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).

Saturday, August 09, 2014

First Impressions

I'm up in Canada a week before the Fat Dog 120 mile race. Since I'm typically under-trained, I thought I would come up a week before and at least get a bit of a preview. I haven't done a mountain 100 since Bryce last year and have only managed a few trips up to the Sierras this summer. Luckily, the altitude isn't a huge issue (high point around 7500ft), but it does have plenty of climbing (28,000ft) and there's that extra 20 miles. While there's not much I can do in terms of training at this point, I figured seeing some of the course and getting my head in the right space might help.

My friends who are also doing the race don't arrive until Monday and we agreed to check out the last section of the course (purportedly one of the most difficult) together. So, I looked for another section for my solo preview today. I chose the third section labeled Bonnevier. It was accessible right off the highway and starts about 41 miles or so into the race. With a 10am start time, that puts it squarely into the night hours for my pace. This would give me a chance to see some of it in the day and also give me some familiarity with trail that I'll be doing just as fatigue and sleepiness become part of the race experience.

The first 2-1/2 miles are on a forest service road and mostly (almost*) all climbing. Then you take a sharp left off the road and onto trail that narrows down to singletrack in the next 1/2 mile.

This is "real deal" singletrack. In fact, with the significant overgrowth in parts, the path nearly disappears altogether. I would venture that this trail sees less traffic than even the least visited trails in most of California's mountains.

The trail was quite good. Beneath the overgrowth there were a few roots, but it was not super technical. There weren't many rocks nor downed trees across the trail. This last, apparently, due to the heroic effort by some volunteers. In numerous places along the trail there was evidence of recently cut trees that would have lain cross the trail. The area is quite ripe with downed trees.

The other thing that made the trail pretty mellow was the ease of navigation. The GPX track I downloaded (and Harry edited) was excellent, but almost completely unnecessary. The course was already marked and the markings were beyond superb. Almost excessive, even. If this section is any indication, if I don't see a ribbon for more than 2 minutes, I should turn around and go back.

Overall, the climb was not especially steep, accumulating just under 2000ft in the first 4-1/2 miles before dropping down a bit and climbing another 1200ft before I turned around after about 10 miles. Of course, that's on fresh legs in the middle of the day. We'll see what story those legs tell in the middle of the night after 40+ miles that include two of the biggest climbs on the course.

The views from up top were quite wonderful. However, the vast majority of the miles I did were completely contained within a thick forest with little in the way of grand vistas. I guess that's appropriate for a section that I'll be starting at night.

Overall, I took it pretty easy, treating it more as a hike than a run. Anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty much incapable of not running downhill, but even on the downhills I kept it constrained and conservative. Keeping things easy a week before the race was obviously part of it. However, I was also running solo and I was the only person on the trail. In fact, after leaving the road, I didn't see another single human being in the 5 hours I was out there. Amazing to be just 10 miles from the road and feel completely isolated.