Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Day '08: 18 mile hike in Savage Gulf

It was too nice of a day to sit inside and EAT! I'm so non-traditional. I knew it would be the last warm day for a while, maybe the rest of the year. So, I set out for an exceptionally challenging solo hike, since it seemed that I was the only person in the world without family obligations. I did get a few invites but again, sorry, too nice of a day to plan to sit inside and eat. I hit the social groups that evening in time for dessert.

I decided to try a new route. Since I was hiking alone, I could go for it. Do a long challenging hike to enjoy the beautiful day and get some great exercise to complement the running and swimming I had been doing. Savage Gulf is the premiere hiking spot in the South Cumberland in TN. Along with the Fiery Gizzard, Savage Gulf provides nearly 16,000 acres of wilderness hiking trails. (BTW... you can tell the non serious TN hikers from the real avid and adventurous hikers if they ask you "where's Savage Gulf"?). I always like hiking the Collins Gulf Loop at Savage Gulf because it is truly the path less traveled. Since they paved the first mile of the Stone Door trail more than a decade ago, I stopped hiking from there. Just too many people.

I decided to go from the Collins West access to Stone Door. I estimated it would be 14-16 miles roundtrip to Stone Door and back. I was wrong. With the short side trips and the walk to the parking area, my GPS said 18.2 miles.

I started at 10:25 am and looked at the the log book at the trail head. Good! No other hikers. I descended the rocky path down to Suter Falls to find that whoa... they built a new bridge across the creek. It was never really difficult for me to cross without the bridge, so on principle, I didn't use the bridge and scampered across the creek on the rocks. "This place is getting too civilized," I thought to myself but little did I know, that bridge would be a most welcome sight 7 hrs later.

Hiking past the cliff walls and through some of the most rugged terrain of the hike, I descended into the area near the creek best know for its beauty during wildflower season. Since the leaves were down, I had great views of the surrounding cliff faces and the creek was running strong.

About five miles into the hike, just past Decatur Savage Cabin on the Connector Trail, literally in the middle of nowhere, I met a lone hiker, the only hiker I would see all day. A man in his mid 50s who was out prepared to stay for a few days, fully loaded with tent pack on his way from Stone Door to Hobbs Cabin. I'll never forget the first thing he said to me... "If your looking for a Starbucks up ahead, you're outta luck." I almost fell on the ground laughing. This guy was an experienced hiker. We talked about Savage and he seemed to know it just as well as I. I asked him if I could make it to Stone Door in an hour and he said no. But that didn't stop me from trying. I jogged when I could on the flats. I had decided that 1:30 was my absolute turnaround time if I expected to make it out before dark. I made it to Stone Door cliff tops at 1:18. I relaxed, changed my socks and took a few pictures. I was surprised that even on these exposed cliffs, no cell phone service. I doubt there is any cell service in the entire Savage Gulf. I started back down the stone staircase at 1:50.

After crossing the swinging bridges on the Connector Trail, I decided to take the short side trip and check out Cator Savage Cabin. It had been a while. The thing I most remember about that place is the large Asian pear tree that is just busting with fruit every July/August. It now seemed I was destined to walk at least a mile in the dark. I planned fairly well with lights and cold weather gear, but my 1 liter of water was barely sufficient and I took my last swallow in the last mile of the climb out. Stupidly, I took no food and was hiking on an empty stomach. For me, there is a big difference in hiking 14 miles and 18 miles, especially when the last mile is steep and rugged.

As I watched the last golden sun fade from the tops of the cliffs, I knew my day light was running out. I passed Horsepound Falls at 4:20, just before sunset and by the time I got to Suter Falls, I was totally in the dark.

Around Suter Falls is a jumble of boulders and rhododendron, very thick and the trail hard to find. I did get momentarily lost but the sound of the falls kept me oriented. Things look totally different in the view of a flashlight than in daytime.

Damn I was so happy to see that new bridge at Suter. I knew I had less than a mile to go but it was going to be difficult. I was near exhaustion with 17+ miles behind me, it was 5:10 pm and I hadn't eaten all day and was out of water. My feet hurt and the footing was really challenging with the rocks covered with leaves. I had to stop and rest many times and be extra cautious because my normal level of agility was compromised by fatigue. I know how Tana must have felt when she hiked that part for the first time with me in April. It is a rugged trail and even more challenging in the dark and wet. I finished the hike at 5:25, the Garmin GPS said it was 18.2 miles.

I was real happy to reach the car and was delighted that the local convenience store was open. What a delicious chocolate bar that was! What a Thanksgiving to remember!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Run easy? -- Updated

UPDATE: I will be running in masters sprint races this season.

I hope to run the 55m and the 200m at the Holiday Classic at RIT on 12/27. and the 55m at the Ed Temple Classic in Nashville on 1/11.
I've returned to running a bit.
Not the ambitious 5 day a week training I did last season, but the knee seems ok to run 2 to 3 times a week. I'm alternating running with swimming. I doubt I'll run any 5k races this year since I don't want to train the way I did. Don't think my knee would stand up to it. I did want to run in some masters sprint races this season but was really disappointed that the AL Track Club is not offering meets this year at Priceville.

Anyway, despite my lack of training and weighing 10 lbs more than I did during last racing season, I've had a few good workouts this week. Hopefully this is just the beginning and I'll get back to my racing weight of 140 - 142, then we'll see.

1 mile - 6:42
6 min rest
3 miles - 21:36 (7:12 pace)
10 min rest
1 mile - 6:32

3 miles - 21:32 (7:11 pace)
6 min rest
quarter mile sprint - 1:06

6 x half mile intervals - 3:04 avg
3 min rest in between

I can't seem to run slow easy distance. Since I want to limit myself to no more than 10 miles a week, I need to make them count. Coach says I could still be fast by cross-training, doing good cardio training in the pool. I did my first set of intervals in the pool on Sat and I think he's right.

Anyway, speaking of running fast, I saw this ad for Pearl Izumi running shoes in USATF mag and I wanted to copy it here for those of us who endure the pavement:

What is it about running that scares people so much? Why do people feel they have to put friendly modifiers next to running so everyone can feel good about it? Well, here's the ugly truth. Everyone shouldn't feel good about running. It's hard. It hurts. Running requires sacrifice, heart, and guts. Any attempt to water it down with feel good adjectives is a slap in the face to those of us who still hold running sacred. In fact, if you're running easy, odds are you're not running at all. You're jogging! So, do us a favor, don't run easy. Run hard. Run like an animal.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

I spent 4 days at the southern tip of the
Baja peninsula last week, Cabo San Lucas.

(click on photos to enlarge)

My parents and I stayed in the PlayaGrande Resort , an incredible place. This was one of the nicest resorts I've ever stayed at. We got the closest room to the ocean that the resort offered. Cabo is always warm, it's about 1000 miles south of Los Angeles, on the same latitude as Havana, Cuba. The weather was perfect. Mid 80's day, mid 60's at night, no rain, mostly sunny. Most of the activity around the beach was during the morning and evening with most preferring the shade by the pool during the heat of the day. I liked the mango daiquiris.

The beach was way different than the gulf coast I'm most familiar with. On the Gulf, we have powdery sugar-white sand strewn with shells and seaweed, a beach that's sloped very gradually to the sea, gentle surf, friendly for swimmers. The Pacific coast of Cabo was steep with a more powerful and fast surf breaking close to shore. The sand was light brown and more coarse, made up of a multitude of colorful granules on close inspection. Due to the scouring action of the waves, generally between 5 and 10 feet, the beach was pristine and clean, devoid of large shells and seaweed.

From our room, we could hear the thunderous surf. It was a kaleidoscope of sounds... crash, whooosh, rumble, thunder, etc.... Looking at Cabo on a map, you realize how exposed this place is to the Pacific Ocean. I slept with the door facing the ocean open at night, just so I could hear the sounds, even though I'd get woken up every night. Every hour or so, the surf would generate some mighty waves that would literally shake the building. It was awesome. I could feel the low frequency vibrations and the door frame would rattle.

The whole time I was there, I never saw one person swim on the Pacific side. There were some swimmers on the bay side. I had to try it so I went in between on an isolated beach near the famed arches. Wading in up to my chest, I was knocked off my feet immediately and sucked out toward the sea. This would be a problem for a weak swimmer because it became deep rapidly. I simply treaded water and waited calmly for the next wave to bring me in and when I hit the beach, I dug in with hands and feet in the sand so I wouldn't get sucked out again. I can see the danger. No wonder the riptide warning signs and no one swimming. In the video, notice the slope of the beach and how quickly the waves run out.

This trip was great to spend time with my parents. My dad and I enjoyed some great drinks by the pool and some awesome dinners. I spent some time wandering into the shops in town with my mom. I brought back a few souvenirs. I even sat in with the band at a local restaurant and played a few tunes at another restaurant, borrowing the guitar of the Mexican singer who was playing a gig there.

The beaches were separated by stands of cliffs and boulders. This was a boulder scrambler/ rock climber's paradise. Going from Playa Grande W/NW to the beaches directly below the cliff top mansions of Sylvester Stallone and the elite, one has to climb across some very challenging boulders. It was quite fun but required a great amount of agility, strength, and good judgment. A fall could be serious in this terrain since one had to stay up about 20-30 feet above the crashing waves so as to avoid the slippery slimy rocks. When things get difficult, it kept me going to see 'what was around the bend'... and I wasn't disappointed.

Around the bend, I saw an amazing rock formation. Carved by a millennia of wind and water, it was an arm shaped rock that curved away from the surf and stood about 30' high. It stood above a V-shaped inlet in the rock that magnified the surf. When waves came in, a particularly large swell would cause a large burst of spray, sometimes 30' high. I made a video of the surf.

The final day, Sunday, I was up at daybreak in search of one final adventure, and I found one. Heading southeast toward the mountain that separates the bay side from the Pacific, where the famed Cabo arches are, I started climbing, not knowing if I'd be able to reach the summit.

The terrain was mostly solid, devoid of vegetation save for a few cacti, and provided excellent traction. Most of the climb was what you would call "class 3" - requiring constant use of hands, but near the summit, there were some sections of "class 4". Definitely territory where if you fall, you die, game over. I took my time in the golden morning sunlight. It was less than an hour after sunrise and the weather was perfect. I was climbing shirtless and as I neared the top, I saw a cross planted at the summit. It was an awesome sight, and very 'exposed' ... adding to the thrill. As I climbed higher and became more committed to the summit, the terrain became more difficult and that made me a little nervous but I kept my cool and stopped to take photos as the morning fishing fleet was going out. I pondered climbing down and I reasoned that there must be an easier way to get down. I know it would be even more difficult to climb down the way I came up. I neared the summit ridge and saw one more scary ledge to climb, a nearly vertical fissure in the rocks. I made it no problem because of the abundant hand holds.

On the summit ridge, I scrambled over to the cross and thanked myself for not falling. The view was tremendous. I could see all of Cabo, Playa Grande, and the marina. The back side of the mountain, as I had expected, was an easy descent. It was green with vegetation and there were trails the led down to a dirt road. The only problem was that I was obviously trespassing as noted by the signs. I came out at the end of the road to a compound that housed several vicious sounding dogs that were going crazy and I expected any moment to be attacked by a dog or confronted by security. Fortunately, they must have been still sleeping since it was before 8 am. I quickly hopped the fence and got outta there. It was worth it, another great adventure - boldly going where few have gone before.

The following series of photos follow the progression of my climb at sunrise from the beach.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From Cabo to the Cumberlands - 2 days in November

How's this for two days?

Sunday - climbing a mountain from the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Monday - off road motorcycling to the high cliffs above the TN River Gorge

Yes, "the life less ordinary."

I'll post more photos later and a story, here's just a few.

Click to enlarge photos...