Snowmobile traversing into the void (West Antarctica)
Something extremely unfamiliar is currently happening in my neck of the woods: I am sitting at a cafe in upstate New York....on Dec 16th. It has been 5 years since I've been home this late in December, and it is all rather peculiar. I am so very glad to be taking an Antarctic "year off", as it were, but a part of me certainly misses it. Going south for December and January has just been such an enormous part of my life for the past half-decade, that it is hard to suddenly find myself comfy and cozy on my warm butt with all the luxuries of modern living. Many of my friends and colleagues did deploy this year, and I find myself often looking in on their blogs and feeds to live a little vicariously through them. With all that said however, if offered the chance to still deploy tomorrow, I would flatly turn it down (unless my degree depended on it). It has been wonderful being home for Thanksgiving, my birthday and through the Christmas season. It's strange going into stores and smiling at the ridiculous overabundance of holiday music playing overhead. I am probably the only idiot that doesn't mind it. I got to buy gifts for my new nephew and will see my family over the break. I think that I'm most excited though, about spending my first Christmas and New Years ever, in person, with my other-half. For the past 4 years, I've called her religiously from a spotty satellite phone while standing on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. I always made sure to call just after midnight on Christmas and New Years...and got to say that even though I was over 7000 miles away, I was still the first to talk to her on both holidays. This year, thankfully, it will be much easier to keep that tradition going.
Five Antarctic Seasons
Usually around this time of year, I would be compiling a year-end post from McMurdo Antarctica, and reflecting on my experiences from the past calendar year. I made a promise to myself that following my 2007 Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I would continue to live a life full of new experiences and then make sure to reflect on those experiences at the end of each year. This year, I get to compile this post while sipping a hot coffee at a small cafe. It is a nice change of pace. So I guess with that, I'll jump in.
I think the most surprising thing about the year in general, was that it turned out to be my highest mileage year for running. Despite some slower times this year, I still managed more total miles than in any year past, including both 2012 (my Barkley/Badwater year), and 2010 (my PCT thru-hike year). Sitting here now in December, I don't feel like I ran that much, but my mileage totals have me at nearly 3000 for the year. I did race quite a bit this year, but also many of those races were multi-day and timed events (like Vol State, 3-Days at the Fair, and the NJ 1-Day). Overall I am absolutely thrilled at the year I had and am again amazed that I somehow managed to top what I thought was an un-toppable 2012. When I look back at least year and my adventures at Barkley, Badwater, and in Japan...I think how could it possible get better. Yet I sit here now, reflecting on 2013, and I somehow found a way to again fill my experience quota for the year quite nicely. I feel incredibly fortunate for the all the wonderful experiences I've been able to acquire this year, and hope that 2014 only brings me even more. I try my best, to keep to my promise and live my life with some semblance of adventure and passion. I only hope that I don't give in to what I like to call, "that pull towards the routine and the mundane". It is so easy to get comfortable and lose that spontaneity for new adventures. I will continue to push myself to keeping that alive within me...and always strive to experience wonderful and new adventures while I still have time on this beautiful world.
2013 started in more or less the same way that the previous 5 had....standing atop the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with about 40 other cold and lonely souls. I wrote a full summary post about my experience during my 5th deployment to Antarctica earlier in the year here:
In a nutshell the primary highlight from my final WAIS Divide season was the successful completion of 5 replicate ice cores from the site. Never before during any ice-core project, have replicate cores been drilled up-wall from an existing borehole. The engineers responsible for designing the drill and procedures for replicate drilling, were incredible and simply inspiring. Here are a few photo highlights from the season:
First successful replicate core. The notch is from the side-wall of the main borehole.
Me and the other science technicians (Ross, Brad, Emily) with the first replicate core. This core wasn't used for any measurements, which is why we were able to handle it.
We also drilled several shallow snow(firn) cores using a hand drill. This is a shot from a remote camp we set up about 30k from WAIS. We drilled a 10-meter core, and dug a snow pit for sampling.
I also installed temperature sensor strings into several boreholes to record the temperature fluctuations in the upper 5 meters of snow. After I installed the string, I back-filled the hole with snow.
Measuring and documenting a shallow core.
The team sampling a snow-pit
Beautiful sun dogs and sun pillar at camp
The three camp Hungarians (Fanny, myself, and Ildiko)
Never give a full bag of sugar to an overactive ultrarunner who's been
stuck at a remote field camp in Antarctica for two months. SUGAR!
When I got back from my deployment, I took a few days to decompress. Somehow I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Groundhog day festival and got to hear the good news about an early Spring. Too bad it wasn't true.
Very quickly, I began another extremely hard dose of training. I had planned on returning to the Barkley and needed to again prime my body for another go. I used my 2012 training schedule as a base and worked to improve it slightly. Over the next two months, I busted butt nearly every day with cruel hill workouts, long weekend slogs through Rothrock, and countless miles. When it was all said and done, I had actually trained harder than I did in 2012, and went to Frozen Head a very lean machine.
I documented some of that training in these posts:
Gas-line traverse and 100 miles:
Another mid-state trail slog:
Playing on the Rothrock Gasline
1200 feet, in 1 mile. Good Barkley training
Lots of crazy vertical days. 9000 feet in 20 miles here.
Lot's of endless repeats....
When the time came to actually run the Barkley, things went much differently this year. I had a wonderful time regardless of my 2-loop failure, and was humbled and honored to be an adopted part of Travis's crew. Watching he and Nick finish was inspiring.
I had originally decided not to share any of my photos or personal memories from this year's experience, but I've since decided to share a few photos that in my mind capture the best parts of the event, most specifically, the incredible people I got to share the trails with.
Making arrangements with Travis Wildeboer, after the conch was blown
Ed Furtaw and myself waiting for the start
Counting down the seconds with the man himself
Taking the lead up Rat Jaw (With Bev and Alan Abbs, Travis, and Toshi Hozaka)
Topping out on Rat Jaw
Finishing Loop 1 with Nick Hollon
Brett Maune and I checking in on Travis before loop 4,
Catching up with Jared Campbell after his ridiculous all night adventure
Travis touching the gate for the 5th time!
14 and 15
When I returned from Barkley...I was in a hard place mentally. Pulling the plug on my favorite race of all times, was an incredibly difficult decision, and one that dug deep into my soul. I had decided I needed a break from running for a little while. I turned my focus back to school work and figured that the running would come back when it wanted to. I dusted off the kayak and went for several short boating excursions up at Black Moshannon again as well...as that always seems to put me in a place of peace. After a few weeks, I finally put the shoes back on and went out for what ended up being a soul-nourishing trail run. Afterwards, I found a new love for the run again, and started to set my sights on a Vol-state run in July. I wrote about my running rebirth when I decided to take the "road less traveled":
Kayaking in Black Moshannon
The first official race on my calendar was the Hyner View 50k This course is surprising tough as I found out in 2012. It is a 50k with well over 6000 feet of gain, and it is Pennsylvania Rocky! I was still in pretty good climbing shape from my Barkley training so went into this race with the goal of besting my time from '12. I had a fantastic day and was practically giggling the entire time. It felt good to be on trail again during a race and I never pushed to hard. I made it to the finish with a great time, and a big smile on my face. The words from my write-up pretty much sum it up:
"As I neared the end of the race, I was quite content. I could have kept going, but I was quite fine to stop too. When I eventually popped out of the woods at mile 30 and began the last mile along the paved road to the finish, I finally switched my watch so that it would display overall time. I just smiled and laughed at the realization that I had just had that much fun, and still managed to come in to the finish 20 minutes faster than last year. The best part was that I was still having a great time, still smiling, and was completely and utterly satisfied with my day on the trails. That passion had come back, and I was steeped in it."
Here was my fullwrite-up:
What happened next on my running schedule I would not have predicted in a million years. I decided, on a complete and utter whim, to sign up for a 72-hour event. Not only had I never done a timed event, nor had any real desire too, but this event was on a PAVED, 1-MILE loop. Ugh! Why would anyone want to run a 1-mile loop on pavement when there's all that trail out there to be explored?
...Which is exactly why I signed up for it. I have always believed in challenging myself and I figured that there had to be something rewarding to an event like this, or no one would ever do them. I wanted to try something different, and I definitely needed the road training for my upcoming Vol State.
What transpired was incredible. I had an absolute blast running in circles, met some wonderful people, and knocked out a 3rd place finish to boot. I wrote a very detailed race report about the entire event here:
The short-story of it all was that it WAS actually a lot of fun and definitely prepped me for Vol State. I learned a lot about how my body reacts to long distances over pavement, when I need rest, what to eat, and how to manage my activity level and effort over such a long period of time. I also learned a great deal about maintaining and caring for my feet.
Here are few pic highlights:
Somewhere during day 2
Pablo (The Superman!) and I walking a loop
My personal aid station
Receiving my 3rd place 231-mile award.
After coming back from 3-days, I was in need of some rest. I took it easy for a little while and only participated in a couple of shorter distance local races. One of these though was the infamous Rothrock Challenge. I had a history with this race and despite the 19-mile course being my stand-by Barkley training route, I had injured myself during the 2011 Rothrock race. I decided that I wanted to give it another go this year and signed up. I took it easy on a very hot day there and ended up finishing in a fairly good time. I immediately jumped into the finish-line lake to cool off, and it was glorious. Here was my write-up from that race:
so fast....I'm a blur! (hah...yeah right)
Mile ~8ish. Hot and buggy running on forest road
The infamous Shingletown Scramble
A few weeks later, as a post-PhD-defense trip, me and my other-half went on a 11-day romp around the 4-courners region of the West. We saw everything from Arches NP, to Goblins State Park, to Shiprock, to the San Juans. It was one of the most amazing trips I've ever taken....and certainly with the best company (although I guess I'm a bit biased). For two geoscientists, it was pretty much a dream trip.
I wrote an incredibly detailed trip-report form this adventure here:
...but would basically sum it up with this excerpt:"We saw canyons over 2000 feet deep, and hiked along enormous slickrock sandstones. We played in the most remote places imaginable, camped on BLM land with no one around for miles, hiked through narrow slot-canyons only a foot wide, drove up cliff-side 4x4 roads, drove over 100 miles on a spare tire after getting a flat in the middle of nowhere, and even panned for gold. I could fill entire books with all of the little bits and pieces from this trip."
Here are just a couple of teaser photos:
No biggy, just standing at the edge of a 2000+ foot cliff.
Two geoscientists in Canyonlands. Pretty much defines "happy geeks"
Mt. Sneffels Trailhead on a less-than-stellar hiking day
Upon returning from this trip, my running focus shifted entirely to Vol-State preparation. First order of business was to run the Finger Lakes 50 for my 4th year. I have an incredible soft spot for this race and couldn't wait to again toe the line there. It's still one one of my favorites. I was nervous as the race was literally just one week before the start of Vol State. I knew I had to be super conservative, and it was an exceptionally hot and humid day to boot. My thoughts on the race can be summed up by this quote from my report:
"It turned out to not only be hot and muggy, but also very MUDDY; an all around slip-slidy messy-fun day! Throughout the day, I forced myself to downshift and try to just stay steady and take it easy. For the most part I stuck to this strategy perfectly. Today, on Sunday night, I have very little soreness at all. Last year, I finished this race in a fantastic time of 8:54. Back in 2011, I finished in 9:20. Yesterday, I kept is slow and smooth, and finished in a respectable 9:40, with no major residual soreness today, and without ever feeling like I was "racing". Perfect in my book. I will rest now until Thursday morning when I start running at the Hickman Ferry for as many miles as my little feet will take me."
My full report can be found here:
A few shots:
Loop 1 finish
Slogging it out in the humidity
Heading out on loop 3
Happy and muddy finish.
My report for this event was also very long and detailed, but I feel that this clip sums it up nicely:"This race had so completely stripped me down to my simple core over-and-over again. I think in some way I can understand why people participate in the several thousand mile self-transcendance races. Pushing yourself for so long really makes you see yourself for the simple being that you are, and experience your own existence in its purest form; much like my experiences on the AT, CT, and PCT. I am forever grateful that I was able to take part in such an incredible event, and that I came away from it with such profound memories. What a wonderful adventure it was..."
Here is the link to the full report:
and a few pics:
On the ferry with Laz
Mile ~90 - Lexington
Sleeping in Shelbyville
yep...pretty much speaks for itself
Eating fried chicken at the finish
After Vol State, I took some time off to recuperate and prep for my upcoming 4th running at Leadville. This year, due to ridiculous air fare costs, I actually decided to make a road-trip out of the whole ordeal. I had quite a blast making my way across the expansive center of the country and revisiting some states I had only previously poked my head into. I even visited the Kansas High Point! When I finally made it to Leadville on my third day, I checked into the Hostel and set up in my private room. This was the first year I actually was able to secure a small private room and didn't have to share a bunk room. During the week leading up to the race, I spent a lot of time hiking in the nearby Sawatch range, knocking out a couple of new 14ers in the process. I finally was able to tackle La Plata and even hiked up Massive from the rarely-used Fish Hatchery approach (Often referred to as the "Nolan's" approach"). I tried to hit up Huron Peak for a 2nd attempt, but was again foiled by bad weather. So far, I'm 0 for 2 on that peak. I also knocked out Holy Cross, but that was a week later after the race was run.
Kansas High Point: Mt. Sunflower
Headed up Mt. Massive from the Hatchery
La Plata Peak
Holy Cross Summit
...As far as the race goes, this year was my 4th running of the Leadville Trail 100. As most ultrarunners now know, this year's run was quite overcrowded. Many many opinions can be read online pertaining to this issue, but I will not comment on that aspect. I always have a wonderful time running in the high country of Colorado. Despite the plethora of runners, I was still able to focus my thoughts and attention on the wonder and beauty of the course. I had no goal of trying to again break the 25-hour barrier, and for most of the race it looked as though this wouldn't be possible anyway....but at the end, I was overcome by a huge surge, and was able to just barely squeak across the finish line under the time. It was a rough final 13 miles, but I was glad I was able to finish strong and with another big buckle. Here was a nice quote from my race report that sums up my experience quite nicely:
Here is my full race report:
Stream Crossing before Hope climb
Approaching Hope Pass
Squeaking in just under 25 hrs.
4 years of Leadville
On my return trip from Leadville, I took it a bit slow, and even visited some more state high points just for fun. When I got home, I visited my new nephew who was born just a few days later. I headed back to school and focused on getting as much school work done as I could. I knew I had several science meetings quickly creeping up on me at which I had to present updates on my data.
Nebraska High Point
Indiana High Point
Ohio High Point
My new nephew
Once settled back East, with the year starting to wind down, I had just a handful of races left on my calendar....a few scheduled, a few last minute additions, all relatively local though. I would be running my 3rd Oil Creek 100, my 2nd Pine Creek Challenge (and defending my title), a first time go at Virgil Crest, and a 2nd running at the Tussey 50. It sounds like a lot, but all the races were relatively local, and only the Oil Creek 100 required an overnight stay.
Each race presented me with different challenges, but each also presented me with wonderful experiences and memories.
My combined race report for all three events can be found here:
Pine Creek had better weather this year, but also stronger competition. I knew I wasn't in as good as shape as I was at this time in 2012, but still thought I might be able to defend my 1st place title. I ran strong, but faded much quicker towards the end. I finished in a respectable 3rd place and managed to still get a "podium" spot. My only standing course record to date fell by over 20 minutes.
At the start of Pine Creek Challenge.
Heading out on the bike path in 3rd place (where'd I'd stay all day)
Virgil Crest was a race I had been eyeing for a while but never run. It had a legendary reputation in upstate New York as an absolute monster. Loads of elevation gain and tough climbs. I had Oil Creek just a few weeks away, so decided to run the 50k as a last-minute "training run". What I didn't know was that it would rain for a full 24 hours before the race turning every trail into a muddy, slippery, nightmare. When race-day came, it ended up being one of the most draining races I've ever run at that length. All the mud slogging just sapped every ounce of energy I had. The climbs were challenging and in a way fun, but the mud just sucked away any pep I might have had. I also took a wrong turn at one point and lost several minutes finding my way back to the course. Still, it was an awesome race, and had a very small-town, home-grown feel to it. My favorite type of event. Despite the difficulties, I still managed a great time and finished 11th overall. I will definitely be eyeing this race again next year.
At the start of the 50k
Coming down a muddy and slippery ski hill.
Refueling at one of the well-stocked aid stations
When Oil Creek came up just a few short weeks later, I was mentally frazzled, I had recently spent a week in San Diego presenting my latest research, and the week leading up to that trip required long hours of prep work. Needless to say, I missed several days of much-needed running. When I arrived at the race the night before the event, I had already told myself that I would be running slower and not gunning for the coveted sub-22 buckle. In my two previous runnings at Oil Creek, I managed to come away with two sub-22 buckles, and both times it was by the slimmest of margins. In 2011, and 2012, I managed to be the last runner to cross the finish in under 22 hours. In 2011, that margin was just 9 minutes, and in 2012, it was 19. This year, with my lack of proper training, and a forecast hot day, I was not thinking about time...and more just about trying to enjoy myself. As the loops progressed, I moved through vary disparate moods and emotions. My first loop was fast and peppy, my 2nd, slow and miserable, but my 3rd, calming, and wondrous. I crossed the finish in a respectable 23:43 and felt great about squeaking in under a day.
Still smiling late in loop 1
Miserable on loop 2
After my decent outing at Oil Creek, I began to look ahead to the end of the year. Knowing that I'd be home for the remaining part of the year, meant I would have more time to work on research, AND more time to possibly race a little. I had been spending quite a bit of time running with my local running group and decided that it was time to give the Tussey 50 another go. I signed up and even volunteered at the packet-pickup dinner again. It was fun handing out race packets and meeting all of the eager runners.
When race day came, I had no intention on trying to better my 2011 time (and still 50-mile PR) of 7:49. I just knew that I wasn't in shape for it, and the course had also been changed since then to be slightly more difficult. My only thought on going into Tussey, was to have as much fun as possible at my "Home-Town" ultra. Even though Tussey is a road ultra, it is still my only home town ultra...and there's a sense of pride to that.
I laced up the shoes, headed out on the cold, late-October morning, and went out for a 50 mile run in Rothrock. I had considerable intestinal issues early on which forced me to slow my pace, and make several pit stops, but eventually I settled down and ran a strong 2nd half. I finished in a much slower 8:26 this year, but was still quite thrilled with the time.
Here was my quick blurb/report about it:
Mile 11 - Whipple Lake
Mile 31 - Finally enjoying myself
As November creeped up, I found myself splitting my time equally between central PA, and upstate NY (Finger Lakes region). Fellow Barker Carl Laniak decided to propose a "Run Every Day" campaign for November of which I decided to take part in. I knew without a little extra motivation, I would likely miss a lot of running days. I turned out to be a fun and exciting way to keep myself fit during what would have almost assuredly been a lax month. On November 30th, I felt strong and fit.
....of course this challenge was made a wee bit difficult by the fact that I had signed up for a 24-hour event right in the middle of it.
Early on in the month, I headed back to New Jersey to run the same course I ran in May at the 3-days event. This time it was a 24-hour event. I had never run 24 hours and I decided to split my effort into both trying to run 100 miles relatively fast, but also trying to get as many miles as I could. I was hoping to break 20 hours for 100 and managed to do it by about 10 minutes. I was able to tack on another 14 miles after that for a grand total of 114, and a 3rd place men's finish. It was a lot of fun running again with the friends I had made back in May.
Somewhere in November I also did a 2-hour podcast chat with Eric Sherman over at "DFL Ultrarunning". It was a blast talking about all things ultra, including Barkley, Badwater, and Thru-Hiking.
Here is my write-up from the event and the podcast:
Still trucking along after 100+miles
3rd place finisher award - 114 miles
After the NJ 24-hour event, I headed to Colorado to do a little last minute work in the ice-core lab. While there I prepped and imaged several thin-sections and even got to chat with a National Geographic film crew that was there filming for a new show. There's a chance that I'll end up on a new show this Spring!
Chatting with NatGeo in the lab
Bubble-section of ice-core ice. Bubbles contain ancient air that's almost 2000 years old
Thin-section photograph of ice grains as seen through polarizers.
Different colors represent different crystal orientations. Orange mesh
indicates crystal (or grain) boundaries.
After the ice core lab, I came back home and busted tail preparing a new poster to present at my first AGU fall meeting in December. AGU stands for American Geophysical Union, and they host the largest geoscience conference of the entire year. Roughly 30,000 people attend this meeting held every December in San Francisco. I have never been able to attend due to my Antarctic deployments, so I was quite thrilled to be going. Unfortunately, the weather in Upstate New York had other plans for me and I missed the first two days of the conference due to plane cancellations. Still, despite missing my poster presentation, I made it for the final three days, and went to many great talks.
While there I also ran the AGU 5k event. This 5k is notoriously fast as it is entirely flat, and at sea level. After my steady November running, I decided to see if I could break my 19:58 PR.
I ran hard, and kept a steady pace throughout the race. I pushed hard the 3rd mile and crossed the line in 19:41, shaving 17 seconds off of my PR. The best part was I actually felt I could have run faster but held back a bit. This was good enough for a 24th place finish (geoscientists are apparently fast runners). I also went for a couple of evening runs around hilly San Francisco that even featured the world famous Lombard Street!
Here is my garmin track for it:
Since returning from, I haven't done much running. I've had to process some ice in our lab, and get lots of data written up for my thesis. I have lots of work to do if I want to graduate next year. The next few months will be all about cramming.
And so we come to today. I sit here just a few days from Christmas, super excited to be able to spend it with family and loved ones. My thoughts of 2014 leave me wondering what sort of stories I might make for myself, what sort of adventures I might find myself going on. I know whatever comes, it will be as exciting as I make it.
Looking ahead I do have a few big plans for 2014. I will keep this last bit brief but will say these few words:
Above all, my primary goal for 2014 is to finish writing my thesis, defend my PhD, and walk the stage at graduation. This, above all else, is most important. I want to earn my doctorate. I have worked hard for it, and I can't wait for that day that I crack open my Shackleton Whisky, and celebrate my new title with my fellow ice-group friends and colleagues.
On the running/adventure side of things here is what I can say for certain. Because I did not get into Hardrock or Western States again, I have signed up for both the 3-days and Vol State races again....but both are not guaranteed. It will depend heavily on my PhD defense schedule. My biggest wish-list event would be to run the Plain 100 in September, although I have not signed up for it yet. I have decided also to NOT sign up for my 5th Leadville so that instead I may assist a good friend with something even more exciting. That is all I will say about that, as for now, it is "not announced".
I do have one new adventure that I hope to tackle in 2014 that I've been thinking a lot about over the past year. I have decided like with Barkley though, that this will be something I do strictly for myself...and for that inner journey I've often talked about. Although I will say, I will need some help to pull this adventure off, and hope that those I've asked to help will be able to.
So that's it I guess. Wow. I have sucked the proverbial marrow out of another magnificent year. What I said at the end of last year's post was so poignantly perfect, that I thought it would be fitting to simply copy/paste it here as well.....
hike on my friends, and never stop exploring."