Thursday, February 22, 2018

2017: Another Humbling Year

Completing an 8-year journey

2017: Year-in-Review

It has taken me quite a while to really sit down and think about how my 2017 transpired. Usually when I pen these end-of-year summaries, an appropriate theme just seems to pop into my mind. For 2017 though, I just couldn't really come up with an overarching "adventurous" theme of any kind. It really just seems when I step back and round up my bin of experiences for the year, that the only true theme is one of gratitude and humility. A lot of wonderful things happened last year which has made me sincerely ponder how grateful I am for good fortune that I have been afforded. 2017 also marked my first full year in my 40's. Within running circles, that now makes me a "Master runner". In other words, I'm getting old. If I were a professional athlete, I'd be past my peak, and in many cases already retired. It's strange to think about that, when in my mind, I feel like I'm just getting started with life. There are still so many things to do, people to meet, places to see, and wonders to behold. As I have said so many countless times on this site: I am an explorer...and I always will be. I will continue to explore the reaches of this cosmic marvel we call Earth, however I can, until I no longer can.  

And so with regards to 2017, I began tallying up my list of experiences for this post...going through photos, past journal posts, and other memorabilia and realized just how much there actually was. When I first set out to write this, I truly thought my 2017 wasn't all that special. Sure, I remembered some key moments, but I was having a hard time "filling in the gaps". It was then that I realized even when there were "gaps", my life was full of rich experiences and memories. Sometimes it's not the big thru-hikes, or 100-mile endurance runs that are important; it's the smaller, and sometimes goofy little memories that stick with you. The goofy memories solidified not only by their intrinsic "goofiness", but by the people you share them with.

So my theme of 2017? Quite simply that it was another incredible year that has humbled me yet again. I am living a full and rich life with wonderful people around me and am thankful every day for the new and exciting experiences I am able to have. This is not me trying to sound cliche', or pretentious, or to wax philosophical. It's just me being honest about my situation. So now I move into 2018 with open arms, excited for the opportunities that may await.

And with that, I will get into the year-in-review...

2017 began on the tiny Hull Peninsula in Boston Harbor. As has been tradition for the past several years, C and I always like to try to find some place obscure to celebrate the New Year. We drove out to the tiny sea town of Hull, and watched the sun set for the last time in 2016 over the Harbor Islands. We went on to later hike around "Worlds End" park in the dark. Only a few days earlier, we were in Florida visiting family, and basking in the warm weather. Now here we were, on the eve of the New Year, freezing our butts off making loops around an obscure park in New England. I should have known right then that 2017 would be a good year.

World's End Hike

Hiking around Bok Tower Florida on Dec 30.

One of this first things I did upon starting the New Year was to start a serious running streak. Previously, my longest real running streak was about 2-3 months. I wanted to see if I could seriously go 6 months or even maybe a year. I knew this would be difficult as I had races on the schedule and it  is always difficult, not to mention stupid, to run the day after a big effort. Because of this fact, my minimum daily distance this time around would only be the required 1 mile at sub 15min/mile laid out by the USRSA here: My personal minimum for any normal day though would still be 3 miles, unless it was immediately following a race or big effort. 

Part of the reason for my desire to attempt an honest streak was that I wanted to get myself into prime running shape. I knew if I forced myself to maintain a moderate streak, that it would lean me up nicely for spring/summer race season. I always try to take a 1-2 month downtime during November/December, and it's always a bit hard to get the pistons back up and firing in January. Thankfully, there's also an online "Run-Streaking" group that I've been a member of for the past few years that has an annual January Streak challenge. It helps to have the extra motivation for sure.

So on January 1st, I went out for an easy paced 9-miler on an icy trail, and thus began my streak. In total my streak would end up lasting exactly 5 months, with June 1st being my first "rest" day. I definitely could have kept the streak going, but I had put a lot of thought in letting it come to an end. My body was overworked and needed to be dialed back. For the first time in my life, I had encountered some odd health issues directly related to my running and it was an easy choice for me. I had simply been running too much. Other than a few days during the streak that were under 3-miles due to recent racing...I ran at least 3 miles every day. What's more, is that I ran every day outside and not a single mile on a treadmill. This means that for all 5 months, you can actually see my GPS tracks for every run I completed.  See here:  Strava Record.

That first week also marked the start of a rather bizarre relationship for me with a certain neighborhood route near my apartment outside Boston. There is a race I've participated in since 2014 (while in graduate school in Pennsylvania), that involves running a 1.5 mile loop for as many loops as possible in a 3-hr time period. Here is my report from 2014 for reference: CJ's Resolution Challenge.  The last couple of years I've been away from Pennsylvania, so I've participated in the race's "Virtual Run". Basically you register as a virtual runner and then run anywhere you want for 3 hours and record your mileage....all for a good cause. In an effort to stay true to the nature of the event, I decided I'd run a ~1-mile loop around my neighborhood as many times as I could....and thus the Dolan Loop was born.

That day, I went out and ran this little loop 21 total times clocking ~21.6 miles (the loop is actually a hair over 1 mile). It was a fun day, and I even made sure to start at the same time as the actual event was starting back in PA so that I felt like I was actually running with my friends. The only rule for the event is that you must start your final loop before the 3 hr mark, but you can finish it after 3hrs and still have it count.

The Dolan Loop (x 21)

This was my first true effort for 2017 and I was pleased with my relatively easy ~8:40 pace. What I didn't realize is that the "Dolan Loop" would become somewhat of a special little loop for me. I found myself adding on a quick "Dolan Loop" to almost every run I did around town. It just seemed so easy to come back from a run and think, "What the heck, I'll tack on another mile..." and then zip around the loop.

I ended up creating a Strava Segment for the loop to keep track of how many times I had run it. Sometimes I'd run it fast, sometimes slow...sometimes I'd even walk it. But, every time I did it, it got recorded. As I sit here and type this today, I now have 142 loops around Dolan Pond. It's crazy to think I have more miles on the Dolan Loop than I did when I ran Badwater (135). My goal is by the end of 2018, to hopefully hit the 200-mile mark. There's nothing particularly special about this loop. It's about 25% trail, 75% pavement....goes through a swampy little park area near the apartment....but it has become a special little "home" for me. Just as my 5 mile Auburndale Loop has become my "home", or my "old friend" route, the Dolan Loop has become a special little add-on to my runs, a little source of familiar comfort.

My fastest 8 of 142 trips around Dolan Pond

Along the lines of "old friends". I spent a lot of January reflecting on what it means to "define home". I have been splitting my time between two states for the past 2.5 years and it has become increasingly difficult to think of one place or another as my true home. As I was out for one of my typical runs around a familiar loop, it dawned on me that I had found a new sense of home. It brought back memories of my day on the goat-path back in PA...and what it truly is that brings me peace and comfort on my runs.

I wrote an entire post about this topic here: Defining Home. I wrote in this post,

"Starting last year, and for the first time in my life, I had started to feel somewhat "homeless".  My new job and living situations were complicated and required a lot of commuting back and forth between multiple cities and states. In addition, between field deployments and lab deployments, I never really had a sense of "home" any longer.  I hadn't really noticed it at the time, but slowly I began to realize that I just didn't feel settled anywhere just yet."

I went on to write though, that somehow over the past year and a half, I had seemingly found my new sense of home on a small 5 mile loop around Auburndale...

"Somewhere along the line, over the past 18 months, I had finally found my new "stand-by". It just sort of happened. I smiled as I made my way through this run, with a strange sense of contentment, as I just knew, somehow, that this was to be my route. It was the first time in all of the chaos of moving and commuting and post-grad-school life, that I felt I was finally home. "

The Auburndale "Home" route. My new "old friend". 
Note the Dolan Loop at the end...

Along the "Home route"

Along the "Home route"

Feb-Apple 50:

My first real race of 2017 was the NJ Trail Series Febapple 50. I had raced this in 2016 after a strong January of training, and somehow pulled of a victory (just 30 seconds ahead of 2nd place). I still remember topping off my water at mile 47, and seeing the 2nd place runner coming in just over my shoulder. I really enjoy this course as it offers a good mix of hills, runable sections, good friends, and good views. It's a great place to race considering the time of year. This year I went in feeling slightly less fit despite the streak. Still, I wanted to shoot for roughly a 9 hour finish. (I had gone 8:49 in 2016). The weather was actually warmer this year than in 2016 and there was no ice on the trails.

I went out feeling fairly good, and kept a steady pace for most of the day. The first 4 loops were exactly on predicted pace for me and it was only when I set out on the final 5th loop that I sensed my fitness wasn't quite where it needed to be. The race was 10 miles too long and I knew it. I muscled my way through the final 10 miles, but slowed down considerably. I was on a 9 hour pace almost exactly starting my 5th loop, but ended up finishing the day in 9:09. I had slowed a minute-per-mile over my predicted pace during that last loop. Still, considering the effort and outcome, I was relatively pleased. I don't recall my exact position, but I believe I placed around 6th overall. There were a lot faster guys this year than last year. Had I finished with last year's time of 8:49, I still wouldn't have finished in the top 3.

The Febapple 50 was a fantastic gauge to assess my initial fitness and how my training was going. For the most part I was content with the effort and outcome.

Leading at Mile 47 during the 2016 Race

More Geographical Oddities:
As I have stated so man times here, I'm a huge sucker for seeking out geographical wonders and oddities. From my visit to the North American Point of Inaccessibility, to my road trip and pack-raft adventure up to Nunavut, to my canoeing trip to Isle Royale, to my State High point bagging....I always enjoy visiting and writing about these types of bizarre journeys.  2017 was no different in this regard. On many occasions I continued to take the road-less-traveled in order to specifically visit that goofy state triple-point...or high point, or mountain top.

In March, C and I made a detour to the state triple-point of Mass/CT/RI. On a cold and snowy day, we parked our car at a remote trailhead, and hiked into the woods to the marker for no other reason than to happily giggle about it. While there, we also visited an old stone chamber that is still perfectly preserved: The Old Hermit Chamber. On our way home, we also learned how to properly pronounce Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg.  Yes, it's a real place that translates from Algonquin to: "Fishing Place at the Boundaries -- Neutral Meeting Grounds"....or as some like to say "You fish on your side, I'll fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle".  

Go ahead, say that five times fast....


On the way to the tri-state point

Look mom...RI/CT/MA all at once

At the tri-state point

Hermit Chamber

Inside the Hermit Chamber

Store front on the shores of Lake

Another random tri-state adventure I found myself going on was the NH/ME/Canada tri-state point. Since moving to New England, this obscure tri-point has fascinated me. After some internet searching, I learned that it's possible to essentially drive up hunting roads to within a mile of the actual point. For whatever reason, I was just drawn to this point and told myself that I just had to check it out some point.

On a random day, I headed North out of Boston and just kept going. As I made my way further north, the roads got smaller and smaller, until I found myself on a 21-mile stretch of winding and twisting hunting roads. Eventually, the roads came to an end at the diminutive "Rhubarb Pond" just a couple miles from the actual North-eastern corner of NH. I pulled over, and began bushwacking my way through the snowy woods towards the International border. I broke through a clearing and found myself standing on a remote treeless swath deliberately cut into the woods. Standing in the center, was an International monument exactly like the one I had seen at the end of my PCT hike....only on the other end of the country. I walked back and forth (East and West) along the swath for a bit, and found it to be hauntingly lonely. I felt as if there wasn't a single human being for hundreds of miles. It was surreal.

I kept the GPS track of my hike as a record of the adventure: NH/ME/CA Hike

Where I traveled to...

NH/ME/Canada tri point

On the remote hunting roads

At Rhubarb Pond

GPS Track of the hike up to, and along the International Border

Bushwacking through the woods...

Approaching the Swath (Monument just visible)

Walking along the ME/NH border

The Monument

...Looks a lot like this Canada/US Border Swath and Monument (PCT)

Along the remote/lonely swath hike...

Along my return hike, I made sure to also visit the bizarre anomaly in the Northeastern corner of Vermont. The VT/NH border is almost entirely along the CT river, with the tiny exception of a small land border in the very Northeastern corner of VT. Here, the two states share about a mile-long land border. There's a small road you can drive to cross this land border, and it's even possible to hike down to the CT river and find a USGS benchmark that marks the Northeastern-most point of VT. On the road itself theres a large monument commemorating the spot...and with a quick hike through the trees down to the water, and if you're sleuthy, you can find the actual benchmark...

Northeastern-most corner of VT

A map of the exact spot...

Sign showing the land border...

The large monument detailing the land border

Down at the river looking for the benchmark...

THERE IT IS! on that ROCK!

Found it!

The actual Northeastern-most point of VT

Larger map for reference...

Cycling Fun:

2017 also marked a year of many new cycling adventures with C. Having now been in the Boston area for a couple years, we wanted to get out and explore by bike. We managed to find several regional rail-trails that offer moderate-length day trips to explore without too much exertion. One such example is the "Shining Sea" bike path down by Woods Hole, MA. On an unseasonably warm day in March, we loaded up our bikes, and headed down towards Cape Cod. Then, we spent the day biking up and down the trail, and exploring along the beautiful beaches. We ended up collecting many rocks that we would eventually tumble in our home rock-tumbler. (This is what geoscientists do for fun...). We also explored a few lighthouses and delicious little bakeries along the way...

Shining Sea bike path

Ready for adventure...

Beautiful view of the Ocean

Visiting the Nobska lighthouse

More views of the Ocean

Collecting rocks

Tumbled rocks...

The Barkley:

In March, I found my way back to Frozen Head State Park for the Barkley Marathons....but this time as a full-time and dedicated crew member for my friend John Kelly. John had asked me and Julian Jamison to act as his official crew. Julian took the captain role, and my role was basically to follow Julian's lead and help however I could. 2017 would mark my 6th consecutive year at the Barkley Marathons...and it had become a very familiar place for me now. I spent quite a significant amount of time hiking around the park between John's loops, disconnecting from the stresses of my daily work and life. While I could go into painful detail about my experience at the event, I think I will instead point you all to John's own wonderfully-written race report here:  

The short version of my experience was that I was able to take part in an amazing experience, and witness the magical moment of a friend finishing the impossible....for a 2nd time (the first being Travis's finish back in 2013).  I really enjoyed my many hours wandering around the park as well and finding some inner peace and solace amongst the trees. I finally got to explore the few remaining trails at Frozen Head that I still had never hiked on (i.e. North Mac trail, Panther Branch, etc). It was a magical weekend all around.

Some of my head-clearing hikes at frozen Head this year:

John and Gary at the Fire tower on Loop 4

John's "Gate" Photo finish (Loop 5)

Celebrating John's finish!

What an experience to witness

Some of my Barkley Family on Fools' weekend

TARC Racing:

My Spring was also marked by my continued running streak, and the incorporation of some new local trail races. One of the nice things about living in the Boston area is that there is a vibrant trail community present known as the Trail Animals Running Club (or simply TARC). They put on several low-key races throughout the year. In both March and April, and in preparation for my upcoming May of racing, I signed up for both the TARC "Hale and Back 6hr", and the "Spring Classic Marathon". Both of these events I raced rather hard and had excellent outcomes. 

I was thrilled by my 31.5 miles (tie for 2nd place) at the Hale and Back...managing to eek out 9 full loops before the end of the 6 hour time (just barely). The course featured over 3500 feet of total gain as well.

Crossing the finish at "Hale and Back"

TARC Hale and Back 3.5 mile loop

At the Spring Classic, I pushed even harder and finished in 3rd place overall with a time I was incredibly pleased with: 3:55. This meant I averaged sub 9 minute miles on what was a feisty trail marathon course. This course had a lot less climb than the Hale and Back, but was by no means easy. I was absolutely thrilled by my finish and it felt like my continued run-streaking and build-up was paying off. Something else of note, was that my finish at the Spring Classic also marked my first "Masters" Victory as I was the first runner over 40 to cross the line. Not a bad way to celebrate getting old...

As a side note, It's amazing what solid training can do, especially with the incorporation of actual speed work. As I stated in one of my other posts, 

"I slowly began incorporating speed and tempo workouts, as well as striders to my weekly running. I wanted to really prepare myself this year.

One of many "Tempo Tuesday" runs on my calendar: Tempo Tuesday
One of many "Strider" workouts: Striders!"

TARC Spring Classic Marathon

Professor Fegy!
Something else that was a new and exciting experience for 2017 was my first full semester-long attempt and developing and teaching a college-level course. I had been asked to teach "Paleoclimatology and Paleoceanography" at Boston University. While this course had been taught before, and did have some existing material, I chose to rework most of it and make it more to my own strengths. This included all new exercises, new material, and even a new lab trip to the Dartmouth Ice Core Laboratory. Overall, the students did report enjoying the class and the material, and I managed to come away relatively unscarred. I will say though, the entire experience definitely put into perspective just how difficult it is to develop and teach a college level course. It really does take a LOT of work. With that said though, the experience also made me realize how much I actually enjoyed it, and that I hope it becomes a more regular part of my future going forward. I agreed to teach the course for two reasons: To see if I liked it, and to see if I was any good at it. My conclusion was that I enjoy it, and that according to the student evaluations, I wasn't half bad at it either. Mission accomplished it would seem!

Welcome to ES 351!

Visiting with Dr. Dave at the Dartmouth Ice Core Lab

A May of Over-Racing

As May came up on me, and my teaching responsibilities came to an end, my running was coming to a peak. Over 4+ months of training were culminating with what would be my first major race of the season: the Miwok 100k. While my experience at Miwok was spectacular on many levels, and I came away with a time I was thrilled with, May also marked a turn into my first real bout of "over-racing". For whatever reason in my idiotic mind, I thought it a good idea to race hard on multiple back-to-back weekends in May...forgetting that I was now 40 years old, and not as young as I used to be. This ended up backfiring quite hard, and actually led to my first real experience with running-related health issues...forcing me to dial it back a bit over the Summer. I learned a valuable lesson in pushing too hard, especially while also "streaking".

I wrote a rather detailed entry here about both my Miwok 100 experience and my overall run-filled May in a post titled "The Odd Guy Out".

Miwok itself, being the first event of May, was fantastic. I had been training all Winter for it, and was ready to push hard. I knew the course would be beautiful, but was honestly not prepared for just HOW beautiful. I can truthfully say, it was one of the most stunning places I've ever run....period. I would recommend this course to absolutely anyone and everyone. The course was definitely an ass-kicker though. Over 11,000 feet of total gain made for some tough climbs. My lofty goal was to finish in sub 12-hr, although I would have been content with a sub-13. During the last few miles of the event, I had pretty much given up on the possibility of a sub 12 as I watched the minutes go ticking by. During the final descent, I watched as the final few minutes disappeared without actually knowing how close the finish line was. Somehow, I popped out of the woods with the finish line in sight and saw that there was still about 30 seconds left on the clock before hitting 12 hours. I sprinted up to the timing mat, crossing the line in 11:59:35...just eeking in under 12! What an absolutely perfect outcome. After the race, C and I spent a few days hiking around the Bay Area and Marin County....all especially lovely. We even made time to hike up Mt. Tamalpais (Mt. Tam).

Smiling from ear to ear at Miwok (photo: G. Tachiyama)

Coming into mile 50 turnaround

Entire course

Whopping elevation gain (over 11,000 feet)

Hiking along the coast

Hiking along the coast

View from Mt. Tam

Sunset over the Pacific

Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the Miwok Course

Sunset over the Pacific

Banana Slug!

Just one short week after Miwok, and before my legs had even healed yet, I made the incredibly idiotic decision to run another ultra. This time, it would be my home town 12hr event known as Mind the Ducks. I had run this event several times in the past, and this time I'd be joined by my Sister (attempting her first marathon), as well as some of her work addition to my cousin Melanie. I told myself many times that I would just be running for fun and wouldn't try to push hard, but as always, I just couldn't resist.

As I made loops round the familiar North Ponds Park course, I was somehow able to keep a solid pace throughout the day, floating around 1st place for several hours. There was really only one other runner keeping pace with me and I wasn't even feeling motivated to race them. I was simply doing my own thing and if I came out on top...then that would be great. I took breaks during some loops to run with my sister or cousin, and other breaks at our little camp area to just enjoy the company. As the day whittled on, I made the decision to stick it out for the entire twelve hours, especially considering that my sister was also going to stick it out for all 12. During the final few hours, we were all still moving and I decided to pick it up a bit for the last few laps to see if I could pick up a few. I managed to run solidly for the last hour, but was never able to make the 2 miles that the leader now had on me. He kept pace with me during my push and so I ended the day with 70 total miles (and he with 72). I was thrilled with this result considering my PR on this course from a few years back was 72 miles, and this year I had a fresh Miwok 100k on my legs from the previous weekend. I thought a lot about how many miles I might have made had I not taken as many breaks and hadn't run Miwok. Maybe 75? We finished up, I accepted my Masters Award from the race director, and we headed home for the night. My sister got her first real taste of run-related blisters....

Making loops at MTD 12 hr

Finishing with 70 miles

2nd place overall, 1st place Masters Runner

Had I taken a substantial break after my back-to-back ultra-May, I probably would have been ok. But I didn't. Instead, I chose to do something rather daft. I chose to make my annual pilgrimage to the 3 Days at the Fair event to run dozens of miles around a different 1-mile loop course. But this time, I would be doing it way faster than normal. You see normally, I participate in the 72-hr event at 3 Days. While this usually entails running over 250 total miles, those miles are acquired at a much slower pace. This year, I thought it would be "fun" to mix it up and try something different, so I signed up for the Quadzilla event that has the runner completing 4 marathons over 3 days. Well, the idiot that I am, I chose to run those marathons fast...and this is ultimately what let to my body finally giving me a big fat middle finger and revolting. In the end, I was still going to be running over 100 miles, but way faster than I should have been (105 miles in about 17 hours total). This was a monumentally stupid thing to do considering my previous two weekends...and what's worse is that I actually ended up not enjoying the event AT ALL. This was the theme of my aforementioned post "Odd Guy Out". What makes 3 Days such a fun event, is that you are out on the course for 72 hours continuously with your friends. With the quad, I'd be out there for 4 hours at a time, running hard, and then going back to my hotel room. It just didn't feel right, and I wasn't really able to enjoy the event at all. I told myself that when/if I go back to 3 Days in the future, I will only ever do the full multi-day events. The one cool takeaway from this year's event though was that I finally did surpass the 1000 lifetime mile mark and joined the 1000-mile club! During the awards ceremony, I received a large 1000-mile coin to add to my growing collection from the event.

Regarding the health issues. My body simply reacted to all of this running with some new symptoms I had never experienced before...symptoms that actually had me a bit worried. It was a sobering reality check and actually had me re-evaluating my goals for the summer. For the next week I reduced my "streak" to short walks around my neighborhood walk and continued to monitor myself. Things did "clear up", and I slowly re-incorporated the running, but I was hesitant to do anything hard. I was still hoping to run the Revel Marathon in June and didn't want to jeopardize that effort. I ultimately decided to treat the rest of May and early June as a very large Taper for the Revel Marathon.

Marathon #3

The 500-mile Club

My 1000-mile Coin award

My entire 3-Days collection

Southeast High Points:

What's crazier than all of the running I had done in May, was actually that I had originally planned to do even more. My original plan had me running an obscure ultra down in Florida, before heading out to Denver for my annual ice core lab work. It was too late to change my flights, so I thought about what I might be able to do in Florida to occupy some time. As I thought about what I might do, I caught myself looking at a map of the Southeast and I realized that I still had quite a few state high points that I had not hit yet...Could I maybe make a short road trip out of my few days there and tag a bunch of these? At the very least, I thought I could drive up and tag Britton Hill (Florida's high point). When I made the few hour drive up to the Panhandle of FL to tag Britton Hill, I took a long time looking at a map to ascertain just how feasible a power roadtrip loop would be that would allow me to hit the remaining high points I had in the region. After some careful line drawing, I came up with a map resulting in over 1800 miles, but would have me hitting them all: AL, MS, AR, and LA. It would mean driving over 500 miles a day though....which basically meant sitting on my ass for 8-10 hours a day.  What else was there to do right?

My proposed route...

I set out moments later headed for Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, with a goal to complete the loop counterclockwise. I had 4 days to do it.

The result to this very short roadtrip was a complete success. I pushed out 500 miles a day, and tagged each high point methodically. I even added in Gentry Hill in Louisiana just across the road from the High point, as it's the only other 500+ foot summit in the state and was only a short 1/2 mile hike from the parking lot. After this epic trip, I would have 40 of the 50 state high points (plus DC). Each point offered something unique, and each was memorable in its own way. Most were very easily accessible as well, and only Louisiana required a short hike (~2.5 miles). The mosquitos and horse flies were quite bad in all cases though. For Woodall Mountain in Mississippi, the high point is driveable. I found myself driving for several hours, only to pop out of the car for a few short minutes, tagging the summit, and moving on.  Still, the adventure was completely worth it! I am so glad I found a fun geographical game in seeking out high points. My only worry is that I have less than 10 left to tag! Yikes!

Total high points completed as of June 2017

Britton Hill, FL

Britton Hill, FL

Cheaha Mountain, AL

Cheaha Mountain, AL

Cheaha Mountain, AL

Woodall Mountain, MS

Woodall Mountain, MS

Woodall Mountain, MS

Woodall Mountain, MS

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Signal Hill, Magazine Mtn, AR

Driskill Mtn., LA

Driskill Mtn., LA

Driskill Mtn., LA

Driskill Mtn., LA

Gentry Mtn., LA

Gentry Mtn., LA

Louisiana's Driskill Mountain Hike

Summary video of the entire highpoint adventure

After my silly road trip in Florida, I was once again bound for Colorado for my annual pilgrimage to the National Ice Core Laboratory. This would be my last year there processing cores from South Pole, as we were would be finishing up the project. With my visit though, it also meant ample opportunities for 14er trips, as well as another outing to the Hardrock 100 for some volunteer work captaining an aid station.

While my journey to Colorado was just beginning, something remarkable was happening behind the scenes. My wait list spot for the Western States 100 lottery had been slowly creeping its way up. It was starting to look like I might actually have a remote chance of toe-ing the line at Squaw Valley.  I kept myself from getting too excited about this thought though as my odds were still quite slim. Instead, I chose to focus on my upcoming attempt at the Revel Rockies Marathon. I had run this race back in 2016 very under-trained, yet somehow still almost managed to qualify for Boston. This year, I would be coming into the race much more trained, but also a bit cautious due to over-racing in May. I had been tapering significantly for the previous couple weeks, and with my 5 day road trip sitting on my butt, I figure, my body had most certainly had time to relax and recover.

When the race came, not only did I execute a nearly perfect run, but I managed to qualify for Boston by over 8 minutes. I would finally be able to run the Boston Marathon....and I was ecstatic! I wrote an detailed race report about my day here:

Cruising along the Revel Course

Cruising along the Revel Course

My first ever BQ! I come!

As my lab work progressed, something miraculous was happening behind the scenes. Somehow, my name had slowly made it's way up the Western States wait list to the point that I was now sitting at No. 1 on the list, just 3 days prior to the start. I made last minute arrangements in order to roll the dice that I'd get to run. Less than 16 hours before the start of the actual race, I finally came off the wait list thanks to a selfless act by the legendary Gordy Ansleigh....who gave up his spot for me.  It was such an amazing act of kindness, and one that I will forever be grateful for. 

I wrote a very detailed race report about my entire experience at Western States, but it can basically be summed up with the following passage,

"I absolutely loved the course and was in awe of the experience throughout the entire 27 hours and 51 minutes I was out there. Some day, I hope to again experience the WS 100...but for now, I am simply thrilled at the way everything transpired. I was honored and humbled to run with Gordy's number, and I hope I did it proud. I know it wasn't an exceptionally fast finish, but it was a finish. Thank you to all that made my my experience possible and memorable..."

Examining an ice core at the National Ice Core Lab

Pulling an ice core from storage

Running a core through the imaging scanner

Thin section of an ice core (white dots are air bubbles)

Early on at Western States

Ferry across the American River

Rounding Placer Track

Finishing WS!

The prize!

After my Western States Recovery, my focus turned entirely to peak bagging. I set out to tackle as many 14ers as I could before I eventually had to make my way back to the East Coast. Other than a few stray peaks, I put all my focus on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with the goal of knocking out as many as possible. I tackled quite a few new and exciting new climbs, many of which were within the class 4 rating. I become much more confident in my climbing overall, and capped off my adventures with a rather bold, yet daring, triple summit push...knocking out three difficult peaks in one day (Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear). By the time my Colorado sabbatical came to an end, I had knocked out another 10 peaks in my quest to summit all 58 of the recognized 14er peaks....putting me at #38 total. These included:

Pike's Peak

Pike Peak

Mt. Antero summit




Little Bear


Wilson Peak

Before leaving Colorado for the season, I spent a few days captaining an aid station at Hard Rock again. I had an absolute blast taking care of the runners and their crews as they came in to the finish. The following day, I even participated in the first annual Post Hardrock Depletion Mile (PhD Mile)

Start of the 2017 HR 100

Blake and I trading some pre-race stories

Some of my famous aid station food!

The day I will rest my hands upon you...

The Start of the PhD Mile

Vermont HIGH/LOW:

When I got back home, one of the first things I did before going back in to work, was to set out on a long overdue adventure: Vermont High-->Low. I had been planning to run from Vermont's high point to Vermont's low point for quite some time...but never pulled the trigger on it. I found myself with a few days to kill, so on a whim, managed to make it happen. I wrote up a short report about it here:

At the "Start" trailhead

Near the Mansfield Summit (high point)

In Burlington near the "finish"

Lake Champlain low point!

Full VT High->Low route

Total Solar Eclipse:

The next thing that happened in 2017 was something that had literally been waiting over 30 years of my life for. I had made arrangements almost a year in advance to fly to St. Louis in order to position myself in the path of full totality of the great US Solar Eclipse. I wrote an entire and detailed post about my profound experience witnessing full totality of a solar eclipse, and how it moved me like nothing ever has. It was so overwhelmingly poignant and moving. In my post I said the following about the two minutes during full totality.... 

For the next two minutes, I just stared at this new and exotic experience of nature like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. I was profoundly moved and affected, all the way through to my foundation; to my very core. In those short moments, entire conversations went on within my mind for what seem like hours. Questions about our existence in the universe, how insignificant we all are, and how magical and special life really is. During the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of eclipse totality, I caught myself uttering only one sentence aloud..…we are so small”

My Full Eclipse Post: A Lost Earth


Waiting and watching for totality...

Colander Eclipses...


Full Progression

Video taken just minutes before totality

Quick video taken during totality

On the way home from the Eclipse, we made a couple of quick detours. One to the Southern Tip of Illinois and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and one to the High Point of Missouri: Mt. Taum Sauk (#41 of 50 for me!)

Southern Tip of Illinois

Taum Sauk (Missouri's High Point)

Number 41/50!

Now a member of the 40+ club!

Current State High Point Map


At the end of August, C and I finally took a long overdue vacation to a place that has been on our list for quite some time: Iceland. There are many reasons Iceland was high on our list, but the very short answer is that it is an absolute paradise for two nerdy geoscientists. There is so much awe and wonder to experience there...and the people were so kind and welcoming. We spent ten jam-packed days exploring as many nooks and crannies as we possibly could around this wondrous island country and came away with some of the most spectacular memories. Highlights included glacier walks, trips to the arctic circle, geyser tours, tectonic rift zones, and northern lights displays. I wrote two incredibly long and detailed journal posts about our trip that can be found here:

I think it's safe to say that over the course of the entire 2017 year, and putting all of my experiences into perspective, our trip to Iceland was quite likely the highlight of the entire year....especially considering the company I got to spend the trip with...

Our Full Iceland Trip

Icelandic church


Icelandic Sea Town

Grimsey Island

Farthest point north in Iceland

Arctic Circle marker

On ferry to Grimsey

Northern Lights

Inside a tectonic rift

An open tectonic rift

Steaming mountainside

One of many waterfalls in Iceland

A very remote Lighthouse

Quintessential Iceland

Our home for 10 days


Enjoying the ice-dammed lake

Icebergs everywhere!

Holding a piece of the glacier

Fall Races and Saying Goodbyes:

As fall marched on, I slowed down quite a bit, and began easing into Winter. I said a very long overdue goodbye to my friend of 11 years...the friend that somehow got me wherever I needed to go.  

Saying goodbye to my old friend

In October I finally made my way to Laz's backyard to run his infamous looped "Backyard course". While there I managed only 13 loops (54 miles), but was witness to one of the greatest feats of endurance I had ever seen. For 59 hours, I watched as Guillaume Callemettes, Harvey Lewis, and Johan Steene fought it out until only Guillaume remained (Over 240 miles). I wrote about this in the previous post: Easing into Winter

One of my 13 Loops: Big's Backyard Loop

Looping in Laz's Backyard

Guillaume and Harvey the only two remaining...(50ish hours)

In early November, I once again made my way down to Virginia to run with my Barkley friends along the MMTR 50 course. While this would be my 3rd running along the course, it would be JB's 18th, Travis's 19th, and Andrew's 20th. It was incredible witnessing Andrew receive his 20-year award.
Before the MMTR Start
JB, Hortie, Trav, me, AT

Mt. Pleasant Summit (Mile ~38)

The day after - Sunday Funday

Late fall crept upon me and I slowed down even more....settling in for me yearly Winter slumber and my forced run break. Before hanging up the shoes though, I went out for a couple of last local races, both of which would find me coming full circle to the beginning of the year as the events were both put on by the TARC group. I smiled from ear to ear as I watched the days get shorter and the leaves fall around me. I had made it through another humbling and wonderful year full of unforgettable experiences. 2017 was another for the record books for sure and only made me more eager to see what 2018 would bring. Something rather magical would end up transpiring as a final endnote to my already magical 2017. While I was out running loops and clearing my head at the TARC Winter Fells race, the Hardrock Lottery drawing was taking place. I purposely turned off my phone and email so that I would not be tempted to check. When I got home later that night after a very successful 50k run, I finally checked the results and came to learn after over 8 years of trying to gain entrance into the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run, I was finally headed to Silverton to participate in 2018. A perfect end to a perfect year. I wrote about the day in my last journal post of the year:

I ended up being drawn 10th overall in the "Never" Lottery:
Hardrock Hundred‏ @hardrock100 Dec 2Never lottery 1-10: Owen Wainhouse, Sean Downes, Dale Holdaway, Brian Westphal, Jesse Hayes @JesseMHaynes, Robert Lalus, Benjamin Bucklin, John Conboy, John Fegyveresi (with 128 tickets!!!), Michael Hinterberg #hr100

Lottery Draws for Hardrock

What I wrote in my full journal post, still sums up my reaction to the news best:

"It's taken me a full day to think about, and really process the news of my HR acceptance. Since 2008 when I first came to learn of Hardrock in Silverton during my Colorado Trail thru-hike, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it some day. After several years of qualifying, several years of applying, and two years of volunteering, yesterday the lottery luck finally turned in my favor. I was very happy to see that so many with 6 and 7 years of lottery tickets were accepted (or waitlisted) this year. Last year I wrote after failing to get into the Lottery: "I am perfectly content to wait my turn just like everyone else has and when my day does finally come for this event, I know it will be so incredibly special for me". I am humbled and honored to be invited for 2018 and I will not take one second of it for granted. I will miss cooking all the runners our famous breakfast burritos and avacado burgers at the finish line next year though, but I know the station will be in good hands. Now....time to step it up to some real training..."

Late Fall in Vermont

Making loops at the TARC-Key Trot

As the year came to an end, C and I found ourselves bound for Florida again to visit family. This year we would break from tradition however, and stay local for New Year's thanks to a bout of nasty sickness (quite possibly my first real flu). The final picture of me from 2017 is somewhat fitting. Just days before the New Year, I found myself sitting on an old fence in Florida, in the warm sunshine, contemplating what 2018 might reveal, and it brought an enormous smile to my face. 

I thought of how fortunate I have already been for all of the great moments I got to share with my family, friends, and loved ones. I will continue to enjoy this ride of life as long as I can, and keep taking as many adventurous leaps into the unknown as I am able....

So with that, I bid 2017 a fond farewell and say to you all, 

Make sure to always keep the explorer alive within yourselves

So long 2017...and thank you for everything