Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ultra Pedestrian Wilderness Challenge 2013: Devil's Dome Loop

I signed up to participate in the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge 2013: Devil’s Dome Loop. That is what brings me here on a Sunday evening–driving upriver in deep dusk, thinking existential thoughts. Moments from the PCT are replaying themselves on my mind’s movie screen. The radio proclaims, “Nothing scares me anymore” and I sing along–a phrase I can wholeheartedly agree with amidst a sea of vapid lyrics. I drive onward winding up into the mountains, arms straight, elbows locked out. I am on a mission, not just to run a course, but to run away from the life I have come home too. The mountains, my dearest friends welcome me with knowing, grizzled faces. They’ve seen the likes of me one too many times.
I fill my water bottles in the dark. The darkness calms me. The mountain night fills my lungs, soaks into my skin, permeates my psyche. I feel the stress of everything outside this place and moment falling away. I find an amazingly comfortable camp spot beneath ancient cedar trees just a stone’s throw from my car, but the roar of the creek is so loud I cannot sleep, even with earplugs in. Oddly, I miss the pure exhaustion of the speed record that allowed me to sleep anywhere the moment I was horizontal…

5:30 comes and I find myself eating an almond butter sandwich in the pre-dawn light. I don’t bother to unzip my sleeping bag or turn on my headlamp. I realize it is the most natural thing in the world to me. As will packing up and moving forward when I’d rather be sleeping.  At the trailhead I throw my tent and sleeping bag into my trunk. A man walks over and asks if I am doing the UPWC as well. I say yes and he holds out his hand, “Arya.”

I take it and stumble over my own name. “An…Heather.” He walks away. I push the button on my Garmin and begin my day in the gray light. Anish…I almost introduced myself as Anish. Shaking my head I wonder semi-seriously not only if I am experiencing a mild form of PTSD, but if I am at risk for split personality disorder. The cobweb of nightmares in my brain dissipate in the sweat and blood pumping power of the switchbacks up…and up…and up. I forget the faux pas with my name. Who cares anyway? Anish is Heather. Heather is Anish. I am home. Home. Home. Home….it pounds through my veins and I smile as I bound through the huckleberry laden parklands. The sweet odor of fermenting berries drifts around me like the mist. I relish the fact that I am free of my backpack and only carry a couple of handhelds and some snacks.

The climb up to McMillan Park breezes by. Over and over I am amazed at how effortless it feels to run through the mountains on narrow trails. My body must be recovered from the PCT for it to handle the 41 miles today as though it was nothing. I don’t push. I simply revel in the beauty of the wild and my body moving through it, just as I did for 2 months prior. Vaguely I am aware that I am reaching landmarks in what feels like a short amount of time, but it doesn’t really matter.

Onward I fly, uphill, downhill, over the rocks and through the brush. I bomb down from the ridge to the cusp of Ross Lake. I am sad to enter the forest and leave the sunny high country behind.


Yet when I cross the bridge and consult my watch I see that my easy run has been less than 11 hours long (10:46…plus 3 minutes or so of fumbling with the Garmin to make it stop recording). I whoop and stride back into the sun drenched parking lot. I guzzle water as though I will never drink enough again. I rip my shoes and socks off and throw my pack into the car.

Then, I go lie in the glacial creek and absorb its power. Rejuvenated, I leave home and return to the building in which I live.

Bonus! I am pleased to discover that this fell out of my pack and was awaiting my return to my car:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gear Reviews from the 2013 PCT FKT: Part 2

A thru-hike always puts gear and clothing to the ultimate test. Daily use for months on end is more than most items are manufactured for. During my speed hike I added the quantity of hours per day used to that equation. Since I never took a day off and seldom stopped for breaks most of my gear was under constant bombardment except the 5 hours a night I was sleeping. Therefore the pieces of gear that stood out as all stars I can highly recommend. Other pieces I wasn't as happy with. However, keep in mind that these reviews are only about how these things worked for me. Every person is different, has different needs, a different hiking style, and may have different results. Analyze my kudos and complaints in light of how they would apply to your hike/hiking style. This is not an exhaustive list of my gear, just the items I feel deserve a review and/or people frequently ask about.

Grade: A

I have used this brand pad on all 4 of my thru-hikes and everything in between. It works as the frame for my rucksack pack and does a good job of insulating me.
Pros:  Does what it says
           Virtually indestructible
Cons:  There are lighter options

Golite 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag
Grade: A
Website: http://www.golite.com/Womens-Adventure-20-Three-Season-Regular-P46980.aspx
I have the older version of this bag. In fact, this was its 3rd thru-hike (plus all the other miles I’ve put on it!). I’ve had it for 8 years. It’s not as warm as it once was, but it’s still a great summer bag. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement in and of itself, I don’t know what is. I just bought the newer version and anticipate at least another decade of use.
Pros:  Lightweight
           True to warmth rating
           Short sizing as well as long and regular
Cons:  New bag doesn’t have the foot vent the old one does
            Zipper catches a LOT on the baffle. This might be user error though…

Gossamer Gear Polycro Groundcloth (Medium 2 pack)
Gossamer Gear Titanium Stakes
Grade: A

I have had mixed results with the groundsheet. I started the CDT with it in 2006 and it shredded before I got out of Glacier National Park. I was hesitant to try it again until this hike and I was incredibly pleased to find that one groundsheet lasted the entire trail (although it did tear in half in Northern Oregon, the sheet was still large enough to cover the ground under my body).
Pros: Ultra light
          Stakes are practically indestructible
Cons: Groundsheet may tear if not handled carefully.

IcebreakerBase Layers
Grade: A+

I have used these base layers and a pair of Smartwool socks as my sleep/emergency dry clothes on three thru hikes (2 PCT and 1 CDT) as well as everything else I’ve done since I bought them in 2005. The shirt and socks are the originals and I replaced the tights for this hike. Love them and can’t imagine using anything else. Ever.
Pros: Warm, even when wet
          Less prone to stink than synthetics
          Great feel against the skin
Cons: They will eventually unravel/get holes since they are a natural fiber. I never recommend Smartwool gloves for this reason. I have never gotten a full through hike out of a pair.
           Heavier than synthetics

PlatypusHoser Hydration Bladder: B+  

Hard Plastic Bite Valve Cover: F   http://www.cascadedesigns.com/platypus/platy-accessories/bite-valve-cover/product

SteripenTraveler Mini: C  

MSR Aquatabs: A  

Aqua Mira: B    http://www.aquamira.com/

I’ll just review my hydration and water treatment all at once. I have used the Platypus Hoser since my first thru-hike in 2003 (Appalachian Trail). I have always loved its ease of use and capacity for little volume. However, the one and only time I have ever gotten sick in the backcountry was when red algae (from snow) started growing in the hose unbeknownst to me. HORRIBLE things ensued for a week. Therefore, I am leery of putting snowmelt into it. I am also not a fan of the tinted blue hose they use now. The bite valve cover kept making the bite valve fall off. This was kind of a big deal in the desert since water would gush out of the hose until I could get it kinked and the valve back on. It also trapped all kinds of nasty around the bite valve and required regular cleaning. I used the Steripen through the desert, but I dropped it once and it broke in the Sierra. I used a combination of Aquatabs and Aqua Mira the rest of the way. I usually don’t treat my backcountry water and aside from the aforementioned red algae incident, I have never gotten sick. Therefore, my assessment of whether certain water treatments work or not may be skewed since I may be one of the lucky folks who is immune to Giardia.
Pros: Platy is light and low volume
          Steripen is easy to use/reliable/nearly instant
          Aquatabs are easy to use and ultra light
         Aqua Mira is easy to use
Cons: Platys can leak, tinted hose makes seeing mold/algae difficult/bite valve gets dirt and crud in it
           Steripen in heavier than other options/fragile/requires special batteries which are hard to find and illegal to mail USPS
           Aquatabs treat 2 liters and are difficult to break. I rarely needed 2 liters at a time so ended up carrying extra water weight. 30 minute wait time for treatment.
           Aqua Mira: I call it my water treatment placebo. It is not FDA approved to kill anything in your water that could make you sick. I used it when I had to drink water I didn’t want to so that I felt like I was doing something. Heavier than Aquatabs.

Grade: A

I started out in an older model lightweight sock. These did not hold up. I switched to their Performance 2.0 Original weight mini crew and was delighted. Adequate ankle coverage is essential. The original weight is durable enough for day after day of use.
Pros: Durable
          No toe blisters
          Excellent wicking
Cons: The Light Weight version will not stand up to thru-hiking.

Petzl Tikka
Grade: B

My headlamp was great for in camp, but it really wasn’t bright enough for night hiking. I need to explore lighter, brighter options if I were to ever do something like this again, especially on a trail that requires more navigation. The route finding ascending Muir Pass was very difficult with this headlamp.

The Zebra Print Dress :)
Grade: A
Website: N/A  Scour the thrift shops near you!
Fashion, Function, Fun.
Pros: You can pee standing up, ladies
          Cool when hot, warm when cold
           Lighter than shirt/short combos
           Cheap. I paid $1 for this one

Cons: They wear through after about 1,000 miles

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gear Reviews from the 2013 PCT FKT: Part 1

A thru-hike always puts gear and clothing to the ultimate test. Daily use for months on end is more than most items are manufactured for. During my speed hike I added the quantity of hours per day used to that equation. Since I never took a day off and seldom stopped for breaks most of my gear was under constant bombardment except the 5 hours a night I was sleeping. Therefore the pieces of gear that stood out as all stars I can highly recommend. Other pieces I wasn't as happy with. However, keep in mind that these reviews are only about how these things worked for me. Every person is different, has different needs, a different hiking style, and may have different results. Analyze my kudos and complaints in light of how they would apply to your hike/hiking style. This is not an exhaustive list of my gear, just the items I feel deserve a review and/or people frequently ask about.

ZPacks Hexamid Solo+Vestibule
Grade: A+
What can I say? I LOVE MY TENT! I slept in it every night except one. I am not a cowboy camper. I don’t like bugs and spiders and ants. Blech. I was always envious of people with uber light tarps until I found this: A fully enclosed, single person tent that doesn’t feel like a coffin and weighs only 1 pound! (inclusive of stakes, guylines, and the manufacturer pole–I don’t use trekking poles). Having a home that is a constant on a long journey like this was very comforting to me. Crawling into my tent every night gave me a sense of calm and happiness.
Pros:   Lightweight
            Fully enclosed
            Easy set up
            Roomy…I have even squeezed another person in there on a different trip
            Well ventilated/minimal condensation issues
Cons:   I wouldn’t want to use this without the vestibule. My experience has been that in heavy rain
there is some splash/drip that comes in around the edges. The vestibule eliminates that issue on
one side so you can snuggle up to that edge if it’s really coming down.
            I haven’t had this out in pouring rain yet. Therefore I can’t say what it would be like in those
conditions. However, if you have in mind a hike like the PCT where foul weather is rare then I
highly recommend it.

Glacier Peak Wilderness

PatagoniaHoudini Jacket
Grade: A+

This jacket was the workhorse of my layering system. I wore it probably 50+ days out of the 60 I was on the trail. It offered excellent protection from everything: sun, cold, wind, bugs, etc. It weighs less than 2oz and packs to the size of a Clif Bar!! Despite constant use it shows no real signs of wear except some discoloration where it was under the pack straps.
Pros:    Extremely light
             Cute color (yes, this matters!)
             Dries in an instant
             Stash pocket
Cons:    None

Northern Terminus

Altra LonePeak (Note: I used the Original, but subsequent models are equally good.)
Grade: A-

I have been running ultras in these shoes for about a year. I love the roomy toe box and the neutral “Zero Drop” sole. These are a more minimal shoe however, and I noticed that on this hike my feet took a serious beating. A shoe with more cushion would have made them much happier, especially in the first 1,000 miles.

Pros:     Roomy allowing plenty of space for swollen feet to expand
              Neutral sole allowing a more natural, nimble foot movement
Cons:    Not much cushioning
Old and New

Grade: C
Website: http://www.ula-equipment.com/product_p/cdt.htm
Let me say the grade for this pack is based on some serious issues *I* had with it. Hundreds of PCT hikers use ULA packs every year and love them. I’m not sure if the problems I had were due to the pack construction, the nature of my hike, or my own biomechanics. ULA is a great company and makes great products and I wholeheartedly recommend them. I think I might have bought the wrong size of pack and that it contributed to some of my problems.

Pros:   Hipbelt pockets–This was a major selling point for me. It gave me an accessible place for my
phone/camera, chapstick, sunscreen, snacks, etc.
Accessible slash pockets on the sides–Again, indispensable for me. This is where I put my food
for the day since I ate while I walked.
Bombproof construction–I’m not nice to my pack…and it has held up beautifully. The main mesh
pocket is shredded from brush and wear, but otherwise the pack is in great condition.

Cons:  Painful shoulder. Despite a balance and light packweight my right shoulder strap dug in and
chafed me something terrible. I have scars, not to mention the days of pain. I don’t know
whether the strap was not properly padded or whether it had to do with my biomechanics, but it was miserable.

Back sores/chafing. I had incredibly painful chafing and sores on my back nearly the entire hike. I believe part of this was due to my back never getting to air out or a recovery day to heal. I think the pack size was too large for me and therefore hung down too low as well.
Southern Terminus

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Snapshot: Week 3

Snapshot: Week Three
My body doesn't hurt, except for the pain in my right foot and it's blister. I wakebleary eyed after only five hours of sleep and for a moment contemplate whether I really want to continue. I think of the 43ish miles ahead and it seems impossible. Finally, I sit up and befin to pack: challenge accepted. 
I am outof the desert! I can't believe that J havecome so far. Walking into Kennedy Meadows I was sobbing... 
I am enjoying the beauty of the trail and the aErobic meditation of the miles. 
12 miles north of KM the blister on mu right heel popped.
I am excited for the Sierra, but terrified by their diffculty.
Once again in the mountains where i am happy, whole and at home it was easy to forget my mission and just walk through the beauty surrounding me.
The Sierra was tough. But I did it. I feel empowered now. That if I can climb Pinchot, Mather, and Muir passes in one day I can surely continue on in this journey, as well as take on difficult challenges in life.
Scary moments in the Sierra: feeling my heart pounding palpably...in my abdomen while climbing Glen Pass. Chest pains climbing Muir. Thankfully, they were just sore pectorals.

Snapshot: week 2

Snapshot: Week Two

My legs ache less, although pain still shoots from pirifprmis to ankle alomg my left sciatic nerve once in a while. Thankfully, theyno longer keep me awke. My feet still ache. The last ten miles of theday are agonizing. The blisters continue to grow. I hobbled around the best western at cajon pass on the sides because the pads were to tender to walk on. As the week passed I became less focusedon pain and beganto really enjoy jiking. On day 11 at thesaufleys i eized the pads of my feet were fine and i was walking normally. I also weighed myself-down10 lbs. that's a pound a day, and idon't have 50 more to lose. The heat still has my appetite surpressed. I take in abt 3,500 callries a day. No where near what i am even burning, much less need. Though it's hard to eat, my thoughts are preoccupied with food: avkcado one erythinh, a scott jurek canbage salad drowned in red curry peanut sauce, a half pound salmon steak, Ras' bbq tempeh... I am craving fat and protein because myacro nutrients are skewed, not to mention mu body is ready dipping heavily into stores. 
On the last day of the week, as50mph headwinds had me frozen midstride in the Mojave; rihht knee drivingup, left foot firmly planted, waiting forthe weint on mu back to break the tie nd propel me forwle, i ft the wet warmth and blessed release from pain that accompanied the rupture of the enormous nlister on my left foot. Gravity won and i plunged forward toward a new week and a new challenge- keepin the blister free of infection.

Snapshot: week 1

A snapshot of life the first week of a record attempt. My day starts at 5 am. I will walk all day at 3 mph, stoppinv only to get water, dump sand from my shoes or such. Each stop lasts but a few minutes. I walk until the miles pile up, intil night falls and my headlamp comes out, until the acjing in my feet and legs seems unbearable. The last miles i am stumbling, tripping. Finally, I pitch my tent on whatever surface is availble. It may be flat, or not, or rock hard, but it is home for the next few hours. Inside I struggle to choke down a protein shake, my exhaustikn overrides my hunger. I peel socks off from blistered swollen feet. I crawl into my sleeping bag and prop my feet on my food bag. Pain , spasms, cramps, sharp cries that shoot along my nerves; my legs and feet make it hard for me to sleep. I clench my teeth against the jolts and wait for exhaustion to overcome me again. A few hours later, I am awakened by my alarm. Bleary eyed, I wish to go back to sleep, but thenI remember all who believe in me, everyone cheering me on. I think of the sticker on the back of my phone (Never, never, never give up) and the bracelet on my wrist (Nothing great is easy) and I sit up. Bolstered by my task and those who support me I have the courage to put my battered feet back in my worn out shoes and give 'er hell once again.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I have been called fearless. Brave.
But the truth is, we all have our fears and I am no different.

Words that have always given me perspective and pushed me forward: “Courage means being afraid, but going on anyhow.” (Dan Rather)

I was a scaredy-cat as a little girl. I was afraid of the dark, of heights, of ghosts, wild animals, spiders, getting lost, the water, sharks, rejection...
Somewhere along the way I learned to stop letting fear stop me. And that has made all the difference. It has taken me on 3.5 thru-hikes. It has taken me into and out of relationships. Career changes. Race distances in the triple digits. I have been afraid of them all, and yet, each has made me stronger as I overcame those fears.

I am still afraid of many things. Some days it seems like an inconceivable notion that I sleep in the woods alone. That I have faced grizzly bears, wolves, bobcats, rattlesnakes, advanced hypothermia and dehydration, etc. That I risk security in finances, relationships, and life to pursue a life that John Muir would be proud of.

I wonder daily what I am thinking taking on a task so huge. A challenge so big. Who am I to think that I can do this?

Even so, I will step onto the trail and face fear.

Fear of:
Heat exhaustion
Things that go bump in the night

Scenarios run through my head constantly. Ways I could die out there. Ways I could fail. How hard it will be to press on. How easy quitting will feel. Wondering how the exhaustion of finishing 1,000 miles in 3 weeks will feel when I know I have 1,700 to go. The numbers scare me. Can I really do this?

The truth is, I don’t know if I can or not. However, I think I can, and that is more than half the battle. And, as immortalized in the words of Churchill, allowing the fear to overwhelm and paralyze me is the only thing that I truly need to be afraid of.

I am learning to embrace the fears. To accept them as ways to learn and grow. I am forging a mindset now that I can carry with me in the darkest, hardest moments. This will be more than a physical challenge. This will be more than a mental challenge. Whether I succeed in the ultimate goal or not I will push myself beyond my current limits and find a stronger, braver woman in the process. I am blessed and thankful for that opportunity, no matter how scary it seems.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


In February 2012 I tried to race the Woolley Half Marathon. At 8 min/mi pace my rib cage was aching as though a gorilla was sitting on it. My breath came in strangled gasps. My legs were dead and I couldn’t seem to eke out any strength or speed, despite knowing that I should be able to run faster than that. It was only a few days later that I sat in my doctor’s office and read the word “anemic” on my blood work print out.

In February 2013 I struggled to run up Alger Alp…and Little Mountain, Oyster Dome, Fragrance Lake. After a month of training on hills I was still struggling to run up them, gasping, feeling a dead ache in my quads. I was coming home from a 4 mile run ready for a nap, despite having slept 10 hours the night before. Worn down from being abnormally cold and tired all the time I finally got another test.

Ferritin: 24

24 out of a possible 200. After a whole damn year of taking massive doses of iron supplements my number was exactly the same as it had been 12 months prior.

I cried. I wanted to hit things and scream. Instead I found myself peering into the fish case at the co-op.

When I was a child my mom and I went fishing together whenever we could. I remember rising early and driving to Lake Huron, casting from the pier into the cold, massive lake. I had a collapsible rod and reel and my mom taught me how to bait, cast, reel in, and clean the catch. On our vacation in Florida we sat along a canal with our floppy brimmed hats and loads of sunscreen. Two white women in a row of African American men with their cane poles. They were getting a kick out of the 10 year old who brought in 20 sunfish in one day.
One summer day friends and I were fishing in her grandfather’s pond. We were 13. I caught something and we brought it in, but the hook was tangled. We couldn’t get it out. The fish writhed and fought. I was horrified by its death throes. I wanted to stop its pain. We panicked at our inability to free it and together she and I started running to where her grandfather was for help. Amidst the bouncing the hook ripped free and the fish fell and flopped until with a splash it was again in the water.
I became a vegetarian a few months later.

I paid for the halibut and ran from the store before my eyes could overflow. My stomach was in knots as I drove home. Confronted with the white flesh sitting on my counter I realized I didn’t even know how to cook meat of any sort. I tried to peel off the skin and nearly vomited. I turned away and saw the 8 bottles of supplements on my shelf. Real nourishment comes from whole foods, not from bottles. I turned back to the whole food and put it into my skillet.

The first bite was not what I anticipated. It was delicious. I whispered thankful prayers for the life that I was about to consume to maintain my own and let the tears flow. Seldom do I, or many others I would assume, experience true heartfelt gratitude for our food—for the plants and animals that sustain our lives as well as bring us pleasure. I hope that this lesson remains with me.

My stomach was raging for over an hour at the unexpected substance. I anticipated it coming right back up, but it didn’t. Eventually the nausea subsided and was replaced within a few hours by a strange sensation:


The fog of fatigue I’d been stumbling around in all day subsided as though I’d been hooked up to a caffeine IV. I was soon bustling around the house doing 10 things at once like I used to.

When I finally did sleep that night I dreamt I was in dark water darting amidst a vast kelp forest. The water was cold, but I was comfortable and content.

For 19 of my 31 years I have been vegetarian, vegan since October of 2010. Suddenly I am neither. This was not a moment of weakness when there’s nothing on the menu, nothing at the aid station, or nothing in the tiny mountain town. This was planned and purposefully executed. The identity I have carried for nearly 2 decades is gone and the emotional struggle pursuant is confusing. The one thing I know is that my body and blood do not lie. I started my journey of solely plant based eating nearly 3 years ago as a way to be healthier, to lower my carbon footprint, and to protest industrial agriculture with its attendant sins. But, if health is not the result then I must try and find another way.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I'm sore. All over. Holy Moly training is tough.

Since Chuckanut I've been spending 5-8 hours a day exercising. It's been a mix of running, body weight exercises (squats, lunges, pushups), weighted work, P90x, cycling, yoga, etc. It feels weird to take a day off...well, not really off. I'll be doing a shoulder and arm workout and some yoga later.

April is going to be a big month for me. I have 8 weeks give or take to get myself prepped for my summer epic. More details on that later.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

HURT 2013

I had such a great time pacing and crewing at HURT 100 this year!

First of all, it is a super well run event. The volunteers are great. The aid stations are great. The course is...uh,  great the first 2 times through...

I also got to crew and pace two fantastic runners, which always makes the job easier.

Helping James crew Candice was an adventure (as things with her always are!). She rolled her ankle very early in the race and was frequently running out of water between aid stations. I could see the mental fatigue when she came in after nearly 40 miles of running with a compromised ankle. After several of us convinced her to get it taped she headed out. We saw her 7 miles later and the transformation was incredible. She went on to run a stellar last half. I greatly enjoyed running through the dark hours with her from mile 60-80. Near the top we ran through bamboo forest which clattered noisily at every breath of wind. Later we probably embarrassed other runners as we loudly "girl talked" our way through the miles. At the Nature Center I handed her safely off to James for her last lap and headed for Paradise to pace Kevin.

I was very excited to crew Kevin throughout the day and watch as he improved on his previous time at the event, despite going in (in his words) "really under-trained." He let me dye his hair and beard with Kool Aid the night before and put his hair up in pig tails. Many people remembered him as the "beads in your beard" guy from the year before. I imagine next year everyone will call him "pig tail man." I personally think the pig tails provided lift and helped him float over all those roots ;)

It was also a great joy to hop in with him at Paradise at 5:45 in the morning and pace his last 13 miles. I like to think I pulled him up some of those hills...although he was in such great shape I'm sure he didn't really need my help. Seeing the course in the daylight was beautiful. We even stopped on a ridge at the top of 5 Minute Hill and watched the sunrise over it. Coming into the finish line with him as he completed his second top 10 finish at this incredibly challenging event was a great moment for me.

Candice came in not long after, finishing in the top 15 OA and placing 3rd among women.

I love the HURT experience I had and I am going to put in for it again for next year. Hopefully this time I will get in!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Yankee Springs

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of volunteering at the Yankee Springs Winter Races near Hastings , MI. An acquaintance mentioned the race to me a month or so ago and I emailed the co-RD and asked if I could sweep the course. He responded affirmatively and soon I found myself signed up for 2 whole days of volunteering fun!
I arrived early on a cold, windy January Friday and bundled up for a course marking expedition with Phil. He pulled a sled of supplies while I trotted along placing orange and blue pin flags merrily in the snow. There was a 10k course as well at a 25k. The 50k course was 2 loops of the 25k. All in all we probably ran about 18 miles marking the two. As we jogged along the packed snow trails in the sunny, but cold afternoon I couldn't help but giggle–this was definitely not getting me ready to pace at HURT!

We wrapped up the marking and immediately went into set up mode, unloading the uhaul and organizing registration. I helped Phil, Kim and other set up the finish line tent and then made a mad dash for the indoors. My Reynaud's was acting up and I knew that many more minutes in the bitter cold and I'd be useless anyway. I took up residence beside the fireplace in the lodge and checked in runners who were camping in the rustic cabins that night. It was an odd feeling to be looking at a registration table and not know any of the names!

Sleep was short that night, but warm and comfy in the cabins. I pulled on about 8 layers of clothes in the morning and helped with set up, check in, finish line timing, awards, etc. I chatted with the Montrail rep and am excited to give a few of their new, lower drop models a whirl. It was exciting watching people come rolling into the finish line! Finally, around 1pm with the last 50k runner about 40 minutes ahead of me I stripped down to my running clothes and headed out.

The trails were sparkling and silent as I ran through the dormant hardwoods. My knee/leg was hurting, but I did my best to block that out of my mind and dwell instead on how much fun it was to run the rolling terrain. I came into the first aid station and chatted a bit before cruising onward. I discovered a junction whose signs had been removed, but luckily, since I'd marked the course, I knew which way to go! Another mile or so and I reached the second AS. There I re-met the RD of the 12 hour race I'd done the previous year. Somehow a half an hour elapsed while I chatted with him and several volunteers. Reminded of the cold my numbing hands I headed out once more. The sun was sinking as I ran through The Pines. I stared upward along the straight lines of trunk, through green boughs, into blue, sun gilded sky. Deep inhalation....sigh of bliss. It reminded me of sleeping under the stars and the Jeff pines all through northern Cali. I felt a stirring in my soul–eagerness to sleep once more in that realm of quiet, peace, and perfect pine soft bedding.

At the final AS one of Phil's sons made me a grilled PBJ, by request, since I had told them that's what, as a vegan, I ask for in a hundred when offered a grilled cheese. About a mile from the finish I caught up to the final runner and his pacer. The pace had hiked the AT and he and runner both had been to the Javelina course as well as several other places I had also run. They were delightful to chat with and soon we were rolling into the deserted finish.

I relinquished the pin flags, ate some warm food and headed home. It was so great to spend a weekend with runners! I was really missing all my friends and the community! I also highly recommend Yankee Springs if you are looking for a winter race (although they have a summer option as well). It is incredibly well organized  The course is a gorgeous, runnable, rolling romp through snowy forest. The prizes are delightful (snowglobes!) and there is plenty of swag too!

Once again, my Altra's took the terrain in stride. I've now run rooty, sloppy PNW trail; flat, loose, sandy desert; and now hard packed snowy trail. I have yet to be disappointed in them!