Friends and I are currently in training for the Wakely Dam Ultramarathon. The race is three weeks away, which means that this weekend is the longest workout before starting to taper off and rest up for the big day. B, H, and I are running it, and after no small amount of planning decided on heading to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness for a 22 mile loop.
Map of the run:
We started off by parking at the wrong spot and heading down the wrong trail a few hundred yards from the actual trailhead. (** Note: There is a very official DEC trailhead and parking area: start there! **). We ended up wandering nonsensically through misc trails for 4 miles before returning to where we started to find the real trail head. The run from West Hague Road to Pharaoh Lake was absolutely treacherous. It was a mucky swampy mess. Mosquitoes and deer flies were horrible. The trail is marked but we could never get going for more than a short bit before we had to navigate repeated giant mush holes. The occasional stinging nettle patches were almost a welcome change from the atrocities of the trail. At least the stinging pain helped you forget your true miseries for a short time. Ugh. Partway through, my morale severely crippled, I hit my low point. I started shrieking and running in hopes that a forced berzerker rage would pull me out of my funk. It half worked, which was good enough to keep me moving forward. As we say in the business, "hope is your biggest enemy". Lucky for us we had absolutely no hope at this point, so reaching our first waypoint, Pharaoh Lake, came as an unexpected happy surprise. This section of trail is one that as of right now (two days later) I hope to never see again.
We headed towards a lean-to on the lake. Friendly people were staying there who had hauled a boat or two for several miles to the campground. We greeted each other and they took a look at us covered in Hell and seriously asked us if we swam here. We explained our story, and they explained their's (dragging a giant boat 4 miles uphill over 8 hours). No strangers to a hard day's work, they offered us a dive into the refreshing water below.
After wasting 4 miles and dealing with a really tough 7 or so after that, we had a great swim and snack by the lake. We had several options at this point, all of them terrible. We were obviously not going to stick with the plan, which would mean another 15 miles for a total of 26. The easiest option would be to run back from whence we came (as terrible as it was) for a total of 18 or so miles. The remaining option would be to take a diagonal shortcut through Grizzle Ocean, for a total of 22 miles back to the car. We had no reason to believe that this trail would be any friendlier than the last, but at least it would be different. There was some hesitance to take on the long route, but a campground 6 miles in left an option to bail-out if need-be, which sealed the deal and put us all in agreement.
We hopped back on the trail and honestly at this point I don't remember much besides running, getting chased by angry dogs, H making an aggressive hail mary run for the campground, B bonking, and me losing a sandal deep DEEP in the mud and probing for it with a black arm for several minutes. Oh, and getting stung by something really nasty. I had been bitten by so many things that when a real stinger stuck into my calf I freaked out. Luckily B recognized the tone of my yelling and asked, "you got stung by a wasp"? To which I responded, "Oh yeah, that's what it was!". Up until then I didn't know what had happened except that it hurt a lot more than all the other bites combined. It is now several days later and the red spot is the size of a silver dollar. Do they still make those? At the campground, H chose to hang back while B and I ran the last 5 mile section to the car.
Oh man was it sweet! We got on the trail and ran! Yeah! Then it got even better, the trail turned to doubletrack and we were cruising side-by-side and making great time! This lasted just long enough for a bit of hope to creep into our psyche. Never a good thing. We crossed a small stream, after which the trail turned awful and got continuously worse from there. If beavers ever built a Manhattan, this was Damhattan. The trail pointed straight into miles of beaver pond. It appeared that much of the pond was recently built, because orange tape marked a detour over beaver dams, and through shallower sections of pond. Over miles of beaver pond we encountered one man-made bridge, but the left beam was gone, tilting the bridge 45 degrees, so we could not walk on the bridge, or even on the side of the bridge, but had to walk on the corner of the bridge. That's a first for me.
Just as we were hoping to have left Beaver Pond Hell behind us, the trail markers clearly marked the way into a big old pond. The trail looked like a boat ramp into the clear water. B came up to a halt in front of it and said with a thoroughly defeated look on his face, "you have got to be kidding me". We were down to our last straw, but bucked up and waded across. After that it was just a matter of pressing on and on, an eventually we reached the car.
If there is one thing that makes this area unique, it's the distance. Everything looks so easy and short on the map, until you measure it out and find that you could easily run a loop of 30-40 miles or more. It would not be a good place to take a wrong turn near the end of a run.
We have had a few rough years of mastering the art of pool cleaning. This year I feel optimistic though. Each year we have discovered and fixed major errors in our pool maintenance process. As I understand it, if you get it right, there should be hardly any work involved. Keep an eye on the chemicals and make sure the levels are right. That is *easy*. Once you get behind on that though, it becomes *hard*. So the key is to put some effort in up front and make sure the chemicals are right.
5/28/2013 - Pool Opening
After the opening, the pool looked really good. I could see within a few feet of the bottom. I vacuumed the bottom and brushed the sides, and skimmed. Some leaves and a thin layer of sediment were all that needed to be sucked up. It's still cloudy of course but should improve quickly.
## Big blue jug o'chlorine
## Replacement bubbler tubes (ours broke)
## New testing paper
* Continue vacuuming until it looks clear
* Watch levels (chlorine, ph, alkalinity) & adjust *daily*
* Add liquid chlorine regularly, don't rely much on the chlorine tablets.
* The pool openers left the skimmer and bottom drain wide open, and the vacuum worked well. I should keep it this way.
* Levels: Chlorine and free chlorine: very high (due to opening), ph perfect, alkalinity low by ~40
* CM: 1/1/30+ (day/year/record)
I bought chlorine & testing strips. The pool already looks pretty clear, I can see to the bottom. A bit of stuff needs to be vacuumed, to be sure, but it's cleaning up quick.
* buy alkalinity increaser
* increase alkalinity
* buy replacement bubbler tubes
* keep vacuuming
* Levels: Chlorine and free chlorine: very high (due to opening), ph perfect, alkalinity low by ~40
* CM: 3/4/30+
* CM: 2/6/30+
* Todo: buy alkalinity increaser, new skimmer pole
* Increase alkalinity
* Buy replacement bubbler tube
* Start adding chlorine soon
* Levels: Free Chlorine high.
6/2 - Freihoffer's Weekend
* Same levels, chlorine still high.
* Pool is super clean after getting cleaned & used. Just had to vacuum the deepest end and do a quick brush. Season was super duper cold. Then we had a few days of hot weather after the opening. In the hot weather, the cold pool is great and refreshing. People stayed in the pool for hours.
* Notes: If cleaning the pool is this easy, I could see doing it every morning.
* We had more torrential downpours again last night. pH level was a little low, so I added some increaser to the chlorinator. Brushed all the sides then vacuumed the bottom, there was a fair amount of dirt down there. Chlorine level is still slightly above good.
* While brushing the pool, I put a big 5 inch gash in the pool liner near the bottom of the shallow end. I put a patch on, a nearly impossible process, what a pain. It is holding water now, at least for the most part.
* Done: Bought new pole, brush, alkalinity boost, quick half-brush
* The chlorine level is ideal, but I need to add more to keep on top of it. Alkalinity is still low, so keep adding more.
* Todo: Keep boosting chlorine/alkalinity as needed. Do a decent vacuum soon.
* CM: 4/10/30+
* CM: 2/12/30+ (plus 2 m)
* Pool was vacuumed & brushed
* Brushed down the pool a bit. Chlorine was at the low-end of ok. I filled up the chlorinator with liquid chlorine and set the dial to high. Pool looks really good right now.
** Keep up the good work
* Maybe put another patch over the patch.
* The routine:
** Pretty much every day: give the pool a quick brush, check chemical levels, add some chem if needed. Take a quick swim! That's why it's there!
** Perhaps twice a week or as-needed: Vacuum the pool to pick up any debris at the bottom.
** Weekly or as-needed: give the pool a thorough brush including all sides.
* Pool looks great. Levels are good, chlorine a bit on the high side. Gave it a good brushing. We've had a lot of rain (on top of a lot of rain)
* Looks good. Added a bit of ph booster. Levels good, could maybe use more chlorine in the next day or so. Brushed.
* Todo: Add chlorine soon, vacuum & throrough brush this weekend or before.
* CM: 2/14/30+ (plus 2 m)
* It has been raining a ton. The chlorine was super low, the pool was cloudy. The water level was very high. I added a load of liquid chlorine to the chlorinator on high, and shortly after a water test showed chlorine. I drained some water off the pool (oops I should have done that before adding the chlorine). I brushed it down. I gave it a thorough brush.
Todo: Keep an eye on the chemicals, vacuum. Tonight, test the chemicals and add shock if chlorine is still low.
Later that night: Chlorine was at the low end of ok. I sprinkled a packet of pool shock (chlorine) around the pool, then brushed it a bit. Now the chlorine level is high.
* CM: 1/15/30+ (plus 2 m)
* Vacuumed, skimmed, brushed, swam, added more chlorine.
* Pool has been looking great. Chlorine level is on the high end of "ok". Still could use more perhaps this evening. Gave it a good skim, vacuum, brush, and swim.
* CM: 1/16/30+ (plus 2 m)
* The skimmer and center drain are both basically not doing anything. I have been keeping both fully open, so it's likely that these need to be partially closed although I don't understand why fully open isn't "full blast". This could help a ton with brushing the dirt at the bottom into the center instead of vacuuming. I could possibly boost the center drain while brushing and boost the skimmer other times although ideally both would be working all the time.
* It will need chlorine at some point soon.
* Find out: how to add liquid chlorine? Is it ok to add that and other chemicals (ph/alkalinity, etc) through the chlorinator or is it better to spread around in the pool itself?
* Look into a pool robot, one that operates on suction and always moves around one pool. That could make things really easy.
* Check this out: http://www.troublefreepool.com/pool-school/
* Are the test strips accurate? Should I use a higher quality test?
* Possibly work on getting CYA/Cyanuric Acid (chlorine stabilizer) up to 30-50, then increasing chlorine level to hopefully reduce the amount of chlorine that needs to be added. Cheapest as solid, best added in a sock in the skimmer basket. It can take a week to show up in tests. http://www.troublefreepool.com/pool-school/pool_water_chemistry
* A real test kit is deemed necessary by pool-school: http://www.troublefreepool.com/pool-school/pool_test_kit_comparison . Q: What's wrong with the test strips I've been using? How often do I need to replace the test kit, where to store, etc?
** Hmm - no daily brushing? Can I focus a little more on chemicals and a little less on daily brushing?
* Very interesting note about using pucks - "They are incredibly convenient and incredibly insidious. The CYA that they put into your pool water doesn't get used up, and instead accumulates. Eventually the CYA level will build up to a point that renders your chlorine ineffective. Typically, everything is fine, until one day you start to develop algae and don't understand why." Sounds familiar.
* Right now the CYA is basically non-existent. Tablets add CYA slowly. Eventually they add too much. I'm using the fancier test tabs which test for CYA. Here's a plan: use the tablets for a little while and in a week or so hopefully the CYA level will be higher than it is now (0). Note that CYA can take a week before it actually registers in a test.
* Pool looks absolutely perfect at the moment. Chlorine is at ideal, just a little dust at the bottom. I brushed it into the drain. I tried turning down the skimmer a little to make more suction in the drain, but I couldn't turn down the skimmer much without sucking air. It still helped to turn the skimmer down a little I think. I added pucks to the chlorinator to try and increase the CYA (stabilizer) level.
The chemical levels are perfect and seem stable. There was hardly any debris in the skimmer, and only a tiny little pile of dirt at the bottom at the deep end. I lowered the skimmer, brushed just the visible stuff into the drain, and increased the skimmer again.
* Check this out: http://www.troublefreepool.com/pool-school/
* Are the test strips accurate? Should I use a higher quality test?
* Maybe put another patch over the patch.
* CM: 2/18/30+ (plus 2 m)
* Today there was nothing to do. It took about 2 minutes to test the pool, everything looked perfect, and brush a tiny pile of dust into the drain.
* Nothing at all to report! Did a 2 minute brush each morning for the last couple of days, and tested the chemicals, and everything looks great. The chlorine level has been managed by the chlorinator. I have been turning the skimmer all the way closed temporarily while I'm brushing so the center drain pulls more dirt in, then I open it again. It works great, highly recommended. The pump sucks a little air, but keeps the drain going strong. There hasn't really been any debris in the skimmer basket. Maybe after all the rain all the loose stuff (pollen, leaves, etc) have all been knocked to the ground so now it's taking a rest for a while and giving the pool a break.
* Pool continues to be good. The pucks I put in a week or so ago got used up. I added some more, but lowered the rate at which they'll get circulated. Today the chlorine was a little lower so I added a bit using liquid directly added to the pool. We had some rain yesterday, the pool was a little bit dirtier on the bottom than it has been but not much, and it is a little cloudy. Looks great though. Had some good swim time this weekend, it has been warm, and now the pool is finally comfortable.
* Went away for the weekend. Brushed pool throroughly before leaving and cranked up the chlorinator. Came back. A little dirt at the bottom was easy to sweep into the drain and the chlorine is a bit on the high side. Looks great though. Turned the chlorinator back down.
* Kept at it mostly daily. Today the chlorine was a little low, so I tossed in a bag of shock, added pucks, and brushed. Looks good.
CM: 2/18/30+ (plus 3 m/m)
* We had some very hot weather over the last few days. The pool temperature is nice and comfy, but not too warm by any means. It rained a lot last night again. The chlorine was a little low so I added liquid chlorine this morning. There was more dirt at the bottom of the pool than usual, so I gave it a pretty good brushing (not including the vertical walls).
* Thorough brushing including vertical walls
* Check the other chem levels and make everything perfect again
* Apply another patch on the hole
The process I've been using:
* Check chemicals.
* Hockey pucks in the chlorinator: For a while I went without any hockey pucks and used liquid chlorine and shock packets to keep the water chlorinated. Then I noticed that the stabilizer was low, so I used hockey pucks in the chlorinator for a while. Lately I have been keeping the chlorinator filled with hockey pucks, but running at a deficit so I still need to add the occasional liquid chlorine or shock packet. When I add liquid chlorine, I pour some into a container (bucket or smaller) then usually mix it with some pool water to dilute it, and pour it all around the pool, tossing some out into to the middle. When I add shock, I do similar, trying to distribute it as much as possible, with a little less in the shallow end because there is less water there. I always brush after adding liquid or packet chlorine, because I want to stir it up a little. It's not good to let the crystals sit around on the bottom of the pool.
* Keep the skimmer and bottom drain open all the way except when cleaning
* When cleaning: first empty skimmer, then close skimmer so all the water is getting sucked through the drain. Brush all debris into the bottom drain to clean.
* The pool timer has the pool circulating 12 hours a day. I would almost prefer to have it running more, but haven't adjusted it. Every once in a while I reset the timer to set it to run for the next 24 hours (after which it returns to its regular cycle).
* As long as the water level is a bit on the low side, the automatic skimmer works great and I don't have to manually skim at all.
* There has really been no reason to vacuum the pool now that I have been keeping up with the chemicals and doing at least a quick brush almost every day.
* On vacation for a week? Use hockey pucks in the chlorinator and try to have it circulate enough to maintain the chlorine level at a normal level. Additionally, it might be worth distributing a packet or two of shock (followed by a brushing) just to overchlorinate the pool a bit before leaving.
* Everything looks good. Added a bit of chlorine. We'll be away most of next week, but someone is coming by to take care of the pool a little bit so we should be in good shape. We've run low on/out of liquid chlorine, hockey pucks, and testing strips, so need to restock. Need to make sure the timer is on a reasonable schedule so the poolhouse is running when cleaners come.
* The pool guy came last week while we were still here, but it was good and clean so there wasn't much to do. We went away for the week, and he came back towards the end of our trip. Unfortunately the patch job I did probably wasn't up-to-snuff, and leaked out enough water so that he couldn't vacuum. He removed our bad patch and put on a (hopefully) good patch, so we should be in much better shape there. The chemicals look perfect. There is a bit of dirt and leaves in the bottom, and a fair amount of leaves on the surface because the automatic skimmer hasn't been running. I skimmed and brushed a bit, and will raise the water level so the skimmer can run. Then I should probably vacuum/etc. and it should be perfect again.
I'm planning to run my first ultramarathon in July, and I've been doing a poor job of resting a sore knee after running the Melbourne Music Marathon in Florida nearly two months ago. Running has been making my knee sore, but doing nothing feels just as bad. What I really need is something in between. So I recently started logging walking miles to bridge the gap between now and when my knee is back to 100%, with a hope of making a graceful transition back into running.
I have been congested with a cold all week, and sometimes there's nothing better than fighting a cold with hand-to-hand combat rather than laying in bed all day under a blanket of diseased kleenex. So with some spare hours on Saturday, I decided to visit Moreau Lake State Park and retrace the path of the annual trail 15k running race, only this time in the winter.
My hope was to mix a little bit of running with the walking. My walking pace on the streets is a solid 3 miles per hour, so I had it in my head that maybe I could finish the course in 3-4 hours. "Heck", I foolishly thought to myself, "if I get done in 3 hours then maybe I'll do two laps". In retrospect I'm ashamed of myself for entertaining any such thoughts. What was I thinking? Let's just say one lap was satisfactory.
I woke up early and drove in and parked, and walked nearly a mile to the starting line on the beach. The gun went off (not really), and I jogged a bit alongside the lake and along the entrance road for the flat southward first half-mile. Upon reaching the trailhead, my feet were noticeably cold in my very thin shoes and thin wool Darn Tough socks. I sat down and wrapped my feet in three layers: warmish below-the-ankle wool socks, plastic bags, then my shoes. My footsteps followed snowshoe tracks along a trail that doubled back north. The next spot I knew to look for is the Staircase of Death where a steep rocky incline forms a long wall protecting the wilderness within. I missed my turnoff, and hiked an extra half-mile along the Turkey Path before checking the map and doubling back.
I was keeping my folded up map stuffed in my glove. At one point I couldn't find the map even after searching all my pockets and everywhere. The last place I saw it was at the bottom of the Staircase of Death. I don't know what it is about the staircase, but it has an amazing talent for getting a person to do it multiple times. So I climbed back down and searched around, but couldn't find it and continued on my way. I knew it had to be somewhere. I decided the check inside my gloves one last time, since that's where I was keeping it. Lo-and behold, there it was, stuck to the back of my hand. Somehow after keeping it there for long enough, I became completely desensitized to it to the point that it felt like it wasn't there.
After the staircase of death, there are no longer any tracks in the snow to follow. It's amazing how lonely it is to follow a trail with no tracks. Not to mention difficult. From this point on, I am powering through heavy shin-deep snow with every footstep. The going is slow. It is all I can do to look at the next intersection on the map and ask myself, "can I make it there?" and as long as the answer is "yes" I keep going.
Suddenly I see a very large doe run off into the woods. After a moment of weighing the pros (none) and cons (lots), I run off after it. The enormous tracks are easy to distinguish from other stray tracks, but after a while I give up this completely unnecessary detour and return back to the trail. Of course as I work my way back down the trail I cross paths with my old path - the deer was leading me the right way, and if I had paid enough attention I could have just kept going instead of going back and forth along nearly the same track.
Let me tell you something about Moreau Lake State Park (not that you're still reading this). The trails are really tough to follow. There are trail markers on nearly every tree, so a lack of marking is not the problem. The problem is twofold. First, the trails are not well-travelled, so in the autumn under leaves or in the winter under snow, the trail cannot be discerned from the rest of the woods. Second, the trail never ever goes in a straight line. It often makes hairpin turns, so you never have a safe guess as to which direction the next marker is going to be. You're forced to rotate your head 360 degrees like an owl at every marker to find the next marker, then walk around a bit to get different perspectives, and once it's found, walk there and repeat the process.
So far the trail has been broken up into sections. The trail map labels each intersection. The next section, from intersection 4 to 9 is the longest on the map. It will be an arduous endeavor. In my current state of dilly-dallying I could foresee prolonging this leg of the journey indefinitely, so I promise myself to tromp non-stop until I see it through. I have been noticing that the three liters of water I brought with me is feeling awfully light, I'm going to need water soon. I'm using water pills. It takes 30-40 minutes for them to properly prepare drinking water, which means I won't have anything to drink for that long. The trick is to recognize that the water is running low before you run out, and to pound what's left to make up for not drinking for a while. I come to the best spot I've seen to fill up on water (which isn't saying much - it's little more than a trickle). I make the commitment to fill up while I have the chance. I drink what I have, and fill up. It's a painful process that involves a lot of standing still, and dunking cold hands and feet in icy water. By the time I'm back on the trail again I am wet and very cold all over, but at least I'm fully stocked on water.
This is my second trip on this course, and both times it is an absolutely crushing feeling to have not yet reached the halfway point at section 13. It feels like I've been at it forever. When I finally reach the halfway point, a full 3.5 hours have passed since starting. I had hoped to be done by now. I'm seriously considering exiting through the back way and... I dunno, hitchhiking back. Or building a fire and phoning a friend to come pick me up. I'm grossly underdressed, my feet are soaked and freezing, and I have another 3 hours to go. Holy snowballs.
Can I make it to the next intersection? "Yes." I keep going. This section along the Western Ridge trail provides a beautiful view of the Hudson River, although it looks like a lake. Which can be confusing because it's clearly not Moreau Lake, but if you don't realize the Hudson River is hiding here it's easy to get all kinds of turned around. Or to start thinking, maybe I'm back at the lake! Woohoo I'm done! But of course, that is totally impossible.
The sky is overcast, the wind is howling from the west. Brrr. My feet have been getting steadily colder for the last 3 hours and I'm starting to wonder if I'm gonna lose my left foot to frostbite. I've been walking through 8 inches of snow with the skin of my ankles directly exposed to ice the entire time, these socks are way too short. I remember that I have hand warmers and spare socks in my pack, so I stop and pull off my left shoe and sock and rub some warmth into the foot to try and bring it back to life. It feels amazingly comfortable as soon as I remove the soaking wet sock. I loosen my shoelace to make room for some extra stuff and repack the shoe with my foot, a fresh sock that actually covers my ankle, and a hand warmer on top of my toes, followed by a plastic bag.
I'm feeling good after a long break. The sun is starting to show through the clouds a little. I continue along the trail one intersection at a time. My map happens to be folded into four distinct quadrants, each quadrant showing a quarter of my trip. Intersection 17 marks my entry into quadrant four, the final quarter. The *easy* quarter, being that it's mostly flat or downhill. Not to mention that the trails become straighter and more pronounced. When I see the number 17 on a tree, the words "hallay freakin' lluyah" barf out of my mouth. I might be near death right now, but I made it this far and nothing's going to stop me now.
The sun is beaming, the wind has died down, it has turned into a beautiful day. As I hike and sometimes trot along, I experience vivid recollections from running the trail a year before. I'm reliving moments when someone passed me or I passed them, and the words that were traded. Difficult to navigate intersections are now familiar and I cruise through without hesitation. Eventually I reach trails that are heavily travelled with foot traffic. I have reached civilization! At this point I have the option to take a shortcut home, but why not complete the really easy part now that I'm almost through?
I say "how's it going?" to a couple on horseback. A girl makes a face and says, "not good at all, we're having some slippage problems". I feel a spark of pride knowing how far I've come in conditions that even the horses are struggling in.
I make the final approach around the lake, and to the finish line. I am totally psyched. I give myself a cheer, and begin the mile walk back to the car. Children are running around for an Easter celebration of some kind. As I walk the path alongside the lake, I see plastic Easter eggs poorly hidden everywhere. My body is craving sugar like you wouldn't believe. I'm in hard-core survival mode and surrounded by candy. I have the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, arguing over whether I should steal candy from children. I am soooooo tempted. One egg in particular calls out to me and I have to make the decision once-and-for-all whether to nab it or not. Just as I decide to do the right thing and leave it where it stands, a woman comes over the hill with a big basket in her hand. She would have caught me red handed. I hail her and say, "what's in the eggs?" "Just candy" she says, "want some?" "That would be AWEsome". She gives me a Hershey's kiss, and I am the happiest person alive.
Soon I'm on walking along the road on the final stretch. Smoke billows out of a nearby chimney. As I get closer, I see the sign out front: It's a warming hut! Never in my life would I have imagined being so angry at a warming hut. "Where were you three hours ago when I really needed you?" The warming hut purposely waited until I was happily only mildly cold and uncomfortable and *this* *close* to my car to taunt me with it's warm fire. The luxuries contained within: hot cocoa and a drying fire, at this moment, seemed to me unimaginably over-the-top. Like wandering, starving for days and coming across a cotton candy machine.
I passed it by, and hopped in my car nearly seven hours after getting out of it. I drive home, grateful for legs that work well enough to pull me through such an epic local adventure. I can't wait to return.
We were an inseparable team of eight determined to brave the Tongue Mountain Range in Lake George, NY. This mountain range is the home of giant rattlesnakes, unheard of elsewhere in the state, common in this one small location. As youtube videos of these creatures circulated, our crew dwindled to 7... 6... 5... And in the end only four of us scavenged the courage needed to face these deadly yet hibernating creatures. Me, two A's, and J gathered at my place Saturday morning and drove up into the hills.
Before we left, A2 called the local ranger to glean information about the area. When parking at the trailhead, there was nary a spot left, but only because one car parked the long way, and every other car followed suit. As we stepped out of the car, an officious green vehicle drove by and then screeched to a halt, hit reverse, and got out to greet us. As he and A2 approached each other, the ranger reached out as though to a long-lost pen pal, "You must be A2". Indeed.
Typically a ranger's job is to tell you to carry more safety gear, suggest things to watch out for, and shake his head condescendingly to make sure he gets his point across that a group is inadequately prepared and grossly over-estimating their abilities. This guy was the opposite. "Leave your tents in the car, you won't need 'em, you'll be the only people vying for the lean-to tonight". "You shouldn't bother bringing snowshoes. Microspikes wouldn't hurt in case it's icy, but you won't need snowshoes". (Even though the weather forecast was calling for a good 5-7 inches of snowfall). So on the recommendation of the ranger, we left half of our gear and all of our prudence in the car, and made our way up to the lean-to.
We quickly set to work gathering ridiculous quantities of dead, dry wood. A1 always brings the most amazing camping device ever invented: Lowe's Folding Saw. As A1 puts it, this thing is worth 10 times it's pack weight because few can resist taking it into the woods to give it a try. Pull that thing out of your pack, extol its abilities to the rest of the party, then sit back and relax, and watch the wood pile grow as everyone fights over who gets to fetch wood with it next.
During our approach to the top of the mountain, I had been bluffing about building a Quinzhee. Mostly I wanted to say the word Quinzhee. Quinzhee. Quinzhee. A Quinzhee is a simple snow cave. I'm not sure why one would ever build something like this. It's a hell of a lot of work. You end up soaking with sweat and completely exhausted by the time it's done. They say it's a survival shelter, but I'm pretty sure it's for suckers which I am. This day, there was only one problem. Only an inch or two of snow covered the ground, so this was going to be at best one of the make-shiftiest shelters ever. As I started digging, I found a small area where the snow was a little bit deeper than everywhere else, and chose this as my shelter location. I made huge swaths around the growing mound doggie digging in concentric circles until I had pushed all the snow from a 20-foot circle into a pile, with some help from J. The entire time, all seemed hopeless, but just as we swept the last few bits of snow on the pile, suddenly the mound took perfect (albeit minimal) shape for sleeping in. We stomped the snow into hard-pack before leaving it to sinter while we discussed our hiking plans for the day back at the lean-to.
A1 was in his happy place. Wanting nothing more than to enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors, he was ready to relax. J was ready to hike. We had plenty of daylight left, so there was little excuse but to go visit one of the nearby peaks. We took off hiking. A1 and J wore microspikes, A2 wore snowshoes, and I just had me hiking boots. As soon as we reached the first cliffy steep section, A2 stashed the snowshoes in favor of hiking without. The snow started coming down and leaving a giant blanket of perfect snowball ammunition everywhere. And I mean everywhere. After the first few snowball surprises, none went empty handed. The best defense is a good offence.
We made our way up to the first false peak, from which we had an impressive view of Lake George down below. We quickly pressed onward, and were faced with significant downhill twists and turns that our trail map gave no indication of. After climbing down a steep cliff, a beautiful cascade of glistening blue icicles presented itself, begging the child in us to destroy as much of it as we had the energy for. J and I couldn't resist the urge to hurl chunks of ice into the most vulnerable-looking sections, competing to create the most dramatic explosion of shattering ice. I'm pretty sure we all came out winners in this event. Except A1. Remember how he just wanted to relax at the lean-to? The look on his face said, "What are you 10? Let's get on with it already".
We continued to the second false peak, by which time it was getting late. We turned around with the real peak we were after looming overhead just a little further along. However, by now all of us were ready to return. The perfect packing snow collected into giant snowballs on the bottoms of microspiked feet. Nobody realized until the hike was over, but these subtle snowballs were causing no small amount of discomfort during the hike.
As exhausted as I felt, I did not want to waste all the energy I had spent building the snow pile earlier in the day to give up on what could be my one chance to check "Sleep in a Quinzhee" off my bucket list forevermore. So I grabbed a stick and hacked away at the mound. I spent 20 minutes and only dug two feet into the mound. I needed a tool. Back at the lean-to, I fetched the lid to my big cookpot. This turned out to be a magnificent Quinzhee-digging shovel. With my legs sticking out of the hole and my head in the middle of the hollow, I carved out 180 degrees of packed snow with every sweep of my arm. I had to crawl out and remove the shavings every once-in-a-while, but before long the snow cave was completed, and looked surprisingly livable. I stuck my sleeping pad and sleeping bag in the shelter, and returned to the lean-to for a well-earned evening around the campfire.
When bedtime came around, I crawled into my coffin-like shelter. Actually, a coffin would have been less claustrophobic than the Quinzhee. You can try to move in a coffin, but the walls will keep you trapped. In my snow shelter, I felt that if I made one wrong move, the whole thing would collapse and leave me half-naked and blind digging around the snowpile for my clothes, boots, glasses, and headlamp.
I tried sleeping for a while with my clothes on, but found that I carried enough sweat to give me a chill. I removed the damp clothes, but never felt quite warm throughout the night. My sleeping pad is only about half my height, and the sleeping bag is only rated for 20 degrees. A warmer sleeping bag or a longer sleeping pad probably would have made for a much more comfortable night. Oh, that and a larger Quinzhee.
I was really surprised to discover that the Quinzhee was brightly lit inside. Despite being completely bottled in an air-tight shelter with nothing but a small hole near my head... Despite being a thickly overcast night in the middle of the wilderness... Somehow a substantial amount of light reflected off the white snow everywhere and found it's way into my tiny home.
As I lay there trying to sleep, I heard a sound outside. That got my mind thinking about how horribly trapped I was. I have no idea where a rattlesnake would be sleeping right now, but maybe the same qualities that drew me to build my shelter where I did would be the same qualities that a rattlesnake would look for. Maybe I dug too deep and angered the cold-blooded killers. As we hiked earlier in the day, I watched a spider scuttle across the surface of the snow. It looked incredibly out of place, but I couldn't help but think when spiders were on the move, rattlesnakes couldn't be far behind. Or bears, for that matter. Angry, hungry, irritable bears, just out of hibernation. For them it would be like hitting the lottery to find a warm snow cave full of fresh meat. I slept with one ear open, listening for any toothy noses sniffing at the entrance to my hobbit hole where I lay utterly immobilized by my sleeping bag.
When morning came, I was the first one up at around 8:30am. We built a small fire, and had a long, leisurely breakfast and packed up all of our stuff. As a group we visited the Quinzhee one last time. It was time to test the structural integrity of the engineering marvel. I walked up the side of the hut and stood atop the roof as everyone gawked in disbelief that the roof didn't give. J approached and stood by my side. Then A1. Finally A2. We now have pretty close to 600 pounds sitting on a 6-inch ceiling of snow and the structure is showing no signs of weakness. After a certain amount of targeted stomping, I punch a boot through. Next J takes a flying leap and topples the castle once-and-for-all.
The journey home begins. The time is noonish and the weather is a balmy 40 degrees. The snow from the treetops is melting steadily, dropping little slushballs throughout the woods. Deer tracks perforate the landscape, perfectly preserved in the wet packing snow. We see one huge set of fresh tracks along the way. The trail is soft and steadily downhill, making for a pleasant and easy hike. Too pleasant and easy. Our guard is down, so that when we reach a long stretch of icy trail we are caught totally unawares. First I slowly slide to my butt and slide slide and don't stop. I am making my way down the trail, covering a surprisingly long distance slowly but uncontrollably careening towards A1. "Look out!!!" I yell. Not long after that, A1's feet fly up into the air. The other three of us have several seconds to stare as he pauses in midair before landing hard but safely on his butt and backpack.
Before long we are at the car, to our homes, and back to work the next day. Even after a lifetime of hot showers and heated homes, the body adapts quickly to spending a few days in freezing temperatures. The body is not so quick to get re-acclimated to life in the modern world upon returning. Chills, sweats, and dehydrated lips will be the norm for a while, but such is life in the Quinzhee.
What does a hard-working man eat for breakfast? Oatmeal. Every morning without fail.
Knowing this, for years I have unsuccessfully tried to force mushy oatmeal down my throat. Since I was a child I have eaten mass quantities of sugared cereals every day for breakfast. It would not be unusual for me to eat an entire box of cereal like Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Waffleos in a sitting. Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks, Life, Honey Smacks, Golden Grahams, and Corn Pops were just a few of my many favorites. How to break this habit? After a few bites of hot oatmeal, the texture starts to bother me, and I stop eating it well before I have had a filling breakfast. Then one day, someone told me about Muesli. It's basically oatmeal without the cooking. It's basically cereal but incredibly healthy. And cheap. Heck, if it's horse food it's got to be economical.
Recipe: Mix rolled oats, almonds, and dried fruit (chopped up) in your favorite cereal bowl. Pour in a generous helping of milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes to soften the oatmeal. Enjoy!
The cold oatmeal has a very enjoyable texture and completely lacks the mushiness that bothers me with hot oatmeal. Although I have to be honest. I often trick my brain into thinking I'm eating the cereals I am so addicted to by putting a small sprinkling of Cheerios or Cinnamon Toast Crunch or any other sugary cereal on top of the oatmeal. Kind of like putting cheese on my pasta. By doing so, I happily gobble up large quantities of whole grain goodness on a daily basis. However, this is not at all necessary because it tastes great on it's own. And it is incredibly versatile. On days when I am without milk, I can get through the day by using plain water, orange juice, or any other liquid. On camping trips, this makes a perfect quick uncooked meal in a pinch by simply adding cold water and letting it sit.
My source for nuts is the India Bazaar Grocery Store on Central Avenue in Albany. They sell large bags of almonds for much cheaper than anywhere else I have ever seen. $8.99 for nearly two pounds. I stock up on two big bags which gets me through a few months. Next I stop at Uncle Sam's Natural Foods in Troy where they sell delicious dried fruits like papaya, figs, and apricots, not to mention the cheapest organic rolled oats in town. I buy about 10 pounds of oats at a time, but I would love to buy 25 pounds at a time. I go through enough of it to be sure. For a special treat when I'm passing through New Jersey on my way to visit my sister, I stop at the Fairway supermarket (best place I've ever seen to get cheese, olive oil, and lots of other great stuff) and vary my supply with more interesting fruits like kiwi and mango. Of course, if you can't find these then any oats, nuts, and fruits will do just fine.
I'll wrap up by saying that a great source of happiness and contentment in my life right now comes from the comfort in knowing that I am eating a very filling, satisfying, and nutritious breakfast every morning thanks to Muesli. Muesli truly is the Ultimate Breakfast.
The forecast was calling for winds up to 25 miles-per-hour. Not to be dissuaded, we headed out early this morning. The weather was reasonably warm, and got progressively windier throughout the day but was not too bad. We fished our usual spot, and did not have a lot of luck. We caught a couple of medium-small perch, a bass, and a few sunfish. We were operating on the idea that it's early in the season and not really cold, so the fish should be in the shallower water. After finding fewer fish than normal, M started augering holes in deeper water. As we got out to 20+ feet of water we started finding more fish, just when it was time to pack everything up and head home. Here is a picture of me holding our smallest catch of the day:
I found an awesome recipe for Greek Melitzanosalata (Eggplant Salad). I particularly liked how they expressed the importance of grilling the eggplants to give it a nice smoky flavor. The recipe really came together today. Yesterday I built a firepit in the backyard with some rocks a friend was looking to get rid of.
Meanwhile, on my way home from work on 8th Street in Troy, the CDCG's Youth Powered Farm has been providing me with the freshest, most convenient, and affordable produce in town. Today they had small eggplants for sale, which I bought (among other things). I fired up the pit, let the flames die down, and threw the eggplants into the coals. The resulting Melitzanosalata was a great success.
I ran the Moreau Lake 15k Trail Run at Moreau Lake State Park today. This was my first barefoot trail race, and what a great race it was! 35 people ran the 15k. The price was reasonable, and the trails were long and intense. The run consisted of a steep (that is an understatement) loop through absolutely perfect wilderness. Every step was covered with roots, rocks, sticks, and leaves. The ungroomed trails showed little erosion, with no signs of overuse.
Looking around me at the starting line at the Moreau Lake Beach, there wasn't a single person there that you would want to mess with. The average age was much higher than a typical road race. In most races there is a smattering of all sorts of different people, but in this race it looked like a single unified team, Team Intense. I went the wrong way within 10 seconds of the race, and I got my first shout of, "that's what I get for following you" from a familiar face in the group. I found myself constantly asking, "Which way?!?" to the people around me at every intersection.
The steepest section of the race occurs in the first few miles and is called the "Staircase of Death", a steep, rocky, and looong climb. I managed to miss the Staircase of Death, and instead ran up an identical yet less-travelled Staircase of Lost People, followed by two unsuspecting victims. After reaching the top and proceeding for far too long, it became clear that we had gone the wrong way and eventually proceeded all the way back from whence we came. I don't imagine that the Staircase of Death has ever been such a welcome sight as it was for us because now at least we were going the right way.
After the staircases, it felt to me like the hill just kept going up and up. I should have listened to one of the front-runners when he said that he knows that the first section is horrible. What he didn't say was that the rest of the race wasn't much easier. There was the unmistakable sense that miles were moving very slowly, while time flew by. A few short miles into the race I already felt pretty worn out. I have done a 15k road race this year where I felt like a super hero from start to finish. During this race, I felt perfectly humble by the time I had completed the first 5k. I was tired and slowing, and my feet were politely requesting mercy.
A notable phenomenon that only happens in a trail run and not in a road race occurs because leading the way and finding the trail is slower than following. So what ends up happening is that the person in front will build up a couple of people behind him. As soon as you pass someone, you become the slow one and people pile up behind you. You can feel the distracting pressure of the people behind you. I should be focusing going *my* speed, but instead I'm going a little faster, much like when someone is tailgating in the car. I know I shouldn't let it affect me but it does.
My arrival at the only aid oasis brought the pain of knowing how much it took out of me to get to the halfway point in the race. I grabbed a few half-cups of water and proceeded on my way. The remaining course provided new challenges. Running downhill barefoot is really tough. On uphill and flat terrain, it is easy to play with your momentum to maintain a solid forward thrust. On downhill terrain, your best slow-down method involves reverse friction on the foot-bottoms, something my feet are definitely *not* conditioned for. Going out-of-control fast is not an option, because one fast heavy footfall in the wrong place would really smart. Dropping speed significantly is the only option, and still feels too fast.
Another difficulty while running barefoot is caused by the fact that I am hyperfocused on the ground in front of me, carefully avoiding obstacles. There isn't a moment to spare to look up at where I'm actually going making it really easy to lose the trail. I lost it again on the second half, and once it's lost it's hard to commit to turning around. Eventually after not seeing any pink trail markers indicating the race direction for far too long, I turned back to find a group of runners going the right way.
As I boldly ran past one person on the trail, she said, "see you at the gravelly section". She knew well that an upcoming section of nasty gravel was going to slow the barefoot guy to a crawl, and she was right. The gravelly section was tough on my now-sensitive feet, and she cruised past me while I whimpered my way across. Fortunately it didn't last very long, and soon we were at the final stretch of normal flat footpath, where it felt good to unleash the fast in me even if it was only for a short bit before happily crossing the finish line for chats, fruits, water, and a much-needed hug.
Several dirt piles pimpled a friend's Long Island lawn. It turns out that the mounds are nests burrowed by cicada killer wasps. These two-inch-long wasps look intimidating but are generally not dangerous. The males are aggressive, but stingerless while the females have large stingers but are not protective of their nests like the bees and wasps that I'm used to. The stinger's primary purpose is to paralyze cicadas to bury with a wasp egg. The cicada serves as food for the grub when it emerges from the egg in a day or two. The following picture shows the cicada killer wasp burrowing a hole in the lawn, preparing to deposit a cicada and egg into the nest.
The wasps dig impressively large dirt mounds, and fly around with cicadas twice their weight. Impressive little workers, these killers.