My friend Josue took me and Tom to one of his favorite training spots in Austin, TX. His training method is an awesome blend of natural movement; wilderness parkour, running, bouldering, climbing, and strength/endurance training with natural objects. You can call it whatever you want but there is no doubt that it is one of the funnest workouts I can imagine. I decided at the last minute to try to film some of this. I wasn’t really prepared and we didn’t have much time so I didn’t get the kind of quality filming I would have liked to, but this is what I got. Enjoy!
I also made the music for this video. I realized it is actually kind of hard to find good music to use in videos that is legal, reasonably priced, or not owned by huge record labels. So I decided I would make my own music. This is the first electronic song I’ve made and I’m working on several others now since making this one. It is really fun. I’ve been a musician… that sounds wrong… I’ve played the guitar since junior high and have played in a couple bands and messed around with some other instruments. I was expecting the beginners learning curve for electronic music software to be much harder than it was. I have been working on learning the piano/keyboard for the past couple years so that was super helpful. I can’t wait to finish some more songs! Now, if only I could sing…
I sat slumped over in a camp chair by the fire. It was dark and cold in those mountains in the wee hours of the night. I was tired, delirious, and defeated. I was at mile 68 of the Bear 100. As we neared the aid station I told Sweeney, my pacer, that I was done, that I was dropping out at this aid station. When I told him tears welled up in my eyes at the verbal admission of defeat. I was glad that the darkness hid my face. I held it in and tried not to cry. I wasn’t ashamed to cry but I didn’t want to completely fall apart out there and I was on the verge of falling apart. I sat there trying to make excuses in my head, trying to justify my decision. I laid my head down in my lap and dozed off for a few minutes…
The Bear 100 is a 100 mile point to point trail race in the Wasatch mountains of Utah and a little bit of Idaho. It has 22,000 feet of elevation gain and is 70% single track, 30% dirt road. I chose the Bear as my first 100 because I love the Wasatch Mountains, I grew up there, and that its point to point, mostly single track, has a lot of climbing, and would be really tough. And because of all that it was an appealing and exciting event for me. Plenty of other 100′s would have been easier for my first 100 but none excited me as much as this one. When I told Shawn I was thinking about signing up for the Bear it seemed like a joke. It seemed a little too crazy. But the more I looked at it the more I rationalized it and I signed up. I’m so glad Shawn was crazy enough to sign up too. He always is.
A week before the race I flew out to Utah and spent a few days acclimatizing in the canyons and mountains of southern Utah. We gathered pine nuts, made primitive pottery, and went on some hikes. (More on that in a later report.) Once back in Salt Lake I picked up Patrick Sweeney from the airport and the usual crew started assembling. We stayed with our good friends Shawn and Stephanie. The day before the race we drove to Logan, Utah, checked into our hotel and drove out to the mountains to check out some of the course.
Sweeney, Me, and Shawn.
The fall colors were in full effect. It was so beautiful. The aspens and oaks were bright red, orange, and yellow. It was pretty unimaginable to think that I would be trying to run 100 miles the next day but the gorgeous mountains got me excited. I had been nervous all week. Not too nervous consciously but subconsciously I think I was. I hadn’t been sleeping well the whole time in Utah.
I had done most of my physical training for the Bear in the Cascades of Washington.(training video) Mentally I had been visualizing the course and my run for weeks or months. Visualizing is an essential part of getting mentally prepared for me. I imagine different sections of the course, what the weather could feel like, how fast I might be moving, how I could be feeling, and I try to visualize myself moving light, smooth, and effortlessly through the mountains. I try to visualize my realistic goal pace. For the Bear I really just wanted to finish but I would have also really liked to finish in under 30 hours too. And so I visualized myself on pace for a 29:00 hour finish, floating up the mountains in the dark, or coasting down the hills in the aspens. But as hard as I tried to visualize the night and second day were pretty hard to imagine.
That night the entire crew assembled for dinner. Me and Shawn would be running the next day and our absolutely amazing crew was Sweeney, Steph, Eric, Izzy, Rebecca, Conner, Jesse, Melodie and Jackie. We ate Thai food that night though it probably wasn’t the best choice for the night before the race, but what is? I couldn’t think of anything better. We scrambled to get our things together and our crew instructed that night and got to bed by about 10:00-10:30. I didn’t sleep great but I didn’t expect to so it was fine. We woke up at 4:30 and were off to the start. It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting in the dark morning. I was so glad the weather was forecasted to be sunny and clear. Here we are just before the race:
I would be testing a new unreleased trail Luna model called The Oso. Which means ‘the Bear’ in spanish. I had been training in them for the last couple months and thought it would be the ultimate final test to test ‘The Bear’ at The Bear.
In the dark morning 250 or so runners embarked on a 100 mile journey. After a quarter mile through a sleepy neighborhood we were on single track climbing up the first big mountain. Shawn and I ran together in the dark chatting about who knows what. Excitement was in the air and time and distance flew by. Before we knew it we were at the top of the first climb, about 4000 feet of elevation gain, just in time for the sunrise. It was so invigorating and beautiful. This picture doesn’t even come close to doing it justice but gives you an idea. That’s Logan, where we started, down in the valley.
With the first big climb done and now in the beautiful morning light Shawn and I were anxious to pick up the pace. We sailed down the mountains in the red oaks and golden aspens. We were still chatting and time was flying. Before we knew it we were at the mile 20 aid station and the first station were we would see our crew. I felt super fresh and we were 30 min ahead of the 29:00 finish pace I had figured out. We grabbed some snacks and water and excitedly gushed to our friends about how awesome it was so far.
We left the aid station and had just a short 3 mile stretch to the next aid station at mile 23. We didn’t really stop there and pushed onward into the next big climb. It was heating up and of course we were slowing down. The mountains were still beautiful though. Somewhere around mile 28 I started to not feel very good. I was getting a little nauseous and having a hard time eating. At the 30 mile aid station I ate a little and used the bathroom. But still felt sick. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 36 I was feeling really sick and out of it. The crew said I was acting drunk. Part of me was still having a great time and another was miserable.
I was getting really nervous. To say “64 more miles seemed like a long ways” is an understatement. My crew took great care of me. They were so good to me. I changed socks, got a foot massage, and ate some food. It felt very weird to have a bunch of people feeding me and massaging me and pampering me. Thanks guys! After a long rest I finally got up and back on the trail. I still felt sick but I was moving forward. We climbed more. We climbed a lot. Shawn moved on ahead of me with Conner pacing him. At this point my focus became just to make it to the next aid station. Finishing was a pipe dream. I tried hard to eat, take salt, and drink water. I reached the mile 45 aid station pretty sick and tired. But my crew was now getting their groove with this whole crewing thing. I just sat there and probably mumbled incoherently as they prepped me and fed me. And somehow I was ready to get back on the trail after another long break. Through all this I was having all kinds of highs and lows emotionally and physically.
The sun was setting as we embarked on another big climb. 3000 feet of gain. I was still climbing well. On this stretch I picked up my first pacer; the wonderful Isabelle. We chatted and the climb was very pleasant. Beautiful color in the golden hour light. But the light left and we entered the darkness again. We dawned headlamps and moved forward. Still all I could imagine doing was just getting to the next aid station. With the temps having gone down my stomach started feeling a little better but the toll of not eating well and being sick and running 50 miles was still a giant load. We rolled into the 51 mile aid station at Tony Grove. I was getting even more nervous. I didn’t feel like I could even make it to the next aid station let alone finish. My spirits were pretty low but my crew beat some life into me with massages and warm food and magic.
My brain was definitely not functioning properly. I felt drunk. I sat for a long time not wanting to think about going forward. I had caught up to Shawn at this point and he was struggling here as well. I put on some warm layers and Sweeney got me up and we headed into the night. Onward. Sweeney would be my pacer for the next 25 miles. I was seeing a pattern here. I leave an aid station feeling pretty good for 2-3 miles then suffer for 3-4 miles then get to another aid station and need a long pit stop to recharge. Somewhere on this stretch my bowels started to give me trouble. I had to venture out into the woods to take care of business every half hour. That was not fun. Especially after running out of wet wipes and having to use pine cones and rocks which did not feel good on my cheeks that were already pretty raw and rashy from running 55-60 miles. I know, that is probably TMI but that is all apart of ultras. I had been lubing my cheeks with vasoline since mile 36. Sweeney kept me going well. I trudged along. On top of being tired, sleep deprived, and sore, my bowel troubles seemed to be the straw that was breaking the camels back.
…In the wee hours of the night I decided I couldn’t go anymore. I finally reached the mile 68 aid station and was set on dropping out. I rested my head and dozed off for a few minutes by the fire. This aid station was not crew accessible. Otherwise things might have been very different. I sat by the fire and listened to a woman who had hit her head, may have had a concussion, seemed way more out of it than me and she was debating whether or not to drop out. Another guy was sitting by the fire who was dropping out. As I sat there I realized I was in better shape than they were. Also, a big factor was that I didn’t want to have to ask a stranger for a ride at 4am to go find my crew who were at the next aid station waiting for me. (no cell service up there.) That seemed so embarrassing. I just wanted to lay down. But to lay down without freezing to death meant I needed to get to my crew. So I thought, what the hell, I guess I’ll just go the 7 miles to the next aid station and my crew and drop out there. That whole time Sweeney was very encouraging. It was so hard to leave that fire and get back out there.
So I got up from that warm fire and we entered the darkness again. I didn’t have much pep in my step at this point because I was in the mindset of dropping out at the next aid station. Sweeney would coax me into running runnable sections and I would think ‘why run if I’m just dropping out’. And if you didn’t know, mountain hundred milers are a lot of hiking. As time went on Sweeney and I were joking and having some good conversation that was surely of the bizarre sleep deprived drunk kind. Sweeney found me a hiking stick and we named it Poley Moses. And then it started to get light. A little bit at a time. It was so gorgeous in those mountains. It hit me that this was the second sunrise I was seeing since I had started the journey over 24 hours previous. That seemed so powerful to me. I had gone over 70 miles through the mountains. And with the dim pre-dawn light came a hint of hope. As it got lighter I realized I was feeling better. It was crazy. The new morning was a new day and my body was ready to start over. By the time we got to the Beaver Lodge aid station at mile 75 I was beaming inside. I had gained hope of actually finishing and I was feeling better than I had since mile 20. This was a true miracle. A miracle of the body and mind that I am so grateful for. I had no idea that bodies in general, let alone my broken body, were capable of that kind of recovery on the go. Thinking about that sunrise and breaking through that wall and the experience of that morning makes the emotions well up inside my chest. Thanks for getting me through the night Sweeney.
At Beaver Lodge I used a real bathroom, got cleaned up, fueled up, and picked up my next pacer Jesse. Who had only been running a few months but had recently ran his first race which was a 3:30 mountain marathon for 8th place. He was definitely Eric’s brother. They are both insanely talented runners. I would have to pick up the pace a lot if I wanted to make the cutoff. Shawn was 30-40 min. ahead of me. Jesse and I left the lodge and logged some fast miles. I was feeling great. My legs and feet were of course sore but overall I was determined and excited. I was cruising the uphills passing people and then they would pass me on the down hill as I gently pitter pattered down. I didn’t have the agility to dance down the rocks anymore so I had to go pretty slow down hill.
Another thing I was experiencing by that point was hallucinations. They weren’t crazy trippy hallucinations but I was definitely seeing things once in a while that weren’t there. Mostly I would look up and think that I saw an aid station tent in the trees and think ‘oh awesome, I’m already to the aid station.’ Then I would look up again and it would be gone. Once I thought I saw Steph on the side of the trail. I thought I was seeing cabins in the woods. At the time it seemed completely normal. It didn’t even register that I was hallucinating until later. At the time I would just think ‘dammit, where did that aid station go.’
Jesse and I cruised through the mountains. The aid station stops were short and sweet. The day warmed up again and I was so excited to be feeling great. When I hit the Beaver Creek Campground aid station at mile 85 my crew was so excited for me because I was coming in faster than they expected and Shawn had just left right before I got there. I still felt the urgency of making the cut-off so we didn’t dawdle and were out of there quick. After climbing some more mountains and moving at a determined optimistic pace we made it to the last aid station; Ranger Dip at mile 92. Just as I was coming up to the aid station my crew was cheering for me from a hundred yards away. Shawn was getting ready to leave. I hadn’t seen him since the previous night at mile 50 or 60 something. It was so good to see him. Everyone was so excited. I felt so happy and proud. After all we had been through we both new at that point that there was no way we weren’t going to finish.
I enjoyed my last quick round of massages and pampering and was back on the trail. Everyone was all smiles.
Immediately out of Ranger Dip is the steepest hill of the course. It was just about going straight up the mountain. At the top we were above 9000′ feet and that was the last climb of the course. All I had left was a 4000 foot descent in six miles. I would have loved to cruise the downhill but my legs just weren’t up for it. There was some rolling portions through the aspens that I was running but a good bit of the downhill was too steep and rocky for me to run. So I slowly made my way down. Bear Lake sprawled across the valley below with the tiny town of Fish Haven hugging the lake at the bottom of the mountain. It was steep rocky and dusty and just when you think you are getting to a smooth road of Fish Haven, Idaho the trail turns and goes up another little hill. But the smooth road came and I started trotting. As I got closer I got more excited and ran faster. I crossed the main highway and turned into the final stretch of driveway to cheers and the finish.
Crossing the finish line felt so good. I hugged Shawn and the rest of my crew, sat down, and ate some food. We did it. I couldn’t have done it without my crew. Thanks everyone! My official time was 34:51. I got the Black Bear belt buckle. I’m proud to have my first 100 mile buckle.
Running 100 miles felt like a vision quest. It altered my mind and destroyed my concepts of my boundaries and limits. It changed me and the experience was stuck in my brain for days afterwards. A week after the race Shawn sent me a message that he couldn’t stop thinking about the Bear. I felt exactly the same way. The experience was just so powerful, it wouldn’t leave me. I have never experienced something like that before. Thinking about that second sunrise with the shining golden aspens and my body and mind magically recovering blows me away. There are all kinds of interesting aspects of running 100. Our friend Andrew Labbe mentioned that you get a lifetime of varied emotions compressed into 30 hours. Others say running 100 is like running three 50′s. But for me it was just so different I can’t even compare it to a 50. Several times during the race I experienced ‘breaking through walls’. Which I had hit walls in previous races but nothing like at the Bear. I’m excited to run another 100. At this point I think I may be addicted to running. : )
‘The Oso’ Lunas held up and performed amazingly. They were enough rock protection, great traction, very secure, and comfortable. I didn’t get any blisters or bruises. I love that about Lunas. Though after the race I did notice that the tip of my left big toe was numb. but no big deal, you can’t expect to walk away completely unscathed after 100 miles. I was sore for a couple days but not as bad as I expected. I was capable of running a few days later.
I’m already scheming and planning for my next runs and races. I will definitely be going back down to the canyons for the Caballo Blanco (Copper Canyon) Ultramarathon in 2013.
And, as always, there is a ton more I could talk about but that is it for now.
Thanks to everyone! Shawn congrats and thank you! Thanks to Sweeney, Steph, Rebecca, Conner, Eric, Jesse, Melody, and Jackie. You all are the best crew and friends. Thanks to the Luna crew at the shop. Thanks Leland and all of the volunteers at the Bear. It was a great event! And again, thanks to the wilderness and its beautiful existence.
This summer I felt like I can finally call myself a mountain runner. I have spent as much time as I can up in the Cascades running as deep and far as I could get in a day. As well as running in the mountains in Utah. Here is a video I made for Luna of me running in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and below I continue with my exploration.
I sat on a big flat rock overlooking a small deep green lake tucked away in the backcountry of the Cascades. A slight breeze stirred the Hemlock and Fir trees causing the occasional creak and groan. It was silent otherwise. The trailhead parking lot, eleven miles away, was overflowing with cars yet I hadn’t seen a single person in the last 4 or 5 miles. Spiderwebs crossed the trail indicating I was probably the only person to come to this lake in the last few days. The deeper you get into the wilderness the more real, vibrant, and magical it becomes. There is something that can be felt, and it gets stronger the further you are from the life cords of civilization. Especially when you are alone. I love that sensation of diving deep into the depths, holding my breath, and trying to take in as much new experiences as I can before I have to go back to the surface for air. What new creatures and plants will I find? What challenges will I face and how will I learn to solve them without our modern safety net? It feels so refreshing.
The wilderness draws us in. Its undeniable. It’s immediacy, simplicity, and beauty are very appealing. When in the wilderness your mind, body, and senses are usually engaged in the tasks at hand and experiencing an environment that is completely out of your control. When it rains you have to keep yourself dry or be prepared to deal with the consequences of being wet. It helps keep you present and being present is a healthy state of mind, especially in a culture that often lives for the weekend, vacation, retirement, etc.
Anyway, I’ve been really enjoying these long solo runs in the Cascades. The Cascades are beautiful this time of year. The window for snow-free access is not very long so when it is here I feel like I have to take advantage of it and get out there. See you in the mountains.
I awoke to pine cones pelting the ground around me. Every thirty seconds or so I would here the thwap of a pine cone (Doug Fir cone actually) hitting Yitka’s tent or our car parked just behind me. I was laying in my sleeping bag looking up at the tree tops in the early morning light hoping the squirrells weren’t pissed at me and weren’t going to drop one right on my face. It was early. How early, I had no idea because my phone (clock and alarm) died in the night. I had a race to start at 7am and was too anxious that I would miss the start if I fell back asleep. So I laid there and enjoyed the summer morning mountain air.
Just before 7am a ragtag bunch of crazy people gathered at the starting line of the Angels Staircase 60k. James, the race director, warned us all that this was going to be a tough course with no real option of dropping for any reason because its all super remote and not near any kind of trailheads or roads. He also warned us that he encountered a momma bear with two cubs on the course the night before the race. Comforting.
A countdown and then we were off running into the North Cascades. Going up, the course starts with a 6,000 foot climb in the first 10.5 miles to the top of Angels Staircase. The course total is 10,000 feet of gain. As we ascended into the mountains the grade was often much more runnable than I was expecting.
I took a moment at the top. The breeze felt great on my skin. I caught my breath and smiled. Then down the backside deeper into the wilderness.
The meadows and alpine forests were gorgeous. I got into a nice groove and it felt great to be running and not climbing anymore. Most of the race I was running by myself. No one in sight, just me and the mountains. The stretch between the Staircase and the next big climb was the high point in the race for me. At times I felt giddy and happy and would laugh and run fast through the single track just for fun.
At one point I came around a bend and saw three barefoot guys dressed fully in homemade buckskin clothing. One had a handmade traditional long bow. They looked hardcore. I really wanted to stop and hang out with them but all that came out was “wow, you guys are cool!” as I ran past them.
Next I came to this lake.
Then the next climb swithbacking up a steep ridge.
From the top looking toward the Methow valley.
I cruised down the long descent. Again, it was a much more runnable grade than I was expecting. Time dissapeared into the mountains. I hit the 24 mile aid station feeling pretty good but starting to feel a little tired. One last big climb then smooth sailing down the mountain back to the start. In theory.
I was testing a new prototype hardcore trail Luna we are working on and it was performing beautifully. I was excited about that. Excellent rock protection, traction, and security. At mile 26 I put on some toe socks to mix it up. Socks can be nice in steep trail terrain. It allows you to cinch down the laces a little extra without them biting your skin.
The next climb proved to be a doozy. I ran out of food super early and was feeling calorie deficient. The climb was also just on the edge of being a runnable grade. I would start running then shortly realize it was just a little too steep to run. So I ended up hiking a lot of it. I was really feeling tired and hungry on this climb. The eight miles between the 24 mile aid station and the 32 mile aid station felt like a long way. At one point an awesome woman gave me some peanut butter pretzels and a GU. They were so good! It really hit the spot.
Its easy in retrospect to forget how hard things were at the time. But I was really struggling through that section. It got me thinking a lot about the Bear 100 and feeling nervous for it. Even on the descent I was having to walk some of the more technical spots because I just wasn’t feeling confident in my state and ability to not fall. My lack of pictures for the second half of the race atests to my state of being.
But I finally made it to the last aid station at mile 32-ish. I ate food and felt immediately better. The next 6 miles were all down hill back to the start. I cruised down the hill running at a nice pace all the way down the mountain. I sprinted across the finish line with a great guy named Cameron who I caught up with in the last mile.
I didn’t get a pick of me crossing the finish line but I did get a pic of Zombie Tom crossing the finish line. Good job Tom! Here is a pic of me on the course instead.
Photo by Candice Burt.
The course was beautifully brutal. A great frolick in the mountains and training for the Bear. Rainshadow Running puts on the best trail races. Period.
I had a great time with Tom, Yitka, and Tony all weekend. Thanks y’all for being awesome! Thanks James, Candace, Rainshadow Running, and all the volunteers out in the mountains! And thanks to the beautiful mountains.
Throughout most of my childhood and adolesence two landmarks held my bearings of what I knew as home. They were both comforting and enchanting. To the east was the towering Wasatch mountains jutting straight out of the flat valley to 11,000+ feet. The Wasatch run north to south and stretch from the Idaho-Utah border all the way into the central Utah Wasatch Plateau and then crumbling into the redrock canyons of the “Colorardo Plateau” of southern Utah. The Wasatch have always drawn me into them. In the Wasatch Front valleys there is no escaping the towering view they command. You step outside your door and see snow capped peaks and green rocky canyons inviting you to be dreaming of playing in them. When planning trips to them you can often look out your window, point, and say something like “…we go up that canyon there, follow that ridge, and climb that peak over there…” Not many urban areas have that kind of accessability.
But to the west is a vast wilderness that has been mostly forgotten as such. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of a giant prehistoric lake (Lake Bonneville) that was as big as lake Michigan at one time and then dried up about 16,000 years ago. Now, all that is left is a salty puddle that is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Most people in Utah (and elsewhere I guess) view the Great Salt Lake as a giant stinky wasteland and pay little attention to it. They have their reasons. To start, you can smell it from miles away. Decaying Algea and brine shrimp washed up on shore creates a distinctive smell. Also the salty water burns your eyes, sinuses, and mouth when you get in. And brine flies. I remember when I was a young kid we went out to Antelope Island and I got out of the car and walked toward the shoreline. Which from a distance looked like a nice black sand beach, but as I got close it all flew away in a dense storm of tiny flies that engulfed me. I ran away scared and disgusted.
Also, for those of you not from Utah. Locals know it as the “Great Salt Lake”, not the “Salt Lake”. If you call it just the “Salt Lake” people might think you are talking about Salt Lake City with poor grammar. The name “Salt Lake City” is often shortened to just Salt Lake. But the name “Great Salt Lake” is never shortened to just the Salt Lake. Its greater than that. : )
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how amazing the Great Salt Lake really is and that it’s shoreline is often a barrier that has kept its allure a secret. Because most people think of it as a gross wasteland, almost no one goes out there. So you have a giant body of water with no one on it. No motor boats, no jet skis, no water skiers, no beaches packed with people, no drone of engines, just water, bugs, birds, and brine shrimp. And its quiet. What most people don’t know is that the smell and the flies are only on the shoreline. Once you get out on the water you leave the flies and smell behind you quickly. And even the shoreline has some good spots that aren’t buggy if you look around. With all of that combined it feels like an unexpectedly wild place.
Though the water does burn your eyes something fierce, it is great swimming. The lake is super shallow, most of it is less than 15 feet deep, so it warms up to a really nice swimming temperature in the summer. It is way warmer than the reservoirs that most people go to in Utah. Also, one of the coolest things about it; you float! For real. Since it is so salty it makes things extra buoyant so you can just relax and do nothing and just float with your head out of the water.
My friend Shawn has a 25′ sailboat docked at Antelope island and took a hand full of us sailing on a beautiful sunny summer day. The pics speak for themselves.
Rope swing from the top of the mast. We would get the boat rocking really hard from side to side and then when its tipping far to the side you can get a nice swing out into the water.
Thanks Shawn for taking us sailing! And thanks to my great friends Steph, Eric, Izzy, and of course Mothra.
With no AC, the truck windows rolled down, and my skin sticky with sweat, the dry furnace of air blew in from the high desert of southern Utah. Four friends and I cruised through the pinyon, juniper, sagebrush, and domes of Navajo sandstone in a dusty pick-up… God, I love it.
I spotted a mound of a once living creature in the road ahead. We flew by it and it looked fresh so I pulled over and turned around. The evening sun was still scorching, probably 90′s. In the road was a Bull Snake that looked surprisingly not mangled or rotting. And on closer inspection it looked as if it may still be alive. I poked its tail with my finger. Nothing. It felt fleshy and supple. I cautiously picked it up by the tail. It’s spine was still nimble and flexible. I held its head away from me just in case. It was about 5 feet long. I carried it to the side of the road and noticed where it was run over by a car just behind its head. Just a single tire width that was slightly squished but no broken skin. Drops of blood started dripping from its mouth. It seemed likely that it was hit within minutes of us finding it. I packed it into a bag and back in the truck we went.
Two hours of washboarded dirt road later we arrived at our trailhead just as darkness sank in. There were stars above and a slight glow in the desert from the quarter moon on the horizon. We had finally made it and we were excited to spend the next six days backpacking in the deep red fissures of stone.
I had never gutted a snake before. I have done fish and deer but this would be my first reptile. First I cut off its head and the tire squished part then sliced its scaly belly up from the anus to the end, and peeled out the guts.
The skin took a little work to get it loose but once it started to go it just peeled right off.
It sounds kind of funny to say but it did taste like chicken.
After dinner we laid in the night air and stared at the shooting stars and Milky Way filling up the sky.
I was finally there. The place where my heart is. The land of red sandstone domes and cliffs, of hidden oasis’ and inhospitable wastelands, of deadly critters and spiky plants, of sunshine and blue skies, of canyon bottoms with lush greenery and springs, of slot canyons and potholes with dead things in them, of scorching heat and biting flies, of lizards and coyotes and mountain lions, of flash floods and blowing sand…
I’ve always belonged to that place. I’ve known it since the first time I went there when I was four years old and was completely captivated by its magic. I’ve been going back as much as possible ever since. Some day I won’t be ‘going back’. I’ll just be living there.
To the right is me, Jeff, Mothra, and my dad camping at Lake Powell.
The next morning I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as we got ready to hike in. I knew the world we were about to get into and it had been way too long.
Tommy 900 feet above the river. In Luna Sandals. : )
The crew: Emily, Brandon, Tommy, and Eric.
We hiked and swam and played and rolled in the mud. We wandered up the river trying not to leave any swimming hole un-swam-in, any side canyon un-explored, or any tracks unexamined. Hundreds of tiny young frogs popped like popcorn ahead of us as we walked along the banks of the river trying not to step on them. Raven calls echoed off the huge cliffs and vultures floated the canyon air currents high above.
As we walked the river I kept noticing a lot of decently sized fish, mostly Carp and Catfish. Which in the Escalante, seeing fish is a special event. Not because they aren’t there but because the water is usually so murky with silt that you can’t see six inches into the water. There hadn’t been any rain (floods) in a long time to bring new silt into the water. Which meant clear water for viewing fish, gauging swimming hole depth, and easy drinking. No rain also meant the river was really low which made it easy to walk in or along the normally submerged banks. Every time we were hiking along and I saw a bunch of big catfish I would say “damn, I need a spear!” So on day two after a good swim we started carving.
Eric, Emily, and I cut some Tamarisk (an invasive riverside brush) for spears. I carved mine into a double pronged spear with notch teeth carved on the inside edges.
Off to hunt. In Luna Sandals of course.
(yes, that tattoo says ‘vegan’. Oh, the irony of hunting with a vegan tattoo. : ) )
I had tried spear fishing a couple of times before. Both were pretty half-assed attempts. One was in Alaska for some tiny fish in a side stream of the Yukon. So this time I gave myself about a 1% chance that I would actually catch something. With four of us we developed a strategy of two people scare the fish out of a deep pool into shallower waters where the other two people were waiting with spears ready. We tried for a couple of hours. A few close calls. Once we had a big catfish surrounded in shallow waters and it was just out of my spear range. I lunged for it and it darted away too fast. We tried like this a few times with no luck. But it sure was fun anyway. We were on our way back to our packs when I heard Emily call out from behind me that there was a fish coming my way. I was in belly button deep water and just then I saw the flash of a fish coming right toward my spear tips which were in the water. I jabbed for the fish with no expectation of getting it. I had thought the best way to get a fish was to get it in shallow waters and more or less pin it to the ground. But this fish was in deep water. As soon as I jabbed I felt a squirm on my spear. I was shocked and I couldn’t really see what had happened. So I jammed my spear into the bottom to make sure the fish didn’t get off. The fish was really squirming, I could feel it down there. Everyone came over to help.
Killing is hard. I had decided over a decade ago that I didn’t want to participate in the horrendous factory farmed meat and dairy industry. I haven’t eaten much meat since then and most of the meat I have had has been from roadkill, scavenged, or from dumpsters. Watching something die is tough but humans have been a part of the predator prey relationship for millions of years and personally I would rather feel that relationship directly than buy an artificial version of it at the store.
They held the spear down and I swam down and cut the fishes spinal cord with my pocket knife. We pulled the spear up and the fish was fully impaled on the spear. Right through the middle of it. I could have just lifted it out of the water initially if I would have realized that. Also when I jammed the spear into the bottom I broke the tip.
That is a carp. I would rather have preferred Catfish. Carp are known as a garbage fish because they are a bottom feeder but here in the Escalante I felt totally fine with eating Carp. Carp are also an invasive species here. I gutted and cleaned it. Later that night we fried it up and ate it. It tasted really good, not too fishy, though it was kind of soft and not the best texture. I would definitely eat Carp again and I’m sure that will not be the last time I try to spear one. Maybe next time I’ll try bow fishing for Carp.
After catching food for the day we went back to the incredibly hard life of swimming, playing, and lounging in the sun.
It is said that many hunter-gatherers lived a much more leisurely life that we do, “working” (hunting, gathering, building shelters, tools, etc.) around 20 hours per week and having the rest of the time for leisure, socializing, dancing, games, whatever people do. I have always been fascinated with what that would fee like to live directly within your immediate environment. Knowing how to use everything at your fingertips to provide for your needs. Little by little I’m learning what it has meant to be human.
As we hiked we ate some Cattail shoots and pollen. I had heard about eating the pollen but I had not actually tried it. It was good. It tasted kind of nutty. You can apparently use it as a flour replacement or at least cut your flour with it for a much more nutritious and protein filled food. You can put a bag over the top and scrape the pollen off into the bag.
See the log and debris stuck in the top of that boulder about 20 feet above Erics head? That is flood debris. Flash floods in canyon country is phenomena that you don’t want to mess with. I can’t imagine how raging it must have been to put logs up that high. I would love to watch a flood that big from the rim.
Here are some tarp shelters (not the most crisp) we built one night when we saw some lightning in the distance and thought it might rain. I love building tarp shelters. They are so much better than tents because they are more spacious, versatile, and simple. You just need a tarp and some cord. Total cost about $10. I’ve spent many nights in crazy storms hunkered cozily under a tarp shelter.
On our last day we found clay and made some pinch pots. I have yet to fire any primitive pottery in a fire. I would like to learn how to do that someday. We carried out our pots and just let them dry. As long as they don’t get wet they are perfectly good pots.
We also found some really big mountain lion tracks. I love wild cats! I want to see one so bad. But tracks are good enough for now.
You can tell it is a cat by the two lobes on top of the interdigital pad (palm), no claw imprints, and generally wider than long. Canines only have one lobe, often claw imprints, and are more long or square. These tracks were so good that we decided to cast them with clay.
We got some wet clay and carefully spread and massaged it into the tracks and left them to dry for a while. We dug out the whole track and packed them in sand in a cook pot. When we got home and they fully dried out Emily picked out the mud we are left with an awesome clay cast of a beastly mountain lion track.
We waited until the late evening when it was cooler to hike out of the canyon to the trailhead. It was hard to leave. It had been so much fun. Here is a pic of Emily being a badass at the rim of the canyon.
We hiked back to the truck and camped one last night under those bright stars.
As usual there was so much more I could ramble on about but that is enough for now.
Thanks to Emily, Eric, Brandon, and Tommy. I love you guys. That was an awesome trip. Also thanks to Shawn and Steff for hanging out with us and letting some smelly kids crash at your house. Thanks to the monkeys at the shop for holding it down while me and Tommy were gone. Thanks to Rebecca for letting us use her truck. And thanks to the canyon gods for keeping that place wild and free.
I’m finally healed up from the hernia surgery that I had at the end of April. I’ve been running for the past three weeks or so. It feels so good to be active again. I had 6-7 weeks of no physical activity which was hard. I thrive on being physical. I didn’t notice my mood being down during that time but I definitely noticed my mood go way up when I started running again. I’m going to start climbing again soon too. I had an Inquinal Hernia that is the type that I was born with that just now symptomized. Why it appeared now I’m not sure. Neither were the doctors. Anyway, I’m healed and super excited for this summer. So many plans brewing.
I made this little video of my favorite trail IN Seattle that is by my house. This trail is in Interlaken Park and it is just a few blocks from the Luna factory so I will sometimes go run these trails on my way home from work. Enjoy.
The song in the video is by the amazing band Bramble of Salt Lake City. Check them out!
Next week I’m off to my true home in the canyons of Utah for a week of backpacking. I can’t wait.