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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Saint John USVI, Thanksgiving Week 2013 Part 1 (some hikes and etc.)

To prepare for this trip, Lisa and I spent a week on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas that ported out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a lovely and elegant ship and never felt too crowded. We knew our week on Saint John would require practice, so we worked on our eating, floating, and chilling out skills. After the cruise, on Saturday morning, we were the first to disembark and we headed to the airport, where we took a Cessna ten-seater (Cape Air) for an amazing flight over the northwest coast and Culebra and landed in Saint Thomas.
My parents had arrived in Saint Thomas the previous day so we picked them up in Charlotte Amalie and headed to the Red Hook ferry. There's something magical about destinations that require boat rides to get there--I think of Disneyworld, Isle Royale, and now Saint John. The ride only took about 10-15 minutes.
On the Red Hook ferry
We rented our jeep, checked into our place, hit the Starfish Market for groceries (we later found the Saint John Market near the Westin to be much cheaper, as well as the Love City Mini Mart on the east side), rented snorkel fins for my dad, had an early dinner in Cruz Bay (or was it lunch?), then hit Trunk Bay for a swim before sunset.
Trunk Bay sunset
Trunk Bay sunset

Driving: This is another thing that took training, and years of video games have given me the skills to succeed at driving on Saint John. I loved it. Road obstacles such as donkeys, sheep, goats, etc. kept me alert. The longest stretch of straight road seems to be about 40 yards, and switchbacks are common. So are rental jeeps, and we went through two of them in our week there.

The locals seem nice about people like me who forget that driving takes place on the left side of the road. One night in Cruz Bay, with my window down I heard someone repeating, "Left. Left. Left." He was speaking to me and I needed that reminder. The roundabout in  Cruz Bay where five roads come together must be the best spot for entertainment on the entire island, especially if I'm circling it. The only way to get through it is to find some point of mutual understanding with the other drivers, and smiles and polite hand gestures are more than helpful.

House: We stayed in a villa called Over the Rainbow, which is on a hilltop between Fish Bay and Reef Bay on the south side of the island. The place was perfect for us. The views of Fish Bay at night were wonderful, and because the villa is on the edge of the national park, our views to the east showed completely undeveloped shore all the way to Ram Head. Such thick skies at night, and the sounds of the night forest were beautiful, though overwhelming at first. 

Many cats live in the forest around our place. Lisa made friends with them and soon they were watching us through the big glass doors. Their new names are Sweet Pea, Smokey and Angel. In one of the biggest surprises of the week, my mom heated leftover mac and cheese and fed it to them. The island even made her like cats!
Sunrise, looking toward Ram Head from Over the Rainbow
From our place, it was a short but steep walk down to the beaches of Reef Bay. Then we were able to walk around or over some big rocks to find the ruins of the Reef Bay Rum Factory.
Reef Bay beach walk
Some rocks we walked around and over
Tree-climbing soldier crab
Rum factory ruins

Salt Pond Bay: We went to the east side of the island a couple different times and fell in love with Salt Pond Bay. On the way, we met donkeys on Centerline Road. We saw one on the porch of Pickles Deli. Later, we saw donkeys on the beach at Maho Bay. We also saw sheep on Centerline Road, although we thought they were goats. Someone taught us how to tell the difference by their tails: goat tails point up, sheep down.  
Salad donkey
Pickles Deli donkey

Road donkeys

 From Salt Pond Bay, we did a couple hikes. The first was to Ram Head and Drunk Bay. Ram Head was scenic with lots of cacti and expansive vistas, while Drunk Bay was full of little coral people splayed all over the rocks. We left a guy made of coral and coconut husk there too. And when we sent my parents to see "something really cool at Drunk Bay," my mom naturally assumed I was directing her to the nudist beach.
No Grandpa, I want a different rock.
Ram Head trail

Ram Head trail
Coral people of Drunk Bay
Drunk Bay and a lovely lady
Our guy is on the right.
A few days later we came back and drove to the end of the road, past Salt Pond Bay and the Lameshur Bays, and we hiked the old Lameshur Road trail to the Reef Bay Estate ruins and then on to the Taino Petroglyphs.

And then on to the Taino petroglyphs:

These were historic when Columbus arrived.
 Yes, all these trails were awesome for running too. Of course.

On the north side of the island, we explored the Annaberg ruins.
Monkey-no-climb tree

Next time we'll talk about beaches and snorkeling, if you care to join me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Superior 100, 2013 (Unexplainable Stories)

The Superior 100 Endurance Run starts at Gooseberry State Park and travels north via the Superior Hiking Trail, a favorite playground, to Lutsen Mountain. Along the way, for an actual 103.6 miles, the adventure is filled with so many awesome and inspiring people, overwhelming views, incredible stories of triumphs of body and spirit. In other words, despite some physical pain and running through some dark spots, it's a total blast.
with Mom and Dad
The gathering at the start is fun, meeting new people and seeing others from these events, but you really want to get running. Your parents are there too. After a hug and sweet kiss from Lisa, and a “Go” from race director John Storkamp, you're finally doing this thing, running under the Highway 61 bridge and soon leaving paved trail. Except for highway crossings, you won’t run pavement again until the finish is in sight. The memories are very episodic--only a couple days removed you have a difficult time getting the specifics right, what happened in what section and so on.

To Split Rock Aid Station (9.7 miles)
Lots of chatter. Lots of people passing. Lots of excitement. You run too fast. 

Approaching the aid station, you let out a loud, "Woo!" Then another. You will do this approaching  every aid station. People will later say, "There's that guy who says 'Woo.'" 

To Beaver Bay (10.3 miles)
The heat kicks in. You're still drinking regularly, eating a Gu packet every half hour. Still running faster than you should, too. You decide to pull back—the day could get long and your goals are to finish and to enjoy it.

At Beaver Bay you see Lisa and your parents for the first time. You sit in a chair.  You pour ice water over your head, then Lisa covers your head with cold rags--she's amazing that way, the details. You're incredibly gassy and try to blame your mom. You eat some oranges and bananas. You can't stop laughing.
To Silver Bay (4.9 miles)
This section is short but a lot happens. It's more exposed and everyone who passes you or who you pass mentions the heat beating them up. People are zombied. You're nauseous and bloated from drinking so much water. At a beautiful overlook of endless trees you sit on a rock and consider throwing up. A friend named Joe (who's still in the Gnarly Bandit hunt) chats for a couple minutes. The breeze feels good here--you must have taken your shirt off. You spray orange chunks and liquid on the rocks in spurts, enjoying the view and the breeze. You feel so much better after the vomit. Not long after this you pass a man who has run out of water (or maybe he passes you), so you give him some of yours.

You dip your head in a cold creek before the aid station.

At some point you come upon Matt, who has ridden up with you (Lisa and your parents are helping crew him too). You work together to get to the aid station and the familiar company is nice. You feel wobbly and worry about being able to finish this thing when you take a chair at Silver Bay.

To Tettegouche (9.9 miles) 
This section feels long and hilly and beautiful and hot. But every section feels hilly and beautiful. It might be that you throw up here instead of the previous section. And you might have run into the man without water here instead. Heat blurs memory. You had looked at your mileage chart wrong before leaving and think this section's a mile or two shorter than it really is, so it feels like forever. By the time you hit Tettegouche, you're really scared you won't make it to the end.

To County Road 6 (8.6 mles)
You've got trekking poles now. Shortly after leaving Tettegouche, along the rocky shores of the Baptism River, with little daylight to spare, you pull out the headlamp. You love the magic of night running, how your world of vision is reduced to that circle of light and the shadows its movement creates. How other distant headlamps move across valleys and ridgetops. The echoing pip pip pip of nightbirds.

For a long time, you hear faint traces of a woman singing. You wonder if it's someone from the many campsites along the trail. But the voice moves through the dark. Ahead of you now. It's lovely. Then the voice connects to a pair of headlamps, a runner and her pacer, one of them singing. You thank them for the gift. They tell you they aren't really there, that you're hallucinating. Their laughter bounces in the dark as you continue on.

To Finland (7.5 miles)
The stars so thick and bright you could reach out and grab handfuls from the sky. Rocky outcrops and the sound of water rushing somewhere beneath you. 

You think of your friend Aric often tonight. Exactly a year ago he passed away and you walked the Blue Earth river looking for him. Now you talk to him and you are comforted.

AC/DC blasts from speakers at the aid station.

To Sonju Lake Road (7.7 miles)
Branches and brush hide the trail from your headlamp. At the aid station, you suck down a cup of soup broth. This has been your go-to aid station request. You've backed off the gel packets in the night because they make you want to throw up. It's still so humid and warm for such a clear night, and the campfire feels good but you don't linger here. You want to see Lisa, so you move on.

To Crosby-Manitou (4.2 miles)
You're feeling good, moving good. The poles give you a rhythm. You ran this section three weeks ago, so landmarks are familiar, even in the dark. You've been taking this thing piece by piece, aid station by aid station, but this one is special because the last had no crew access, and you'll see Lisa here. It's also the halfway mark. Yay!
Crosby bathroom
To Sugarloaf (9.4 miles)
The climbs through the Manitou River gorge are brutal, at spots so steep your hands pull you up. Twice you hit false summits, and then keep climbing. But when you finally top out the sun is twinkling over the big lake and there is enough light to see the whole forested gorge you just passed through. The light brings energy. You run more. You hop over rocks and roots instead of stumbling. You'll change shoes at Sugarloaf. It's a long day ahead, still hot and humid, and this section's got plenty of climbing, but you've got this. Just keep moving.

To Cramer Road (5.6 miles)
You've been running with a guy named Jason for awhile now, working together. It's amazing, the things you discover you have in common. It's good teamwork. You're grateful for the company. You're also leaving the aid stations faster. The end of this is in your head now.

You see Russ, Matt's pacer, here. Russ taught your son English in high school. Matt's suffering, but moving. He's in good hands.
Watermelon and soup broth for breakfast

To Temperance River (7.1 miles)
You're out in the open often in this section, but midmorning the heat starts to break. You first notice it in the cooler breezes by rivers. The air is dryer too. 

You will regret not taking a pancake from the last aid station.
Again, you've read your chart wrong and think this section is a couple miles shorter than it is, so it grows as you move through it. You're seeing 50 milers pass you now. They smell fresh, like soap and shampoo. They all offer encouragement.

To Sawbill (5.7 miles)
Jason has so much energy you cut the imaginary string that's held you together this long and let him go. You can't keep up and you're happy he's feeling this groove. 50 milers from Mankato are coming by. Your new friend TJ is doing great. You're moving too, doing what you can, steady, highs and lows pulsing through you in quick waves. You're eating more now too. 

You'd really like an ice cream cookie sandwich from here until the end. It's in your head.
The long and steep climb from the Temperance River to Carlton Peak whacks you hard, but long sections here are runnable. And once you pass the spur to the top of Carlton Peak, you feel different, lighter. You're in spring race territory here, only 25k to go. And it's mostly all downhill boardwalk to the aid station. Lisa returns your Woo! long before you can see her.
with Darren
To Oberg (5.5 miles)
Darren joins you. The company is great but you're not good at conversation now. You're deep inside yourself, focused on each step, each breath. You hear shallow grunts in your breathing. This section rides you heavy, and a couple miles before the aid station you sit on a bench and regroup. What's difficult now, besides the muscle cramping (you're used to that), is the feet, the toes, the mangled bottoms, the feel of the roots and rocks. 

You're grateful Darren is here. These things are better shared.

At Oberg, a man offers to spray your head with cold water. Of course you accept such a lovely gift. Like so many you've met here, he's a total trail angel.

To Finish (7.1 miles/ 103.6 total)
As tough as the previous section was, you've been thinking about this one since yesterday morning, since the spring runs. You've thought about what Moose and Mystery Mountains will feel like 100 miles into the game. And what you learn is that compared to where you've been, they've got nothing on you. You power through Moose Mountain. You hear finish line cheering, but you know you've got lots of circling to do. Darren tells you it's over a hundred miles done and it doesn't seem real. You power up Mystery, digging and leaning into your poles. You hoot and holler and woo and the darkness is almost upon you and what you don't want is to have to take that headlamp out again but you can't see the ground. Heading down Mystery Mountain you've entered the second night and the lights come out.
Someone has been answering your woos but now the sound of the Poplar River drowns human voices. Yes, you hear the river, feel its wind. You're crossing its bridge. You're answering your wife, hugging her. She's running beside you on the pavement.
Breathe it all in.
You're doing this.
You're circling the pool and crossing the line with your good friend and your wife.
You're stupefied by the wonder of it all.
This is happening.
You hug your parents. At least you think you do. You're so grateful you were able to cross the line with Lisa, because you ran this thing together, as a team--you will forever be grateful for the many ways she makes your life better. You get your buckle and your sweatshirt. Your time was 36 hours, 17 minutes, and some change. You greet Matt, both your new friends named Jason, others you met on the trail or at the pre-race meeting. And soon a strange thing happens. You're sitting alone at this table, your parents giving rides, Lisa ordering pizza, hunting a Coke for you. Your brain feels dry and messy, as if you might not know how to talk to someone if they came up to start a conversation. You wonder if you could write a full sentence, your name. But you're different now. You're carrying this new thing inside you--it's beautiful. 

A Cloud Cult song comes through the speakers on the hotel patio. Their song "Unexplainable Stories" has been looping through your head for the last 60 miles or so. It fits. This run is finished, but it will be with you forever.


Next day brunch with Matt

She's going to help me soak my feet. I'm a lucky lucky boy!
So grateful for the community it took to get me and all these other runners together and to our finish lines (Storkamp does these right and he's good people). Grateful for the overwhelming kindness and support of family, friends, and strangers throughout this thing. Grateful for the victories and character found in the DNF's. Grateful for the humility a thing like this brings. Grateful for the opportunities and the possibilities.