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Ruby Crest Double - Slow and steady hurts the most

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Ruby Crest Double - Slow and steady hurts the most

Two athletes I could never be are a backpacker and a triathlete. It really blows my mind that people can spend weeks and months away from home carrying pounds on their backs for miles and miles. It also really blows my mind that people can be super fit at swimming, biking, and running all at the same time! Maybe it’s because I’ll never be great at either of these sports that I have a lot of respect for people that do them. All that being said I’ve romanticized the fusion of running and backpacking. A term that many in the community coin “fast packing”. Libby and I did something along those lines on the GR20 last summer and honestly the Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 are a ultra light super supported fastpack in my opinion. So this winter when I won permits for the JMT I felt like I was prepared for the task. I teamed up with Stacey and started getting excited for our big audacious goal!

My general approach to adventures are little preparation with lots of stoke. But the JMT is different it has lots of rules and is remote for many miles. The gear and food required to fastpacking the JMT unsupported over 7 days would be so heavy that it might as well be called backpacking. Since Stacey and I had never done something like this before we thought it would be important to do a 2 day adventure to simulate what a bit of the JMT might be like. We had both been talking about running the Ruby Crest Trail for a few years but instead decided we’d try fast packing the double with JMT heavy packs over two days. We roped in Libby since she’d also been toying with the idea of running it as well. It was a last minute plan! A Monday and Tuesday in the beginning of July Libby, Stacey, and I would be questing off on a Ruby Crest Trail Double!

I did little to no research leading up to it but was able to download a last minute GPX file, thanks to my friend Jenelle, to my Gaia app and printed my signature map and elevation chart that I like to bring on all my adventures. We met in the town of Elko the day before the adventure. Sorted and split some shared gear, eat some delicious Mexican food, and then headed into town for a good night sleep. Corbin and Lopi had joined for the first portion since we were just returning from celebrating Mason and Allys wedding in Salt Lake City. So we got a hotel for convenience. Stacey and Libby stayed in their vans outside. An early morning wake up call had us at the North trailhead at 6:30am. The plan was to jam down to the South Trailhead, bivy, and then return to the North Trailhead the next day. The sun rose at 5:15am so the trail was already in full sun as we started out. We moved quickly up to the first pass in no time and were greated with a beautiful vista and alpine lake. 

Chatting and jogging for a bit the miles passed quickly and we were already on the Ruby Crest early in the day. The next section is all above 10k feet for about 10 miles. You stay right on the crest and the stark contrast of tall mountains falling straight down into arid desert is beautiful. It reminded me a bit of the White Mountains outside of Bishop. We would push up over the pass take a little break and then repeat. It was beautiful and we were really enjoying the landscape. It turned out that a three person team offered an odd dynamic. The person in the middle was the only one that could hear everyone talk while the front and back missed out on half of the conversation. So it often turned into two people talking or the middle person repeating for the person in the front or the back. 

We didn’t end up filling water till we got through the crest and took a little break. The next section is a traverse it gains very little elevation over a 9 mile section and weaves in and out of the canyons with many little stream crossings and a beautiful water fall. This offered a nice change of pace from the up and down and the constant creek crossings where nice for cooling off in the baking sun. This traverse dumps you out at the last beautiful alpine lake called overland lake. This huge alpine lake has a nice little wood shack for sitting out a storm. We took a quick stop here before powering out the last thousand feet of climbing to King Mt.

From here the trail becomes much less traveled. You drop close to 3k feet down into the valleys bellow and the trail is so over grown that at times we thought we might have gotten off trail. This section seemed to go forever. The views were no longer breath taking and the sting of branches and flowers slapping across your legs got old fast. It was the hottest part of the day and thinking of having to go through this again the next day really drug on my moral. We silently trudged our way through the flowers barely stopping to observe the aspen tree markings from the Peruvian who first traveled the trail. The history down there is very interesting but the heat dampened my interests. You make two river crossings and then the final climb up to Green Mountain before dropping down to the south trailhead.

The climb out to Green Mountain went on forever. The heat was suffocating and we had been under the sun for almost a full day. I was noticing more and more the weight of the backpack and was really looking forward to getting to sleep for the night. We took a little break at the top and tried to guess some numbers on how close we were to the South Trailhead. It’s not super clear since the trailhead isn’t generally where most people park since it’s a pretty burly 4x4 road to get up there. But we had a GPS track and a general idea of the elevation at the trailhead.

We started down the hill towards the trailhead. My spirits were low as I kept trying to ditch my backpack since I knew we’d be coming back this way. It felt contrived to have to hike with all this weight to the trailhead just to turn around and hike it back up this hill. Libby and Stacey kept theirs and I was out numbered so I silently and unhappily stomped behind them. I joke that I’m not good at out and backs or loops because I lack the motivation to do things I’ve already done again. This was confirmation of this. As we inched closer to the trailhead hours off my predicted time I kept running the possibilities of bailing. Is there a way we can get a ride out of here. If only Corbin had stayed in Elko I would for sure call him and get him to pick us up. 

As the sun started to set we decided we should probably boil some water and start cooking our dinners so they would be ready to eat by the time we reached the trailhead. We stopped at the very very last possible spot to get water on the trail and found ourselves pumping water out of a trickle. Stacey and I were sharing a meal while Libby had her own. I used my handy dandy MSR water pump and Libby made the hole deeper so I could get more water faster. We filled up the jetboil, boiled the water, and filled our dehydrated meals with the water. Now we just had to wait for them to hydrate so we continued on our way down to the trailhead.

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The sun was setting now and we weren’t totally sure what the south trailhead even looked like. Most people do a one way trip and go all the way to the parking area which is several more miles. I slowly walked in the back wishing I had ditched my pack hours ago and stepping carefully as to not squash any of the giant crickets that had appeared on the trail. The last 5 miles or so of the trail are on a dirt road so at times we questioned if we truly were on the trail. As the sky really started to exploded we saw the trailhead! It was a joyous site as I finally mustered the motivation to move but it only signified the half way point.

Since Stacey and I had to work the day after we finished we decided it would be nice to get to the North trailhead before it got too late the next day so we planned to knock out the first big climb at night before we went to bivy. We sat and eat our dinners first and then pushed on back to a nice bivy spot right below Green Mountain. We moved quickly because the night time brought cooler air, a full belly of food, and the promise of sleep soon really motivates. I actually really enjoy night running. Maybe more than I do during the day. Being inside your headlamp makes the miles move faster. You don’t have any references of the top or the next point on the trail all you have is a circle of light and progression forward. Also it’s really nice to be cool. Especially after the intense sweating I had done all day long. Unfortunately down on the south side it’s so over grown and humid that the bugs are really bad and the second you put a orb of light right beside your face… the bugs become REALLY bad. We hiked in silence coughing occasionally as we swallowed a bug or cursing and swatting as they flew into your ears and eyes.

We made it to our bivy spot around 11pm. Laid out the tarp, blew up our pads, changed our clothing and passed out. Or I guess I should say I passed out. I awoke once to the sound of Libby vomiting her dinner but fell back asleep quickly. Mainly I was just happy to be off my painful feet. The alarm chirped early at 4am. The sun hadn’t risen but it was light enough not to need a headlamp. I went down to the stream and filtered water before boiling some water for breakfast. We were all packed up, fed, dressed and on the trail by 5am. I felt a pressure to get through the low meandering trails before the sun got too hot again but the weight on my back was becoming more and more noticeable. Heads down we hammered it out to King Mountain catching most of the trails in the early morning shade.

At the top of King Mt Stacey had to wait about 15 minutes for me and then another 30 minutes for Libby. Our team was in a lot of pain, sleep deprivation, and desire to be finished. It was beautiful but we had already seen it all and at this point we just wanted to be done. Unfortunately or fortunately there aren’t any bail outs at all on this trail. You don’t even have the option to DNF even if you wanted to. You’ve got to get yourself out the way you came. Stacey suggested splitting up so that people could sleep at the parking lot while we waited so that everyone was a little safer getting home that night. Especially since Stacey and I had to work the next day. We all decided that was an okay option and split up for the last 20 miles of the trail.

This was really hard for me. Usually in an ultra this is when you get a pacer. The last several miles when your body and mind have broken down is when you need that distraction and company to pull you through. This is also when my neuromas start to rear there ugly heads. I’d been struggling with neuromas for a while now. Maybe it’s just a smell of ultras but it wasn’t till after the Tahoe 200 that it feels like every long distance run I do is riddled with debilitating pain. I get to a point where I can no longer walk but I have no option but to walk and the nerve pain in my feet continues to send a shockwave up through my brain and I step again and repeat. Ultra running is no longer fun for me. I don’t want to have to depend on my high pain tolerance to get me through these adventures. I don’t want to feel nerve pain. But here I was 20 miles left to go right over the crest of the Rubys in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I had no option but to smash my nerves under the weight of my body and backpack all the way to the trailhead.

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I went heads down through the traverse and up to the crest. An impending storm off in the distance motivated me to make quick work of the crest and once I was below tree line again I felt a sense of calm. I was only 8 miles from the finish line. Alone, suffering, and out of water. I kept thinking I’d find some good mountain water somewhere along the trail but it never came. I was hobbling pretty bad walking bow legged trying to get as much pressure off my forefoot as possible. Soon I had been out of water for awhile and I still had one big climb till I was on the final descent. It was hot out by now and I knew water wasn’t negotiable. I wouldn’t be able to gut it out to the finish with out something to wet my mouth. There is one stream crossing right before the final climb. Unfortunately it comes out of a lake… a popular lake and since we had split up I didn’t have any water filtering or even tablets on me. I sat for 30 minutes hoping Libby would catch me and we could share water. Also secretly enjoying being off my feet. But I knew I needed to get out so I filled my bladder with some of the water and drank it up the final climbing knowing that dehydration was worse than the nasty gut issues I may or may not get.

As I stood at the top of Liberty Pass I could see the trailhead and the parking lot just a couple thousand feet below me and a short 3 miles. I knew it would take forever but I was so over joyed at the thought of never having to stand on my feet ever again. I hobbled painfully down the trail repeating the faster you run the faster your done. A motto I know all to well. Thinking in my head when will this ever be fun. I can’t even imagine being in this much pain and still having almost 200 miles to go on the JMT. Yet I distinctly remember this foot pain on the Tahoe 200 creeping up well before the 50 mile mark. I don’t know when I’ll learn my lesson or what it will take to cure this pain.

When I arrived at the trailhead Stacey had been there for about an hour. I quickly shed my clothing and bathed myself in the nearby river. Laying on the floor of Staceys van I put my feet up trying to get as much swelling off of the damaged nerves. Wow I can’t believe how hard that was! The pain in my feet, the blisteringly hot sun, the 67 miles drug out over two days, the lack of food, the heavy backpack… Stacey and I had a lot to think about as we started to prepare for our JMT effort were we capable of getting up and doing that again for 5 more days? I sure didn’t feel like I could. The Tahoe 200 was easy compared to that. Libby arrived about an hour later and we all drove into town. We said goodbye to Stacey as she headed home and Libby and I made the 5hr drive back to Tahoe... not without a stop at a local taco truck first.

After some rest and recovery and some much needed thought Stacey and I decided that we aren’t backpackers but runners and if we did things as fast and light as possible like runners then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Or maybe it would hurt just a little bit less. Stay tuned we'll need some help from our friends the first week of September. If you want to come out and party with us on the JMT and bring us food that isn't freeze dried or bar shaped. :)

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GR20 France - Learning is hard

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GR20 France - Learning is hard

If you came to this post to read about the logistics of running the GR20 from gear to mileages to everything in between you should go read my blog post about the logistics instead. If you've arrived here to read my personal trip report then enjoy!

"It is not possible" a man repeated to us on the trail. "You cannot do it." Another man said. It was a common theme for Libby and I on our 5 day traverse on the GR20 but let's start from the beginning instead.

It was March I think fresh off a failure in Minnesota and preparing to battle the Alaska mountains once again when Libby cold called me. The conversation was something along the lines of you want to run the GR20? Sure! It was a week before our planned adventure when I finally sat down with the book and looked into what it would take to really run the GR20 in 5 days. What I found didn't make me scared but I knew we would be pushing. The book predicted 20 hr days every day. I assumed we would do half the time of their hiking predication if we had perfect days. I printed a couple of copies of a map and the plan and called it good for planning. I wasn't worried of 180km in 5 days with 44,000 feet of gain and 45,000 feet of loss. I'd run 100 miles in 1/5th of the time this to me seemed very doable. As long as I could recover daily and keep my eating right.

My schedule was tight. Libby was uncertain of her ability to get out of Libya on time so we only gave our selves 5 full days in Corisca with a travel day on the front and end. That means I flew from San Francisco to Paris to Nice to Corisca and then started running about 10hrs after landing. As a new world traveler I didn't realize the implications that a trans Atlantic flight would have on my stomach and sleep schedule. But we only had 5 days... so jetlagged or not we were moving. Libby and I met in the airport with our lovely couch surfing host Philipp. He was a huge part in our success. He gave us tons of useful information, took us to swim in the Mediterranean, helped us buy groceries, made us dinner, and even drove us to the trailhead at 6am the next morning.

The alarm chirped at 5am. I had barely slept that night from jet lag and the air conditioning being too cold. We rolled out of bed got our things together and ate a quick breakfast. I had some yogurt thinking it would be fine. Unfortunately it wasn't sugar yogurt but very raw sour yogurt. My stomach was already unhappy with this choice. We got to the trailhead by 6:30am and were optimistically charging up the long up hill to our first hut. We had barely stept onto the trail when two men came storming past us in little packs. Libby and I tried to pack light but we were definitely not running more fastpacking with the size of our packs. Those men were running.

We moved very quickly on the uphill passing lots of people and making good time to the first hut. We filled water here and kept on moving. The day seemed to fly by, the uphills seemed easy, and the terrain rocky and interesting to keep the mind occupied even with a very sour stomach. As we descended into our second hut of the day we picked up the pace. This is when I lost focus for just a second crossing a dry creek bed and twisted my ankle. Screaming in pain and crumpling to the ground I had felt everything in my ankle crunch. I thought it was over. After all the travel and planning to have everything be over in a split second. I was devastated. Libby quickly turned around and I regained some composure to assess the situation. The ankle was intact. The pain was extreme but I only had one option to get out of these mountains and that was to walk. I got up now heavily relying on my poles and hobbled to the next hut. We sat here and I removed my shoe to look at the damage. A bit of bruising a lot of swelling but it appeared to be a sprain so not a show stopper. Libby recommended I take some ibuprofen. I was hesitant. I had never taken any medicine during any runs I had ever done. This didn't seem like the place to start but she was a nurse and I needed to not roll it again because the next roll could be game ending.

My stomach was still very upset and now the heat of the day was setting in. We death marched up the final climbing sweating profusely. Head down trying to ignore the pain in my ankle and the nausea in my stomach we kept moving. As we started our descent into the final hut of the day Libby was out of water and the drugs had finally kicked in so I was moving fine. Time wise we looked good. 12.5 hrs for the first day was close enough to my 10hr perfect day predication. At the hut we paid to sleep outside and went to a nearby restaurant to get a big dinner. Eggs and fries were exactly what I wanted and a nice comfy sleeping pad in a tent was the best sleep I had in a while. I was limping badly now that we had stopped moving and even worse when we woke up in the morning.

We decided to buy breakfast at the hut the next morning which put us on a late 6:30am start. This day was a question mark for us since the information I had written down was for the recently closed cirque de la solitude. But we knew it was going to be one of the bigger days ending up closer to 30 miles. We always made good progress in the mornings and uphills were turning out to be our biggest strength. We passed parties that were gripped clinging to the side of the mountain as we mountain goated by hands free. We'd talk to a few english speakers as we passed by and they all seemed surprised as we told them our destination was "Manganu!!?? noooo" People seemed to be surprised but nobody seemed to express doubt in our abilities to do it just yet. This stage was beautiful and my stomach seem to be doing fine. It was the heat and the distance that seemed to wear on us and a few bone issues with Libby and her bad leg. Hikers liked to tell us of how flat sections of the trail were and how after the 4th stage the trail flattened out and was easy. As time would progress we would realize more and more that there was no such thing as flat on the GR20. And that the steep rocky bits continue on to the very end. Contrary to what people who are currently hiking it and who have previously hiked it may say.

Our late 6:30am start ended up really screwing us over on our way to Manganu. The hut seemed to never come and when we arrived at 8:30pm dinner was already done being served. We were screwed if we couldn't get a good dinner and a good night sleep. This turned out to be our free night. The host had already left so we had no one to pay for sleeping and a lovely Swedish couple saved us with some pasta, cheese, bread, and even a peach. We owe a lot to that couple and Libby and I made sure we would never have another late start again. Dinner was crucial to our success. We opened bivied that night and I in a thin bivy sack essentially slept in a warm sometimes chilly swamp of my own sweat. Needless to say it was a bad sleep.

We got up early the next morning and were hiking by 5:15 am. When we would start on a uphill we always seemed to make progress quickly. This was a nice technical traverse and we passed lots of parties. On the back side we boulder hopped quickly when Libby made a bad pole placement and went down face first into the boulders. The way she fell I was sure she had broken her leg. It was over. I slowly approached her growning. She hadn't yelled like a break so I was optimistic. A puddle of blood was pooling beside her face and I asked if she was okay. She responded yes but let me take stock first. She had punched herself in the face with her pole as she fell a few scraps on her knees and fat lip was all she sustained. I was hoping this would be our last accident.

We filled water at the next hut and decided to take the high route variation for the next section. A nice technical traverse of a ridge line to keep us occupied instead of traversing low in the trees. We moved faster on the technical terrain anyways. We passed a couple who we chatted with for a bit. The man very kindly wanted to remind us that we needed to stow our poles to get through the technical section. I ignored his comment and we kept moving. After a bit Libby and I talked about the encounter. It was the first time I had really started to notice how much unsolicited advice we had been getting on the trail. Was it because we were two females? Was it because we were Americans? Why did everyone want to tell us what we needed to do or that it was impossible to do the GR20 in 5 days? The pole comment stuck with me since we had never stowed the poles even once and honestly the entire route could be done without even using your hands. The real question was did they also say this to the two men who had flown past us at the beginning? Just as we were having this thought picking our way slowly down a step descent a man came flying past us in a tiny backpack effortlessly bounding down hill. His feet never touching the ground for more than a second. We must have passed those man in a hut at an early day I was convinced it was the same men.

Some storm clouds started to build and Libby set a grueling pace on the next uphill. Now it was just 5,000 feet of descending and we would be at the half way point of the GR20. This is when it hit me. I could eat like a 100 miler for 2 days worth of time but by the 3rd day my body was starting to lose hold of the sugar diet. Sugar might buy me 15 minutes instead of an hour now and the lack of calories and water sent my into a downward spiral. The downhills started to hurt more and my knees start to lock up. Next thing I know I'm bending over to stretch my legs standing up and falling face first into the boulders from a strong orthostatic hypotensive moment. I thought my sugar had dropped and I needed sugar. Libby was saying things to me but I couldn't hear her. Apparently I was moaning some inaudible sounds. I shoved a fruit leather in my mouth but couldn't chew it. Libby describes the moment as a partially unconscious person chocking on a fruit leather. She got me to move into the shade drink some water and eat some real food. She shared with me some of her extra food a cheese stick which I promptly spilled cheese liquids all over my shirt. It was my badge of dishonor to remember how I screwed up nutrition once again. This is when we realized that I had never done a multiday push. I've run 100 milers in a day before and I've climbed big walls in a day before. It turns out pushing is a lot different than pacing. I couldn't use my motivation of "the faster you run the faster you're done" no I had to keep sustaining for 5 days. You can't push into the pain cave and create a deficit. It was a new world of eating and moving that I was learning. And unfortunately this is what learning feels like as Libby liked to remind me. 

When we arrived at the half way point we got to see the the little town of Vizzavona. It wasn't much but it had showers, electricity, and the comfiest air mattress and best sleep I had on the entire trip. We ate downtown at a restaurant were no english was spoken. A few mystery dishes with one mild vomit and it was off to bed to start the second half. We chatted with an English speaker in the camp who was doing the route in 14days. When he discovered we were doing it in 5 he promptly responded with "You can not do it. It is impossible" We quickly ended the conversation and it left a bad taste in our mouths. On the way back to my tent I looked at Libby and said fuck that guy just because it's hard doesn't mean its impossible. 

The next morning we rose early and made our way to our last sleep on the course. The day started well and we made progress quickly. The terrain for this day was boring. Mostly wooded and good trail with little exciting to look at. I was running low on food and we were actually running on the trail. Libby close to falling asleep behind me we decided to slow down a bit and talk to make the time and distance pass quicker. When we finally reached Verde we decided to take a longer break drink some cokes and eat some food at the restaurant. We were on the final 10 mile stage of the day and making good time. The coke and the new drugs finally kicked in and we rocketed up what we thought was the final climb. But then things started to go south for me. I had eaten a bit of the cheese sandwich Libby had bought and the stinky cheese immediately did not sit well with me but riding the coke high at first it didn't seem to matter. Now about 3 miles out from our destination I was dry heaving on the side of the trail seconds from vomiting. I wanted to vomit. Vomit would make me feel better. Libby was talking about nasty things in an effort to make me vomit and I was retching on the side of the trail. An hour of slow walking and laying down and dry heaving and burping went by before I started to get angry. I felt like shit and I wanted to get to the next hut. At the pace I had slowed to we would miss dinner again. I started too shout and ride the anger wave now averaging a fast pace on the trail. I shouted angrily about french food and about animal cruelty and ran in anger. This wave of anger lasted until the hut was in sight and then I ran in desperation to be done. When we arrived I sat head between my legs with extreme pain in my abdomen. We had gotten the very last two dinners which I counted as a success. A nice comfy warm tent and I bought some more food to get me through the last day.

As we sat down to eat the food two very fit looking men in running shoes and clothing came up to us. You are the runner girls they proclaimed how many days are you doing it in. We responded with 5. They seemed impressed. They were the men that had passed us at the beginning and again on day 3! They were also doing the trail in 5 days. We had such a pleasant evening talking about the trail and running and getting to know each other. They both lived here on Corsica and the one man had run the trail in a just 2 days! We enjoyed their company and it was such a pleasant relief to have people who didn't use the word impossible. They gave us some good beta on some alternate routes that would make the final day more enjoyable. 

That night was rough. I tossed and turned all not from the pain in my stomach. I got up a few times to use the bathroom but nothing seemed to help the pain. Usually in the mornings I would feel great and we could make good progress for the fast half of the day. This morning was different. The abdominal pain had not left. We got on the trail by 5am and the boys passed us for one final time on the initial climb. Unlike the other days I wasn't able to muster the energy this morning. I was ill but moving. A cute little brown dog was following the boys out of the camp but when the boys moved to fast he latched unto Libby and I. He had a collar with no name and we assumed he belonged to someone at the hut. Libby kept shouting at him to go back but the fit little dog seemed determined to go with us. After a while we just accepted that he was with us now but the anxiety of having the dog around couldn't be ignored.

I ate 4 times with in the first hour of the morning. Hoping my stomach would turn around. The first hut took forever and the second took just as long and the sun was the hottest it had been the entire trip giving me heat rash on both my arms. When we arrived in Bavella we could finally eat some real food. We ordered 3 cokes, 2 chocolate crepes, and a large order of fries. Our puppy friend took a nap and the restaurant seem to recognize him and gave him a big plate of food. I was happy he was being fed but start to cry thinking about how independent he was and how much I missed Lopi. I poured a coke into my bottle and chugged the other. It was the final 12 miles to the finish and there was nothing that could stop us now.

Freshly drugged and full of food Libby and I took a more casual start to the final leg. We talked a lot and kept the miles and time passing. The end went quickly in my head. The mountains started to disappear and the ocean was the only thing on the horizon. My stomach and feet were hurting but a good conversation can distract anything. I had been in a strange habit of pooping about 3 times a day and the final day was no exception. This time however I realized something was different. I pooped the blackest poop of my life. A sign of bleeding. It was of no surprise having not taken ibuprofen for years of my life to now taking a healthy dosing for 5 days in a row that maybe the abdominal pain was something deeper than just upset stomach. But we were hours from the finish and it would heal in time anyways. 

The final day took us longer than expected and we arrived at the finish well past the bus schedule. It was entirely my fault but I had done the best I could. A lovely French family celebrating Bastille day invited us in for some delicious homemade pizza and wine and we talked all things Trump and GR20. In Conca even though the trail was done we were 3hrs from being back in Calvi and on a holiday in France the town was dead. Again for the last time of the trip we were told "It is IMPOSSIBLE to get to Calvi tonight" with early flights in the morning we reassured them that nothing is impossible it just may be expensive or hard. A few hours of attempted hitching and then a quick call to a taxi we were back in Calvi with our lovely couch surfing host Phillip at 2am. A glorious shower and blister relief allowed us to finally sleep well for me the first time 8 days. The next day would hold a 40hr travel block with a 18hr layover in Paris to a 5hr bus ride from SF to Truckee. Boy it felt good to be home and what a beautiful adventure. My ankle is healing well and I already feel like I can run again!

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Ultrarunning Podcast Laughs

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Ultrarunning Podcast Laughs

I peed in a water bottle in the back of a Subaru Forrester while recording a podcast for DFL Ultrarunning.

The stories a little deeper then that though. So I woke up on MLK day in Truckee. I hopped in the car and headed west towards the Bay. I shot Libby a text telling her I might be late for the podcast we had planned to record at noon. We had tried to record the podcast about three days earlier but had technical difficulties with being in three separate cities. I had to be in the Bay for work so we figured it would be easiest to just meet up and do it then. The pass on i80 was chain controlled and it had been raining/snowing non stop for three days... But oddly enough I made record time and was an hour early. I met up with Libby and we grabbed a boba tea from across the street before starting to figure out logistics for recording. Libby lives in a shack outside a climbing gym and doesn't get very good internet. The climbing gym itself would be too loud. So Libby had the great idea to back her Subaru Forrester up against the gym and we could sit in the back and poach the gym wifi. 

So here we are with the Subaru backed up in the do not park spot just to the right of the handicapped spot and subsequently right in front of the entrance to the gym. I finished my tea and we Skyped on with Eric from the podcast. Everything was going great until half way through the Yosemite story when I had to pee... but by half way through talking about the Grand Canyon I realized it was an emergency and I was never going to make it through talking about Zion. So I mouthed to Libby "I NEED TO GO PEE" she read my lips and and didn't know the emergency state I was in. I pointed to right outside the car door. She shook her head no. I was at the pee your pants state. She handed me the laptop and I filled some time talking about the rest stop outside the Grand Canyon. When she returned she handed me a bottle and my eyes lit up. I handed her the laptop quickly ripped down my pants and started peeing in the bottle... In the back of a Subaru directly beside the entrance of the climbing gym. Libby turned the laptop away so you couldn't hear the pee hitting the bottle but the whole scene was too much to not laugh a little. I pulled my pants up and capped the bottle off and continued talking as Libby burst into laughter. We were really good but the laughing blew our cover. We have really proven to not be the best at planning. Give it a listen if you have the time. DFL Podcast Episode 60


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Triple Crown of Trail Running

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Triple Crown of Trail Running

The Triple Crown of trail running encompasses approximately 100 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation gain. 3 Rivers, 6 Rims, 3 National Parks, 2 Months, 2 Chicks, 4 Sticks. The Rim to Rim to Rim of Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. As climbers going fast and light in the mountains is really important. Being able to cover large amounts of distance in a short amount of time with only your legs and large amounts of gels is the name of the game. We coined it the Triple Crown of trail running because of the famous triple crown in our home park linking El cap, Watkins, and Half dome.

So what exactly is this made up adventure the Triple Crown of trail running you might ask. Here are the separate trip reports:
Yosemite Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Grand Canyon Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Zion Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile

Though you don’t have to do them in any particular order we seemed to do them in increasing in difficulty. Not as a strategy more as an accident. Yosemite is the shortest of the three at about 17 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain. A start at Glacier Point sends you down to the valley via the 4 mile trail. The valley is only about half a mile wide so it’s fast progress getting to the Yosemite falls trail were you ascend quickly and then return the way you came. We completed this in the end of October when the days where longest and we were on familiar terrain. Our Grand Canyon adventure happened a month later right before Thanksgiving. The days were shorter and the distance was more than doubled with even more elevation gain. We had perfect weather though for late November. Covering 44 miles and about 12,000 feet of elevation gain via the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails. The final and star of the entire adventure was Zion. We completed Zion on the shortest day of the year right before Christmas. Night running, snow, and cold for hours on end as we charged for about 40 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Navigating the East and West Rim Trails of the valley.

I could talk your ear off for hours about these amazing adventures. There is no way to really see a park then by experiencing it by foot. I hope you get inspired and hike or run these lines as well!

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

Bang Bang Bang! There was a loud knock on the door of Libby’s mothers house. Who could that be we thought? When we opened the door it was the cops. “Excuse me miss but we got a call from a neighbor about a suspicious econoline van being parked outside this residence.” Ironically I had just crawled from my bed in the back of the van maybe two hours earlier. It is my home and even when offered a bed in a house I often choose the van. Libby consoled the officers letting them know it was fine and everyone went on there way. So what were Libby and I doing in Las Vegas a few days before Christmas? Let’s rewind.

The idea to run the Rim to Rim to Rim of Zion happened a little after the half way point of the Grand Canyon. It was Libby’s idea and in the moment it seemed like the best idea ever. We trotted along the trail scheming about how easy Zion would be. I distinctly remember us saying something along the lines of “At least we have the hardest one almost done. Zion will be easier than Yosemite!” The planning was immediate, laying in the back of the van legs paralyzed from the Grand Canyon and already looking at topos for Zion. You would have thought we might have, just maybe, learned something from the beating we just endured. Runners highs will do weird things to the brain. The initial idea was to run from the river to observation point back down to the river up to angels landing and back down. However this would be considered a River Rim River Rim River… and that just didn’t fit right with us. 

A few weeks went by and Libby and I had planned out the epic three day adventure for the end of December. This time it involved a van, plane, and a Las Vegas rendezvous. I didn’t do much of any running between the Grand Canyon and Zion and I didn’t expect Libby to have either. Libby was in Ukraine being a bad ass nurse healing hearts, and I was in the Bay quitting my job. I picked Libby up on December 19th from the Las Vegas airport. I was already in the area because the previous few days I was climbing with my sister and friends in the St. George and Red Rocks area. That night we got an alright sleep and in the morning was when the cops showed up. We ran a few errands and then headed for our bivy spot outside of Zion.

The plan had changed from the original idea and we were now going to run the East Rim Trail to the West Rim Trail back to the East Rim Trail this would be a total of about 60 miles round trip and allow us to do a proper Rim River Rim River Rim. Our longest run yet. Since we both live in California winter isn’t really a season. And the past couple of years that was the truth. Climbing in tank tops in Yosemite in December and running in a snowless Tahoe in January. I for some reason had this idea that there wouldn’t be much if any snow in Zion. But we called up the backcountry office to get the details on the trails. They pretty much said I don’t know it might be snowy. I imagined a few hours of post holing in knee deep snow on the rims followed by lots of dry and fun trail running. I couldn’t have been farther from what we were about to endure.

We woke up at 4:50am and started towards the East entrance. We wanted to start moving close to dawn. The roads were icy and as we got closer to the East Rim the snow on the sides of the road became more and more apparent. We both packed our bags and stuffed a bagel and cream cheese down our throats. It was about to be a long day of goo, trail butter, and baby food. We were a few miles in when the sun finally rose. It was this brilliant red. Libby made a comment about a red sky being a bad sign. We were about to see a lot of bad signs. We charged through the snow for a few hours. We kept thinking the snow would lessen as we lost elevation but it seemed to just be getting thicker. The crunchy snow turned our ankles side to side and stressed our metatarsals. While the champagne powder felt like quick sand as it splashed up over our knees. The moving was slower than we had expected and we kept trying to make mental notes of the surroundings just incase if the storm hit early and covered our tracks. 

As the sun rose it was hard to tell that it did. The ominous sky was gray and was foreshadowing for the storm forecasted for that night. The sun never graced our skin and I stayed tightly covered all morning. As we ran through the snow we could hear the woods come a live in the morning. The barking of the coyotes in the distances and the sound of snow crunching under our feet. It felt therapeutic almost like meditating. We barely talked mostly because it was hard to hear each other over the sound of snow crunch. 

We came across a few trail junctions and ended up following a fainter trail that went out right. I was hesitant and shouted back to Libby about getting the map out. We never did and continued to trudge on. I was following the tracks of a single person which should have been the first warning but by the time we reached a trailhead half a mile from the junction it was clear we had made a wrong turn. A little extra mile detour to add to the mornings joy. We turned around and got back on the correct trail. We need to keep moving. It was after all the shortest day of the year.

A few miles from the trail junction the trail was covered in blood… fresh blood. It was scary seeing the white snow so bright red. It looked like a bunny had been eaten for breakfast and we took that as another bad sign for the day. We continued down hill in a couple of areas that were definitely no fall zones. We were loosing elevation quickly and I joked that running was my favorite snow activity as we sneaker skied down pillows of powder. Soon the view of the valley came into sight. It was breath taking and we were both relieved to finally be making some sort of progress after what felt like forever of snow slogging. Libby wasn’t doing well. She was already setting the ground work for an early turn around. She said just letting you know that we may just do Angels Landing and then turn around. My knees are hurting really bad and it’s early to be having this much pain she reiterated. I reassured her that I would do whatever she felt was right. Though an early turn around at Angels Landing was feeling very enticing. The thought of being out here in the dark for 7 or 8 hours in a potential snow storm was making me nervous as well. 

We hit the trail junction for Observation Point and finally found a place to slip on our spikes. Now it was just the quick run down to the Weeping Rock. We made quick progress of this with the extra sure footing that the spikes on our feet had to offer, and I snapped a few pictures of the views to distract myself from the extremely urgent need to poo. It was quickly becoming an emergency. As I stood a thousand feet above the trailhead toilet I peered down at what seemed like my freedom. I looked back at Libby and said I’ll see you at the bottom as I launched myself into a full out sprint. The trail was packed with early morning hikers and I wasn’t about to ruin there morning with an explosion of trail side diarrhea. Though for a few minutes I thought it was inevitable. My gait opened wide and I let gravity take me down the trail, across the parking lot, and into the bathroom. Without even time to lock the door, backpack still on my back, I pulled my pants down just enough and lost control. I can most definitely say that was the closest I have ever been to shitting my pants.

Pants up and spikes off, Libby and I made our way on the mile long section of road between the Weeping Rock trailhead and the Grotto. The Grotto was the only place we would be able to fill up water that we knew of so we made sure to drink a lot and fill up as much as possible. We never stopped for very long because it was so cold. The longer we stopped the more cold we got so our stops were often quick and to the point. It was surprisingly cold even down in the valley which was not a good sign for the weather on the rims. When we headed up the Angels Landing trail we decided we weren’t going to make a decision until we got to the split between Angels Landing and the West Rim trail. I knew Libby was leaning more towards the Angels Landing option but I still had some fight left in me. We charged up the trail in a extremely fast pace. We were finally hitting our second wind. By the time we reached the junction I knew we should keep going and Libby did too. It was very apparent at this point how low Angels Landing actually is from the true rim. It does not even get close to the West Rim height. Loosing a little elevation and then gain some again we finally reached the West Rim. 

We sat down and looked at the map. We had planned to take the Telephone Canyon trail which would save us about 2 miles of distance getting to the West Rim trailhead. Unfortunately since the recent snow fall nobody had taken that trail and it was completely untracked. Our lack of a GPS left us in a tricky situation. Do the longer option adding another 20 miles on to our trip and risk getting stuck in a snow storm, in the dark, in an unfamiliar park. To me we had already finished half of our goal. We had run Rim to River to Rim now all we had to do was get all the way back to the van. Tagging the trailhead of the West Rim would be nice but it was where it was located so far away because of where the road ran not because of where the true rim was. Running from trailhead to trailhead in the Grand Canyon made sense because the trailheads were actually at the rims but for Zion the trailheads were 10+ miles from the rims just because of the nature of the valley. Here was the dilemma Libby was jet lagged, in pain, afraid of the dark, and nervous about the weather. I was nervous about the weather, in pain, and afraid of the dark. We made the call. We turned around at the rim and we both kicked ourselves at first. Trying to justify our decisions. We played it safe and I think we made the right call for us as a team, on this day, with these conditions. But because we are both motivated people it was hard to turn around. But the faster and faster we lost elevation and the darker and darker the sky got the better I felt about our decision.

We had committed to our decision and there was no turning back now. Libby kept commenting the faster we move the faster we get back. It kept us moving. Nothing seemed more exciting then laying in my bed in the back of the van. I wanted to make it up the East Rim climbs before it got dark. The route finding was a bit cryptic and I wanted to avoid getting lost at all costs. We ran down the paved Angels Landing trail wincing with every move. Filled back up at the Grotto and made our way along the road for the final mile before heading back up the East Rim. At this point we still head 11 miles to go and a ton of elevation to climb. It was around 3 pm and the sun was already setting.

When we put our spikes on at the bottom of the Weeping Rock we knew we wouldn’t be taking them off until we got to the van. I struggle to run in the spikes because they tweaked my previously broken first metatarsal just right that by this point the pain was not just ultra pains but broken bone pains. Something I was not unfamiliar with when it comes to running. Up we went hardly talking at all. We were on a mission to get the hell out of this canyon before we had lost all of the light. We made it up both major climbs before we needed to strap on our head lamps. We were 5 miles from the van and in complete darkness. There was no moon or stars because of the storm clouds. The worst part of this all was that we were now in the woods. My headlamp illuminated the snow in front of me which showed tracks of animals coming in and out of the woods. Nothing feels more eerie then being in the snowy woods at night. I kept my creeped out feelings to myself and agreed with Libby to stay close. Heads down we studied the tracks on the trail, bunnies, deer, coyotes, maybe cats, human foot prints, big human feet, little human feet. It wasn’t fun but we kept moving and in the silence I would think of the worst case scenarios and then quickly forget and daydream about laying in my bed getting a back and calf massage. Every time I lifted my headlamp I half expected to catch the glow of an animals eyes but never did. I was happy about that.

We had done really well about fueling and kept a good strategy all the way up to the end. About 2 miles from the van we both popped a goo and congratulated ourselves on never having to eat another goo for a really long time. I was feeling very sick and barely kept down the last 3 goos I had taken. All I wanted was real food. Anything of substance anything to stay down. When we made it back to the van everything went away. All of the fears of getting lost everything. It was all over we could rest now. Eating a little here and there and changing a few layers we both examined our bodies. Our feet didn’t fare well… blisters, bruises, and sores. I know it would be a long few days of compression, stretching, and icing. But our ultra was far from over as always. We still had to drive back to Las Vegas.

I hoped behind the drivers wheel and started to make our way slowly towards the interstate… very slowly. My night vision is terrible and so are my headlights on the van. Poking along at 20 to 30 miles under the speed limit we made progress. This isn’t anything new. Libby laughed remembering how slowly I drove away from the Grand Canyon. It almost felt like deja vu… until the flashing lights showed up in my mirror. O boy I was getting pulled over. The officer came up to the window and was surprised to see two emaciated females behind the wheel. I half expected him to be pulling me over for going way under the speed limit but instead he told me my license plate light was out and gave me a warning. If there is one thing I know, driving a creeper van sure does draw the attention of the cops. 

We headed on our way and I stopped at a Mavericks to get gas. I put the pump in the van and hobbled to the bathroom. I was surprised though I felt much better then after the Grand Canyon. When I returned to the van I opened the drivers door to find Libby hanging out the passenger side and like any good friend ran to take a picture. The first vomit of the day which was then followed by several other vomits at different Mavericks along the way back to Vegas. By the time we got home Libby limped into the house, and I crawled into the back of the van. I could finally relax it was finally all over for a bit. I crawled into my sleeping back and tried to fall asleep. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be so lucky. The pain in my broken foot was excruciating and I tossed and turned all night unable to sleep. When I woke I was worked. Libby gave me some pain medicine but it didn’t seem to take the edge off. It had been 6 months since I broke it but I guess I never really rested it. RICEing real hard right now. Libby headed off to the airport to go back to her job in the bay and I loaded up Lopi and my sister and headed back to do some climbing in Red Rocks. Like always life returns back to normal faster than you’d expect.

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