Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parentus Interruptus: Back to the Whites

Brian goes back to teaching next week and the kids and I go back to the way-more-hectic-than-summer homeschool lifestyle. I'm not sure I'm ready. It really has been a great summer.

Brian's parents (his mom, mostly) offered to take the kids for a couple of nights earlier this week so Brian and I could take a few moments to catch out collective breath before plunging back into the fast shallow water of the Traditional American School Year. Thank you thank you thank you!

Where to go? Well, duh! Back to the White Mountains. An absolute no-brainer. Our only Big Question was weather to backpack or car camp. And given the difficulty of finding tent sites up high in the Whites (not to mention the fact that we haven't truly backpacked in more than ten years), we decided to camp in Crawford Notch and day hike.

It's always bittersweet leaving the kids. I do look forward to a couple of quiet, I-am-not-in-charge-of-anybody-else days, but when push comes to shove, I really hate leaving them behind. They are so much fun right now. I almost caved in at the last moment and packed their sleeping bodies into the car with the tent and the backpacks.

Brian and I, all by ourselves, hit the road at 5 a.m. and made it to the Falling Waters trailhead in Franconia Notch by 9. That first day we hiked up to Little Haystack and over the ridge to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. The ridge there is all above treeline, and the view that day was far and wide with Franconia Notch on one side and the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the other.

Next year (or, who knows, even this year) I'd like to do a Pemi Loop. Sitting just below the peak on the far side of Mt. Lafayette (well away from the obnoxious Vince Vaughn character singing bad Top 40 at the top of his lungs) we could clearly see the the perimeter of the 50K loop.

I don't have any pictures of this day. I tend not to take photos when the kids aren't around. But Brian shot some video up there on his phone. (I'm not sure if this even works. I've never downloaded/uploaded video before.)

We made it back down via Greenleaf Hut and the Bridal Path, drove to the campground at Crawford Notch General Store, and popped the tent up just before The Deluge. It poured all night. Thunder, lightening, wind. It could not have been raining harder. I was very happy to be down in the valley, though I imagine it was exciting for all the backpackers and hut-goers up high.

Nothing to do but listen to the rain and re-read Jonathan Franzen, which as you can see makes me bug-eyed.

Our Monday hike was somewhat less strenuous. We were trying to save ourselves for Mt. Washington on Tuesday, our last day. We took the Crawford Path from the Highland Center up past the Mitzpah Springs hut to Mt. Eisenhower. Woo, baby, the wind was blowing up a gale above treeline. There was no view, save for the isolated moments when the wind cleared the clouds sufficiently to catch a glimpse of the valley below. We might as well have been on the surface of the moon.

But it was beautiful nonetheless, and much conducive to talking and laughing as we picked our way across. There's no way we could have brought the kids up there in such weather. They would have been picked up and tossed like balloons.

The late afternoon sun was just starting to come out when we got back to the campground, so we hiked over to our old swimming hole and sat next to the water. It was too cold to swim and the water was running very high. But we sat and remembered this day two years ago when we first came here with the little darlings.

Tuesday promised the best weather, so we saved Mt. Washington for the last day. We woke up, broke camp, found coffee for Brian, got stuck behind a truck carrying the long (impossibly long) blade for a wind turbine up Route 16, and still made it to the Pinkham Notch Visitor's Center by 8:00.

I have never climbed Mt. Washington from that side. It's much more rugged and exposed than the Amonoosuc Trail, which we did with the kids a few weeks ago, up the other side. We started up the Tuckerman Ravine trail (and I use the word trail loosely -- it's more like a very rocky fire road) to the Lion's Head trail (steep scramble), then up the scree (or is it talus?) to the summit.

What is up with all the people hiking with ski poles? Did I miss something in the last ten years? We passed almost 50 people (Brian counted) poking up the rocks with ski poles. Those things can only slow you down in my opinion. I don't get the ski poles everywhere. Somebody somewhere is making a ski pole fortune.

The summit was socked-in and windy, 38 degrees. We stopped at the restaurant at the top (mayhem), descended from the summit along Crawford Path toward Lake of the Clouds Hut, then veered out toward a long bluff marked by a line of cairns.

These hours were the best of the trip. We saw very few people out there and the view was constant and breathtaking in every direction. No photograph can do it justice, but here are a few anyway.

By Tuesday evening, driving home, I was missing the kids terribly. We pulled up around 9 to a beaming Simon face in the window and little Ben running down the driveway and into my arms. Nell (being Nell) was more subdued in her welcome, but she was grinning. Everything went beautifully with Grandma. All good. Home again.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TARC Summer Classic 12-Hour

(I didn't win this, but it sure is a cool award.....)

From what I can tell here in my remote location deep in southeastern Connecticut, it seems that the Trail Animals Run Club (TARC) up in Massachusetts is starting to do some moving and shaking on the Northeastern ultrarunning scene. They have lots of small, fat-ass type races planned spanning all four seasons. This is wonderful news!

A few months ago, back when I was running quite a bit and had high hopes for myself, I signed up for the TARC Summer 12 Hour run in at Noon Hill Reservation in Medfield, MA. And then I proceeded to get sick for the month of July with Lyme's Disease and anemia and didn't run very much or very fast at all.

Two weeks of antibiotics and five weeks of iron pills later, I decided to go ahead and try to run this inaugural TARC race. I figured I would run for a few hours then settle into a nice long walk in the woods. The race was perfect for my intentions: a 10K loop on moderately hilly trails with lots of rocks and roots and twisty turns to keep me nice and slow. I was actually looking forward to a day by myself when all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. It sounded very pleasant indeed.

I loved this race. It was low key and friendly, mostly local. There were a total of 40 runners signed up for both races (there was a 6-hour option), with 16 of us signed on for the full day. The race director, Chris Haley, seemed to be everywhere at once. And the volunteers were wonderful, cheering like mad for each runner at the completion of every loop. The whole scene was beautifully uplifting.

I walked out of the starting gate in last place and was delighted to finally meet in real life my blog friend Dan, as well as Emily Trespas, whose name I have often seen but have never actually crossed paths with. We chatted briefly, and then I started to run.

I was very conservative on the first loop, because I was feeling the morning woozies, which have been part of my life for the past month. I find that as long as I start out slowly, my sluggish legs and labored breathing eventually settle down and leave me in peace. So I walked every uphill no matter how mild the grade, and trotted the downs and the flats. After half an hour or so, I felt absolutely fine.

I did the first loop in about 1:25, which turned out to be my average for the day. I met Scott Livingston and his almost-2-year-old daughter, Dahlia, in the transition area. They were there to support Scott's wife, Deb, who would go on to handily win the day. Scott was taking photos and encouraging all the runners. I saw Dahlia and Scott often throughout the day and had quick little chats, which made such a huge difference to me, especially later in the afternoon/evening.

And so the day went. I ended up running four laps during the first 6 hours, mostly by myself, ticking off about 1:25 for each loop. I was surprised that I wasn't dead. Beyond that, I was surprised that I felt like I could keep running. Very surprised indeed.

So I did.

The sixth lap was tough. If you have strong objections to reading about a woman's menstrual difficulties, read no more! Skip this next paragraph entirely!

I had discovered when I woke up at 4:00 in the morning, that Auntie Flo had come to town. Ain't that grand. So I planned accordingly, packed all my necessities, and got on with my day. (But I forgot to pack Tylenol. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.) So by lap 6, maybe eight hours into my run, I started getting terrible cramps. It felt like my ovaries had descended to my hips and settled in for a good long cry, dragging those whimpering fallopian tubes along behind. By some miracle, there was a woman coming out of her house along the 0.1 mile stretch of road on the course. I flagged her down (not completely out of the blue -- I had waved to her earlier in the day) and begged some Tylenol off her, which she was happy to provide.

Back at the aid station 45 minutes later, I felt a bit better, but not altogether healed. How to explain to a crowd of men that I needed just one more Tylenol because I still had terrible menstrual cramps? I had no energy to make up a story about an ailing ankle or knee. I simply bit the bullet and told them. There was some hemming and hawing, some sympathetic words of encouragement, but no Tylenol, no Ibuprofen, no Advil, no nothing. And then one of the 6-hour runners popped out of her car with a bottle of Extra Strength.


I don't know what was in that Tylenol, but that 7th lap was by far my fastest and most enjoyable of the day. I was flying. Deb Livingston had just passed me in the aid station heading out for her 8th lap (meaning she was already 6 miles ahead of me), and as I trotted out after her, I found myself kind of keeping up with her. Which is just not right. But there it was. I tailed her for most of the first 2 uphill miles of the loop (this being some sort of SuperHero-TimeWarp zone), and then she ducked into the woods and promptly dropped me forever on the downhill. But still!

I was feeling snappy. Dare I say zippy?! It was so weird. I have no idea where that odd little second wind came from. The RD threatened to have me drug tested after the race. Cocaine Tylenol? I ran that lap easily 15 minutes faster than any other that day.

Which left me 1:45 minutes to try to finish an eighth lap. I ran the last one slowly, deep in Stay on Your F'ing Feet mode. It was kind of like a warm down. There was no reason to run it fast. There was no way I'd ever run a ninth. So I trotted and enjoyed. It was a pleasant finish to an unexpectedly delightful day.

I ran just over 50 miles in about 11:50, putting me in second place for the females. Deb won the whole race with just over 56. I'm not sure what place I came in overall, because I haven't seen any results yet.

I saw Emily on the way out and she told me she had walked all day and still covered 40 miles. Damn! That's some serious high steppin'!

Thanks so much to Chris Haley and all of the folks at TARC for putting on this event. It was perfect in every way, and I look forward to running the TARC Fall Classic in October. I'd do the winter race in December as well, but it looks like that one's full.

Next up: Pisgah 50K in Chesterfield, NH on September 18th.

Monday, August 8, 2011

White Mountains

I woke up last Monday, finally feeling better, with a yen to get out of town. We deliberately set up the summer for this very thing: being able to hit the road at a moment's notice. No regularly scheduled camps or classes for anyone. We all needed to get off the schedule treadmill. We all needed to take a breath.

The only glitch to our get-up-and-go lifestyle this summer is the pets. With a dog, a cat, 2 guinea pigs, 3 ducks and a bunch of chickens coming soon, finding pet sitters with one day's notice is a bit like pulling the proverbial rabbit (no rabbits here!) out of the big black hat. But we did it. Dog to grandma's, ducks to Terra Firma Farm, and our ever obliging neighbors Mary and Max to handle Annie and the Pigs here at home.

(That Annie and the Pigs business always gets me going on Elton John's catchy but terribly annoying song, B-b-b-bennie and the Jets. Nice.)

SO in one strenuous day, we shuttled the pets, stormed the grocery store, stuffed clothes into our packs, grabbed games and books, jammed all the camping gear into the Rocket Box on top of the car, and zip, zoom, zam.......we were off to the White Mountains!

Four hours later, we found an open campsite at Sugarloaf 2, a somewhat remote, $16/night campground on the Zealand Road, a couple of miles from the crossroads at Twin Mountain between Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch. Our site was nice and big, close enough to walk down to the Zealand River, directly across from the only water pump (an ancient thing that provided the water-getter with an excellent morning workout), and not too close to the pit toilets, which, while clean, did not smell 100% pretty.

Not wanting to overwhelm and exhaust the kids on the very first day (I have made that mistake one too many times already), our first hike was a modest 6-mile out-and-back to the Zealand Falls Hut on an easy trail. I wanted them to see an AMC Hut and to have plenty of time to eat a leisurely lunch and hang around at the falls.


Here's Ben testing out the bunks. He had never seen a triple bunk before. Big stuff!

And here are the kids heading up to the falls.

Day 2 was our epic day. Brian and I decided (and hoped to heaven we were right) that the kids were strong enough to give Mt. Washington a go. Brian spent a long time looking at the topo maps at Zealand Hut and figured our best bet was to take the Ammonoosuc Trail up to Lake of the Clouds Hut, which sits on a shoulder between Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe.

Lake of the Clouds as seen from Mt. Monroe.

The Amonoosuc Trail is only three miles up, but it's steep and somewhat treacherous, winding up through waterfalls on exposed, often windy ridges. We were lucky with the weather: calm and mostly clear, with only the peak of Mt. Washington lost in the clouds.

The kids were troopers. Brian and I carried all of the food, water and extra clothes on our backs, which somewhat leveled the playing field. Free from carrying packs, the kids scampered ahead of us and I had to really move to keep up. After years of coaxing and cajoling slow little feet, this felt like bliss. We have arrived!!

Here are a few shots heading up the trail.

We stopped for a couple of hours at the hut. We had lunch, explored the bunks (quadruple bunks here!), and Ben took on all comers at Uno while Nell, Simon and I scrambled up to the summit of Mt. Monroe, about 500 feet above the hut.

It was so beautiful being up there above treeline looking down on the mountains rolling off in every direction. I don't say this lightly: I was so proud of the kids for making it all the way up there. And they were truly thrilled by it all. They'd never seen anything like it.

Here we all are outside the hut just before starting the descent.

I don't have any descent pictures because everyone took off without me. Brian and the kids are fearless descenders. I am more of a picky-pants, inching my way over the wet rocks, trying not to look as the little ones sprint and jump over the slippery boulders, courting destruction at every turn.

I held Ben's hand during the last mile because his little legs were getting tired. He kept trying to run to keep up with Nell and Simon, which made him fall. A lot. Lucky for him, he's fairly close to the ground and bouncy. He was fine.

On the way back to the campsite we stopped at the Mt. Washington Inn, an old hotel that has been recently remodeled and re-vamped. It's gorgeous. Trooping in all muddy and smelly, we felt like peasants crashing the castle, though that didn't stop us from wandering around and partaking of the amenities.

Back at the campsite, much at Ben's urging (Ben, unlike the rest of us, does not have an introverted bone in his body -- he keeps us on our toes), we played games and roasted marshmallows and once it got dark made weird shadows in the tent. (So much for reading my book....)

Everyone was tired the next day. We did a mellow hike up the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, stopped at Echo Lake for a swim, and headed home.

All in all, it was a great trip.

Next up: TARC 12-hour run on Saturday in Medfield, MA.