On February 3, just a short time ago, I lined up at 5am with hundreds of other lost, shivering souls to take on the infamous Sean O’Brien 100k – a trail race that traverses the rugged Santa Monica mountains of Southern California. With over 13,000 ft of elevation over a mix of rocky singletrack and long fire roads, I knew it was going to be a tough first attempt at a race of this distance. Moreover, this year’s event was going to be especially competitive – as the SOB 100k is only one of five Golden Ticket races for a coveted Western States entry. At the start line, counting down the seconds before the horn blared, I did my best to remind myself to stay calm, enjoy the experience, and find some semblance of comfort in the knowledge that I’d put in a solid block of training to build up to this.
Everything after the start was a bit of a blur, with a few standout moments (both epically beautiful and epically catastrophic). I’ll do my best to recount:
- Miles 0 – 6: A steep uphill climb in the pitch black. For over an hour, my world was reduced to the tiny illuminated patch of trail lit by my headlamp. Then, an amazing moment shortly after cresting the top of the climb, when the sun also rose above the mountains and lit the entire world pink. The view was amazing, and I ran along in stunned silence, scarcely believing I was fortunate enough to be doing this. At this point, I was running around 12th place in the women’s field.
- Miles 7 – 17: A rocky singletrack rollercoaster along the Backbone trail. Lots of steep ups and downs, with lots of technical footwork. Another epic moment on a fun downhill section when Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ came over my playlist, and everything was perfect. I passed a couple of women, and was running around 10th place.
- Miles 18 – 22: Loooooong fire road downhill, from the mountains to the beach. Had fun settling into my stride, and enjoying ocean views the entire way. Continued to pass some people on the downhill, and tried to ignore the nagging thought in the back of my mind that I soon was going to have to come alllllllllll the way back up this mountain.
- Miles 23 – 31. OUCH. The uphill, back from the beach to the top of the mountain. This was up very steep singletrack that wound its way through Zuma Canyon. At this point of the day, it was mid-morning and the sun was starting to beat down. There were lots of cramping, dehydrated, overheated runners that I passed along the way.
- Mile 31: The catastrophic moment. Just after cresting the climb, I settled in for what I was (hoping) would be a nice downhill reprieve. I was feeling good, and again started passing people on the downhill. On one section of off-camber trail, I made a move to pass someone and hopped to the left side of the trail – and felt my left knee give a little. I tried to shrug it off, but in the back of my mind I knew that it didn’t feel right.
- Mile 31 – 40: Spent the next 10 miles trying to shake off the knee pain, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to run. The downhills were especially excruciating. By mile 38, I was reduced to walking. One by one, I counted all the people I had passed earlier pass me again. By mile 40, I noticed swelling in my left knee. I made the heartbreaking decision to drop.
- Mile 40 – 42: This was a struggle to make my way to the next aid station, where my family would be able to meet me. Upon arriving, I met with the medic who checked out my knee and informed me that unless I wanted to do long-term damage, I should go ahead and stop. My race was done.
While I ultimately failed to achieve my race goal, in many ways I consider this first 100k attempt a success. I felt great throughout – strong and steady on the climbs, and smooth on the downhills – testament to the training and long miles that built up to the race. The heat was another wild card, but this was something that Roger and I had prepared for: we packed a cooling towel, sun sleeves, and we had planned that I’d fill my cap with ice at every aid station. It worked: while the heat was getting the best of many people, I felt good throughout. Apart from my knee, if you had asked me at mile 42 if I could run the last 20 miles, the answer would have been an enthusiastic and whole-hearted YES.
With that said, injuries are a part of this beautiful, fun, and challenging sport. So is the need to make tough decisions with your long-term health in mind. While it was heartbreaking to drop from a race where I had been running in the top-10 for most of it, I also knew it was the right decision to make. Now, just a couple of short weeks after, I’m happy to report feeling well-recovered, and ready to tackle the next adventure.
One final note: Being able to do these events would be impossible without the amazing support of a crew and the volunteers who make these events happen. So first off, a HUGE THANKS to my amazing husband for his endless support and encouragement – from the time I told him I made the crazy decision to register, through to picking me up at mile 42, his support was unwavering. Thanks, too, to my dad and his wife who came out to cheer me on along the course! 8 hours is a looooong time to spectate and cheer – whew! – but their smiles were infectious and kept me going strong. Of course, a huge shoutout to the volunteers, who were also out there all day, attending to – and anticipating – all runners’ needs, even when we were unaware of them. You guys are amazing. Finally, a huge THANK YOU to the Alliance for International Reforestation – our sister organization – who Roger and I are representing this year in our races. We received a lot of interest about AIR on the race course, and really – being able to raise awareness of the incredible work this organization does – is the important thing. Thanks for reading.
Happy New Year, adventurers! We hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday break, with lots of great quality time with family, minimal travel delays and holiday stress-induced meltdowns, and
copious amounts of just the right amount of heavily spiked eggnog.
We at AIR Adventures are especially excited to kick off 2018, as we have a great series of races lined up for this year. While we’re thrilled to be able to compete in these events, we’re even more excited to announce that we’ll be doing so to raise funds for our sister organization and namesake, the Alliance for International Reforestation! We’ll be starting off with some of the best-known – and toughest – races the west coast has to offer, including:
- The Sean O-Brien 100K on February 3. Taking place in the rugged Santa Monica mountains, this race traverses 62 miles of rocky single track and fire roads with over 16,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s also one of a handful of Golden Ticket races for the prestigious Western States Endurance Run.
- The American River 50 on April 7. An internationally known – and highly competitive – 50 miler that winds along the American River in NorCal, before kicking up a challenging climb to the finish.
We invite you all to follow along as we provide updates on our training – along with race reports – throughout the next several months. And of course, we also invite you to donate to the Alliance for International Reforestation here. We encourage you to match our race distance with a dollar per mile donation! So 62 miles = $62, or 50 miles = $50…you get the idea. 🙂
Thanks as always – and stay tuned for more updates!
From the high mountain wilderness of northern Wyoming and Montana we continued our journey south, to explore the desert canyons and mesas of Utah.
Since our visit to the Grand Canyon on our cross country trip two years ago, we’ve always wanted to revisit and spend a bit more time in this region – specifically the renowned ‘Grand Circle’ of national parks that includes Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Zion.
With limited time, we focused our trip on these latter two parks, with Arches NP being our first stop.
Located just outside Moab in southwest Utah, Arches is an ethereal composition in vibrant red sandstone of grandiose towers, impossibly balanced rocks, and the world’s largest concentration of natural arches. (It’s also by far the most phallic of the national parks. I mean just look at the cover photo).
With only a day to explore the park’s 76,519 acres, we decided the best way to do so would be by bike. We started out at the trailhead of a multi-use path just south of Moab, which took us straight to the park entrance. From here, the road kicked up and climbed a little over 1,000 feet – up to a vista point that afforded panoramic views of many of the
giant phalluses amazing rock formations for which the park is famed.
The road that winds through Arches is essentially an out-and-back route totaling a little over 45 miles. Along the way there are many offshoots that take you past the more well-known arches and formations, including Balanced Rock, the Windows, and Delicate Arch – to name a few.
As the day heated up quickly, we did our best to conserve our energy and not go *too* hard on the bike. Of course, there may have been one or two occasions where we picked up the pace to have a bit of fun – and *maybe* took a couple of Strava CRs and QOMs in the process. 🙂
Check out our route here!
Interested in going? Check out the Arches NP website here, with info to help plan your visit. If you’re intending to do a longer bike ride like we did – or spend any extended amount of time there on a hike, run, etc., be sure to:
1) Go early. It gets hot quickly, and the mid-afternoon heat and sun can make your day much less pleasant than it should be.
2) Take plenty of water with you (Why? See point 1 above. It’s the desert. It gets hot and stays hot). If you need to refill your water bottles, there are fountains at both the Visitor’s Center as well as Devil’s Garden (the turn-around point of the out-and-back route).
Fee? Yes – $25. Pets? Yes – but not on trails. Bikes? Yes – on the road.
Stay tuned for our next adventures! We hope your summer was equally adventurous, exploring new trails and beautiful parks. Tell us all about it in the comments below!
Our next stop – Grand Teton National Park – was a short drive south from Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. As Grand Teton borders Yellowstone on the south, vacationers often combine visits to both parks.
(Fun fact: Early French explorers named this mountain range; being overcome with awe at the majesty and scale of the peaks, they were of course reminded of breasts. ‘Grand Tetons’ literally translates to ‘big boobs’).
While a much smaller than its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone, the scenery of Grand Tetons is no less stunning. The park is named for the mountains that form most of its 309,944 acres. As the youngest mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range, the Grand Tetons are also some of the highest, with Grand Teton Peak (the largest boob) soaring to a height of 13,000 feet above the lakes at its base.
As with Yellowstone, we opted to explore Grand Teton by foot and by bike. Our first day took us on a 60 mile ride from Colter Bay through the Snake River Valley, where we were afforded unobstructed views of the mountains the entire way.
At the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, we were happy to discover a 2-way bike trail that paralleled the main valley road for several miles. The trail – the Grand Teton Multi-Use Pathway – took us ~ 8 miles to the town of Moose, where we opted to turn back. However, the trail – which was one of the best maintained we’ve ever ridden – extended another 12 miles to the town of Jackson. If we’d had more time (and not rushing due to family dinner obligations) we would have loved to take it! All in all, the ride offered a beautiful stretch of gently rolling terrain with epic mountain views – and a nice reprieve from the significant climbing from previous days. On the way back, we picked up the pace quite a bit, snagging a Strava course record (or two) in the process.
Check out our bike route here!
The following day we took to the trails, eager to explore the mountains. We started from the Jenny Lake Trailhead near the Visitor’s Center, and took the Jenny Lake Trail up to Inspiration Point, before doubling back and then turning on Cascade Canyon Trail and following that along a swiftly rushing creek up to Lake Solitude. Along the way, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a mother black bear and her cub, happily munching away on huckleberries on the side of the trail!
We were very careful in passing them both at a safe distance – and we’re glad we remembered our bear spray. However, both mother and baby seemed 1,000x more interested in their berry breakfast than us, and we happily wished them a good day before continuing on.
All in all, the trail took us up some 8 miles and roughly 2,500 feet before ending at a snow-covered valley with the ice-filled Lake Solitude at the center – a far cry from the sweltering, 90+ degree valley floor where we had started less than 2 hours earlier.
We stopped to enjoy the views – and a quick bite to eat – before turning back. On the way down, we opted to soak our legs in the mountain creek – which felt so so good on our tired muscles!
Check out our run/hike route here!
Throughout our stay, we were struck by the difference in environment stewardship (or lack thereof) demonstrated by the companies that managed the lodging/dining at Grand Teton vs. Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, they have all but eliminated plastic bags and styrofoam from the park, and Xanterra (the company that constructed and manages the accommodations there) prides itself on its use of environmentally responsible materials – from beetle-killed pine in the construction of its lodges, to compostable food containers. In Grand Teton, in contrast, the Grand Tetons Lodging Company offers plastic bags and styrofoam at all of its general stores, dining, and hotels, and there is a notable lack of designated recycling or compost containers – all of which seem antithetical to the purpose and mission of the National Park System. We invite the readers of this blog to write the Grand Tetons Lodging Company (www.gtlc.com) and ask them to commit to greater environmental stewardship in their management, including the elimination of styrofoam and plastic bags from their facilities, and the provision of more recycling receptacles.
Interested in visiting the Grand Teton NP? While we enjoyed our time there, we personally will not be visiting overnight again until the GTLC cleans up its act and commits to a greater standard of environmental responsibility. We encourage you to do the same. That said, you can still visit the park for a day hike or bike ride, without patronizing GTLC facilities. Feel free to check out the run and bike ride routes we did, or check the park website for other suggestions.
Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle. Annual National Park Passes also accepted. Dogs? Yes – on leashes and in parking areas and along roads. Dogs and other pets are not permitted on trails in any national park. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
Next stop: Utah – Arches and Zion NP!
Following our visit to Craters of the Moon in Idaho, we turned to the northeast, making our way towards the wilderness and famed national parks of northern Wyoming. Our first stop was none other than the flagship park of the National Park Service: the iconic Yellowstone.
Apart from its distinction as the first national park, Yellowstone is also a geologist nerd’s delight: It’s essentially 2.2 million acres atop an ancient supervolcano. Everything in the park – from the rivers and lakes, to the flora and fauna – is in turn affected by the volcanic forces at work. Within the 30 by 45 mile caldera are some of the most impressive geysers and hot springs in the world, including the emblematic Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs, along with lesser known (but equally awesome) features like Dragon’s Breath, Artists Paintpots, and others.
(Important note: When exploring the park’s geysers and hot springs, stick to the boardwalks. The surrounding area is not only fragile, but surrounded by boiling sulfuric acid; you will die a horrible death if you jump in. 😊 )
We spent a total of 4 days in Yellowstone, which we agreed was still not enough time to fully take in and appreciate this massive park. That said, we tried our best to explore as much of it as we could by foot and by bike.
One of our favorite runs/hikes took us to the summit of Mt. Washburn and back down. We started at the trailhead on Dunraven Pass, just off Grand Loop Road. From there, we climbed roughly ~1,500 feet over 3.5 miles to the summit. Along the way, we were afforded sweeping views of the surrounding meadows and countryside, awash in varying shades of lavender, rose, and yellow wildflower blooms.
Near the summit we were happily greeted by a small herd of bighorn sheep! They seemed unafraid of humans, and we did our best to give them sufficient space as we continued to make our way to the summit.
Check out our route up Mt. Washburn here!
(Another important note: Yellowstone provides a refuge to several species of wildlife; apart from bighorn sheep, it’s also home to buffalo, elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, and others. If you encounter any wild animal in the park, please be respectful of them and give them space. The park offers guidelines of 100 yards for non-carnivorous species like buffalo and elk, and 200 yards for carnivorous species like bear and wolves. Additionally, it’s a good idea to carry – and know how to use! – bear spray when running, hiking, or biking in Yellowstone or other parks in the region. While bears are not generally aggressive unless provoked, it’s best to be prepared).
The following day, we opted for a bike ride that took us on a 68 mile loop from Canyon Village clockwise to Norris, through Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower, and back up Mt. Washburn before descending back into Canyon. While the ride was challenging – with nearly 6,000 feet of climbing – it was also one of the best ways to experience the the park. We were able to see so much that we otherwise would have missed in the car – including a big bull buffalo rolling in the dust on the side of the road (!), just barely hidden by a small pine grove, or a pair of marmot chasing each other over and around fallen trees.
On our ride, we made another ascent up Mt. Washburn, this time starting from the northern side at the Tower-Roosevelt junction, and making our way up 2,300+ feet over ~10 miles to the summit. The climb offered us breathtaking (quite literally) views of the valley below that we would not have enjoyed or appreciated as much if we had been speeding by in our little Toyota.
Check out our bike route here! (FYI, if you opt to do this route, Mammoth offers a nice halfway(-ish) point for refilling your water bottles).
Before closing out this entry on Yellowstone, we owe a shoutout to Xanterra, the company that manages much of the lodging and dining throughout Yellowstone. They make a concerted effort to prioritize environmental stewardship in everything they do: from building their lodges with beetle-killed pine, to eliminating plastic and styrofoam from both lodging and restaurants. We mention this, because this was in marked contrast to the environmental *irresponsibility* we observed in the dining, general stores, and lodging at Grand Tetons, our next stop.
So our final tally for Yellowstone: 68 miles biked; 26 miles run/hiked; hundreds of buffalo, 10 bighorn sheep, 6 elk, 3 moose, 2 pika, 2 marmot, and 1 bear (grizzly!) sighted.
Interested in going? With ideal weather conditions, late spring and summer are the most popular times to visit Yellowstone. If you’re planning to visit during the months of April – August, be sure to book your lodging/camping reservations months ahead of time.
Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle for a day pass; national park annual pass also accepted.
Dogs and other pets? Yes, but not on trails. MTB? Yes – on designated trails. Check signs!
Next stop: Grand Tetons!
Located just north of the Snake River Plain in Central Idaho, the wonderfully bizarre landscape of this park seems to bubble up from the surrounding plains like some strange brew from an underground cauldron. Indeed, this descriptor is not far from the truth, as the park’s myriad of craters, fissures, and fossilized lava flows that comprise some 750,000 acres owe their existence to the region’s intense seismic activity and violent volcanic past. The most recent eruption occurred only 2,000 (!) years ago.
We opted to explore this strange and somewhat unsettling landscape by foot, as mountain bikes are not permitted on the trails. Additionally, there are a few areas where you have the option to explore caves formed by ancient lava tubes, and which are only accessible by foot (hint: bring a headlamp!).
Our day hike took us from the very top of the Inferno Cone – which at 6181 ft afforded beautiful panoramic views of the entire valley – to the caldera of the immense North Crater, and finally down to the subterranean maze of the Buffalo Caves. Along the way we encountered people of all ages and walks of life enjoying the wonders of the park, including the largest group of Boy Scouts we’ve ever seen. We have no idea how the Scout Masters kept them all accounted for.
Check out our route here!
Apart from being an ideal destination for losing a Boy Scout, Craters of the Moon also is an important ecological site that sustains a diversity of plant and animal life – including six species of bats that make their home in the lava tubes.
Interested in going? Check out the park’s website here for information on hikes and other activities inside the park. One important note: With the dark volcanic rock and ash, it can get particularly hot during summer months, so try to plan your visit early in the day.
Fee? Yes – $15 per vehicle. National Park Annual Pass also accepted. Pets? In the campground, park lot, and on paved roads. Not on trails. MTB? No.
Next stop: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons!