Deep Off the Grid

Just back from 4 spectacular days in the Beartooth Mountains.  I was lucky enough to be included in a Patagonia alpine design team retreat.  Thought I am certainly not an expert skier, I do extensive testing of baselayers and shells that overlap significantly with the alpine line.   Walker graciously extended the invitation and I jumped on it.  So glad I did.  Those mountains are spectacular!

We worked with Beartooth Powder Guides out of Cooke City, MT.  Ben and Bo run a first-class operation and the center-piece of their offering is a beautiful high country cabin that the two of them hand-built last summer.  It’s situated on an old mining claim within the Gallatin Wilderness and accessible only via human power. 

Some wonderful times with fantastic people.  I continue to be amazed and inspired by the dedication Patagonia has to making the best product.  They are without a doubt “committed to the core.”

Check out some of the pics:image

Woody Creek Cabin

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Skinning up the Woody Creek drainage

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Pilot Peak

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Working up the ridge

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Richard assessing the route

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West ridge

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Refueling before the crux of the route

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Randy, Evan and Walker ascending said crux…

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Blowing like stink on the ridge…so we boot-packed.

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Bo keeping us all in line

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Bo’s line…

Some highlights of Autumn in Montana…

Best medicine for the caffeine DTs? Dawn patrol in the season’s first snow.

Best medicine for the caffeine DTs? Dawn patrol in the season’s first snow.

Nana Korobi - ya oki: A Two-Chapter Recap of the Shinetsu 5-Mountains Race

(Note: I started this post while sitting somewhere in the Narita Airport…then finished it today in Missoula)

I’m enjoying a brief gap in flurries of travel.  I could catch up on work and writing and all that, but since the ups and downs of my last few days are consuming my thoughts, I figured I’d do some documenting.

This really should be two blog posts, so I will offer two separate reports of my experience with Japan and the Shinetsu 5 Mountains run.

Chapter 1:  The Amazing Race No One Knows About

The Shinetsu 5 Mountains Race is a world-class event.  The organization is spectacular and the attention to detail stunning.  Hiroki and his crew, with a ton of support from Patagonia Japan and ART Sports, do an unbelievable job and offer a product that transcends any race I have done stateside.  And very few have even heard of it! Patagonia has made a strong effort to change that, bringing Krissy over is 2010 and Jenn in 2011.  Outside of that, however, few if any Westerners have any clue it exists. 

But in the white-hot world of Japanese trail running it’s a big deal, with an emphasis on deal.  For a mere $180 entry fee, runners get 3 exceptionally catered meals, a flawlessly marked course with 1 or more volunteer course marshals ON EVERY TURN, 8 well-run aid stations, drop bag service, transfers between start and finish and award ceremony locations, and a reasonable helping of race swag.  Consider that value in the context of prices charged for US races.  Makes you wonder a bit.  There are even tents with chairs for the spectators at every aid station!

The course – at least the parts I managed to see – is beautiful.  The mountains in and around Nagano are rugged, lush and surprisingly remote.  It’s quite challenging and travels a winding path through the various peaks – mostly ski areas – in the Nagano region.  It is a good mix of technical ups and downs, roots and rocks, flats, exposed, shaded, remote and developed: 110k and 4,000 meters of climbing.  It always fascinating to think about how a trail system’s layout can reflect the agricultural and industrial development of a culture and this course offered plenty of that – rice paddies and terraces, remote shrines, train tracks, river dams, ancient irrigation systems, roads…you name it.  Some really interesting stuff to look at and think about.

What makes this event truly special, however, is the people.  The runners, the race staff, and the volunteers share an inspiring passion for the outdoors, running, and this race.  Everyone I encountered was incredibly kind, welcoming, and enthusiastic.  I would 100% recommend the event to any runner. It’s got support, hoopla and prize money for the elites, as well as a top-notch experience and value for everyone else…. and it’s a fantastic way to experience a wonderful culture in an active, adventurous manner.  Go check it out…I can’t wait to go back myself and have a better day…

Chapter 2:  Lost in Translation

Well that’s a pretty cliché title, but it fits.  When Josh and Fuji approached me in early July about participating in the Shinetsu 5 Mountains race - Hiroki’s race - I jumped at the opportunity.  The chance to represent Patagonia, compete in a foreign country and experience a new culture was a no-brainer.  A no-brainer, that is, when evaluated in isolation.  But if there is one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that no action or decision can be considered in isolation.  Life is a complex system of interconnected decisions, actions, consequence and chance. In my younger days, this system was easier to manage, but as the equation of life has swelled to include an increasing number of variables, solving it has grown difficult.  And to exacerbate this reality, the system’s capacity to endure strain seems to diminish with age as well.  This isn’t just some verbose way of saying “I feel old;” It’s more of an admission, or confession really, that I’m coming to grips with my own limits.

I should have seen this season coming a mile away.  The load of life stress was building steadily through 2011 and erupted over the winter.  In the span of 6 months, we made the decision to move to Montana, welcomed the arrival of Charlotte, lost Maggie’s father, lost McMahon, engaged in two real estate transactions and defended a dissertation.  A chance solid run at Chuckanut, perhaps fueled by the stress, tricked me into thinking I was gaining fitness.  Then a win and CR at the podunk Squak Mt 50 reinforced this myth.  What I should have listened to, however, was my own thoughts during the last 10 miles of the Sun Mountain 50.  Running in second place, on PR pace, I felt empty.  Apathy.  That’s a shitty (and for me quite rare) feeling and it should have told me something.

At that point, I should have bailed on Angeles Crest. Instead, I not only persisted, but doubled down by making a half-assed attempt to attend Scott’s and Jenny’s wedding.  AC was a junk show at the expense of both family and friends.

We moved to Missoula the weekend after AC.  In many ways it felt like a system reset.  We have a great spot in a super town and I love my new faculty position at UM.  All great stuff.  But I have not felt strong since moving to MT.  I tried to fake my way through a couple of long runs with Seth, but I was struggling.  20 mile training runs should not feel like 50-mile races.

Then the wildfires came and with them, the smoke.  Since 9/1 the air quality in Missoula has been marginal to unhealthy.  All of us have felt sick…sore throat, burning eyes, and nausea after runs.  And yet I persisted…running in the smoke like an idiot.

As the Japan trip approached, we decided to get Maggie and the girls (Ainslie 2.5 and Charlotte 9 mos.) out of the smoke.  So instead of flying to Seattle, I drove the family over the day before flying to Narita.  I rationalized that the 8 hours in the car were worth the benefit of a night’s sleep in cleaner air.  Kind of like a couple of nights in the high altitude of Boulder would help me at AC.  Kind of like the logic of an addict, really.

The flight to Japan was what it was.  No way around that.  The bigmistake was arriving the day before the race, but how else could I fit everything in?  The life equation does not include variables for leisure time, adaptation or even rest. I played some mental tricks to get excited for the run.  Easy to do with all the great organization and fanfare around the event.  But once I was alone in the woods, the truth emerged.  I was tired to the core.  10 miles of running felt like 50 and after 20 miles I was staggering as if I had run 80.  Not normal. I tried to rally, but the tank was empty.  After 30 miles, all systems were failing – legs seizing, back locking up, and guts exploding. Then I stopped, and in a similar fashion as my drop at AC, I didn’t even have the mental energy to get pissed about it.  This is not a great place to be…

And so began the long process of unraveling the trip – 7 hours in the car back to Kamakura, a few trains to Narita, the long, sleepless flight to Seattle, a quick lunch with Maggie and the girls, and finally, the drive home to Missoula so I could teach the next day.  (Note that it was just lunch with the family…with the poor air persisting, we decided to keep them in Seattle).  It’s been a week and I am now finally starting to dig out of the hole.

So it’s time to reset and find equilibrium again.  I’ll find it, but I suspect it will take some time and some looking…

It was truly an honor to be given the opportunity to try the Shinetsu 5-Mountains. My sincere thanks to Patagonia, Patagonia Japan, particularly Hoshi, Jiro, Taka, Seiji, Kenji, and Fuji, my family and my new employer for enabling and supporting this crazy trip.  I greatly appreciate it.

Nana Korobi - ya oki: Fall seven times, get up eight. 

Shintesu 5 Mountains Race

Quick update here…I made it to Japan for the Shinetsu 5 Mountains Race.  With the fire smoke in Missoula getting worse, we loaded up the family and drove to Seattle on Wednesday after class.  After a nice evening with family and morning jog with Maggie (our first jog together without the kids in over 2 years!), I hopped a 1:00 PM flight to Narita (Tokyo) on Thursday, arriving at 3:00 PM Friday.  6 more hours, 3 trains and a wild car ride later delivered me to the race site quite ready for some sleep. Fortunately, the hotel obliged and a logged a solid 9 hours.  I work up feeling great, zipped off a few emails and was reminded by Jakki that chasing two little girls around has perhaps inoculated me from sleep deprivation….who knows?  We’ll test that theory tomorrow!

I’m enjoying a nice, relaxing day today, getting myself organized for tomorrow.  A field of 800 runners is registered and it clearly feels like a big deal.  No idea what to expect, other than 110ks of running.  Feeling good and ready to go!

The website is all in Japanese, but opening it with Google Chrome and using the translator function is helpful…have a look if you’re interested. 

http://www.sfmt100.com/

Some cool new product videos from Patagonia - The Light Flyer Jacket and the Thermal Flyer Shirt.  Both are outstanding new additions to the fall 2012 line.  These were shot Olympic National Park.  Cold, wet and hard - that’s winter training in the PNW! Great to work with Bryan and Tim from Reel Water Productions

A Poor Plan, Poorly Executed

Short story:  This past weekend I tried to do to things - Jerker’s and jLu’s wedding and the Angeles Crest 100 - and I did both of them poorly.  I didn’t fully engage in the wedding of two great friends and AC was a complete bust.

Longer story:  I should have seen this coming.  Life has been thick these last few months: the loss of Maggie’s father, McMahon’s death, finishing up and defending the dissertation, travel, illness, real estate transactions, move prep…not to mention keeping up with Ainslie and Charlotte.  The wrong time to attempt a 100, yet I somehow thought I could thread the needle.  Truth be told, I probably didn’t think I could do it and that ended up being the problem.  100-milers will find your weakness and while my body was strong, perhaps as strong as ever, my mind was tired and weak.  When it came time to crowd all else out and zero the the focus, I was not up to the challenge and was left shattered and uninterested in suffering any further. 

Sure, I probably could have stumbled through the night to eek out a finish, but that would have left me completely shattered.  We are moving this week and prospect of being a crappy husband and father for my family was not an option.  The choice to drop was not really a choice at all.  The choice to start, however, is the one I regret.  I did not respect the distance, my limits, and my own family and that is the part the hurts.

So the focus is now squarely where it should be - Maggie, Ainslie, Charlotte, Piper, Montana, UM and setting the stage for a successful new phase of life.

I’ll run and race again, but not until there is ample space.

Great thanks to George and Matt for enthusiastically supporting my exploration of futility and of course to Maggie, for being there when I got home.

Prepare to Enter Hyperspace…

Perhaps it’s a function of the endless winter weather here in Seattle.  Every year I somehow arrive at July 4th wondering what happened to the Spring.  It still feels like March outside…

This year the Spring has been particularly blurry.  Lots going on, mostly good, but keeping this blog, let along my own consciousness, up to date has fallen by the wayside.

So let’s review:

April 21-28:  Family reconnaisance trip to Missoula.  With the help of the grandparents to watch the girls, we were able to look at many neighborhoods and houses.  Found a great place in the Rattlesnake area.  Ran with Mike Foote and Seth Swanson and was hugely impressed by the immediate access to great trail.  6 trail runs over the week without the use of a car!

May 3:  Dissertation defense.  Maggie surprised me by organizing a great group of friends to attend the presentation and post-func.  The support of friends was quite touching, though it did seem to distract me a bit during my presentation.  In the end, I passed and my dissertation was accepted for final submission. 

May 20:  Sun Mt 50-Miler.  Great weekend in Mazama with the Hugnuts.  I had a solid run, placing second behind Seth.  I stuck with him for about the first 10 miles, then he surged and I knew his pace was above my level.  I ran steady and felt pretty strong, but I did suffer some mental fatigue late in the race.  The brain is a bit tired…

May 23-25:  Patagonia Off-Site in Bend.  Great conversations with all the key players.  The product is really taking off and it’s exciting to be a part of that.  Great run along the Deschutes River Trail with the full group and a tour of Smith Rock with Bronco.  Excellent to get some trail time with him during his final build up to SD100 (which he smashed!).

May 26-28:  Jurek Bachelor Party in Las Vegas.  Solid group and a good time.  Got to check out Mt Charleston, an incredibly impressive 12,000 peak just outside of LV.  Super cool 17 mile loop that definitely ranks among my all time highlights.  Evening activities were appropriately inappropriate.

May 30-31:  Patagonia video shoot in Olympic National Park with Bryan and Tim from Reel Water Productions.  Really fun project and I think the final product spots will be quite compelling.  I went into this starting to feel a bit under the weather, and by the time I got home, I was sicker than sick.

That sickness set me back big time.  I spend several days in bed, unable to do much of anything.  Worst illness since mono back in high school.  It wasn’t until late June that I finally felt close to normal.

June 9th:  Graduation…great to have family in town to share in this milestone.  It was a big one.

June 23:  Crew and pace Krissy at Western.  An historic day at WS and Krissy was right in the middle of it.  After a sluggish start, she got stronger and stronger all day and her last mile was no doubt her fastest.  I was along from Green Gate to the finish and it was a blast…steadily moving up the field and passing both Nikki Kimball and Lizzy Hawker in the last 5 miles.  Inspiring effort!

June 27:  Closed on the sale of our house in Seattle.

July 2:  Closed on the purchase of our new place in Missoula.

Maggie is now done with work, the move is staged, and our focus shifts to starting our next phase of life in Missoula.  We are very excited.  But before we skip town on 7/30, there is the not so small matter of the Angeles Crest 100 on 7/21.  Stoked to be going back this monument. 

RIP McMahon

There is a void in our home.  It’s most salient in the early morning when Piper nags to be fed.  Before Charlotte and Ainslie and Piper, McMahon was my wake call.  His raspy and incessant howl would give way to an equally powerful purr the moment wet food touched his bowl. Nourishing that little guy every morning was such a routinized component of my existence that suddenly not doing it feels awkward and wrong.

McMahon died on Saturday.  He stopped eating on Wednesday and by Friday it was clear he was in a bad way.  Listless, finding odd places to lie, sullen, not himself.  The vet ran a bunch of tests on Friday and signaled her deep concern. Concern laced with hope, however.  By Saturday morning the sedation was supposed to have worn off, but he still seemed under.  Disturbingly weak.  His refusal to eat continued in spite of an appetite stimulant and a heartbreaking variety of options placed before him.  As Saturday evening gave way to night, I started to imagine Ainslie - the first to rise in our home - waking up to an unbearable scene.  He began to howl a howl like nothing I’ve ever heard; he was telling us to take action.  Jeanine arrived to take care of the children.  Erik and Britt to tend to Piper.  We loaded McMahon and headed to the emergency vet.  5 minutes after we arrived, he was gone.

In 1998, McMahon turned me and Maggie into a family.  He was unique from the start, a lone tabby in a Siamese litter. From the Novato Humane Society, he came home to our 300 square foot apartment in Mill Valley.  In the years since he would visit 22 states and live in 10 different places.  He remained remarkably flexible, adapting to Piper, then Ainslie and then Charlotte.  He wasn’t always nice about it - truth be told, many would consider him downright mean, perhaps even evil - but he loved us and let us know at just the right times. For 14 years he was a constant in the chaotic and wonderful equation that is my life with Maggie.

His death has been hard on all of us, harder than I expected.  Too much loss.  Explaining death to a 2 year old is no fun at all. In the last 4 months Ainslie has lost her Opa, her wonderful neighbor Jim, and now McMahon. It feels like too much because it is.

Thank you McMahon.  Thank you for teaching us how to care for something other than ourselves and each other.  Thank you for making us laugh, holding us accountable, letting us know who’s in charge, and showing us what persistence and stubbornness really is.  You were one of a kind.  We love you and miss you.

Squak Mt 50k Race Report…sure, why not?

I train a lot at Squak Mt.  It’s one of my favorites because of it’s surprising solitude, rugged relief, old growth groves, and easy accessibility.  So when I found myself at the end of a solid three-week building phase of training, the notion of a long run at Squak - with lots of up and down - fit the program well.

It just so happened that Roger and Yumay and the Evergreen Trail Run crew were putting on the Squak Mt 50k.  As I tweeted on Thursday: “A 50k at the proving grounds?  Why not!”

Roger let me in, I pinned on the bib, and headed to the start line.  The course starts with a steep road climb that soon gives way to a mix of fantastic single track and challenging segments of fire road grinding to the top of Squak Mt.  Roger announced the he had prizes - FREE SOCKS! - for the “First to the Top.”  He said GO, I took off, and after a few seconds I heard a voice exclaim, “Well I guess that dood really wants those socks.”

And from then on it was pretty much a solo time trial.  Great course.  Rugged terrain and about 8,700 feet of climbing and descending.  I had a good run, stayed honest with my effort and diligent with my nutrition and hydration.  The weather was perfect - about 60 and sunny. 

I felt quite solid throughout and finished in 4:41, good for 1st, knocking about 37 minutes off the old course record.  Let’s be clear, this is a small, local race…but it is a race and a race must have a winner and I was happy to oblige. More importantly, the body felt sound and it was a great finishing run to cap a 3-week, 300 mile block.

Thanks to Roger and Co. for putting on a quality event.  Evergreen Trail Runs is really carving out a nice niche with their series of events.  Their formula works well: half-marathon, marathon and 50k distances all on the same core course.  Markings were abundant and easy to follow, aid was prevalent and enthusiastic - all in all a perfect day on the trail.  Nice to see some familiar faces as well.

Gear: Patagonia Gamut Short Sleeve shirt (this piece is FANTASTIC!), Patagonia Strider shorts with 5-inch inseam, Patagonia Lightweight Merino Socks, UltrAspire Isomeric Pocket and a super secret eyes only i’d tell you but i’d have to kill you something you’ll see in 2013 that carried my gels, etc to perfection.

And speaking of gels…PowerBar Gel, Perform Drink and Nuun did the job nicely.