Monday, January 5, 2015

10 Below (Phoenix AZ to Rossland BC, Dec 30, 2014-Jan 4, 2015)

My 3rd ATY (Across the Years, a fixed time ultrarun near Phoenix, see 2/26/12 entry). I had again signed up for the 48h run with the initial stated goal of sub-24h 100M + any bonus miles, which quickly downgraded to getting any buckle at all, given my current level of fitness. Many friends were going to be there, Karen (from Australia), Francesca, and Diana were doing the 6-day, Jill and Susan (my Canadian twin) were doing the 72h, the kind of class reunion I would actually go to.

It seemed like every single crying baby in America was flying to Phoenix for New Years. Waited in long lines and picked up a rental car smelling faintly of stale cigarettes, drove to Target and bought sunscreen (which I would not need), spicy limon Cheetos, beef jerky, 2 bottles of red wine with screw-top lids, cornstarch to keep the foot rot at bay, and mini shampoo which I forgot to pack.

Susan had saved me a tent next to hers and Francesca’s. I walked a few (illegal) laps with her as I was not supposed to start until the next AM and pacing was not allowed until after midnight. She showed me the propane heater she brought. I knew it would be cold (highs 40-50s, low 27) but even after freezing in past years, I foolishly thought I could get through with just 5 layers of clothes and the sub-zero sleeping bag that Ocean got me for my b-day years ago.

New Years Eve opened up as a 42 degree rainy morning. I struggled to get to mile 35 by sunset, whereas I would normally be at mile 50 by 10h. I decided to change to dry clothes and get a quick nap before it got too cold, then try to move through the night.

Ran into Jill, who had already done 151 miles in a 48h run a couple months prior, but was just off her 200M/ 72h goal. She was so caffeinated she had not slept in 48h so I decide I’d rather pace her than slog alone. We will do 2 loops together, she will lie down and close her eyes for my solo loop, then repeat. The temps dipped to freezing and we talked about anything and everything to pass the time until midnight. We saw Susan in her penguin hat, we put on matching party hats and rang in the new year with champagne and bourbon-flavored cigars, resolving never to spend NYE alone again.

Susan was already beyond 100M and I was able to convince her, since she’s Canadian and all, that 200km was a noble and attainable goal. Jill pointed out that with only 9 miles beyond that she was in contention for 3rd place overall and that was the end of that; we didn’t see her again until the last 10 min when she sprinted past us to take the 3rd place 148 mile finish.

Though I had slept 8h the previous night with the help of vit Z (ambien, aka zolpidem), I was starting to weave and wake up further down the path without clear recall of how I got there. At 5 AM I laid in the heating tent for 20 blissful minutes before Jill got me back on my feet.

The sun came up clear and cold on Jill’s last day. She had been leapfrogging the 1st place woman, a 25 year old being crewed by her parents. Doing reconnaissance I figured we were only ½ mile behind, and if we could lap her in the last half hour and not look back, Jill could win. The 25 yo was wearing the puffy silver coat, looked really tired, leaning to the side, walking with her parents. Victory was in sight, then suddenly…she disappeared. She had done a 12 min mile, then finished with a 9 min mile. Well, we weren’t going to top those 25 year old legs…. But Jill did get a distance PR (182 miles) and a respectable 2nd place overall only 1.5 miles behind.

We headed toward the showers (though I still had 23 hours and a marathon at least to go to reach 100M), and I said, “gee wouldn’t it be nice if we had a beer?”.  Like magic we saw these 2 bearded dudes overheard us and said, “hey we were just going to get some beer from our van, want one?” They live in their mobile van and travel around the country just doing hard ass ultras. Beer angels, they DO exist.

After Jill and Susan got their awards, I had a 4 hour nap, then was left with the task of doing a mere marathon more in like 14 hours. Doesn’t sound hard but the cold was brutal once the sun went down.

I tried to lie down but no sleep after 2 hours, I had to pee desperately so got up with my sleeping bag and went to the warming tent, where I saw a few hardy souls on night #4 of their 6-day huddled in front of the lone propane heater. It was not enough to stop my shivering so went to the food tent to get some soup. There were more angels, volunteers in their down coats staying up all night just to feed the runners. One plunked me in front of a heater and handed me a hot cup o soup while massaging my shoulders, another wrapped my legs in blankets. They were runners too, they could see the hypothermia in my eyes and they had been there too. I saw Francesca in her shorts, discarding her down coat after getting her blisters treated, and setting off in the frosty night to her 325 mile 3rd place finish.  I was at 92, only 8 miles to go, feeling sorry for myself, what? Time to get it done. I got to run a couple miles with her (me on my first day, she on her 4th), and we looked up at the starry sky between our frozen breaths and she said “this is peaceful”, and that is all that needed to be said. 

I make it a point to never be in town for my birthday, and was contemplating where I would go after ATY. Timing is everything. I was surfing for plane tix to visit the folks in Chicago when I got an email from Francine (see 10/14/12 entry). I had an open invitation to visit her in Rossland, BC. What if I went snowshoeing after my 48h run? It was on.

Another lucky bit of timing, I convinced Pat to drive up from Tricities, pick me up at Spokane airport, and join our snowshoeing group. We stopped by Huckleberry’s which was unfortunately all out of LeChat bread but had plenty of specialty beers (including Trois Pistoles!) and wines to bring with. It was dark and snowy on the windy road up to Rossland, just north of the border, near the Red Mountain ski resort. Got there just in time for a warm, home-cooked meal while listening to Francine’s incredible race report of her last 100M, the Ghost of Yellowstone, filled with the usual snow, pouring rain, 20,000+ ft elevation gain, and evil people who take joy in pulling trail markings off trees knowing ultrarunners will get lost and possibly die of hypothermia, followed by chocolate mousse cake, hot shower to de-cake my post-100M funk, and sleep not in a freezing cold stinky sleeping bag on the floor! 

Saturday morning late breakfast with bacon and probably the world’s best scrambled eggs, local Rossland eggs cooked with butter in a cast iron pan (note to self, Must Order Cast Iron Skillet IMMEDIATELY), and 2 cappuccinos made with Hendrik’s refurbished commercial espresso machine and foamed milk that came from a glass bottle. When I commented that cheek muscles I didn’t know existed were twitching, I was informed that each cup had the equivalent of 3 shots of espresso. No wonder it was so #*$&^$% good.

Hendrik is a level 4 ski instructor who patiently helped me figure out the buckles on my brand-spanking new snowshoes from REI that I bought in the excitement of moving to Spokane in 2011, but never used.  We drove up to the trailhead and headed up the trail. 

It was a clear, sunny day with fluffy snow making snow sculptures on the trees. I did my usual pretending to stop to be a Japanese tourist so I could catch my breath on the climbs trying to keep up with Francine. We reached Sunspot after 1 hour.

These 2 dudes, one of whom was named “Booty”, had built a couple of A-frame cabins with steel stoves up here, where skiiers could warm up, well-stocked with kindling though restocking is always appreciated.
Saw a random skier and his dog, it is amazing that people ski down those steep slopes with very close-knit trees and tight corners, like trail running?
Hendrik says sometimes there is enough snow to cover all those trees! We signed into the “logbook” and had our Kootenay sandwiches, grilled cheese cooked on the stove, with tea and hot cocoa from our thermoses.
I put on another layer for the descent, and we did a little side tour to another viewpoint, stopping to pull some green beards from the trees and jump squealing on our asses into some 6 ft snow banks like her grandkids, watching fluffy clouds floating by.

Then it was back to the house for… a 17 lb brined roasted turkey dinner
with homemade gravy and mashed turnips, while drinking craft beer and listening to Robbie Robertson and Neil Young. Suddenly my housing Francine at the Yurt for Quadzilla seemed kinda lame in comparison.

Next morning, more amazing face-twitching cappuccinos with French toast swimming in Canadian maple syrup and sausage. We had discussed going out again in the snow but there was a winter storm watch and we had a 3 hour drive back to Spokane, a flight to Reality I had to catch, so we left in the morning.

We got to Paterson Border Patrol pretty quickly.
“Getting into the US is easier than getting into Canada” I state confidently.
The young agent asks us, “where were you?”
“Snow shoeing in Rossland”.
“Where are you from?”
“Tricities and Seattle”.
“How do we know each other?”
“We’re in a group call the ‘Marathon Maniacs’” (one eyebrow raised).
“Can you show me your car registration?” [Pat pulls out his ring binder].
“You have a ring binder? OK turn off the engine and pop the trunk”.
Luckily all we had was a bunch of gourmet pasta and olive oil/ balsamic I had bought at the only grocery in Rossland, Ferraro Foods which happens to be owned by Italians and carries some fancy real Italian stuff.

We made it through the border then the serious snow started. Pat dropped me off and drove 3 more hours home, I caught an earlier flight before they shut all the flights down. Got home to this:

Thanks, Ocean. Looking forward to the next season of BRS. Not sure I can pull off another Drynuary but it’s still an inspiration. Happy New Year!


  1. KUDOS! What a way to spend the New Year

  2. Those snow shoe pix look awesome, we should go soon!

  3. What about making th DC in a snowy place this year?