Thursday, June 28, 2007

tagging mount whitney

All smiles with Randy and Eric on California's roof.

At 14,500 feet, Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. At 14,500 feet, there is half the amount of oxygen as there is at sea level. At 14,500 feet, I finally checked off another item from my list of 100 things to do before I die, summitting Whitney after a little over 7 hours of walking.

The numbers are nothing to laugh at:
22 miles out-and-back hike, over 6,100 feet in elevation gain, and the most intimidating figure for me, the altitude—starting at 8,360 feet to 14,500 feet. I had never been too much above 11,000 feet before, so I was worried how my body was going to react to being up so high.

We were to hike the Main Whitney Trail, the most popular route up this peak. Because of its popularity, there is a limit to the number of hikers allowed on the trail during peak season. I was fortunate enough to get on one of the trips that the Outdoors Club organized. Also because of its popularity certain procedures regarding waste removal must be observed.

Friday, June 22
Lotus, my carpool buddy, came by my place where we loaded up my car, and then drove off for Whitney Portal. What was supposed to be just a four-and-a-half hour drive turned into a nearly seven-hour journey. OK, so we stopped for a quick bite to eat and had to detour an additional 30 minutes due to my missing the turnoff for Hwy 395, but nonetheless, the traffic on the 91 Freeway and the 15 Freeway on a Friday afternoon were horrendous. We finally made it to the camp site at around 10pm. OCTR mate, Eric K. and Randy rolled in shortly and set up camp.

The other hikers in our group were camping at Horseshoe Meadows which was at over 9,000 feet to get the added benefits of sleeping at a higher elevation.

Saturday, June 23
We checked out the Whitney Portal store to get a lay of the campground and to have some breakfast. This place makes the largest pancakes known to man. They should get the peeps from the Guinness World Records to come out here. I was able to finish maybe a third of it, and gave the rest to Jeff, a weary and down-on-his-luck hiker who just stepped out of the woods.

After breakfast, Lotus, Eric K., Randy, and I took a short 5-mile hike on the Meysan Lakes Trail to give our bodies a taste of hiking at high altitude. This also gave us a chance to get a preview of the surrounding trails and landscape before our summit attempt the following day.

Some of the Horseshoe Meadows crew came in later and set up camp with us.

Sunday, June 24
At a little before 3am, Eric K. promptly came by my tent to make sure that I was awake. I broke camp, had breakfast, loaded up our cars and drove to the trail head parking lot where we met the rest of the group. Michael, the trip organizer, gave us our final briefing, took a group photo, and distributed wag bags to those that didn't have them. Fortunately, I didn't need this piece of Whitney essential since the thought of packing out what was once food did not appeal to me at all.

With headlamps lighting our way, we started up the trail at about 4:20am.

The trail ascends right away. With only about 11 miles to cover over 6,100 feet of climbing, I wasn't surprised. Shortly after, the sun started to peek, lighting the trail and giving us a glimpse of the beauty around us.

The white granite mountain slopes were illuminated by the early morning sun's orange glow–truly a sight to behold. This alone makes getting up at such an ungodly hour worth the price of admission. We caught a view of Lone Pine Lake in the early morning light, passed by Outpost Camp where campers were just waking and preparing breakfast, and witnessed the quiet and modest beauty of Mirror Lake.

Looking down on Lone Pine Lake just after sunrise

Orange wash of morning light on white granite walls

Walking through a trail side meadow we spotted a doe, a deer, a female deer (yep, altitude was starting to affect me now) and her fawn. They didn't seem too bothered by us though. To them, we were mere plodding humans who didn't stand a chance of chasing them down.

Consultation Lake

By the time I arrived at Trail Camp, about 6 miles into the trek, the group had spread out and I'd been hiking alone. I decided to take a break here to filter some water and get something to eat. I laid my pack down and started to walk to the the pond, when I saw the fattest marmot I have ever seen bolt in lumbering fashion, towards my pack, as only an obese rodent could. I had to shoo it away and make sure it didn't come near my food supply again.

An imposing view from Trail Camp

Looking up at the granite peaks, I knew what was in store for me next—96 switchbacks leading up to Trail Crest at 13,600 feet. I slowly made my way up the trail, methodically breathing in through my nose, taking small steps slowly and very mindful not to overexert myself. It was evident that the thin air was affecting a lot of people now as I passed several of them on this section.

Reaching Trail Crest, I knew that most of the hard climb was over. I was surprised, however, at how precipitous the next mile and half of the trail would be. A passing hiker on her way back from the peak complained to me that she did not like this section at all. And I could see why—the trail was very rocky, uneven, narrow, windy, and one small mistake like a slip or a fall could result in a bloody and fatal finish over a thousand rocky feet below. Because it had been a mild winter, there was really no snow on the trail at all, but I could just imagine how much more treacherous this section could be otherwise.

I passed the junction of the famed John Muir Trail which was marked by several packs that JMT thru-hikers left while they made their summit bids. A sign said that the summit was only 1.9 miles away--almost there. My pace has slowed down at this point though I was still feeling surprisingly well. Besides a mild headache at Trail Crest which an ibuprofen tablet fixed, I really didn't feel any serious symptoms of altitude sickness or AMS. I plodded on, passing a few hikers, some exhausted and moving like zombies. I'd say hi and a quick word of encouragement to remind them that we're almost at the top. Nearing the peak, I stopped briefly to talk with uber-hikers Carlo and Lumme who were heading down.

Western view along the divide on the approach to the summit

At 11:30 am, about 7 hours and 10 minutes after we left the trail head, I finally made it to the top of the continental United States. Oh what a feeling! Now, I've been on top of a few peaks before, and one hike, in particular, was tougher for me (see C2C). But the distinction of having reached the highest peak in the country outside of Alaska sure made this climb sweeter than any. The view up here is unparalleled—a 360 degree vista of the Sierras on a clear California day.

The well-earned views

Eric K. and Randy who arrived at the summit a half hour before I did were preparing to make their way down, but not before the three of us got a picture together. Other ODC hikers, Sonia, Michael and Justin made their way to the top shortly after. I rested my tired legs, enjoyed some lunch, signed the register, and 40 minutes after my summit, began my descent. And no sooner than after I started my way back down the trail when I heard my name in a tiny voice. It was my carpool buddy, Lotus yelling it out. She was just a quarter mile from the top. I wished her well, and we arranged a meeting point when she gets out of the trail.

It took me nearly six hours to hike back down. Damn, that's long! I thought about trying to cut some time, but I could tell that my legs and my feet were exhausted. I was also getting some warning sensations from my right knee, as if it were ready to pop and incapacitate me. So I took it easy. Hiking alone for the next 11 miles was not exactly enjoyable. Upon reaching the 13th hour of being on the trail, I started to imagine if this is similar to doing a 50-mile race. I just wanted to get out of the trail already. I was tired and hungry and badly wanted a shower.

At 6:00pm, I finally emerged back to civilization. My Whitney hike was over and was now officially a memory.

Side note:
I did a few high altitude hikes to over 10,000 feet in preparation for the Mt. Whitney climb—Cactus to Clouds, Mt. Baldy, and San Gorgonio Peak via the South Fork Trail.

Click here for more Whitney photos.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

16 weeks at a glance

Well like I’d said on an earlier post, I wish I had more written entries on here. Click on the image above for a complete view. It’s about 80 inches long and is an accordion book format done on watercolor paper.

Mixed-media accordion book, 80" x 6".
© September 2003

Monday, June 18, 2007

an almost 911-run and other saturday goings on

I should’ve known better than heading out with just 40 oz. of fluids with me, when at 7am and the cloud cover still above us, I could feel the sun's heat beaming through. This normally would've been enough hydration, but I somehow failed to take heed that the temps were expected to rise on this day.

22 runners met at Santiago Truck Trail head for the OCTR “stampede,” as Kevin called this past Saturday’s training run. Due to afternoon commitments and with a handful of other mates, I opted to do the shorter run of just under 16 miles to Old Camp and back, while the majority of the group went past Old Camp, up the infamous Joplin Trail which apparently gains 2000 feet in just under 2 miles--a decidedly more challenging run of 22 miles. Jessica, who's nursing an ailing foot, joined us on her mountain bike.

I didn't find out about the main group’s ordeal until much later. Apparently, they ran out of water with still about 9 hot miles to go. Mari and Jessica said that temps during the run reached 90deg. Had it not been for Charlie’s forethought and heroics, this run might truly have been labeled the “911-Run,” a moniker Sue and her old running pals gave the Joplin Trail due to the high incidence of medical assistance calls dispatched here. Chaz drove his SUV up Maple Springs Road and brought the lead group some much-needed cold beverages. He left some water for the “Luv From The Back” group of Skip, Nattie, Addy, and Beiyi. Unfortunately they didn't find the stash. They were still able to make it out safely, though much later in the day, when they probably took the brunt of the heat.

Our “short” run was not without incident either. Sue, who started late but caught up with us on our way back from Old Camp, took a spill and fell on a rocky section of the trail which resulted in a bloody hand, elbow and knee. We cleaned her wounds with water I had in one of my bottles, when I thought, “Damn, is this all I have with about 6 miles to go?” We also realized that we didn't have the proper first aid kit to attend to her injuries. Fortunately a mountain biker stopped and helped us out by taking care of her scrapes and gashes.

With the sun bearing down on us the last few miles, I was starting to feel like a lechon (turn me over; I’m done now and browned to perfection). I was running with Kalea through this stretch, and she was kind enough to squeeze some Ultima drink out of her Camelback. We finally made it back to the trail head where we saw early 16-mile finishers, Pam and Marissa picnicking in the sparse shade available. Other 16-milers, Wendy and Kate finished shortly behind us.

We should take some important and possibly life-saving lessons from this experience.

As trail runners, our little treks take us to places where help could be hours away. Always be aware and prepared of the conditions. Carry adequate water, and if that's not possible, make necessary arrangements like stashing them beforehand. Also carry and know some basic first aid.

In the late afternoon, I met Eusebio and other peeps from the Beach Club at Dana Point for a little sail on E's 27-footer, Lola. I was looking forward to riding the wind at the sails and jumping in the open ocean. However, because of a mishap with the master sail's line, our 3-hour tour was short lived. We couldn't get the sail to go up, and we had to put-put back into our dock, not even making it out of the harbor.


The evening was another OCTR event. This time, we had our clothes on (as in not in our running gear). Everyone sure cleaned up good. Wendy and hubby Dave, graciously hosted the party to celebrate the summer and the birthdays of June celebrants, Pam, Sue, and LW. Of course since this is a runners’ club party, much of the conversation revolved around, guess what–yep, running. Some highlights included Kelly’s famous Cookielicious cookies, Maz showing us his black big toe nail (it literally looked like a goth-style nail polish job), Wendy's never-ending drink, the tons of good food, W and D’s hospitality, and just plain hangin’ out with some really cool people.

My day started at 5am when I woke up, and ended near midnight when I finally made it home and retired to bed. Overall, a long but enjoyable day.

Photos borrowed from Greg, Wendy, and Eusebio.

Friday, June 15, 2007

an impromptu race

Imagine a nice casual family-oriented evening in the park on a Thursday. I didn't know what to expect really, and was running late in getting to the Peters Canyon Summer Trail Run Series. From the event site description, I somehow formed the idea that this was just going to be an easy fun run/jog around the park. When I arrived there, I realized that this was not necessarily the case when I saw serious-looking runners with bib numbers, short shorts (that's an indication in my view) and a start/finish banner sign. With literally minutes to spare, I parked, sprinted to the registration table, filled out the paperwork, paid, pinned my number, and got to the start line.

With hardly any time to warm up and stretch, the gun goes off, and the 80+ runners including OCTR mates Eric KP and Mari take off, and fast. Wait a minute! This is a race. That's right. And not a slow one too. Well no jogging for me here. This is definitely not an endurance event. It's a 5-mile loop--which means I need to haul my lazy ass. I haven't been doing any consistent speed work to speak of so it was kinda strange going at something faster than a nine minute mile pace.

The course heads down the canyon, then turns up the ridge where racers went through several rolling hills. It seemed like every time I topped a hill, there was another one waiting for me. Because this park is a popular destination for an evening jaunt, there were other runners, mountain bikers, and walkers/hikers on the trail, which, I thought, added to the relaxed and casual feel of this event.

This really is a nice laid-back race. For a low-key event, it was pretty well-organized; they even had water stations along the way too. At the end of the race, the smell of barbeque beckoned the runners to hurry up and cross the line. Although I wasn't used to turning my legs over very fast, I was able to leave some in the tank for a strong finish. I ended up about mid of the pack at 42:32. Fab Abs Mari was ahead of me at 39:00 while Eric KP burned the course at 36:55.

After the race, I picked up my event shirt and hung out with Wendy, her kids, Jake and Tiana (who were there to cheer us on), and Eric KP while we enjoyed the rest of the evening at the park. They had a raffle and several give-aways, and we walked away with a bunch of freebies including Cliff bars, Cliff shots, and Cliff gels. I even won a pair of Asics running socks. KP got on the mike after the raffle and plugged OCTR. We got a couple of inquiries about it including from an older gent who's done over 100 marathons. Wow!

Make-U-Fit which organized this series will have two more PCSTRS races for the rest of the summer, and given my experience on this first one, I will definitely put them on my calendar.

Hope to see you there.

Photos courtesy of Wendy.
PCSTRS logo © of respective owner.

112 days and counting

I came across an old art project I did awhile back. Shown are the details from an accordion book format of a “journal” I created which counts down my four-month training schedule for my first marathon, the 2002 Napa Valley Marathon. The piece is visual more than anything else. Each panel represents how many weeks was left before the race and includes drawings, acrylic, collage, and rubber stamping.

In hindsight, I wish that I’d written more entries in here.

Mixed-media artist book, 80" x 6".
© Sept. 2003.

Friday, June 8, 2007

“the joy of running partners” redux

One of the attractions that running has for me is the fact that it’s a pursuit that I can do alone. I lace up my running shoes, head out the door and run to my heart’s content. There's no need to call up friends, family or other runners to see if they can join me.

That’s how I started running. Recently though, my perspective’s changed a bit.

Since I started running with Orange County Trail Runners a few months ago, I’ve found and learned to appreciate the joy of running with others. I’m sure most of you can relate, but I'd like to point you in the direction of this well-articulated blog entry by one of my OCTR mates, Nattie. I think it hits the spot.

the joy of running partners


Thursday, June 7, 2007

6 “weird” things about me

I got tagged by The Bull Runner and Hitme64:

“Each player of this game starts with 6 weird things about himself or herself. People who get tagged need to write a blog entry of their own as well as state the rule clearly. In the end, you need to tag 6 people as well and list their names. Don’t forget to let them know they’ve been tagged!”

1.) I'm a loner. “He seemed like such a nice and quiet guy; he just kept to himself.”

2.) I can put my right pinkie toe on top of the toe next to it without any help from any other part of my body or external object. You think it's no big deal? Try doing it. You can call me monkey boy now. Puhrty, ain't it?

3.) During my last 50K, except for a couple of handfuls of candies and raisins, I nourished myself with nothing but a ton of energy gels. Have you ever tried doing that? Do you realize what kind of by-product comes out the following day? Ewwwh. Gross! OK, what IS weird is that I'm sharing this with you.

4.) When I run, I groove to the theme from Rocky, Justin Timberlake, Pussycat Dolls, Christina Aguilera, and Kelly Clarkson on my Shuffle. I also wonder sometimes, "whatever happened to Justin Guarini?"

5.) While I wouldn't go around admitting this (so why exactly am I putting this here?), but whenever I'm at my mom's, I put on TFC, and watch Wowowee. I just get nostalgic, you know? Plus I want to be on that show.

6.) I have no cable or satellite TV, only a rooftop antenna. Folks, if you live in OC where everyone has a plasma or LCD TV and TiVo, this is reaaaally weird. PBS rocks.

So, I'm tagging Socal Trail Girl, Pete Vara III, Addygrl, OC Runner Girl, Pink Fuzzy, and U2 Boy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

rock n roll from the sidelines

So, this was a bit strange for me. Besides Twin Peaks where I handed out medals to the finishers, I've never gone to a race, especially one as large as this, and not run it.

After the long drive from the Shadow, I finally made it home and was in bed at 11:30pm on Sat. night. Four hours later I got up, showered and was on the road again at 4am. I was heading down to San Diego to cheer on my OCTR mates for the SD Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

With Abbie and Jessica, we made our stops at Miles 4.5, 7, 14, and 22.5. Except for Maz and Mari, we saw all of our friends out there–Wendy, Addy, Mary, Eric KP, Skip, Kim, and Alexa. For the most part, everyone looked good and did great. Goal times and previous bests were smashed. We lost three virgins today (Wendy, Alexa, Skip) who are now marathon veterans.

The energy of the runners was so contagious, I decided to run the last few miles with Skip to see him through to the finish. I was inspired by their performance that I'm going to try to improve my marathon PR within the next 6 months to a year.

Hmm...Las Vegas, Bizz Johnson, Singapore, or L.A.?

Photos courtesy of Wendy

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

running in the shadow of the giants

What will I remember months from now when the memory of this race has subsided? Will it be the majestic Sequoias that towered over the course as if they were some sentinel and witness to ancient history? Will I remember the lush green meadows that appeared through the trees like a woman whose beauty I could only admire from a distance? (yeah, yeah, yeah...I'm trying to be poetic here) Or the babbling brook (yes, it's a cliché, but it really WAS babbling) that serenaded the runners who weren't too preoccupied with their iPods?

Whatever it will be, this run will be etched in my memory for years to come.

The Shadow of the Giants “50K” is set in Fish Camp just a mile from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. Did someone say “Yosemite?” How could I resist when I knew that these “Giants” are the 3,000 year-old Sierra redwood trees, the largest living things in the world? Besides the 50K, this year's event also included a non-competitive 20K fun run which drew a handful of participants.

The weekend started on Friday in OC when OCTR mates Paul, Pete, Jennifer and I loaded up our rental SUV and headed up north. Paul was at the helm for the approximately 5-and-a-half-hour drive. We arrived at Green Meadows Outdoor School (GMOS) where we were greeted by our foul-mouthed (though he makes it sound lyrical with his English accent), but friendly race director, Baz Hawley. We settled into our primitive albeit comfortable accommodations that we shared with Chaz, his kids, iMichelle, and her daughter.

A few minutes past 7am on Saturday, the participants were off for the chilly start of the 18th running of the Shadow. The trail immediately climbs out of the GMOS parking lot for the next 5 to 6 miles til we get to the first aid station. Spectacular views and soft dirt trails made this uphill section of the course a lot more bearable. I also enjoyed the company of the other runners. Along the way, I met Maribelle who was visiting from Dallas, Sharon from L.A., and Scott, a 2006 Badwater finisher from Fresno. I also periodically ran with Pete and Paul who I was yoyoing with through various parts of the course. Jennifer was already long gone at this point.

Before the 2nd aid station we had to cross a 40-foot wide stream that was about knee high at its deepest. It was refreshing to put my feet in there, but it was weird to run with wet shoes on. And I was worried about blisters too. Less than a couple of miles later, my shoes were dry. We would dip our feet on this same stream again on our way back.

I was rejuvenated when I reached the halfway aid station where I was greeted by Chaz, Reese, Tage, and Sierra. A few gulps of various drinks (water, some sort of diluted Gatorade, and Red Bull), some munchies, a quick dash around the one-mile loop which happens to be pure nirvana in terms of beauty (giant Sequioas, lush vegetation, and yet another babbling brook) and runnability (soft single track with just enough dips, twists and turns to make it interesting), and I was off to tackle the 2nd half of the course.

It was getting warm at this point. Since the sun was above us now, we've lost some of the shade we got from the giant trees earlier. What was a very pleasurable run earlier was slowly turning into a grind. Seven or so miles later, I got to the 22.8(?) mile aid station. Things were really cookin’ by then. The temps were in the 70s, and I'm such a wimp when running in anything higher than 65 deg. I plodded on, reached the stream crossing again, and “oooh, what a refreshing feeling it was to get my tired feet wet.”

Although it was hot and my pace has slowed, things were still going swimmingly, or so I thought. I was still feeling strong, and I was passing several runners especially on the uphills where I was able to power walk. I was looking forward to the finish, but boy oh boy, was I ever gonna get there?

Somehow when a race has 50K attached to the end of its name, I expect to run just that--50K. Why not call it the Shadow of the Giants 33-Miles or 35-Miles or whatever it is? Does anyone really know? Ok, granted fellow OCTR member Jon warned me about the added miles, and when we arrived on Friday, someone informed us that the route is actually 33.5 miles, but still. At the end of the race, some racers speculated that the distance was somewhere between 34.5 to 35 miles. You would think that tacking on a couple of extra miles after 31 shouldn't matter a whole lot. That's what I thought too.

Anyway enough about my ranting...

Well, one more...I was running on fumes with about a mile-and-a-half or so to go; my knees were killing me and the top of my left foot hurt like hell. To make matters worse, four runners passed me at this stretch. That was a bit deflating, but my spirits were once again lifted when I saw a couple of cheerleaders (Sharon's friends, I think) right where the pavement starts up again. That meant that the finish was just a little over a quarter mile away. I was hoping to get in under 7 hours or at least better than my SJT50K time (7:12:50), but with the added mileage and the way-too-numerous photo stops, that wasn’t going to happen today.

I ran as fast as my aching knees and foot could take me and crossed the line to cheers from spectators and fellow runners. Seven hours and 22-something minutes later, it sure felt good to be done. I dipped my legs in the ice-cold stream next to the GMOS and emerged to see a freshly-showered Jennifer who finished about 40 minutes ahead of me.

Apparently hours before, there was a battle at the end between the shirtless speedster Oswaldo Lopez and 18-year Shadow veteran Rob McNair. The two were going all out through the whole race, with Lopez just barely edging out the older McNair literally by a split-second. Wow, that would've been a sight to see.

Even after being off-course for about 15 minutes, iMichelle Barton aka Red Blur still took the women’s field and finished 11th overall. Jennifer, who only does a couple of 6-mile training runs during the week due to family responsibilities, placed 2nd in the 30-39 women's division. Amazing these two are.

I think that the Shadow, even with the heat and the added miles, was not as difficult as the SJT50K. There were really no insurmountable climbs (i.e. W. Horsethief Trail), and the picturesque course kept the runners company. I have to say that I loved this race and will run it again. I'll just prepare myself mentally for a 35-miler next time. If anything, I'll come just to try my luck with Baz's post-race world-famous raffle.

A few hours later, Paul was driving us all back home. What a great weekend!

Special thanks to my family and OCTR friends who wished us well and thought of us during the race, to my partners in crime, Paul, Pete, and Jennifer and to Chaz, his kids, and Sierra for supporting us out on the trail. Salamat also to Baz and his volunteers for putting this event together, year after year.

For a comprehensive race report, check out Charlie's blog.

Click here to see the photos that cost me my race goal :)

Cheers, and thanks for reading.