I speculated about this on Twitter and a few other blogs, but based on the FCC information, a new “Fenix 4” is incoming within the next month (Stainless Steel and Titanium versions).
I have a feeling it is not going to be called the “Fenix 4” however. I’m not sure why I have this feeling, but it seems like that may go a different direction (Fenix HD or Fenix M or something slightly unexpected).
After the announcement of the Suunto Spartan Ultra and the Polar M600, I shall be purchasing both to review and give my impressions. I am also intrigued by the rumors regarding the Apple Watch 2 with GPS, barometric altimeter, better battery and waterproofing… could be quite interesting.
As for blog updates, I know they’ve been sparse the past several months, but am hoping to pick that up a bit with some more regular reviews and thoughts on running and life.
Random life thoughts: I need to be more active throughout the day.
I spent the first 30 years of my life growing out my leg hair. It is quite thick and makes my legs often appear more actually tan. Oh, I have shaved my back and occasionally my chest (IT WAS A PHASE), but never had I ever even considered shaving my legs.
My knee was still sore and not really getting better, despite the rest. It was the Thursday before the race and I was showering before work, thinking about the Chiropractor appointment with Dr. Reinhardt later that day. He had attempted to use K tape a couple times prior, but it never worked quite right because it would stick to my hair on my quad/knee, rather than the skin. I knew what I had to do. Sucking up my pride I trimmed it down really short with clippers. Gulp. Here goes nothing.
Waking up at 2am, I was excited and nervous. Meagan (my wonderful fiancee) was nervous as well, about to be crewing for the first time (in earnest).
Everything made it into the car: 400 containers of potatoes I wouldn’t end up eating, 16 pairs of shorts in case I pooped myself or decided to be stylish and change at every aid station, a spare hydration bladder so we could “hot swap” them out without me even taking off my pack (! that’s such a cool idea….. if we had actually ended up doing it), and more crap than I ever ended up needing.
Driving down to Ontario County Park, my knee started to throb. It was still injured. I knew it. My knee knew it. Mumford and Sons were sort of drowning out the pain.
We arrived to see sleepy camper-runners climbing out of tents as my headlights shined at them. (I’m pretty sure I saw Jeff Green downing some mustard on a crash pad to carb load for the race.)
Little headlamps dancing around near the check-in area, people small talking, frantic last minute runs to the bathroom.
Scott asks everyone to move to the start line as it’s going to start soon. We all take a quick picture.
Suddenly we’re running, making our way through the woods in the dark. My knee is actually not hurting, maybe just a dull ache!
As we made our way to the first aid station (Cutler), I actually caught up to Laura, Jeff, and Chris — making me realize I was going WAY too fast. Chris was talking about hitting a 13:30. I was hoping simply to finish.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 5:1
I remember the road section after Cutler, running a bit too fast, then deciding to walk up the “hill” road section. Laura, Jeff and Chris pushed on ahead.
Thus would begin the theme of the day: somehow staying near Laura, Jeff, and Chris (within minutes of every aid station) but really only running with them for a few minutes.
I remember being so excited for the first crew access aid station. Meagan was there waiting for me, along with the rest of the crew. They all asked about my knee, I mumbled something unintelligible. I remember thinking “I hope they don’t keep asking about my knee all day” but I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t say say anything.
Climbing up into Hi Tor was, well, a thing that we did. It was relentless. But while my knee was only at a dull ache by this point, climbing felt much better than descents still. Unfortunately, this reprieve from my minor knee pain was short lived. Running along the top of Hi Tor was when my knee pain started to be like “OH HEY GUY, MISSED YOU. LET’S BE FRIENDS AGAIN.” I got to run with Brandon for a bit here, we chatted about out respective pre-race injuries and he hustled off on ahead (he would later finish about 1.5 hours before me). This was the point when I remember starting to see Jeff’s parents quite regularly. It was always amazing to see them not only for the support, but also knowing some sort of aid station or road crossing was coming up ahead.
As I closed in on the Hi Tor Aid Station, I started to wonder how far ahead Laura and Jeff were at this point. As I stopped to refill my hydration bladder (which I incorrectly decided not to refill at the last aid station where Meagan and company were) a crowd suddenly arrived. Laura, Jeff, and Rob Feissner were all behind me? I suddenly wondered if I had cut the course (which I was almost positive I hadn’t) — turns out they all missed a turn and were now “behind” me.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 3:1
Okay. Time out for a second. This is a really long race to do a boring blow-by-blow of every section and each aid station. I can only creatively say “I stayed at the aid station for a short time” or “I hiked up the hill at a slow pace”. Let’s change it up.
At some point around mile 20, I stopped thinking about how far we had come and started thinking about how far from the 50k mark and really “how close am I to picking up Jason”. Jason Vidmar, for those of you don’t know him, is one of the most positive, awesome dudes I know. He’s a ridiculously strong runner who likely could have run this race himself, but graciously offered to pace me for the last 23 miles (turned out really 26-ish miles) despite knowing I was injured coming into the race and it could turn out to be an 8 hour death march (see my past blog post about the great range traverse for more information about death marches).
One descent I distinctly remember was into Italy Valley. When we had previewed this section, it looked like someone had bought a brand new chainsaw and bulldozer??, got wasted, and decided to hack through the woods. It was awesome for adventuring; terrible for racing. Somehow Scott and company had cleaned that up with magic and the trail was clear? I don’t know. Dude’s a champ. Anyways, back to this descent. In the beginning of the descent Chris, Feissner and other random people passed me early on. The descents were really starting to hurt so I was taking it slow. I knew Laura and Jeff were behind me, but they didn’t catch me on the descent. Somewhere along this steep and arduous descent, I ran into Travis Money (T$ to the cool kids). Gave a sweaty handshake/highfive, despite him coming in for the fist bump — ain’t nobody got time for that. That descent really hurt. Running into/out of that aid station was the first time I was really like “Okay. Adrenaline is gone. Knee really f-ing hurts.” Somewhere along the way I took Aleve. I knew it was a bad idea, kidney wise (those are an important organ, I think?) but the pain was getting intense and I needed to reduce the inflammation.
One thing I hadn’t planned on, but ended up helping me immensely: taking like no time at the aid stations. I routinely got into aid stations after people and left before them, netting me 5-10 minutes and allowing me to stay up with my friends (hi Laura, Jeff and Chris). Italy Valley was no different. Somewhere in the climb/traverse in Italy Valley, Laura (and then Jeff/Chris) caught up to me — we all chatted for a bit.
Trails roc aid station was awesome. The road section before it sucked big time. It should have been awesome: 1-2 miles of lightly descending roads, perfect to make up some time. Instead it just flippin’ hurt. I didn’t walk, but it still hurt. Barf.
Right around the 50k mark, I was with Laura and Jeff. I remember us being like “holy shit, it’s only like 7:10 and we’re at the 50k point! I bet we can all finish in 15 hours or something!!!11oneone!” In retrospect, I was apparently delusional.
Also, this was the section that was not nearly as fun without Copper/Phillip. And there was a corn field? Hi getting wacked in the face with Corn.
I lost Laura and Jeff quickly. And I thought Chris was ahead of me/us too? Apparently he wasn’t cause he caught me again. This section sucked. It’s one of the “flatter” sections of the course — it’s still pretty hilly — but it’s also one of the more technical sections. Perfect to twist your ankle or trip and land on your face! I hadn’t fell or twisted my ankle yet and I didn’t plan to. I just slowly plodded along.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 3:2
Next thing I really remember is seeing Jeff’s parents again (YAY) and knowing that Bud Valley (and Jason) were really close.
I saw Mike & Mike (Welden and Valone) as I descended into Bud Valley. They cheered me on a bit, checked on my condition (I think people had stopped asking about my knee shortly after this — they knew it was bad and wasn’t getting better).
It was awesome to see Meagan. Just seeing her face made me feel better. I felt bad that I stayed in Aid Stations for such a short amount of time. It was working well though. Jason was ready to rock and roll. We took off and he caught me up on what had been going on with the leaders, how he had biked from the finish to Bud Valley (like 20miles? shit.) We talked about the aid stations and how Meagan was doing. A couple miles after picking him up, some random runner came up to us and asked if we had any athletic tape — we didn’t and I asked him if everything was okay. He looked at me strangely and said it was for me — the back of my ankles where my shoes stopped were rubbing raw and he was like “doesn’t that hurt?” I honestly had no idea anything was even wrong. I just shrugged, thanked him, and we continued.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 2:3
Everything now started to slow down while simultaneously speeding up. I started walking a lot more. Jason was ever encouraging. The knee pain was starting to get intense. Laura and Mike passed us looking super strong, I can’t remember if Jeff was with them. I later found out he had thrown up and his stomach wasn’t doing well. Laura looked sad. I felt sad for both of them. I felt sad that I wasn’t moving nearly as well as they were. But, I still wasn’t in a “dark” place per se. Just realizing my predicament.
We eventually got to the next aid station, Glen Brook. Meagan was there! We chatted for a second. I ate some things. Said “see you in 8 miles!” and then left. 8 miles was the longest stretch without an aid station. It would be more than 2 hours until I saw here again. Within minutes of leaving the aid station, we pulled out my hand dandy map and realized we wouldn’t see her in 8 miles: that aid station had no crew access. It was going to be 13+ miles. 3.5-4.5 hours (at my current pace 3.5.. but who knows if I’d slow. Hint: I slowed. ). We also started to realize that it might literally be dark by the time we got there. We hadn’t grabbed my headlamp from Meagan. Jason, the superhero that he is, had planned for this and brought an extra.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:3
I knew this was going to be a tough section. There was the another huge climb. The knee pain was starting to get bad. This was when the scariest event of the day occurred. I was climbing over a downed tree and used one of the broken off limbs on it as a brace, putting my full weight on it. As I climbed over, the rotted out branch snapped and free fell onto the log, landing on another broken off branch. The pain in my ass was immediate and insanely intense. I stood up immediately to assess the situation. I got light headed, almost threw up from the pain. Felt around, there was no blood. It had not impaled me. I must have hit it at just the right angle. I was inches from being impaled on butthole by a broken tree branch (this is not a sentence I ever wish to utter again). Jason, who is almost always positive, was even concerned and stated as such. We were good though. My butt cheek was incredibly sore and hurt with each step, but at least it made my right knee hurt less (relatively speaking)? That was an unintended benefit, so I guess it was cool. It was a short lived victory, as my left knee decided it felt left out. It quickly joined the fray.
If my right knee was like someone taking a lighter to my knee on every step of a descent, my left was a blow torch. It made my knee pain thus far seem like child’s play. Shit.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:4
Let’s take another timeout to address how awesome of a pacer Jason was. He was always encouraging when I would actually run (as opposed to more frequent walking). Would once in a while check in to see if I wanted to run, but no too often as he knew that would get old. Never really asked about my pain, but listened to me complain. Had no qualms (at least vocally) about walking for almost 8 hours with me.
At some point after the BHB aid station, on a huge hill, we saw Chris (and Dave – his awesome pacer). I yelled up to him. This must have lit a fire under his ass because they took off. The descent down the backside of said huge hill was the worst of the race (so far). We even tried (unsuccessfully) to fashion large sticks into poles, but it wasn’t really helping much. I descended that hill significantly slower than I ascended the other side.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:6
As we started our descent into Urbana, it started to get dark. We had been playing the math game a lot. Initially, I was hoping for 15:30-16:00. Which turned into 16:00-16:30. Now I was starting to think “maybe I can get around 17 hours?”. We were moving slowly. I was starting to miss Meagan intensely. I hadn’t seen her in hours now. We still had 3-4 miles to go. I was still 1-1.5 hours from seeing her. The descent was long and slow into Urbana. We started estimating that we’d be there by 8:30. This meant more like 17-17.5 hours. Still well under the cutoff, however.
I knew Jeff was behind us (hoping he was going to catch us soon) and Laura/Mike and Chris/Dave were ahead of us. I didn’t know how far either were. I was still so confused that I was so close to everyone, despite being sure I was in such worse shape than them. Very fitting though, I suppose. My training partners were almost all nearby.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:15
The moon was breathtaking as darkness grew around us. It was red and hovering over Mt Washington. Perfect.
As we got to the fields near Urbana, I became elated. I was going to see Meagan again, finally. I was close to the finish (ha! that was a lovely, incorrect assumption). As I pulled into Urbana, I saw Chris and Dave. They were closer than I expected. Jason and I refueled for the huge hike and took off. I put on some Mumford and Sons for the ascent.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:10000
With renew strength, we ascended the 900ft+ faster than I had during previews. I was excited and attacked the climb with all the strength I had left. Making it up in under 20min/mile pace on a steep climb, I felt great. This would not last. The traverse along the top was awful. The pain was excruciating. My filter was mostly gone by then and I was full out wincing and moaning in pain with every step of descent. It was rolling hills. A runner passed us. We didn’t see Chris and Dave’s headlamps behind us. We pushed on. Another runner passed us, saying that the blue trail was 1.5 miles long, which didn’t make sense because we were 3 miles into the 4.5 mile section, with well over a mile to go until we even got to the blue trail. I was confused and saddened by this news. We continued to move, albeit slowly. Somewhere along the way, we realized we were even starting to approach cutoff time, but likely would be okay.
As walked along the road trying to find the blue trail, I was getting quite defeated. Everything hurt, especially my knees (and even more especially my “non-injured” left knee — what the hell). We finally found the trail. This was the only section of the course I hadn’t seen. I barely even remember it now. We continued our death march. Suddenly we heard cheering. Jason said these switchbacks meant we were very close. We now saw headlamps above us. Chris and Dave were right behind on the trail. We made it to the bottom. I saw the finish. I ran with every once I had.
CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 10000000:1
I was done. I had finished before the cutoff. I hugged Meagan. I hugged my friends. I cried. Laura had just finished minutes before me. Chris was right behind me. Strat was there (sorry my friend!), as was Jeff (he must not have made it in time, yay for him being okay though). We all celebrated. I sat down. I drank chocolate milk.
This race was nothing like I had ever experienced before. Despite knowing the course well, it was harder than I could have imagined. I’d like to think if I wasn’t injured, I would have been able to do better, but seeing my closest friends and training partners have similar performances to my own, I really don’t know.
Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out though — I got to spend 18 hours in the woods with my closest friends, the amazing Rochester running community, and my (soon-to-be) wife. I worked harder than I ever have. I experienced more pain that I thought I could. I completed a race like no other I had seen before.
This is going to be one hard life experience to top.
Note from the editor: As of this publishing, it was already topped by my wedding to Meagan McNelis (now Bertrand) 8 days after the race. Still, my second coolest experience ever.
The main reason: The Polar V800 ignores iOS’ “Do Not Disturb” mode for notifications. That is a complete deal breaker.
Other things that annoy me:
– When syncing from your phone, it can take a while (minutes, hours?) to sync the map data to Polar Flow Web (it still hasn’t from yesterday… so who knows if it ever will — I remember this being an issue last time I had a Polar watch too)
– With the Polar V800, you can’t acquire GPS signal if you are moving. I’m sure this is with good intentions, to get the best GPS signal, but no other brand does it and it is EXTREMELY annoying.
– I’m not sure if it’s my cable, my V800, or my computer (or some combination therein), but I have the most difficult time getting it to sync with Polar FlowSync on the computer with a USB cable. It works about 2% of the time.
– The V800 randomly (quietly) chirps with no indicators/notifications on the screen
– Coming from Suunto/Garmin, the “Start” button is not also the “Pause/Stop” button, but in fact the “Lap” button. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve used a Polar M400/V800, I’ve hit the “Lap” button at the end of an activity before actually pausing/ending it with the “Back” button.
So, going forward, there is going to probably be no regular cadence to my blog, but I am going to start posting my thoughts related to my experience with GPS watches, fitness trackers, and other fitness technology. There probably won’t be any formal “reviews”, but there will be nuggets of info related to specific things with the watches.
There will still be an occasional race report here and there, thoughts on training, updates on my running streak, and hopefully more interesting things.
Right now, here are the watches/gadgets in my possession (although with reselling, testing, etc., this changes on a regular basis):
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
(outgoing) Suunto Ambit3 Sport
Epson Runsense SF-710S
(incoming) Fitbit Surge
Polar H7 heart rate sensor
Other watches/trackers I’ve tried/owned over the past 18-24 months that I no longer have:Garmin FR410, Garmin Fenix2, Garmin FR220, Garmin 920xt, Polar M400, Fitbit One, Fitbit Force, Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Surge (again), Suunto Ambit2, TomTom Runner, TomTom Cardio. It gives me a bit of perspective related to GPS watches and fitness trackers which I hope to use to better compare/contrast different watches.
For the moment, let’s ignore that I haven’t posted in like 18 months, I’ll address that at a later time.
Ignorance was truly bliss in this instance, as had I known how unbelievably hard this traverse was going to be, I would been much more nervous going into it.
This was my first real trip to the Adirondacks and I had never really done any hiking outside of walking/running up some steep hills in the woods on some somewhat technical trail. Our first day out hiking took us from ADK Loj through Avalanche Pass up to Iroquois to Algonquin and back down to the ADK Loj. This was definitely the most challenging hike I had done to date with over 4000ft elevation gain across almost 14 miles. It was much more technical than I had imagined – there was scrambling across some boulders, a lot of climbing over obstacles, but all around felt pretty manageable despite being 8.5 hours. I was starting to worry about the fatigue level for the “big” hike the next day, but figured I could make a gut call in the morning as to whether I was too sore to attempt this much longer (22-24 miles) but, in my mind, pretty similar hike. Oh sweet summer child.
After falling asleep close to midnight, I started to hear everyone waking up at 3am. I finally got up to my alarm at 3:30am and secretly hoped I would be too tired to get out of my sleeping bag, but that was not the case. I sat up groggily and my next exit point would be if my ankles and body were way too sore when I finally stood up. I eagerly got to my feet to find out I really wasn’t sore at all. Shit. Okay, well, I guess I’m doing this.
Smart me had decided to pack my things the night before so the morning would be easy. I had packed more food than I thought necessary and brought an “obscene” amount of water with almost 170 ounces. With my pack topping out and somewhere over 15lbs, we got into the car and drove to the 30 minutes to Rooster Comb trail head in Keene Valley. While waiting for everyone to use the facilities, a line of light-less high speed State Troopers blew past the trail head, presumably in pursuit of the one remaining escaped inmate who had been hiding out in the area. Cool. Probably not dangerous or terrifying at all.
After saying our goodbyes to Ron, we headed on our way in what felt very Lord of The Rings-esque – six travel companions setting out on an unknown journey. I knew from the GPS files and discussions with the group that the first 2+ miles were a steady ascent almost 2000ft, but it was early on and the legs were fresh, so we made our way pretty quickly. After going off course a bit (accidentally) to Rooster Comb summit (almost), we kept our ascent going to Lower Wolf Jaw and then to Upper Wolf Jaw. It was at this point I started to realize I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. This wasn’t just walking/hiking up some really steep paths. At points we’d get to what looked like a dead end, only to realize it was actually a rock wall we’d have to climb up using little juts of rock and roots to get ourselves 15-20 feet up higher than where we were at the moment. When we finally reached our first high peak of the day, Upper Wolf Jaw, I was impressed with how awesome the views were but also a bit terrified when we looked across the horizon to see all the peaks we had in store. After some pictures and a brief rest, we continued on our way.
After descending much further than we would have liked (apparently you go down.. then up.. then down.. then up.. a LOT in hiking high peaks, who knew?), we ascended to Armstrong. Our fearless leader Jeff then informed us we’d start knocking off high peaks really quickly now. After chatting with a gentleman who was also attempting the traverse that day, he mentioned something to Jeff about how fun something to do with Saddleback was. Jeff laughed and said he was excited for it (note: Jeff likes crazy things and this started to make me nervous). I wasn’t sure whether he was talking about the ascent or descent, but kept that little nugget in my brain.
The ascent of Gothics was pretty unbelievable and also very challenging. The literal mountain climbing aspect had started to become more regular and was also beginning to challenge my core and upper body strength and endurance, as those are things I don’t work on nearly enough. Summiting Gothics was pretty out of this world. With the weather perfect, the 360 degree views were just breathtaking.
Kyle had talked about the “cables” on Gothics and how excited he was to do them, so I wasn’t incredibly surprised by them, but that didn’t make the descent any easier. Looking down the insanely graded rock face was a bit overwhelming, but holding onto the ropes made it more than manageable. Jeff did it “all natural” and quickly descended sans-rope – and impressive feat that made me cringe and worry for his life several times, but the dude is solid and descended like a pro.
I knew Saddleback was up next and remembered the exchange between Jeff and “random guy” so I kept inquiring as to whether maybe the Gothics descent was what he meant, or maybe this random gnarly climbing wall on ascent up Saddleback, or this, or that. Jeff remained relatively quiet and didn’t really answer. In retrospect, I should have realized this was a bad sign. The ascent up Saddleback was moderate and more than once I thought we were close to the summit only to realize “oh shit, it’s still way up there”. We rested for a quite a bit on Saddleback and ate some lunch. Calm before the storm.
Looking at Basin across the sky, we started to descend. After seeing a pretty steep cliff, we had to go through some brush that made it seem like we were ascending for a second before turning and facing a huge, steep rock face down. It seemed like I had missed something, this was a cliff, not a trail. But nope, you had to go down that. The hour or so is sort of a blurry mix of insane descents. Trying to figure out how to drop down with dying. Helping another random group of people descent. It literally felt like a series of individual insane challenges rather than a descent. Jeff looked to be in his glory. He was barreling down things. Although, on one of the “challenges” he looked as us all very seriously and was like, “Don’t try going that way, it’s too dangerous, just go this way.” I knew shit was pretty serious then because Jeff had no qualms about much of anything until that point. I didn’t even look at the “dangerous” way down.
After surviving the Saddleback descent, we had a ways to go before hitting Haystack and Little Haystack. Jeff had built them up to be incredibly hard and mentally challenging (I’m not starting to think he did that to distract us from the Saddleback descent). It was a long climb up to junction point where we would do the Haystack out and back. Everyone but me dropped their packs here (I didn’t want to abandon my water) and we climbed up to Little Haystack. Look across to Haystack was intimidating, but the climb actually turned out to be moderate. The views on this climb were arguably the best of the day (maybe save Marcy, but I don’t know). The Haystack summit was a complete 360 degree view. I don’t think words or pictures can really describe it accurately. The wind had started to howl a bit and it was cloudy, but I could have stayed there longer. We descended relatively quickly and made it back to our packs. After some brief pit stops and discussing our options (AKA possibly not doing Marcy since it was an out and back), we started to rapidly descend.
I feel I should take a time out to discuss what the non-rock wall climbing parts of this trail have been, since I really haven’t mention it thus far. Probably 60-70% of the non-insane climbing is walking over super rocky stream beds that often equates to stepping/jumping from rock to rock for miles on end. Descending on these is probably the worst part of the entire hike. Another 10-20% is rock slabs that, when dry, are pretty manageable and fun. However, when they are wet or mossy, it’s a gamble as to whether you’re going to be perfectly fine or fall on your ass/fall to your death. The remaining small percentage is muddy, rooty, and what I likely would have called “pretty technical trail” before this adventure. Sort of 0SPF-ish or Ontario County Park. That was the easy, baseline part. Yea.
So, back to the descent off Haystack. We descended for probably a half mile before hitting a junction that told us we had 1.3 miles to Marcy, straight up. We knew there was another junction before Marcy that would give us the option to do the out and back (and complete the true traverse) or turn back to camp and cut a mile (and lots of elevation) off our journey. This would mentally weigh on me for the next 45+ minutes on the relentless climb towards Marcy.
Something very strange happened to me on this ascent. It was some the “rock to rock” or “boulder to boulder” climbing but it was on the easier side of the spectrum. It was a good 45min straight climbing at a pretty good grade, almost like climbing stairs for 45 minutes straight. Although I could feel my heart rate increasing, pounding in my chest, my legs weren’t tired nor did they burn. It was the strangest feeling I had ever had. I’m not sure when that began (in retrospect, I don’t remember them burning on climbs much at all), but this was the first time I had noticed. Every time I had done huge climbing in previous runs, hikes, etc, my legs ALWAYS burned while power hiking up a hill. Always. It’s just how it works. On that climb, nothing burned. Now, that isn’t to say it wasn’t hard, I wasn’t tired, or my feet weren’t absolutely killing me. My calves, quads, hamstrings just no longer felt the burning. It was an amazing feeling.
Finally reaching the junction point, we (Jeff, Danielle, and I) waited for the rest of the crew to finish the climb. I could see from the look on Kyle’s face he was not looking forward to this decision. I later learned this ascent was the darkest place for him on the entire traverse.
Quick sidebar: Kyle, who unlike the rest of the traverse crew, doesn’t run very regularly or do trail ultra running, managed to keep up with us regardless. This was crazy impressive and we later awarded him the MVP award.
In bandaid fashion, we quickly decided just head towards Marcy, because, what the hell. We made it this far and to not finish it would be far worse than the incremental pain and time the addition would provide. The climb to the false summit, then to Marcy was difficult and cold. The grey skies had really set in, it was getting cooler out, and the wind was absolutely howling. Grinding through to the top was amazing though. As we stood on the highest point in New York State, we took a picture together and celebrated a bit. I dropped the “mission accomplished” banner and we started to descend back to the junction that led us toward camp. If only I had realized that we had still had 25% of our journey to go.
The descent off Marcy started alright, but Jason and Jeff made a quick detour back up to offer a headlamp to a couple who were descending (and were definitely going to be in darkness by the time they would reach their camp), but they already had one so it was okay. Laura, Kyle, Danielle and I descended a bit (I slipped and fell on my ass for the first time on the entire traverse) and then waited up for them. Once they got back, we continued our descent. While much less technical than a lot of the journey, we were 14 hours in and the path was mostly the rocky, somewhat treacherous stream bed descent that wears on you. It was almost 8 miles back to camp.
As the daylight wore away and our headlamps clicked on, I started to feel the tiredness set in. With 8.5 hours of hiking, <4 hours of sleep, then 15+ more hours of hiking under my belt, I was reaching a low for the traverse. The miles melted away slowly. The group almost split into 2 smaller groups, with Jeff, Jason and I taking the rear group and just talking about anything to keep the time passing faster. The groups changed several times over those 4.5 hours. I can’t really remember much of what was said. I do remember starting the debate of whether I should run the last mile of the hike that I could continue my running streak in complete earnest. After much discussion, I decided that I had completed a running effort with our journey (some of the ascents were power hiking speed with adjusted pace likely above a running pace) so it counted by default. I also wasn’t even sure if my body could handle running at that point.
We finally reached a junction point that said 2.0 miles to Marcy Dam (which from there was 2 miles to camp). Despite it feeling like an eternity to get there, I realized that meant we were only half way done with the descent. It started to rain lightly. Each step was difficult. Each rock was painful. The path alternated between the easy “relatively technical trail” and “super annoying rocky streambed descent”. I wanted nothing more than for it to change into just the “easy” trail that was after the Marcy Dam.
The order of the group sort of changed a lot over these miles, which was nice to get a chance to chat with everyone a bit. It was a bit of a death march towards home. When we could, we picked up the pace slightly to get home faster, but we couldn’t move much faster than a brisk walk, as our bodies were tired and the trail was hard (even when it was easy.. if that makes sense).
We reached a large stream/stream crossing in the dark and had to navigate across. In retrospect, the dark slippery rocks in the stream/river crossing were undoubtedly quite dangerous. I didn’t really think about it at the time and just casually hopped across. This meant we were within striking distance of the dam.
Crossing the damn was exciting. It meant we were very close to home (maybe 40-50 minutes). The trail started to get much less technical, but it was still not easy to navigate on extremely tired legs and feet. We started to accelerate a bit but were still just hiking along. Maybe a half mile past the damn, as I was looking ahead at the trail, I noticed that it looked relatively clear, possibly almost runnable. Something clicked in my head and with Danielle and Jeff in front of me, I just started to run. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to join me, but I just started going.
At first I thought I was alone, but then I saw a headlamp bouncing behind me: Jeff had joined me. It was purely a desperation move. I was so utterly exhausted and just wanted to be back at camp. I have no idea whether I was running 8 minute miles or 18 minute miles, but I was just running. Navigating over roots and rocks, powering through hills, I was determined to be done. I had to be done. I started to recognize the path. I knew we were close. I hadn’t realized how many climbs there were on the way down to Marcy Dam. On the last hill, I had to stop as I almost rolled my ankle and felt like I was going to throw up. I had gotten my mile of running in (no fuzzy logic needed) and I could see the end of the trail. We were there. I started to get choked up at how tired I was, how amazing the journey was. We got to the log book and Jeff said he was going to hike back to the rest of the group. It then dawned on me that I had left everyone else behind to just finish the hike quicker. Jeff had solely ran with me to keep from being alone, but had planned all along to go back to the group. It hadn’t even occurred to me. I realized I couldn’t just abandon everyone – we had spent 18 hours together, this was not over yet. So, we hiked back out into the trail.
Almost ashamed at what I had done, I set back out on the trail with new purpose. They likely weren’t far behind us, but I didn’t know or care how far back we had to go. Only a half mile or so back onto the trail, I suggested we shut our headlamps to see if we could see their lights heading towards us. We shut ours off and surprisingly, we saw their lights just ahead. The group was right there. That was one of the best feelings of the hike.
Everyone wanted to know how far it was, apparently Laura had a random nosebleed and they all (understandably) just wanted to be done. It was less than a 5 minute walk. We all walked together to the trail head. It was over. Just shy of 18 hours later. 5am to 11pm. It was so amazing.
There was a whole lot of aftermath, involving frantically eating, going to get my car at the Rooster Comb trailhead at almost midnight, drinking some hard cider in my tent since it was pouring, but the hard and amazing part was over.
Looking back on it, we were so lucky in so many ways. The weather was perfect (minus the rain for the last two hours, but that was on the relatively easy part). I somehow picked just the right shoes (Salomon Fellcross 2’s). I packed JUST enough water, despite assuming I had massively overpacked. I had a tiny amount of food left over, which I probably should have eaten but didn’t care by the end. All of these things were amazing, and that’s not even considering the group.
This somewhat random group of six of us was exactly the right crew for the job. Laura, Kyle, Danielle, Jeff, Jason, and I. Not once was I even remotely annoyed with anyone on the entire traverse. Conversation was easy and plentiful. Laughs were in overabundance. Everyone had their own hiking and climbing style. We all (somehow) were physically capable of completing the challenge. We all helped each other climb up or down rock faces when we needed. There was no pressure to go faster (or even slower for that matter). It was just one of those instances of everything coming together in JUST the right way. I hadn’t thought about how important the group was going to be. But you couldn’t have asked for a better group.
I would like to thank Laura. Specifically for how she assembled this impressive outing and for having trust/faith in me that I would be able to complete this. I’m not even sure she realized how difficult it was, but she pulled off coordinating this amazing adventure like a pro.
I would love to someday be able to do this again, but it will be with mixed feelings. This was such an outstanding crew and experience.
This wasn’t bad for my first trip to the Adirondacks and first real hiking experience.