SRT 30 Mile Run/Hike

Thirty of us line up at the start of the SRT 30 mile run/hike. We are split into two waves. The first wave is released at 9am. 12 participants take off, making their way up the hill 50 feet ahead of us. There is a bit of commotion amongst the volunteers. "Hey wait, you're all going the wrong way! It's that way!". All runners come back down the hill, and off to the right into the woods.

This was a perfect introduction for what was to be for the next 30 miles.

At 9:02 the second wave is released, including me. We have a distinct advantage, knowing which way to go. We work our way up a long hill. A large Slovakian dude is first up the hill, cruising ahead of everyone. Eventually another runner and I overtake the Slovakian and the runners in both waves. I'm lucky to have someone with me who knows the trail, he directs me for a few turns, a right off the main road followed by a quick left. We are running along the most incredible trail I have been on in a long time through endless fields of low huckleberry bushes with the early morning hot sun directly on us. The trail has a distinct feel to it, like a strange run through a forested desert, impressive rock outcroppings nearby, and views of long, cliffy ridges poking through the clouds in the distance.

The winner from two years ago who is also the course record holder is catching up to the two of us, just as I start increasing my pace a little. Now I am running solo. At the six-mile mark, I know there is a confusing turn to make. B&T had run the 50-miler last year, and they added an extra 1/2-mile to their journey at this point. So at 6 miles I pay very careful attention. I come out onto a gravel road, and continue in the path of least resistance, but quickly recognize that I don't see any trail markers. I stop, look around, and find the right way to go. I victoriously raise my arms, giving myself a huge pat on the back for staying on course. The trail suddenly becomes perfectly runnable. I start cruising at a very fast pace, loving life, loving how easy the trail is. I come to an intersection and quickly notice that neither option is marked. Nor is the trail I'm on. I run up and down each trail a few times just to be sure, and eventually pull out my cell phone which has a map of the trail. Turns out I am *way* off the trail. I turn back, but have a ways to go before I get back on the SR Trial. At the time I didn't know the distance, but my detour had taken me an extra mile. I pass a few runners. I see three runners ahead of me on a carriage road, one lagging behind a little. As I approach the closest runner, he stops and yells to the other two, "the trail is this way". I follow his pointing finger, and in a fraction of a second have gotten in front of all of them.

I meet a man who is running the 70-miler in Vibram Five Fingers. He says he had a bit of a rough night, getting unexpectedly dehydrated in the unusual nighttime heat, leading to some stomach issues, but he is feeling better now.

During a steep climb, I meet up with Sev and another runner. On the final approach to the top, the third runner says he's going to wait for his friend, and the two of us scurry forward. We help each other navigate this tricky section of trail. We find ourselves in a thick huckleberry maze. I think the section would be easy to hike, but the trail is full of mirage trails (presumably created by huckleberry pickers). While trying to run as quickly as we can, it seems that at every opportunity we hit a dead end and have to turn around before finding the right trail. This constant stop-and-go is slowly whittling away at my fortitude.

Up ahead on the trail I see B in his sandals. We talk for a bit. He describes his worst moment of the race, when he managed to get turned around and reverse his direction! His watch is smart enough to know better and starts politely informing him that he is turned around. "Stupid watch" he says. That is, until he finally turns around, realizes he has been here before, and curses himself for ignoring the warnings. "My new mantra became 'trust the watch'" says B.

After 13 miles or so, I reach the first checkpoint. I ask, "how far ahead are the guys in front?". He says, "11:18", which I take to mean that they are 11 minutes ahead. Ouch! I spend the next few minutes trying to fathom how they got that far ahead. During this time, my resolve to catch them comes into question. I am having such a hard time staying on the trail. I can't find any rhythm or momentum, it's just constant slaps in the face "wrong way" "wrong way" "wrong way". I think about what the checkpoint told me. "11:18". What time is it now? I switch my watch into clock mode, it's 11:26. He must have meant they came through at 11:18. Probably 2 minutes have gone by since they told me that time, so I realize that they are only 5 or 6 minutes ahead, which does not sound bad at all, but some of the mental damage has already been done.

I take off at a frantic pace. In my head, I realize that if I run at a 30-second pace faster than them, it will take me an incredibly long 10 miles to catch up. I try to make up for it by running harder. I get tired, sore, frustrated, miserable, and ultimately my soul is crushed.

I had set a goal, and was feeling the unpleasant side of putting pressure on myself. It felt so good to let go of the pressure, to let go of the goal. It is *so* nice out here. The day is perfect, the trail is amazing. How could I possibly spend the rest of the day suffering? For what? I love it out here. Or at least, I could if I just stop running. I decide that I'm going to walk the next 15 miles and enjoy it.

I hear running water in the distance. There is a bridge over an ice cold creek. I drop my pack, take off my shirt, and submerge my entire self in the waist-deep water. Taking my time, I gather my things. A man is down-stream a bit, putting clothes on and smoking a cigarette. In my new frame of mind, of abandoning all previous ambitions, I am tempted to bum one from the guy. But I am good, the downward spiral doesn't take me that far down. I continue to walk leisurely along the trail, sore as hell but very happy. With 15 miles left to go, I have no intentions of running another step today.

Frankly I am shocked by how much time passes before any other runners catch up. But finally three runners pass me. I tell them all that I quit, I'm done running for the day. Sev, then another runner, and finally the Slovakian wearing cotton camo cargo shorts. "Don't vorry, you'll pass me again" he says as he runs past. Nobody is free from trouble at this point, including leg cramps, dehydration, etc.

Less than four miles separate the first and second checkpoints, but it takes an hour and 20 minutes to reach the second one, about twice as long as it should have had I been running at a reasonable pace. Just after the second checkpoint is a parking lot with an attendant. He has a giant 5-gallon jug of spring water for people to use. I know that I am going through more water than I had planned to, and I don't have any purification pills so this is a big relief. I ask him, "do you mind if I take a little bit of water?" He says, "I don't mind, but just so you know, I was told that it's a self-supported race so if racers take any water they could be disqualified. But I won't tell anyone." Son of a... I was just going to support myself with a little bit of free public water. But I guess my choices are: risk disqualification, get dehydrated, or risk getting giardia. Hmmmm. I definitely lean towards option two, carefully provisioning what little water I have. I can deal with that.

A little further along, at a place called split rock at mile 19 there is another great place to take a swim. Again I drop my pack and take a pleasure stroll chest-deep in ice water through this magnificent natural feature.

Back on the trail, another runner passes by. A sudden compulsion makes me fall in behind him. I am running again! I talk the poor guy's ear off. I am so happy to be out of my negativity-filled head, and just sort of hanging out and covering some ground. His name is Tom, he ran the 70 miler last year, and is running a 100 miler in a few weeks.

Tom and I ask a seated 70 miler (a previous winner), "how's it going?". "Not good", he responds as he gulps down a shot of 5-hour energy drink. Tom says encouragingly, "only six-and-half miles to go!" but after 63.5 miles, somehow I don't think this had the intended effect.

After running together for 8 miles or so, we climb a long steady hill past the final checkpoint. They, too have a jug of water and offer us some. "I heard we could get disqualified because it's a self-supported race!". "Who told you that? We won't tell anyone!". But I have already resolved to decline. Tom, also declines. He tried to refill his water at one of the swimming creeks using a filter, but found it nearly impossible, so he is now risking giardia and drinking unfiltered creek water. He says he got away with it last year, so expects it to be fine.

He says, "go on ahead if you feel like it". I am feeling pretty good at this point, so I do.

This area is fairly populated. And for some reason everyone on the trail seems to be familiar with the SRT race today, including the course itself. I can't tell you how many times I would start following a trail and hear a random voice in the far off distance yelling, "that's not the right way, it's that way". On one such occurrence, it's from a woman with her family. She is just hiking today but completed the 30 miler last year. I stop and walk with them as she describes where I need to go next, and we talk for a bit about the race. Her husband ran Manitou's Revenge this year. She points me toward my next turn, and I run ahead down a steep hill. I quickly come upon a sheer rock wall. I recall B&T mentioning having to climb a wall like this during their race last year, so I assume this is the right way and take a deep breath in preparation for climbing this beast.

"That's not the right way, you have to go to the left!" comes a voice from above. Fortunately the woman from earlier saw me miss the turn and corrected my course once again.

I run up and over the hill, which is followed by a fair amount of downhill. I come across a couple with a small child. As I run past they ask, "do you know where the yellow trail is?". "I'm sorry I have no idea". After heading down the trail a little bit, I stop, turn around, pull out my phone and show them the map that I have. I don't think it helped them much, but at least I tried. And while I have the map out, I make sure I am still on course, and assess the remainder of the run. I have about 4 miles left, and the last half mile or so is along a flattish rail trail.

I catch up to the Slovakian, just as he predicted. We trade a few words before I continue on. Pink markings indicate a mandatory right turn. I take it, check the map, and confirm my location and that it's the correct way to go. Everything is adding up nicely. I come across a couple sitting on rocks who are running (to use the term loosely) the half marathon. They say to me, "this isn't the right way, is it?" I tell them "I am confident that it is the right way." As I continue on, I hear repeated echoes of "that man is confident this is the right way" as word spreads to other lost runners.

Tom catches up and is disappointed to see me. He says, "I had it in my head that you took off and were finished with the race by now!".

I come upon someone running the 70 miler. "Less than two miles to go!" I tell him. He immediately perks up. He tells me after the end of the race how much I helped him, that hearing that there were only two miles left really got him moving again.

In the last mile or so, the course becomes a little less steep and I can finally comfortably get into a fast pace. Too fast! Once I hit the flat bike path I take off running at nearly a full sprint. I am relieved to run on flat stuff like I have been training on so much this year! I fly over the giant bridge and to the finish line which is right before the trail crosses a busy road. Someone actually grabs hold of me to make sure I don't fly into the middle of the road.

Upon arriving at the finishers tent, I find T laying down smiling next to his Tomahawk, the prize for 1st place. It turns out he ran the 70 miler and crushed the old course record by almost 4 hours with a time around 18 hours! Sev and many others are there as well, and it's not long before Ivan (the guy I've been calling the Slovakian), Tom, and B join the group of finishers for pizza, beer, Coca-Cola, water, grapes, mini cupcakes... and awesome stories from the last 24 hours.

Related Links

* T's report from the 70 miler
*
B's report from the 70 miler
* The race website
* The race director's blog with more race reports

Wakely Dam Ultra vs. SRT 30

According to Strava, Wakely has a total of 3,377 feet of elevation gain over 33 miles, and the SRT 30 has 3971 feet over 31.3 miles.

Escarpment race: 4,881 feet over 17.1 miles.

Devil's Path vs. Escarpment

Escarpment total elevation gain: 4,695ft
Devil's Path total elevation gain: 8,707ft

Escarpment Run

So far this season my running has been almost entirely focused on road running in preparation for several race series. Ideally I'd like to also keep up with trail running and longer distances in between all the shorter distance races. I have a weekend without any races, so I thought I would sneak in a long and difficult trail run.

Among local trail runners, this route is well known for the annual Escarpment Trail Run, an 18.5-mile race over 3 Catskill peaks, 2 of which are taller than 3500 feet.

I eat my usual breakfast of oats, nuts, milk, and Lucky Charms cereal while I drop my bike off at the finish line. I will ride the 17 road miles back to my car at the start when the run is completed.

The trail starts off with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in the first three miles to the top of Windham Mountain. It is pretty smooth sailing. Not as fast as I might have hoped, but I figure I can make up for lost time on the downhill. That is, of, course until I get to the downhill and realize it's not any faster at all! The trail is very technical, which means stepping on deeply rutted roots and rocks the entire way. Along the way I am amazed to think how fast people run the annual race!

After 9 miles or so, I approach the top of the highest point in the run, the top of Blackhead Peak. The trail is covered in snow and ice. The snow is very close to having completely melted away, so when I take a step, I never know if it's going to be solid slick ice, mushy and sticky snow, or an unsupported icy structure that will collapse as soon as I make the mistake of trusting it. A few times I slip and slide down the ice, luckily grabbing a tree or rock before I get too out of control. I have microspikes in my pack which could give me some extra traction, but I'm still holding out hope that the ice and snow section will be over with very soon so I make the mistake of keeping them stowed away.

There are rocks and stumps sticking out of the ice that I can hop between on my way up this last stretch to the peak, the steepest section of the trip. I hop from one rock to another. The next hop is a far reach onto a 15-foot log. I leap as far as I can up the slope, landing both feet securely on the log. As soon as I do, the log tells me, "ha ha ha sucker, you thought I was stable but I most certainly am not!". The entire log immediately careens down the icy flume of trail as smoothly as a fairground ride on a carefully engineered track, with me as its passenger.

With no time for anything but to rely on instinctive reflex, my feet plant firmly on the moving log, aim for a passing circle of rock surrounded by ice, and leap. It's my lucky day. Both feet land safely balanced on the 6-inch round bit of rock. I am surging with terrified adrenaline as I watch the log make it's way swiftly down the side of the mountain. The odds seem pretty slim that a log that size could possibly stay pointed straight down the hill, but I'm watching it happen, dumbstruck.

I find my way to the nearest safe zone, and pull my microspikes out of my pack and put them on. It was obviously microspike time as of about 60 seconds ago. Better late than never.

Moments later I am at the top of Blackhead Peak and coming down the other side. Once the elevation drops a bit, I see the last of the trail snow I will see for the rest of the trip and put the microspikes away. Meanwhile, as I approach the third and final major climb up to Stoppel Point, I am completely exhausted. I have nothing left in the tank and I am a long way from being done. I stop and grab a hummus and rice pita from my small pack and walk as I eat. When I am done eating, I continue to walk. And walk. At this point I would love to stop, but know that the best thing is to keep going and going until the trip is completed. I find myself drained of whatever magical force keeps me going through these things. Probably endorphins which act as the body's pain management system. Without this magic I can acutely feel pains in surprising places. For example the bottoms of my feet feel every bump on the trail through my running shoes as if I were running barefoot.

I make my way down the 4.5-mile final descent. During the last 2 miles I meet many passers-by as I go. I enjoy the conversations but I don't feel like I quite belong so would be happy to slip through unnoticed like I have for the previous 16 miles. "Are you a trail runner?". "Did you go all they way to Stoppel Point?" Hikers understandably assume I started where they did and went up and down the local peak. I don't honestly know where I am or where I've been, not by name anyway, and to describe my entire circuit including the bike ride is a bit too much information for trailside chatter. Another couple sees me staring, confused, at a broken pile of signage, now pointing every which way. They ask, "which way did you come from?", assuming that I'm doing an out-and-back. I say, pointing from whence I came, "from the start of the Escarpment trail". The man gives me an odd look as his companion giggles nervously. I see blue markers on the trail which I have been following the whole time and tell them I will head that way.

The last few miles are amazingly beautiful with intense terrain and running alongside sheer cliffs. I reach North-South Lake, and find my bike. I stop and eat a little, not sure if I will have the strength to ride 17 more miles. I hop on the bike. The first 3 miles are straight downhill which leaves me shivering and concerned that "what comes down must go up". Given a few minutes to store up energy, my legs have enough power to pedal up a short hill. Fortunately it is just enough energy to make it up each of the small hills along the way. I stop often to stare mindlessly at my map with people driving slowly by asking, "are you lost?". Each mile is a cheer-worthy victory, and after 1.5 hours I reach the car, but I am not done yet. Driving home is easy, but I still need to summon the energy to walk into the house, take a shower, go to sushi, and chew and swallow many pieces of food. At this point, this is no simple task. With my last bite of food I heave a great sigh of relief. I can finally lie down and pass out, an urge I have been battling with for the last 6 hours.

Winter Hard Cider

I have had the seed of an idea in my head after making a successful cider last year that I would love to try it again, I just need to secure some apples. I woke up in the morning with some spare time, and contacted DeVoe's Orchard to ask if they have apples for making cider available in winter. Much to my surprise they do! So I stopped by the orchard and within minutes had 2 bushels of "animal apples" (small apples, not great for eating) for 28 bucks! I cleaned and sterilized my equipment, then removed leaves from the stems, and rinsed the apples. I grinded 1 bushel, filling a 5-gallon bucket, then squeezed the cider through a nut filter bag (a slow and effort-filled task). Then did the same with the second bushel. After maybe 2-3 hours I had over 5 gallons of cider in the glass carboy. I ended up transferring it to a plastic fermentation bucket because it has more space than the glass carboy, and I was concerned that if there wasn't enough headroom during primary fermentation that the foaming cider would overflow. I added some campden tablets (sulfites) and waited 24 hours before sprinkling a packet of dry cider yeast (which comes with yeast nutrient) and putting under airlock in a lidded bucket.

C7

Specific gravity: 1.06+
Alcohol potential: 7.5%+ (wow! previous cider potential has been more like 5.5%)

1/2 bushel = 1 giant metal bowlful (overflowing)

The plain cider tastes very sweet, and is not dropping nearly as much sediment as my previous apples. My current (probably wrong) theory is that the sediment is mostly starch, which, given enough time converts to sugar. So maybe these apples have been sitting for long enough to convert all the starch to sugar. I think I can test the sediment next time around using the old iodine trick from elementary school.

After 4 weeks of fermentation, the airlock is bubbling once every 10 minutes. The hydrometer reads 1.000, a good sign that it has fermented completely. At this time it mostly has a bit of grain-alcohol taste. It's very cloudy, and dangit, I forgot to put the cap on the end of the auto-siphon, so I slurped up more sediment than necessary.

Tongue Range vs. 7 Sisters

How does a Tongue Range out-and-back compare to the 7 Sisters trail race?

It looks like Tongue is a pretty over-the-top training run for 7 sisters. Why then is 7 sisters so darned tough?

(Note that I have not yet had the guts to head out on the Tongue Range and turn around and come back.)

Netflix

Oh, Netflix, you know me so well.

Cider 2016

It was an interesting year for apples. In my neighborhood, none of the wild apple trees produced any apples at all. Luckily at my friends A and H's house, they have 3 beautiful apple trees that had plenty! They were kind enough to let me come by and fill up several giant bags, which I brought home and plopped onto a blanket in the chilly spare room of our house.

The first batch (C5)

After carefully cleaning half the apples, they were then grinded using an old garbage disposal and squeezed through a big nut filter bag to fill up a 3-gallon carboy. I added some sulfites to kill off any bacteria and natural yeasts, waited a day or so, then added some cider yeast. A few weeks later, I bottled half of it and transferred the other half to a 1-gallon jug to continue fermenting. The first preliminary batch was pretty good, but had a lot of sediment because of my sloppy bottling process. When the gallon jug finished fermenting, I roughly calculated how much honey to add to bottles to carbonate the cider, and poured (again very roughly) some honey into each bottle before bottling. After a few weeks, I ended up with this beautiful, clean, refreshing cider:

I wish there was more of this, it was perfect. I was able to share it with a few friends. Luckily the process was straightforward - I basically just followed the rules by adding sulfites before-hand, so I am hopeful that this process will be reproducible.

The second batch (C6)

Time passed by quicker than I had control over, and eventually I was left with a pile of aged, softened apples in the spare room. I occasionally picked through them and tossed out any apples that had rotted. When I finally got around to it, there were still plenty of mediocre apples to experiment with. It seemed pretty hopeless, but I said screw it and got to work making a very bold batch of cider. Sort of a 'worst case scenario' cider. Without really rinsing or cleaning, I grinded and squeezed the apples, half-filling the 3-gallon carboy. Before long, some black spots formed on the surface followed by a thick gelatinous skin. (The second picture shows the pellicle after bottling):

I had expected there to be a lot of natural yeast on the skin to help the fermentation process, however it really struggled to ferment, but did so slowly. The skin that formed is apparently called a pellicle, which I believe occurs when making sour beers where bacteria is intentionally included during brewing. I haven't found much information about this occurring when people make hard cider, so we are now in unknown territory.

After a few weeks, worried that this bottle of bacterial disgustingness was going to infect my house and family (like some of my over-ambitious cheese-making experiments have done in the past) it was time to take the next step and bottle the stuff.

I'm not sure I had the guts to taste this stuff, but in my half-assed bottling technique, I have to suck on the siphon to start the process, and my siphoning skills are atrocious (but improving), and I ended up swallowing several big gulps of the cider, and didn't die! Bonus!

After a few days and still not dying, I cracked open a bottle and pretended like it was an ok thing to drink. Much to my surprise it tasted amazing! It has an otherworldly sweetness. Much more intense and sweeter tasting than regular cider. (The second photo is backlit):

Because the cider is sweet, I expect it has the potential to continue to ferment quite a bit and create bottle bombs. Also, the lack of yeast-based fermentation likely really opens the door for bad things to take over. But so far, the cider is really really tasty in my opinion, and has barely started to carbonate in the bottles. The best bet might be not to let it sit for too long, but who knows?

I would call this a successful experiment, but not something I would want to do again. A few weeks later I drank some kombucha (which is slightly fermented by yeast and bacteria) at a cafe, and it had a similar taste.

Winter Tongue Loop

Big ambitions swirl through my head as I hit the trail. Just five weeks ago this 12 mile mountainy loop was snowless and mostly runnable. How different could today be? Minimal racing snowshoes are strapped to my back just in case, but here at the bottom the snow is only 2-3 inches deep and tracked by a few footprints so I run in just my light trail runners with wool socks for insulation and plastic baggies to keep them watertight. At the first intersection, 2 sets of footprints head off to the right and a set of snowshoe tracks heads straight up the steepest and longest climb in the area. I follow the snowshoe tracks.

The climb is easy going, mostly a walk with a little bit of running mixed in. Everything is covered in snow, but there is no ice to speak of thankfully. Regardless, when I step on certain rocks, my sneaker instantly slides off. It is enough for me to decide to stop and spend several minutes switching to snowshoes, which have sharp metal crampons to prevent such sliding.

I make my way up and up. I'm a little annoyed with the snowshoes. I clumsily trip and fall on my face on occasion, and they constantly flip snow at my back. It's like having an annoying brat behind you laughing and jeering, throwing snowballs every second of the entire trip. I find myself wishing for something in between sneakers and snowshoes - maybe microspikes or crampons. After a while I take the snowshoes back off again, it just isn't worth it. So I stop and spend another several minutes fussing around, something I hate to do.

Three quarters of the way up the mountain, the man who created the snowshoe tracks I am following comes down the hill towards me. He climbed to the lean-to at Fifth Peak but now has to hurry back to regular life. I tell him I have big plans, but am already struggling a bit so I'm not sure if I'll follow through on them.

I continue up the hill for a while and notice that the scenery looks familiar but wrong. I realize I'm looking at the terrain surrounding the lean-to at the top, where I camped with friends one night several years ago. I must have blindly followed the snowshoe tracks and missed my turn. Sure enough, before long I reach the old encampment. I stand around in the lean-to to assess my situation. Over the last hour my optimism has turned to frustration, and I'm having second thoughts about the trip and hiking another 9 miles or more like this.

I explore the lean-to. On the indoor shelf along the wall stand various items including a whisk broom, a can of tuna, one unsmoked mini cigar with peculiar incisor bite marks on the filter, and a small bottle of whiskey, with only the last few ounces remaining.

My resourceful side kicks into gear. I'm not sure there's much I can do with that tuna. But not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I have a small taste of the whiskey, and dig through my bag of limited survival gear. Boy am I glad I brought these matches! There's just something about finding this little geocache in the middle of the cold, dismal wilderness that reawakens something inside me. I light up the cigar and bound down the trail with a renewed vigor, feeling a little less alone out here, with the taste of my rebellious Boy Scout days on my breath bringing an element of childhood nostalgia to the trip.

Before long I reach my missed turn, and head left. There are no tracks whatsover, so I will be breaking ground for the rest of the trip, until I meet up with those other tracks at the end of the loop. It's noticeably less pleasant without the luxury of snowshow tracks to follow. Rather than have my feet constantly under 5-6 inches of snow I stop and put the snowshoes back on again. They work well, and over the next few miles become very comfortable with them, they might be the ideal footwear for today's trekking.

On my legs I'm wearing wool tights and running shorts. With every single step, the small flip-flop-like snowshoe scoops up a big pile of snow and then catapults it right up my skirt (so to speak). Talk about snowballs. For this reason, during the trip, the coldest part of my body is my ass leaving me constantly wondering, 'Is this ok?', and, 'Should I put on the pants I have in my bag?'. I've never really dealt with this particular cold buttocks problem before. I end up just dealing with the cold butt for the rest of the trip. And also my knees. Snow sticks to my knees and melts, and at the tops of some of these peaks where the wind is howling, my kneecaps freeze. It's a little unnerving, is there such thing as frostbitten kneecaps? After a little research, it turns out that kneecaps (and elbows) have little blood flow and are in fact susceptible.

Along the way there are three short but very steep sections of the trail, and the ice and snow is a little sketchy with (or without) snowshoes. Each downward climb goes smoothly, I try to just get through them without any fuss, but those are the moments where I rely a little too much on luck. I think it might make more sense to follow the loop in the opposite direction, because those sections would be a lot easier to go up rather than down. They would also be easier with more snow to fill everything in and make any crash-landings softer.

After several hours of ups and downs, I reach the last peak from which I can see "The Point" at the end of the tongue with no more mountains between me and the point. This is another highlight of the trip where I am effortlessly jogging down the slope, excited to reach the flatter final section of the trip, happy that I won't need to deal with the mountain peaks in the dark. At the bottom is a sign which reports '5 miles to Clay Meadow'. That's on the way back to my car. Ouch! That sounds like a long way! I check my GPS watch which says I've gone 8 miles so far. The round trip is more like 12 miles, which means that I have walked an extra mile taking wrong turns and meandering around in search of the trail! It's after 3 o'clock, and at this moment it feels like forever before I will get done. I send a quick text message to M to let her know my status.

I might as well cover as much ground as I can before it gets dark. The snow cover is thin again, so I strap the snowshoes onto my back and jog along the trail when it's easy to. I'm a bit chilly all over, so it feels really good to warm up this way. I'm starving so I stop again to fill my pockets with food to munch as I move: some Boy Scout Trails End Trail Mix, and a pb&j english muffin. I quickly finish the sandwich, then eat trail mix to excess, cramming handful after handful into my mouth until well after I've had enough.

I am making my way on the trail alongside Lake George. It's a big lake and consists of completely unfrozen water. It's very disconcerting (and at first I can't really explain why) to be walking in icy, snowy, winter conditions with lots of pure, cold lake water lapping the nearby shore. Then, my foot slips on the trail, and there is nothing but a steep slippery 10-foot slope into the drink to the left. Aha, that's why it's disconcerting. As much as I love Lake George summer fun, I need to be careful and avoid taking a swim.

Roughly halfway along this last 5-mile leg, I encounter the 2 pairs of footprints of the hikers. At last! It is a big relief to have tracks to follow because I don't expect daylight to last much longer. The tracks make it easier to run because I don't need to stop at every trail marker in search of the trail hiding under the snow. After following the tracks for a bit, they descend to the ice-covered marshy area, and as always I mindlessly follow. The tracks make their way into the distance along the ice-covered area, and I think to myself, "Idiots! Do they even realize how unfrozen the rest of the lake is?". While the word "idiots" repeats in a loop in my head, I follow along, barely recognizing my own hypocrisy. My only saving grace is that they went first, have giant feet and are therefore much heavier than myself, and at 128 pounds I have never been the first one to break through the ice. And it's ok, I have a plan. If I fall through the ice, I will hold the snowshoes in my hands and use the crampons as ice-grabbers to pull myself out. What could possibly go wrong?

The snow-covered ice is so much faster than the trail! It's like running on the roads. I fancy myself setting land-speed records as I trot along, covering ground on this last leg of the hike faster than would be possible if it were any other season.

Within short minutes I am on the 0.2 mile trail back to the car. There is still a little daylight, I'm dry, warm and toasty, and will make it home by dinnertime!

NJ Surf Fishing 2016

It's 3:30pm on Monday. I'm sitting on a foot-high piling along a jetty surrounded by total chaos: fishermen casting over each other, birds attacking the water, baitfish spraying out of the surface, with big striped bass and bluefish breaking the surface all within an arms reach. This is the moment we have been searching for all these years, yet I can't lift my arms, my back is a crumpled mass of pure ache, my brain is fried. I'm staring into my lure bag, head spinning, moving slowly, a puzzled look on my face. I never saw this coming - feeling too warn out and exhausted to care about catching yet another giant fish from the surf. How did it all come to this?

Earlier that morning

The previous 2 days had called for pleasant weather and mediocre fishing at sunrise, which led us to not bother setting an alarm for pre-dawn. We slept in and took the day as it came. However Monday was calling for a perfect fish-catching combination: Simultaneous outgoing tide, sunrise, moonset, and "gale force winds" blowing out to sea so we made sure to wake up early so as not to miss our best opportunity. The first two days of scouting had given us a good idea for where to plan our stakeout: the north end of the boardwalk, where a nice sandbar revealed itself as the tide went out. I hiked out to the bar and took a few casts, and quickly made my way to the edge of the bar where I could cast to my left into a deep pool of water. The flat mirror-like surface of the predawn water reflected the foggy mist above, whose calmness was suddenly shattered by the violent splash of a feeding striped bass. I could hear J's voice in my head. "These are pencil poppin' conditions". I pulled out my new lucky pencil popper which I had found washed up on shore the day before. This is a style of lure I have never caught anything with, but I know many of J's most epic fish stories involve this magic lure so I am dying to catch a fish on this lure and discover the faith for myself. It's one of the most labor-intensive lures to use. It's big, heavy, and as legend has it, "if you're not making love to the pencil popper it's not going to have the right action". A saying which never made any sense to me until today with the fish crashing on the surface. Are you getting spastic? Make love to it... It's a rhythm thing. Like Isaac Hayes, smooth buttered soul. Ohhh yeah, there it is. WHAM! A big striped bass rose out of the water and nailed the pencil popper in plain site.

After a bit of a fight, the fish and I made our way to dry land. He measured just over 28 inches. A keeper! Losing my mind with excitement, I wanted to get back out there and catch some more. I carried the fish back to the surf and let him go free. As soon has he swam off, "stupid! why did I do that?" I thought. I don't have too many opportunities to keep a fish like that and I may have just blown it for the trip. Lucky for me, a few casts later, I caught his brother which was also over 28 inches. After a total of 3 fish, soaking wet in my leaking waders and the strong, chill wind, I went and found J. We returned to our hotel, and cooked up an early breakfast of fish. Yum!

Monday Afternoon - Round 2!

Tired by noon, conditions and reports were still looking good so we headed straight back out again. And that's when things really got intense! We made our way up the beach stopping every half mile or so to look around with the binoculars. We find a promising spot, and gear up and start fishing. Before long, J battles a gargantuan bluefish to shore! Followed by another!


I tossed a few lures into the lucky water, but quickly grew impatient as I saw excitement brewing in the area of jetties to our left. I made my way to the second jetty, and found a nice relaxed spot to take a few casts. Looking to my left, I notice several fishermen running at me. That's odd. I look in front of me and see what they are running for. At my feet is a massacre of baitfish (bunker) and bass! The tide has receded just enough so that the sand bar forms an outer wall and the jetty's block the side exits. Meanwhile the bass and bluefish were ready and waiting on the deep end of the sand bar to force the baitfish into this beautiful deathtrap!

I cast out a weighted treble hook and quickly snag a bunker and liveline the little guy. Wham! Fish on! I frantically pull a nice bass to shore, remove the hook, and by the time I return him to sea I am surrounded by countless fishermen. I switch lures to my new bomber - a big plastic fish covered with giant hooks. I cast and quickly latch on to another fish! Now that there are fishermen all around me I tighten the drag and land the fish as quickly as I can. Catch and release. I cast again into the fray and catch another nice bass! I reel him in and discover that this bass was foul-hooked, which means the hook was not hooked in it's mouth. I guiltily remove the hook and release him back into the water. I spend a few minutes to remove some of the extra hooks from the lure. I take a few more casts, but it this big lure just doesn't feel right. That's when I sit down on the jetty and take stock of my situation. I am completely worn out. The situation is dangerous with hooks flying everywhere. Nothing in my lure bag seems appropriate for this chaos. So I just sort of sit and try to come up with a plan but end up feeling pretty satisfied to numbly gaze out and watch the frenzy as it unfolds and eventually wraps up. I pack up my things and wander down to find J, whose giant fish count for the day has reached 8! That's 15 fish in one day between the two of us!

Here's a quick look at the lures that were successful for me on this trip (SP Minnow in bunker color, a bomber, a snag hook, and the pencil popper):