a day's hard night.

Just before walking out the door of the office on Friday afternoon, I received news that a deadline I thought was 3 weeks away was actually just a week out.  That news hit me like a kick in a place (pick a place) that hurts and hurts a lot.  I wasn't happy to hear it.  Angry, in face and my initial and immediate frustration threatened to fester and destroy my entire weekend.

I fumed for a few minutes, recognized that because of the give-and-take required in the project, I wasn't going to make any headway this weekend anyway, and decided that I was going to take advantage of that fact and have a helluva weekend before settling into the sure-to-be-painful grind on Monday morning.

I went home and found the kids at play in the backyard with one of the neighbor kids and a friend of Lil's from her nursery school.  I tagged in on parent duty, freeing up Lindsay to attend to school work of her own, and spent the next couple of hours performing soccer goalie duties, being a "monster" and chasing the screaming kids from one end of the yard to the next.  It was great.

On Saturday, I played endlessly with the kids and, once Lindsay got home from clinicals, went with the entire family to the carnival in Buchanan Park.  It, too, was great or at least the time we had together was.

We had a wonderful little dinner together on the outside patio of a local restaurant at which all of the other patrons decided to eat indoors.  Having the whole place to ourselves, we laughed and enjoyed each other's company without any of the usual concern for the other diners that can make eating out with 3 and 5 year olds less than inviting.

You guessed it...it was great.

Arriving home as the sun was just beginning to set, I knocked out the mowing (don't EVEN get me started on this country's ridiculous obsession with manicured lawns) while the girls got tubbies (yes, we call baths tubbies) and Linds readied them for bed.

I finished up in time to take over bedtime story reading duties and got the girls tucked into their beds.  I doubt that visions of sugar plums danced in either of their little heads, but they drifted off with smiles that left me certain of sweet dreams to come.

And then...it was time run.

Rumor had it, there was a super moon on the prowl and that meant the promise of brightly lit trails to accompany the warm temperatures.  With Lil and Piper in bed and Linds bound for the same soon, all I had to worry about was being home by sunrise when Lindsay would need to again return to rounds at the hospital.

I rendezvoused with Jefferson a short while later and we carpooled 40 minutes north and east to where the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 325 in Clarks Valley.  This is the same trailhead from which I'd started my Horseshoe Trail 37-miler back in July 0f 2010 and Jefferson had seen me off on that run too.  This time we'd be heading west instead of east, climbing up Peters Mountain and running its ridgeline until we decided we'd gone far enough and needed to turn around and come back to the car.

This so called Super Moon was out, and bright to be sure, but there were plenty of clouds to dull the dazzle of its touted performance.  My romantic wishing for a run by moonlight was definitely going to require the sensible reliability of a headlamp.

Jefferson had had stomach issues earlier in the week that had him wondering about the state of his legs and I was curious if I would feel any ill effects from my climbfest on Mole Hill earlier in the week.  I had hoped to sneak in another run or two between then and now but my schedule had not cooperated.

The only real significant uphill of the night came right away, as the southbound Appalachian Trail sign at the low-lying parking lot on Route 325 points to an 800 foot climb over the next mile-and-a-quarter.  A couple of big step-ups near the end of the first mile reminded me that we intended to go a long way and maybe it wasn't the wisest decision to be attempting to run every single inch of the ascent.  Jefferson didn't protest, hinting that it would've been nice to have a warm-up ahead of a run straight up the mountain.

No such luck, but we were up on top soon enough and settled back quickly into a steady pace.  We talked about life in general (as we always do), our families and Jefferson's adolescent memories of visiting a camp in the valley just below us.  We also discussed the the terrain in relation to the Laurel Highlands trail where we'd be running together in just a few weeks.  I remember commenting that Laurel would have more elevation change but wouldn't be quite as rocky even though, at that point, I was finding the footing far less rocky than what had been the case on my recent miles on sections east of where we were.

The moon was growing less and less super as the night wore on and the clouds won over.  It did continue to make infrequent appearances and I tried to take advantage of its light to snap a few photos.  Through the lens of my camera, the moonlight cast ghostly glow through Jefferson's water bottle.

We also took periodic breaks to make sure that we were refueling, an effort worth making in the warm, humid conditions.  Jefferson's legs had come back and I was feeling good too.  Despite this, the initial climb, the rocky footing and the handful of stops had kept us from doing anything even close to our strongest pace and by the time we stopped at around 7.5 miles to assess the run and how much further we should go, it was well past midnight.

A slave to landmarks and wanting to reach points on the AT from which I can start fresh another day, I had hoped to make it all the way out to the pedestrian footbridge that spans the trail's intersection with Route 225.  This was likely another 2 miles from where we stopped to make our assessment.  Knowing that we'd have a 45 minute drive home after we got back to the car, I'd pretty much decided it was time to turn around.

But...I didn't know our exact location and, being certain that that would bother me in the days after, I suggested that we keep going west until we hit the next recognizable landmark and turnaround at that point.

We blew right past the spur trail that leads to the Peters Mountain shelter without seeing the sign that identified it as such.  When we hit a power line, I knew that we were only a half mile from the footbridge and, both feeling good, we barely hesitated in making the decision to push on.

The parking lot just before the bridge burst into sight somewhere after 2:00 in the morning. The view through the fence that ensures hikers don't topple down onto the road below was eerie in the light of the full moon and again I pulled out the camera and tripod to see what I could manage to capture.

We'd come 9.75 miles and, looking at a good long return trip, we made sure to pound some food and drink before getting back on our feet.  Except for minor stiffness, to be expected with the AT underfoot, we were both feeling fairly fresh.

And we continued to for the next mile or two.

When you do an out-and-back and start wondering why the trail seems so much more technical on the return trip, it's a pretty clear sign that you're getting fatigued.  And I was.  So was my partner and his knees weren't just fatigued but angry.  My feet were getting sloppy and, as can happen when this starts to be the case, I banged the front outside of my left foot hard and awkwardly off of a rock with a poorly timed step.  I hadn't broken anything but I'd clearly bruised myself in a fashion that made certain footfalls painful.

The time to shuffle had arrived.  Anyone who's done any ultra racing or significantly long trail running knows exactly what I'm talking about.  The knees stopped lifting and the feet were coming off the ground just high enough to scoot forward just quickly enough to not be mistaken for walking.  Through a couple of relatively smooth sections, we made decent progress but those sections were frequently interrupted by rocky stretches that demanded a picking of spots that slowed us to a determined hiking.

Despite our ever slowing pace, I was psyched because I knew that we'd already well surpassed the length of Jefferson's prior longest run and forward progress was still happening even if not at the pace with which we'd started.  I tried to keep Jefferson encouraged by keeping him abreast of the diminishing distance between us and our waiting vehicle but I believe that backfired as one of those updates informed him that we weren't nearly as far along as he and his body had hoped.  In hindsight and in putting myself in those same shoes, I should have just kept my mouth shut.

Keeping my mouth shut might have also kept me from the hyper awareness of how dry it was.  The heat and humidity, while not overwhelming, had definitely coaxed both of us into consuming more fluids than normal and with several miles left to go, we were metering out the last few drops instead of drinking our fill.  I daydreamed (nightdreamed?) of the Platypus bottle of water that I'd pulled from the freezer right before leaving home.  I'd talked myself out of carrying it in my pack while we ran but knew it would be waiting when we finally arrived back at the lot.

After what seemed like forever, the trail began a noticeable downward progression and it was obvious that we were in our final descent.  With the finishing line looming, fairly forgiving footing and gravity as aid, I picked up the pace but soon discovered, in looking back over my shoulder, that Jefferson was no longer tucked in right behind me.  I crouched down and waited a few moments for him to catch back up and he acknowledged that his knees were not going to let him pound away on the downhill.

Coming up out of my crouch, I realized that my quads and calves had a bit of the just-about-to-cramp feeling and, knowing that the car was close, I was quite content to take the time we needed to get down without pushing the pace or are luck in that last mile.

We made it, of course, and the water was just as cold as I'd imagined it.  We'd knocked out nearly 20 miles beneath the less-than-super moon and, in spite of the fatigue, I'd enjoyed the several hours that Jefferson and I had spent together.


I walked through the door of my home at ten of 6:00, just in time for Lindsay to wake up and head to clinicals.  An hour or two later, Lily and Piper roused me from a dead-to-the-world sleep in search of breakfast.  That was all the sleep I was going to get until later that night but I had no interest in cutting into Daddy-time because of my late night.

Thankfully, the girls didn't need to me to do anything more than shuffle as we played our way through the rest of the day.


...everything but the drinks.

I received a ridiculously generous invite from my Osprey sales rep to fly to Cortez, Colorado in April and join Osprey Packs on a trip into the canyons of southeastern Utah.

I and the other invitees would get to test packs and other gear, immerse ourselves in the culture that makes Osprey such a unique, inspiring manufacturer and, well, play.

Since getting back, I've started and stopped writing a recap blog at least a couple of dozen times.  Just like a western sky, free of the ambient light of urban sprawl, this trip was on a scale that's hard to capture on film (film?) or in print.

When my new friend, Sean McCoy, who I'd met on the trip published his review for Gear Junkie, I decided to bag making a full review of my own.  I would, however, definitely encourage you to read Sean's post:  Gear Junkie: Into the Depths

I decided instead, being a gear junkie myself, to snap a few photos of what I carried, wore, ate off of, etc. during the trip.  This type of thing may not be of interest to anybody, but it's exactly what I find myself most curious about when reading running, backpacking, adventuring reviews.

Sean carried the same pack that I did, the Aether 60, and gave it some love in his article, so I'll skip right past that.

With a weather report that promised clear skies and little to no chance of precipitation, all 14 members of the group decided to leave tents behind.  Our guide, Chris Barber, reportedly had a sizable tarp but it never made an appearance as we all slept under stunningly open skies.

My sleep set-up consisted of a borrowed Rab Neutrino Endurance 200 sleeping bag.  This is an 800-fill down mummy-shaped bag that has a pretty solid (in my book...I sleep warm) 32 degree temperature rating, packs down small and weighs less than 2 pounds.  Killer.  And Rab includes one of the sweetest, double-cinch waterproof stuff sacks I've seen.  I was super impressed and the buyer-in-me has me strongly considering adding the Rab line to Backcountry Edge's Spring 2013 assortment.  I'm a huge fan of sleeping bag liners and the life-extending boost that they give sleeping bags and I long ago fell in love with my Cocoon Silk Expedition Liner.  This also packs down to nothing, weighs a couple of ounces and justifies its inclusion on every trip.  I slept on the ultra-lightweight Klymit Inertia X-Frame inflatable sleeping pad and loved it as much as I expected to when I chose it for the trip.  My head rested on Exped's Air Pillow and you can insert every word I wrote about the liner here to know how I feel about it.

Osprey equipped each of us with a trio of SealLine Dry Sacks (2.5L, 10L and 30L) and it was a good thing too, as we hit an extended stretch in slot canyons on the last day that required first waist deep and then sternum deep (if you're as short as I am) wading.  I didn't actually end up dipping my pack, but it was nice to know everything was fully protected.  I'd brought my own SealLine eCase which I've been using for several seasons to protect my point-and-shoot.  I also brought along a couple of waterproof Granite Gear Air ZippDitty sacks which were perfect for keeping headlights, snacks, first aid and other gear organized.  These fit perfectly inside the hipbelt pockets on a couple of the packs I use at home.  The Aether 60 doesn't have hipbelt pockets, my one gripe, but these still came in handy for use inside the Aether's lid pocket.

Ah, my feet.  I hiked primarily in a pair of TrekSta Evolution II trail shoes.  I've been testing them for TrekSta along with a pair of their Edict running shoes and intend to post a far comprehensive review in the near future.  For now, suffice to say that these were hands down the most comfortable, responsive hiking shoes I've ever worn.  The Evolution II is a lower-profile version of TrekSta's award-winning Evolution Mid GTX.  I'm not a big fan of GORE-TEX (as hot as my feet get in standard mesh shoes, I start sweating at the very thought of a waterproof liner) and the Evolution Mid flirts with being a true boot and I just don't do boots.  I also made room in my pack for the New Balance 110's and was glad I did.  At the end of the long second day of crawling over/under rocks, rappelling down cliffs and navigating tilted canyon walls we reached a campsite atop an incredible sandstone shelf that (with a little creativity and a tack-on stretch in the wash below) served up a 3+ mile run.  These shoes absolutely shined on this surface and made me sad all over again at the news that the Slickrock 100 isn't being held this year.  Alas.  Throughout the trip, I wore DryMax socks.  Duh.

Yep, I just laid down a duh.

On the first night that we arrived in Cortez, our group of 14 was split into smaller "cooking groups" and each group had an MSR Reactor Stove System to use for cooking.  I've been a fan of the system since it launched and, if it wasn't so spendy, I may have invested in one of my own somewhere along the way.  Anyway, with the stove (and food!) provided, we only needed to worry about bringing utensils, cups, flatware and whatever else we thought we'd need for mealtimes.  I kept things simple.  I made friends with the Snow Peak 600 Titanium Double-Wall mug a long, long time ago and it waits on the counter for me each morning, accompanies on my drive to work and keeps me company at my desk all day long.  It also tags along on every backpacking trip, including this one.  I also brought the Optimus Folding Spork, a collapsible, lightweight and surprising little durable utensil.  My meal kit was rounded out with my two Guyout Design Squishy Bowls.  Yes, that IS what they are called.  Laugh if you want, but this little malleable silicone bowls are a backpacker's dream come true.  Trust me.  To ward off my addicted tremens, I also packed plenty of Honey Stinger Waffles...if I had any left, I'd have included them in the photo.  Yum. 

As warm as it was, I didn't carry a lot of clothes.  I'm not sure I even needed it, but I did bring along my lightweight Outdoor Research Transcendent Sweater and, I must admit, it was nice to have this low-profile down piece at night while we sat beneath the stars and passed around the wine (yes, we hauled along quite a bit of wine...in Platypus bottles, cause we're backpackers, see).  In the mornings, I slipped into Rab's super lightweight Boreas Pull-On softshell.  There's not much to it, but it's one of those great pieces that adds just enough warmth and separation from cool air.  And, it takes up very little space inside a pack.  I had a breathable, brimmed Mountain Hardwear hat (the name escapes me) that I wore during the day to keep off sun and glare and another of their beanies that I wore at night to ward off the chill.  A pair of Native Silencer sunglasses gave further protection from the sun and the Mammut S-Flex headlamp served as my light source at night.  I'm not a big fan of sunglasses though I fully respect the protection that they give.  The Silencers do their job and are fairly un-obnoxious as performance eyewear goes.  The S-Flex is hardly the brightest or most feature-rich lamp that I own but I appreciate how lightweight it is and how small it is when all I need is a little bit of extra visibility around a campsite.

Osprey gave us one final parting gift and it was a sweet one, a very limited edition embroidered Hornet 32.  This is one wickedly-light (1 lb, 5 oz) day pack that can be used with or without its lid and is ready-made for fast-and-light pursuits, be that running, biking, fast-packing or whatever else you have in mind.  Good stuff.  It didn't accompany us on the trip itself, but deserved a mention nonetheless.

That was pretty much my full rig.  That and the wine.



Give it a rest with the Mole Hill already, right?

NOTE:  Real molehills, not THE Mole Hill.
I hear you, but it put its hooks in me.  Did right from the start and never let go.

Was thinking recently that I'd be curious if there is another name for that hill, trail, ridge, what it might be and who got to name it in the first place.  Doesn't matter, really, as I'll never consider it anything but the mountain I've made of it and have been busy, busy cementing its newly christened name to any and all who will listen.

I've tried on numerous occasions to take photos and/or shoot video there but justice cannot be done.  Frankly, the hill's just not all that pretty and there aren't long enough lines of sight to even provide much visibility of what lies above or below at any given point. It's not very tall and between knowing that and not being able to see the crest above or the bottom below through the trees, Mole Hill just isn't all that visually foreboding.

The actual measurements?

At the base, the hill is a pedestrian 571 feet above sea level and at the tippiest top you aren't likely to find yourself throwing wide your arms and bellowing out any DeCaprion "king of the world" proclamations.  The full height is only 1019 feet.  BUT, you do get there in a hurry.  

Let me modify that.

You don't necessarily GET there in a hurry but the distance between point A and point B is a mere .41 miles.

Meaning what?

Meaning that in well under half a mile, you will have gained 448 feet of elevation and done so with rocks, leaf litter, logs and downed limbs adding further obstacle to the ascent.  That's a healthy grade of over 20% and there aren't any breaks along the way, no "whew, at least that part is behind me" sections to be had.

It took me somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5-2 years to finally run the whole thing from top to bottom and I screamed with joy with what little air I had left in my lungs the first time I topped out on the move.  I've been up and down that trail many, many times since and have only seen 2 other people run the whole thing and only 1 of those 2 convincingly.  I've been stoked for both of those friends and will be for everyone else who gets there too.

That's not meant to pat me on the back, but it is offered as evidence that I'm not making claims of a secret location that no one has ever visited to back my claims.

Mole Hill is real and if it wasn't for my peculiar fixation on it, I don't think I'd have made ascending it on the run such a regular part of my routine.

I honestly don't have many love/hate relationships but whatever is going on between me and that ridge definitely qualifies as such.

I usually like to include an ascent of Mole Hill in longer runs rather than just settling into that one spot.  Like I said, it really isn't all that long and I often want to log more mileage than I possibly can by staying just in that one spot.  The surrounding area is beautiful and offers up prettier trails of varying length, technicality and distance.  The many trails of Camp Mack and Pumping Station are less than a mile away and the climb up Mole Hill connects directly to the Horseshoe Trail.  Throwing Mole Hill in the mix ups the difficulty factor and adds intrigue but there's usually plenty of great running to be had away from the Hill too.

But, a couple of nights ago, I grit my teeth and decided to see how many laps I could churn out, how many miles I could manage at one go.  I didn't have all night, as I'd promised to bring back Benadryl for my wheezing, sniffling allergy-suffering wife sometime well before sunrise so she could at least eke out a few hours of drug-induced sleep before I departed for work in the morning.  As muggy a night as it was, she didn't have to worry...the time I could survive on that hill was unlikely to be measured in hours.

And it wasn't.

The first ascent was ugly.  The heat surprised me and I think I went at the climb too aggressively for wanting to do repeats.  I topped out running but was far more gassed than I wanted/needed to be that early in the effort.  Of course, topping out means getting to turn heels into a balance-challenging/quad-thrashing downhill but does allow for the catching of breath and the overall calming of the cardiovascular system.

At the bottom, I felt good.

I downed a salt tablet and some Gatorade to stay ahead of any unwanted cramping and headed back up the way I'd come.

This second ascent was a little more measured and went far easier than the first.  I remember little of it except an improved confidence after my shaky start.

Before I knew it, I was down again, spun around and into my third ascent.  This proved to be the strongest, steadiest climb I've ever managed on Mole Hill.  My legs felt strong, my heart rate was tempered and I was at the crest of the hill in a time that made me wish I'd put a stopwatch on just that climb.

The subsequent "down", however, proved to be that both figuratively and literally.

I didn't trip, but my quads were quivering and my ankles weeble-wobbled and very much threatened to keel all the way over.  I may have hammered the preceding climb but I not without consequences.

I'm sure I had been perspiring the entire time, but on that descent it felt like every pore was a sweat-faucet and that every contour of my body was a spout aimed right for my eyes.  I was determined to maintain a solid pace on the downhill but my burning eyes and rubbery legs were suddenly clumsy companions in the narrow beam of my headlamp.

But I got down.  All the way down...

...and just couldn't walk away with three lousy laps.  Not after the last climb had been so strong.  Still my resolve was shaky and didn't strengthen fully until I'd downed another salt/Gatorade cocktail.

Up I went.  One last time.


Slowly but in a fashion faster than walking, dammit.


I made it the whole way but am glad there were no actual witnesses to my whimpering and gasping.  I tend to be a chatterbox during runs (as opposed to the rest of the time when I'm church mouse quiet) but I couldn't have possibly mustered an audible word and continued to pick up my feet at the same time.

But I made it.  The whole way.

Yes, barely.

And down too.  Though that was equal parts comic farce and act of faith.

Some higher power smiled upon me and I'd like to think it was the pileated woodpecker that rat-a-tat-tats his displeasure at me on Mole Hill during the day.  It doesn't sound like he's pleased to have me invading his privacy, but I like to think he can sense my respect for him, his endeavors and his place in the world.  I'd like to believe that my presence qualifies as one of his few love/hate relationships.

Take it as a testament to Mole Hill or an indication of the elite runner that I am not, but I was ecstatic to have cranked out 4 laps and the short to-and-from the car in under an hour.  I was equally ecstatic to take off the t-shirt that was defying gravity by seemingly containing pounds and pounds of sweat and more ecstatic (Ecstaticier?  I know a band name when I see one) than that to get my legs out from beneath me and into a non-weight-bearing position.

Surely, there are far, far more demanding ascents to be had than Mole Hill.  And the air "down here" is blissfully rich in oxygen compared to the climbs to be had at higher elevation.  

AND Dog knows there are far better runners than me.

But, in a world of mountains (and a world of molehills or wantitumps, as they were once known), this one is mine.