Monday, November 24, 2014

Province Point, Vermont : A Geographical Oddity

Province Point, VT

UPDATE: This story is now featured in my published book, "Treks to Nowhere". It is available on Amazon here:

Let's go ahead and mark this one under "Scribbles"....

The United States, and the world for that matter, are full of many geographical and territorial oddities and extremes.  I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to this kind of weirdness.  Many of you that have poked your heads on my journal here know that I have an unnatural fascination with maps, geographical oddities, and extreme places.  This bizarre fascination has definitely played a huge part in me seeking out strange little places to go (particularly Antarctica).  I've touched on this more specifically in these posts:

Because of this love/fascination/obsession/compulsion ... whatever you want to call it, I've found myself in many wondrous places and situations, creating so many unique memories.  

I've spent many many hours/days/years trying to understand what is at the root of this fascination within me, and after years of coming back to it, I think I've finally been able to put a small finger on it.  I think there are people that are born into this world that are meant to be explorers.  Thinking back to many of the classic explorers of old (Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen, etc), they all seem to have had a deep-down drive to go to uncharted places.  To see the unseen and to set foot on the un-touched ground.  I know it sounds very star-trekky, but I think there really is a level of truth to it.  The problem is in today's 21'st century, so many of the places on Earth have already been explored, leaving the explorers among us, striving to find new ways to "explore".  For me, I think perhaps I was born in the wrong century, as I  do seem to have this unexplainable desire to "set forth" and go out not just to the edges of world, but to the oddities of the world.  I want to see and appreciate places, that very few if any others have the way I do.  I want my resume of visited places to be full of superlatives, extremes, and oddities when I finally leave this world.  Many many people have asked me why the hell I would want to go to some of the places I go to, and I find it extremely difficult to explain it in words.  It's a feeling I have, and a need that I must fulfill from time to time.  It is one of the things that truly brings me a sense of contentment, and I will continue to seek out unique places for as long as I am able.  

To quote Mallory when asked why climb Everest, "Because it is there!"

Many could be quite content with a comfortable life in a comfortable setting...with an occasional vacation to someplace like Las Vegas, or Disneyland, etc.  I've been in this type of living situation, and I always had a deep craving to get "out there" somewhere else.   Years ago, when I would plan my yearly vacations, I found myself wanting to spend my precious 2 weeks of time going someplace completely ridiculous like mainland Labrador Canada.  I'd tell my co-workers I drove 3000 miles from Cleveland to Labrador City for no other reason than to see remote places.  They'd look at me crossed-eyed and say, "what the hell do you do in Labrador City?".  Nothing really, but I loved it.  The journey was incredible.  Had I instead gone to Virginia Beach or someplace similar, I likely would have been pining for someplace else the entire time.  Thankfully, I'm now in a situation where I've found someone else who is nearly as odd as me when it comes to I couldn't be happier.

Before I get into the subject of this post, I thought I'd take a quick walk down memory lane and just highlight a few places my weird fascination has taken me.

Remote Hokkaido, Japan

Trans-Labrador Highway

Quoddy Head (furthest point east in the US)

49 of 50 states and all but 4 Canadian Provinces/Territories 
(I'm coming for you next North Dakota!)

Wild Goose Island, St. Mary's Lake, Glacier NP

Kayaking up to Wild Goose Island 
(and eventually walking around on it)

Driving around remote Yukon

Four Corners (a bit cliche' but still unique)

Three Corners in the middle of the woods - (MA, CT, NY)

Three Corners (NJ, PA, NY)

PCT Canadian Border

Mt. Wasilewski, Merrick Moutains, Antarctica

40k from WAIS Divide Field camp and any other human beings.
To this date, this is the MOST remote place I've ever set foot.
I went here with 3 other grad students as part of a science traverse.

Key West Fl

And SOOOO many more....(too many to list here)

This same fascination has also led me to over 20 of the state high points, and almost 20 of the 54 colorado 14ers (so far).

Ebright Azimuth, the quirkly high point of Delaware

Indiana's High Point...who the hell goes here?

San Luis Peak Colorado (considered by many to be the "most remote"
of Colorado's 54+ fourteeners)

Some unnamed peak in the Panamint range that I bushwacked up.
Because it was there.

You could very easily argue that this obsession/fascination of mine is at least part of the reason I was drawn to the Barkley as well.  But I won't go into that here.

Anyhoo...moving on.

One of the categories of "oddities" that really gets me excited, are what are called "Exclaves".  Exclaves are bits of land owned by one country that are completely isolated from the mainland part of the country and must be entered by land (or in some cases water), via another country.  There are different specific types of exclaves depending on whether or not they are surround by water or by the number of other countries they border....but essentially they are excluded "land-islands" of a country.  If you look up Enclaves and Exclaves on Wikipedia, you will quickly get lost in verbiage explaining the differences between ethnic exclaves, practical exclaves, pene-exclaves, recursive exclaves, subnational exclaves, etc.  It gets crazy and complicated quickly.

There are many simple global examples of this, like the the Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia or the Temburong District of Brunei, but we have just as many lesser-known exclaves here in the United states...especially along the US/CA border.

One of my favorites and yet-to-be-visited is the Northwest Angle of Minnesota. 
Not only is it the furthest place north in the Contiguous 48, but it can only be
accessed from Canada and is a true exclave

Another classic US example is Point Roberts (also yet-to-be-explored)
This little bit of land in Washington (near Vancouver, CA), just barely
drops down below the 49th parallel.

The classic Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi, is a little bubble of land only accessible by land through Tennessee.  I have been to 
New Madrid, but have yet to set foot in the Bend itself.

There are many other examples I can think of off the top of my head.  Places like Elm Point MN, Estcourt Station ME, and Derby Line VT.  There are even many small unnamed exclaves along the canadian border, particularly in remote places of northern North Dakota and along the Yukon Alaska border, that would be great (although difficult) to go visit as well.  Weird and exotic places like this:  

North Dakota / CA border

Yukon / Alaska Border

...and even this tiny little point just west of the larger exclave : Elm Point MN.

Which leads me finally back to the topic of this post:  Province Point, VT.  I spent the past 10 days up in Montreal Canada having all sorts of fun.  On one particular day, I made a trip down to the hip town of Burlington for a little visit, and this gave me a chance to visit the very well-known and obvious exclave known as the "Alburgh Exclave".  This rather notable slice of land jutting down into Lake Champlain from Canada, is probably the most accessible exclave in the US.  But what is not known is the miniscule, 2-acre (1 hectare) exclave just to the East of Alburgh, known unofficially on maps as "Province (or Provincial) Point".

If we zoom in on Northern NY and VT, 
you can easily see the Alburgh Exclave....

Here I've outlined the Alburgh Exclave in Blue.  But, if I zoom in on the
Red box even closer, you'll notice a tiny piece of land......

...and so we come to Province Point...

This tiny little spit of land just barely 
juts over across the US border from Canada.  

Extremely early in the morning, on a very foggy day, on my way down from Montreal...I drove down the small road near this geographical oddity in Canada, and parked at the closed campground about 1/4 mile from the point.  All of the houses along this remote road were dark and likely seasonal (i.e. closed for the winter).  Then, quite simply, I walked out to the point, took a few pictures, wandered around on it for a few minutes, and then hustled back to my car.

NOTE:  If there is anyone reading this, that is thinking of perhaps following in my footsteps, I will say this:  I'm not entirely sure if, or how much of the very end of this quick little walk was, or was not, on private take that sentence for what it is.  I will say that I didn't see a single other person along that road, and only spent about 5 minutes out on the the point before quickly hustling back to my car.  I would definitely make sure that you are at least crudely fluent in very-basic conversational French just in case you have to explain yourself. I know enough to have been able to explain myself and apologize profusely had the need arisen.  Thankfully it didn't.  

To just about anyone else in the world, this little detour probably makes no sense at all.  To me, I was giggling for about 2 hours after this little visit.  Man, I just love this kinda stuff.

Province Point, Border Marker

Looking out to the end of the point

Panorama of the entire Point from East to West

Next up on my To-Do-Hopefully-Soon List:

Setting foot in Nunavut without flying.  If you don't think it's possible...IT IS! (I hope to basically do what these guys did).  All islands within James Bay are technically part of Nunavut!

First, drive to the Cree First Nation City of Chisasibi, QC

Kayak or Packraft the 1-2 miles out to "Tiny Island" Nunavut!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mountain Masochist and Another NJ 24-Hr

The Barkley Crew finishing the Mountain Masochist

...This will be a rather short update....

The end of the year is quickly approaching and the ultra season is winding down.  I may (or may not) still have an event or two on the schedule, but for all intents and purposes things are slowing down.  The hex screws have made their way back into my old running shoes, the cold weather is here, and I am bracing myself for another long and cold winter.  Needless to say I have seriously considered picking up a used treadmill for this winter as last year was really tough on me.  If Craigslist has shown me anything, it's that college kids sell stuff extremely cheap...including treadmills.

I've been on a bit of a roller coaster since my last update here.  I have had two incredibly fun ultra events that I was able to take part in, but on the academic side of the world, things have been a little more frustrating.  It is looking with a high level of certainty that I will be postponing my graduation now until May to give myself a little more time to find a suitable post-doc or job.  Official word on proposals have not come down yet either, so both my advisor and I agree that postponing is probably the best option.  It is EXTREMELY upsetting to not be able to turn in my finished dissertation yet, but at least a May graduation would mean my family could come.  Thankfully, my advisor does have enough funding to keep me on for 6 more months....something of which I'm enormously grateful.   Looks like I'll have to wait a few more months before I can officially call myself Doctor.

A few weeks ago I had the incredible pleasure of running my first Mountain Masochist Trail Run.  What made the event particularly exciting was that I was invited to run the event alongside 3 Barkley alums:  Andrew Thompson, Jonathan Basham, and Travis Wildeboer.  This event is a yearly tradition for these guys and they've been running it for 17 years.  The MMTR is a David Horton event, so I actually had the great pleasure of sharing stories and coffee with 4 other Barkley finishers over the weekend.  Talk about a humbling group to be included in!

The best part about this particular race, is that these guys run it completely for fun and put aside their competitive natures.  In other words, they go out there and goof off around the course for nearly 12 hours, despite the very real possibility of crushing the course in easily under 9 hours for all three of them.  This sounded perfect for me as I was more interested in having a fun day, rather than a hard race.  The course, despite being mostly forest roads, still boasts and impressive 10,000 feet of gain.  It's definitely not an "easy" course.

The plan was simple: go out at an easy jog pace, and trot along just under the the time cut-off for the entire day.  We were purposely aiming for a 11:30-11:45 finish.   This plan played out perfectly.  We jogged easy and never stopped talking and laughing the entire day.  It was honestly the most fun I've ever had during an ultra.  We made our way around the 50 mile course and miles just flew by.  I can't remember the last time a race seemed to move along so quickly.  The bad weather held off (although we did get a little sleet), and the trip out on the "loop" and up to the high point peak was simply wonderful.  We stopped for a few pictures on top of the foggy peak before continuing on to the finish.  We hit the 42-mile aid station and were told we were 19 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Perfect.  We continued at our pace and eased down the final few miles on the road towards the finish.  We crossed the line to a smiling David Horton in 11:39 to finish off what was a simply perfect day.  His exact words to us were, "It's about time you guys showed up!"

Just after finishing for the day!

The Barkley contingent in full force the day after with sore legs!

This past weekend I got talked into yet another ultra event.  Despite my daily runs picking up again, I knew I'd be less-than-rested after the Masochist to even attempt any serious go at an ultra.  Still, I couldn't resist the temptation to go out for loops with one of my favorite running groups out there: The NJ Trail Runners.  Last year I participated in what was my first 24-hour event at the inaugural NJ One Day in November.  I managed to complete a respectable 114 miles (3rd place) and hit the 100-mile mark under 20 hours (which was my primary goal).  After getting talked into running again this year, I went with an entirely different attitude.  2014 has been all about having fun, and so I didn't stress about quantity, and instead focused on quality.

I took it easy all day running the 1-mile loops around the Augusta Fairgrounds (the same course at 3-Days at the Fair).  I never really checked my pace, but just ran what felt fun.  My legs were definitely still un-recovered from Masochist, but I had a blast catching up with many of my NJ running friends.  Around me, some very incredible performances were unfolding....particularly with the women.  Maggie Gutterl and Sky Canaves both were shooting for 135+ miles.  It was simply incredible watching them both rack up the loops and in the end both achieving over 135 miles (Maggie with 142!!!!!).  Both qualified for the Women's national team.  On the men's side, Aaron Mulder won the event also passing 135 miles and qualifying for the Men's national team.

As for me, I was quite content to put out 108 fun miles, only 6 short of last year, and on much more tired and less trained legs.  One thing I can say for sure, you will never be disappointed at a NJ Trail Series event.  Even if it is running 1-mile loops around a paved course.

Maggie still smiling after her 142-mile record breaker

Smiling, laughing, and having fun early on in the loops.

Beautiful day for some miles for sure.

In other news, a very large group paper that I've been working on with my ice-core science collaborators has been officially published in the Journal of Glaciology.  May long hours and field seasons went into this large study.  You can browse through it if you'd like to see what my life is like outside the running, hiking, and various outdoor adventures...

Lastly, today is in fact that one day of the year that I get to feel selfish...although at 38, I am definitely starting to not feel as young as I used to.  It's hard to believe in just 2 years I'll be a "Masters" runner.
To celebrate, I'm going to see Damien Rice live in concert tomorrow night up here in Montreal (where I've been partially living for the past week now).  I've been waiting to see him perform for upwards of 10 years now.  Should be fantastic.

happy trails and fun running everyone,


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 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. 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.'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...