Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, CA, USA

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, CA, USA

02 October 2016

VERTICAL: +5,100′ / -2,800′
TIME: 8 Hours 47 Minutes

Hiked 26.2 miles. Cycled 39.3 miles. Altogether, that's 65.5 miles. Dual sport, a biathlon. Officially, it’s the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. I hiked it from the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Saratoga Gap. Reverse order to its namesake. Sea-to-Skyline Trail, if you will. We’ll call this little endeavor the “Skyline-to-the-Sea Dual Reverse.”

I staged my bike at Saratoga Gap late last night for the return trip today. Finally made it to the trailhead at 1a. Crawled into the back for a short nap before the alarm screamed me awake at 430a. No rest for the weary. Packing in way too much adventure, per usual. But then, is there really such a thing? I’ll sleep next week. Probably. Maybe. Ok, probably not.

I was on the beautifully maintained, well traveled tread 45 minutes later. It’s like a super highway, this trail. No wonder they limit traffic via user permits. Too accessible, too easy. And this trail is stunning. (Not what I was expecting when a friend told me it parallels a road for most of its 25 mile length. Though to be fair, I saw about as many people as cars.) It starts out among thick vegetation and big trees. As it approaches Big Basin State Park, the old growth forests give way to full-on coastal Redwoods. And Lady Luck graced me yet again with gorgeous morning light cutting through the thick canopies. I snapped some lovely photos during my walk- over, under and among Giants.

Despite its breathtaking beauty, the trail showed signs of wear. The theme of the hike seemed to be: trees, trash, and TP. There was used toilet paper almost at every turn. So disappointing how we use and abuse the world around us, a reflection of how we treat each other. It’s hard to hope for the future when I see how much we take for granted. I feel tremendous pressure to see as much as I can before we ruin our world. I guess I’ll finally sleep once we’ve trampled all the wild places. (Although to be fair, I thought it was pretty cool when I came across a sofa someone had dumped on the trail. Couldn’t have been there more than a week or two. I was totally stoked to lay down for a little break. Guess it’s all about perspective.)

Finished the hike at Saratoga Gap after about 9 hours. The parking area was familiar. Turns out, it was our lunch stop on the last day of my cross country cycling trip back in 2013. It was surreal to be standing there again, this time alone with only the memories of my trip and the wonderful people with whom I shared it. I took a moment there to honor my feelings of love and gratitude. It’s really cool how a place, or a photo, or a song can be so loaded, can bring up so much emotion. I almost expected to open my eyes and see my team there waiting for me. Instead, all that was waiting for me was the ride back to my car. While much of it was either a screaming descent or a mellow flat, there was one 3.8 mile wicked climb. Took me about an hour to do it, and I had to walk my bike twice. I was pretty shredded after the hike, so that climb really kicked my butt. Dunno what the grade on Alba Road is, but it was one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever biked.

The rain started to fall intermittently as I prepared for the first descent, a winding 15-mile drop to Alba Road. I hate descending in the rain, so I reluctantly rode my brakes most of the way. By the time I finally conquered the Alba climb, the rain had stopped, and I was able to descend with abandon for 8 miles until I hit Hwy 101. I finished the last 10 miles on pretty mellow grades. Stoked to finally get back to my car after 13 hours of crushing. And to think, that’s just the warm up for the Lowest-to-Highest Route in a couple days. Psyched.

I’ve got some gnarly shin splints, which I’m feeling a little anxious about, but I’m sure they’ll clear up by Wednesday. Mostly driving and public transit until then, so plenty of rest.

Four Pass Loop, CO, USA

Four Pass Loop, CO, USA

20 September 2016

VERTICAL: +/- 7,450′
TIME: 10 Hours 49 Minutes

The Four Pass Loop, an iconic trek in the mighty Elk Range near Aspen. Wow.

I left from the Maroon Lake parking area around 630a. Per a friend’s suggestion, I tackled the Loop going clockwise. I’d already hiked the route almost up to West Maroon Pass a couple times during my climbs of Maroon and North Maroon peaks. Still a treat. It was overcast almost all day, which worked out well for some photos and was really limiting for others. Ah well, it all comes out in the wash, I guess. I’m pretty satisfied overall.

The climb up West Maroon Pass was beautiful. And dropping down into the basin below Frigid Air Pass was pretty neat-o. And easy. Short. I only lost and re-gained about seven hundred feet. Dropping down into the next basin, beyond Frigid Air Pass, was awesome. And long. I lost almost two thousand feet before the long, challenging climb up to Trailrider Pass, which was by far my favorite. The view looking down on Snowmass Lake was wicked. And it was cool to have already had a different perspective of Snowmass when I climbed the 14er by the same name earlier this summer. The climb up Buckskin was pretty mellow compared to that of Trailrider. And dropping down the other side was gorgeous, a wonderful way to finish. Expansive views of the nearby Bells and distant Pyramid Peak.

Shortly before beginning the climb up to Buckskin Pass, I came around a corner and over a rise to accidently surprise a beautiful fox (pictured above). At first, she ran off, but not far. I could still see her tail through the brush. I grabbed my camera and started to creep along the trail to get a photo, and she disappeared. I was so bummed, and so grateful. It was really, really cool. Then, suddenly- she jumped up on a downed tree behind me. It sounded like a cat clawing at the bark. It was like she was posing for a photo op. I snapped three quick ones, and then she casually turned and left. She wasn’t even 25 feet from me. Whoa. What a privilege.

I hike alone, yes. But I’m not alone. Never alone.

The Incline, CO, USA

The Incline, CO, USA

07 August 2016

VERTICAL: +2,090′
(2,619 steps; 45% Ave Grade; 68% Max Grade)
TIME: 32 Minutes 54 Seconds

Challenge Goal: 30 Minutes
Guaranteed Goal: 40 Minutes

Started out at a light jog, which wasn’t right at all. And it didn’t take me long to realize it. After about 2 minutes, I started hiking.

Turns out “I’m gonna run The Incline,” is just fancy talk for “I’m gonna briskly walk The Incline.” One doesn’t actually run The Incline. I mean, the verified FKT (fastest known time) is barely sub-18. (0.88 miles in 17:45, just shy of 3 mph). That’s my hiking pace on a moderate slope. Basically, it’s just a walk-up. That said, there are over 2,500 railroad tie steps and over 2,000 feet of vertical gain in under a mile on this “walk.” And they’re oddly spaced and have inconsistent vertical clearance. It’s extreme walking; there is just no other way to describe it.

I reached the top and couldn’t believe it. I spent 20 minutes looking for the next leg, but there was none, only a couple trails. I’d topped out at 32:54. Not too shabby. I wonder what I could do when I’m really in shape. Sub-30, for sure. Maybe sub-25? Giving myself too much credit? Only one way to know. Guess I’m coming back.

Snapped some rad long exposure shots at the “summit.” Speaking of summits, that false summit is a morale crusher. Geez. I’d forgotten it was there until I was cresting it, thinking my work was done. I realized just before the next pitch came into view, and I was demoralized. “Just keep walking,” I told myself. “Don’t stop moving; don’t even turn around.” And I didn’t, not until I topped out. It was a snail’s pace at times – anything but graceful or glamorous – but I never stopped making forward progress.

Loads of lightning on the way down. Incredible show, mostly in the clouds. Flashes about every second starting at the halfway point. Definitely triggering my anxiety, but it didn’t stop me from counting the steps. Couldn’t descend the stairs fast enough. Crossed my fingers, and my heart, the rest of the way down.

Lost Coast Trail, CA, USA

Lost Coast Trail, CA, USA

22 June 2016

VERTICAL: Negligible
TIME: 12 Hours 26 Minutes

I parked my rig at Black Sands Beach, the terminus of this lovely, inaccessible trek. The shuttle to the start departed this morning at 7a. Timing on this trip was sub-optimal as tides are high and at really inconvenient intervals. With that, I planned on spending two nights out there.

Though the trail only covers 25 miles of coastline, the shuttle takes over two hours on narrow, winding mountain roads. I got pretty car sick en route and even had to have the driver stop so I could get out for a breather. I’ve noticed that motion sickness happens more frequently for me, mostly as a car passenger on roads like that one. I felt queasy, tired, and unmotivated when we finally arrived at Mattole Beach. I really just wanted to lie down, but I knew starting my hike would help my stomach settle, so I forced myself forward.

I found myself hiking all day long with only the sounds of crashing waves and roaring sea lions to keep me company, which turned out to be more than enough. I had my ipod but never felt compelled to pull it out. I was much happier to listen to the wave action and the rip current reclaim pebbles from the beach by dragging them out to sea; it sounded like the crackle of fireworks after the big boom.

I had thought I’d camp at Cooskie, because the tide chart indicated that the water would be too high for me safely proceed. It was still early when I arrived there, so I had lunch and considered my options. As I sat there, I watched a sea otter clamor out of the adjacent creek and waddle out to the Pacific. I was so struck that I didn’t even reach for my camera. It was awesome; my first sea otter! I also got buzzed by a rattlesnake and saw a bald eagle soaring along the shoreline. Gah, wildlife is so freakin’ cool!

While I had plenty of food and gear to be cautious out there, it’s not in my nature to stop without at least having a look. Yes, high tide was six feet. That’s true. And there was shoreline visible ahead with the tide receding. I pressed on, keeping a watchful eye for rogue waves and for exit strategies. I expected to eventually come to something that I couldn’t safely pass, but that never happened. And that continued the rest of the way to Black Sands Beach. There were two pinch points where I had to carefully time the flush, but nothing too serious. The seas were calm, and I never had to dodge a sleeper wave or anything like that. The weather was gorgeous too.

Didn’t see too many folks either, with the exception of the obvious group camp sites, where I passed small tent cities. Still, only a couple dozen other folks along the whole route.

As I made my way along Big Flat, I noticed a couple who had set up hammocks on the beach. I felt in myself a sense of longing, a desire in that moment to share the experience with someone who loves what I love, someone with whom to slow down. On my own, it’s about pushing myself, about finding my limits. I want to see as many miles as possible in this short life. With someone, it would be more about the quality of time rather than the quantity of experiences. It would be fun to set up early and read by the water with someone special; on my own, I just get bored. I’d rather be moving. When I’m solo, I’m all about the challenge hike.

I cruised today, covering 25 miles across loose sand and large rocks in 12.5 hours. I wasn’t going for a record; that’s just my comfortable pace. Had a blast, even with two shoes full of sand and gravel. Incredible trail, if you wanna call it that.

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, AZ, USA

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, AZ, USA

26 April 2016

VERTICAL: +10,000′ / -10,400′
TIME: 16 Hours 54 Minutes

The classic Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim trek in the Grand Canyon has been on my life list for a couple years. Given the potential temperature extremes, the only feasible seasons are Spring and Fall. I’ve been stir crazy this winter, so I set my sights on the earliest reasonable date considering both the conditions and my schedule. And this morning, finally, at 630a I found myself at the South Kaibab Trailhead amidst a fickle mix of snow, sleet, and rain. The North Rim isn’t open to vehicle traffic until mid-May, so I wasn’t sure exactly what the conditions would be like up there, but snow was only just beginning to accumulate on the South Rim, so I had high hopes. Though I was off to a rough start with weather, the forecast was projected to be mostly overcast with patches of sun. And after about a half hour, the precipitation stopped. From then on, the weather was nearly perfect. No precip, not too hot, not too cold.

I wanted to see as much of the canyon as possible, so I opted for the piecemeal circuit rather than the out-and-back: South Kaibab to the North Kaibab, then back down the North Kaibab and out the Bright Angel to my car. Despite my ambitious goal – completing the trek in under 24 hours – I took tons of “Beauty Breaks” during which I captured over a hundred photos. I’m not out for records; I just wanna push myself. And take pretty pictures.

I cruised down the South Kaibab Trail and was on my up to the North Rim by 9a. I figured I’d be the only one on the North Kaibab Trail beyond Cottonwood Campground, but I saw a dozen or so other hikers, mostly day hikers likely staying overnight in the canyon. Still, I was surprised to see folks intermittently all the way to the top. I was surprised and excited to find that there was NO SNOW on the North Rim. And furthermore, that the water was on! I stopped for lunch and about a 20-minute break before turning around to make my way back to the car.

On the way down, I decided to take the short 0.25 mile detour to Ribbon Falls, which I could see from the trail as I headed up. I skipped it, because I could see other hikers enjoying the falls. On the way back, I had the whole place to myself. I was both surprised and grateful.

The last bit of twilight faded as I approached the Colorado. I donned my headlamp and pressed on. It was a long, painful climb up the Bright Angel Trail. The day had finally caught up to me. I was pushing hard – grimacing with each labored step – and totally loving it. It makes sense to me that a lot of folks wouldn’t understand why I get so stoked on this stuff. Those aren’t the kind of conditions that many people would thrive in, but I was in my element.

It wasn’t an ideal day. I’ve basically been hibernating this winter; I’m certainly not in hiking shape. My knee started acting up before I reached the Colorado River on my first descent this morning. Climbing up the North Kaibab was easier on my knee, so I didn’t take Aleve until I was ready to descend the North Rim. On my way up, both of my calf muscles started locking up. Guess I hadn’t been drinking enough water, so I started a 15 minute hydration timer to remind myself to drink more regularly. The chafing didn’t start until about halfway down from the North Rim. With over 15 miles to go, I started subtly waddling down the trail. For all my planning, I’d neglected to bring Gold Bond. Rook move. And as if the above-listed ailments weren’t enough, I noticed at the start of the Bright Angel Trail that I had a blister under each of my respective big toes. I was uncomfortable as I began the final 10-mile stretch.

Just keep walking. Just keep walking. 

I was on pace to beat 18 hours pretty easily, and maybe even finish sub-17. I met a guy at the shuttle stop this morning who was training for his Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim next week. He’d already done it a couple times and wanted to finish in under 20 hours. He asked my goal: “Sub-17?” I told him, mine was 24, but that I could probably do it in under 20. He teased me, implying my goal wasn’t lofty enough. I guess he was right, because I topped out after 16 hours 54 minutes. How did he know??!

I was so out of it as I stumbled beyond the lodges and toward the parking lot that I walked right by an elk, like within 6 feet, and didn’t even notice until I’d passed her. Gah, the wildlife is so habituated in our National Parks. At least she didn’t freak out.

I made it back to my car before the moon rose. I’m hurting, and satisfied. So satisfied. That was fun. I’ve read other accounts where folks refer to this trek as The Death March. I didn’t think so, though I can see why others might.

Presidential Traverse, NH, USA

Presidential Traverse, NH, USA

11 June 2010

VERTICAL: +10,040′ / -9,340′
TIME: 10 Hours 27 Minutes

Ok, remember the Maryland Challenge? Well, this was better. Much better. It was incredible. What am I talking about? A full traverse of the Presidential Mountain Range in northern New Hampshire, including all 11 summits – in a day.

I started at the base of Mt. Madison and covered about 23 miles with a total combined vertical of over 10,000 feet. The views? Unparalleled. I gained most of my elevation early on, which made for a tough morning, but I prefer to get the hard work out of the way early. Hiking southbound gave me the best views early in the day when it was clear, saving the lesser peaks for later in the day when the sky was overcast. I never felt a drop of rain.

I was mostly alone on the trail until I hit Mt. Washington. I think I saw 4 people on Madison, Adams (highest summit in the northeast without roadway access), Jefferson, and Clay combined. The hordes flowed pretty regularly beyond Clay as I approached Washington. It’s the highest peak in the northeast, and you can drive to the top. Lame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool. But hiking for 5 hrs and then summiting the highest peak of the day to find a parking lot full of cars and visitor center full of people – not my deal. Anyways it’s obviously quite popular, especially on a beautiful day this early in the season.

That’s not really the point, though. The point is that now I have an idea of what it’ll be like for 10-14 days in the High Sierra on the PCT, and I’m certain that I can hack it.

I got to do some “warm-up” hikes earlier in the week in order to prepare for the traverse: Cannon Mountain and Mt. Lafayette near Franconia Notch State Park. Neither is terribly impressive, but they both provided valuable experience. I summited Cannon in a total whiteout. Needless to say the weather was less than inviting, but I had a ton of fun on that little jaunt. I got a late start up Lafayette, and ended up picking my way back down from the summit in darkness. And alone. It’s an interesting experience to be above tree line after the last shred of natural light disappears over the horizon. I obviously made it up and down just fine in both cases.

Maryland Challenge, MD, USA

Maryland Challenge, MD, USA

09 May 2010

VERTICAL: +6,300′ / -5,280′
TIME: 12 Hours 57 Minutes

Call me Ishmael – ehr rather Ethan. It all started with a conversation between myself and Chris Quaka back in December of 2009. I don’t even remember exactly how the topic came up, but Chris mentioned something about a 40-mile hike. A 40-mile day hike?! It peaked my interest. The hike: the Maryland Challenge. The challenge: to hike from the West Virginia border all the way through Maryland to the Pennsylvania border along the Appalachian Trail…in a day. It can’t be that hard if you’re reasonably fit, I thought, I’ll just hike it during TLT before the corps arrives. Of course finding free time and working out logistics for an all-day, point-to-point hike proved a little more complicated than a quick, local jaunt through the woods.

The plan was to be out by 3am on Sunday February 7th, be on the trail at the West Virginia line by 5am, cross the Pennsylvania line by 8pm, and be back to the point by 10pm. That would have given me enough time for a good night’s sleep before the gray shirts started rolling in. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Absolutely not.

While I was arranging rides for that weekend, Ryan Perket showed serious interest. I’m not really accustomed to bringing people along on these kinds of escapades because I really like to push my limits. Most of you know Ryan, and let’s be honest he’s just so gosh darn cute that I couldn’t say “no.” We were on the fast-track to glory when snowmaggedon hit. We lost power for weeks and no one had access to food or clean drinking water. It just happened so fast…none of us were prepared. Ok it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it was enough to thwart our assault on the AT. We didn’t even get off campus. It was really more of a hiccup than a disaster. Once a few motivated, motivated, down right motivated (hoo-ah!) members of team green get it in their heads to do something, it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” That answer came the Saturday over first transition.

We started the hike hard and fast. We were making excellent time for the first 25 miles or so. The scenery was awesome and the downhill miles seemed to outnumber the uphill miles. We talked and laughed most of the morning, while keeping a quick clip. By the time we stopped for lunch, I had a few quarter-sized blisters on my heels – they’re merely flesh wounds! Still we were both in good spirits and day dreaming about closing out the 40+ miles in under 12 hours. If we could have kept that pace, we would have been able to do just that. By the time we hit mile 30 though, it was pretty obvious that 13 hours was a much more reasonable goal (and even that was pushing it). We gave ourselves another 10 minute break (one of the few times during our hike where we took the time to actually sit down) and continued on.

That last 6-mile stretch began with a long, steep incline that towered above us and seemed to say “You. Shall. Not. PASS!” We were more and more convinced of that reality with every step but refused to give up. Ryan definitely led the way on that last section. Neither of us spoke the last few miles because we needed every ounce of energy we could muster. We were bound and determined to be done. It wasn’t even a matter of pride; it was a matter of convenience. We were both just sick and tired of putting one foot in front of the other. We’d even resorted to jogging the downhill sections just so the miles would pass that much faster.

By the time we arrived at Pen-Mar State Park, we could barely move, but we were still pushing. The Pennsylvania line wasn’t nearly as obvious as we’d expected it to be, but we found it signed on a nearby roadway. Thirteen hours flat (2 hours faster than we’d originally planned). We didn’t even take the time to get a picture in front of the sign. Instead we backtracked to a nearby shelter and drifted in and out of consciousness until Jamie arrived a few hours later. I don’t know what summit we were on, but the wind was howling and we were curled up in the fetal position fighting off a case of the shivers until our knight in shining armor arrived. I don’t think either of us cared that much, because we had the satisfaction of having done it. I mean c’mon: “pain heals, chicks dig scars, but glory…lasts forever.”

There was a lot more to it than what’s outlined above, but you get the drift. Basically we were up at 230a, hiked all day, and got back to bed at 130a. By the end of the hike, my energy was completely sapped and I was sustaining myself on sheer conviction. Win big, or go home.

While I set the pace for most of the morning and early afternoon, Ryan really pushed it at the end. I was riding his coat tails. The whole thing is something like 42 miles; we finished in 13 hours flat, including scenic detours and breaks. I remember jogging the last half mile or so. I was on the verge of exhaustion by this point; the thought of being done drove me wild with anticipation. We finished early and ended up waiting about three hours for Jamie and Suzanne to find us, but when they pulled up with food waiting in the back seat, I was all smiles. Besides it didn’t take long for the shivering to subside. We stopped off and picked up some hot chocolate to take the edge off.

This endeavor really took a toll on me. I remember my body, and especially my knees, after my marathon back in November. This rivals that feeling. To top it off, I have a blister the size of a half dollar on each heel, which started forming just two hours into our hike…but I’m not one to quit. Those blisters were already there and I wasn’t going to hurt anything by pushing through ’em, so I did. Of course, today I can barely move, but I’ve got things to do, so I’ve been moseying here and there working on paperwork. I definitely haven’t been moving at my usual clip. I still haven’t even popped those blisters, but I’ll get to it sometime soon.

For the moment, I’m just marveling. I knew I could do it, but to have actually done it is quite a feeling of accomplishment. I believe Vince Lombardi said: "You were given a body that can withstand most anything…it’s your mind that you have to convince." Well, I’m convinced.

Rim-to-River-to-Rim, AZ, USA

Rim-to-River-to-Rim, AZ, USA

22 October 2008

VERTICAL: +4,380′ / -4,780′
TIME: 5 Hours 20 Minutes

I hopped on the earliest shuttle I could from the Village to the South Kaibab trailhead. With 16 miles ahead of me and over 9,000 feet of vertical. I hit the Colorado after just two hours and decided that I could finish in under five. Close, but not quite. When I first set out, I didn’t have a goal in mind. I just wanted to make it. To think- I was concerned that the experience would be so challenging that I wouldn’t even get to enjoy it. Quite the contrary; I was having the time of my life. My adrenaline was pumping. Runner’s high. Here I was, hiking the Grand Canyon for the second time in four days.

I was on pace to reach my 5-hour goal until I was about two miles short of the rim. That’s when I bonked, hard. I’d only had about a liter of water and hadn’t eaten anything all morning. I knew it would catch up to me, but I hadn’t expected it to come on so suddenly. I’ve never bonked before. It was like one switchback, I’ve got Hermes wings on my boots, then the next, my feet are encased in concrete. I was at a snail’s pace already, then I had to stop completely for 10-15 minutes. I was still a mile and a half from the top and only had 20 minutes left to make my goal. I figured it was a lost cause at that point. I slowed my pace, upped my water intake, and put down a bag of trail mix.

I topped out after 5 hours 20 minutes, which is about a 3 mi/hr pace. Not too shabby, all considered. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, actually, even given that I didn’t reach my goal. I’m totally spent, and totally stoked. Good day.