Thursday, August 13, 2015

Catching Up...and Another Tennessee Pilgrimage

At the 2015 Vol State "Start Line"

It feels like there should be crickets chirping away in here.  Needless to say, I've taken quite the break from any sort of posting.  Part of this hiatus comes down to simply being too busy, and not finding the time to gather my thoughts...but part of it has also been a lack of motivation to write anything of value.  I think it would be fair to say that I have had a lot of trouble putting my scattered thoughts together recently into anything even remotely coherent.  Perhaps it's a kind of "writer's block", or perhaps it's simply me not being happy with anything I've tried to put down on "paper".  I have tried to put a few updates on here over the past few months, but nothing has been satisfying to me.  I realize now that it's not the point to be satisfying, but simply to put things down, so that they aren't forgotten.  So here we are, my scatterbrained thoughts on paper....

So let's start with where I left off.  Last I updated I had just finished 3-Days at the fair back in May. A LOT has happened since that event both in my running/hiking life, and in my personal life.  Sometimes it's hard to believe just how much I've managed to squeeze into such a short window.  Of course I write all this while also packing up my apartment for my big move this weekend.  It seems weird to me to be contemplating moving, as I've been in the same apartment now for 7+ years.  The last time I moved, I had just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail, quit my job in Cleveland, and was just starting graduate school at Penn State.  Now, 7+ years and 2 graduate degrees later, I'm finally moving again, and this time up to New England to start my first post-grad-school job.  It's amazing how much "stuff" one can accumulate by not moving for 7+ years.  The last 2 weeks have resulted in many trips to both the dumpster and to Goodwill.  At any rate....

Denver, the Ice Lab, and 2 *3* More High Points

Immediately following my jaunt at 3 Days, I flew out to Denver for an entire month.  The primary reason for this trip was to process ice cores that just came back from a recent South Pole coring project.  My job was to analyze the physical properties of every core and try to determine an accumulation history for the site.  I spent 3 weeks in the freezer at the National Ice Core Lab staring at over 550 individual cores.  The good news is that the stint out there was a complete success and I was able to obtain very good data from my analyses.

Examining a core

A bubble-free crust in the core

A visible ash/tephra layer in the core (from a volcanic eruption)

Following my stint in the lab, I spent a couple of days visiting two more high points.  Having already hit Colorado's high point twice (Mt. Elbert), I decided instead to drive down to New Mexico and hike Wheeler Peak.  Then, on the way back, I could make a detour over to the panhandle of Oklahoma and hit Black Mesa.  The strong El Nino meant the mountains in Colorado were too snowy to hike anyway, so my best bet was to head South.  I spent a day enjoying a lovely drive down to the fun town of Taos, NM and the following morning hiking up the beautiful trail to the Wheeler Peak summit at over 13,000 feet.  The trail was still considerably snowy and required a few sketchy snow-field traverses.  All of the mountain lakes were still frozen as well.  Once at the summit though, the air was lovely, and the views spectacular.  

The final 3.5 miles from the ski resort to the summit 
(Full hike was about 4 miles one way)

Williams Lake at 11,000

Nearing the Wheeler summit

At the summit of Wheeler Peak!

Looking north to Mt. Walter (Not really an independent peak with
it's mere 80 feet of prominence, but still another easy peak to hit)

After making it back to the trail head, I hopped in my rental car and zipped quickly over to the panhandle of Oklahoma.  I hit the Black Mesa Trail (an 8 mile out-n-back trail), at about 6 pm and decided to just go for it.  It is a relatively easy hike, with only one ~600 foot climb up to the mesa about 3 miles in.  The full hike went quickly, and I was up on the summit in just over an hour.  I made a short detour over to the state border and then quickly made my way back to the car before it got dark.  I was headed north back into Colorado before nightfall, all within the one day.

Oklahoma's high point is very unique.  There is a flat Mesa that protrudes from Colorado all the way down into the tip of Oklahoma.  This Mesa is the result of a volcanic eruption several million years ago over the Raton hot spot.  The eruption spread a very resistant basalt layer over the underlying sedimentary layers, so when the subsequent erosional processes kicked in, all of the surrounding exposed rocks were weathered away, leaving the basalt-capped rocks intact.  This "inverted valley" is what is left today and why Black Mesa exists.  It's also a pretty cool spot geographically.  Cimarron county OK, is the only county in the US that borders 4 states (NM, CO, KA, and TX), and the high point is also within a short 1000 foot walk to the NM border.  With this Spring being extremely wet too, it allowed me the opportunity to see the top of the Mesa when it was green (something that almost never happens).  Lastly, being so remote, it really was one of the most serene/peaceful high points that I've ever done.  It had quite a lovely evening up there.

At the start of the 600' climb up to the top of the Mesa.

Nearing the top of the Mesa, you can really so both how
flat it is, and the blocky basalt rocks that cap the top.

On top of the Mesa heading towards the high point

High point monument

Each direction on the monument highlighted some interesting fact.


This was my Google Maps dot for the highpoint.  You can see how close 
it is to the Oklahoma border.  Just about 1000 feet away.

There was an opening in the crude barb-wired fence at the OK/NM
border, for cattle to walk through.   I caught this pic as the sun was starting
to set behind clouds.

Standing across the OK/NM border under the opening in the
previous picture  

...and my Google Maps dot at the border

On my way back to Colorado, I decided to stop at the tri-state border for OK/NM/CO just to see if it was marked.  Sure enough, there was this lovely stone marker just a few miles down a dirt road.  After hitting this marker, I had about 40 miles of rough gravel road to get back to pavement in Southern Colorado.  I was definitely a bit nervous about getting a flat out in such a remote place, but I took it slow and eventually I was up on US Highway 160 near Utleyville CO (Wait, where?  Exactly).

Google Maps marker at the triple point.
"No Service" don't say.

*Update as of August 8th*
This past weekend I also managed to finally summit Vermont's Mt. Mansfield.  I plan to share more details about this trip later, but the short story is that for this trip, we actually drove up the Toll Road and spent the day hiking back and forth along the ridge.  It was fantastic and it felt great to finally knock out VT.  Now, if only I can get NY done.

Mansfield visitor center

Looking back at "the Nose" from the ridgeline

At the summit USGS benchmark on "the Chin"

My current map of highpoints
green - completed
red - "almosts"

2015 Vol State Race Report:

I'm not entirely sure where I should start with regards to my 2015 Vol State race report.  I spent several hours of my 10 hour drive back from Tennessee once it was over, recording voice memos of the adventure so that I would remember all the little details.  Honestly, I feel like the best report I could put together is to simply be to post those recordings.  I imagine most people will find them incredibly boring though, so I will still try to put together some overall thoughts.  I'll try to package my sentiments and thoughts about the race up into something a little more palatable.

My overall opinion of this year's race is that I come away from it with more of a feeling, rather than specific experiences.  What I mean is that in 2013, I came away with so many little stories that made me laugh, smile, and even cry.  It was a true adventure, with so many great little memories.  This year was different though.  Despite many similar stories, and many new ones, I came away from the run with more of an overall feeling, rather than a filing cabinet of specific memories.

First, some background....

In 2013, I knew from a very early part of the year that I wanted to give Vol State a go.  I remember talking at length about it with Alan Abbs while out on Loop 2 of the Barkley.  I had an incredible experience running that year, one that will stay with me forever.  A year later in 2014, I was eager to go back again and even signed up early.  I was excited at the prospect of going back and seeing what things might be different (or the same) during a second running.  I had no idea who’d be running, or what the weather might hold, but I knew I wanted to go back.

Unfortunately life got in the way.  After having set my doctoral defense date for early August, the walls began to close in quickly, and by mid-June, I knew there was no way I’d be able to afford the 7-10 days needed to pull off another run.  In addition, I was already incredibly sleep deprived from the long nights of writing my dissertation chapters, and the last thing I needed would be a mad 4+ day hard push through Tennessee with nearly zero sleep.  In 2013, it took me almost 2 weeks to recover my sleep schedule after Vol State, and I was already hanging on by a thread.  So it was with the heaviest heart that I sent this email to the Vol State list on July 6th, just a week before the race….

“It breaks my heart to write this email to you all at this late hour, but my self-imposed deadline has arrived...and I'm not where I need to be with my schoolwork.   I have no choice but to humbly bow out of this year's running of the Vol State.  I have been eagerly anticipating this year's run, and trained fairly well...but I simply cannot afford the 10 days needed with my defense just 1 month away.  Even if I could somehow squeeze it in, mentally I would not be in it, and I would likely be stressing about my thesis the entire time.  That is no way to enjoy Vol State....and factoring in the week+ of sleep-time recovery after the race, I'd be in no condition to pull long hours editing thesis drafts.

So unless the race namesake is actually literal, and it is the last annual....I hope to be back in 2015.

Good luck to everyone and you all have no idea just how much I will miss being there with you.  I will check daily emails and tracking regularly.

To you Vol State virgins, enjoy yourselves.  Suck the marrow out of it and take it all in.  It is what you make of it.  I had an absolute thrill last year, which is why signing up this year was a no-brainer for me.

Definitely feeling morose, but even more motivated now to finish my work knowing what I'm giving up.

I came back to one specific sentence in that email many times in my mind earlier this year as I thought about another possible Vol State run this Summer:

  • “Even if I could somehow squeeze it in, mentally I would not be in it, and I would likely be stressing about my thesis the entire time. “  

I thought about how I made it through.  I survived.  I pulled off the impossible and in May finally walked across a stage at Penn State as I was introduced as an honest-to-God Doctor.  8 years of graduate school, and I finished, in large part because I knew what was most important last summer.  So…in some way, I figured I paid my dues, and had earned the right to run this year.  I’d treat it as a sort-of celebratory run.  A carefree way to symbolically close my graduate school chapter, and open the next.

So I guess I'll start with some overarching themes and clif's notes about my run this year:
  • It was really, really, HOT.  Miserably hot.  Much worse than in 13.
  • I was definitely not in peak shape
  • I walked.......A LOT, but still managed to finish in under 5 days.
  • I finished 3rd overall, and 2nd screwed.
  • I really hate rendering plants.
  • I slept less this year, which is how I still finished sub-5, despite lower fitness
  • My pace and times were nearly identical to my 2013 race, which meant many of my experiences were incredibly similar
  • ...BUT, I also had many, many new/exciting experiences
  • I ran a lot more the first 2 days with others
  • I had over a dozen trail-angel moments
  • I did much better with sleep deprivation
  • Most of my sleep this year was in 20-30 minute cat naps, not long sleeps.
  • Due to the heat, I had to plan several "sun breaks" between 1 and 4 pm.
  • I again finished an the wee hours of the night
  • I had terrible sleep-deprived panic attacks in the last 5 miles as I became CONVINCED that the 4th place runner was going to catch me.  On many occasions I even hallucinated that he was right behind me with his headlamp off....and was just messing with me.  It was surreal.
  • I decided my overall favorite section of the course is the ~8 miles after Wartrace, TN.  Simply lovely along this stretch.  (Second favorite still being the night-time stretch into Hohenwald)
  • Don't really have an overall least favorite section, but this year my slowest section was between Lewisburg and Shelbyville, and my most miserable section was the climb after the Natchez Trace Parkway (which happened during the hot mid-day)
  • I was much more sore this year, and found it much more difficult to run
  • I used the same pack set-up as in 2013, and again realized it was simply to bulky/big.
  • I had several actual, honest-to-God, emotional breakdowns this year.  Moments where I was so stripped raw, and ready to give up, that I simply sat down on the side of the road...and wept.  If I remember correctly, I recall laughing at the ridiculousness of it.
  • I found a real inner peace and sense of contentment as I moved across TN.
  • This year was much more of thru-hike/soul-search/journey-run/inner-journey...than a race.
  • I came away completely satisfied with my experience
  • Favorite overall memory:  Stopping at Mile ~112 at a random (air-conditioned) dive bar, to share a cold beer with Jeremy Ebel during the hottest part of the day.  

So here is my audio race report.  It's about 2 hours long, but goes into excruciating detail about my race.  I found that talking myself through the race on the drive home not only kept me awake, but helped me to remember all the little bits.


I took very few photos this year...but I've posted them all below....

My gear layout

At Castle Rock about to board shuttles

Bench of despair before race

At the start

Touching the water at the flooded 2015 start line.

Mile ~8, TN Border

Bench of Despair - 186, feeling horrible

About to nap at the bench

Typical weather for the race...

Icing the legs in Monteagle

Stopping in to say hi to Laz in Kimball

Heading out for last 14 miles

The last bench I rested on - New Hope, TN

AL border

Last road turn onto Castle Rock Road

The gate....again

Finish photo.  Completely exhausted.

Cornfields near the finish - photographed the next day

Looking out over finish line area

The finish line bench at "The Rock"

Laz waiting for finishers

Carl and Dobies waiting for finishers

Mary Lou and Lisa after their finishes!

1 comment:

Ultra Monk said...

I always like reading your reports.