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John "lakewood" Fegyveresi

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Having Some Fun at the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50

At the start (pics: L. Pringle)

This past weekend, the running of my hometown ultra took place:  The Tussey 50.  I've run this event a couple of times, but had no intention of doing the full 50 again this year for many reasons; mostly due to lack of fitness and oil creek being only 1 week prior.  With that said though, I still had planned to help volunteer handing out race packets to the runners the night before as the race hotel is only about a mile from my apartment.

This year, after receiving some last minute email requests from the race director, I also decided to help put out race markings on Saturday morning.  While driving the course, and placing directional arrows, I got to talking with one of the other volunteers:  John P.  We chatted about the race this year and I made it clear that I wasn't running, but would very much miss being out there on Sunday.  The week before I had sent out an email to the local running club to see if anyone still needed a relay-team member, but no one responded.  I had hoped maybe I would still be able to run a leg or two.  As I recounted my story to John P., he informed me that he was supposed to run the 12-leg course with his daughter as part of a 2-person team (also called a "supra-team").  She had hurt her ankle earlier in the week however, and would not be able to run.  After her explained that they were just going to run for fun, and didn't care at all about time, I jokingly told him that I'd be happy to run in her place on his team.

Well apparently, he liked the idea, because on Sunday morning the two of us, with the help of his wife crewing, set out to run all 50 miles (I had the even segments 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12).

Quite simply, the experience turned out to be exactly what I had wanted.  It was an absolute blast getting to run 4-6 mile segments, and then resting for 40-60 minutes.  Each time I got out of the car to trade off at the transition zones, it was like I was headed out for another easy-pace 5 miler.  I loved it and never ran faster than an 8-minute mile.  Together, we still finished the race in just over 8 hours which was absolutely fantastic considering both of us were really just out for some easy jogging.  The weather was perfect to boot!

So my hat goes off to Mr. John P. for allowing to hop in as a part of his team at the absolute last minute.  I had always wanted to try Tussey as a part of a relay, and this turned out to be exactly what I was hoping for.  So, thanks again John, and may we cross paths on the roads and trails again.

Hand-off at TZ 1 (mile ~4)

Coming in to TZ 2 (Mile ~8)

TZ 3 hand-off (Mile ~12)

TZ 10 - Mile ~41

Hand-off at the last TZ, #11 (Mile ~46)

At the Finish after a fun ~27 mile day!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Random Smattering From a Weary Grad Student

(Mile 14 - Oil Creek 100 photo: L. Makey)

1)  First off let me preface this post with a very important distinction.  While technically I am still a graduate student and don't participate in commencement until December, I have in fact finally come to the end of my PhD turmoil.  I thought about how I might explain or detail exactly what it is with regards to this, but I find it's easier to simply copy/paste an email I sent to my friends on the Vol State listserve:

Just a quick personal story I thought I'd share.  It has been a very long time since I actively participated in any of the lists, but I've been patiently waiting for the day that I could finally send this email.

This summer was extremely difficult for me on the ultrarunning front.  In late June I was torn with the decision whether or not to run Vol State.  I so desperately wanted to be there, but I knew that doing so would put my dissertation defense in jeopardy.  Watching the race unfold from the confines of my desk chair was incredibly exciting (so many great stories this year!), however it was also hard not to be a little upset that I couldn't be a part of it.  I wanted to meet the new folks and run again with many of you whom I call friends.  I wanted to pass out the new patches and laugh with you all on the ferry when everyone still thought running 314 miles wouldn't be "that difficult".   I wanted to laugh with Laz and Carl during dinner again.  Throughout the month of July, I was in a consistent state of extreme sleep deprivation (having slept probably only a few dozens hours over the whole month).  I ate terribly and drank way too much coffee, feeling in many ways like a reckless undergrad again.  I even had to put my running on temporary hiatus.  It was the first time in 7 years that I wasn't running at least 5 days a week.  It was awful.  In August I did pass my defense, but still had a fair number of post-defense edits and corrections to get through, so I never really felt like it was done or like I could honestly celebrate.   But....

Today is the day.   Today is the day I can finally let out that long overdue exhale.   Early this morning, the last member of committee signed off on my dissertation, officially making it complete.  Aside from walking my form up to the graduate school office and turning it in, it means I can finally say that I made it...I finished.  The past few years have cumulatively been one of the most difficult "ultramarathons" I've ever endured (albeit metaphorically).   Today....there are no more edits, no more drafts, no more signatures.  It is done...and it feels good.  As of a few weeks ago, I finally started picking up the serious running again too, and I am beginning to feel like my old self.  You can't even imagine just how much I look forward to being part of the community again.  I can't wait to see you all at various races and events in the future.  On November 1st, I'll be running the Masochist with Travis and a few of the other Barkley guys (AT and JB)...and this has me so incredibly giddy that I can barely sit still.  The world is suddenly a lot more clear today...and the air just a little bit more sweet.

7 years of hard work...for this single page.

An award I received from the ice-coring community for
"Scientist that spent the most time at the WAIS Divide Field Camp"
For those of you wondering what the hell this is...
It's a piece of an actual ice-core tray used during the project


2)  In other news, I participated in a rather interesting ultra experiment this past weekend.  Allow me to explain:

This has become the year of non-qualifying for me.  For the past 5 years, I've qualified and applied for both Hardrock and Western States...failing in both lotteries each year.  This year I was to have 32 tickets in the Hardrock Lottery. I was scheduled to run the Plain 100 in September but was unable to due to the scheduling of my dissertation and lack of training. (The Plain is not something you go into lightly and undertrained).  In the end, I wasn't too upset about this as Hardrock does not "reset" tickets if you miss a year like Western States does.  I will simply re-qualify again and maintain my 32 tickets at some point in the future.  But....Western States is a different story.  Despite my numerous ultras this year, none were on the WS qualifying list.  Without a qualifier, I would lose all of my previous tickets.  I know WS is getting extremely expensive, but that doesn't mean I don't want to run it at least once.  So here's where the experiment comes in.

At the end of May I was in peak shape.  I had just finished 1st place in a 12-hour event (Mind the Ducks) with 73 miles, and finished 2nd in a 3-day event with 246 miles (3 days at the fair).  Following that, I ran another 12-hour and finished 1st with 71 miles (Dawn to dusk to dawn ultra).  Things were shaping up great for another shot at Vol State and a summer of good running.  BUT...when I started looking at how much time I was losing, and my looming PhD defense date of August 7th, I knew there was no way I could afford the 10 days it would take (with travel) to run it again.  I managed to squeeze in a quick running at Finger Lakes 50, and in June, and with my training beginning to wane a bit, pushed out a brutal finish at Manitou's Revenge 50 (Horrendous Course!).  During my recovery from the race, a panic mode set in and I literally began working 20+ hours a day on my dissertation.  The running immediately dropped off.  Days went by and I simply didn't have a spare 30 minutes to even go out for 3 or 4 miles.  I was perpetually exhausted and burnt out.  I had no motivation to do anything other than finish my chapters.  A friend of mine once told me that the final 3 months of your dissertation prep destroys a part of your soul, but that over the years that follow, it eventually comes back.  I believe them now.

Needless to say, days went by with no running...and then weeks.  It was the first time in years I hadn't run consistently.  I was pissed that I was losing valuable fitness, but I had no choice.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel a little nice to take a some time off...but I only wish it was so that I could be lazy on a couch or because of a legitimate injury, and not because I was strung out on 5 cups of coffee at 3 am writing thesis chapters.

I spent a week out West after my defense in August and managed to tough out a couple of 14er peaks, and a few mountains in California, but no true running. I quite literally went almost three months without any real running.


My running log for the past 6 months.  Notice the obvious gap!


So the experiment...well comes down to a question. That question being,

"Is it possible to qualify for Western States on essentially zero training?"

The answer, at least for 2015, is YES!

This past weekend was the Oil Creek 100, a race that I've completed the past 3 years in fairly respectable times (~21:45 - 23:40).  Despite my complete lack of training, I decided I would go to Oil Creek again this year and spend as much time as I felt like plodding through the woods.  I was desperate to feel some soft single-track trail under my feet, and I didn't care at all about finishing.  I would simply start, run for a bit, and then change my focus to that of a quick-paced hike.  At the time I began the event, I hadn't even thought about Western States...in fact I had thought the race committee had already removed it from the qualifying list.  Turns out that it's still a qualifier for 2015 (but not 2016).  So as the race unfolded, I jogged very slowly for the first 31-mile loop.  The lack of fitness was overtly apparent.  I was running slowly, and straining to keep my normal pace.  So...at the start of loop 2, I grabbed my poles and headed out with the mindset of a thru-hiker.  I power hiked the entire second loop, sprinkling in a little jogging, and had a blast!.  I felt like I was back on the PCT. It felt SOOO good to be outdoors and in the woods again.  My soul was in desperate need of it.  The leaves were beautiful, the trail serene and lovely, and I was steeped in it.  At some point in my third loop, I could tell my body was telling me it had had enough though, and I slowed to an easy walk for the last 10 miles of the loop.  Upon reaching the school at mile 91, I had essentially decided to call it day.  I accomplished my goal of having fun in the woods and honestly didn't care about finishing.  It had also become extremely cold and I simply didn't want to go back out for another 8-9 miles.    I remember talking to someone about Western States and they told me it WAS still a qualifier, so after a very long break at the aid station, and a few cups of hot cocoa, I finally decided to just walk out the 8 and finish. I decided it was worth it to whimper out those last 8 miles in order to keep all of my lottery tickets for 2015.  I sauntered along the trail for those last miles, willing away my leg pain, and absorbing the beautiful single-track one last time.  I strolled across the finish line after 26 hours completely thrilled to have even finished.  Needless to say, I managed to qualify for the lottery with a slow and steady finish at Oil Creek.  Now...it's time to actually get in some daily runs again!

loop 1 somewhere (photo. C. Houpt)

Loop 1 under the oil derricks (photo L. Reiners)



3)  One final and unrelated note:

Back in November of 2006, I can vividly remember resting on my couch in Cleveland, listening to Damien Rice's new CD "Nine Crimes" on repeat.  It had just been released a few days prior.  Damien's music was quite literally transformative for me.  For almost 2 years of my life, I listened to nothing else.  I own every live cd, every import, and every cafe recording of him that's out there.  There are most certainly punctuated moments in my life that I associate entirely by the music which carried me through them (much like John Cusack's character discusses in the movie High Fidelity).  For me, what got me through the difficult years of 2006-2007, was the music of Damien Rice (and Lisa Hannigan).  So, it should seem fitting that I began my new life in 2006 with my Appalachian Trail thru-hike and my leap into Graduate school with what was at the time a new Damien Rice album (Nine Crimes)....and that now, I should begin my new post-grad life with his next new album, "My Favourite Faded Fantasy".  I can't remember the last time I was this completely excited for a new record release.  It took 8 years for him to put together this new album, and based on the already pre-released tracks....well worth the wait.  I've already pre-purchased the limited edition wooden box cd he has for sale on his website.

Hike on everyone...
-j


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Little Post-Defense Escapade

Alabama Hills

Following my defense last month, I felt an urgent need for a little getaway.  An opportunity presented itself to make a little trip to Death Valley and despite the 110+ temps, I jumped at the chance.  To make it even better, I added a 3rd flight leg to the trip so that I could visit with some friends in Colorado as well.  This of course meant I could play on a few more 14ers.  I could write a manuscript about this trip, but I think honestly it's easier just to highlight it through my photographs.  The highpoints of Colorado were visiting Leadville again and climbing both Huron and San Luis peaks.  As far as Death Valley, the highlights were many.  I saw the racetrack playa, hiked through the ancient bristlecones, rock-climbed in the Alabama Hills, camped at Horseshoe Meadows, visited the Whitney Portal, climbed Telescope and Wildrose peaks, ran through forests of Joshua Trees, and even got chased down a mountain by lightning (quite literally).

Upon arriving in Colorado, I immediately decided that San Luis Peak would be my first 14er of the trip.  When I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail back in 2008, I walked over the saddle of San Luis, only 1.2 miles from the summit, and yet still skipped it.  I have always regretted that decision, especially considering that San Luis is one of the most remote 14ers to get to.  After scoping out the West Willow Creek trailhead route (from Creede), I decided to finally go back and tag it properly.  I knew that it was over 15 miles roundtrip and would take several hours, but I this was a good chance to finally knock it out.  I was a little concerned about weather, but the rainy clouds seemed stable and not thunderstorm-y.  I drove up to the Equity Mine, parked my rental car, and set out.  More than anything I just wanted to be walking along the Colorado Trail again.  After the madness of my dissertation defense, nothing seemed more pleasing than that.  Here are a few pics.

San Luis as seen from the divide 

The soothing CT....putting my soul at ease

Nearing the final saddle before the climb up to the summit

The Hoodoos near San Luis

At the Summit!

I look happy, but was ridiculously out-of-breath and out-of-shape

View from the top

After summiting, I went back to Leadville for a few days to relax and visit with folks.  From there, I finally went out to hike up Huron.  I had attempted Huron twice before but was turned around both times due to foul weather.  Without fail, I was again accompanied by some very iffy weather.  Along the climb, I experienced clear-sky sun, rain, sleet, wind, and even snow.  Somehow though, I managed to make it to the summit in one piece.

Snowy wind from the summit of Huron

Another view from Huron Peak


At the summit!

Looking back up the trail on my way down

A beautiful tarn in the cirque below the summit

The trail-head road.  It was some fun 4x4 action

I quickly made my way back to Denver, and headed out for my rendezvous in Southern California.  Unfortunately, the basin-and-range area of the southwest was experiencing an even worse-than-normal heat wave.  Upon arrival in Death Valley, we were greeted with temps nearing 120F.  When I ran badwater back in 2012, the highest temp I recorded during the entire race was 121F...and that was in mid-July.  Here it was early September, and nearly the same temp.  It was rough, but still amazingly beautiful.



One of the places I wanted to see more than any other was the famous racetrack playa.  Coincidentally, just a few weeks before the trip, a paper came out in the peer-reviewed science journal, "PLOS ONE" proving that the real reason behind the movement of the sailing stones was of course, ice!  Isn't it always ice!  The trip out to the playa was rough.  Over 30 miles each way on backroad, high-clearance, 4x4 roads.  It was totally worth it though...

Teakettle Junction

The playa

Racing a sailing stone (it won)

Panorama of the playa

Sailing stone!

Another sailing stone!

The following day, we zipped over to Bishop CA (having driven through Eureka Valley), and decided to drive up to the ancient bristlecone pines.  I had been fascinated with the ancient bristlecones ever since I heard an NPR story about "Methuselah" the 4000+-year-old tree.  This actual tree is located within a very small grove, but the park service will not publicly identify it for fear of vandalism.  I'm fairly confident I found the actual tree (which may, or may not be shown in one of my photos below)...but truthfully, there's no way to be sure.  Regardless, I most certainly saw many trees that are as old as the great pyramids of Giza.








This famous tree from the 1-mile scenic "discovery-walk", is often mistakenly identified as Methuselah.  It IS a 4000-year-old bristlecone...but it is NOT Methuselah.  (It's not even in the right grove.  The Methuselah Tree and Grove is on the longer, 4.5-mile "Methuselah Trail")

Thousands of years seen in the tree rings

After playing in the Bristlecone forest, we spent an afternoon climbing in, on, and around the Alabama Hills at the base of Mt. Whitney.  Here are some highlight pics...


Mt. Whitney in the background

the track of one of my many scrambles...(see pics below)

climbing up 

View from the top of a scramble

At the top!


We also took a little drive up to the Whitney portal, where it was probably 30 degrees cooler....and definitely greener, and wetter!



Well...that's some wild ass isn't it?


We eventually ended up at the Wildrose campground within the Panamint Mountains.  On one side of the range is Death Valley, and the other, Panamint Valley.  The campground was at about 4000 feet, but was still over 100F during the day.  On one evening, I climbed the 1200' low/unnamed peak above the campground.

View of the campground from part-way up the climb.


Panorama from top of climb (with Telescope and Wildrose labeled)

The next day I decided to climb Telescope Peak (11,043 feet).  It is the highest point within Death Valley National Park with a fantastic climb to the summit.  I drove up the 4 x 4 road to the to the trailhead at about 8000', and hiked the 15 mile round-trip excursion to the summit.  Later that evening I made the quick hike up and down Wildrose Peak as well.

Telescope Peak from a few miles away

Some nice meta-sedimentary rocks

On the summit of Telescope Peak

Looking down on Panamint Valley (About 10,000 feet of relief)

Panorama from Telescope Summit...showing both Death and Panamint Valleys

A nice shady rest-nook under a scrubby pine tree near the summit.

More lovely meta-seds

Benchmark from the summit of Wildrose Peak

View of Telescope Peak from the summit of Wildrose Peak

We moved back down into the valley and played a bit more around the ghost town of Balarat, The Ubehebe Crater, and even some Joshua Tree groves...

Balarat

The Actual Stovepipe Well

Ubehebe Crater

Joshua Trees

After a few more days, I took a trip up to hike Boundary Peak...Nevada's Highest Point.  It was a several hour drive up through Lone Pine and on to Bishop.  All morning I had been noticing heavy clouds building but just assumed they wouldn't be a problem.  Boundary Peak is considered to be one of the driest of all the 50-state high points.  It's also one of the most remote, so I knew this might be my only chance for a while to bag it.  I decided on the Queen Mine Road approach as it seemed like a more fun trail.  

I made it as high as the mine at 9200 before the road got too rough, and simply road-walked the last 1/2 mile to the saddle where the actual single-track trail started.  The clouds had moved in by this point, but they seemed very stable, so I wasn't worried.   I made it all the way to trail canyon saddle (about 1.5 miles and 2000' from summit) when the freezing rain began.  I was still not too worried, although quite surprised by my bad luck.  One of the driest high-points, and I hit it on the one rainy day!  I climbed about 800 more feet up the steep pitch towards the high ridgeline when the first lightning hit.  Just to be clear here...Boundary Peak is 100% exposed at these elevations.  There is no cover, nowhere to hide.  Needless to say I panicked.  I looked off in the distance and what was coming looked infinitely worse.  It was so absolutely frustrating to have to pull the plug on an ascent so close to the summit (I was probably only about 1 mile away, or less, from the summit at this point)...but I was honestly getting really worried.  

The lightning strikes were becoming more frequent and closer, and I had to scramble down technical trail.   I turned quickly and began scree-skiing as fast as I could down the ridgeline back to trail canyon saddle.  With each strike, my panic level rose.  At the saddle I debated just diving down the backside into the nearest drainage...which would have meant a very long afternoon climbing back up and around after the storm passed.  I instead decided to run hard around the ridgeline back towards the trail-head thinking I could outrun the storm.   I made it about another mile, and was nearing the last exposed portion when the big one hit.  Rocks buzzed for a split second, I felt my fingers tingle and then a deafening crash.  I have no idea how close it was, but I saw the light and heard the sound almost at the same time.   I truly feared for my life at this point and dove off the side of the mountain as fast as I could down the closest side.  It was wicked steep and I had no idea where it would take me, but it was down-slope, and gave me a little protection.  A few more crashed, and then just as fast as it came, the storm was gone.  

I had only scrambled down about 300 feet before the clouds cleared.  I took a picture from under my little bristlecone hideout down the steep side of the random mountain face of what appears to be a beautiful blue sky.  You'd never know I had just come feet away from a hot lightning strike.  When I slogged back up to the ridgeline, I was briefly tempted to make another stab at the summit, but off in the distance I could see another line of storms coming...and they looked even worse.  For that moment though, the sky was beautiful and blue.  I took one last picture of Boundary Peak...and the summit I never made, so that I could remember it and so that I would have motivation to return some day (call it a little score to settle). I turned around, counted my blessings and made quick for my car.  I had had enough excitement for the day.  

The view looking up from my steep mountainside escape

One last look back at Boundary Peak, on what appears to be a beautiful day.  You can just see off in the very far distance some clouds.  They were moving ridiculously fast, and in my direction...

Turns out...the remnants of tropical storm/hurricane had come ashore from the Pacific and nailed the Sierras and White Mountains that day.  Heck, it even rained in Death Valley.  A more recent check of the weather report would have saved me a very long drive that day, but still, it made for quite an adventure for sure.  I made it back to my car ok, but by the time I got out to the main road, the entire cluster of mountains was enveloped by a MASSIVE thunderstorm.  I definitely made the right decision to turn around.

The view of Boundary Peak from the highway (The peak itself is in the center of the picture behind the main v-cut valley, but is completely obscured by the thunderstorm clouds)  I took this picture only about 40 minutes after the sunny picture above.

Here's my garmin track for the day.  The green arrow was where I parked my car.  You can also see the labeled final summit and just how close I was when I turned around.  I forgot to stop my garmin on my drive down, which is why the track continues down the road a bit.

And a little walk-through of day's events....

You can also watch a play-through of my GPS track here on my garmin page:



Stopped at the border to reflect on my little near-miss, and was not upset at all by my decision.  I was actually quite proud of myself for knowing that I'm not so stubborn as to keep myself in serious danger for the sake of something essentially meaningless like peak-bagging.  The mountain is not going anywhere soon...and now I have a reason to go back.  Of all the thousands of thru-hiking miles I've done over the years, this was the closest I've ever gotten to an actual lightning strike.  It was just as terrifying as you can imagine it would be.