Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ski to Sea 2014

The last couple of weeks have been a bit rough with family issues so I’ve had just little bits of time to consider this year’s race.

We were in Florida the week before Ski to Sea Race weekend. There we had an opportunity to kayak on a tributary of the Tomoka River which lies just on the outskirts of Ormond Beach. We paddled for a couple of hours and all though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife I did enjoy getting out on the water and paddling around.

Upon my return that old feeling of wanting to race turned into a really big urge. I don’t like being left out of that race! Last year our trip to Florida occurred during S2S weekend and this year there was nothing but talk about putting a team together, much to my dismay.

I took a look at the message board to see if any teams needed a kayaker and fortunately enough I connected with Megan, the captain of team Uncle Rhabdo. The teams kayaker had a family emergency and would I be willing to race? You bet! I don’t know if they checked my age when I registered but I think they were desperate.

My poor kayak! The last time I had used it was to go crabbing in mid July of last year. It was streaked with dirt and green with mildew. My equipment was strewn around in a couple of different locations. At least signing up for the race allowed me to get it all together, clean and wax the boat.

Old car, old boat (but clean) and two great dogs ready to go race
A few years ago the boat itself was hit by a falling tree and crushed. For fun I used clear fiberglass resin to repair the cracks. From a distance it looks as if there are holes in each side of the boat. Now I was wondering if I would get a bunch of crap during the boat inspection at the race. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

With just a few days before the race I managed to get out twice on Silver Lake for an hour or so. Silver Lake is tucked in below the foothills of the Cascades, had hardly any boat traffic on it and motor boats are limited to 10 hp engines. A great place to paddle. The water is so clear you can see the bottom for a long ways out and it’s quiet enough you can hear the streams that enter the lake chuckling over the rocks as you paddle by.

The team gathered on Saturday evening at a new brewpub in Bellingham called Aslan Brewing. One of the team members asked me how long I had been paddling and all I could think of saying was “before your were born.” Twenty somethings mostly, actively finishing up their studies and internships and heading out into the greater world of physical therapy jobs. Hence the name “Uncle Rhabdo”.

The team seemed to be well connected in Bellingham, friends and family showed up a the brewery and although I was the outsider this year, it's great to see this "gathering and good cheer" aspect of the race weekend. After all it has a very fitting motto - "More than a race..."

I was very happy to hear that, Kim, was going to skate ski as opposed to traditional. The course is tough going, speed really counts and she had a very good time. 

An eager bunch they were yet somewhat inexperienced, which is OK, but I was concerned about the canoeists.  I left that evening hoping for the best for each of the racers, but thinking that it might be quite awhile before I hit the water on race day.

(I could not find pictures of the downhiller or the runner!)

Megan Ferris rides with a pack on the Road Bike leg.
The novice canoeists are very photogenic!
The canoeists hadn't done much besides paddling around the Arboretum on the UW campus and that's a far cry from paddling in a race down the Nooksack River. Not that the course on the river is an overly dangerous one, it’s just that I am cautious by nature, and things can go terribly wrong if something does happen. A racer died a few years ago practicing. They were swept under an overhanging tree and the force of the water kept her down.

I got hypothermic once practicing for the canoeing leg on Lake Whatcom. My partner had run a half marathon distance that morning and when we caught a wave and dumped, his legs cramped and was unable to kick his way to shore. We got there eventually, not very long really, but in those few minutes our core temp had dropped considerable.

Then there was the time when Ann Marie and I hit a dead head during the race and threw us off our seats. We were going full tilt passing boats right and left then wham we were stopped dead in the water. We hit it straight on and were able to recover without tipping over but something like that is a wake up call regarding how fast conditions can change. That was also the year I lost feelings in my legs and did a face plant in the sand during the exit at Hovandar Park. I digress.  I just wanted the canoeists to be safe and have fun so I mentioned everything I could recall that would make their 18 mile trip easier. Kind of hard to do without practice. 

One option offered this year for kayakers was Early Release, meaning that a racer could opt to leave before the Cross Country Biker arrived so that some of the slower teams could finish earlier. This appealed to me. In 2011 I was on a team where the kayak leg was cancelled around 4:00 due to high winds and waves. The result was that I waited around all afternoon and the team I was on was so slow that I didn’t even get a chance to race. All I got was a T-shirt.

The other advantage is to avoid a mass start. At 5:00 all the remaining boats are released at once. I didn’t want to get into something like that either. By leaving early I could theoretically race against teams that may have faster kayakers, something that brings out the competitiveness in me and urges me to perform better.

I know it’s all about fun, but racing is even more fun when you can perform your best. Granted I didn’t train for this event but once I hit the water it was all about passing more boats than getting past by others.

During the kayak meeting Early Release was indeed offered, some boats would be released as early as 2:30. Doing some rough calculations I figured given the lack of experience of team Uncle Rhabdo I probably wouldn’t hit the water until 4:30 or so.  The team meeting was to be held at noon so that was going to be a long wait for me. So I opted for early release.

It rained off and on throughout the afternoon. I enjoyed watching the leading teams head out and powerhouse across the bay. I also sat with an old friend and his dog and people watched as folks promenaded along the waterfront paths but hanging around was getting old. I also saw Ali Moore whose family team was also racing. She was with husband, nieces and nephews and her dog Eleanor. Cute

The early release turned out to be not that early, I left at 3:30. I was glad to be on the water though and conditions were about as good as it could get. Light rain, a little chop and enough of a breeze that when I went into it, it cooled me down. The boats were spread out and I eagerly looked for boats to overtake.

Not many kayakers know about drafting. Paddling up behind another boat, like within a couple of feet of their stern, puts my boat in calmer water and provides a windbreak much like drafting in the road bike leg of the race, the way cyclist do. The first guy I drafted didn’t even know I was there and he provided a much need break while I was working the kinks out of my paddling stroke. I told him about drafting as I passed him, telling him he could do the same to me but he couldn’t keep up the speed. He said “Wow you mean like NASCAR?”

Some of the racers did not make good choices on their line to the buoys that mark the turns. I passed them without even coming close to them. Those few that did pass me I drafted behind them for as long as I could to take advantage of their speed. Most impressive was a Hawaiian woman in a outrigger. Her stroke count was impressive, she never slowed down and she passed everyone in sight. A joy to watch.

This racer was seriously fast!

Drafting before passing, what fun.

The picture the S2S photographer took of me was just after the turn at the first buoy. I’d cut off a couple of boats on the turn and was drafting a boat for a bit so I could slack off my pace but keep my speed up. It was a fun time.

Rounding the final buoy there was one more boat between the finish and me. I tried to catch him but couldn’t. I made a shaky exit and sort of stumbled to the beach but I got to ring the bell after 1:03 on the water.

Looking at the stats for team Uncle Rhabdo the cross country skier and the XC Biker turned in some impressive times. Had I known how well the XC biker would do, I would have waited until he arrived. With the late “Early Release” and his quick leg there was only about a 30 minute difference between the time I left and his arrival.

Michael powerhouses it to a 3 place finish in our division. Impressive!

The finish at Marine Park was soggy and crowded. None of Uncle Rhabdo was there. It would have been a difficult for them to get through the throngs of cars and people especially since my early release. They were meeting at a local restaurant but I opted to hop back in my kayak and paddle back to the start.

What a nice was to end my S2S day! I met the last stragglers on the kayak course about half way across the bay. Then all the safety boats left leaving me alone on the now windless calm waters. The rain had stopped and the clouds had lifted. The Bellingham skyline was before me. There were tons of bait fish jumping around the boat and some noisy Terns where wheeling overhead. How cool is that?

Arriving back at the cabin Alison had a beer and a burger waiting for me. What a Treat!

And next year? Well the best category to be in would be Whatcom County Rec. That would require us to pull in all locals but by planning ahead we might just be able to do it. Look for the return of "Acht to Lieber!" See you there.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day

The Rim2Rim was a wonderful experience, I even bought a T-shirt. While most people take two days or more there were quite a number of folks who did it in a day along with us. My day was a little longer than I anticipated.

Alison's friend, Carolyn, and her husband, Gary, accompanied us on this trip. Carolyn running with us and her husband shuttling the car to the South Rim while we traversed. Gary's willingness to make that 3 1/2 hour road trip simplified the logistics considerably.

I'm a solid North Rim fan and am so glad we started there and didn't have to experience the commercialization at the South rim until we were done. The cabins surrounding the one lodge were old and comfy as was the lodge. Perched on the edge with its great windows and high vaulted ceilings it afforded us our first panoramic view of the canyon.

Arriving in the late afternoon we had time to wander around and even drink a beer on our little porch before meandering toward a sunset view and later dinner. 

The North Lodge's dinning area with its vaulted ceilings and sea of people was an experience in its self.  My stomach was a little queasy and I was concerned about what to eat. Gary carved his way through a beautiful prime rib and had I been up for it I would have gladly traded in my chicken quarter for just a couple of bites.

Up at 4:30 and on the trail at 5:35 with our headlamps on we descended North Kaibab trail in the 40 degree darkness with just a glimmer of light in the East. We were warned by the rangers that there was a washout on the trail that left a mere 10" wide trail that needed to be traversed by hanging on to a rope but it was daylight by the time we got there and the washout was only a few feet.

The descent in the morning light was full of grandeur as the sheer cliffs enclosed us. There were only a few places where the valley opened out before us, the trail hugged the side of an almost vertical wall and the other side wasn't that much farther away. There was signage regarding the different strata and the changes in color made passage from one epoch to another quite obvious.

The temperature was mild, just a few clouds in the sky and with the trial in the shadows, we ran where it was fairly flat and the footing good. The scenery couldn't have been better. Vast, huge and sometimes just a looming presence over us. Few people were on the trail feeling like we had the whole canyon to ourselves.

We passed Roaring Springs which is a river that flows out of a cave on the side of a cliff and took a side trip to Ribbon Falls before winding our way down to Phantom Ranch on the floor of the canyon. Alison's Garmin GPS pooped out at about mile 12 which was still a couple of miles from the ranch.

According to the Garmin our moving time was about 18 minutes per mile and even though the elevation drop from the rim to the canyon floor is listed at 5,700, the Garmin recorded a total loss including the ups and downs of the trail at 7,700.

We had lunch at Phantom Ranch including their world famous lemonade at around 11:30. Lots of happy but tired people there and hot too as the temperature had increased to the low nineties.

Crossing the footbridge over the roaring Colorado River was one of my highlights. Having just been in the mountains above Boulder the weekend before, I couldn't help but imagine that some of that raging torrent had fallen on me there and flood it's way downstream leaving a huge mess in its wake.

The trip up Bright Angel Trail was a tough pull.  On the way up after crossing the Colorado we were keeping up a pretty good pace, running in places that were level with good footing. Carolyn, the other gal that came with us was determined to do the traverse faster than I had expected but my desire was to keep the three of us together throughout the trip. So I pushed myself more than I should.

By the time I was willing to acknowledge I was in trouble I knew it would take some time to recover. I got overheated and had to stop to get my heart rate down. It didn't go down. Alison got concerned. It was really elevated. Carolyn was up ahead of us and kept going. We sent word with a passerby that we had stopped and for her to continue. 

Unbeknownst to us Carolyn had similar issues, she finished about an hour ahead of us but she required help from her husband who had come down from the South Rim. She was not a happy camper.

I had the salt tablets and she didn't. According to her husband she became somewhat disoriented and woozy, he worried that she might fall over the edge. She asked around for some salt tablets, nobody had any. Someone gave her sunflower seeds and she puked them up. She lost interest in drinking. Looking back at the situation I should have voiced my concerns, split up the essentials and hung back, listening to my body. 

I knew that I wasn't in peak condition. Having diarrhea for the week before didn't help much either. But for me it comes down to adequate rest, hydration and pacing. We didn't rest enough at Phantom Ranch, I didn't drink enough electrolytes before starting up and I started up at too fast a pace.

I can't tell you how long we stopped but it felt like a really long time, maybe a half an hour or more, but my heart rate finally did go down. I ate a salt tablet and drank ton of water and was able to finish at a slow pace, but finished. 

Alison and I are also still thinking about a few people we passed that were struggling a lot more than I was, wondering if they made it out before dark. The canyon we ascended had so many twists and turns and the cliffs were so shear, the trail, while wide and easy to follow was hard to find when looking up. And that rim for a long time seemed ever so far away.

When we finally topped out we looked back and were amazed at the enormity of what we had done. There was a cold wind blowing and all we could think about was finding the bus that would take us to our lodging. We had a kind foreign speaking gentlemen take our picture at the trailhead sign and high tailed it to the bus stop.

North Kaibab Trail is listed as 15.6 miles long. Bright Angel Trail up to the South rim is 9.6. With our little excursion to Ribbon Falls and a mile or so on the canyon floor we managed at 26+ mile traverse in a total of 12 hours and 15 minutes.

Would I recommend this trip? Yes. Would I do it again? You bet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pearl and Prairie Lost then Found

The whole lost dog drama started out on Thursday morning. We had just returned from a 5 mile run with the dogs. We had one dog off her lead and I was running with the other on a lead. We have found that since they are so bonded to each other they stay really close together that way. 

When I got to our pasture I let Pearl off her lead. Immediately the two dogs picked up a sent of something (maybe a bear) and went streaking across the grass and into our woods. Shouting all my usual attention getting commands did nothing. It was as if they had earplugs and that they never even knew who I was. Alison was right behind me and we set off to find them to no avail. It all happened in an instant.

Two and a half days of combing the hills, stapling up fliers and doing all the typical lost dog stuff got us nothing. (Except some very genuine sympathy from a lot of nice people, thank you very much!) We took one of the dogs’ squeaky balls on our hikes and squeaked all the way. 

Saturday afternoon: The dogs were found near the cell tower on Sumas Mt (3500 ft elevation) about 11 miles away by highway and dirt logging roads. A group of men and women driving quads found them and since they were near the cell tower were able to call the number on the dogs tags. There is no cell reception between us and that tower which made the rest of this adventure more difficult. 

We were just heading out the door to go search for them again by car this time as we had spent the morning on foot hiking the hills behind the house. Between the two of us we had logged over ten miles. The traces of where we went can be seen on the map in faint blue lines west of the cabin which is pinned in yellow. 

The quad group told us to meet them at a gravel pit on the way to the cell tower because they were going to take an off road "short cut" to get to the gravel pit. They said the dogs were OK but just spent and that the group would wait for us at the gravel pit for awhile.

Two miles of highway and about 8 miles of logging road driving got us to the gravel pit. No quads were there. We could hear motors in the distance for a bit but then they faded away. We waited for about an hour and a half not knowing if we were in the right spot or not. I had never been in this area before. We opted to leave a note and go back down to the highway to see if their vehicles and trailers were still there. We left them a note on a big boulder before we left telling them we would come back if their trucks were still there. The note was written on the back of one of our fliers with a picture of the dogs and mention of a reward if found. 

The Trooper had its workout on those roads! The trucks and trailers were still there so we left another note and headed back up. Just before we got back to the gravel pit we saw a a group of quads. Two of the men were carrying the dogs on their laps will driving the quads! I think they were as happy to see us as we were them.

The dogs had been too weak to walk and the short cut was not as easy as they expected, especially with the dogs so had taken them over two hours to get down to the pit. We could tell that the men's arms were really sore from trying to drive and hold on to the dogs. We lifted the dogs off and laid them in the car, much relieved after their ordeal (and ours). Prairie was almost comatose and Pearl was just limp in my arms. The guys said they just stayed in their arms without a fuss.

The quad people had originally thought that they would get there before we did. I asked them if they would accept a reward or at least let us buy them dinner at the North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine nearby but they declined saying that it would be bad karma and that they had already discussed it after reading our note. 

What a nice group of people to find out dogs! With hugs all around we headed down that long and windy road. 

We had received their phone call around 3:30 and we didn't get the dogs back to the house until after 7:00. We checked out the dogs, they have some strange bites on their bellies, some scrapes on their feet but that's about it. 

They've pretty much just laid on their beds since then and had to be coaxed to go out but they are back! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ski to Sea 2012

Ski to Sea Race 2012
There’s no intention to do a 2012 recap here but I would be remiss if I let the year go by without mention of the Ski to Sea Race held at the end of May. It was sandwiched in between going to Florida to build a patio and my prostate surgery in June but that in no way diminishes that fact that team “Act du Lieber” finished the race in style with a good time had by all, well almost all.

The intent from the outset was to include family and friends in an event that focused more on fun than competitiveness. That’s not say we all didn’t give it our best but the goal wasn’t to beat ourselves to death to stand on the podium at the end of the day.
What we did do was sit on the deck of The Green Frog Acoustic Bar and eat food and drink pints and pal around.

Our neighbor’s Heather and Leif have lived here for 17 years or so but never had the opportunity to race in S2S. I think that was the impetus for gathering up a team. The idea was to get family members together and on a lark to call upon an old friend from Seattle days to compete with us and reconnect.
So the team comprised of Heather as the cross-country skier, Alison’s daughter Amber as the downhill racer, Alison the runner, Leif the road biker, Tony and his daughter, Elise, the canoeists, my son Seth the Mt Biker and me the kayaker.

After each completed leg there’s a hand off so Amber handed off to her mom and Seth handed off to me, which was an added bonus to the day.

We had everybody lined up but we still needed a canoe. I found one for a great price in Seattle, a big sturdy red tub of a boat. We thought we were all set but Heather, a paragliding enthusiast, had a flying accident, making an emergency landing on what she said was the only snag in the field and cracked the bones in her leg. Sorry Heather, it will be another year before you compete.

Fortunately for us Heather’s flying instructor, Yaro, was willing to fill in at the last minute. Now we’re good to go.

The race itself is a transportation nightmare. Only a select few can go up the mountain, there are road restrictions and since the course covered a 100 miles people were strung out everywhere. We had a team meeting and lasagna feed here at the Golden Hour the night before and planned our strategy.

Race day dawned cool but dry. Amber, Alison and Yaro headed up the mountain early, Leif went part way up to where the road bike leg started and I ferried Tony and Elise to their start and then picked up Seth to be dropped off downriver for the Mt Bike leg.

By the time I got to the kayak input I realized I missed the general meeting but readied the boat for a windy wave tossed ride across the bay.

Here we are actively pursuing our quest:





Tony & Elise


Where’s Seth’s picture? Good question. I was also asking myself on race day “Where’s Seth?” Seth had a chain break and he had to stop and repair it mid race. We beat the cut off though and I was able to grab the wrist band and get on the water. Out beyond the breakwater the waves were washing up over the bow of the boat. The low profile boat usually skims blithely over the water but that day I felt like I was paddling a submarine. Good thing I had a spray skirt.

A minute under nine hours overall. My daughter Kate, her mate Cory and their baby Alianna were also there to greet us. Kate had also been there when Seth started his leg of the race. It was great to have everyone around. Heather was there too.

The finish area was packed so the team headed up to Green Frog to refresh. Sunny deck, good beer, good food, lousy service.