Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ready to Run

Tomorrow I run my second marathon.  It's hard to believe race day is almost here!  While preparing for October's Nike Women's Marathon, training seemed to drag on forever.  This time around, the weeks and months have flown by.  Suddenly here I am one day away from the big race.

I'm excited to try the 26.2 distance again.  I'm wondering if this race will be any different from my first marathon.  Will the course be flatter?  Will I hit the wall this time?  Will I better my time, or be slower this time around?  I guess I'll know soon enough!

The Eugene course starts and finishes at the Hayward Field Track on the University of Oregon campus.  This track has held numerous high-profile track meets, including the 2008 Olympic Trials.  Lots of famous runners have competed here.  I'm thrilled to be running in the footsteps of champions.

Me and Cami, my running buddy

Cami, my friend and running buddy had signed up to run the race with me.  We trained for months, doing most of our Saturday long runs together.  Then just last Sunday, Cami had a death in her family.  At this time, it doesn't look like she'll be joining me tomorrow.  As disappointed as I am not to share race day with my training partner, I do understand there are much more important things in life.  There will always be more marathons.

So to Cami, my wonderful running buddy, good friend, and the toughest lady I know - you will be in my thoughts every step of this 26.2-mile journey.  This race is for you!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stations on Saddle Mountain

My son Cody came home for Easter break last week.  He had most of the week off from his studies at Mt. Angel.  It was great to have him home and catch up on what's been happening in his life.  Cody mentioned that a group of his seminary brothers were planing to hike Saddle Mountain on Saturday and invited me to come along.  I haven't hiked with Cody since last summer so I took him up on his offer.

Cody and friends near the trailhead

Saddle Mountain is located in the Coast Range, about 10 miles from the Pacific ocean and the town of Seaside.  At 3283 feet, it's the highest point in NW Oregon.  The mountain is a cool saddle-shaped double peak (hence the name "Saddle Mountain") and on a clear day you can see from the ocean beaches all the way to Mt. St. Helens.  I've even spotted Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson from the summit.

Climbing the rocky trail

We finally got a clear, warm sunny day on Saturday.  Perfect for a hike to the top of a mountain with views!  Cody and I headed towards the coast and the Saddle Mtn trailhead for a rendezvous with his seminary brothers.

We met a group of about 20 young men from the Mt. Angel Seminary led by Father Ralph, one of the monks.  The group had brought along a large wooden cross and planned to carry it to the top of Saddle Mountain.  Cody said the seminarians were planning to hold Stations of the Cross once they reached the summit.

The guys taking in the view

With all my recent marathon training, I thought I was in pretty good shape.  But I was no match for a group of young men, most of them in their early 20s!  The group, with wooden cross in tow, took off quickly from the trailhead.  The trail goes up steeply from the start, and I lagged way behind the group, huffing and puffing. Only Cody, his friend Bill, and a couple of Filipino seminarians stayed with me (and I think Cody purposely hung back to be with his mother).  Yes, it was a humbling experience!

I'm not the only photographer! 

Since the trail gained elevation quickly, it wasn't long before we were rewarded with some great views.  The clear day provided vistas of the coast range peaks and forests.  The guys from the Philippines were very impressed with the scenery.  Cody's friend Bill was interested in all the tree and plant life, and asked me questions about the geology of the area.  Unfortunately, it's been a long time since my college geology classes and about all I could tell him is that the rocks were of volcanic origin.

Bear is happy to be back on the trail

Bear got to come along this time.  I'd left Bear home from last weekend's hike so I owed him.  Bear was very happy to be back on the trail with me.  He ran back and forth along the path, making sure everyone was accounted for.  It think he covered twice the distance that I did!  All the seminarians loved Bear and gave him lots of attention and treats.

Hiking across the "saddle"

Our group hiked up to the first summit and took a water and photo break.  Then the trail headed back down to the "saddle" between the two peaks.  After the saddle, the path climbs super-steeply all the way to the second, higher summit.  To prevent erosion, parts of this very steep trail have been repaired with chicken wire-wrapped rock baskets.  It's really tough stuff to walk on (especially on a wet day, which thankfully it wasn't).  Bear didn't like it at all, and kept ducking off of the trail whenever the opportunity presented itself.  We crossed a couple small patches of snow.  I was surprised to see some of the white stuff still hanging on, but I guess it's been a pretty cold spring.  Bear lingered on the snow patches to cool off his feet and quench his thirst.

Lunch on the summit

Finally us stragglers made it to the top of Saddle Mountain.  The rest of the group was spread out around the summit, talking and eating lunch.  I pulled out my goodie bag, and shared a sandwich with my hungry doggy.
The views were stunning as always.  I could see the ocean beaches to the west, and Mt. St. Helens' snowy peak to the north.

Stations of the cross service

After everyone had finished their lunch, Father Ralph gathered the group to begin Stations of the Cross.  The men passed out booklets to everyone, so we could follow along.  With each station, a different person took his turn holding the cross.  I'm sure the other hikers that happened to be up on the summit wondered what was going on, but they were very respectful and didn't interrupt the service.

Bill takes his turn holding the cross

It's been a long time since I've attended Stations, but I have to say the mountaintop location was a wonderful place to conduct this ritual.  Sitting on top of the world with stunning views of God's beautiful creations all around seemed very fitting.  It sure beat sitting in a dark, stuffy church.

The group from Mt. Angel Seminary

When the group concluded their service, all the seminarians and Father Ralph posed for a group photo.  I had a couple of cameras handed to me, and was happy to be the designated photographer.  I took a couple shots with my own camera too.  Unfortunately, Cody stood right behind the cross, so he isn't visible in any of my images.

Mother - son summit shot

But I was able to get one of the guys to take a photograph of Cody and I on top of Saddle Mountain.

Carrying the cross back down the mountain

Then, as fast as they headed up the mountain, the group packed up and started down.  Even the guy carrying the cross was moving fast.  I lingered shooting photos, so again wound up at the back of the pack.

The steep path down from the summit

The trip down was fast and uneventful.  A couple of the men in my "slow group" were getting tired, so I got to move out of last place for a little while.  (That is, until I stopped to take pictures).  Even Bear was pooping out, and he trudged slowly down the trail, pausing for rest breaks whenever he could.  At nine years old, I guess middle age is finally starting to catch up with him!

Trailside greetings from Cody and friends

It was a beautiful day for a hike.  The weather was perfect.  After such a cold, rainy spring, I was so happy to finally experience some warmth and sunshine.  I enjoyed the company of Cody's fellow seminary brothers (the slower ones anyway).  And attending Stations of the Cross on top of a mountain was a first for me.

Stats for this hike:  5.2 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain.  A good bit of exercise for a sunny spring day!

Happy Easter!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Catherine Creek Hike

Last Sunday I had planned to go skiing.  There was still lots of snow up on Hood.  But then my friend Kim saw a weather report for Saturday.  It had rained all day at Meadows.  The temps were supposed to dip below freezing Saturday night and stay there all day Sunday.  Not wanting to ski on an ice cube, I instead opted to join my friend John for a hike.

Obligatory trail sign photo

John always gathers a most interesting and wonderful group of people for his hikes.  This day was no exception.  Ten of us met at the trailhead to Catherine Creek for a Sunday ramble.  Luckily the weather turned out to be relatively clear and a tiny bit chilly - but no rain!  Perfect spring hiking weather.

Heading down a gravel road towards the canyon

Catherine Creek flows through a beautiful natural area located on the Washington side of the Gorge, about six miles east of Hood River.  Since this area is on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, the terrain is more open and grassy.  Instead of Douglas Firs, the trees are predominantly oaks and ponderosa pines.

A photo of the photographer!

The trail started out along an old gravel road that wound through Catherine Creek's valley.  I hadn't hiked since last October, and it felt good to be back on the trail.  We passed the steep walls of the canyon, decked out in sunny yellow buttercup flowers.  Our group of happy hikers crossed over the creek on a wood plank footbridge, and continued through the canyon bottom.

Remnants of an old corral
A ranch once occupied this area. Further down the trail we came upon the old tumbled-down corral, a reminder that this land was once settled.  High up on the canyon wall above the corral is a rock arch.  I would've photographed the arch, except the light wasn't very good when we passed by.  Another time!

Pete, Shannon and Bob takin' a break

I always meet the nicest people on John's hikes.  Today was no exception.  As we walked along, I had some good conversations with my hiking companions.  And they all put up with me snapping photos of them!

John and his hiking club

From the corral and rock arch, the trail began to climb. Our group trudged through an oak forest dotted with random bunches of yellow flowers.  I lagged behind the group, shooting photos as I went.

Mt. Hood makes an appearance

Near the top of the ridge, Mt. Hood was visible, rising over farmlands to the west.  The sky adjacent to the mountain was cloudy and kind of washed-out, but it was such a lovely view I took a picture anyway.  Thanks to the magic of photoshop, I was able to make Hood stand out a little better against the white sky.

Unidentified purple flower (UPF)

As the trail topped out over the ridge, flowers began to appear in the grassy slopes.  Our group found this bunch of beautiful purple flowers, but alas - no one could identify them.  We ended up calling it a "UPF" - unidentified purple flower.

Climbing on top of the ridge

At the top of the ridge, the landscape opened up into a large grassy field punctuated by the occasional ponderosa pine tree.  John's hiking group continued their climb to the top of the hill.

Lunchtime under the big oak tree

Near the top of the hill was a large oak tree.  We stopped for lunch under the tree's bare branches.  The views were wonderful.  In one direction we could look east down the Gorge to The Dalles.  We could look west and see Mt. Hood.  And towards the north we could just make out the tip of snow-covered Mt. Adams.

The oak tree's twisted branches

After lunch, John led us up even higher on the hillside.  We hiked along an old road through a grove of oak trees.  The oak tree's gnarled branches made a good contrast against the blue sky. A great photo op!  We came upon a lovely green meadow in the middle of the oaks, and John announced that was our turn-around point.  After a quick snack break, it was time to head back down the way we came.

Wonderful Gorge view as we hike back down

After coming out of the oak grove, we were treated to a awesome view of the Gorge as we hiked back down the hill.  The Columbia River, blue and shining, snaked through the Gorge's terraced walls.  The light was in the wrong direction for good photos, but it was such a nice view I took a bunch of shots anyway.

Shooting Star flowers

As the hikers headed downhill, we discovered large clumps of brilliant rose-purple shooting star blooms.  They were so pretty, I tried to get some photos of the flowers.  But the wind was blowing strong, and I had trouble getting a shot that wasn't blurry.  So Pete, bless his heart, but his backpack next to the flowers to block the wind.  It worked wonderfully, and I got some great photographs.  Good idea, Pete!

Gotta get the photographer in one picture!

We hiked down to the top of the cliff area.  John led us to an opening he called "the notch."  This "notch" was an opening in the cliff that had a gentler slope and provided a passage down to the valley below.  Everyone took turns climbing through this opening.  The group then meandered through another oak forest to a grassy meadow.  We followed the meadow up onto the rim of the cliff where the rock arch we'd seen this morning was located.  It was cool to see the rock arch from up top and behind.  I tried to capture this in a photograph, but failed miserably.  Sorry but no arch photos today!

Camas Lilly

Our final leg of the hike was through another grassy meadow covered with spots of wildflowers.  There were groups of more shooting star flowers mixed with some white blossoms (UWF - unidentified white flowers).  We also saw a scattering of blue-blossomed camas lilly.  These lillies were a beautiful, delicate bloom, and I captured them in a couple of good images.

Parting Gorge view

As I headed down the last small hill, I looked back and took a last parting shot of the eastern view down the Gorge.  Flowers were blooming, the river was running swift and blue, the sky clear and sunny.  It was a wonderful day to be out in nature and I was so glad I'd joined John and his friends.

My first hike of 2011 was a rousing success!  The Catherine Creek area is a unique place showcasing different trees and flowers suited to a much drier climate than Portland.  It was nice to see the gnarled oaks, ponderosa pines and windswept grasslands.  And you really cannot beat the awesome views of the Gorge and mountains.  I enjoyed my trip immensely and can't wait to resume my weekly hikes.  Yahoo!  I think spring has finally arrived!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Perfect Day

The monsoon that was the month of March didn't allow for any sunny days.  It was rainy dreariness the entire month.  The only upside to all the gray, wet weather was that the mountain was getting dump after dump of snow.  Hood got three feet in the last week alone.  The weather gods answered our prayers a week ago last Friday, and gave us a beautiful sunny day.  And - best of all - Kim and I had the day off from work!  I'll bet you know where we headed.

A beautiful sight on a sunny day

At first we didn't know what to make of that bright, yellow orb in the sky.  We almost didn't recognize it.  (Oh yeah - that's what the sun looks like!)  We had to dig to find our sunglasses, it'd been so long since we used them! 

My rating of the day

As Kim and I pulled into Mt. Hood Meadows parking lot, we were treated to a wonderful blue sky and bright white snow-covered view of Hood.  It was so nice to have a sunny day!  I did my happy dance in the parking lot.

I luv my tele skis

The morning was clear, but cold.  That was just fine with us.  We were hoping the temps wouldn't warm up too much and preserve this nice fluffy pow.  Please weather gods, no afternoon sticky grabby snow!

Kim admires the wonderful panorama

Meadows didn't receive any new snow overnight, so the dump that occurred Wednesday evening was pretty tracked out by Friday.  But the snow was still light, fluffy and totally skiable.  Kim and I didn't mind - it was new snow, after all.  How often do you get to ski dry pow in April?

The sun glints off my glasses

The tele-ski gods were with me again today.  My tele skills continued to improve.  The turns came smooth and easy.  Kim and I saw the Stadium run was nicely groomed so we had to go over and try it.  Stadium was so good, we had to go for a second run.  Trip number two I bombed down faster than I've ever gone on telemark skis.  I was so quick, I even surprised Kim!

Sunny skies and empty slopes

There weren't a lot of groomed runs that day.  I don't know what was up with that -  since it's getting towards the end of the season maybe Meadows is getting lazy (and cheap - probably didn't want to pay the grooming crew).

Killer view from the top of Cascade

Kim and I peered over the top of one ungroomed run, and found the biggest moguls I've seen in a long time.  I told Kim those were "DDD" sized moguls.  That comment led to us devising a new mogul rating system, and I'll bet you can guess what we based it on!  (I'm sure we're not the first people to think of this)

Yahoo!  I'm skiing!

We finally ended up at the top of the Cascade lift.  The views were great as usual.  The wind wasn't as strong as it normally gets.  And we soon discovered the best snow on the mountain was up on the Cascade's slopes.


Kim and I enjoyed the soft, powdery snow off of the Cascade.  But we did make a few stops along the way to soak in the scenery.

No Heather today :(

Sadly, Heather Canyon had another big avalanche a week after the first one.  This second slide came close to the bottom of the Heather lift, and almost took the lift out.  All the runs off of Heather were closed, probably for the rest of the season.

Kim heads down Outer Limits

But there was good snow and nice runs to be had off the Cascade, so Kim and I had a wonderful morning.  After lunch, I switched skis (needed to preserve my legs for a training run the next day) which upped my speed and decreased the number of times I had to stop and rest.  Kim was getting tired from the morning, so that's not what she wanted.  Poor Kim! 

Time for a scenery break

We spent the rest of the afternoon skiing in the bright sunshine.  The snow stayed relatively skiable, but it did get kinda soft.  Luckily, the temps never got warm enough to make the snow sticky.

It doesn't get any better than this!

It was so nice to finally have a sunny day!  I couldn't believe our luck.  Not only blue skies, but nice snow to ski on, and a great panorama of views from the top.

Girlfriends and ski-buddies

Towards the end of the day we shared the lift ride up with another skier.  He was in a good mood, as were most people we met on the chair.  We chit chatted a bit about the weather and snow conditons.  Then the man commented : "Boy, this has been a perfect day."

We couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sexy Telemark Skier

I've been an alpine skier for well over 20 years.  I started out skiing in my jeans on our local ski hill in South Dakota.  Many wipeouts and bruises later, I graduated to the intermediate runs.  There I stayed until the early 2000's when I joined the ski bus, and began to take weekly lessons.  Six years and lots of lessons later, I'd progressed enough so that I could ski anywhere on the mountain, in any kind of snow conditions.

Striking a sexy tele turn

Then, four years ago, I got a wild hair, and decided I wanted to learn to telemark ski.  I'd watched the freeheelers make lovely tele turns down the slopes at my local ski area.  They looked so graceful!  I was also interested in backcountry skiing and thought I had to learn tele to do this.  And, I think I was just looking for another challenge.

Me and my K2 Schi-Devils - the best tele skis ever!

Well, I certainly got a challenge!  I signed up for a couple of lessons from Shelly at Wy'East Nordic.  The day of my first lesson, it rained.  Was the lesson cancelled?  Of course not!  I spent all morning wiping water droplets off my goggles, and trying to drop knee without face-planting into the snow.  At lunchtime my jacket and gloves were dripping wet.  But I switched to dry gloves and went back out there for the afternoon session.  I was hooked!

Gettin' ready to drop knee

I spent most of the my first tele-season on the beginner lift at Meadows.  After progressing my alpine skiing up to double-black diamond runs, it was a humbling experience to start over again on the bunny slope.  But I persisted through the first season, and into the second.  The second season I took a series of lessons from a great instructor at Meadows, and progressed so I could ski the blue groomers comfortably.

Makin' turns on Shooting Star Ridge

My third tele-season I thought I was ready to try the backcountry.  I signed up for a ski mountaineering class.  The first class outing opened my eyes to the reality that my tele skiing skills still needed a lot of work.  Most of my freeheeling had been on groomed runs.  My first tour was off-piste - on the side of Mt. Hood.  The snow was heavy with a hard crust on top.  The trip uphill wore me out so much I didn't know how I was going to muster the energy to ski back down.  Trying to make turns through the hard crusty snow tried my patience to the max.  I kept flailing, skidding, and finally crashing.  I had a meltdown and uttered a bunch of naughty words I hardly ever use.  Needless to say, it was back to the resort to work on my tele-turns.

Skiing down Apollo - photo by Grant Myrdal Photography

One of my co-workers is a big-time skier.  He and I often compare notes about skiing when we see each other in the hallway, and I give him regular updates on my tele-skiing journey.  One day last year, he stopped by my cubicle to tell me about a man he'd ridden the lift with the previous weekend.  The two of them were sitting on the chair, shooting the breeze, when a telemark skier swished by.  The man turned to my coworker and commented "I used to telemark ski, but my knees can't take it any more.  You know, tele skiing is a really beautiful thing.  It's like a dance.  And there's nothing sexier than a woman telemark skier!"

So my co-worker said teasingly "you are a hot and sexy telemark skier!"  This became a running joke between us.  Every time after that, when I'd see him in the hall, he'd drop into a telemark stance and say "hey sexy telemark skier!"

Another great photo by Grant Myrdal

Of course, all the time spent on my tele-boards, I had never felt even remotely sexy.  Out of control, yes.  Off balance and wobbly, yes.  Dressed in my bulky ski clothes trying to slide down a hill without crashing, sexy was the last thing I felt!

Perfect turns down Two Bowl

Then this year, my fourth season tele-ing, something clicked.  I started to be able to link all my turns.  My left side turns (always my difficult side) became as smooth as my right.  I was able to ski all morning and half the afternoon without feeling totally thrashed.  My confidence boosted, I ventured into the off-piste and bumped over some moguls.  And I started trying to ski the black diamond runs.

Two weeks ago, the tele-gods smiled upon me.  I had a most excellent day on the slopes.  The turns came easy - smooth as silk.  My skis felt like they were extensions of my body.  I tried one black run and found I could make telemark turns all the way down.  I tried another black diamond.  Same thing, even a little bit faster speed.  Woo-hoo!

Then I decided to ski down Two Bowl - my nemesis.  It's a pretty steep run and every time I've tried to tele ski down it before, I've chickened out and resorted to alpine turns (aka "survival skiing").  I got to the top of the run, and who should be at the bottom, but the resort photographer!  Oh no - I have bad luck tele skiing in front of him - I always wipe out!

Well, maybe I'm a little bit sexy!

But my friend told me to block him out, lean forward, and concentrate on making good turns.  I pushed off from the top of the run.  Slowly, I dropped into my stance.  My skis slid effortlessly through the snow.  Swish!  Into another turn.  That one felt good and strong.  Woosh!  Another nice turn.  And another.  And another.  Before I knew it, I was near the bottom of the slope.  Yahoo!  I'd just skied down Two Bowl using only telemark turns!  This was a huge milestone for me.  I skidded to a stop, turned to the photographer and said, "I hope you got some good pictures of this."

Then my friend and I skied the rest of the way to the lift.  The turns continued to come easy.  My ski edges cut through the snow like butter.  I got into a great rhythm.  My body felt fluid and smooth.  It was almost as if I was dancing.  I felt strong, graceful, and yes - for the first time - sexy.