Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

April 17, 2013

AXS Moab Adventure Race, 13 April 2013

My first adventure race after moving back to the USA was the AXS Moab Adventure Race, part of the Adventure Xstream Race Series.

Although I am busy trying to start up a new business (more on that soon), I knew that this race in Moab was a must-do.   Any excuse to visit Moab, really!  

The race started from Red Cliffs Lodge, about 17 miles up the Colorado river from town.  Just the drive up up the river was really scenic, with the towering cliffs on each side.    It was a chilly morning as the race started at 730, although the sun was shining in a blue sky and the weather seemed perfect.

Mountain biking was the first stage, although for the first 20 miles, a road bike would have been a lot easier!   Castleton Towers came and went, along with a few other standing stones.  Racers struggled with the uphill section, which although was on smooth pavement, kept going and going and going.    In fact we climbed about 5,000 feet, almost a vertical mile in elevation.  The La Sal Mountains kept getting closer and closer, and by the time we were gasping for air at 8500 feet, there were snowdrifts still left on the side of the road.

Despite having not ridden my bike since January a mere oversight in my race training, I felt good as we slowly climbed up to snow line.   However, my chain was squeaking a little immediately, reminding me that I hadn't lubed it since cleaning my bike and having it shipped here from England.   Another oversight.  About halfway up the climb, the derailleur stopped functioning correctly and when I would stop pedaling, the chain would wrap itself up into the derailleur.  You can imagine that was not a good thing in a race....  Thinking it just needed some lube, I racked my brain to think of what I could put on the chain.  Spit?  Water?  Aha!  The tube of Neosporin from my first aid kit is greasy, I'll try that!

I imagine I looked pretty silly putting ointment on my chain, and got noticed by a few teams as they passed me.  Unfortunately, it didn't help at all, so at least on the uphills, which went on for 3 consecutive hours, I just resolved to keep pedaling constantly.   And worried about how I would ride down a hill.  Any hill.

Finally I reached the first checkpoint at the highest point in the race.  There I begged a truck full of guys with bike racks to lend me some real chain lube, which also did nothing to help the chain.   They were curious and had a look at my bike, but nothing seemed to help.  After a few minutes I had to say,  "thanks, but I'm in a race and I'll just have to deal with it."

The downhill started fast and furious, by this time on gravel, and my attempts to keep pedaling to keep my chain moving was close to impossible.  When I stopped pedaling, the chain flapped furiously against my spokes and I figured it would be a miracle if I made it down without breaking something.   What followed was a lovely descent that literally went on for 20 miles, with only one significant uphill. Every race needs at least one hike-a-bike section, right?  None of it was singletrack, just nice ridable swooping gravel, going down and down into the canyons on the other side of the plateau we had climbed.   My chain kept flapping, making it hard to start pedaling again on the small uphills and generally slowing my speed a little.  The lost time would come back to haunt me later...but the chain never broke.

At the bottom end of the road we entered Onion Creek Canyon, where our first special stage of the day came in the form of a rappel.  I had been hoping it would be really high, but knowing that we had to hike up to the top of it, was glad it wasn't too tall.  Even so, we lowered ourselves off the top of a cliff that must have been higher than I had ever rappeled before.   At the bottom, my belay device attempted to leave burns in sensitive places, it was so hot!   I dunked it in the creek before running back to my bike.

The rest of Onion Creek was a nice descent, going across the creek at least 20 times but nothing that wasn't ridable and the views were awesome.   Let me just say I love the scenery here, it's amazing!    Transition was in Onion Campground on the river, where we had dropped our running and paddling gear the night before.  I had a quick change of shoes and was off to the canyoneering section, a 6 mile loop up to the bottom of Fisher Towers and back.   A small drainage just off the road led into a nice little slot canyon, nothing spectacular but easily runnable and scenic.  I guess a few people got lost on this loop, but in my naivetĂ©, I just followed the drainage I had seen on the map and it led me right out again.   Luck?  Hmmm.   I put some time into another solo runner behind me through the canyon, and hoped it would be enough to stay ahead of her on the river.

Another quick transition and I was on the water.   The wind had picked up, yet it seemed warm enough not to need wetsuit or paddle jacket.  I tried not to think about how cold I would get if I would fall in, and resolved not to do such a silly thing.   It was my first time in a rubber Ducky raft, and I wouldn't call the river fast moving, so I wasn't moving terribly fast at times.    The wind was the biggest factor, almost pushing me to a standstill on certain sections, where I would have to paddle like crazy just to not go backward!

After an hour or so, I turned a bend and could see the finish line way ahead of me.   And unfortunately behind me, I could see another female solo, steadily catching me up with a faster sea kayak.  Honestly she passed me like I was standing still on the water, and dwindled to a speck in the distance soon after as I struggled with my Ducky.   Oh, well.   The worst of the wind blew up within feet of the finish, and while I could see the finish dock, I was still going backwards at times.  Demoralizing.  I finally managed to touch the dock, carry my boat up the ramp, and run to the finish line.  Which ironically had blown down from the wind gusts.

Rob and his mom, which had graciously cheered me on at the start of the race, spend the day exploring Arches National Park.  Amazingly enough, they were back in time to cheer me on at the finish, too!

My final time was 9 hours 20 minutes, which was enough to earn me 3rd place in Women's Solo category.  Final results are HERE.   I ended up 22nd out of 109 teams, so quite happy with that!

At the start!
At the finish!
Colorado River, race morning

Rob and his mom visit Arches NP while I am racing!

April 9, 2013

Corona Arch, Moab, Utah

Our last day of Spring Break, and what a streak of great weather we had!  Nary a drop of rain, and mostly wandering around in shorts and t-shirts all week.  In fact I had packed for much colder weather, so I ended up weather the same shorts and t-shirts over again.  That's cool when you're camping, right?

Last on the menu for our discoveries was Corona Arch, which has achieved some notoriety lately because of people jumping off the top of the 165 ft. arch and than swinging on a static rope.  Sort of like bungee jumping without a bungee.   There was a group set up to do just that when we visited, so we got to see the jumpers up close and personal.   I must say that it looked a bit sketchy to me...more appealing was the set of rappel ropes on the other side of the arch.   What a rappel that would be!

Our climbing gear was in the RV, but we gingerly climbed up to the top of the arch anyway, helpfully using a hand rope that one of the groups had set up.  I must admit my legs were a bit jelly-like sitting on the Arch.  It was safe enough to be up there but it took a while to convince my mind of that fact.  In fact I didn't really get there before we headed back down, which was just fine with me!

That's us on top of the arch...and a lot of open space all around!
The hike itself up to the Arch and back is quite doable for anyone.  There is a large parking lot at a big bend in the Colorado river west of Moab.   The trail is well graded and only about a mile and a half to get to the Arch.  Now climbing on top of it...that's not for beginners, but the views from underneath and around it are wonderful.  Best of all, on a hot day there is still guarenteed to be shade under the arch, although you may have to follow it around to stay cool!
Bowtie Arch near Corona Arch

April 8, 2013

Slickrock MTB Trail, Moab

Ah, slickrock.  Where have you been all my life?   I almost couldn't have imagined that there is a place in the world where biking can be so much fun.   The Slickrock Trail above the town of Moab is rather appropriately named.  The whole trail is rock.  Smooth, slick, red and white rock.    Aside from a few sandy slots, the WHOLE TRAIL IS ROCK.  Amazing.    
Luckily we had brought a couple of bikes down to Moab on the RV,  I guess someone in our group knew that we would need them :)   The trail above town has a couple of loops, one of them a short practice loop where Aidan, Nick and I tried out our moves.   The rock got steep at times but wasn't technically difficult at all.   In short, it was a heck of a lot of fun.  I will just ignore and not mention all of the times when I had to get off my bike to push up the short, steep hills.   

I got a kick out of the trail markings...they were literally little stripes of white paint on the rock.  I guess in the absence of paths, vegetation, tire marks, or other ways to naturally make trails in normal terrain...little strips of paint work perfectly.  It was like following a little racecourse around the rock.  It sounded a bit like a racecourse, too...we were sharing the space with a couple of motorcycles having as much trouble as we were, and it was jeep weekend.   So on the jeep trails, beer drinking spring breakers were driving their 4 wheeled vehicles up rocks than normally no one would want to get near.  I was happy to be on my human-powered bike instead.  

It was warm, it was sunny, it was dry wow, I can't imagine ever riding this in wet weather.   After the practice trail we set off on the longer loop, and made it about halfway before we had a snack and turned for home.  After all, there is great rock climbing in Moab too, and a lotta day left for exploring!   

April 7, 2013

Running 30 minutes for 30 days: Epic fail or wild success?

It's been a month since our plane landed in Salt Lake City, Utah.   The very next morning after we flew in, I went out for a sleep deprived 30 minute run at 5000 feet elevation and felt a little gaspy.   I determined to get more running in...after all, I hadn't done a marathon length run since last October.  Quite a long gap for me.  So I determined to run 30 minutes a day for 30 days.  I figured that would be enough to jump-start my fitness, help me discover the new neighborhood, and provide a positive habit for my new life.

Bryce Canyon NP on our road trip.   Running down in the spires...on the bucket list!
Did I succeed?   Well....I made it at least 14 days of running in a row....sometimes I had to fit in a run at 10:30 at night!    But it was great to run under the stars, through a little snow, under the shadow of the mountains dominating the landscape here.  

After that, I got a little less dedicated.  I absolutely forgot a day whoops, and then we went on a spring break trip down to southern Utah, where it was hard to find the time to get a run in.  To tell the truth, I didn't try that hard.  We were hiking and biking and running and playing and exploring, all of which meant more than a run against a clock down a highway or something.

And, I was getting into other activities during this month too.   Bikram Yoga, I really love the hot sauna aspect of it.   The indoor climbing wall is just down the street, and my nephews and old friends became instant partners.  The Utah snow is still fluffy and powdery so we got a couple days of skiing in.    Paragliding is close too, and kiting around on the training hill is some great exercise.   We brought bikes down to Moab and just had to get some pedal turns on the slick rock.   And at times I ran longer than 30 minutes, on trails near the house.

To tell the truth, 30 minutes is a boring length for me here.   It's hardly worth getting dressed and out the door, and at the 15 minute turn around point, I am just getting to the trailheads to run off-road.  So I might as well run an hour.   I think an hour every other day would be a better fit.   Or perhaps I'll just do whatever sounds good for the day.    Biking, gardening, climbing, yoga, hiking, paragliding, skiing. Too many fun things to do, too little time.

One thing is for sure...the 30 minute runs did jump-start my exercise plan here, and I feel like I am in really great shape.   Part of it was just the reminder that I needed to get moving...like an alarm clock to get me out of bed in the morning, that daily decision to run pushed me to be active.  


April 6, 2013

Paragliding Point of the Mountain, Utah; will it get bulldozed tomorrow?

I've just moved to Utah, and a big part of the allure of living here is the great weather and the quality of the paragliding locations around the area.   Just a few miles down the road from me is the site I learned on, love, and love to come back to for easy soaring and kiting practice.

The Point of the Mountain, with both morning and evening paragliding soaring sites, is one of the best locations to learn in the world.    But it's under threat from a mining company, which in the past few weeks has been bulldozing away at the very ridgeline that we are soaring on.   It's not tomorrow's problem, it's today's.    Read more about it here;


Help us tell the world that we want to keep this beautiful natural landscape not just for the paragliders and hangliders, but for the future.  The Point of the Mountain is a a icon in the Salt Lake Valley and deserves to survive beyond the need for a few loads of cheap gravel.  Please help by signing this petition https://www.change.org/petitions/salt-lake-county-government-save-steep-mountain

Thanks, and hope to see you out on the mountain!

April 5, 2013

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon, San Rafael Swell

After leaving the Escalante area, where there were lots of slot canyons but hard to get to in an RV, we headed for Moab.  But first we scoured our book on slot canyons to see if there was anything along the way which we could get to.   Our requirements were pretty strict.  Dryish canyon, not too far from a main road, not to long of a hike in or out, and fun.    Fun wasn't a category in the book but almost any slot canyon fits that description so we assumed that it was a yes.  

In the end, only one canyon fit our needs, the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon near Goblin Valley State Park.  The road to the canyon had been recently paved, making it even easier for us.  It was a nice day hike, up a narrow slot which never had any water holes, got too narrow or too difficult.  In other words, everyone and their dog could get up this canyon.    And there were plenty of them (and their dogs!) on this spring break week, this definitely isn't a secluded place to hike.  

But it was plenty scenic and a lovely day hike.   To make the slot more interesting, Randy, the boys and I all decided to avoid stepping on the sandy ground at all by traversing using the canyon walls and using our own ingenuity.   The ground, which became "poison peanut butter", swallowed up plenty of unsuspecting other hikers, who passed sometimes underneath us as we straddled the narrow walls and jumped from side to side to continue our quest.   Aidan, Randy and I all eventually fell into the poison and turned back into normal hikers, but Nick ended up making it all the way to where his mom was patiently waiting for us and enjoying the sunshine!

Rob had gone up ahead with his camera, and I caught up with him in a particularly nice section of the slot which meandered from side to side like a drunken sailor.    The whole slot was really pretty, in an easy, "anyone could hike this" sort of way.   Great for families...and so many dogs....

There were other slots in the area, which I assume we will come back and see someday.  In fact a longer day hike could include Bell Canyon in a round trip instead of an out-and-back.   So much fantastic scenery, so little time.   Wait...I do have time...I live here now!

April 3, 2013

Upper Calf Creek Falls, Escalante, Utah

Any whirlwind tour of southern Utah needs to include the Escalante area for its slot canyons and multitudes of lovely areas.  Unfortunately our RV didn't feel like driving very far down the bumpy gravel roads which bring you to the really cool places, so we compromised.   Highway 12 going East out of the small town of Escalante is a rollarcoater of wonderful views, including a drive along the edge of a ridge with views off both sides of the road.

We parked in a small lot along the ridge and packed for a lazy day hike on Calf Creek.  I say lazy because we really were...the hike is only about a mile and a half, and ends at a small waterfall surrounded by slickrock.   Can you tell I just love the word slickrock?  It just denotes sunshine and warmth, beautiful scenery and sandals.   The Upper Calf Creek trail featured lots of rock colors and layers, including round black volcanic rocks which just seemed to have rained down sometime in the past in a small area.      And of course the slickrock was red and white, with some random iron ore rocks hanging around on the surface, too.

At the falls, we turned lazy...hanging out and sunbathing, with the most intrepid of us braving the cold water for a quick jump into the pool.   And a quicker jump back out again to warm up!    Of course the hike back out to the car was uphill...but it was gradual and short enough that anyone could do it.  Worth it for some time at the waterfalls!   Another place to visit in the heat of summer for a refreshing swim.