Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Buenas Dias De Cuenca, Ecuardor!

Hi all.

Well, Lee Anne and I have been in Cuenca, Ecuador for 8 days and have not missed the snow yet.  I am typing in an Internet cafe on a Spanish keyboard, so don´t expect grammatical perfection.  It took me 10 minutes to find the apostrophe, which I hope looks like ´...

Cuenca is a smallish city of circa 400,000 people and about 600,000 taxis, all vying to come within inches of anyone on the sidewalk while travelling at 120 KPH.  The buses feature a unique cloaking device; a shroud of jet black smoke that emanates from the back of the bus.  I think the objective is to mask their trajectory, so that the trailing taxis must hesitate before deciding on which sidewalk to pass the bus!

Let´s talk about running.  Cuenca has some beautiful parks with trails and paved tracks.  The problem, which you have probably already guessed, is getting to the parks alive.  Aside from the all too real risk of getting hit by a taxi or motorcycle while running on the sidewalk, breathing is problematic.  Cuenca is at 2,800 meters, so the bus fumes combined with a lack of oxygen results in running in an atmosphere not unlike a vacuum.  Picture blacking out while being run over by a taxi.  Trail running in Ontario has zero risk, compared to road running in Cuenca!

Cuenca is quite picturesque, with circa 1800´s building and about 300 churches.  Not kidding about the churches - there is literally a huge church on almost every corner!  One that we visited took 70 years to build.  In another church, everything in the chamber that housed the alter was covered in gold.  It appeared to have 10 - 20 kilograms of gold leaf.  I´ll add pictures when I get home.

Let´s revisit spelling and grammar...  Almost every word I type is underlined in red - apparently a typo in Spanish.  Strangely, spellcheck works fine, so hopefully I can weed out the typos before posting.  The keyboard is not only in Spanish, but some of the keys are worn blank - some guesswork to find the hidden English letters!

As I type this in a tiny Internet cubicle, buses and motorcycles fly past, inches from the door.  Yes, I am including the sidewalk in the distance calculation.  So what have we been doing in Cuenca?  The historic buildings, churches and restaurants would suffice to make Cuenca a destination, but there are also some interesting small towns surrounding Cuenca, with artisans and knitting cooperatives.  A 40 minute bus ride costs $2, so getting around is quite reasonable.

There is also this cute little national park called Cajas nearby.  I don´t know how big it is, but some hikes take 4 days and people tend to get lost and die on occasion.  We stayed on one trail that took 3 - 5 hours to hike (depending on how much of the trail you hiked) as it did not require a guide.  We did the pink trail 3 times, although what with getting lost on every occasion, our route was slightly different each day.  When I describe the trail as being pink, it does not indicate it was easy.  Pink was the colour assigned to the infrequent markers that indicated which of several trails you wanted to take.  The pink trail crested at 4,000 meters, so again, breathing was not always an option.  The trail was not overly technical, unless you consider getting lost and dying of hypothermia "technical"...

The scenery is astounding.  Hopefully a few pictures will provide an inkling of its beauty.  Cobalt blue lakes, brown-green valleys, strange stunted pine tree formations and chalk white cliffs.  The weather was cold although it warmed up on occasions while walking in the valleys when the sun came out.  Rain had that "recently snow" feel about it, although it only fell lightly and just long enough to don a rain jacket, before it stopped.

Getting back to Cuenca could not be easier.  All hikes end at the highway.  We would simply find a straight stretch and wait for a bus.  Typically the bus would spot us and sound its horn.  If you waved, it meant you wanted a ride back to Cuenca.  All buses went to Cuenca.

We leave Cuenca on Saturday and join friends Dawn and Ron, and my daughter Celeste in Latacunga, the staging point for the Quilatoa Loop.  Lee Anne and I did the Loop 2 years ago and it is still fresh in our minds.  Breathtaking scenery, fascinating indigenous villages and an epic adventure.  From Quilotoa, we travel to Otavalo for the market, then possibly on to Ibarra, to climb the Imbabura volcano.

Once back in Canada, I´ll post again, with pictures, hopefully before cranking up the maple syrup season.  That´s all for now from Cuenca.  Run safe!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Year in Review and Plans for 2018

Let me see if I can remember how to blog...  It's been a while.

The near-two month hiatus from posting is due primarily to an inexplicably busy schedule coupled with a lack of races on which to report.  The lack of races is understandable, at this time of year in Ontario.  But please sit back down and calm yourself.  I can hear you jumping up and down and yelling that I am retired and there is no such thing as a schedule, let alone a busy one.  I feel sorry for when you retire - it can be a cruel task master...

I've been busy with a myriad of unrelated tasks and projects that crested quite spectacularly in the last 2 weeks.  The OUTRace (Ontario Ultra and Trail Race) series took some time.  I'm on the executive and we cobble together the next year's schedule and events at this time of year.  It is also the voting season, where the race directors vote on adding any new races and other topics that are vote worthy.

My daughter bought a house in Wasaga Beach, which is much too close to where I live, in Creemore.  It was in need of renovations before it could be used as a 4 season house.  Guess who was the designated contractor?  I figured a closing date of December 21 would provide me with a few warm days in which I could insulate the crawlspace in comfort.  Stop your shouting.  You can't blame me for the severe cold spell, just because I planned outside work in December!  Totally unfair.  The exterior walls had no insulation, house wrap or vapour barrier.  My plan was to frame 2X4 walls inside and insulate them.  The rooms would become 4 inches smaller, but my daughter is living there, not me, so no big deal.  My niece's husband suggested that I glue SM insulation board to the existing drywall, then glue drywall to the SM board.  This worked quite well, but I don't like protruding screw heads, which is what happened to the screws I used to keep the drywall in place while the glue dried.  I prefer screwing into studs.  Somehow that came out wrong...

Finally, Lee Anne's pottery business has become much more successful, which to me, means more glazing, firing the kiln and transporting pottery to various stores in the area.  It doesn't sound like much, but suddenly I was struggling to find time to run.  Then I caught a cold...  Let's leave this topic before it turns ugly.

2017 was both a successful and disappointing year for me.  I participated in 9 long races and completed 6 ultras (a personal high).  I developed an accurate understanding of how to recover when running an ultra on consecutive weekends.  You don't.  Effective training techniques give way to triage.  Envision Hawkeye Pierce tersely stating "lose the fingers - he doesn't need them to run".

I also have a new appreciation of how much logistics plays a role in successful racing.  Yes, it is cheaper to get up at 3:00 AM and drive to the race site on race day, but how much of a toll does the lack of sleep and stress of driving take on your finishing time?  I won't mention the fun and joy of driving a long distance home on trashed legs.

But overall, 2017 was an incredible year for me.  I saw (and greatly admire) those few individuals that make it to almost every race.  I was able to chat with many runners, volunteers, race directors and other members of the OUTRace executive.  I completed 3 ultras in 15 days.  Mostly, I simply enjoyed being at the races.  They are fun, exciting and challenging.  I'll never do it again...

Seriously, I don't plan on taking on so many races in 2018.  My stab at the Norm Patenaude award might not be the final attempt, but I would prefer to regroup in 2018 and run more races in a recovered state, instead of the sickly death-like trance I assumed while "racing".

So, 2018 will be more of a sampling of new and old races, ultra and shorter distances.  I will ease into the race schedule, possibly with a 25K at Pick Your Poison, instead of hammering out 3 ultras in the first 29 days.  Speaking of PYP, it is the 10th anniversary this year and they already have 200 people signed up!

The OUTRace email blast goes out tomorrow.  It holds some exciting changes for 2018 as it is the 30th anniversary for OUTRace (formerly OUS).  I will be involved in hosting a 30th anniversary 30K fun run, to be held in early August.  There will also be spot prizes and a draw for "OUTRace Regulars" - people who sign up for 3 or more OUTRace events.

Well, gotta run - hope to see you on the trails in 2018!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fat Ass Trail Run Race Report

The Fat Ass Trail Run (FATR) is new to the OUTRace series, but is certainly not a new race.  In fact, it has sold out for the last few years, so not a good race to show up on race day and ask to register.  FATR joined the other races that comprise OUTRace this year and race director Sandy Musson has gone out of her way to accommodate us in her very busy race schedule.  FATR offers more race distances than any other race I know of; a race for children (cheekily called the Big Bum), 4K, 7.5K, 10K, 17.5K, 25K, 50K and the Bad Ass 6 hour race.

I had not run FATR before, but friends had only great things to say about the race, courses and organization.  Since FATR is the last race in the OUTRace schedule, Sandy graciously allowed us to hold the awards.  My good friend Sharon is the OUTRace treasurer and as past series coordinator, helped me to set up for the awards.  But first, we would be running the 25K event!

Before getting into the race report, I should mention that Sharon was able to source a cottage from her friend Jen, near the Bata ski hills, where FATR transpires.  Yes, we would be running on ski hills!  To call Jen's cottage a cottage is about as misleading as calling my house a house.  My house is a cottage and Jen's cottage is a house.  Six of us stayed Saturday night in the cottage and we only needed 4 of the 6 bedrooms.  The living room had a 25 foot high cathedral ceiling.

I picked up race kits on Saturday (FATR is on Sunday) and met Sandy for the first time.  Although busy, she had enough time to tell me that they were making snow on the ski hills.  Pardon?  I had visions of running up a ski hill, directly into a snow gun.  Fortunately, the snow machines were silent on race day.

The 50K and 6 hour races started at 7:30, but the 17.5K and 25K had a more civilized start time of 9:00.  The 25K runners would join the 17.5K runners for a loop of the 7.5K course, then a loop of the 10K course.  We (25K) would continue back to the 7.5K course for a second loop.

With over 600 participants for all the race distances, there was a good crowd starting the 17.5K and 25K.  We congo-lined up the ski hill, slipping a bit in the new snow.  The hill is not overly high, although on the second loop it felt like a monster.  Then it was downhill and on to some single track replete with boggy sections, then rail trail and more single track.  Then up a gentle slope on single track to the top of the ski hill, which reminded me of Pick Your Poison.  By this time, the crowds had thinned and most were running at their race pace.

I had no concrete plan for the 25K.  About 5K in I decided I might as well run it with some effort, as there was no need to keep anything back.  Please note that I said "some effort", not "fast".  Most of the runners were ahead of me and would remain so!  But since this was my shortest race (in fact, my first race less than 50K or 6 hours) I would try to maintain a harder pace.  This would come back to haunt me in the final 6K, but might as well push in a shortish race.

After the first 7.5K loop it was on to the 10K loop, which was surprisingly flat.  I kept looking ahead for big hills, but the first 5K was fairly flat on some nice dual and single track.  The second half of the 10K loop reminded me of part of Dirty Girls; roller coaster single track through deciduous forest, but gentle enough to allow for faster speeds.

The second and final 7.5K loop was not as flat as the first loop.  Not sure how they quickly added small rollers, but they did.  I'm sure the fact that my legs were feeling trashed had nothing to do with it...  Going even marginally faster at the 25K, compared to my tragic pace in longer races this year, made the last 6K a bit unpleasant.  Yes, my knees complained bitterly, especially with the downhill sections, my phantom ankle problem reared its ugly head  - I might have to take 3 or 4 days off running.  But the big surprise is how much my back hurt during the final push to the finish line.  It hurt a lot!  It also felt rickety and was snapping a lot more than normal.  I'm going to guess that dehydration resulting from running a race and a few glasses of wine the previous night had something to do with it.  I also abstained from vitamin I (Ibuprofen) as I felt it was not needed for a short race.

The trail marking was quite good, although I felt that something was off, about 5K into the last 7.5K loop.  Not sure if you have had that feeling, but I was on a dual path in a forest that seemed to go on much longer than the first loop.  Had I missed a turn?  There was still orange tape, but it was in trees off the course.  I did not see any of the red arrows on black signs for a while.  I decided to turn back and look for a turn, rather than continuing in what was likely the wrong direction.  About 500 meters back, I came upon another runner.  I figured that I was wrong about being off course and turn around again.  Sure enough, about 200 meters past where I had turned back, we came upon a red arrow.  All was well.  I even had a great reason why my time was so slow - that extra kilometer must have taken me at least 40 minutes - right?

My finishing time was 3:28, which is slow for the course, but also indicates how bad my back was acting up.  I had dropped from the 50K to the 25K, and was very happy to have done so.  I doubt there was 50K in the tank, a short 2 weeks after Horror Trail!

After changing and a bite to eat, I went over to help Jim Orr (OUTRace statistician) tabulate the series winners.  Here is how I helped:  I watched Jim as he performed his magic with the incoming FATR results, about 20 spreadsheets and a calculator.  When I say magic, I am not waxing eloquently.  I have no idea how he does it!  The sad truth is that no one knows how he does it, so this needs to be rectified in the near future.  We need an alternate statistician.

Jim also helped me with presenting the awards.  I would be lying if I said I remember who won what.  Rather than making a mistake, I'll refer you to the website.  Series winners will be posted soon.  However, here is the breakdown in the awards:

Trail Series:

Series champions (M & F)
Under 40:  First, second and third (M & F)
40 - 49:      First, second and third (M & F)
Over 50:    First, second and third (M & F)

50K Series:

First, second and third (M & F)

Ultra series

Series champions (M & F)
Under 40:  First, second and third (M & F)
40 - 49:      First, second and third (M & F)
Over 50:    First, second and third (M & F)

Norm Patenaude award:

About 8 recipients (Strangely, no woman?)

Slam awards:  (At least 100K in Sulphur Springs and Ottawa, and 100 miles at Haliburton)

Stephen Bridson
David Varty

For fun, here is what Jim does, for each and every race:

Obtain results for the Trail races (typically about 25K distance), 50K and all the ultra distances.
Determine if there are any name variations (did David Smith sign up as Dave Smith, etc.)
See the outrace website for exact point calculations, but in essence, runners get 1 point per kilometer (50 points for a 50K, 161 for a 100 miles, 45 if you run 45K in a 6 hour race) plus position points.  First place gets 100 points, second place gets a percentage of 100 points based on how many are in the race.  Example:  Second in a race with 10 people gets 90 position points, but in a race with 100 people, second gets 99 position points.

Try completing the results 30 minutes after the race ends...

Congratulations to all who attained an OUTRace award.  Obviously the more races you complete, the better you do in the series, but none of the awards are a walk in the park.  I know.  I tried for the Norm Patenaude award and came up short.  The overall Ultra Series male champion came down to the last race.

Many thanks to our sponsors Trail Runner and Arc'teryx, for supporting OUTRace.  every little bit helps us to put on a quality series.  Arc'teryx donated running shoes to the Ultra champions.  I have chatted with people from New York during a race and have been told that they drive up to Ontario because of the quality and quantity of races in our series.

Finally, I would like to thank the OUTRace executive.  I highlighted Jim's contribution above, but that was only one day in his schedule, that includes tabulating results from 13 races.  Sharon Zelinski keeps track of the books and offers sage advice in a plethora of situations.  Stephan Miklos, as webmaster, updates results (sent by Jim) and information on the website, such as "next race" and the race results.  April and Melanie Boultbee bring expertise in the social media arena, including advertising and posting of events, results and news.  My partner Lee Anne Cohen helps in several capacities, not least of which is donating her pottery to the Spring Warm-up and Film Festival draws.  She also organises the OUTRace film festival.  Many thanks to the execs!

This is as good a time for a Film Festival plug as any!  Arc'teryx will be donating a pair of running shoes as a draw prize at the film festival.  The shoes, pottery and some good old Creemore Vertical Challenge T-shirts will be part of the prizes.  If you can make it on Saturday December 2 in Toronto, we would love to chat with you at the OUTRace Film Festival.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Horror Trail Race Report: The End of Norm

It's too bad we don't get to choose what happens, when things go wrong in a race.  I would choose a condition that compromises my running style, requires that I dig deep, and if I remain strong and honest, ends up with an epic result.  Like dislocating your shoulder and winning Hard Rock.  I would briefly consider getting hit by lightening and coming in third at Hard Rock, but would probably discard that option as it would most likely use up all of my lucky charms...

I'm not bragging, but I have a long list of injuries and running conditions that could be reasonable choices.  I know what to do, to mitigate their impact to my race.  Cramping is common amongst runners in general, and specifically ultra runners.  Recovery is formulaic and I can address that problem in my sleep.  Ironically, I have woken up to a calf cramping, so at times the cure was literally while I was asleep!  I also have methods to address problematic knee and back issues.

Horror Trail is a 2.5K loop through a small forest, replete with a sugar shack and blue tubing connecting the large maple trees.  I have run HT in cool, but dry weather and the course is a true gem.  Short enough to avoid nutritional errors, but long enough that it does not seem overly repetitive.  My goal for the 6 hour race was what I thought would be easy and simple.  Run 12 loops (30K) at a slow but steady run, then introduce walking breaks.  For the Norm Patenaude award purposes, I had to make it to 17 loops, or 42.5K - basically an ultra.  Even if one of my plethora of problems surfaced, I was confident I could stick it out to 42.5K.  I planned to walk an extra loop, to make the distance a respectable 45K.  But no longer.  I have a 50K hill race (Fat Ass Trail Race) in 2 weeks.

During the race, it rained for the entire time I was on the course.  This created some very interesting and challenging conditions.  Every loop, the greasy mud sections were larger and the sections with sure footing grew smaller.  This might have affected my ankle, but I'm not convinced.  I ran 50K at Sulphur earlier this year in the mud and without ankle issues.  Yes, the effort of running in slippery conditions was greater and took a toll on my legs, but I did not roll or twist my ankle at any time.  Starting at 15K, I felt a minor pain in my right ankle, similar to what is experienced long after you sprain an ankle, but before it is totally mended.  Just a minor annoyance.  As the mileage increased, so did the pain.  by 25K, it was a noticeable presence.  Since I had done nothing to hurt the ankle, I was a bit miffed that it was starting to cause me some serious pain.  I figured that the ankle was deliberately trying to sabotage my race, so I took some Advil and ignored the pain.

One problem with trying to ignore an injury, even one where you did nothing wrong and the injured appendage is doing it on purpose, is that over a few hours, it starts to yell.  At lap 13 (32.5K) I could no longer ignore the pain.  I sat down and tried slowly rolling the ankle in circles.  During my rugby years, I sprained both ankles on several occasions and found that this helped.  Mind you, I never tried running for more than 4 hours on a sprained ankle...  I introduced long walking breaks, in the hopes that the pain would miraculously disappear.   It was quite frustrating lurching around the course like a drunken Frankenstein, in considerable pain.  Running was becoming a problem.

At the start of lap 14, I was still convinced that since I had done nothing to injure the ankle, it should be able to support me for 4 more loops.  I had enough time to walk in an ultra, as long as I could continue at a fast walking pace.  My ankle would have none of it.  Halfway through loop 14, it was too painful to put any weight on my right foot, even while walking.  My race had come to an end.

Unfortunately, due to poorly timed travel plans and a formerly favourite nephew's marriage, I had to run an ultra at the Horror Trail 6 hour race, or I would not be able to complete the 8 ultras needed to obtain the Norm Patenaude award.  It's funny, but I thought that running an ultra at Horror Trail would be the easiest ultra.  Thanks ankle.

Earlier this year, I realized that I am not Norm Patenaude material.  I am more impressed now, with the few people who attain the award, than before I made my attempt.  Yes, I could have done a few things differently.  Run a more intelligent set of ultras.  Example:  Not 3 on consecutive weekends.  Determine the ultras to run before the year begins and make no changes to the list, for any reason.  I also realized that I would not be attempting the NP award again, even if I don't make it this year.  It is simply too much on this old, injured body.  The award is something to seek and a worthy endeavor, but better suited for those who are healthy or under 50 years of age.

So, I now look forward to the Fat Ass Trail Race (FATR) On Sunday November 12.  Hopefully I can drop from the 50K to the 25K.  It will feel great to finish a race tired, but not trashed.

Also, sale of the OUTRace film festival tickets is starting to gather momentum.  If you plan to attend this great event, consider signing up soon.  The films, Trails in Motion 5, are quite epic this year, but there will also be free coffee and cookies and a draw prize.  OUTRace new sponsor Arc'teryx will have a pair of shoes as part of the draw prizes, along with my wife Lee Anne's pottery.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Terry Fox Run in Creemore

Back when the earth was cooling I used to organize the Terry Fox run in Creemore.  I recall set-up being simply a table for registration and another at the 5K turn-around point.  Aid station fare included water and apples, nothing else!  The TFR was subsequently moved to Terra Nova, a small hamlet south of Creemore.  I believe the logic was that it would provide more beautiful scenery and avoid any traffic concerns due to the enormous congestion (up to 3 cars per minute) found in Creemore.

Ironically, the old Creemore route, which included County Road 9, has become rather congested (residents of Toronto:  You are welcome for this humorous interlude) over the years, now 5 cars per minute at peaks.  Unfortunately, the Terra Nova location did not attract many participants, as it is a bit out of the way.  In 2016, only 17 participants enjoyed the event.

Early this year, the Terra Nova TFR organizers Keddy and Eric, approached Lee Anne and I with a proposal to move the event back to Creemore.  Since Keddy and Eric live in Toronto and are in the country only on weekends, they felt that assistance from locals would be of benefit.

I couldn't help but compare the requirements of organizing the Terry Fox Run with that of the Creemore Vertical Challenge.  Not that it was solely a case of sending out a couple of emails and sitting back, but think of it this way:  No trail prep, bibs, prizes and timing.  Even registration is mostly assumed by the Terry Fox Foundation.  And the event day's itinerary looked like it was missing a few dozen key functions:  8:30 - registration, 9:00 - official start, 12:00 - end of event.  One big reason we agreed to help was because there was so little to do!

Sunday, September 17 turned out to be almost perfect weather.  Sunny and a high of about 25.  For the event, we had obtained permission from the county to close intersections along Library Street, which runs north/south in the middle of town.  We hoped that by doing so, Creemorites would become aware of the event, yet not disrupt Sunday morning traffic (again, Toronto, you are welcome).

The biggest stumbling block in hosting a Terry Fox Run in Creemore is getting the word out.  Yes, we placed posters in numerous stores in the area, signage around Creemore, an article in the newspaper and made sure to speak with all our friends and neighbours, but the reality is that without heavy radio and/or televised promotion, it takes time to get the word out, in a small town.  Several people who happened by the event mentioned that they had no idea Creemore was hosting a Terry Fox run.

We expected to draw 20 - 30 people, although I was hoping that more would show up.  I had placed 5 large signs around the Creemore Farmer's market, which is well attended on Saturday mornings.  The market is located at the Station on the Green, the same spot as the start/finish for the Terry Fox run.  Perhaps people would pay attention to the signage and return on Sunday morning for Canada's 150th year?  Not so much!  One cute aside about attendance is that I am very much of the mindset that if a race starts at 9:00, everyone shows up for the start.  I had forgotten that the Terry Fox Run is more of a social event and if you are not able to make it at 9:00, no problem, show up at 10:00 or 11:00!  So I was quite disappointed when only 7 people had started by 9:00.  I thought the event was going to be a bust.  However as the day progressed, people trickled in and by final count, we had about 25 participants, which is reasonable for the first year.

The Creemore chapter of the TFR raised over $1,000 for the foundation, so by that standard, the event was successful.  I would like to thank all who attended.  Organizing the event was also a blast.  Everything needed for the event fit into my car.  For the CVC, I needed 4 trucks!  Event day started at 6:30 for me, with a leisurely breakfast.  Setting up registration, the 2.5K (turn-around) aid station and all the barricades took about 90 minutes.  Tear down started at 11:45 and was complete before 1:00 PM.  By contrast, for the CVC I was up at 4:30 AM and still at it circa 9:00 PM.

Will the Terry Fox run continue in Creemore next year?  You bet!  Are there any reflection items?  Definitely.  Keddy mentioned that we should have placed posters on the barricades, so that people would know why the roads were blocked.  It might be possible to get a few minutes on the radio to promote the event.  I hope to entice a few of the Creemore businesses to help promote the event.  For those familiar with the Creemore Vertical Challenge, no, there won't be 3 kegs of Creemore ale at the finish, sorry!  We could also reach out to the surrounding towns and cities.  Running or walking in Creemore for such a great cause is worth the drive.

I would like to thanks Giffen's Country Market, who donated a bushel of their finest apples for the event.  By the way, Giffen's makes the world's best butter tarts.  Seriously, it is not possible for me to go in their store without acquiring a fix.  Giffens is the turn-around point on our 24K road route and I always carry a few coins.  FYI:  One butter tart = 2 gels.

I would also like to thank Keddy, Eric and their "voluntolds", for helping out with the event.  Our neighbours Jim, Susan and Rory also donated their Sunday morning to help with the aid station and marshalling duties.  It was nice to have a couple of experienced people at the aid station and marshalling.

So circle Sunday September 16, 2018 on your calendar and we hope to see you up in Creetown.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

England's Coast to Coast

We're back!

Most literature that I read about the Coast to Coast walk in England stated 2 salient points that I blithely disregarded...  1.  It is long.  At 309K (roughly 200 miles), the C2C in no way resembles a brisk walk to the store.  If a return trip to the store measures 3K, it is 103 brisk walks to the store.  2.  It is tough.  We undertook the walk in 12 days, which means slightly more than 25K per day.  At a brisk walk, that would translate into an average of 5 hours walking per day.  The main aspect of what I blithely ignored is that the terrain does not include much dead flat paved road.  In fact, during the first 4 days, picture many many mountains and a healthy does of ankle deep bogs.  Instead of a brisk 5 hour walk, some days were over 9 hours.

Let me state that the walk was definitely worth undertaking.  The views and walking-pace exposure to some of England's finest parks and town alone was worth the effort.  You cannot get the same experience by driving by moors in an automobile.  At times, we were out of sight of anything man-made, excluding the odd post or marker.  However, consider adding a few judicious rest days to your trip.  Give your legs, feet and blisters a chance to recover.

For those not fully cognisant of the definition of judicious, here is what it does NOT mean:  Do not climb Helvellyn mountain on your rest day.  The English probably pride themselves on both understatement and their ability to tough it out.  So, Helvellyn is considered a walk.  Here in Canada, we call such terrain by its correct definition, namely a cliff.  With rain threatening, Lee Anne and I cautiously navigated England's masochistic concept of a walk called "Striding Edge".  This is a fully exposed narrow rock face that is part of the "path" to Helvellyn's summit.  The day after we inched across Striding Edge, a person fell 600 feet to his death.  Another person (on the same day) also fell 600 feet WITH HIS DOG and had to be airlifted to the hospital.  Walk, my ass!  Seriously, who would take their dog on such an exposed cliff?

Okay, so you now know what not to do on your day off.  What was the walk like?  Lee Anne and I walked with our friends Russell and Jeanette, also from Creemore.  Russell and Jeanette might have been a tad apprehensive as 300+K is longer than they would normally hike, and they would be undertaking the adventure with 2 ultrarunners.  We assured them that we were slow hikers and by the second day they must have realized that this was so.  Mostly, it was Russell waiting for us during the walk.

To say there was some rain would be an understatement, by Ontario standards, but we were quite lucky and only experienced pouring rain on one day.  Most days we were treated to a sprinkling of rain, but we saw our fair share of sun.  Trekking through the bogs and moors was another story.  Bogs defy the laws of gravity.  Water seemed to run uphill in bogs.  If you are traversing a slope, the high side was always wet, whereas the low side was less wet.  The deepest bogs were at the top of the mountain passes (saddles) and while off course at one point, we walked through 10 inches of saturated peat for about a kilometer, in order to crest a ridge.  Keeping your feet dry was not an option!  I was the only member of our 4 person team to wear trail running shoes (as opposed to hiking boots) and coincidentally, I was the only person who did not develop blisters during the walk.  This was due to my running shoes drying out soon after leaving a wet section.

We took advantage of Macs Adventures, a self-guided walking tour company, to plan the trip.  Macs provides maps and literature on the walk.  They also book the hotels and B&B's; something that can be difficult if you are not familiar with where to stay in places such as Keld or St. Bees.  Most important is they arrange luggage transfer from hotel to hotel each day.  This is likely not easy, bordering on a logistic nightmare, but it allows us to walk with only a day pack, instead of 40 pounds of luggage!  Macs charges a bit for arranging the trip, but I don't feel it is overly pricey; great value for the cost.

It is hard to describe all that we saw and experienced during 12 days of walking.  At one point I laughed, because the guide book mentioned "turn right at the church".  The Church was massive and built circa 1500!  It would be a tourist attraction on its own in Canada, but in England, it barely deserves a mention.  We stayed in a hotel that was built in 1691.  I think the patroness was from the same era...  Some of the "old roads" showed evidence of having been built by the Romans.

Was it worth the cost and effort?  Definitely.  I recommend it highly.  Would I changes things?  Definitely.  We had to pass by the ruins of an incredible castle in Richmond, as we didn't have time to stay and investigate.  I think that being from Canada, I cannot grasp how much history there is in "rural" England.  We could have easily added 3-4 extra days to explore what England has to offer.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Preparation for Coast to Coast Walk

Lee Anne and I have been organizing a trip to England for almost 6 months now; trip details, flights, trains, gear, etc., so it is a bit surreal that we depart this Monday. I have to admit that the brunt of the trip logistics was undertaken by Macs Adventure, a company that specializes in organizing walks throughout the world.  We have taken advantage of Macs to walk the West Highland Way in Scotland and the Tour de Mont Blanc in France/Italy/Switzerland.  Yes, signing on with Macs is more expensive than organizing the trip yourself, but it is a surprisingly modest increase, especially factoring in that we have no idea what hotels are fine in Grasmere, or how to move our luggage from Shap to Kirkby Stephen.

You might note that I am bandying about the names of places I had not heard of, before signing on with Macs.  You might also have noted a key nuance in the service provided by Macs...  Luggage transfer.  I decided long ago that camping was simply not for me.  I enjoy the great outdoors (I probably spend more time outside than most), but sleeping with the bugs, climbing mountains while hauling a 30 kilo pack and spending much of the day starting a cooking fire and cleaning is no longer my model for a relaxing vacation.  Ditto for hostels.  Sleeping in hotels/B&B's and donning a light day pack for a 309K hike (walk, in GB parlance) is more ideal!

The Coast to Coast walk was designed by some sadist known as Wainwright, who considered walking from St. Bees (west coast of England) to Robin Hood's Bay (east coast) through rugged mountains and bogs, to be a wonderful way to spend a couple of weeks.  The trail passes through an area in England with the most rain (over 5 meters of rain, one year) and the guide book mentions that hip waiters come in handy, in spots.

We are looking forward to a break from training.  Yes, we plan to run on occasion during the trip, but the focus will be on walking 300+K over the 2 weeks, instead of getting in 30+K runs.