Sunday, May 29, 2016

Scrambled Legs

Going up Miwok Trail from Rodeo Valley then left onto Wolf Ridge, just as you hit the road there's a trail heading steeply down to the right going to Tennessee Valley that I like to call "The Leg Beater". Not only is it one of the few trails that hasn't been "improved" in the area (so it still has lots of rocks and uneven terrain), it also descends 800ft in a little over a mile, most of that in a 1/2 mile section about mid-way down. I've gone down this trail numerous times as part of some of my normal Headlands' routes and Harry and I did a run that went up it a couple weeks ago. However, last Wednesday I did the run down and then back up it and decided it was going to be part of my Hardrock training, whatever that may be.

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my distaste for formal training. But, Hardrock is a beast. Aside from heading to Colorado 2 weeks before the race, some sort of "specific" training is probably prudent if I don't want to just squeak by with less than 45 minutes to spare like I did last year. There's still too much snow in Tahoe, so I can't really get any significant runs in at altitude yet. The only other thing I can do right now is try to work on my hill climbing (and hope some endurance carries forward from the Ultra Fiord).

Last week after the down-and-back to Tennessee Valley via "Leg Beater",  I hit up the full PG&E trail at Rancho after work the next evening. I was heading to Tucson for the weekend to visit my son who just finished his undergraduate degree at UofA so I was limited for time. However, I endeavored to get up early while I was there and check out some runs in the mountains outside Tucson.

I got up early Saturday morning and drove up towards Mt. Lemmon. Since we were to spend the day car shopping I only managed a short run starting around 7000ft and topping out at 8000ft. It ended with less than 5 miles and was more hike than run including some scrambling and route finding which made it longer time-wise than expected.

After finally finish the car purchase at 10pm and doing a bit of celebrating after, it was pretty tough getting up Sunday morning, but I managed to drag myself out and head 45 minutes south to Madera Canyon. The run up to Mt. Wrightson goes from around 5400ft to 9400ft in 5.3 miles. Those miles were slow going and took me 2 solid hours, but at least I had fun making it back down the rocky, winding trail in 1/2 that time.

While the total miles for the week wasn't much over 30 miles, it did count for well over 9000ft of climbing which still makes it reasonable Hardrock-grade training.

It's hard for me to schedule in much trail time during the week other than Wednesdays when I work from home so I decided to try to make the best of it. I thought I'd give a shot at motivating myself to do some repeats on "Leg Beater". After the up and over from Miwok I manage to coax myself through three repeats up that middle bit. It is definitely a grind, but it is pretty nice to add 500ft to the total climb count every 1/2 mile. The run came out to just over 9 miles with 3000ft of climbing. Do that 11 times and you've got Hardrock....only at sea level...sigh.

The hills did seem to pay off as the ascents seemed a bit easier than normal on my two runs this weekend even if they only totalled about 6000ft over 30 miles. However, I did manage to hit 55 miles for the week which is around where I want to be at this point.

Hopefully I can get up to Tahoe at least once or twice in the next month. Either way, we'll see if I can mentally manage a few more repeats each week. Not much time left so I guess I better just get out the beater and scramble some legs!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

A few words

This is not a race report. I'm not quite sure what it is, or rather what it will become. I don't really feel a strong desire to "resurrect" this blog, but I do want to write some words about my time in Patagonia. However, given the focus of most of my recent writing, I cannot promise it won't devolve into self-indulgent navel-gazing.

Caveat lector.

I'll try to include some of the few photos I took. So there's something.

It's been over 10 years since I first visited Patagonia and I've always wanted a reason to return, especially to Puerto Natales and the region around Torres del Paine. The Ultra Fiord race offered an attractive excuse. It was billed as wild, rugged and sparsely supported. Right up my alley especially since I've been feeling less and less inspired by races closer to home. Also, my friend Harry had never been to the area so we (Harry, Martina and I) decided to make a vacation of it. Harry and I planned to tackle the 100 miler while Martina would do the 70K.

Aside from the race and plans for some hiking/sightseeing the timing of the event coincided with an unhappy personal anniversary so I was also hoping for a bit of a diversion. This fact, more than any pre-race concerns probably explained my edginess during the early part of the trip (it certainly explains spending Wednesday afternoon in my room shedding tears). But, inevitably, as race day rolled around all concerns narrowed to just that one.

These days I tend to feel pretty calm once start time finally rolls around. It's not that I've become blasé about it, or think I've got it all "figured out". On the contrary, my experience has taught me to be keenly aware of all that can go wrong. It's more a feeling that the time for worry is past since all the preparation has (or has not) been done and things are going to play out as they will. My only job (over the next 30 hours or so) is to take care of those few things that are within my control: eating, drinking, staying warm and metering out my energy at a rate sufficient to keep me moving forward over the miles ahead.

Overall, the event went well enough for me. Anyone who has read about the event knows that a runner died of hypothermia during the event and I really don't have much to add of substance to all that has been written. I felt "relatively" comfortable given my experience in remote regions and extreme conditions. I had the gear I felt necessary to manage the conditions as best possible. The only thing I can say is that while it is always easy to second-guess what might have been different after the fact, it is true that the race organization did leave itself open to much of the criticism that it has received. Though they did shorten the races, all went over the high pass in severe weather conditions, there was no checking of mandatory gear, checkpoints were minimal or even non-existent, and there didn't seem to be emergency personnel or contingency evacuation plans which seem prudent given the type of event it was.

However, during the race, we were not overly aware of all these issues. Harry and I have both done some pretty extreme and minimally-supported events. We did what we knew how to do. We started at the back with maybe 4-5 people behind us as everyone took off at a pace that seemed way to fast for 100 (or even 88) miles. We came into the first aid station after a short bit of course confusion even further back and then started passing people. We hooked up with fellow American Kate Woodard and came into the 50K aid station around 54th place (out of around 90 starters) and would eventually finish in 31st (out of 67 finishers). The course was tough and technical with lots of overgrowth, rocks, roots and steep climbs. The conditions were severe with high winds, snow, sleet and frozen rain over the high pass followed by miles of unavoidable mud  and ankle turning peat bogs. Support was minimal especially after the first 30 miles and even more than advertized. But, it was–as promised–remote and amazingly beautiful.

With all that, probably the toughest part was the midnight start. We ran through the night, slogged through the day and then trudged and stumbled through the second night to the finish. Harry and I stuck together for almost the entire event which always makes it seem less like a race and more like a shared experience. However, after the last real aid station, the final 24 miles were easy dirt road, but mentally as brutal going as anything in the race. The second night without sleep is always unseemingly tough.

There was a missing aid station and the "sleep monster" had me by the throat. Harry was moving well and seemed motivated to get to the finish as he was very worried about Martina, this being a significantly tougher course than anything she had ever attempted. I finally couldn't take it so I dropped back, put on all my extra clothing and sat by the trail to take a 10 minute nap. When the crazed images had finished running through my mind, I forced myself up and stumbled on. I was still falling asleep on my feet, but apparently moving faster. I started to pass people. That finally woke me out of my zombie-like stupor. I moved even faster and even started to jog. Everytime I saw a light ahead of me I thought it might be Harry, but when it wasn't I reasoned that he had kept moving along due to his concerns and the fact that there was no real shelter from the 30-mph winds and near-freezing temperatures.

After stopping very briefly at the last aid station (basically a table with water and a couple of cookie packages), I was motivated to just get this thing done. I alternated running and walking for the final 12 miles. I probably passed 7 other runners all in various states of the infamous ultramarathon "death march'. The final miles were especially tough as you could see the lights of Puerto Natales from a long way off–too long a way off. I tried to run the whole way, but just couldn't manage it, mentally more than physically. Eventually I made it into town, wandered my way to the finish area and found the one person there recording times before heading back to our place.

I thought Harry was there at the gate as I approached, but it was some other random person outside at 6:30am. When I made it to our cabin, I opened the door to see Martina who was freshly showered. My brain wasn't working right in terms of realizing that she would have had plenty of time to finish and get back to town via boat/bus so I first asked if she finished. Then I immediately asked "where's Harry?"

Martina was certain I was joking and replied, "very funny, where is he? outside?"

I then looked at her concerned, "No! He should have finished at least 20 minutes ago."

Concern then worry set in, but I had already let my mental guard down giving my body permission to slipping into recovery mode. I was in no condition to go wandering around town. I showered while Martina went to figure out what had happened. Eventually, she returned with Harry in tow.

Apparently, he had actually tried to wait for me. He was probably even at the vicinity of the final aid station trying to find a sheltered place to sit when I (quickly) went through. True friend that he was, he must have sat waiting and worrying about both me and Martina even while we were both safe and warm in the cabin. It's especially unfortunate because Harry is generally a much faster runner than me, but I do tend to out last him in the really long stuff (i.e. 100+ miles). However, this is one where I thought he had–and he rightfully should have–finished before me.

In the end, as I said before, all went well in this race for me...and my friends.

OK, so this was already many more words than I had intended to post and I suppose there is actually something resembling a race report in there. So, as promised,  here are some pictures from our time before, during and after the race down at the bottom of the civilized world.

Very cool forest on the hike up to Mirador Cerro Derrota a few days before the race.

Martina coming out of the woods during Cerro Derrota hike.

View from Mirador Cerro Derrota

Harry and Martina at the top

View from town looking out onto the water
Out the window of a coffee shop in Puerto Natales

...and some other things around town:

"Real Jeep"
Martina's "place"

Kitty in the pet food aisle

H & M being cute!

Here's what I have from the race it isn't much due to the midnight start, the weather, the technical trail and the amount of time spent in the woods:

Start picture from the race organization

Lots of fall colors on the trees

Approaching the high point as it starts to snow

Beautiful view up top just before heading into the storm

"Trail" looking back

"Trail" looking forward

Not sure if this is the glacier we were supposed to come over or not

It's not obvious, but the wind was blowing around 30 mph here at times

Finally into the descent which was basically a mud-slide not shown here

Cold, but pretty...

...but, cold!

Harry just coming off the pass and into the woods which amounted to about 15 miles of mud
When there wasn't mud, there were these peat bogs that look innocent, but definitely were not. 

Mostly, though, there was!!!

After the race, and a day of recovery, we headed out to Torres del Paine for a couple days. We stayed in a cool hotel on Lago Pehoé and then did the 12 mile classic hike up to the towers.

Salto Grande near our hotel
We did a short 4-mile hike, but the weather and views weren't great

Wet and cloudy during our short hike to view Los Cuernos

Our hotel on an island the next morning in better weather and a great view

Lago Pehoé

Making the hike up to Los Torres
Through the woods...

...past the falls...

...and through meadows with the first hint of the towers.

Martina and Harry in front of Lago Torres

Classic pic in the classic local

Similar spot, 10 years earlier

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The ITI Story, 2015 edition

The 2016 edition of the Iditarod Trail Invitational begins in less than a week and for the first time in three years, I won't be joining my friends up north. In fact, it's the first time since the 2011 Susitna 100 that I won't be participating in any northern winter events. Neither the sweetness nor bitterness of my feelings right now can be adequately put into words.

In many ways it's still just too difficult for me to walk through and share my memories of last year, but I do want to share something. If I cannot tell my story, I will tell someone else's--as best I can. And, it's a story worth telling.

Other than the very few of us who were out there, most people don't know how the race unfolded past the 350 mile point of McGrath after a storm had pushed through and wiped out the trail. Perhaps very few care. The event is about as far from mainstream as possible. However, some has been written about it, mostly focusing on Tim Hewitt. This is certainly understandable. Tim's name is nearly synonymous with walking to Nome and he made a right adventure of last year's race.

However, the above article does get a number of small details wrong and leaves out most of the actions of the racer whom—to me at least—is the real hero of the story. Beat is the only one of us who had the presence of mind to take extra food and fuel from the resupply, he also did the bulk of the trail breaking and he was with me in the end when my world fell apart. But, I'm getting a bit ahead in the tale.

I was attempting the full 1000 mile distance. I thought that Beat would push ahead since, with Tim opting for the bike, he was a shoe-in to win the full distance. But, Beat always says the first 350 is a warm-up so he stuck with me for the early miles for the most part. We bivied together above "The Wall of Death", had a nice breakfast at Yentna Station and even had a really good bit of sleep at Skwentna Lodge. After that I started to fall behind. Coming into Shell Lodge just as Beat left. Then, on the long trek to Winterlake the air warmed up close to freezing and filled with moisture. So did my lungs.

I was having difficulty breathing and was unable to lie down without kicking into a coughing fit. By the time Beat woke up, I hadn't slept and felt certain my race was over. He encouraged me to start on my antibiotics and see how it goes as I had plenty of time and could spend a day (or even more) at the lovely Winterlake Lodge. However, in truth, neither of us expected to see each other again during the race.  After Beat left, I managed to get some amount of sleep and miraculously felt better as Loreen Hewitt and Moses Lovstad came into the checkpoint.

Over the next 5 days my lungs continued to improve. I would get 8, 10, 12, 14 hours of feeling good. Unfortunately, I was walking around 16 hours a day. Beat remained pretty much around 1/2 day ahead of me. At each checkpoint I would find that he had left a few hours prior as I was ready to set down for some rest. I assumed that gap would grow once past McGrath, but the trail had some surprises for all of us after that.

I was hit pretty hard by a snowstorm crossing the Farewell Burn, but it was just a hint of what dropped further up trail. Beat was already in Takotna as Loreen and I were preparing to leave McGrath, but I don't think any of us expected to make it through. The trail we would be taking didn't see much traffic to begin with as the Iditarod dogsled race had opted to start from Fairbanks. Tim and another biker had gotten caught in the storm and the other guy had called for a snowmachine pickup from the on-trail food drop. Tim, being Tim, took advantage of the machine track and then went on to push his bike, breaking trail, past that. Beat followed on snowshoes.

Loreen and I headed out on trail expecting to make it only to the food drop and return. However, thanks to the technology of satellite phones and GPS trackers we were able to get relayed messages of what was happening up trail at least from Beat. Apparently, he kept waiting for us to catch up and share some of the trail breaking duties. Unfortunately, with temperatures now plummeting into the -40 range, Loreen and I were taking longer sleep breaks refusing to get up until the sun was overhead. These pretty much coincided with the times that Beat was waiting, hoping we'd make progress on him. In the end, it just meant that we all moved excruciatingly slow and Beat had to shoulder all the hard work himself.

Beat's a smart guy. He's also pretty meticulous in his planning so it's no surprise that he was the only one of us who thought to grab extra food and fuel from the re-supply drop. There was plenty there given the number of racers who had planned and then dropped from going to Nome. We all should have loaded up, but the going hadn't been too bad up until the food drop. The section between McGrath and Ruby takes about 5 days on foot during a good year. This was not a good year.  The trail got bad. Then it got worse.

Loreen and I stuck together, at least at rest and bivy points. We came upon both Beat's and Tim's tracks and tried to discern the story as the bike track were doubled. As we'd learn later, Tim had been pushing his bike through deep snowdrifts, got off course, ran out of food and headed back towards the cabin. He met salvation on the trail by way of Beat who had extra food and fuel. They headed on together, but even with Beat breaking trail with snowshoes and sled, pushing the bike was just too slow and Tim fell back. Beat left some extra food behind for Tim after dropping him, but alas it was just ahead of where Tim decided to collapse for the night, digging a hole and building a fire right there on the trail.

I believe this is the situation in which Loreen and I found him a few miles outside the ghost town of Poorman. Loreen sat down to join her husband while I decided to push on ahead, invigorated by the idea of catching my friend. I tried to use his snowshoe tracks as best I could even with his strides about 1/2 again as long as mine, but the wind kicked up on the Poorman "road" and his tracks were filling in fast. My pace was a crawl as I entered my 6th night on the trail since leaving Takotna. As 9pm rolled around, I told myself I had to find whatever shelter I could and just bivy on trail again within the next hour. As that hour came and went and nothing presented itself, I saw up ahead what looked like some sort of structure, a dilapidated cabin of some sort. Then I noticed the tracks veering off towards the cabin and, what was that in front? A sled!

I crawled into the cabin and found an empty spot on the floor amongst the mass of junked mining equipment. After a few hours Beat awoke, but I told him I was in no condition to head out so he agreed to wait until first light. In the morning we continued together taking turns plowing through the snow at a crawl. We were more than 30 miles from Ruby and at the pace we were going that would take at least another night. Furthermore, I was low on food and running low on strength. I don't think I really held up my end of the trail-breaking bargain. Things were seeming pretty desperate and I could only imagine what Tim and Loreen were going through behind us. Loreen's hands were in bad shape and while temps had warmed now, the damage was done.

During one of our short breaks to switch leads, Beat went in front and put his headphones in. I was spending my trail time deep in thought so kept the music off which allowed me to hear it. I yelled "Beat! Beat" He took his headphones off and looked at me trying to figure out what I was on about. "Listen. Do you hear it?" There was a faint, distant buzz that seemed to be growing louder. I think neither of us wanted to name it for fear the disappointment if we turned out to be wrong. Eventually, I said it. "Snowmobiles" Then we saw them coming around a bend further up trail. I could have cried. There was no point continuing to waste our energy because once they got to us there would be a trail. An actual trail.

When the finally arrived, it was two guys and they were not just plowing a nice track, they had equipment behind them which laid it down even further. They were heading out to one of the cabins to do some mining. We told them to look out for Tim and Loreen, but mostly we were just excited to get moving again. It was amazing. The feeling of going from 1 mph to 3 mph felt like the difference between jogging and an all-out sprint. On top of that our spirits were lifted. I didn't have to keep rationing my food. We were going to make it to Ruby. A few hours later another snowmobile came by. This one had been sent by Bill, the RD to check on all of us. We told them we were fine and they should get to Tim and Loreen who might be in bad shape.

We continued towards Ruby and after a longer time than I would have expected, the snowmachine came back with Tim and Loreen in tow. A sight I never expected to see, Tim Hewitt being pulled off of the Iditarod trail. We wished them luck then continued on into the dark. We had different BnB's in Ruby, but Beat and I agreed to meet up in the morning and make our decision about continuing then. Food, more food and a good night's sleep can do wonders. We were both moving slow in the morning, but we agreed to keep on. Despite our exhaustion, time was tight. I knew I'd be moving slower so I told Beat that if I couldn't keep up, he should just keep going. I would be happy finishing up wherever I finished. If I made it to the coast I would be ecstatic. Beat would have none of it and started working on a plan to get us both to Nome.

"OK, tour's over, this is now a race." With those words Beat began explaining that we were just going to have to go as long as we could and sleep as little as our bodies would allow. There were 50 miles of Yukon River between Ruby and Galena. We were going to have to take it in a single push. The trail was better since we were now on track with the dogsled race for a bit. We just had to follow the trail of "poop" and discarded dog booties down the river.

With Beat's long strides moving him at a solid clip it meant even less rest for me as he would generally already have been stopped for some minutes before I caught up. We only took one significant stop on the river. It was perhaps 3am and laying on our sleds drinking coffee we were treated to the most incredible light show in the sky directly above us thanks to the northern lights. The rest of the night was much more of a struggle and I had an emotional break-down just before dawn. In the end, the anger propelled me to push hard until light, but I was exhausted when we finally made it to town.

We had some good food and rest in Galena along with collecting our re-supply boxes. I would have been happy to just stay in that comfy apartment for the next week. As it was, we spent too much time dallying around and had to kick ourselves out of there before the sun went down. It was going to be another night with little to no sleep. Once again, the going was rough as the route we would take veered back off the dogsled trail and so we returned to breaking trail and postholing along. It was a little better when we finally left the river and we found a good spot to sleep and agreed to set alarms for 2 hours. I woke, but Beat snoozed on. It was cold and so I stayed in my bag for a while longer, but eventually I managed to crawl out. Beat was sleeping so hard I had to kick him awake.

We made coffee and then geared back up to push through the wee hours and into the dawn. I could feel a general fatigue moving over me and my legs were tired beyond belief. We'd been in snowshoes for the better part of 250 miles. Our trail eventually merged back with the dogsled trail near the confluence of the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers and just outside the small village by the same name. It wasn't a normal stop on the route and we were trying to figure out how quickly to get in and out in order to make it to the next two villages at the right times of day. Timing would be key if we wanted to get our food boxes from the post offices. My quads had a sort of ache in them I had never felt and I was slowing down even as we took the well graded road into town. I was already having my doubts, but willing to push along following Beat as long as my body would let me.

Unfortunately, fate had already made other plans for me. I won't recount the tragic events that followed again. However, since I started this tale focusing on Beat I will say a few things about him. I don't know if we would have made it all the way to Nome, if we had enough time or enough strength. But, I do know that Beat would have stopped it nothing. Nothing that is, except staying with a friend in a time of need. I tried to tell him to go on and that I'd get home OK, but he knew better. He stuck with me that night and made sure I got back to Anchorage and onto my flight home.

Events like the ITI are not really about the finish line and, while there was no winner in the foot race to Nome last year, in my mind there was a champion.


Beat will be back at it again this year.

I won't be joining in body, but in spirit I'll be following my friend down that frozen trail...

...perhaps a few steps behind.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Still, in this place

If you've come here looking for a race report, I'm sorry

Unfortunately, there will be no telling the tail of my 600 mile adventure along the Iditarod Trail in Alaska last winter. I am writing this only as a brief explanation of how it ended and why a part of me is (and may always be) still out there. In my mind there exists some alternate reality where some version of me, frozen in time, is just outside the small village of Koyukuk, AK. He's still scheming and pushing to continue the struggle, hoping to complete the final miles to Nome

It's reality where I, ultimately, return home to share with the people I love the story of not just the physical accomplishment, but the spiritual journey I'd taken along the way. And, when I imagine it, I see myself standing beneath the massive cliff looking up, ignorant of what awaits me. Alas, I am still just grounded enough to not allow that reality's existence (tempting though it may be) to shield me from what did happen.

In the real world, I continued on into the village and was met by a local official on snowmachine first asking Beat and then me "are you Steve?" After which I was given instructions for contacting the Alaska State Troopers. A year earlier at mile 200 of this race, I'd been delivered the news of my father's passing. Now, 400 miles further down that same trail, I was to learn that I had lost so much more. The woman with whom I'd been married, helped raise two amazing boys and watch them grow into men--my best friend of 20 years--was gone.

Six months now and I really don't have much more to say. These words have become no easier to write except, perhaps, that I am now able to actually write them. In all honesty, I am only doing so because it has become, in some sense, easier than not explaining or, rather, having to explain at random times and in unexpected situations. It's one of those things they never tell you about grief. The hardest thing is simply having to explain.

If I could wish for one thing, it would be for, somehow, the news to have been delivered in my absence into the ear of all but my closest friends so that I didn't have to be the one to do it. I'm not an especially social person, so having each of my infrequent interactions with casual acquaintance and family friends consist of the conversation-ending story of my personal tragedy is probably the most difficult part. That and the inevitable, but understandable flood of condolences that follow.

If I had a second wish, it would be to ask people to please, stop saying "I'm sorry". I understand the need to say "something" and maybe it is said more for them than for me. However, I just can't help thinking that, right now, sorrow seems to be this ever present theme smouldering beneath the surface of everything I do. Each time I hear that phrase along with the offers for "anything I need", no matter how well-meaning and sincere, it just seems to add more fuel to the fire. I've enough sorrow of my own, I don't really need more. The fact is, beyond my closest friends and family who have been and continue to be here for me, there really is nothing anyone can do.

With everyone else, though, I really just want some semblance or at least remembrance of "normal life." Simply knowing that you know is enough. There truly is nothing more I ask, but if you do really feel the need to offer something beyond the usual platitudes (and, since this blog's readership consists mostly of runners and other outdoor enthusiasts), then if we happen to meet, please just share with me your upcoming races, next adventure, hiking plans or anything that represents those values that we might have in common. Values really are the whole point of life and sharing them the point of friendship.

As for this blog, I'm not sure if it will be continuing. It's been mostly silent for more than a year as is. I did recently finish Hardrock, but don't expect to write anything therein. I have been doing more writing on my other, older, even less-read blog. It's filled with random, sometimes philosophic musings and the occasional wine-inspired bit of poetry. I don't expect to garner readership there as its contents will likely seem foreign to even some of my closest friends, let alone those only casually acquainted with the extents of my thoughts and ramblings.

Thanks for reading. Happy trails.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Second look

For my second preview of the course, there weren't many options that offered easy logistics. The first two sections of the course were either too far away or offered pretty poor access. My friends would arrive on Monday and we agreed to check out the final section no Tuesday. That left either doing part of Leg 5 which was listed as the easiest section or some of Leg 4 which would represent the final descent from the climb I did on Saturday. I opted for the latter

Since I would be going opposite the race direction, I was to head up the Hope Pass trail and then hook up for a bit more climbing on Grainger Creek Trail. I planned for a shorter day so I wouldn't be hitting the steeper bits of the trail near the top.

If the Bonnevier Trail was a single-lane country road, then Hope Pass was like a two-lane highway. Though the soft ground made it feel more like a wide, padded track. In reality, it's actually a historic wagon trail.

Again the trail was in deep tree cover, but this one much more reminiscent of something you might see in the Tahoe area. Big coniferous trees, lots of shade, but with a more open feeling.

It was also a much more popular trail as I passed at least a half dozen backpackers heading in from one or other of the trail camps. However, as soon as I turned off the wide path around 4-1/2 miles in, I didn't see another soul.

Grainger Creek was a more narrow single-track trail winding its way up the side of the mountains. Where the previous day's path didn't follow any obvious topographical feature (in fact, it appeared as if someone just decided to make their way through the woods), this trail contoured along the side of the hill slowly climbing above its namesake creek (though it might be considered a raging river in California right now given our drought).

Many offshoot streams crossed the trail feeding down to the creek often creating short muddy bits to step over.

This well maintained trail, included bridges built over any longer sections of muck.

Of course, this meant for lush and green surroundings and an all around enjoyable hike up the trail.

While there once again was very little view due to the dense cover, I was always aware of it teasing just beyond the curtain of trees. I kept expecting to come out into a clearing at some point. This is probably why I ended up going further up trail than planned. In the end, I only ended up with one brief view of the surrounding area.

When I finally turned around after 8-1/2 miles (a mile longer than intended), I couldn't help myself. This trail was pretty much just the sort I love to bomb downhill. A soft, easy surface, but with just enough rocks, roots, twists and turns to keep it interesting. I did manage to reel in the proverbial reins, forcing myself to walk anything that was flat or slightly uphill. I also kept the downhill pace in check, but felt light on my feet the whole way.

With the two days combined, I'd covered well over 1/4 of the race distance. Unfortunately, though, since I had to do everything as an out-and-back, I'd only seen around 1/7 of the course. I'm also a little worried that I picked sections that were a bit easy, building a little false confidence. No matter, it will give me something to look forward to as I grind through the first couple climbs.

Also, I wouldn't want to have the race completely devoid of surprises (as if that would be possible in an event this long).