as top female finisher and I believe she was 12th overall.  Nice job Deb!  Also, a big shout out to all my friends who ran the Hartford Marathon this year.  There's too many of you to list here, and I'd be afraid of missing someone on the list.  Anyway, great job and I hope to join you again one year.

So, here's this week's update:

Let's start with the pathetic wimpering....waaahh waaahhh.

OK, my running was rough at best.  I wondered how I could ever get back to a competitive level, and the work to grind out a few miles hardly seemed worth it at times.  My leg hurt and I was feeling sorry for myself.  I found every excuse in the book and then some not to run.  I can walk normal enough after a couple steps...provided I have my shim in the shoe, and it's not my first steps of the day.  People are amazed at how I walk now, but they don't know what's going on under the hood.  There's a lot of compensation and pain.  I looked OK, but I was disappointed.

Sure, I reminded myself about how lucky I was to be alive and have relatively minor injuries, but I wondered if I would ever be able to run the way I once did.  I know I'm lucky to be here, and I truly am grateful.  With that being said, I'm having a hard time accepting any limitations as a result of the accident.  I beat myself up over the accident, decisions on where to be treated, when to be treated, post-surgery treatment, 2nd surgery choices, etc., etc.  It's been a tough road!  I had to get my head on straight and move on...

Last weekend, I decided to run to the top of Talcott Mountain to check out the annual Tower Toot.  It's kind of a German  festival thing.  I wasn't particularly interested in the event itself as much as I wanted to celebrate.  Last year, Kevin drove me to the top of Talcott Mountain on the same weekend, and I tried my crutches for the first time.  It was a pitiful site as he had to help me up and down a couple steps and deal with my whimpering.  This year, I ran all the way to the top which is no small task...ask my buddy, Matt Estes, about our run up there in a foot of snow.  It's tough!  Round trip from reservoir 6 is about 6.5 miles, and the climb is a nasty one.  The run up was fine.  I made it up without stopping, but coming down hurt like heck.  I was noticing that most of the pain was in my hip where the rod and screw are attached to the bone.  Ouch!  I wondered if I was going to break something again!

On Monday, I managed to do about 5 miles combined running and hiking up on the Metacomet trail which got me somewhat motivated.  It was great to be outside, and I stayed out well after dark.  I took it easy on the downhills.

On Wednesday, I managed a short gym workout. After biking, and some kettle bell swings, I gave up after 1.5 miles on the treadmill.  I felt lousy and didn't feel like dealing with the pain anymore.

Saturday was a different story.  I drove to the reservoir to do the 9 mile loop Goat and I have been doing for so long.  I thought it would be good to get a data point, since we had completed the loop at about 9:15 pace a couple weeks before Reach the Beach.  I wanted to see how I would compare.  The weather was nice and crisp and the foliage was fantastic.  I felt pretty good from the start and managed to do the first 5 or so miles at a pretty good clip.  The course is mostly double track trail with a couple good hills, so it's no cake walk.  I wanted to break 9 minute pace for the loop, and pushed as hard as I could on the way in.  My form went down the toilet and it was all I could do to finish, but I pulled it off !   My hip hurt like heck again...especially on the downhills, and I contemplated removal of the screw and rod again.  Nevertheless, I felt like I was moving pretty decent for the first half of the run.

I had two thoughts....maybe, just maybe I could continue to improve, and strangely enough....the shim in my shoe felt like it was too much.  Hmmmm....

I iced my hip at home and wondered whether I dared to try to run 2 days in a row again.  Kevin (The Goat) had plans for a 16 mile easy run as he tapers for the Stonecat 50 miler, and I wanted to join him for part of it.  We agreed to meet at 11AM at the reservoir.  I wondered if I would be able to run much at all as I hobbled my way around this morning.

Surprisingly, I felt half decent once we got moving.  I didn't feel too bad, but was a little fatigued from the previous day.  I was tentative on the downhills, but moved well on the flats and ups.  We were a little slower for the first 5 miles, but then picked up the pace coming home.  Goat had his GPS, so we pushed hard to break 9 minute pace.  I pushed the last mile or so at sub-8 minute pace (mostly paved and flat), and we hit the tape at around 8:55 average pace.  Yes!  Surprisingly, it was about 30 seconds slower than yesterday, but I'll take it.

Today, I used less of a shim and it worked out pretty well.  The hip continues to be very painful on the downs, so I iced it bigtime when I got home.  I'm pretty happy with my progress considering everything.
It felt good to be out there, and my form coming back in felt much better today.

The Goat is in great shape and I expect he will do well in the 50.   I was pushing as hard as I could go, and he was just jogging alongside.  I can recall the days when that equation was flipped.  It is what it is....I'm happy the Goat is running so well.

I almost gave up running a couple weeks ago.  I figured it was time to take up golf or darts or something more sedentary.   Running was not so much fun anymore.  Despite my head hanging low, I reminded myself that things always get better when we just stick with it.  I almost gave up running at a couple of key times in the past due to injury.  If I did, I would have never run the Boston Marathon...or any ultras....or finished Top 10 at Vermont twice.   Gotta keep going...

My favorite book as a kid was "The Little Engine that could..."  So much so that it's the first book I buy for each new family member.  I have a new niece/nephew getting ready to enter the world.  My sister, Amy, is due this Thursday.  I'm thinking it's time to log onto and make another purchase.  :-)

Have a great week everyone!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gunksfest 2011: The Return...

I can't believe it's been a whole year!  I am feeling soooo much better than I was about 362 days ago!!!   Ha!  I'm still not 100%, but have been feeling much, much better in the past 10 days.  Running Reach the Beach really got my body and mind back in balance.  Now, it's time to see if climbing will continue to be a part of my life!

I'm heading back to the Motherland and the scene of the accident - The Shawangunk mountains (a.k.a. - The Gunks).  As many of you know, I grew up 10 miles from the Gunks, and I absolutely love it there.  It's a special place and I'm really looking forward to spending the weekend with family and friends there.  I'm planning to rope up for some easy climbing and hope the weather cooperates.  I know many people think I'm crazy to consider climbing again.  The engineer in me can rationalize it.  The climbing addict can rationalize it as well.  The family man in me thinks I'm an idiot, but 2 out of 3 wins every time.  Besides, engineers are fairly intelligent people :-).  

The engineer in me rationalizes that the accident was due to multiple mistakes.  It was not due to a fall or equipment failure.  It was simply due to miscommunication (or lack of communication).  I won't re-live the event again, but I do believe deliberate communication and double checking everything can avoid a similar event.  I will grant you that climbing accidents will continue to happen, but so will car accidents.  Is it a necessary risk - no, there's nothing necessary about it.  I do enjoy it though, and I'm not sure if I'm ready to hang up my rack yet.  Technically, I did climb two pitches on top rope back in early May, but it really didn't simulate much of anything.  My leg was still not healed fully, and I was very tentative.  This time will be different (at least physically).

I'm so excited about the weekend that I have the Element almost fully packed and it's only Wednesday!  I'm bringing a crib to my sister as well, so the E is loaded to the gills.  The CT Climbers and Mountaineers will be in full attendance.  I organize a trip to the Gunks at this time each year.  We are returning to the winery where we used to have some great weekends.  The former Rivendell Winery is now Robibero Family Vineyards, and we're excited about returning there.  We have a wine tasting planned for Friday evening, and a big dinner and bonfire for Saturday night.  I'm so excited that this anniversary will be shared with so many family and friends.

I don't know if I'll go climb the specific route that I fell on.  It's not that important to me.  I just want to enjoy a day at the Gunks with Charlotte and be with my friends.   I guess that's about it.  Then, it'll be time to move on ...

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by the winery and join me for a drink this weekend!

All the best,


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back in the game

Wow!  Back-to-back 8+ mile runs.  I can't believe it!  What a way to celebrate my almost one year anniversary.  I'm sure some of you are sick of hearing about my accident.  Believe me...I'm sick of thinking about it.  Today gave me a glimpse of what life could be like going forward.  It was nice.

I ran about 9 miles with my buddy, the Goat, yesterday.  He seemed a bit fatigued from the week and Reach the Beach.  He was one of our anchors for RTB as he logged 3 very tough legs.  He also was planning to do a 30 mile run today, so was holding back a bit.  As for me, I was fresh since I had only run 4 miles all week.  I was actually the one pushing the pace.  Granted, it was 9 minute pace, but it was on wet trails.  Either way, I felt stronger and less tentative with the leg.  I was more in balance.  Of course, I was sore afterwards and wondered how I would do today.

I wanted to help the Goat get through his long run.  The muggy weather is no fun when doing a long run.  Goat has company for the first 9 miles, then ran another 9 solo.  I met him at 10:30 and he looked like he was dragging a bit after nearly 18 miles and 3+ hours, but there was still work to be done.

I hadn't been up to Heublein Tower in awhile, so we headed in that direction.  It was like old times.  We chugged along and talked.  I listened a lot since this was Goat's training run.  On the way back, Goat was losing form.  I was a few strides in front of him and told him he needed to pull his form together.  I've been obsessed with form lately, since mine has been so rough.  He said, "I'm doing OK."  I told him he was dragging his feet.  He said, "How does the Master know if he cannot see me?"  I said, "I can hear you Grasshopper!" We laughed.   I told him I needed to hear less "grass" and more "hop".  We both burst out laughing!

We walked a bit, took in the beautiful views around the reservoir, and then finished off the run.  Goat logged a total of 26.2 miles in 5 hours on some tough terrain.  A few more runs like this one and he'll be ready for Stonecat.

It's been fun reading about all the great races people are running this year.  I miss it a bit.  Hoping I can get back in good enough shape to run a few races.  We'll see...  If not, I'll just keep chugging along and having fun!

Have a great week everyone!



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reach the Beach: Mission Accomplished!

Wow!  Another great weekend at Reach the Beach!  If you haven't done this race, you don't know what you're missing.  If nothing else, it is entertaining!  It is also scenic, fun, and allows you to run as hard and as fast as you want on at least 3 different legs of varying lengths in approximately 24 hours.

We drove up to Paul's place on Lake Winni on Thursday evening...making the traditional stop at D"Angelo's on the way.  We arrived at the cottage around 10:45PM and proceeded with finding out usual sleeping spots for the night.  I sleep out on the screened porch with my sleeping bag.   Captain Bill announces the winner of the music contest where we each try to guess who provided which song for the RTB motivational music CD.  Then, Bill introduces each runner as they come up to sign their waiver.  Each year the intros grow in length.  It's all good fun!

This year Bill added a new award...The Rise of the Phoenix!  It was a bid of a gag to sort of acknowledge my return from the near dead to run on the team this year.  Fittingly, I was first runner up for the award as they actually gave it to Tim for having a bruise on his foot!  Funny guys!  Ironically, Tim was not able to finish the race the next day due to re-injuring the foot.  I have a feeling he's a shoe in for the award next year too!

After a poor night sleep due to hurricane like winds, I readied myself for the big day.  The ride to Cannon Mtn was uneventful.  It was raining a bit, but clearing was expected.  We checked in and hung out while our first runner prepared to start.  Goat and I ran into our good friend Larry Mo who was running on another team.  We took group photos and goofed around.

After the start, our Van drove to the first transition area and waited for our turn to run.

We ate lunch and killed some time decorating the van and checking out the other teams decorations and costumes.  At the start, a young guy dressed as a toilet was assisting with pre-race warm-ups.  Go figure!

Flo started us off around 6pm and we were on our way.  Flo is solid and steady every year.  Goat was second man up and ran a strong leg, then Pete was off and running.  I was first competitive run in a year.  What would happen?  I was nervous and very self-conscious of my awkward stride.  I did my warm-up routine and felt OK.  It was dark out, so I had my headlamp and mandatory neon vest with flashing lights.  I took the hand-off from Pete and started down the road with any easy short stride with pretty decent turnover.  I was running alone and was happy not to be in a crowd.  I plugged along and wondered how long I could keep it together.  This was a 5 mile leg (my longest of the 3).  After about a mile, a decent runner passed me moving along with relative ease.   I didn't even try to match his stride.  The hills came quickly and I passed some folks moving slowly on the uphill.  Yes, I passed a few!  Unbelievable!  The downhills were pretty painful and I was very tentative with my leg.  I ran as hard as I dared.  It was a tough leg, but I managed to run it at about 8:10/mile pace...not bad considering the hills.  Two people passed me and I passed about 7 I think.  I was very happy with the effort.  The stride was still off, but at least I could run.  It felt so good to be back out there!

Jane and Stan finished off their legs, and then we headed back to the cottage for a couple hours of sleep. Then, it was off to the next transition.  We ran all night long.  My second leg was just after sunrise.  It was 3.7 miles.  The first half mile was steep downhill and then it was fairly flat the rest of the way.  Once again, I was tentative on the downhill.  A young guy went blazing past me just after we got the hand off, and I was bummed to watch him stride so effortlessly.  I just chugged along and passed a few nice ladies along the way.  I tried to encourage everyone I passed.  After awhile I noticed the young guy was holding steady about 100 yards in front of me.  I wondered if I could catch up to him.  Step by step I reeled him in just like the old days.  At about the halfway mark I passed him.  He was slowing quite a bit, so I just plowed along.  I finished the leg with an average pace of about 7:30/mile which was much better than I had planned.  Cool!

We pressed on through the day taking catnaps where we could.  I wondered if I would be sore or what type of energy I would have for the last leg.  It was getting warmer and I wanted to go home.   Goat gutted out 3 great legs...I've never seen him run as well.  Everyone seemed to be running well, but we all wanted to be finished with it.  

My last leg started off flat.  My stride took awhile to get settled, and I wondered how long it would stay stable.  I passed a few people, but was having a hard time running into the wind.  My stride puts a lot more stress on my calves and I was getting fatigued.  I pressed on hoping to break 8min pace.  I passed more people and kicked it in as best I could.  I think I managed 7:45 pace for the leg, and was all smiles at the finish.  Mission accomplished!  Life was good!

Captain Bill did the usual thing at the finish giving each of us our shirts and medals.  A few of us went down to the beach.  I walked in the water a bit and watched Stan and Pete dive into the frigid waves (maximum shrinkage!).

We drove home and I wondered if this would be a launching point to further running improvements or whether I would consider it an accomplishment and turn my focus elsewhere.  Hmmm...only time will tell.  Another one was in the books.  Great job Captain Bill and the Red Eye Runners!  Love you all!

Tonight I ran the 3.7 miles at reservoir 6 as hard as I dared.  My pace felt stronger and steadier than the last time I had run it with Goat.  My time was under 29 minutes resulting in an average pace of 7:45/mile.  It blows my mind in a way.  How could it be so hard?  I used to float along at that pace with minimal effort.  I could run at that pace all day!  Why is it so hard?  Nevertheless, I was running and I did show improvement.  A few months ago, even this pace seemed unimaginable.  I guess I need to be patient and keep working it.  It will come!

Thanks for reading and for all your support.  It's been a great ride.  A lot of ups and downs in the past year.  I can't believe it's almost the one year anniversary of my accident.   Here's to moving forward!

Enjoy the upcoming weekend!



Monday, September 12, 2011

Reach the Beach: Here we go!

My fall happened on October 2 last year about 2 weeks after I completed the Reach the Beach Relay for the 6th consecutive year with the Red Eye Runners.  Naturally, when I started my recovery, Reach the Beach not only became my became my mantra!

For the uninitiated, Reach the Beach is a relay race that starts at Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire and ends at Hampton Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  It is over 200 miles in length and cuts through the White Mountains and the beautiful lakes region.  Team consist of 12 members each running 3 legs varying from 3 to 9 miles in length.  Ultra teams do more legs with less people.  It's a big party and teams dress up and decorate their vehicles.  The running is work, and you don't get much sleep, the vans smell pretty ripe after 24 hours of sweaty runners, but it really is a lot of fun!

It was hard to envision initially.  Goat was in disbelief when I told him I would be ready for RTB this year.  My crooked gate in May and June inspired no confidence.  As the summer progressed along with physical therapy, I became stronger and somewhat more coordinated.  My fumbling started to resemble running, and my mile times started to reflect a jog vs. a walk.  I now sit 5 days away from competing in our 7th Reach the Beach, and I am one happy camper!  

Is my stride right?  No, it will never be the same.  I miss my smooth stride.  Am I running comfortably?  No, I have pain in the fracture zone, the hip, and in my lower back.  I could go on and on.  My legs rub together so much that they start to bleed, but we'll figure it out eventually.

My theory is, "If I can run one 7 minute mile, I can run many!"  Just need time and patience...  OK, and a body that will hold up to the abuse.  We'll see...

I am happy because I get to spend 48 hours or so with my friends doing something we love.  I was once caught on video after finishing another year at RTB saying, "Every year until we die!"  I thought about that after the fall, and wondered if I'd be able to hold up my end of the bargain.  One way or another, I intend to run my 3 legs this weekend.  Goat said I could get a sub for my last leg if I was hurting.  I told him I'd rather walk it in than have someone do it for me.  Just sayin'...

Training Update:

This was my first 20+ mile week of training in a year!  

Mon - Great gym workout
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 3 miles on treadmill (1st mile - 8:30ish, then two miles at 8:00 pace or better)
Thursday - 4 miles on treadmill (averaged about 8:15s)
Friday - Rest Day, played golf of all things (first time in 21 years!)
Sat - 8.8 miles with Goat at reservoir (9:17 pace - 20 seconds/mile improvement since last week)
Sun - 6.3 miles with my old buddy, Tracer
Total miles - 22.1

Leg was very sore today, so we kept the pace slow.  

Have a great week everyone and hope to see many of you at Reach the Beach!



Sunday, September 4, 2011

It just keeps getting better! 9 miles with the Goat!

Wow!  I was pleasantly surprised today.  Goat and I ran our old loop at the West Hartford Reservoir.  It may not sound like much, but it was my first time on the course in about a year.  It used to be an 8 mile jaunt, but we stretched it to 9+ when the MDC moved the parking lot.  We did not have plans to go that far.  In fact, I told him I could probably do 4-5 miles depending on the speed and terrain.  Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised!

Goat ran 16 miles with Bruce Giguere yesterday, so he was OK going easy with me today.  Once upon a time it was the other way around, but I'm happy to be out there either way.  Goat and Bruce are training for the Stonecat 50 miler, so they need to get in the miles.  We started off around a 9 minute pace which is reasonable on these trails .  We chatted away like we always had on these runs.  At one point, I noticed the old single track along the power lines was now double track wide as they added gravel to the section.  I said, "Wow, this is new!" and Goat said, "It's been there all year."  Oh, I guess it has been awhile!

Last night Jessica, a Vet, yoga instructor, and all around cool person, checked out my legs and hips.  She said my hips are perfectly aligned, but my left leg is definitely shorter (as we have known).  I asked her how much and she said, "Less than a half inch".  What?!  Holy batdung, Batman!  I'm thinkin' 1/8" inch, not 1/2"!  After some further evaluation, it seems like it is 1/4"-3/8" which is still way more than I had hoped.  The engineer in me knew it was in that range based on the X-rays and CATSCAN, but the other part of me was still in denial.  I was thinking that maybe all the PT and running convinced my bones to grow back a bit. Bummer!  Nevertheless, it confirmed that I am better off running with a shim to keep good alignment of my hips and take some pressure off my back.  Thanks Jess for checking it out.

Anyway, at the 3.3 mile mark, we needed to decide whether to head back or go all the way out to Rt. 44.  I knew it would be at least 8 miles if we kept going.  Hmmm.  When I set "Reach the Beach" as a goal many months ago, I had it in my mind that it would be good to be capable of an 8 mile run prior to the race.  With the race less than 2 weeks away, I figured this was the time to give it a go.  I was hurting, but no more than any of the other runs to date.  We figured I could walk back if the wheels came off the "Ultra Steve" bus.  So, we went for it.  The hills ate me up, but I kept chugging along.  The conversation was great and it felt like old times.  The pace was slow, but I'm confident it will get better.

Funny thing:  I wore my Salomon XACOMP trail shoes.  These are goretex shoes that I bought for snow fields in the Tetons.  I forgot about the Goretex when I put them on this morning.  After about 5-6 miles, I told Goat it felt like I was running on sponges.  My feet were soaked from sweat.  Goretex does not breath enough to keep feet dry.  The rest of the run was "squish, squish, squish".  Note to self - keep these shoes for hiking.

The last 2 miles were pretty rough, and I had to walk briefly a couple times.  I'll take it!  It's my longest run by far in the past year, and it was so great to be back out there with my buddy.

We finished the 9 mile loop in 1:25.  I'm happy with it considering the weather (super muggy) and my conditioning.  I can see it getting better over the course of the next couple months.

It's really exciting to be running again!

Hope you are enjoying some great runs this weekend!



Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Runners Bond and a taste of speedwork

How many times have you been out running and somehow made a connection with another runner out there?  More often than not, I would guess.  Whenever I see other runners along the way I make an effort to say hello, give a nod or a wave, or start up a conversation.  It's one of the many things I love about running...the connection or bond you can make with a total stranger.

The other night I was stretching for a run at the West Hartford Reservoir when a young lady ran by and yelled, "Are you running Reach the Beach (RTB) in 2 weeks?"  I looked at my shirt and noticed the RTB logo, then looked back at her with a smile and yelled, "Oh yeah!"  My mind raced...she had no idea that this RTB means more to me than any of the previous events because I trashed my body in a 100 foot fall.  No time to didn't matter.  She just smiled, kept running, and yelled, "All right!"  It made me smile.  How cool is that...?

Tonight, I decided to go to the track and work on my form.  It's getting better, but still leaves a lot to be desired.  It's so clunky and awkward.  It is really frustrating because I used to have beautiful form.  I honed it for 30 years and the efficiency allowed me to run ultras with the best of them.  I wasn't the fastest guy, but I could out last you due to my economy of stride.  Now, it's starting from scratch to develop a stride that will work for me.  It's hard because the pain is still present, so I favor my good leg.  My hip rotation is a mess...I could go on and on.  Nevertheless, I decided to do one of my favorite workouts with the hope it would help me develop my stride: 1 mile repeats.

I did my warm-up exercises and did a slow one mile warm-up at around the track at 9 minute pace.  I was bumming as it felt lousy.  I noticed another runner moving slowly around the track.  He was a bigger guy and had his iPod going while he jogged around the track. go man!  I decided to add a shim to my shoe to see if it would help, did my stretching, and got ready for my first "fast" mile.    OK, here we go!

My stride felt weak, but the shim did seem to help.   My pace was OK considering everything, and I clocked a 7:17 for my first mile.  It hurt, but at least it was reasonable.  I used to do sub-6's at this track, but I'll take what I can get at this point.  As I sucked down some water, I noticed the big guy come chugging by and doing his thing.  I gave him a smile, and a big thumbs up.  He smiled back, but that was about it.  

My next mile started out horribly as it hurt like heck.  Ouch!  After about 150 yards, the pain and subsequent limp started to subside and I was able to pick up the pace a little.  I broke the tape at 7:34.  Woof!

On my last mile, it started off the same...a lot of pain at the start and then getting into a somewhat comfortable pace. I think I was on my 2nd or 3rd lap when I saw the big guy walking outside the fence.  He looked at me, saw the pain in my face.  Then he gave me a big smile, and swung his arms rapidly at his sides as if to say, "Go man!  You can do it!"  There is was again.....the runners bond!  Complete strangers, but the lift he gave me with that one little gesture kept me going for the rest of the mile.  I was really hurting, but his encouragement got me to the finish line at about the same time as my second mile: 7:30's.  Thanks man!  I appreciated it.  I'm not breaking any land speed records out here, but I sure appreciated the little bit of encouragement.

Those one mile times might seem slow or fast to you depending on your reference point.  For me, they are frustratingly slow as I mentioned above.  I know they will improve some, but I wonder how much I can gain back.  I know my form will never be the same.  I've lost some efficiency.  On the other hand, I'm amazed by the progress.  At one point I said I would be happy to walk without a limp and run 4-5 miles at an 8 minute pace a couple times a week.  Well, I'm almost there!  The walking is pretty normal now, and I just need to build some endurance to hold an 8 minute pace.   Of course, I will keep pushing for more.  Anyone who "knows me well" knows how I'm wired...I just keep pushing for more.

Enjoy your runs this week and give the other person a wave, thumbs up, or a word of encouragement.  You'll both feel great afterwards!



Monday, August 29, 2011

Kettle Bell Swings and Turkish things!

Tonight was another adventure in my road to recovery: The Kettle Bell.  It all started when I volunteered to help Tim Ferriss with his new book, The Four Hour Body (  It's a NY Times best seller, and worth a look.  While I was not included in the book, Tim did send me 2 free copies just for offering my support.  How's that for a cool guy?  Anyway, the book is chock full of new ideas, experiments, and overall challenges to the status quo.  One thing I noticed is Tim's use of Kettle Bells for several exercises.   I studied the photos for awhile, and pondered being able to do the Turkish Get Up...We'll get to that one, but a little background first.

For the uninitated, a kettle bell is the Russian equivalent of a nautilus workout (and then some), but without all the bells (I couldn't resist) and whistles.  Basically, it  is a cannonball with a handle.  Anyway, it's not so much the tool, but the exercises that get you what you want...a total body workout.   Of course, they are getting popular now, so you'll pay a small fortune for a big hunk of iron if you try to buy them.  My local YMCA decided to buy a set, so I got to play with them for free tonight.

It seems the kettle bell comes in weights as follows: 13.5 lbs., 35 lbs, 53 lbs, etc.  I believe the Russian unit of measure for these things are called "poods".  I don't know much about poods, but I felt pooped when I was done!  OK, apologies to my Russian friends for pooting around with their language and cannonball things.

According to the 4 hour body, many NFL players are now training with kettle bells as well as other professional athletes.  One of the most popular exercises is the Turkish Get Up.  It's a full body exercise that starts you laying on your side and, through a series of moves, you end up standing up with the kettle bell raised over your head.  Yeah right!  It doesn't look easy, but it's not so bad once you get the hang of it.

Before I got to the complex, I figured I would start with the basics....the Kettle Bell Swing.  This exercise starts with lifting the Kettle Bell between your legs from a semi-squatting position and swinging it forward and back until your arms are extended horizontally in front of you.  It looks simple enough, but try it with a 50 lb. weight.  I started with 30 reps using the 35 lb. pooder, and then decided to step up to the 50 lb. bad boy.  I managed to do 3 sets of 10 with the 50, but I had to stop for fear of losing my grip and seeing the thing implode the mirror in front of me.  I'm talking bad karma, 7 years of bad luck, and a hefty bill from the YMCA.  Yes, I thought about turning sideways, but didn't want to send the mighty projectile flying at the ladies next to me.  Even if I didn't lose my grip, I think I would have scared the heck out of them.  Anyway, Tim does something like 75 reps with a 53 lbs. monster bell, so knock yourself out.  I have a long way to go...

Next up was the Turkish Get Up.  The one exercise the NFL combine guru recommends above all exercises.  OK, I'm game.  Turns out, the young female pro golfer, Michelle Wie, used this exercise to recover from injury and get her drive back in order.  She was doing the TGU with a 35 lb. Kettlebell before all was said and done.  "No problem", I thought.  I can handle it.  Well, not so fast.  I decided to "warm-up" with the 13.5 lb. baby bell and did a set of 5 or so on each side.  One thing became obvious, my left side is weaker than my right.  OK, it may not be a big surprise given the accident, but the strange thing is the weakness was in my arm (not my leg).  My left arm got super tired with that wimpy little weight.   After the warm-ups, I tried the 35 lb. pood, and it was not pretty.  I could not lift it over my head with one arm. OK, I'm a wimp!  The other interesting observation was that these exercises are as much cardio as they are weight training.  I was seriously out of breath in the process.

So, now I have a challenge to work on.  I'm not big into weights as you can see from my wimpy arms, but the 9 discrete movements of the TGU seem to really tie everything together.

If you have access to kettle bells, I recommend you give it a try. There are youtube videos available showing the various exercises or go to Tim's website at
If you don't have access to kettle bells, save the money and just try to do the exercises with a regular dumbbell.

In terms of the comeback, I am constantly amazed at the improvements.  It truly is humbling and such a blessing to see how the human body can heal itself.  I'm shocked that I am walking fairly normal most of the time without the shim now.  To top it off, I ran a sub 7:30 mile tonight without any shim in my shoes.   That's called "speedwork" in my world these days :-) 
Only 3 weeks until Reach the Beach!  Can't wait to see my Red Eye Runner teammates!

Have a great week!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Narragansett, RI

Greetings from Narragansett! I love this place! Back when I was in the hospital, my Dad asked me what I wanted to do when I got out. I'm not sure what he meant by the question, but my answer was quite clear. I told him I wanted to rent a place on the water for the entire family to enjoy. You see my parents have a sign in their dining room that reads, "Family is everything". I have the same sign in my house thanks to them. So, enjoying family time together, away from the rat race, was my objective.

During my recovery, I had plenty of time to search the Internet for a waterfront vacation rental. I think I found this place on I wanted a place big enough for both my family and Charlotte's brood, so I ended up getting a 5 bedroom house about a quarter mile from Scarborough State beach in Narragansett. It is perfect!

The week has been relaxing, energizing, and filled with a lot of family bonding. I've had a chance to run a few times, do a little biking, fishing, and Char and I even played tennis this morning. We visited Newport yesterday, and have been at the beach nearly everyday. I now understand why Russ Hammond likes his outdoor shower so much!

There was a time when I couldn't imagine a vacation at the beach, but I knew my girls would not go for a week in the woods. I'm fair skinned, so the sun is not always kind to me. If I don't lather on the sunscreen, I pay dearly. Nevertheless, I have managed to survive relatively unscathed this week. I purchased a Coleman shade canopy which we love. It is the family truckster of shade equipment. I am the envy of all shade lovers on the beach. Get one if you want to avoid the sun gods.

It's been a great week for Char and me to grow closer to each other's family. We figured this would be a good opportunity, and it has gone well. The future is so bright we need to wear shades ;-)

My brother and sister's families arrive soon, so need to sign off.

Running continues to get better. It hurts like heck and is frustrating at times. I will not give up though. I would not have been able to run half the marathons or ultras I've finished if I gave in to all the injuries in the past. This one is no exception. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, things will get applies to running as well as life.


All the best,


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kicking it into gear!

As many of you know, I broke my femur in a 100 foot vertical fall off a cliff while rock climbing in the Gunks 11 months ago.  It's been a long road back to say the least.   For those who know the details of the injury, thank you for your can also skip the next 1-2 paragraphs :-).

As luck would have it, the leg was set with a gap between the bones, and less than stellar medical guidance left me in no better shape after nearly 4 months.  Distraught to say the least, I opted to have one of the two pins, holding the Titanium rod in place, removed in an effort to close the gap and start the healing.  The break was a spiral fracture, so the bottom portion of my leg rotated 7 degrees when the gap closed.   The result was a leg that was shorter than the original...somewhere between 1/8" and 3/8" depending on what you want to believe.  It's been tough for me to come to grips with the situation, and the healing and recovery process has been brutal at times.  

Despite all of it, I have worked hard to get my life back in order.   Over the past few months,  I have been very happy with the progress of my recovery, but it's been a mental game the whole time.   Since the leg was not perfect, I wondered when I would plateau.  Since the pain was there daily, I wondered if it would ever go away.  At times I saw great progress, and at times I would plateau for a period.  Everytime there was a plateau, the question was always, "Is this as good as it's going to get?"  So many people told me of loved ones in similar situations who never fully recovered...those conversations didn't help.  It was like they were giving me the OK to stop working to improve my gait.

The past few days have given me great satisfaction!  At one point a few months ago, I reasoned that a recovery that would allow me to run 4-5 miles at 8 min pace without pain would be enough for me.  It would give me the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and stay fit.  At times, it seemed like it would take a miracle to get to that point.  My first attempts at running were so painful and awkward that I just couldn't get my head around it.  I couldn't connect the dots to get there.  Nevertheless, I just kept working to get as far along as the running gods would allow.

Yesterday, I had my last physical therapy session.  After 5 months, they told me I didn't need them anymore.  They said my walking stride was normal and my strength was greatly improved.  I am forever grateful to the folks at Integrated Rehab Services for everything!  

Today was an even better day because it gave me hope for my running!  I am so close to achieving the goal I can taste it.  By coincidence or fate, the Goat pulled into the parking lot at Reservoir 6 at the same time as me.  We hadn't planned to run together, but I was glad to see him there.  We ran the loop and this time we re-measured it with the GPS.  As it turns out, it is 3.7 miles which is a bit longer than I had been book-keeping.  From the start, my stride felt improved and the pain level was manageable.  The first 2 miles went by quickly at  just under 8 minute/mile pace.  As we continued, I felt the weakness and pain creeping in.  No!!!!  I pressed hard while the Goat talked.  Goat kept encouraging me with reports that we were maintaining a 7:55 average pace.  In the final stretch, we picked up the pace and he said, "This is what it feels like to run a 7 minute mile again."  Nice!  Even if it was only for a brief period, it felt good.  I used to run marathons at a faster pace, and now I can't even imagine a 5K at that pace.  It's OK, I have seen so much progress in such a short time.

The thing that has kept me focused on this recovery has been the 2011 Reach the Beach Relay with the Red Eye Runners.  We've run this race together every year for the past 6 years.  I promised myself I would do everything possible to be there for this year's race.  At times, I doubted whether it was possible.  Tonight I realized I will be ready for the big event one month from now.

To all of you who continue to support me in my recovery, "THANK YOU!"  Your words of encouragement help keep me going.  Once I am convinced that I will not hurt myself by pushing too hard in a race, I will see you out on the trails.  

All the best!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Running progress report

Could this possibly become a running blog again?  Not sure just yet, but I am working in that direction.

Last week I actually broke the 10 mile mark for total mileage.  Woohoo!  My longest run to date has been 5 miles.  This past weekend the Goat and I did about 5 miles on mixed, but fairly flat terrain.  It was painful for me, but I am progressing in terms of my stride.  It took us about 47.5 minutes, so it wasn't blazing fast.  Goat did say it felt like sub-9 minute pace as he was breathing hard a few times.  I guess the route must be a little longer than I thought.

Anyway, I decided to give it another go last night, and banged out a time of 44 minutes...not bad considering.  The pace was better and stride continues to improve, but the pain in my hips and lower back was fairly intense.  I'm hopeful that it will improve like everything else to date.  It gets difficult to focus and maintain form with the pain, so I really want it to improve soon.

The good news is that I'm fairly certain I will be OK for Reach the Beach.  My stride is smoother on pavement and my pace is decent.  I'm thinking I can hold an 8 minute pace or better on the flats.  Downhills are the toughest as I still don't fully trust the leg.  It may be more mental than physical at this point...just need to work through it.  It's been great having RTB as a goal as it has really kept me focused on the rehab.  I don't think I would have worked nearly as hard without this race as a goal.

I know I still need to post a report on Yosemite, but other priorities are in the way right now.

If anyone knows a good Masters swim coach in the Hartford area, please drop me a line.  I'm looking for one.

Also, I'm thinking of changing the name of the blog to something other than "Ultra Steve".  The name just seems very self-serving, and I really don't want it to be about me as much as it is about life experiences and personal insights with running, climbing, skiing and other activities as a metaphor.  I want the blog to serve a greater community.  Maybe a simple change to "Ultra Life"?

BTW, you think it's too soon to start training for an ultra?  ;-)



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Middle Teton (Part 2) - Summit Bid

OK, the long awaited conclusion to the Middle Teton assault:

After being thwarted by the weather gods on Monday, we did Yellowstone on Tuesday and Hanging Canyon on Wednesday, and then pulled ourselves together for another go at Middle Teton on Thursday.

On Wednesday evening, we went into Jackson to grab a bite to eat and pick up some last minute provisions.  I needed some tie-wraps to make some DIY anti-balling plates for my crampons, flip shades for my glasses, and Goat needed a few things as well.  After getting what we needed at Kmart, we grabbed a quick bite at DQ (it actually wasn't too bad - I had quesadillas).

By the time we got back to camp, I was fading fast.  I was tired and dehydrated from our day in the canyon, but still needed to pack and fix my crampons.  Additionally, we had to put all our gear in the rental car because we had to switch rooms at the Climber's Ranch in the morning.  Ugh!

I patiently worked on my anti-balling plates and hoped it would fix the problem.  I cut plastic panels out of a quart milk jug, trimmed them to fit, poked holes in them, and strapped them onto my crampons with the tie-wraps.  See photo below.  Notice the "nutritional facts" label on the rear plate!  :-)

They actually worked out very well.  I can send more detailed info if anyone is interested.

Anyway, I finally got packed and ready to go, but was drained from the effort.  There was doubt in my mind about my ability to log the mileage, but figured I would see how I felt when we got up at 4AM.
Our plan was to get on the trail by 4:30 as we figured it would be a 8-9 hour effort round-trip.  We wanted to be off the summit before noon to avoid any potential bad weather.

We got up a little before 4, quickly ate breakfast, and jumped in the rental car to drive to the trail head.  Chris had told us that we could save some time hiking in from the Lupine Meadows trailhead, and we wanted every advantage possible.  We got to the trailhead at about 4:40AM.  Goat played around with his GPS gizmo for awhile, so we didn't actually get on the trail until about 4:50.  Woof!  Starting out 20 minutes behind schedule was not great, but we felt like we had some buffer in the plan if things went smoothly.

Goat let me set the pace.  Like most alpine starts, there isn't much talk.  We walked quietly by headlamp and tried to conserve energy while making good time.  I kept up a steady pace at a level I felt we could maintain for the day.  I knew we would slow down when we hit the snow, so tried to make time in this section leading up into Garnett Canyon.  It's about 4.5 miles to the Meadows if I recall, and we got to the first real snow at about 6:45 or so.  We quickly put on our gators and grabbed our ice axes, but knew we could manage without the crampons for awhile.  Note: We were both wearing Salomon light weight goretex hikers which were perfect for this terrain.   We also traveled somewhat light with water for the first section, so stopped for a few minutes to fill our water bottles just below the Meadows.  Goat brought his new ultraviolet light tool to purify the water.  We didn't get sick, so I assumed it worked.  Gotta love technology!

By the time we arrived at the Meadows, it was a hair past 7, and I was pleased with our effort.  We could see a couple of climbers in front of us.  We were making time on them, but had to stop to put on our crampons.  I continued to set the pace up through the steep snow couloir, and we were quickly up past our previous high point.  As exciting as this was for us, I knew we still had a long haul to the top.

We hit a big boulder field at the saddle, and it seemed to go on forever.  Have I mentioned how much I hate boulder fields?  I don't know what it is, but I can't move very quickly in them.  I didn't like them before the accident, and now I REALLY don't like them!

Anyway, we eventually got through it, and made it to the top of the saddle.  The view of Icefloe Lake was fantastic!  This lake is the highest lake in the Tetons, and it is a sight to see.  This picture does not do it justice.

We were at 11,000 feet, and I think it was around 9:30AM.  We had plenty of time to get to the summit, but the task ahead looked intimidating.  There was A LOT OF SNOW!  We could see the obvious path, but seeing it and doing it were two different stories.

Since Goat had limited experience on snow slopes, I took the lead.  I kick-stepped using a combination of french technique and front-pointing...trying to be very deliberate in my movements.  Goat followed suit, and we made it through the first steep section without much trouble.  The question was, "How do we get back down that thing?"  This question would hound me each step of the way to the top.  We had no rope, so we needed to rely on our own abilities to get down the thing.  Gulp!

We saw climbers ahead of us going up another steep snow slope.  To the left was a band of rock.  I assumed the folks in front knew the best approach, so followed their lead.  Halfway up the snow, Goat decided to try the rock.  I was concerned about loose rock, so stayed on the snow.  Besides, I was near the top of the section.

We rested briefly in a rocky spot in between the snow slopes, and Goat said he was continuing up the rock.  The team of 4 plus 1 in front of us did a nice job kicking steps, so I opted for the snow.  It was smooth traveling, but still un-nerving on the snow.  I was worried about Goat and could not see him.  I yelled out, and he said he was fine.  In fact, he was doing better than me.  I was exhausted and fading fast.

I felt like the Tour de France climber who leads the way up the mountain for the team captain.  I was spent, and Goat was getting his second wind.  We got to the narrow gully, and I was pleased that we were near the top.  However, I was stressed from the loose rock and also couldn't stop thinking about how we would get down safely through the snow.

After peeling off our crampons, we made the final push to the summit.  It was great to make it to the top, and Goat surprised me with the CCM flag!  Goat thinks of everything!  Good man!

After a few summit photos,

we found a sunny spot just off the summit to grab a quick bite to eat before attempting the descent.  I was anxious to get down the steep stuff, but knew we needed our energy.  Most accidents happen on the descent, and I didn't want Goat or me to be another statistic.

We passed an older guy coming up as we started our descent.  He read my mind as he said, "I don't know how I'm going to get back down!"  Yeah, I know...

We made quick work of the rock gully, and then put the crampons back on.  Goat was moving faster than me as I was being a bit tentative with my repaired leg.  I wanted to be absolutely sure of every step, and I wasn't fully trusting my new leg/hip.  Goat kept saying how easy the rock was on the ascent, and I decided to give it a try on the descent.  He was right!  There was a well marked trail with fairly solid rock, and I kicked myself for not taking it on the way up.  Lesson learned!

Anyway, I was very happy to get down through that steep section.  Here's a shot of South Teton on the other side of the saddle.  Some folks do both summits in a day, but one was enough for me.

There was one more steep snow section to cross before we got to the saddle.  Goat was nervous about it since there was no way to avoid it.   I was less concerned as I knew we could safely self-arrest in that section without going over a cliff.

As luck would have it, the sun softened the snow enough that we could plunge step all the way down the slope.  No worries whatsoever!

At the saddle, we ran into Andy, a red-bearded gent from Minnesota who we saw near the summit.  We chatted with him a bit, and he decided to join us for the walk back to the Meadows.  He was camped there, and made an early solo effort that morning.

After getting through the dreaded boulder field, we had a blast glissading down the snow slopes.  At one point, I slipped on my butt and just rode it down to the bottom while using my ice axe for braking.  The others followed suit, and we had a grand old time!

Life was great!  We took a break to enjoy the sun and eat some food.  A Marmot must have smelled our food because he came charging and glissading over the snow to come check us out.  It was a hoot watching him.

At the Meadows, we bid farewell to our new friend, Andy, and started the descent of Garnett Canyon.

Before we got too far, Goat had one more surprise.  He wanted to take a picture at Grover's resting place.  No need to get too alarmed...we are talking about a muppet after all!  However, it is also Euroman's trusty companion and superhero sidekick.  Legend has it that Grove I perished in the frigid waters of Garnett Canyon.  The rushing waters were too much for him, and Euroman could not save him.  We built a temporary memorial and took some photos to mark the occasion.  There were a few onlookers who shared in the moment with us.

The descent down to the trailhead was peaceful and satisfying.  My leg was a little sore, but we felt good about our achievement.  It was a team effort, and we were happy with the result.

We drove back to camp, soaked our legs, showered, and ate an early dinner.  I think we were in bed by 8pm or earlier.

Chris, our new friend from camp, came by to see how our trip went.  He was happy we were able to summit, and we chatted for a bit.  He was off early in the morning to meet Ying on the trail, so we said our good-byes and then it was off to bed.

Friday would be our last day in the Tetons and for once we didn't have an agenda.  Hmmm....what would tomorrow bring?   One never knows....


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A glorious night!

What a glorious night it was...!

I was licking my wounds this week after I tried to run around Reservoir 6 with Charlotte Sunday morning.  The loop is a fairly flat 3.5ish miles.  We did the it in 32 minutes, but I was gimpy and sucking wind behind Charlotte the whole way.  My stride was painful and tentative and I was very much disheartened by the effort.  Charlotte ran about 10 paces in front of me most of the way which I found to be incredibly disheartening.  I guess I was moving pretty slow.  There was nothing I could do to close the gap.  I was in full afterburner mode at a 9 minute humbling.  I know she didn't mean to drive me into the ground as she was just doing her best to finish the run.  She was in survival mode as much as I was...just a bit faster.   Her stride looked so effortless and smooth from my vantage point though.  It was humbling for me, but I was also happy to be there.  It was only 10 months ago yesterday that I was in a helicopter on my way to the hospital and wondering if I would live to see this day.

It was a lesson for me though.  There was a time, not too long ago, where I would run out in front of people, and loop back from time to time to see how they were doing, chat a bit, and then open a gap again.  I thought I was running WITH them, but now I know that I was not running with them at all.  I understand it's hard to slow yourself down to run at someone else's pace, and there was a time when I felt I had to hammer the pace to meet my training objectives.  It was always a compromise between running socially vs. training to meet a race objective.  It's also really hard to run slow when you are used to running fast.  I learned a valuable lesson on Sunday.  I suspect most people won't have trouble keeping up with me for the foreseeable future, but I will definitely keep it in mind when the day comes...

Tonight was different.  I went out on the same course by myself.  I went at my pace, and my leg decided to cooperate a little better.  My stride felt good from the start, and the pain level seemed manageable.  I still felt a little off balance, but it was considerably better than my previous effort.  I was blazing along with a 1 minute advantage at the halfway point...woohoo!  My leg started getting tired, the pain was increasing, and my stride started going to hell, but I hung in there.  The wonderful thing about it is that I really felt like a runner again.  This wasn't a gimpy mile on a treadmill or at the track.  I was actually covering some distance without stopping, and my stride felt reasonably intact (albeit a little off kilter).  It was running as far as I was concerned!

I covered the 3.5 mile distance in 30 minutes.  A 2 minute improvement over my previous effort.  It honestly felt like I was going much faster, but it's a start.  I'm less concerned with the time than I am with my form and pain level....and both were much improved tonight.  I'm a happy guy with all things considered.

If you had told me I would be running at this level a few weeks ago, I don't think I would have believed it.  All the hiking on the vacation definitely helped, and even my walking has improved significantly.

Life is grand!  Ain't it?

So many days I doubted the ability to get it all back.  The gap was so large and I didn't see a path to get there.  I'd like to say it was sheer determination and faith that got me to this point, but there were days where I wondered if it was possible.  I often negotiated with God, the Universe, or whoever would listen.  "If I could just get back to "X"..."  You know how the story goes...

I know I'm not there yet, but I am starting to see the possibilities, and it excites me!  The light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel.  Sure, I walk like a drunk in the morning without the shim in my shoe, but I can live with it if that's the only major issue.  So many people have experienced much worse.  I am very blessed!

Count your blessings and be thankful!  Keep the faith and stay the course!  That's what I keep telling myself!  Good things will happen...just be patient and persistent.

I am planning to get out to some of the local races soon.  It will be great to see some of my running friends again!   Maybe I'll be able to keep up with Char a little better on our next run too ;-)

As my RTB teammate, Rich, says, "May your feet dance across the pavement (or trails)!"



Monday, August 1, 2011

Hanging Canyon/Cube Point Adventure - The Tetons

On Tuesday evening, after a touristy day in Yellowstone, I was itching to get into some real climbing.  Our new friend and bunkmate, Ying, was packing for his 5 day trek across the Teton Crest Trail.  I have to admit I was a little jealous of his impending adventure.  This trek was his big reward to himself for completing his residency in Vascular Surgery at John Hopkins.  Very cool guy.  I was able to give him a few tips on mountaineering, and am still eager to hear how his trip turned out.   Our other roommate, Chris, was planning to meet Ying for a day or 2 on the trail after he finished his bridge game in town on Thursday.   How cool is that...?  These guys didn't know each other more than a couple days, and they were connecting for an adventure.  A little bit of trail magic was happening at the AAC Climbers Camp.  You gotta love it!  I'm gonna miss that place.

After listening to their conversations over a couple days it became apparent to me that Chris had spent some time in the Tetons.  In fact, he had spent the whole summer there as well as parts of previous summers.  He was also a very smart guy.  He was a retired Actuarial and was working part-time on a Phd. in mathematics.   I started asking Chris for some beta on moderate climbs in the lower elevations, and he gave me some ideas.  I got fixated on climbing Cube Point since it seemed easy enough for someone who hadn't really climbed since falling 100 feet and shredding his femur.  OK, the statement may not sound normal to a normal person, but try to see my logic.

It also sounded short enough that we could make it a relatively easy day and still have some time to prep for another assault on Middle Teton.  Chris agreed it sounded like a reasonable plan, but mentioned that Cube Point is hard to find.  I asked if he had climbed it.  Not only had he climbed it, but he guaranteed he could lead us to the start of the climb.  Terrific!  We had plenty of gear and ropes to climb as two parties of two.  I figured I would rope up with Chris and Pam and Goat could team up.  Cool!

As it turns out Pam decided to opt out on the climb in preference to an easier day hike.  So, Goat, Chris, and yours truly, took the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake and started up the trail into Hanging Canyon.

After making our way around some downed trees, we started making progress toward the Ribbon Cascade.  Here's a shot of the very impressive waterfall.

Goat was moving well and the trail was easy to follow.  Before long, however, we hit snowfields.  Woof!  We didn't bring ice axes or crampons!  Damn!

Not to be thwarted, we pressed on with careful kick-stepping through the softening snow.  The slope was not too steep, and we were able to avoid a lot of the snow by skirting the edges.  I broke a long, dead branch in half and gave Goat a piece, so we could use it in the case of a self-arrest situation.

The canyon was beautiful, and the sky was pure blue.  Life was good!  We spotted Cube Point and quickly made our way towards it up in the canyon.  It was a beautiful sight except for one thing.  There was a steep couloir full of snow leading up to the base of the climb.  Double snot wads, Batman!  I thought perhaps it wouldn't look so daunting from up close, so we got as close as possible by clambering up a boulder field.  There was about 30 feet of snow between us and the next rock protrusions and then it got even more interesting.  We waffled back and forth for a bit....I started kick stepping up the slope.  It was going easy enough, but what if I ran into a problem?  Goat was not comfortable with the situation, and I was in no position to risk re-braking my leg.  With an ice axe, I would have gone for it, but the axe was back at the ranch.  We decided to chalk it up as a scouting mission and continue up into Hanging Canyon for more reconnaissance.

We cruised across some snowfields, clambered up some sketchy rock, and delicately stepped along a snow bridge.  As we crested the top of the next ridge, we saw a beautiful sight.  Ramshead lake and Lake of the Crags were sitting right in front of us and right below the Ramshead.  Nice!

We took some time to bask in the sun, check out the views, and grab a bite.  Then, I set up the camera to take a few shots of the three Musketeers.

Note the Ram's head rock feature in the background.

All-in-all it was a great day!  We explored new territory with a new friend and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  We finished early enough to prep for our assault on Middle Teton, and didn't extend ourselves to the point where we tapped into our energy reserves.  We had time to eat, pack, and prep for an early alpine start on Middle Teton.  Goat and I were forever grateful to Chris for sharing the day with us and presented him with a Traprock 50K glass as a token of our appreciation.  Life is, indeed, good!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


On Tuesday, we took a rest day by way of Yellowstone.  We did the tourist thing - sat at Old Faithful for 2 hours waiting to watch it shoot water 60 feet in the air for a few minutes.  I have to admit that it is an impressive sight, but also felt silly sitting there with a few thousand strangers waiting to see it blow.

Despite our best attempts to see the mighty Grizz, the man-eating bears were nowhere to be found.  I guess they were sleeping.

The cool thing about Yellowstone is that it has so many different features to check out.  We started with the geysers and hot springs, then checked out the Yellowstone canyon and waterfalls, and then saw some of the wildlife in the park as well as breathtaking views of Yellowstone lake.  I'm sure there is a lot more to see once you get away from the roadside attractions, but we only gave ourselves a day to play tourist in the park.

Here are some photos from our day in the park.

Here is a cool self-portrait.  The orange color is from bacteria growing in the water.

Some cool views of Mammoth Hotsprings.

Some wildlife photos:

The majestic Yosemite Falls.  Incredible volume of water...powerful!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Grand Teton National Park - Middle Teton (Part 1)

It all started when I looked out the window of the Delta narrowbody jet during landing and saw the Grand Teton staring me in the face.  Whoa!  I was eye-level with an unbelievable chunk of rock.   It made me think twice about trying to scale the beast.  Nevertheless, it was an awakening to the incredible beauty and grandeur of these mountains.  There are bigger and more technical climbs, but the combination of both make these mountains some of the most beautiful and fun in the world.  The beauty of it is that these mountains are still relatively lightly traveled compared to other national parks, so it makes for a nice, peaceful place to visit.

I tried to use my new iPad to chronicle some of these adventures in real time, but the inability to upload photos held me back a bit.  Having just returned, I am busily sorting through photos and video and trying to get all of this documented in a comprehensible fashion.  Here is the first installment of the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Yosemite extravaganza with a little bit of Napa Valley and Muir Woods blended in for good measure.  Hope you enjoy the stories as much as I enjoyed experiencing them!

Tetons - Part 1

After a nice breakfast in town, Goat and I stopped by the Teton Mountaineer to pick up some last minute gear. I bought a pair of Superfeet shoe insoles for my leather mountaineering boots and Goat picked up a pair of strap-on crampons.  Then, after checking out of the hotel, we stopped at Albertson's to provision our party with food.  Afterward, we headed back to the Teton Mountaineer as Goat talked me into a smaller pack. My pack was probably fine, but I did save some weight with the new Osprey Hornet 24 pack and I will be able to move better on the rock with it.  Before I spent more money, we jumped in the rented Ford Escape and escaped to the National Park. The views driving up to the park were just amazing. The Tetons are very much like the Alps in that they are jagged, rocky, snow covered peaks, but they start at a lower elevation. The vertical gain on these climbs is impressive at about 6,000 feet, but the base of the climbs is well below 7,000 feet.  With record snow falls this past winter, it makes the climbing more challenging in many respects.  We needed to carry an ice axe, helmet, crampons, gaitors, gloves, etc. as well as 3 liters of water, food, sunscreen, camera, hat, puffy jacket, shell jacket, and more.  Suddenly, my new 1,400 cubic inch pack was looking very small.

We stopped at the visitor center to purchase a national park pass.  I purchased the annual pass since Char and I will be at Yosemite next week. We watched the tourist video, and then made our way to the American Alpine Club Climber's Ranch.  The ranch is a great deal at $22 per night for non-members and $15 per night for AAC members. The place is great. If you don't mind dorm style living on wooden bunks, pack your air mattress and sleeping bag and chill out with some really cool and diverse people.

There are hot showers here, gas grill, washer/dryer, library, wifi, and unbelievable views.  I have tried to get some decent shots, but my camera can't seem to handle the contrast in lighting very well.

Our CT Climbers friend, Pam, drove up from Boulder, CO to spend a few days with us, and arrived at the ranch shortly after we settled in.  It was good to catch up with her.

We attempted to cook some burritos for dinner, but they left a bit to be desired. We agreed to go out for dinner the next night.  After dinner, it was prep time for our ascent of Middle Teton.  Middle Teton tops out at about 12,800 feet. The Climbers Ranch is located at 6,600 ft. elevation, so it's about 6,000 vertical to do it in a day.  We knew we were biting off a bit, but figured it would familiarize us with the high peaks, so we could plan other climbs such as the Grand Teton.

We attempted to pack light, so we could make good time, but included all the items I mentioned above. We did not pack climbing gear as the Southwest Couloir route was rated a Class 3 rock scramble.  We left the ranch at 6AM with a plan to reach the summit by noon.  Things started well when a kind fellow offered us a ride to the trailhead saving us about a half mile walk.  As it turns out he was an ultra runner from Illlinois who just placed 3rd in a local 50 miler. Of course, we told him to come out to run Traprock.

The trail started off easy enough meandering through meadows.  It took a minute to pick up the trail as it entered the woods, but then we started climbing. The path was easy to follow, but the Mosquitos were the worst I have ever experienced.

We had no bug spray, so suffered mightily.  An Exum Mountaineering guide blew by us on the trail.  I imagine he was probably trying to stay ahead of the bugs.  Once the sun came out in force , the bugs faded away, and we settled down and started to enjoy the views.   This little Marmot seemed to be enjoying the view as well.

Garnett Canyon is amazing!

Before too long, we hit snow (around 9,000 feet elevation), and decided to don the axe and crampons. The crampons were a bit of overkill, and we switched back and forth a couple times which caused us to lose some time.   At the Meadows, the trail splits with the Middle Teton trail going left and the Grand Teton trail going right.

We went left and headed up a steep snowfield. This is the first place you really could use the crampons.  At the top of the pitch, Pam decided to rest and abort the summit attempt. Her heavy plastic mountaineering boots were uncomfortable and slowed her down considerably.  She seemed in good spirits, and urged us to push on ahead as she would take her time and meet us at Icefloe lake.  Kevin and I pressed on for another hour or so, but then the weather got nasty.  It was raining and hailing, and the skies looked really bad.  We were concerned about Pam, and decided to turn back at 11AM and 11,000 ft.  Kevin was moving well at that point, but the altitude and fatigue were getting to me. We estimated at least another 1.5 hours to the summit at that point and there was no way we could leave Pam alone in a storm for that long.  We retreated quickly, and luckily saw Pam taking shelter in a spot just above where we had parted ways.  She didn't recognize me at first, but was happy to see us as we got closer.  Note: After reading this entry again, I realized we were probably at least 3 hours from the summit given our pace. It was a wise move to turn back given the technical nature of the rock leading to the summit.

We regrouped, the sun came out, and we descended the snowfield back down to the Meadow. Due to the warm temps, snow was balling up on my crampons, giving me great difficulty.  Luckily, the slope was not too steep, but I made a mental note to get some anti-balling plates when we went back into town.

Once we arrived back at the Meadow, we removed crampons and started heading for home. We chatted with folks doing the Grand as they retreated as well.  Some made the summit by leaving from the Exum guide hut at 11,000 feet at 4AM.  The guides have provisioned everything for their clients.  They don't even need to carry a sleeping bag or climbing gear.  For me, i can't see that as a true adventure.  It's great for some people, but just not for me.  We have our bivy gear, so bivying at a higher camp is an option, but I prefer moving fast and light and banging it out in a day if at all possible.

On the descent, we made a wrong turn which probably added 1-2 miles to our trek.  We were worn out when we got back to the ranch, and decided to soak our legs in the frigid river near camp before heading into town for some dinner.

We found a nice organic food restaurant in Jackson, and I enjoyed fish tacos while we licked our wounds.  We discussed options for the coming days, and all agreed we needed an easy day to recover and further acclimatize before making another summit attempt.

All in all it was a good day.  I knew the likelihood of reaching the summit on day 1 was a longshot.  The climb allowed us to get familiar with the area, acclimatize, understand our timing/pace, and work out our gear systems.  It was a chance for Goat and Pam to learn some mountaineering skills as well.  For me, I realized my fitness was still not 100%, but I thought it would be sufficient to get me through the week.  I decided to give up on the heavy leather mountaineering boots, and use my new goretex Salomen trail running shoes for the next attempt.  Goat had a similar set-up, and the crampons worked fine with them.  This would enable me to move faster and save energy.  I also needed to get a water bladder as stopping to pull out water bottles was too time consuming, and I was not drinking enough as a result.

We were tired after day 1, but it allowed me to quickly get my mind and body adjusted to vacation mode.  I did not have a cell signal to check email, and was pleased to fall asleep listening to the sound of the guitar player strumming away at the cabin next door.  Life is good.