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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

September 1

For some reason, I decided that this week I really want to pour on the hours. Last week, I trained just over 20 hours and felt pretty good. So this week, I want to try for close to 25 hours and see what happens. My goal is to see how far I can push myself before I start to crack. This will give me a good idea of the shape I am in. So with that in mind, I decided to add a second workout today, even though I didn't have on scheduled. After rollerskiing for just under two hours this morning, I felt pretty good, so after work, I went for an hour run. Not a ton of training today, but the best way to get a huge week is to do a few more sessions, not just lengthen the existing ones.

September 3

A week ago, someone said to me, "I can't wait for fall. It's almost here." At the time, it was 80 degrees and perfect midsummer weather. Fall was the furthest thing from my mind, stored right behind those stupid Automatic Reply cards I get from Columbia House. But as soon as September 1st hit, the weather changed immediately. It has been about 60 degrees for the past couple days and I even had to scrape frost off my windshield yesterday. The chilly bite in the air did have me kind of looking forward to cool fall days and the snow to follow. That was until today, when I had to do a 30 minute pace workout in the rain and 55 degrees. Now I remember why I don't look forward to Fall (unless I am in the East with the foliage). The pace was a good workout though. It was nearly all uphill, and the idea was to go hard, but not quite race pace. I thought I skied well and had to fight the urge to turn it up a notch as I neared the end. I felt really good and was happy with the workout. The only bummer is that I was cold when I finished, so I didn't get in the hour of distance I had planned. This puts a minor crimp in my "huge week" plans.

September 5

King's Peak!

If you have read any journal entries from my long workouts recently, you know that disaster has followed me and my training buddies everywhere we go. Lost hikers and bikers caught in thunderstorms seems to be the norm. A few of us were sitting around the other day and realized that every workout we have done over three hours in the past month+ has had some sort of crisis. We decided that there was only one way to break out of this troublesome pattern. And how would we do it you ask? By staying closer to home? By going for a shorter amount of time? By cutting out long workouts all together? Hardly. The only reasonable way to break the bad chain of events was to do an adventure so long, so hard, so far from home, and so epic that we could run our bad luck into submission. Made sense to us anyway. With this in mind, we looked for the highest, most remote peak we could find. King's Peak was just what we were looking for. At 13,528 ft, it is the highest mountain in Utah. It is also located in the heart of the Uinta Wilderness. This hike is normally done as a three day backpacking trip. It was exactly what we were looking for in a run. We knew people who had done it in one day, so it wasn't too big a deal, but we were excited for an adventure nonetheless.

When the group was finally assembled, there were five of us who were up to the challenge: Eric Maas, Andrew Johnson, Gaelan Brown, Chris Shaner, and me. It is about a two hour drive to the trailhead from Park City, so we decided that rather than get up at a god-awful hour, we would drive to the trailhead on Saturday night and sleep in our vans (our campsite to the right). It was kind of a funny scene. One van was a slick new US Ski Team van (thanks to Andrew, Mr. US Development Team) and the other was an old pea-green VW camper. People couldn't tell if we were Olympic athletes or stoners who took a wrong turn after the last Phish concert. Anyway, Andrew and I had the unfortunate experience of trying to sleep on the floor of a Chevy Astro in 30 degree weather. Not only did I not bring a sleeping pad, but I picked the wrong time to find out that my 15 year-old sleeping bag no longer provides much warmth (Note to self: Get a new sleeping bag). As cold as I was in my bag, I was in no mood to crawl out of my bag at 7:00 am when I saw that the windows were all covered in a layer of ice. The sun had not yet come up over the ridge and the temperature was still below freezing. Eventually, we all got up, put on all the clothes we had with us, and ate a breakfast of hot oatmeal and bagels. We then put all the necessities in our packs: lots of XL-1 sports drink, PowerBars, bagels w/ pepperoni and cheese, headlamps, matches, maps, camera, iodine tablets, sunscreen, Swiss Army knife, toilet paper, and other good stuff. We also had to make sure we had room for all the extra clothes we were wearing but would soon take off. By the time we hit the trail, it was 8:30am. We signed in at the trailhead register and noticed that someone else had signed in earlier this morning, intending to do it in one day. "We've got ourselves a rabbit," I thought to myself.

The trip was just under 30 miles round trip on the out-and-back trail. The first ten miles was gradual uphill taking us from 9,400 ft at the trailhead to 12,000 ft at Dollar Lake which is a popular campsite for those who choose to do the trip as an overnight. It was a great trail for running - nice and wide, with minimal rocks and roots to trip you up. As we ran, our discussion centered mainly on how we need to do something like this every once in a while. Some coaches might tell you that it is too long, too high, or not good ski training. Sure, it might not be the most ski-specific training, but it is certainly good aerobic training. While two of us on the trip, Andrew and I, have aspirations of making the US SKi Team and skiing in the Olympics, that is not a singular focus. We also want to have fun, so that regardless of our ski results, we will have had some great adventures getting to that point. Someone also brought up that you ski faster when you are happy anyway, which is a very good point. One of the main reasons that I am a ski racer is so that I can take off and do something like this at the drop of a hat. After just about two hours of discussion, we came out of the trees to the huge meadow at Dollar Lake and were greeted with our first good view of the summit. In the picture to the right, King's Peak is the peak in the middle, kind of in the background. Yup, that picture was taken today, Sept. 5, and there was a good 3-4 inches of snow on the mountain. From here the trail goes to the left, up Gunsight Pass, which is in between the dark mountain and the leftmost white peak in the picture. However, from the top of that pass, the trail drops down 600 ft and then turns around to climb back up to King's. It had been recommended to me by a couple of people to take a shortcut up through Anderson Pass (directly in front of King's in the picture) to avoid losing the elevation. There is no trail here, but supposedly it was easy enough to climb up the rockslide. We quickly decided that this was the way to go, even though the climb looked pretty steep. After a short snack break to let Eric and Chris catch up, we cut across the meadow and started to ascend the slope. It was indeed steep (about 45 degrees, we think) and the new snow made it even more treacherous. We were climbing on all fours, knowing that if we slipped and started to slide, we could very well end up at the bottom wrapped around a rock in a matter of seconds. It took Andrew, Eric and myself about 45 minutes to make it to the top of the pass. Chris, who was doing extremely well considering she had just come up from sea-level two days before, and Gaelan were a bit slower but still making good time. The view from the pass was incredible. We could see to the north and to the east, and even without a cloud in the sky, we couldn't see anything but blue lakes, green trees and white mountains. Beautiful wilderness., except for the steady stream of hikers headed up the real trail towards the summit. There must have been over one hundred people hoping to summit today, and most of them were just ahead of us. Eric waited at the pass for Gaelan and Chris to finish off Anderson's slope, but Andrew and I couldn't wait. We knew that if we made decent time, we could make it to the top in under 4 hours of actual hiking time. Add to that the long line of hikers in front of us who needed to be passed, and we had a mission. We took off and left Maas to play responsible trip leader. Within 15 minutes, we were on the final ridge to the top and passing people at, to be honest, an embarrassing rate. I was four hours into this expedition and I was just beginning to really exert myself and it felt good. I was really enjoying passing all the campers in their jeans and heavy hiking boots (Side Note: When someone is preparing for an overnight backpacking trip, what possesses them to think, "Hmm, I think I'll climb a 13,000 ft mountain in jeans"?). Before I knew it, I had dropped Andrew, who was being a bit more conservative and considering that we were all higher than we had ever been and that we still had half the trip ahead of us. I didn't consider these factors and fired up the last 500 vertical feet. When I reached the top, I was feeling pretty lightheaded and out of breath. After touching the summit plaque, I took a quick seat so I wouldn't fall off the vertical cliff to the west. Andrew, Eric, Chris, and Gaelan all arrived individually shortly thereafter. We relaxed on top for an hour or so, eating most of our food and drinking most of the water we had left. We took some pictures, listened to a few men discuss how this was their 42nd high peak (meaning that they have been to the highest point in 42 states), and impressed a few hikers ourselves when they found out we had started from the trailhead this morning.

By now it was 2:00pm and we figured to have at least a three hour climb down, so we started on our way. We decided that it was too risky to go down Anderson's Pass, so we compromised and cut along the ridge to Gunsight Pass, rather than follow the trail down and then up again. This was the way that over half the hikers were going. The first hour of descent was kind of slow. We were navigating rocky slopes and snow, stopping frequently to take off clothes and waiting for the rest of our group. We walked almost the whole way from the summit to the meadow by Dollar Lake. After reloading our water from a stream near the lake, Andrew and I decided that we wanted to run the rest of the way. We took off at a pretty good pace and the miles started to fly by. At about 5 O'clock, we could sense that we were getting close, but we were beginning to tire as well. We kept running, hoping that the end would be right around the corner. Instead, what was around one of the corners was a rabid skunk, which took me by surprise. We clearly surprised it too, but instead of raising its tail or running away, it ran right for us. I took a few steps back and then stepped off the trail and went around it. Andrew must have been a little delirious at this point because he just kept retreating, while the skunk chased him. Eventually, something clicked in his mind - just about the time I yelled, "Just go around it!" - and he too went around the skunk. This wouldn't have been that noteworthy an episode, except that we found out later that the same skunk also chased everyone else in our group. About 15 minutes after the skunk encounter, we finally arrived at the trailhead. A quick check of the register showed that the other "One-Dayer" had not signed out yet. With the satisfaction of another great mountain conquered, Andrew and I crawled into our sleeping bags and awaited the rest of the group. Eric and Chris showed up half an hour later and Gaelan was only a half-hour behind them. After a quick jump in the river, we packed up and headed home, with a stop at Pizza Hut to refuel along the way.

All in all, it was possibly the coolest hike I have ever done. The gigantic wilderness was overwhelming, the mountains were spectacular and the trail was perfect. I couldn't believe that the whole trip had run so smoothly. No one got lost or hurt, the weather was perfect (we saw one small cloud all day), and we made it back before dark. Hopefully we have broken the bad luck jinx. I told you this was just what we needed to do.

September 12

After looking at my training log recently, Torbjorn had two major suggestions: More rollerskiing, no more mountain biking. I knew this was coming. I don't mind rollerskiing, but the only decent skiing around Park City is about a half-hour drive away. Since I usually have to work at 10am, it is nearly impossible to get in a good distance rollerski session before work, plus with the incredible biking right out my front door, its just too easy to jump on the bike instead. But I see my coach's point. I'll be on snow in less than two months, so I need to start getting more ski-specific with my training. The good thing about this is that Torbjorn is more enthusiastic about driving a support vehicle on long rollerski sessions than he has ever been. This means that we can do some great point-to-point skis, like we did this morning. It was a terrific ski that started in the small town of Francis and climbed up to Wolf Creek Pass. Its about a 2-2.5 hour ski with brand-new pavement and beautiful scenery. The trees, nice pavement, and support vehicle almost made me think I was back in college, skiing the great roads around Hanover, NH. It was a great ski and I am very happy to have found a place that I actually enjoy skiing.

This afternoon, the US Ski Team was doing a skating speed workout on rollerskis in Deer Valley. The team has been in town for a week. I had hoped to train with them almost daily, but they are doing a lot of altitude testing and I have to work, so things haven't worked out so well.Today was the first time I made it out with them, although Beckie Scott has joined us for a number of rollerski sessions (such as this morning). The speed workout consisted of 15 x 15 seconds, all out. The first 10 were individual, the last 5 mass-start. The best sprinter of the bunch, Justin Wadsworth, had a spectacular crash in his third sprint and was done for the day. This was too bad, because I was enjoying watching him go. His tempo was unreal and I was trying to mimic as best I could. From then on, Ian Harvey and I had the fastest times, since Patrick Weaver, the only remaining US Ski Team member, is more of a long-distance specialist (though he'll kill me for saying that!). When we started the mass -start events, Ian and I went head-to-head in all of them. Each time was the same result- I would start fast and get a slight lead, then Ian would charge just enough to take me at the line. I lost all 5 by a combined time of about a tenth of a second. By the end I was getting frustrated, especially when I broke a pole tip. I was yelling and cursing, frustrated with my equipment and my performance. I don't loose it very often, but I lost it today. I could come up with a hundred excuses - my poles were too long, my skis were slipping, etc, etc, but what it boils down to is that I couldn't pull out the victories and that didn't sit well.

September 17

I apologize for not writing much this month. I have been training a ton, working a lot and preparing for S2K (get ready, its coming. . .). This past week has been easy, but the three weeks before that were all over 20 hours of training. So I've been training so much that I don't have much time to write about it. But today was a notable workout so I'll take the time. Today I joined the U.S. Ski Team and the University of Utah Ski Team for a run in Mill Creek canyon. We had a huge group of twenty people, including such notables as Kristina Joder, Nina Kemppel, Justin Wadsworth, Rob Whitney, Andrew Johnson, Eli Brown, Pat Casey, Beckie Scott, Pat Weaver, and many others. I can say with confidence that there was no finer training group on the continent today. Despite the high caliber of athletes, the pace of the hike was very mellow. I was afraid that some of the men would push the pace and make us hurt, but it never happened. In fact, for a good part of the run, I was with Nina and Kristina and most of the men were behind us. The run was essentially a three-hour social hour, except that the only cocktails were water and XL-1. The only thing that dampened our spirits a bit was the fact that it was cold, rainy, and windy most of the way. But still a great run and good chance to catch up with a lot of people we hadn't seen in a while.

September 25

I was very pleased with my results in yesterday's IRS race, but I didn't get a chance to enjoy that feeling very long, because I started coming down with a cold last night. After the race, I headed to Salt Lake to work at the Utah Nordic Alliance ski swap. I was there from 3-11pm and didn't get anything to eat or drink during that time. Not the best way to recover from a race. I started to feel a scratch in my throat as the night wore on. When I woke up this morning, I was definitely coming down with something. I had a restless night of sleep, one of those nights where your dreams are so bizarrre and vivid that you wake up thouroughly confused and disturbed. I decided not to train this morning and instead slept until I had to go to work at 10:00 am. I have talked before about sickness being mostly mental and about how I believe that a lot of illnesses can be fought off if you stay positive and do the right things. So today I rested, drank a gallon of orange juice and kept telling myself that I would beat this thing. I didn't feel well all day, but tomorrow I'll have a better idea of whether I am getting better or worse.

September 26

Well, I woke up without a sore throat and though I was very tired, I decided that I was ready to train again. Hopefully, I have beaten this thing. Today, Addison Whitworth, Eric Maas, Scott Loomis and I went for a great run in the Uintas. It was a 2.5 hour run that involved running through the woods without a trail for about an hour, but at least this time we had planned to do this. The foliage here in Utah is just about at its peak, which made the run and the drive to the run beautiful. Coming from New Hampshire, I just assume that the foliage anywhere else is pathetic, but I was impressed with the colors today. Its not quite NH, but the bright yellow Aspens have a beauty all their own.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.