2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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A SUCCESSFUL DRY FORK-BEAR CAMP RUN,  
BUT STYMIED ON THE RILEY LOOP

TUESDAY, MAY 26

 
"I believe that if you set out on an adventure and you're absolutely convinced
you are going to be successful, why bother starting?"

- Sir Edmund Hillary

 
 
That quote pretty well summarizes one of the more important things I've learned during my sixty years: where's the challenge, the FUN, if everything you do turns to gold? It helps explain why race DNFs don't bother me much and why I'm willing to take some risks that others would not. Who cares if I don't always reach my original goal? I might learn or discover something else that's even better.

Today's little adventure in the mountains is but a tiny illustration of adapting to circumstances and reaching an equally-satisfying goal by being flexible. I'll summarize the last three days and two more training runs in one entry for brevity's sake.

Ha! Since when was I ever brief??

SUNDAY, MAY 24: JIM'S LONG DRY FORK-BEAR CAMP RUN

I was serious when I wrote in the last entry that Jim is much better trained for distance, mountains, and moderately high altitude than I am.

Our little trek up the Tongue River Canyon to Horse Creek Ridge and back on Saturday made me sore enough to want two days of rest before my next foray onto the Bighorn race course. My glutes, the tops of my illiotibial bands, and the muscles behind one knee were sore from that run/hike, and my shoulder blades were sore from lots of rotator cuff strengthening exercises. I'm pretty diligent with my self-PT program and can see results -- mostly better sleep -- but neither shoulder is completely healed yet. Ironically, the muscles that protested during the run Saturday (calves, hams, quads, Achilles) were just fine the next day!


Phlox

I stayed at the campground in Dayton on Sunday and accomplished a variety of tasks like house (camper) cleaning, journaling, writing e-letters, and giving Cody a bath. I wasn't a complete sloth, however. I took Cody for a long walk and then rode our mountain bike through town. I was surprised to find so many houses; I'd never gotten very far off the main thoroughfare previously.

Meanwhile, Jim returned to the mountains and did an eight-hour training run from the Head of the Dry Fork to Bear Camp and back.

Jim doesn't have the same affinity for carrying a camera with him that I do so there are no pictures to document any of those 26 miles. Tired legs, a voracious appetite, a big smile on his face, a roller-coaster GPS track, and an interesting verbal description were evidence enough for me of Jim's fine day in the mountains. The photos in this first section are ones I took of flowers on Saturday. Jim was running at about the same elevations today (approx. 6,000-7,500 feet) where these flowers were blooming three days ago.


Lupine

The weather at the campground on Sunday was mostly overcast, up to 68F., with a few sprinkles. I wondered what it was doing in the mountains where Jim was, since it rains more often up there than down in Dayton. He lucked out with overcast skies, minimal rain during his run, and temps in the 40s and 50s, just about perfect for a person with sun-sensitive skin. The most rain he got was on the 38-mile drive back down to Dayton in the late afternoon.

Since Hwy. 14A only recently opened up near Burgess Junction, we wondered what the dirt forest service road would be like on the way to Dry Fork. Jim drove over some snow in shady spots but there was no snow on any of the trails he ran at the lower elevations in this section. It was a good choice of trails to run early-season. The six miles between Dry Fork and Cow Camp are on an exposed jeep road. The single-track trails between there and Bear Camp had more mud from melting snow but weren't too messy.


The lupine in the middle of the cow pie isn't blooming yet but it should be
spectacular when it does, considering how well-fertilized it is!

Cody isn't trained for such a long run right now so Jim was on his own Sunday. He wasn't totally without company, however. He did see another man training for the 100-miler, as well as race committee members Rich Garrison and Karen Powers (twice), who were also doing an out-and-back run to check on course conditions. And there were the occasional rabbits and deer . . . but no elk or moose sightings that day.

Jim was pleased with his long run and happy to find the course in relatively good shape. The cool weather suited him fine and helped him run a faster pace. He was able to refill his water bottles regularly from springs along the trail. He managed his calories and electrolytes well, also.

MONDAY, JUNE 25: A QUIET MEMORIAL DAY

By now, Jim needed some rest, too, although he was game for a stroll around the campground and nearby Scott Centennial Park. We had a relaxing day in beautiful, mild, sunny weather. I did several of the same activities (including another long walk and bike ride) that I did on Sunday. I was pleased to be much less sore.


The Tongue River flows high and fast past the campground on 5-25-09.

Jim was so bored after lunch that he offered to go do laundry in Ranchester and shop at WalMart in Sheridan. Thank you, Sweetie!

We also took time to plot our future training runs on the Bighorn course. Where should we go tomorrow?

TUESDAY, JUNE 26: STYMIED BY SNOW ON THE RILEY LOOP

Since Jim had no trouble driving the long dirt road into Dry Fork on Sunday we decided our next training run would also begin there and include about eight miles of rough jeep roads and single-track trails that Jim doesn't even run in his race; it is exclusive to the 50K.


On the road to the Head of the Dry Fork 5-26-09

I call it the "Riley Loop," about fourteen miles total from the location of the Dry Fork aid station, up a jeep road to Riley Point, down a sometimes-steep single track trail to Cow Camp, and back to Dry Fork on another jeep road. We'd start at about 7,650 feet, go up fairly gradually to almost 8,600 feet, drop rather precipitously in a couple miles to about 6,500 feet at Cow Camp, and gradually climb back up to 7,650 feet at the end.

That was the plan, anyway.


Jim and Cody play in a patch of snow at Dry Fork; Freeze Out Road is in the upper left corner.

I really like this loop and wanted to share it with Jim because he's never been up to Riley Point before. I've done the whole loop twice previously in the 50K but never on a training run and never when it has been unmarked. I was certain of the way to the Point, but not so sure I'd be able to navigate correctly through the woods below it. The last time I was there, two years ago, a lot of trees that came down in a storm the week before the race hadn't been cleared and runners had to do some detours. I had no idea what shape the trail would be in today and how much snow would obscure the narrow trail.


Frosty Pasque Flowers on a chilly morning near Dry Fork

We figured the worst that could happen was being unable to find all of the trail below Riley Point and having to backtrack. No big deal; miles are miles unless you're off-course in a race.

Ha! To make a long story short(er), we got all of 3 miles into the jeep road . . . and there was so much snow at one point that we couldn't even figure out how to follow the ROAD to Riley Point!!


Beginning of the road that goes to Riley Point

It's funnier in retrospect than it was several hours ago, after we'd been post-holing off and on for two miles.

The jeep road quickly gains elevation from Dry Fork (photo above) to 8,000 feet in less than a mile.


Looking back down to Dry Fork; there are no leaves on the deciduous trees yet.

It was fairly muddy in places from snowmelt, which made climbing more difficult. This is the type of mud that sticks to your shoes and weighs you down. It was like that in my race two years ago, too, only without as much snow.

We encountered more and more snow between 8,000 feet and our high point of about 8,588 feet, which we reached after about 2 miles.

Some of the snow was hard enough for us to walk on without falling through. Most of the time we fell through the crust or simply sank in soft snow.

Although a few people had been through the snow before us and left big holes to tell us where NOT to tread, the snow had melted sufficiently since their passage that if you were the lead dog, there wasn't any way to tell if you'd stay on top of it or sink unexpectedly to your knee or farther. That's a lot of fun when your other foot is still on top of the snowbank!

Fortunately, Jim's faster and was usually ahead of me. If he stayed on top of hard snow, I followed in his footsteps. If he fell through, I tried an alternative route. (But don't tell him I did that!) Cody seemed to catch on to that drill after a while, too.

I hesitated at one intersection because the road looked so different than it does when the snow has melted. We did go the correct way that time (I recognized the fence in the photo above after we'd gone a couple hundred yards) but we were tired enough from post-holing by the 3-mile point (below) that we decided to turn around instead of trying to find the correct route and forging on.


Where we re-grouped and turned around

I figured if the snow was that deep on the road where the sun was more likely to melt it, it would be even worse in the deep woods below Riley Point. So we post-holed our way back to 8,000 feet elevation and ran the rest of the muddy road back down to Dry Fork.

I'm not giving up on running the entire Riley Loop before the race, just re-grouping today. We'll give it another try after more snow melts.

NOW WHAT??

So far we had seven tough miles that took us three hours to negotiate. True masochists, we wanted more time on our feet -- but without the snow, thank you.

Ultra runners aren't easily discouraged, even on training runs when nobody's keeping score. They are also typically adaptable people, making it up as they go, if necessary. Jim and I had a new plan well  before we got back to Dry Fork.

We optimistically decided to hike up Freeze Out Road from Dry Fork to the top of the ridge, a steady climb from 7,650 to 8,000 feet in about 1 miles each way. .

We would have been able to run more if we'd gone a little further and stayed entirely on the dry, switch-backing road (above) instead of taking the tangent the race uses on animal trails through a drainage area for half the distance. We got into more rocks, mud, and water there but heck, we were already wet and muddy so we just hiked up the way the race course goes:

I always like the view back down the valley toward Dry Fork from Freeze Out Road at the top of the ridge:

We decided to go back down the same route (next photo). Jim and Cody took one last opportunity to chase snowballs (second photo down).

We're hoping the course dries out a lot before race weekend June 18-19, but this area is still typically wet and/or muddy then with all the water flowing through it. There's been a little progress snow-wise already; since Jim was up here two days ago, he noticed there was less snow on the dirt road to Dry Fork.

Jim and I are both tired puppies tonight from this workout and accumulated fatigue from our earlier runs over the weekend. My knees hurt today coming down both mountains so I walked more than Jim did on the descents. I'm hoping the muscles around my knees will strengthen as I continue to train so I'm not in too much pain during the race.

Despite the whining I'm doing, the views were as magnificent as usual from both ridges we climbed today. There aren't very many flowers blooming yet at these higher elevations. It will be fun to watch their progression over the next four weeks. In addition, today's weather was very nice.

It was sunny and in the 40s-60s F. in the mountains while we hiked and ran. We shed clothes as the sun warmed us up (below). By mid-afternoon it was in the low 70s back at camp. So far we've had mostly sunny days, mornings in the low 40s in Dayton (elev. about 4,000 feet), and around 70F. during the day, which is normal for this time of year. Love it!


It was warm at 8,500 feet, despite all the snow around us on the road to Riley Point.

[IMPORTANT CLUE TO OUR TRAVEL M.O.: This is what we consider to be our perfect "temperature window," the range in degrees that we seek all year long as we travel from place to place. Much under or over those temps and we're uncomfortable. That's why you'll find us in the Rocky Mountains in the summer, the Southwest in the winter, and our Virginia house in the spring and fall.]

It took us a while to get the mud off our shoes, clothing, bodies, dog, and truck when we got back to the camper. Cody was probably the cleanest of the three of us because of all the time he spent splashing through water and rolling in snowbanks today. He's so funny. When he sees snow, he makes a beeline toward it and starts rolling around in it, even when he's wearing his pack. Jim likes to egg him on:

We spent the rest of the day mostly relaxing. I enjoy sitting at my desk, watching what's going on outside my windows when I need a break from reading or writing: rabbits and cats teasing Cody to give chase (they quickly learn exactly how far his cord reaches!), squirrels cavorting in the trees, the Hoods doing various chores in the nearby cabins and grounds, other campers walking around and visiting.

It's usually quite peaceful and idyllic here. I'm glad we decided to spend a month at Foothills this time.

Next entry: slaying the dragon (you'll just have to stay tuned in to find out what that means!)

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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