Friday, June 30, 2006

Living With Nunavut

What started out as a gloomy, wet spring has finally blossomed into a gorgeous summer. Here in Tahoe we are spoiled and think that every day should be sunny and warm, and it usually is, unless it’s ski season, and then it should be snowing hard (and it usually is). I can accept running in snow storms during the winter as part of living in the mountains. Doing it daily through the end of April was really dragging it out. How much of March and April was spent running in shorts? None of it. I have rejoiced this month in running in a t-shirt and pair of shorts, and cruising along the slowly emerging trails.

I began the spring with the Bishop High Sierra 50K. This is a great race on the eastside of the Sierra where most participants are entered in the 50 mile distance, and even fewer participants partake of the 20 mile “fun run.” On the eastside, they like their trails long. The weather turned out to be perfect, sunny and ranging from 60 to 80 degrees over the course of my race. It can often be brutally hot in Bishop, and the day following the race was one of rain and snow in the higher elevations. I felt fortunate to have experienced neither.
I had heard it was a difficult course, but I failed to realize in my pre-race preparations that the 50K course lacked most of the elevation gain and steep climbs of the 50 mile course. Most of my hills were pleasantly gradual and required only walking breaks at intervals, rather than for the entire duration of a hill.

After about an hour and a half my ipod died on me. That’s a little early to lose tunes in a 30 mile race and I was heartbroken. Worse yet, it stopped right in the middle of Naked Blue. I spent the rest of the race singing the snippets of the song that I could recall, and pondering the question “what exactly does ‘unscroomy’ mean?” (I think it either means “obscurity” or is a reference to a shady character, as in, “I didn’t pick up that hitchhiker because he looked a bit unscroomy.”) After a “mandatory wet feet” stream crossing I reached the turnaround point and was surprised to discover that I was in 5th place. The return to the finish was all downhill, but I didn’t manage to catch any of the women ahead of me. On the other hand, I wasn’t passed either. I discovered that not having crew support really affects my fuel maintenance. Instead of Andrew standing there shoving food and drinks into me, I got all spacey and couldn’t think about what I wanted, frequently leaving the aid stations without enough to eat. Consequently I started to bonk in the last 5 miles. Some well timed potatoes washed down with a can of Redbull brought me back to life and I managed to cross the line still in 5th place. I enjoyed an excellent post race meal and massage in the shade, and cheered the 50 mile runners to their finish. How much of the replacement ipod that Apple sent me did I have to pay for? None of it!

After the BHS50, I really didn’t have anymore races on my schedule, and started taking the dogs for 3 mile runs on the trails behind my house. This is me, reveling in my Tahoe summer. (Ahhhhh.) Andrew and I are about to embark on a nearly 600 mile canoe trip through the Northwest Territories and Nunavit in Canada. I am about to spend 40 days paddling a canoe. I am about to get into seriously poor running shape. (But I’ll have buff arms!) Who needs to go on 20 or 30 mile training runs when you are about to get completely out of shape? And besides, the dogs love me right now.

So tomorrow we fly from the airport in Reno, change planes in Denver, and arrive in Edmonton around 8:00pm. The next day we fly from Edmonton to Yellowknife, where we will stay for three days and two national holidays (Canada Day and Fourth of July) to dial out our gear. On July 4th we take a bush plane to a lake in the Northwest Territories where we are left on our own in the wilderness. We will paddle from here, the headwaters, on the Thelon river to the town of Baker Lake on an inlet of Hudson Bay. Just us, the river, 24 hours of daylight, and about 100 million mosquitoes. How much of my summer training will be completed in the next 6 weeks? Yeah, that’s right, none of it!

But on other running notes, last weekend was the Western States 100, which begins about 15 minutes from my house, and ends about an hour away. This is driving time of course, not running. My friend Jack suffered a severe bout of nausea and didn’t finish (along with 44% of the race). Runners suffered through triple digit heat most of the way, and the men’s first finisher was disqualified after being helped across the line by his pacers, awarding the title to 36 year old Graham Cooper of Oakland CA. Nikki Kimball finished in 19:26 to take 3rd overall and her second women’s title in 3 years. How much of this years race in 100+ degree heat was really fun? Well, I know what I think, but on the other hand, maybe the raft ride across the river at Rucky Chucky was fun. Congratulations to all Western States runners!!

Embarking on a long wilderness trip is somewhat akin to running an ultra. You try to be prepared for everything. You spend all the weeks and months leading up to it getting yourself, and everything else, ready. When it comes down to it however, you know there will be things you weren’t prepared for. When they happen, you will take on the challenge and persevere. It’s an adventure. Encountering the unknown is part of the draw.

A friend whom we have never met in person, named Bob O’hara, sent us some information for our trip, and a flag to fly on our canoe. It amazes me to receive such gifts from a stranger, but I guess it shouldn’t. The adventuring spirit is within all of us, though in varying forms. We live to inspire and be inspired.

What Canadian provincial flag did Bob send us? Yup. Nunavut.