Category: Adventure/Travel

2017 River Valley Revenge

Hanging on by a Thread

It was at kilometer 58 and hanging on by a thread. Metaphors aside, I was physically grasping onto “threads” of grass/shrubs high on a steep muddy bank of the North Saskatchewan River.  Both of my feet had just slipped out from under me, and the lower half of my body was quickly making a decent to the river below.   I grabbed the grass in a last ditch attempt and to my absolute amazement, these tiny clumps held strong. In fact, I was so astonished that it took my brain a second to switch from “sh*t, we’re going into the river, prepare for the worst” to “holy crap, we might have a chance here!”  I quickly dug the side lugs of my shoes into the mud below the trail and scrambled on hands and knees back up onto the trail.

A city still asleep (km 7 at 4:00am or so)

Flashback to 8 hours before, there I was standing with 15 other runners in the drizzle beside the Starting Arch. My watch showed 2:57am and the Race Director was going through the last details of the course. “We’re going to have you go around Golfball Alley and Two Truck trail, apparently some 100-milers ended up in the river and there are no more branches to grab onto. I mean you can go on it if you really want to..”

Fast forward back to the “situation at 58km”, now that I was out of emergency mode, I could assess the situation. I likely wouldn’t have ended up all the way down in the river. But on tired legs after rolling/sliding down the hill, it would have been a bad/tough time getting back up to the trail, and maybe have been enough to mentally break me into dropping out. I nipped that thought in the bud, forged ahead and running over two.. golfballs.. on the trail. “That’s weird” I thought, and then it all sunk in. “crap, this is that Golfball trail they told us to avoid, shit shit shit” I thought to myself(out loud).  A few of runners had missed the turn and now two of us were standing in front of a mud “halfpipe/chute” we had to cross. In the dry conditions it would have been a non-issue but with all the rain, “dodgy” was an understatement. The runner behind me looked at it, said “F this” and then disappeared into the bushes above the trail. I thought about my options and decided the risk of a race-ending trip down the chute was too high (I gave it 50/50 odds) and going back* was also too dodgy. I made the executive decision to abort this “alternative course” and seek the “boring-yet-safe course” through the residential area on the ridge. After bushwhacking through chest level shrubs, and a little jaunt beside a golf course (ahh, that explains the golf balls!) I was back on the course markings.  Huge relief

A city just waking up (km13 at the Mill Creek Bridge)

The rest of east loop was much less eventful. From the top, I spotted Anthony Henday bridge off in the distance which marked 65km and the farthest I would be from the finish line on this loop. If I could make it there, I could make it to the finish line. The trail then dropped back down below the residential into fun flowy singletrack. It was great to get back to “easy” trail running and I started to forget the stress and frustration I had felt just minutes ago. There were a few memorable spots along the course that had this yin/yang effect on me. It would transition between progressively challenging (physical and mentally) that would just push and push and push me right to the breaking point, then suddenly switch gears into the most amazing time ever.

New territory

Cruising along the double track now,  I finally made the bridge and had 15km remaining. Up to this race, my record for personal distance was 56km so I was setting a new PB with every step I took. At his point, I was doing quite a bit of walking but found some extra energy in the Terwillegar trail section. I hadn’t been on the trails here for a very long time, so it was neat to return to trails I had last seen in my high school days. Not to mention, it’s  flat so that was a welcome bonus! Coming back to the Ribbon Bridge I spotted someone in a November Project shirt, someone familiar looking. Was it a hallucination, or my imagination? No, my friend Dave was there in the actual flesh, having tracked me down on Strava Beacon while out for a (much shorter, haha) run of his own. Little moments like this make such a difference, and after been in my own head for hours and hours, it was so great to see a familiar face in the flesh. Thanks again Dave!

My Race bib looking a little haggard

Back on the other side of the river, I now had only 7km to go. I was trying not to think about the finish line. There was still work to be done. But I felt great, cruised along the trails at a stable pace and watched the distance tick away.

One thing I like about the back half of trail races is the “race solitude” that comes from the runners being spread out at this point. While I love the community aspect of races, a major reason I’m out there is to push myself and enjoy the wilderness. Even with the 100km and 100mi racers sharing the same course, I only saw 3 or 4 other runners during the entire back half. The motivation, support, and community of a race combined with the tranquility of just being out there running your own race is this weird dichotomy that I love immensely

Approaching the Rio Terrace Aid Station (77km), I could hear it before I could see it. Every race has at least one “extreme energy to the max all the time” aid station and I had just found it.  The only thing that stood between me and it was.. the world’s largest staircase. “That’s a lot of steps” I said out loud to no one. But like a moth to a flame, the energy drew me up the stars to the top. Whoah, music, extreme dance party, neon pink, this one had it all. To the Rio Terrace volunteers: sorry I didn’t stay longer at your dance party, I had a race to finish! Rest assured your “energy extreme” was like a slingshot that fired me towards the finish line

The last 3.5km was kind of surreal. I reflected on all the things that had gone well.. And also all the little things I had overcome in the past 24 hours: The early start (I am not a morning person) The 3 hours of sleep I was running on( why did I go to bed so late, I’m so dumb).  The chest congestion that returned and ensuing coughing fit for the entire 11 hour drive to Edmonton. The pouring rain for the first 3 hours of the race.  I had overcome all of these and managed to keep moving for 11+ hours to cover almost 80k! As I crossed the finish line,  I felt a mixture of fatigue, gratification & serenity.  I had no idea what placement I was in, nor did it really matter. I had continually pushed myself through difficult & uncomfortable situations and made it out the other side. I had pushed myself to new mental, physical and emotional thresholds. This is why I run ultras. To push myself, get uncomfortable, and see what I can accomplish. And accomplish something today I did.

By the numbers

  • 79.1km
  • 11 hours, 24 minutes, 12 seconds.
  • 9000 calories burnt (according to Strava)
  • 1347m elevation gain
  • 3000 mosquitos
  • 10L of water
  • 6 Berry Blast Probars
  • 350g of Hammer Montana Huckleberry Gel (equivalent to ~12 gel packets)
  • 7 Hammer Effervescent Electrolyte tabs
  • 2 pairs of socks/shorts/shirts
  • 2 golfcourse fairways skirted in commando-mode.

Final thoughts

Thanks to all the organizers & volunteers that made this event happen, you guys rock! I can’t even begin to imagine how much work it would take. Thanks to my partner Charlotte for all the inspirational SMS messages along the way (“Only 20km left!!”) and to all my friends on Facebook/Instagram sending virtual cheers watching along the way. Thanks to my parents for showing up at the Finish Line (sorry that I ran past you, Mom!)

 

Central America Calendar – Thank you!

Hey everyone,

Thanks for supporting my Central America photo calendar project this year. A total of $315 was raised for Planeterra’s Mayan Homestay project in Guatemala. The donations help the village of San Juan La Laguna develop sustainable, small-scale tourism to preserve the beauty, environment, and culture of the Lake Atitlan area. As you flip through the calendar over the upcoming year, take pride that your contribution helped the people and places in each of the 13 photos.

More info on the Mayan Homestay project

Happy 2012 and save travels,
Daryl

Day 5 – Lake Atitlan and Mayan Homestay

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After staying the night in Panajachel we woke up to a beautiful sunrise. It was perfect beach weather which was awesome, given that today was a swim day.  We boarded a boat to take us to Casa Mundo, a quaint hotel that is boat-access only. The edge of the lake is dotted with all kinds of villages rising up fro the water which made for a very scenic boat-ride. The topography actually reminded me a but of shusway or Kootenay Lakes (aside from the 3 huge volcanoes rising high above the surrounding land). We had a leisurely lunch and swim (I had a traditional Guatemalan meal of beans, rice and plantains) and then we made our way off to San Juan del Laguna (San Juan on the Lake).

As soon as we rolled into San Juan, the flooding in October that everyone had been talking about was very apparent. The lake had risen 10 ft in recent months and houses that were once waterfront were up to their eaves in lake-water.  There is really nothing that can be done about the water level as the lake sits in a massive crater formed about 10,000 years ago. It simply goes up and down with the rain and sun.

Many of the towns on Lake Atitlan are very poor but San Juan has done well for themselves.  Realizing the importance of tourism and agriculture they have built up a town based strongly on those two industries and have been smart with their choices.  This was clear the moment we stepped off the dock. You can feel a certain pride and contentment eminating from the people despite their lack of material wealth. It was by far the most friendly, cheerful and genuine town we had beeen in so far. And once again, the religious dedicationof the guatemalan people was evident as yet another religious procession (albeit smaller than the one in Antigua) made its way up and down the streets.

The plan for the evening was to do a tour of local artisan co-operatives and then meet up with a Mayan Family for dinner and our homestay. We quickly maade our way to the first co-op,  an art gallery where they make paintings using traditional Mayan styles. They have three different “perspectives”: Abstract view, Bird view, & Ant view. The paintings are really colorful and each of the different perspectives shows off the Mayan culture in unique ways.  I ended up buying an ‘ant-view’ painting of some farm workers.The next stop was a textile co-operative where some local weavers demonstrated how they make their textiles on hand looms. They make all of the thread by hand by processsing cotton that they grow in their own gardens. All of the dyes are made organically using local plants (and bugs such as a reddish beetle found on cacti!), much like their relaitves did hundreds of years ago. Each piece of fabric takes days (or weeks to make) and the attention to detail is incredible.

Finally, it was time to meet our Mayan home-stay family. We would be staying in the home of Marcos and Jauna and we couldn’t have asked for nicer hosts. Marcos worked in the coffee and corn fields of the Lake Atitlan area and Juana was a home-maker. They had 3 boys and lived in a basic but well taken care of home. Charlotte and I ddidn’t know what to expect but it was an incredible experience. Despite us not knowing much Spanish, we managed to stumble our way through conversation using a combination of Spanish, English, French and Mayan (which they taught us). It took a lot of mental effort to communicate but it was a positive and fun experience for all of us and there weren’t really any awkward moments. Marcos and myself prepared the eating area (small wooden table with plastic stools) while the ladies made Tortillas by hand in the kitchen over a wooden stove. Dinner was a basic but flavourful chicken soup with hot sauce on the side. Let me tell you about this hot sauce: I put only the tip of a tea-spoon of it into my bowl and it was the hottest thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. It was delicious but WOW they have some crazy peppers in Guatemala. Marcos was an interesting fellow but also had a bit of a sense of humour. When he pulled out a mis-shapen tortilla he looked over at Charlotte and said “Son Tortilla”, teasing her on her rookie tortilla making experience. When the topic came up on our relationship, for sake of cultural simplicty we used terms we had agreed on before hand: “Esposo y Esposa”: (Husband and Wife). Dinner conversation was hard but fun at the same time.. We talked about Canada, Guatemala, politics, schools, and life in general. One of their sons was studying computers in school which I wished I could have shared more of my knowledge over. Given that basic communication in Spanish is challenging enough, I can’t imageine trying to explain PHP in another language.

After dinner, we wandred through town coming across some of the other home-stay groups as well as a middle school graduation and photography exhibit. We watched the graduation ceremony for a bit but it was all in spanish and difficult to understand (Except for the national anthem which had karaoke-style words on a projector screen. Its also the longest national anthem in history, I’m sure it went on for at least 15 minutes). The photography exhibit was… interesting. We had a very enthusiastic (but spanish-speaking-only) guide who walked us through a class-room full of photos showing the progress of San Juan. The pride of the people in the town is absolutely amazing. In just a few decades they’ve built up a first class town full of schools, churches and sustainable businesses unlike any other town on the lake. They are proud yet humble. It was by far the most friendly town we have been in this entire trip and all of the townspeople radiate happiness and contentment. It was definately one of the highlights of the trip.

Day 7 – Flores

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We had a quick one-day stop in Flores. On the way we stopped by a *hot* waterfall which was awesome. A cold stream fed into it at the bottom so you could have a hot shower fallijng down on your shoulders and back with the cold pool to keep the temperature  comfortable.

Flores was  a charming little “island” town. We only spent one night there but it came with a magnificent sunset.

Day 2- Antigua

We spent the majority of the day exploring the town of Antigua. Given that it’s the weekend, the markets were out in full force. I used this as an a opportunity to brush up on my Spanish skills which went surprisingly well. I ended up getting a leather belt and two paintings for a reasonable price. And given my love for technology, I managed to aquire a prepaid SIM card (with data!) for only $10. The market was the craziest one I’ve ever been to and inclued everything from live baby chicks to bench grinders. We were a bit apprehensive at first but warmed up quickly and got a lot more comfortable pwrusing the goods. It was nice that the vendors were a lot less pushy than in the more touristy places like Playa del Carmen.

The plan for the next couple of days is to go to Lake Atitlan and spend one night in a hotel and then taake a boat ride to an ancient Mayan village. There we do a Homestay with a Mayan family. I’m really looking forward to that as I imagine it will be an amazing cultural experience. I’m not sure how much Internet access I will have during that time so updates could be on Monday and Tuesday. Have a good Halloween everyone and eat lots of candy. We’ll be at the Homestay that night so I imagine there will be no indiation of it being different than any other day.

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Two wheels is the way to go in Antigua

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The local artisan market. It wasn’t only for artisans though. One giiuy tried to sell me a achete and bench grinder for Q130 (under $20 US)

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Beuatiful arch downtown

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The town “Laudromat” where the mayan ladies wash their clothes in Conctrete wash basins.
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Another shot of the wash basins
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Ancient ruins that are part of our hotel
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The Apple love runs world-wide
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The trunk bakery lady made delicious pastries
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The colonial architecture here is amazing.

Day 1

We made it Safe and Sound to Antigua today.  We et up ith the rest of our tour and both the group and leader seem like awesome people.  Spent a nice night making new friends over good food and drinks.
Not  a whole lot of energy left right now so I’m going to let the photos do the talking

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Guatemala City

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Volacanoes on the landing approach in

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Patchwork landscape

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Day 0 – Seattle

Made it to the Seattle airport. Winter is not all that far from hitting the Okanagan judging from the snow on the hills above the vallley. The landscape will probably look a whole lot more white when we get back!

I decided not to bring my DSLR with me due to weight and security issues so I was playing around with the Canon S90 that Clark lent me (Thanks Clark!). It’s got a pretty fast lens for a point and shoot (F/2.0) and quite a bit of manual control so it should work out well. I took a couple of test shots on the flight down. Alaska Air also offered (free) Pyraamid IPA on the flight down which was pretty enjoyable as well. If  you can find some at your local store, I highly recommend it.

It’s going to be a long night. Our flight from Houston leaves at 11pm (5hrs from now) and then we depart for Guatemala at 8am. I’m hoping to explore the city a bit on that first day but also have a ‘siesta’ in the plans.

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Hasta Manana

Travel checklists

If you’re like me, you like to be prepared when you head into the outdoors, be it a short day hike or week-long backpack. In the mad dash of packing, it’s easy enough to forget one or two items that couple be crucial to your safety and or comfort.  I’ve used a set of my own checklists for years that I finally got around to throwing  into Google Docs. I figured sharing the link might helps others with their own preparations.  Feel free to custmize to your own tastes and if you have any modifications you think I should make, please let me know.

Don’t forget, the two most important things:

-The right attitude
-Telling someone (trustworthy & responsible) of your plans& when you intend to return.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AouvAXgnLnCbdHhCaXdDb2t2QWZ3S1dtMzRJcHZYUUE

 

Shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC licence