24 October 2015

Marathon to Mountain

I’ve had plenty of years in which to do plenty of foolish things, but last week’s escapade ranks high on the list of what I like to call DDTs – or Don’t Do Thats (which are closely related to DTTDs, or Dumb Things To Do, but that one doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily, and I admit I stole both of these terms from a co-worker in the eighties, but whatever…). Less than seventy-two hours after crossing the finish line at Mohawk-Hudson, I found myself summiting Owl’s Head in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with Dearest Daughter the Younger on an eighteen mile odyssey that included fifteen miles of trail running. If that isn’t a DDT, I’m not sure what is.

Most of my compatriots already think me a bit daft for not only running a warm-up before a marathon (no, I don’t do a warm-down afterward), but insisting on running the next day. In my defense, I claim age, both from the sanity perspective (it’s long gone) as well as the tied-in-knots effect. Without a warm-up, I won’t hit stride till mile two or three, an unaffordable delay in any race, even a marathon if you’re racing it. And nixing the next day’s outing generally means subsequent days will find me twisted like the rubber band on those wind-up airplanes we played with as kids. Well, at least we old farts played with them; now they’re powered by some derivative of fossil fuel and lithium ion batteries, but ours had rubber bands. And we liked them.

Though most who’ve run a marathon really don’t want to hear this, my post-race days usually aren’t too bad. One result of high-mileage training is that the distance of the marathon doesn’t cause too much distress, though the intensity certainly can. Day-after damage varies based on the pace of the event, the nature of the course, and so on, but other than a little forty-eight-hour burn (that tendency for muscle soreness to peak on the second day after), I’m not usually in the “Oh My God It’s A Staircase” set. Yup, it was a big race, I ran hard, I hurt a bit, I run it off slowly and gently over the next few days and try not to do anything truly stupid like racing within a week or two.

So it was this time. Following Mohawk Hudson, I felt pretty good – in fact, remarkably good. No real damage and only light muscle aches. A gentle trail run with Dearest Spouse the next morning, followed by a couple of mile walk in the woods later that day, meant that Tuesday’s forty-eight-hour mark was as close to a non-event as one could wish for. Which left me with a problem. DDY, diligently working her way through New Hampshire’s Four-Thousand Footers, had had her eye on a certain obscure spot known as Owl’s Head for some time.

Owl’s Head is obscure for a number of reasons. It’s the only summit of the forty-eight without a maintained trail – the last mile is an unofficial herd path leading straight up a rock slide, then arduously up the remaining elevation to the summit ridge. It’s not only wooded, and therefore somewhat unrewarding (though the views from the climb up the slide are sublime), but it’s so tangled up top that the true summit was only found ten years ago. My previous ascent twenty-three years back reached what was thought to be the top but is now known to be a bit shy (though the Four-Thousand-Footers Committee graciously accepts either summit). But mostly, it’s just a long way from anything. It’s an eighteen-mile round-trip from the nearest road, much of which is not terribly exciting hiking. Back in ninety-two, when running wasn’t in my activity bag, I’d done it in traditional boot-and-big-backpack style, and it had taken close to forever. This adds up to Owl’s Head rarely being a sought-after summit, but it’s on the list and you have to do it.

DDY had been posturing to hit the Head for several years, though the timing just hasn’t worked out. Last year we abandoned plans the night before thanks to an injury of mine that wouldn’t succumb to the healing power of wishful thinking. But this year – you tend to target this for the fall, typically a drier time, because there are plenty of tough stream crossings enroute – DDY happened to have a day off both school and her job, and that day happened to be…three days after Mohawk Hudson. I’d said it was a maybe at best, but when Tuesday found me basking in my non-injurious state, I had no leg to stand on (pun intended) to say no and certainly didn’t want to be the buzz kill a second year running (another pun intended). And let’s face it: the foolish side of me really didn’t want to say no, anyway.

I don’t want to think about what time we dragged our butts out of bed to hit the road. I’ll only recall that we hit the trail a few minutes past seven as the sun struggled to light the landscape through heavy overcast. Rather than hiking style, we went at this in trail-running minimalist fashion: hydration packs tanked to their absolute max (which proved unnecessary and weighty on the forty-to-fiftyish day), both packed beyond their capacity with the barest minimum of gear. Not owning true trail shoes (mine are lightweight with little support, not up to the rocks on a long day in the Whites), we set out in old trainers – mercifully aged versions, expecting levels of abuse which we wouldn’t wish
on any valued pair of shoes (and which did, of course, come to pass).

It’s about nine miles in with eight stream crossings. But this is the fall, when water levels are low, and it hadn’t rained much of late – at least where we live. After burning a tremendous amount of time searching for a crossable spot of the largest flowing obstacle (the GPS trace of those minutes was rather
amusing), we learned from a passing hiker that it had in fact rained cats and dogs the night before. At least we now knew it wasn’t our lack of rock-hopping skill that made the effort so difficult! By our return trip only a few hours later, that same crossing had eased considerably.

We had no unrealistic expectations of getting though this journey anywhere close to dry. We were simply relying on enough relative speed so as not to care about our saturation state (certainly one’s pace on White Mountain trails, especially inbound grading uphill, can’t be called speedy, but speedy relative to a traditional hiking assault.) While trying to avoid the mud, rivulets, rivers, and various joyously hydrated surprises, we cared less and less as the day wore on about missteps. Early day cries of, “I got it!” (meaning wet), faded to simple acceptance of a constant state of wet.

Though slow and frequently interrupted, we managed to keep running, more or less, for about seven and a half of the eight miles to the slide, finally giving up any pretense of moving faster than a hike as that turn drew near. The slide itself was a welcome adventure, not nearly as steep and arduous as I’d expected or remembered from my last trip, and never frightful like our climb up the Tripyramids a couple years back. Below spread a patchwork of brilliant fall gold interspersed with green, unexpectedly duo-tone, reds and oranges
remarkably absent. Above, the trace of the Franconia Ridge vanished into the low overcast, which we soon entered, greeted with a chilling summit wind challenging our minimalist gear, as the path cut relentlessly uphill. For a path that was said to end at the new summit (after bypassing the old non-summit), the final apex was surprisingly elusive, farther north than expected and nearly undiscernible in its supposed maximum altitude. It was easy to see why generations hadn’t noticed it before.

Peak bagged, for DDY one closer to a major life goal, for me one closer on my second circuit of the collection (in harmony with the title and theme of this blog), bodies thoroughly chilled after barely twenty minutes up top, and nine miles outbound awaiting. Just off the slide, we hit the running switch again and by comparison barreled our way downhill, hopping the rivers with ease, perhaps due to slightly lower water, perhaps due to the learning curve of the day, perhaps simply because on the way out, getting very wet bothered us less by the hour. (DDY captured this action in a shot so ironically timed with falling fall foliage that I seem to be showing off how Adam might have dressed had the Garden of Eden been located in New England.) The final flat slog out on the Wilderness Trail, timing strides to span the leftover railroad ties and dodging increasing numbers of short-walk leaf peepers venturing from the parking lot (getting a fabulous show, mind you) found our energy flagging but our spirits soaring over not just the accomplishment (for DDY, this was her longest run and hike), but the audacity; mountain to marathon in three days, serious DDT, notched.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!