Sunday, October 28, 2018

Catoctin Creek

First packrafting trip on the east coast complete. I went with Darren from He picked me up at BART, sorry, Metro, and we drove out to Point of Rocks on the Potomac, biked up to Taylorstown, locked the bikes up, and floated the Catoctin out into the Potomac back to Point of Rocks.

The Catoctin wasn't more than class I or II, so it didn't have the adrenaline or endorphins of trail running, but it was very pretty. The trees were changing colors. The creek was in a winding, sometimes narrow gorge that felt more remote than it was, and we saw a beaver, herons, and multiple deer bounding across the creek. It rained yesterday, which was likely the reason the creek was runable at all, but it was certainly only runable in a packraft, and too shallow for a kayak or canoe. The weather was in the 50's, but the water was shallow and the creek narrow, so I didn't bother with a wet or dry suit, just wore my rain gear, and that was fine.

I often go through phases where I'm not running a ton, and I think I'd really like to get into some other outdoor sport like biking or rafting. But I never follow through. Almost nothing burns as many calories in as short a time as running, and eating is way too enjoyable. And, through the tautology of revealed preferences, running is and always will be my primary activity. But rafting is a lot of fun. I like it more than I liked sea kayaking, because with a packraft you can get back into tiny creeks that you can't run in a whitewater kayak, let alone an 18' long sea kayak. And when you're running a creek that small, the view is always changing, just like running. You can see both banks, and everything on them, and it's moving at several miles an hour, just like hiking or running. I think that was why I never quite loved kayaking in Berkeley--it took me hours to paddle to an island or to a bridge, and all I saw the entire time was water. In a small creek, you see more than water. And chatting with Darren made me optimistic that there are actually a lot of creeks and rivers and lots of whitewater within a 2-3 hour drive of DC. (Not that I own a car, but still.) And you can run a lot of it year-round, since everything is rain-fed not snow-fed, and you'll probably get at least one 50-degree weekend day most months here, so hypothermia is probably avoidable.

Surfing a standing wave

Fall Colors

Fall Colors and Cliffs

Safety Third

Monday, October 08, 2018

Grindstone 100 Race Report

I ran the Grindstone 100 this past weekend. I signed up over the summer while I was hiking. I chose it because I want to run at least one 100 every year, it's a Western States qualifier, considered fairly difficult, it's reasonably close to DC, and it's soon after I would move here. All those sound great, right? It's an out and back, and the weird thing about it is its 6PM start, which leads to a goal of avoiding the second night.

I essentially didn't train for it. Since June, I ran the Canadian Death Race, and I ran two group runs with Virginia Happy Trails and the Woodley Ultra Society, and that's literally it for runs longer than two miles. So this was a test of how well slow hiking on the GDT and in Alaska translates to running. Not perfectly is the answer.

I picked up my rental car Thursday night, but made the mistake of getting it from near the airport, just because I'm used to that and assume it's cheaper. That took forever and I didn't get to sleep until midnight. Then I was dumb and worked Friday morning for a few hours. I could have easily taken the whole day off and slept in, and should have. Instead, I left work at noon and was so tired I had to get a Pepsi to stay awake on the drive down. I was able to nap for 30 minutes before the 6PM start, but it was unfortunate that I was so tired already and that I had to drink caffeine on the drive, and have had to drink caffeine at work regularly, so I'd basically blown that wad already and it wasn't going to pack quite the punch when I needed it during the race.

So it started at 6PM, and we had an hour of daylight. I enjoyed that, and then enjoyed passing some people on the first rocky descent in the dark. The course is an out and back, and on the way back, well into the second night, I would stumble across these rocks and seem unable to do anything but walk slowly, stumbling and kicking a rock with each step. On the way down the first time, it was fun to pass people with my (temporary) skill advantage.

I was never running very fast, not even in the stretch to the first or second aid stations. I was clocking more like 4 mph than 5, and by halfway it was closer to 3.  My GPS watch is in storage, and Strava acted weird on my phone (I don't think it works well with data saver or battery saver) so I didn't bother recording, so I had only the vaguest sense of how fast (slow) I was going, and didn't care too much as long as I wasn't in pain. The aid stations didn't have gels and didn't have a ton of hot vegan food but were generally OK. I got by on soda, pb&j, and potato chips. 

We're past the equinox, so the nights are long. My headlamp situation worked out well (my lamps are still in storage with everything else I own, so I had to borrow some and had to meet new people from whom to borrow them). Chafing was problematic, not in my usual thigh area, but butt cheeks. I'm not used to the humidity, so I may have gotten off fairly easy on this front--good thing I remembered to pick up some Body Glide last weekend.

Anyway, I made the turnaround I'm guessing at around 15 hours. The best, and for my money only view is at a paved summit at mile 49. On the way back the most notable thing was the largest descent, which would have been a lot more fun if I wasn't so beat. Then it was hot for a few hours, but one advantage of the annoying, essentially viewless green tunnel is that we weren't exposed to direct sunlight. Then the second night came and I was stumbling. Luckily by this point I got back to my drop bag with my USB charger so I could get my iPod going again. I listened to almost the entire Slow Burn (great Slate podcast about the Clinton impeachment.) I was much less impressed with Radiolab's Gonad series, though it got better as it went along and the episode about the intersex person who finally learned the truth in their 50's was moving.

So I was able to keep kicking rocks, swearing, sitting down, getting back up, and moving along. I finished in 34 hours. The race website says the race has 23,000 feet of climbing. To me it really only feels like 4 large climbs, but the course is pretty relentless.

I slept some, met a friend for coffee in Staunton, took a dip in the Shenandoah River, and drove home. Glad I did it, but I definitely won't be running the race again because it's not that pretty. I wonder if anything out east will strike me as pretty--I don't like being in the green tunnel. It's all I knew as a kid, and I liked it then, so maybe it will grow on me. Hope so.
Why am I doing this again?

The one view

Staunton on the way home

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Washington DC

I am in Washington DC now. I'm staying with my friend in Adams Morgan. I start work on Monday. I'm very happy to be reunited with my dog and my girlfriend. I had to buy a new wardrobe because almost all of my posessions are in storage, and I don't want to pay to pull them out more once, so I'm trying to buy a townhouse ASAP.

To distract myself from important work and life things:

1) Does anyone want to buy my size small ULA Epic? It's still in good shape after one  month of use in Alaska. I think the pack is well-designed, but I should have purchased a medium. If you wear a pack that's too small, the load lifter straps aren't effective, and you can't get the weight off your shoulders.

2) My Tarpent Contrail has met its maker after 8 or so years. Or at least the zipper has. (If you set up the shelter on a muddy/sandy glacier, just DO NOT use the zipper. It's too delicate for that kind of dirt!) If I buy something to replace it, what should it be? I'm interested in both 1 and 2-person UL shelters, most likely completely enclosed, since I am super wimpy about the noise from a single mosquito. If a 2-person, I could go for something spacious, since it'll probably be 2-people plus dog, whereas a 1-person could be true to size for one small (5' 5") person. Something Dyneema?

3) What do all the cool kids use for an ultralight pack these days? I'm honestly more of a ULA Circuit kind of guy, (meaning that I'm not super ultralight and prefer at least some frame in most of my packs), but I'd like a nice ultralight pack that's better than my ULA Conduit (an older model which is similar note what is now called the ULA CDT) which has removable, and hence quite floppy (bouncy if you run or walk too fast) hipbelt pockets. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The creek behind Fred Meyer

And for my last night in Alaska, I'm stealthing behind the Fred Meyer in Soldotna. Hitching out of Homer was a little hard, as the speeds were high and I got dropped off from my first ride at a bad spot with auntie in everyone's eyes and then narrow shoulders. Now after a good ride to Soldotna, I'd rather camp and get an early start, and it's actually not a terrible spot. Actually, I don't really know that, since I got here in the dark. But I'll have a chance of one more night of northern lights this way. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sunday, September 09, 2018


I flew from Tustumena Lake to Homer today. I could have (a) continued on my original route, with seriously terrible bushwhacking, (b) found the map at the cabin last night and tried a potentially boring but easy but potentially almost endless bushwhack route down old house trails on the Funny River (c) run into the hunter with a boat I met and asked him for a ride, and he was willing or (d) kept my plans to fly out, since I didn't haveuch cell service to cancel anyway. I went with D. The views were even better than I imagined.

Homer is a cool, funky little town with an odd mix of tourists, fishermen, and outdoorsy types, but a bit too spread out.

What next? I don't know. I have to be in DC to start work on the 17th.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Emma Lake

Awful bushwhacking to start the day. Amazing tundra all afternoon. Awful bushwhacking to end the day. Staying at the Emma Lake fish and game cabin. And I'm flying out tomorrow. I got reception up high and realized, hey, I can take an air taxi, because that's part of the Alaska experience, fly to Oakland in a couple days, and the government will fly me to DC to start my job next week. I've had my fun, but I don't want to bushwhack anymore right now. 

Friday, September 07, 2018


4 mfing miles as the crow flies. Descent to Benjamin Creek difficult. Found game trail, tried to take it upstream to get above cofluence and avoid the canyon below. (This definitely would have been a good idea on the day I floated the Yanert and had to deal with Dick Creek to get there.) However, the game trail improved, and when I gave up and headed downstream, and eventually hit Benjamin Creek downstream of the canyon, the creek was chill and pretty easy to cross. Then I crossed and went upstream on Killey River, and didn't really know where would be best to ascend to the alpine. All I know is a creek way on the other side that I'm aiming for, but not what drainage or anything to take to get there, and everything is steep and brushy. After a false start, I chose the least steep contour lines I could find, and eventually found a game trail, which I named Hallelujah Game Trail. But it ended at a small knoll, and I'm not really above treeline yet, unfortunately. More bushwhacking tomorrow. And I don't have enough water to cook tonight. And it might rain.

Today was hard. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018


Good day. The river was foggy and cold when I woke, but I couldn't fall asleep again, so I packed up and paddled off. The canyon was fun to run again, but not quite as exhilarating as the first time. Crossing Skilak lake was mostly drudgery. I picked the shortest line for safety's sake, but when the lake stayed chill, if not glassy in the middle, I adjusted and got to shore right where the Cottonwood Creek trail goes up. My pack is stupid heavy, so the climb wasn't that fun, but above treeline the view of the lake was stupendous. Glad to be hiking again, in  wilderness. Then I contoured around some lakes, sometimes on game trails, sometimes bushwhacking, to try to get to Benjamin Creek, where I might find game trails to help cross the Killey River valley. We'll see. Could be a lot of bushwhacking, and down in the valley it would be awful. My camp is exposed but I have a great view of the valley below. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Kenai River, again

I got bored with the lower Kenai River. After I put in this morning, there were a few nice spots with more golden eagles and fish and loons and ducks, but we were out of the drift zone, so all the boats were motoring around and pretty soon it was private property and houses on both sides. There was one bit of excitement at Naptowne rapids, which I got out to scout first. Then I chatted with a local fishing guide who discouraged me from hitting the rapids dead on ("5-6 foot wave train, which could flip your little boat") so I just skirted around them and missed most of the fun/danger. The waves were in fact large, but I'm guessing it would have been fine. What are my drysuit and pfd for, after all? If I'd been with a friend we would have run them repeatedly since it's easy to pull out right after and walk a trail back to the top on public land.

After that, I just wanted to be done.  Nearly solid private property, and the river was chill enough that I could get out my phone and text Amy to see if there was a bookstore anywhere nearby. Under a mile from a pull-out in a public park in Soldotna! So I pulled out of the river, bought a couple new books, bought some snacks at the Fred Meyer, and was going to hitch back up the river, but a woman thought I reminded her of her son, so she offered me a ride before I even stuck my thumb out. Score! (And good call, I do resemble her ultramarathoning son, if perhaps only activity-wise.)

I got dropped off at Sportsman's Landing, quickly inflated my boat, saw two grizzlies, and camped very close to a couple nights ago's spot. Will run the canyon again, and this time cross Skilak and over to Tustumena and on to Homer! 

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Mouth of Skilak Lake

Woke to the sound of boats and fishermen. Well, that was after I woke several times to shooting pains in my shoulder from trying to use my PFD as a sleeping pad. The fog on the river was beautiful, but too cold for me to get up. So I slept in a little more, packed up, and paddled. The river wasn't tight yet, I apparently hadn't passed Jims Landing yet. Once I did, the fun started. The rapids were really a blast. I was comforted to know that the fishing boats run them, sincd then there were bound to be a bunch of people around in case I got in trouble. No worries, all went great and the rapids were over too quick. Then I had a slow, laborious paddle of Skilak Lake. So slow. I almosy asked the passing fishing boats for a tow, but instead I just hitched from Upper Skilak Campground to Lower Skilak Campground, skipping six miles (and as many hours?) of paddling. Got back in and paddled a quick mile (no headwind! Setting sun and jumping fish and loons) to where the lake becomes a river again.

Saw a camp chair sitting on a point, thought I was obligated to camped there, so that's what I'm doing. More river tomorrow! 

Catoctin Creek

First packrafting trip on the east coast complete. I went with Darren from He picked me up at BART , sorry, Metro, a...