Archive for the ‘cross country’ Category

Mile high desert run to Five Mountains

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Ok, as usual I am exaggerating. Winslow is actually a shade under 500o ft. but it sure is a lot different than the 500 ft. elevation I am used to in Portland. I was curious to see how long it would take to get used to the change. In the past it seemed like 3-4 days was enough to acclimate to the new elevation and this trip has more or less confirmed that. For the first two runs I did (on days 2 and 3) I struggled a bit with my breathing. Just couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen. Even when I wasn’t running it seemed like I was always slightly out of breath. Nothing huge, but it certainly was noticeable. Even now at day five here I still feel slightly out of breath.

The big difference has of course been breathing. My first run I started out at 3 breaths in and 2 out, after only a few blocks I was breathing 2 and 2. Soon I was down to 2 and 1. I was surprised how quickly I transitioned into the faster breathing. And I wasn’t even doing a hard pace. The second run was about the same. It wasn’t until my third desert marathon that I was able to settle into my normal 3 – 2 breathing pattern.

As tough as the breathing was I think the more drastic change was in my heart rate. It was exceptionally high for runs that I was not doing at a super fast pace. My average pace was up above 165 for most of the runs and 155 for my “recovery” run. Way too high. We are having some high humidity, so that could be having an effect, but I am mostly attributing this to the change in elevation. All in all I would say my HR was about 20-25 beats higher than normal. I think this had quite a drastic effect on how I was feeling on the runs, but my post-run recovery seemed to go pretty smoothly. Every next morning I was ready for another run.

Yesterday I had a really great run out to what is called Five Mountains, really a chain of five mesas north of Winslow. I had ridden out there once on bikes as a kid and for some reason the area always held a level of mystique for me. Partly I think was due to the fact that i was never totally sure how we got out there and partly because I never went out there with my parents on any of our desert explorations. It was our place, “our” being the gang. In my mind it was only accessible via my old long gone purple bike. It seemed so far away too. You could always see it in the distance, but I never knew how far it was. Nobody seemed to know. Even as an adult, it seemed like it was miles away (and it was three miles to be exact from Desert View where my sister lives.)

On trips home I would always consider running out there, but I never did. This time I asked my sister and niece how to get out there and neither had any idea. They actually weren’t even sure what I was talking about. “Its that big mesa out there north of Winslow” I would say, “Can’t you see it.” “Whatever” said my niece… Hmmm, if nobody knows how to get there, how would I get there? My mom had an idea that I could head out to the old dump and find a road to the mesas, but that would be too long for a run as I would have to double back to the south, plus there was no shoulder on the road.

So on my Friday run I headed out towards Desert View originally not intending to go much further. The day was cloudy and that combined with my early start kept the temperatures nice and cool. Tooling along on the trail that runs through a culvert under the highway I thought to myself I may not have a better opportunity to try the mysterious run to Five Mountains. I dropped by my sisters house hoping to use the bathroom (I miss not having the bathroom mid-run at Reed) but she wasn’t awake despite the cacophony from her four dachshunds. I filled up my bottle from her garden hose with the most vile water imaginable (but still wet) and headed down the road to the desert north of her house.

Through a muddy dip I chased a jack rabbit and headed in the general direction of the mesas. The roads, used for off road fun, twisted and dipped and featured many ruts that I am sure are a lot funner on an ATV. My ankles rolled to match up with the uneven terrain. North I went. Then the road turned, and split, and got worse. Soon I was heading due west towards two water tanks that service a new community west of town. I thought I would just keep going for awhile in hopes of turning back towards the mesas, and the road did! Unfortunately I soon took me up a big hill and to the east, again the wrong direction. I was on the verge of giving up and heading for Walmart when the road ended in a big circle used for spinning broddies. I looked to the north again at my mesas and I saw a barbed wire fence between me and the mountains. I thought, what the heck, I’ll go see if there is any way I can get through. As I reached the fence I found a spot that looked like someone had broken through. Some rancher had repaired it but left me enough space to easily squeeze through. I thought, this is a sign that I should keep going toward my goal, so I did. Not 100 feet away, I had a bad sign when I tripped over a dried prairie grass clump and landed in the redest most powdery sand imaginable. With the sweat I had worked up at that point I managed to completely cover my right side. I was a mess. But I continued on.

As horrible tasting as that hose water was, I was super glad to have it. And powered by the Tower of Power I did an Oakland Stroke across the sands. The ground was oddly swept by winds and rains and many of the sparse desert plants where pretty green. The going was slow as I pushed through the sandy soil. The mesas loomed in the distance, looking much further than the 3 miles they actually were. I was determined to make it out there and eventually I did despite thoughts of getting bit by a rattlesnake. I kept my distance from larger brush piles and such. Eventually I found myself on a long flat stretch to the south of the mesas and I knew I was home free. I had made it! Now I just had to climb to the top. Actually the thoughts of climbing the mesa was on my mind the entire run colored by my fear of heights. I could see a spot on the side of the mesa where I probably could reach the top. The last bit was like a sandstone nipple and really made me reconsider the ascent. But by the time I reached it I knew I had no choice, I had to get to the top. So I stopped my watch and made the climb. The ground was pretty soft due to the sand and rain we had had, but I trudged through the crumbling face and made it to the stone top. I wasn’t done yet though. I had to get to the very top and stand up straight to look out at the desert floor all around me. And I did. I was pretty nervous about it and standing up was a chore and a half, but I did it. I didn’t stay long, just snapped some pics on my phone (which came out poorly) and headed back down.

Coming down was pretty nerve racking for me. I spent a good amount of the initial rocky part on my but scooting down. I figured I was already covered in red dirt anyway, so whats the dif. The crumbly part posed further climbing challenge, but one I realized I could crab walk sideways and keep my balance I was fine. I have to say I was glad to be at the bottom. I hope this sounds like the mesa was really high, becasue it wasn’t. I am just a heights wuss.

At the bottom I realized I hadn’t searched out the road back so I wouldn’t have to cross through the desert again. Well I wasn’t climbing back up, that’s for sure. So I decided to just take the road and see where it led. I had the water tanks in the distance as a guide, so at the very worst I could just head off toward those. The rod curved through several washes and carved out trails in the sandstone. As I got closer to the water tanks I was also going further west, the opposite direction from home. But I had a pretty solid idea that eventually I would meet up with a road that was meant for real human transport so I kept on. Eventually my dirt road came to a fence and soon a gate (complete with a no trespassing sign) and beyond the gate, I found myself across a cattle guard and onto asphalt. After a long stretch of blacktop I came to the side road along I-40 and headed back into town and my sisters neighborhood. I had another 2.5 miles to get home and I decided I had enough. It was time to wake up my sister and get a ride home which is just what I did. Her dogs loved me, I was a giant stinky desert salt pop and they licked and licked. After several cold G2s I felt much better. I had done it, I had conquered the Five Mountains. And I even know how to get back there now, not that I ever will. It was a lot funner as a kid than as a heights challenged/addled adult.