Despite learning how to ski here, my normal adventure map has strangely omitted time in Colorado. Abigail has cool friends- they celebrated their wedding in Crested Butte, and she managed to find cheap airfare for both of us. It was a good start to February. One photo per day:
I was trying to write something worthwhile about my response to the election, and Thanksgiving. Maybe those should be exclusive posts anyway.
It’s important to me to maintain this blog- one post a month feels like the bare minimum of viability. The previously mentioned topic was too damn hard, so I’m punting.
Abigail had a work conference in Las Vegas, and to recover from forced time in Vegas, I flew down to go climbing in Red Rocks (right next to the city), and a convenient antidote to the affliction of being there. Bike commuting in November in Seattle looks like this:
so the desert was very nice…
This trip was more about hanging out in the desert rather than climbing hard. We climbed easy, beautiful, and classic lines, ate good food, and had fun. Sometimes, that is all it needs to be.
So I’ll close with this: I’m glad to have federally protected recreation areas at my disposal. Please consider the many groups that have worked together to make that recreation possible. Trump and the GOP have been explicit in their desire to repeal environmental protections on natural resources and federally protected lands. If that happens, things like this little adventure stop happening. Take sides and speak up.
Despite my last posts, I had no clue just how short this season was about to feel. Abigail and I drove east to Big Sky on Thursday of Labor Day weekend under thick clouds- to run The Rut race. The weather was unseasonably brisk, even for Montana. While our recent adventures may allude otherwise, neither of our bodies have been in perfect running order. Her IT band, and my hamstring have been out of sorts for months. A week before the race I sprouted a nagging sinus infection that carried up to race day.
We arrived Friday evening so Abigail could run the 28km race on Saturday, and I could rest one more day before the 50km race on Sunday. The big sky in Big Sky was pretty full of clouds, but we stayed optimistic. Abigail “just wanted to finish”, so she started at the back of the first wave, and promptly proceeded to pick off competitors one by one.
I hiked up to cheer on racers around mile 7 and saw the front runners come through- but when Abigail passed, I realized she was still probably in the top 20 women. Go Abigail!
The skies cleared off, and Abigail got the full Rut vertical experience, holding her place and picking her way along the exposed ridges that makes the rut The Rut. The final results list her as the 17th overall woman- no joke for her first real mountain race, and being behind 7 or 8 pro runners from Europe and some wicked strong locals from higher elevations.
My race was less flattering. Last year, I went out too fast and burned out early. It was not pretty. I wasn’t any fitter this year, and between sickness and injury I felt unsure of myself right up to race day- but I was determined to run a smarter race and do the best I could.
The weather system that was supposed to hit the 28km race waited for me, and I left the condo in 40 degree spitting rain. Hydration would not be a problem. They closed the upper mountain due to risks from both lightning and snow, so my 50km with 10,000ft of vertical became a 42km with 7,000ft of vertical. Much faster, lower elevation, and frankly, easier. I picked my layers carefully, and started with the 2nd wave of runners to keep away from the peer pressure to go fast. Abigail found ways to cheer me on early in the race, and I felt solid well past where things started to fall apart last year.
Mercifully, it didn’t start raining hard until 2 hours into the course. At 3 hours and at 9700ft above sea level, there was an inch of snow on the course. Moving was necessary for warmth, but careful pacing and diligent nutrition kept me in good shape. I felt a little weary on the long downhill between miles 16 and 20, but worked my plan, gave up some speed and stayed strong.
I finished 30 places faster than last year, and in the top 25% of finishers. Plus, I wasn’t a puddly wreck of exhausted muscle fibers which makes me think my plan to run smarter worked well. We even managed to sneak away from the race and celebrate my friends Maggie and Chad getting married in Bozeman that night- cheers to them tying the knot!
Suffice to say- I’m still eager to run the full course next year, hopefully in better health, and with a better plan. Hopefully the course won’t look like this (from our drive home on Monday):
(part 1 of 2)
I like to think that I can enjoy outdoor recreation in every season. Sometimes that’s a challenge- trail running in freezing rain gets old pretty quick. For high travel in the mountains, summer in the Pacific Northwest is prime time and the season suddenly feels very short. Those of us that recreate here are blessed to have the problem of too many good options. Stellar trail running or alpine climbing, deep wilderness or front country cragging- it can be hard to pick.
(Copper Ridge lookout)
Two weeks ago, Abigail and I headed for her first trip to see the North Cascades. We got a few recommendations, and when the camping permit location didn’t overlap with some of the features we wanted to see, she didn’t complain. As we are both preparing to run versions of The Rut trail race in a few weeks, she figured that a few extra miles to link the features would be good training. The recommended 4-6 day Copper Ridge backpacking loop became a single overnight adventure, with a detour to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. All destinations recommended, but our itinerary is only recommended for the fleet of foot.
(Burly babe at mile 25 and starting up Whatcom Pass)
We left Hannegan Pass at 730am on Saturday morning, and at 915 made the final call. We wanted to see Copper Ridge, but doing so meant committing to a 30 mile day with our (relatively light) overnight packs. Up we went- it was worth it. At mile 25 and 530pm, we started our final climb to the Lakes above Whatcom Pass. There is a decent trail to both Tapto and Middle Lakes and good camping can be found at either. The views off both are spectacular. The huckleberries we found on Sunday morning were critical to finishing the remaining 18 miles back to the car. A few more photos to whet your whistle.
Thanks to Abigail for picking a lovely loop and putting out the moxie to get it done- she is a rare girl for sure.
All content Copyright Skander Spies, 2016
Over the July 4th weekend, I got to find some deep wild in Olympic National Park. I am not sure of how many major American cities have proximity to wilderness like this.
There is little rock climbing to be had. That doesn’t matter. Bright skies, beautiful friends, and deep green glades were more than enough. The wildflowers were out in force, and the bugs were not. Bliss.
Abigail stares at the Olympics every day from her office, so when my good friend Michael from work invited us out with his wife for a hike along “The Grand Loop”, it was easy to say yes. Not for the faint of foot, we earned the 45 miles and 12,500 vertical feet over 4 days. They don’t get much nicer than this.
Seattle is not as grey as some people might want you to believe. However- it is grey enough that when Drew and Lindzey invited me and Abigail to join them in Mexico, it was easy to think ahead and say “yes.”
Sayulita used to be “off the beaten path” but these days, it is distinctly a gringo heaven – vibrant, yet deliciously relaxed. Yoga, internet, and an easy surf break draws Americans and more than a few Mexicans. We had a choice of vacation rentals, most people spoke (enough) english, and the weather was perfect. Unlike our last “vacation”, Abigail was thrilled to get her workout swimming and surfing instead of lugging a pack through the rain.
Highlights included: sleeping in, eating, getting sand deep in between the toes, and a couple great surf sessions. We took a day long boat tour to the Marieta Islands, one of only two places to see Blue Footed Boobies, and swum ashore into a hidden beach:
Drew was one of my first ice climbing partners. We’ve enjoyed some wonderful adventures over the years. It is even more fun to realize that our friendship is equally adept at lounging on an beach with two amazing ladies as it is pushing our mental and physical limits. I suspect we’ll probably be back up to our usual shenanigans in no time, but this was more than a nice change of pace.
The blog has been quieter than I would hope- I’ve missed writing. I’ve been crunching numbers instead- I have finally been approved to take my licensing exam this spring. It is the last step in becoming a Professional Engineer, and I even hit the books while I was on the beach. It’s a goal I’ve had my eye for most of the last 8 years, and studying up has helped me appreciate how much I have actually learned across the spectrum of my career.
There have been a few adventures in the background, but major plans are on hold until after April. Stay tuned.
A couple times a year, my life just hits fast-forward. I got back from Alaska and immediately started packing to move house the next weekend.
After the move, I started unpacking while simultaneously digging out gear for my first 50km trail race, The Rut. I left work at noon on Friday before the Sunday race and drove to Missoula- my pre-race team was second to none:
The Rut was really hard. My training took a nose-dive in August due to other constraints, and my shoes were too lightweight for the course. Lots of lessons learned: I took the first downhill too fast, I added some glue to the shoes to alleviate a soft spot (and found that hard spots are worse), and for the first time, really actually wanted the dubious “mini-soft-shell gaiters”. Also, poles. Poles would be not stupid on this course. Double also, crew. Having a crew person is rad. Thanks to Paige, Jess, Tod, and Amanda for pinch hitting in that regard.
I got a truly gnarly set of blisters by mile 11, which made the race a lot grittier than it needed to be. Early nutrition and cheering volunteers kept my spirits up. Once we got into the steeper terrain I stopped getting passed and the scenery got a lot better. After adding a full roll of tape to my feet at mile 18, I was ready to fight for the finish. Around mile 25 the blisters were screaming and I dug two painkillers out of my jacket pocket, just to take the edge off against the remaining miles. I’m not proud of needing the pills, but it felt like the right call at the time. I finished in 8hr 4min 10sec. Not the sub-8hrs I hoped for, but for a few long hours afterwards I felt full, that simply finishing was enough. I’m not afraid of the distance, or my feet, any more and
I had a wonderful night of recovery (2 dinners!) staying with Jordan and Cari in Bozeman before driving back to Seattle in one go on Monday- it took 3 tries to get out of the car at the first gas stop. Despite the stiffness in my legs, it was a beautiful drive, which was good because I jumped straight into a 11hr workday, and then onto a flight to Chicago for the 2015 North American Passive House Conference (NAPHC) on Wednesday.
What’s wrong with me that this:
is almost as much fun as this:
It was a great conference. I linked up with some old colleagues, some new potential clients, and got a lecture from a few of my heroes.
After the last 6 weeks in fast forward, I’m officially ready for a weekend at home.