Let's all agree to skip right past week sixteen. Treat it like the 13th floor in a high rise. Per my physical therapist's orders, I did not run one single step.
Week seventeen would consist of a trip to the high desert of Escalante, Utah to attend the Mountain Hardwear Basecamp with the accompanied warning to NOT climb and think hard, really hard, about engaging in running of any sort. If I could return from Utah no worse than I left Pennsylvania, aggressive therapy could begin on the following Monday and we'd see if working order could be restored.
Breathing in the rugged beauty of Utah while surrounded by the stoking energy of kindred spirits, I found myself lacing up my sneaks and giving things a go. Surprised? Me neither.
Still on East Coast time, I had no problems rising early on my first morning at Escalante Outfitters and heeding the directions given the night before to head right down the dusty road towards the nearby state park. Even on a slight downhill, my lungs were feeling every inch of the 5812 feet of elevation.
Sliding past the trailhead gate, I initially veered away from Bailey's Wash, following instead a broad old farm road that skirted around the ridge line. Almost immediately, I kicked up no less than 30 mule deer. Most of the herd vanished over the hill but several remained on the horizon watching my slow approach. I pushed the herd around two or three more bends before deciding to try to get up to higher ground.
Huffing and puffing and progressing mostly on all fours (or at least three), I made it to the top of the ridge and turned to look back toward town. The famed Grand Escalante Staircase was now visible in the distance.
Pleasantly surprised by how my Achilles felt, I dropped into the wash and settled into something more like an actual run. A few stray sets of human footprints led the way past high red rock cliffs, scrub brush, tumbleweeds and small, silent pines.
I didn't set a great pace in the sandy track of the wash, but was pleased to return to camp with over seven pain-free miles. With fingers crossed that I wouldn't be hobbled by the end of the day, I popped some Aleve, showered, stretched and joined new friends for a day of hiking along Pine Creek.
I awoke the next morning relieved to find no ill effects from the prior day. Howling winds helped the easy decision to shelve any further running for the moment. I spent the day exploring the Spooky and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons and managed to avoid doing anything too much like "climbing".
Knowing that I'd need to leave before the sun rose on Friday, I wanted to make the most of Thursday. Feeling strong and encouraged by the continuing cooperation of my Achilles, I awoke shortly after 4:00 AM and began a 46-mile drive to the indescribable beauty of Bryce Canyon.
I literally did not see another set of headlights the entire way which was absolutely fine by me. I passed through the unmanned gates and headed to Rainbow Point at the far end of the park road. At more than 9100 feet, the point was certainly going to test my cardio.
There was plenty of snow still on the ground and route-finding was difficult as I tried to find and follow the Under the Rim Trail down towards the canyon floor. The pace was slowed even further by my need to stop every few minutes to soak in the view and bask in the rising sun.
Neither words nor photos will do any justice, so I'll simply say that it was a miraculous day to be alive and I spent that hour and a half marveling at my surroundings and reflecting appreciatively on what a real privilege it was to be where I was at that moment doing something I love to do.
Finally returning to the Rainbow Point parking lot, I made a quick call back to camp to report where I was and that I was on my way. I grabbed a coffee enroute and felt certain that I still had energy in the tank.
Shortly after hopping out of the car, I climbed into Jon Webb's station wagon and joined a small group headed to Lower Calf Creek for more running. We settled into a shared rhythm and I didn't hesitate to offer a "maybe a little faster" when asked if the pace was satisfactory. A moment or two later, I was eating those words as the increase left me gasping for air. We may have been 4,000 feet lower than Rainbow Point but we were still much higher than what I'm used to and I struggled to adjust. Jon was kind enough to settle back into something closer to our original pace without any prompting. Arriving at the end of the path, I found him welcoming me to the amazing spectacle of Lower Calf Falls.
I shrugged off my initial apprehension after dipping my hand in the pool at the base of the falls and decided to take a swim. The icy water made it a short swim, though, at the urging of my companions, I did go in a second time in what proved to be a failed attempt to swim out beneath the falls. The payoff was the shared laughter over the frozen state of my testicles.
Zak and Ed had joined me, Jon and Cory and a kindly day hiker snapped our photo in front of the falls. Soon thereafter, we set out again at a comfortable but solid pace, talking and laughing the entire way back to the trailhead.
Even after two separate runs, a good bit of climbing and a day of double-digit mileage, my legs felt great. I was extremely thankful to not be favoring my Achilles in the slightest and relished having logged trail time at elevation.
Back in Pennsylvania, April is in the rear view. It was, by far, my lowest mileage month to date in 2011 and came with several disappointments. It's hard to complain, however, when I was able to close the month with running I will remember, vividly and fondly, forever.