Friday, February 24, 2017

Runner's Bookshelf: "The Road to Sparta" by Dean Karnazes

Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat. Dean Karnazes is a certified badass. Calling him a mere ultra marathoner seems inadequate -- I mean, is there something higher than "ultra"? And he is deservedly a legend in the running community.

His new book, The Road to Sparta: Reliving the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Footrace (phew!) tells the story of one of Karno's greatest accomplishments: completing the Spartathlon, a 153-mile run from Athens to Sparta, in 36 hours.

Let that sink in. That's 4.25mph. That's a 14:07 minute mile. Ever mile. No stops. For 36 hours. You want a break? Better move faster. If you miss the time cutoff your race is over.

Add in that he completes the race while imbibing only traditional foods, including cured meats, olives, figs, and a sweetened sesame paste called "pasteli". Or at least he tries to eat -- turns out he was unable to stomach food for the second half of the run. Pass me the olives...

Karnazes also shares stories of his Greek heritage, and tells the story of Pheidippides' run from Marathon to Athens... and, more importantly, Pheidippides' run from Athens to Sparta.

I thought it interesting that he feels Pheidippides's accomplishment -- running from Athens to Sparta -- is under appreciated by historians. I think he probably means unappreciated by most people, to be honest. Even in my freshmen "Introduction to the Ancient World" my decidedly non-athletic professor told us about Pheidippides, and -- though most people associate him only with the marathon, the he completed much longer runs as a hemerodromos, including from Athens to Sparta.

I think most non-historians only think of the marathon because, well, most people know what a marathon is, even if they're not always sure how long it is. And more people complete the New York City Marathon in an average year than have EVER completed the Spartathlon. But I digress.

While Karnazes tells a good story -- indeed, it's part of the reason he inspires such devotion in his fans, some of whom stalk him en route -- his prose takes on a distinctly Tyrian purple hue:
" body was slowly moving beyond fatigue and exhaustion into a meditative transcendence. Step by step, I was departing from my corporeal body, losing my sense of identity, and stepping further into the providence of spirit. It was a most glorious dismantling of self. My feet still clipped along, my arms still swung back and forth, and my chest still heaved, but my mind had largely relinquished jurisdiction. I was at once both vulnerable and powerful, a physical presence moving through the earth, though largely defenseless and exposed. An ultramarathon is a way to engage intimately with the world and at the same time escape from it."
But, yes, it's forgivable; he had been running for 26 hours at that point... and it's clear that Karnazes' fans LOVE it.

Filled with interesting factoids and inspirational achievements, Road to Sparta made me want to lace up and run. Not an ultra or anything like that, mind you, but at least to get back outside.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hike of the Week, Part B : Ebey's Landing Bluff Trail

After the previous day's successful hike, we headed back out early on Sunday morning, hitting the road before 8 and somehow making the 8:30 ferry from Mukilteo -- woot!

We were hoping for stormy weather because we wanted to test out our Gore-tex ... jackets, trousers, the lot. Driving north on Whidbey Island through the drizzle it seemed promising. We got out of our car at the Prairie Overlook to this sky:

Okay, okay, that was just bad lighting. But here's a panorama. Seriously cloudy... but the rain had stopped.

What's more, it looked like the sky was getting brighter. Amusing that a day when we wanted rain stayed dry... We did, however, bundle up against the wind...

We set off from Prairie Overlook along the Ebey Prairie Trail.

Ebey's Landing is named after Isaac Ebey, who settled here in 1850 and claimed land for his family (including his father, Jacob... who named his claim Sunnyside...)

We would be hiking out to the bluff, then along the bluff, then down to the water and back in a big loop.

Amusingly, this trail is described as having a "mercifully short gravel access road". Now, look, it's not as if this is an 8-lane superhighway... just a nice, flat bit of gravel.

The trail ran next to a field that, apparently, will grow alfalfa soon. This sign still makes me laugh. (And, no, before you ask, they don't grow buckwheat...)

The field to the left had recently been plowed and looked rich and fertile.

We got to the bluff and, as recommended, turned right. With a very strong wind at our backs, we headed up the hill. The path on the ridge was super smooth, but pretty narrow and, in parts, had a steep drop-off down the left-hand side.

Between the gusting wind and the steep slope, Wil chose to use his walking pole. Smart choice!

We could look down and see Perego's Lake below. (Or is it a lagoon?)

We only met a handful of people on the trail... and luckily none when it was especially slender!

We couldn't see anyone on the beach below us, but at least could tell that there was a path and we'd be able to walk back along it.

When we reached the end of the lake, the trail split and we headed down to the beach. The trail marking was a little weird, with the sign being a few yards after the fork, evidently in an attempt to stop people using a shortcut. But we soldiered on. When we got to the first switchback the edge had been slightly washed away, which probably looked scarier than it was, but we just stuck to the uphill side of the hairpin and kept going. That said, you'll note there are no photographs during this phase...

Here at the top end of the lake, you can see how high up we were. Seriously.

In case you were wondering, yes, it was still super windy down here. So windy that I got blown over a bit while taking a panorama. Note the black edge in the top right of this photo:

The sky and the light kept shifting, and we walked alongside the lake. Or lagoon.

We wondered whether it's salty or fresh ... but it looked a bit murky so we didn't try it. I've since read it described as "saltwater-influenced" ... whatever that means...

Looking across the lake you can see the trail on the bluff, and some tiny hikers.

When we got to the lower end of the lake, we crossed over onto the beach for a bit. While walking here we saw a seagull suddenly rise up out of the driftwood with a wriggling beastie in his beak. I had no idea that gulls hunt animals like that!

Though there were a few people we could see behind us, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. Glorious!

We got to the parking area at Ebey's Landing and headed up the stairs back to the bluff.

Just a couple of hundred yards of gradual elevation gain, and then we were back on the Ebey's Prairie Trail and then back in the car. We made a stop in lovely Coupeville for lunch at Toby's and a bit of shopping.

Another great, giddy, happy day!

Ebey's Landing Hike
5.6 miles
260 feet elevation gain

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hike of the Week, Part A : Wallace Falls

Despite the drizzle, we got up and out before 8am to head north to our hike of the week: Wallace Falls, in Gold Bar.

We had heard that the parking lot gets full quite early in the summer, but at 9am on a drizzly winter Saturday there were only a handful of cars. (However, by the time we were ready to leave, the lot was 80% full ... and all of those NO PARKING BETWEEN SIGNS notices on the road up to the trailhead made sense.

We had decided to hike out to the falls, but I think we will come back another day for another hike out to the lake.

Our destination: the Upper Falls viewpoint, 2.75 miles away. We had a slight hesitation at seeing the trail designation as "difficult", but figured we would just set off and turn back if we didn't like the trail or the conditions.

The trail started off as a wide, bland, gravel path.

We walked under the crackling power lines for a couple of hundred yards -- yes, we could hear the crackling. Is that because it was drizzling? Or does it always sound like that?

our usual view, I suppose...

But soon we turned into the forest.

We carried on through the forest before reaching a fork in the trail. We could choose to follow the longer, gentler railroad grade trail, or we could follow the Woody Trail. As the Woody Trail followed the river more closely, we chose it. (Of course!)

Amusing: "Woody Trail" isn't a description ... it's named after Senator Frank Woody, who helped fund the Youth Development Conservation Corps program in Washington State.

No mountain bikes on the Woody Trail!

We caught our first glimpse of the river, 

crossed a bridge across one of the forks

and walked deeper into the woods.

We saw the appropriately named "Small Falls"

another view of the Wallace River

and started ascending.

The trail was well maintained and, despite all the rain we've been having, not particularly muddy other than in a few spots.

We pulled off at one viewpoint to see the Olympics in the distance. Nope.

But soon we came to a viewpoint for the lower falls.

Then back on the trail, where we spotted this handsome tree. Or two trees. You decide.

A short climb, and then we popped out at the Middle Falls viewpoint.

Wil at the Middle Falls viewpoint

We took a little break at the Valley Overlook...

Things were a little clearer, but not really....

The last stretch was pretty steep and had some switchbacks.

It was, indeed, "More Difficult".

But, yes, it was worth it.


We watched the water rush over the edge for a bit, had a piece of tofu jerky (yeah, it's actually okay, but I'd marinate it rather than baste it next time...) and enjoyed having the falls all to ourselves.

It's possible to go a little past the falls on a non-maintained -- though decently marked, we've read -- trail. But I think this sign at the trail end says a lot:

"perhaps you are not prepared to continue beyond this point"
Headed up the trail we only passed 4 hikers and saw 5 more coming down. On our way down, however, we started to see more hikers on their way up, and by the time we reached the trailhead we had probably passed 50 people. But even that left us with a lot of quiet woods, mossy rocks, lush ferns, and rushing water.

We got back to the trailhead feeling happy and pleased that we'd gotten up and gone for a hike. As we drove home Wil asked "Where are we going tomorrow?" And, while I hadn't planned on going anywhere until the next weekend, well... you'll have to wait and see. 

Wallace Falls Hike
5.6 miles
1500 feet elevation gain