Monday, August 17, 2015

Bridger Ridge Run

My journey to the Bridger Ridge Run began two years ago, when my great running buddy Derek Gustafson decided to finally put his natural trail running prowess to a competitive test by entering what I think was his first trail race in his hometown of Bozeman.  He came back to SLC raving about how great the course was and that I had to go join him there sometime.  A year later Derek went back again and improved his time by nearly 15 minutes and was a close 2nd place, and again reminded me how awesome it was and that I HAD to go do it.    Ok, I'll give it some thought.

Around the time of Derek's 2nd effort he also asked me if I wouldn't mind introducing him to my friends at Oboz, an up and coming outdoor shoe company based "outside Bozeman" (ergo "Oboz"; very clever).  My heart sank, because I knew that if the folks at Oboz had half a brain they'd hire him, and they certainly have well more than half a brain!  So of course they hired him, and off Derek went.  But Bozeman is a nice place to visit and relative to the upcoming Wasatch 100   -which I inexplicably entered last winter, and then actually got into  - the timing was good, so I thought well, if there is any year that would be good to give the Bridger Ridge Run a go, this was the one.

Apparently the Bridger Ridge Run is one of the older established trail races in the US, celebrating its 30th anniversary last year. It was initiated by a character named Ed Anacker, who after riding his bike from Minnesota to Montana during the Depression kept his athletic prowess going  - doing a lot of pretty ridiculous exploits - until he ran a very early rendition of California's Western States 100 and thought that Montana should have a comparable race.  Hence begat the BRR (Here is a more complete history, if you are so inclined).  Ed died a few years ago, but his legacy has been carried on by a race director who's clearly as colorful as his predecessor.

As with many silly endurance races, the BRR's popularity outstrips its capacity, so they need a process to cull the entrants. Most races simply use a lottery, but of course the quirkiness of the BRR enables it to do things its own way, and in order to actually get into the lottery you have to write a 50 word essay with the reason that you should be deemed worthy to partake in their esteemed event.  Derek - having gotten 2nd in 2014 - wrote in his essay that his only goal was to improve his finish by one place.  Given that saying anything in fifty words or less is pretty hard for me, I had to keep it tight:  "My good running buddy abandoned me here in desolate SLC and as retribution I need to come up to your silly race and kick his ass!".  Ash was also intrigued by a fun weekend and a rugged outing, and her essay was something to the effect of "My psychotic husband has told me about your silly race and keeps mumbling about retribution or some such and we only have one car so I guess I have to come up with him!"  For better or worse, all three of us got in.

One problem that I faced was that I had a sore knee all winter and as spring sprang and I started running more it did not improve (what a surprise), so I went through the various phases of injuries (ouch, many months of ignoring, very sporadic and ineffective icing and ibuprofing, very limited stretching, some massage, a fair bit of physical therapy, and finally subsequent visits to a general practicioner doc, a sports specialty doc, and finally an orthopedic doc) until I realized I had a torn meniscus (cartilage around the knee).  I made a futile request to get the surgery scheduled between my trips to AK and Peru, but the doc pointed out that taking long distance flights - which are known to create blood clots by themselves  - and spending two weeks with open wounds on a river downstream of several towns in a developing country wasn't that wise, so I ended up having the surgery post-Peru and three weeks prior to the BRR, with basically almost no running all year prior to that.  But at least the BRR features a punishing 9000 feet of descending!  A good test of the surgeon's prowess and the beauty of not-very-invasive surgery.

The week before the race I asked Derek what shoes would be best for this course.  He sent me this pic:
And said "This is the terrain for about 40% of the course!"  Yikes.  I realized that I needed to very much get my goat on for this outing.

On the way up we stopped in Pocatello to loosen up the legs on Poky's great trails -that warrant much more exploration  -with our friend Jake (who just moved there from NH), and arrived in Bozeman a few minutes late at the last of the three pre-race meetings just in time to hear the aforementioned character of a race director say "For the first time in 30 years, there are NO course markings!", which of course would come back to haunt him the next day!    To add another element of intrigue to the race, it's a point to point, and they don't supply a shuttle; the race director asked how many people were driving up to the start and about 3 folks raised their hands, to which he said, "well, I guess there will be a few very full cars" and left it at that!

The race starts with the longest climb of the day, from about 7700' to about 9700 feet in a coupla miles, and from that high point you can see most of the route, which is a bit astounding:  20 miles of a rugged and rolling ridge looks like a LONG ways!  But for better or worse, the smoke from wildfires near and far made the ridge just sort of disappear into the distance, so I just put my head down and started plugging along.  That is, until a nearly got hit by a football-sized boulder that got rolled down past me by a herd of (actual!) mountain goats meandering around the trail.

Things went along well until a guy Derek had introduced me to at the start line suddenly appeared running towards me and said just two words: "wrong way".  Ironically, at the first aid station the kind, well-meaning, and under-informed volunteers had put up a ribbon blocking the ridge trail and sent us down another trail that led essentially into never-never land.  Derek had moved ahead of me on the first climb, and I knew that the savvy veteran would not have taken that wrong turn....but soon enough there Derek was following me back up to the ridge trail!  The guy who was leading the race at that point took a bit longer to figure out the err of his ways and added something like 7 extra miles - and a cougar sighting - to his longer day.

The route is indeed worthy of  - apparently  -Trail Running magazine's "bucket list" of races to do.  The trail is quite rugged with plenty of dancing along adjacent to multi-thousand foot plunges off the ridge (that would make for great skiing!), and the rock is sharp limestone that loves to trip grab shoes and slice and bang up those folks unfortunate enough to not recover (one broken leg and one broken collarbone), but much of it is surprisingly runnable.  I chugged along right around 10th place feeling pretty good but kept in mind Derek's words to "keep something in the tank" for the final descent: 4100 feet down to the valley floor.

The last aid station was at the top of Baldy Peak, and I had just finally passed the 9th place guy who had been slowly coming back to me.  He left the aid station a few seconds before me and I charged out after him and went literally a couple of hundred yards down the steepass descent before my left inner thigh exploded in a crippling cramp.  I had just hammered down a couple of salt tablets and a fair bit of electrolyte drink, so I felt like I was watching a cartoon of myself waiting for the pepto-bismol-looking stuff to flow down my gullet and eventually into my groin.  And did!  The cramp eased as suddenly as it had emerged, and I blasted off again.

As I realized later, the final descent is legendary among the many BRR veterans:  it's long ever-steepening, but at least it's rocky, loose, and technical. I tried to channel my inner Derek, who's as much of a Prancer as any trail runner ever, but I could still only muster about 10 minute pace downhill, as hard descending needs as much or more training as climbing, and my short summer of training hadn't really allowed enough of that.  But I finally limped into the finish in 12th at 4 hours flat:

Derek had taken the 40 plus honors ten minutes ahead of me, and 20 minutes down from the winner.

And Ash - taking advantage of her climbing strength and the technical descending  - had a strong outing as well despite equally-limited "training":

A competitive field and a fun day in new terrain. If one is so inclined, here are a couple of videos that are going to apparently be made into a longer movie:  here's one and here is another.  

That said, I heard about friends this weekend who a) tried to run across the Sierras, b) ran up Gannet peak (highest in Wyoming), and c) did a big loop in the Wind River range, and were able to chit chat, save some money by not entering a race, probably saw virtually no one, and probably aren't as crippled as I am now by trying to give 'er too hard because I was racing.  Ah well, lots of ways to get one's ya yas in the mountains.

Our weekend finished up by having Wasatch Community Garden's recently-departed Bill not only set up our new Tenkara fishing rods for us (he first had to gently tell us that we needed to take the plastic off our rod handles!) but also take us out to his secret haunts and impart to us the ways of the water. When you are in that area in the summer it's pretty clear that fishing is The Thing, so we might as well give it a go with a willing and patient instructor.  We were absolute gumbies, but we did actually catch some fish, and it gave us the opportunity to soak our sore legs in the water!
Ash layin' it down....
I think she's....hooked....
And thanks again to our great friend Audrey (a 2nd Wooding sighting in a month!), who put up with our shenanigans for the weekend:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rio Maranon - final post

When you go on any trip to a great place, it's easy to take pictures of all the gnarly stuff and try to capture the most beautiful views you can to (usually unsuccessfully) try to convey how amazing it is on "film".  But the truth is that biggest component of any great trip is the crew.  When Kiwi Andy said he wanted to put together a crew to do this trip and Rocky was going to spearhead the organization, I knew that would end up being a stellar crew.  And I was not disappointed.  So below is a quick series of snapshots of the crew:
Bruce the Kiwi Pharmacist yapping it up with the local kids
David the smooth rafter from Colorado - who pulled off the trip with a week's notice  - sporting the original Patagonia CFS shoes that he loves to love, which of course made my heart sing!
The aforementioned ace archeologist Nico, trying out an old school watercraft
Whitewater ninja masters Pedro y Andrey
Fico, a Peruvian river legend.  

striking a striking pose, Rocky Contos, deep in another gorge; his element.  
a coupla goofballs testing the dubious integrity of a skitchy old ruin
Ruggedly handsome Mike Brehm safely transporting wood downriver. 
Kiwi Rich enjoying the tropical river's bounty
Tomas, the unflappable Chilean, proud of the gigantic South American avocados
some strange ogre who had a bad run in with some burrs whilst dropping his "trousers" for a foray
in the weeds
Kiwi Andy taking the only shower of his trip
The ever-grinning Ross (with Andrey)
the Paraguayan Paddler Ariel
One thing that some of the great river of the American West have is natural hot springs.  The middle fork of the Salmon has probably "the best", but there are great springs on the main Salmon, the Bruneau, the Owyhee, the Payette, and others.    Not to be outdone, the Rio Maranon has one that rivals it's American brethren:
the perfect 104 degrees, good river access, and you can scout the rapid from here!
the locals clearly prize this gem....
One critical aspect of river trips is side hikes; the Grand Canyon has a zillion, and the trail networks along the Selway, Middle Fork, and Main Salmon are extensive.  The Rio Maranon has its share, tho most are pretty short. here are some samples:
trying to hold it together
a coupla cool gorges

feeling the power of the canyon
Ash exploring a cool gorge

Locals had dammed this a bit to get some irrigation water. 
And then it came time for the end of the rio.  We tore down the boats with help from the locals:
And did the gratuitous end of trip shots:

We ended on a beach adjacent to a village that had one restaurant and a hostal:
I wish I was cool enough to have a "Hostal Tom" named after me
Our diminutive hostess, who was wondering where these giants came from.
Despite the remote nature of this village, there is a real airstrip there:
Note the turn; we. started way back and went roaring around the corner with plenty of G-forces
the open air "terminal" with the ticket agent working on a jungle-wood table
This was the only clock in the place, and it didn't work; good thing someone brought a watch!
After the corner the runway was only 400m long, so the pilot wound the engines up to full throttle with the brake on before releasing the brake (and maybe smoking the tires?), roaring around the corner, blasting off the end of the runway, and then working hard to get out of the canyon.
Ash pretty excited by a pretty exciting flight. 
We ended up in Huanchaco on the coast after a 45 minute flight; the crew who went back with the river gear took 16 hours (on class 5 roads) to make the same distance!  

Huanchaco is a well-known surf mecca, so a few of us (who know how) surfed and a few of us thrashed around in the surf with wetsuits and boards and took a healthy beating.  We realized that there are other easily accessible ruins in Peru that are not Macchu Picchu; near Huanchaco/Trujillo are some amazing ruins

Pre-Incan stuff
Nico once again moves to the fore with his vast knowledge of Old Peru

These hairless dogs are native to Peru, and there are multi-thousand year images of these dogs in the ruins.   It's a law that all antiquity sites have at least one of these dogs as a resident.  She needs a daily dose of sunscreen!    

And joins the tours!

this particular ruin mandates a guide, and this guy was quite a character with a great passion for the place and vast knowledge that he acquired on his own, without any formal schooling. 

This ruin is huge, and was only discovered 20 years ago.

Having come recently from Alaska myself, I wondered what it was about Alaska that inspired a Peruvian candy bar!

Gringos lost in the desert
And then we headed for home. 

The worst thing about this trip is that this amazing river and canyon is that it's getting dammed.  This past week the Salt Lake City Weekly ran a cover story on the River of No Return:

Which is a romantic-sounding old-time nickname for the Salmon river but it sorta nonsensical today.  But the Rio Maranon may indeed be the true "River of No Return", because only one dam can ruin hundreds of miles of that narrow gorge, and they are planning somewhere between 10 and 20 dams!  So if you have an inkling to do an amazing river that will likely go the way of the Bio Bio start making plans now (I can put you in touch with Rocky/Sierra Rios).  And if enough people go, it has the potential to make the governments rethink the dams in favor of preservation (not only of the river, but of the thousands of people who live along it) and recreation, ala the Futalefu river (in Chile) which may have staved off damming for this reason, and the national park in Pumalin, Chile.  

Thanks again to Rocky and his crew for helping with an amazing adventure and for spreading the word to the world that this gem is not only incredible but also endangered, to the Scotsman and Fico for some of their pics that I liberally poached, and our excellent crew who made the trip a hoot.