July Trail Runner Blog Symposium

About two-thirds of the way through the month I wrote Yitka at Trail Runner magazine. The topic announcement for the July edition of the Trail Runner Blog Symposium was seemingly stuck back in June. She replied, offered her apologies and mentioned that they were over committed for July and that they’d be skipping this month.

I don’t feel let down by this at all. July is one of those months in the trail running community when everything tends to happen all at once. Speed Goat, Hard Rock, too much sky running. Kilian Jornet completed an 11h and change ascent of McKinley. Okay, so that was in June, but everyone spent the first couple of weeks in July trying to nab an interview with him. Point being, it’s a busy time. It is also an incredible time for trail work.

In early July I did a big moon trail run up the PCT well into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. As expected it was an amazing run and I felt blessed to have the opportunity. The ascent is steep, but most of the snow had melted before the Kendall Katwalk. When I emerged from the trees I was bathed in milky, silver moonlight. We all know that you can have a sun bath, but who knew bathing in moonlight could be so good?

On the far side of the Katwalk fields of fast melting snow slowed my progress so I only made it as far as a rocky outcrop just before Joe Lake. I set up a hasty bivy under the moon on a flatish rock and tried to grab some shuteye.

The moonlight was one problem that kept me awake, but with my hood pulled over my eyes I was shaded enough to not be bothered too much. But in the stillness of that high place along the Crest I could make out the constant passage of traffic along Interstate 90 some 10 miles away and far below. It was driving nutty.

Surrounded by thousands of acres of supposedly untrammeled land compression breaks of container trucks and early morning air traffic headed to and from SeaTac penetrated that far up the Gold Bar basin. And so it goes that I gave myself a topic to consider. Trail running is a backcountry pursuit. Sure, I can head out the door of my townhouse here in suburbia and trot along foot paths lovingly cut into the DNR forests that border the development, but the good stuff, the trails I crave are all in deep Wilderness. So I wonder, what can trail runners do to protect what remains wild in the backcountry we inhabit, and more specifically, what can we do to protect lands specifically designated as Wilderness?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act. In that short time Wilderness has come under a barrage of attacks. Today, wilderness areas as increasingly at risk as politicians, convinced they’re missing out on money making opportunities, endeavor to remove or weaken protections guaranteed by this piece of legislation. The Wilderness Society maintains a map of active bills and legal battles that would be detrimental to Wilderness lands. All that red is very sad commentary on contemporary American civic values. It means that love of money, power and control has taken over our collective consciousness.

I believe that understanding why this is happening is the best leverage we have in the protection of these lands. The people who mount these attacks on wilderness do so because they do not value these lands. They have no experience, in fact, of America in its primal state. Or if they do, it is an experience distorted by playthings.

When I worked on the Flat Tops Wilderness in Colorado I would spend the first half of any summer hauling out the trash of hunter camps from the previous autumn. Privileged white men with more money than sense would hire out guides, steads and luxurious accommodations well beyond the wilderness boundary for a chance to hunt the impressive herds of Elk that roam those high, primal lands. As was evidenced by the piles of rotting junk I invariably collected up and slung across my back, these people did not visit that place for a love of land. Rather, they were there play-acting like children the role of hunter.

Moonlight bivy above Joe Lake

Now understand, I have no problem with hunting. When I had more time and money I hunted regularly. The point I’m trying to get at is that these people visited this place, not to experience the place, but to exploit a resource it happened to contain. They were invariably removed or padded from the consequences of their actions and the impact their visit had on that place. The point I’m getting at is that they did not experience wilderness, only a proximity to it.

How could they value untrammeled, wild land? How could they fall in love with the stark, unforgiving beauty of tundra? How might they understand the value of a place completely devoid of all human sounds save the passage of your own breath?

People only fight for things for which they feel passion. You cannot feel passion for something you do not understand. It’s my belief that many trail runners understand how valuable wilderness is because they know these places. Trail running is an excellent way to include people in a raw wilderness experience. There is very little between you and your surroundings on a good trail run. You’re really in it. What can trail runners do to protect wilderness? This one wants to take you along on his next bivy. So come on, lace ’em up, let’s get wild in the wilderness.

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TRBS: Gagets?

“Click, click, click” goes another gadget

The February Trail Runner Blog Symposium asks the question, “are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trails?” I’m sitting in an airport terminal more than 2,000 kilometers from my home and chuckling. My laugh has more to do with the order of my reading and investigations than anything else.

After spending more than an hour clearing security at Ronald Reagan I sat down wishing for my trigger point rollers. I took one bag for both Aral and I, it’s an Eagle Creek ruck that converts into a checkable suitcase. I have had it and about twenty-five kilograms of crap on my back since we left the my wife’s apartment hours before. It is useful, it get’s the job done for certain, but when it’s heavy like that it leaves my neck and shoulders feeling like I was caned by a malicious Chinese judiciary.

After getting to our gate, we sat down, I opened up my laptop and began to read. The first search I did was “How to go trail running with a child?” My intent is to try to get some trail time without needing to always check him into Hotel de los Abuelos. I wanted to see if others might be pushing their three year olds along trails via Chariot. And what, if any, modifications they have made to make it possible.

I have already mounted a bracket to the push bar so that I can attach a GPS where it is plainly visible. Often I soften the springs on the CX 1 so that the ride is not a jarring Baja dash for Aral. And I have mounted a water bottle holder as well so I’m not trying to thread a handheld through the tether. When you are running with fifteen kilograms of extra weight that has the volatility of Methyl chloride it pays to be as prepared as you can.

From that web search I clicked over to Trail Runner because I’m looking for some replacement shoes. I cannot seem to find the old style C-Lites from La Sportiva any more, and even if I could, well my foot has changed, so I need some help finding the next future-ex pair of trail running shoes.

Just about the time I was thinking I could use an Aleve for the monster headache I’m working on I saw the question. And laughed. Out loud.

“Help or hinderance” you ask? I’m not sure I could even manage two dusty steps along any trail without all those “extras”. Sure, there are moments, usually when I’m sweating like a 41 year old pig under a shade tree on the side of a trail, that I pine for the freedom and mobility of my unencumbered youth. But this is the difficult algebra of age, knowing what you need to get the job done and what you can leave behind because you’ll never use it. The value of those variables tends to shift between extremes as we age.

Ultrarunning and the Trail Running Media

I’m putting together a ruck for a trail run along the Front Range this evening.  In goes a little dried mango.  Two bottles of water: one of which I’ll probably drink, the other is there just in case.  A light sweater.  My phone.  And where are my truck keys?  Check my head lamp, are the batteries good?

Cascades in Smoke

I’m thinking about each of these things as I put them in my bag.  Thinking about them as if I were going to be running up and over a pass or beyond the horizon, even though I know that this is just a recreational run and most likely it wont exceed six or seven miles.  I’ll be in full view of the lights of down-town Denver the whole time.  I’ll probably start counting cars as they make their way along Highway 36.  This run will be about as far apart from an running an ultra as one can get.  But its still going to happen on a trail.

For me, there isn’t a lot that separates a “trail run” from an “ultra”.  Very little other than distance or time, take your pick.  If I had more time, I’d run more distance.  When I read about someone else’s epic journey, in a race or just along some trail the mile markers just serve as a reference points to anchor some segment of the story.

If there are pictures included I’d rather know what I’m looking at than the distance from the trail head or the start.  Is that a view of the mountain pass you’ll be running up today?  Yep, well that’s cool, I want to run it too.

Distance is a function of time regardless of event; if you’re racing an ultra, fast packing a trail, or just going out for a jog a story can happen.  Yes, there are people who can pack more distance in less time than I, and I say good for them.  Speed is important, but never as important as the story.  Distance can happen anywhere, but its not that impressive if its nothing much more than an odometer ticking away miles.  Don’t believe me, then ask yourself where are the epic ultra accounts from Kansas.

That’s why I run.  For the story.  Each footstep forward is another sentence in the story of that run.  Maybe it will never be told, but it unfolds nevertheless, inside my head as I make my way along any trail or path.  And just like any story, if the author places too much emphasis on one element over the others, the story itself will become unbalanced and much less compelling.

Running for a cause, along the PCT for the WTA

Do I think there is too much emphasis being placed on ultrarunning in the trail running media?  I don’t know, does it sell?  If by “ultrarunning” one means racing on trails over long distances from the sole perspective of the sport’s minority elite, well then my answer might be “yes”.  There are a few good story tellers in that bunch, but most of them are just good runners.

Trip reports, race reports, gear reviews from the hopelessly normal, even the perspective of mindful trail walkers — these are things I wouldn’t mind reading.  Share your story, share your joy in running.  You can write about that ultra race you just completed, but if it isn’t a good story than forgive me while if I glance over the first couple of lines and move onto something enjoyable.  Adding the word “ultra” to a piece of writing and expecting it to shine only works for cleaning detergents.