Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Alabama Snowpocalypse Diary

January 28, 2014


Dear Diary,

I just left the offices and entered into the warehouse where there is mass chaos. Everyone is yelling and making there way to the front. I am not entirely sure what is going on. I will fall into the crowd and investigate this madness.


Dear Diary,

I have surfaced from the dark pits of the warehouse to discover there is snow outside of the facility. It appears to be sticking to the roads. I will soon abandon the facility and set my sights on the safety of my home.


Dear Diary,

The country roads are packed. There must be trouble. I will turn on the radio to find out more.


Dear Diary,

I have made it onto the interstate 65. There is hardly any traffic. I am confused as to why I am hearing horror stories broadcasted on the radio. Snowpocalypse.


Dear Diary,

I just passed over Hwy150. Gridlocked. I am worried the stories I am hearing are true. I must get gas before proceeding to my final destination. I will be forced to stop in Hoover to replenish my fuel source.


Deary Diary,

I am at a stand still on the exit ramp. I have made numerous calls to shoe stores inquiring about a pair of running shoes. All attempts have failed. Running home is out of the question without a reliable shoe. My work boots will not suffice.


Dear Diary,

I am still on the exit ramp. There is worry the car in front of me will continue to slide backwards until it connects with my car.


Dear Diary,

I have made it into the mall parking lot. I must relieve myself inside and possibly search for food.


Dear Diary,

Food is out of the question. Every thing is shut down. I will continue in my car towards home.


Dear Diary,

I have moved 20ft in the past 1hr15mins. I am caught in a no man's land where there is no possibility of refuel for miles. I am afraid I will run out of fuel.


Dear Diary,

I have consumed most of my rations: a banana and granola bar. I only have gels remaining. I must begin to think of possible shelter.


Dear Diary,

I have obtained an offer from a local resident for housing for the night. I will park at the next safe place and formulate a plan.


Dear Diary,

I have safely parked. I will replenish supplies in the local store before preparing the trek up to the residency.


Dear Diary,

I have messaged the local to inform her of my travel plans. I gathered the necessary supplies: granola, water, and wine. I estimate 6ish miles between my current location and my destination. I am in high spirits.


Dear Diary,

I have been stopped by several motorists. They have inquired about using my phone to contact loved ones. I welcome the break. Running in work boots and jeans is extremely uncomfortable.


Dear Diary,

I have crossed the bridge. There is no movement from the hundred of cars in route. I have passed multiple abandoned cars.


Dear Diary,

There is no hope for the motorists traversing the hill. The brave cars are sliding back down as soon as they start gaining ground.

(Abandoned cars on top of the hill)


Dear Diary,

I am at the base of the neighborhood. Abandoned cars are abundant. I now will begin to climb the many hills of the neighborhood. Wish me luck.


Dear Diary,

The roads are dark and icy. I have reached my destination.


Dear Diary,

I took the warm shower offered to me by the local (Sunny). She now has provided me with hot soup and grilled cheese. I am grateful. There are two other locals residing inside the home. I can only assume these are her offspring.


Dear Diary,

I am full. Homemade cookies have been placed in front of me. I will stick to protocol and consume two to ensure they are safe for further consumption.


Dear Diary,

The wine has been opened. Delightful stories of ultra running and trail running are being shared. All is well with the world.


Dear Diary,

I have retired for the night in the purple room.

January 29, 2014


Dear Diary,

I am awake, but there is no movement in the house. I shall stay in the purple room until the locals begin to stir.


Dear Diary,

I hear movement. Sunny is preparing coffee, pancakes and sausage.


Dear Diary,

The news is broadcasting the snowpocalypse devastation. I pray all is safe.


Dear Diary,

We have bundled up and prepared empty backpacks. We are venturing down to the local store for supplies. Mia will accompany Sunny and myself on the trek.


Dear Diary,

We have packed our bags full of supplies and have started the trek back. I have established contact with law enforcement. My brother in law will have his trooper car at the base of the neighborhood. I will hike the supplies up to the residency and trek back to begin the journey to my abandoned car.


We spot an elderly man with a cane at his mailbox. We established contact. We safely aid him as he walks back to his home. He is safe. We carry on.


Dear Diary,

I have said my goodbyes. I am forever grateful to Sunny's family for their hospitality. Hopefully one day I will have the opportunity to repay them for graciously opening their home. I will now stop for a quick snack before continuing my journey.


Dear Diary,

I have established contact with my brother in law. I am currently in route to my car.


Dear Diary,

I have set off for my home. I am hopeful.


Dear Diary,

This will be my last entry. I have safely arrived at my destination. I am home. I am safe. I am blessed.

The Alabama Snowpocalypse. There is no one to blame. It was a freak system. It is not the meteorologists fault. The temps were below freezing and within an hour of snowfall, roads were frozen over completely. Other parts of the country may make fun of us for the state of emergency due to 1in of snow... but we as a state... we are not prepared for this type of situation. It RARELY happens. I am more than thankful for the kindness of Sunny and her family for opening their home to me. I cannot begin to thank them enough. They are a part of the local trail running group BUTS and until this past Sunday on top of Shackleford... I have never officially met them. The trail running community never ceases to amaze me. Throughout the past 48hrs I witnessed first hand so many people helping out their fellow neighbor and have heard of so many more amazing stories of genuine kindness. I will continue praying for all those who were caught in the storm with no place to go. We should take this as a lesson learned... to always be prepared for anything.

Till tomorrow...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Keeping It Simple

Let's be honest with each other for a second... I'm a grandpa.

It's Friday night... 7pm... and I'm grocery shopping. EXTREME!!!! Actually... it's not so bad. We are walking through Publix, I just picked up a huge package of Sour Patch Kids, and just made eye contact with a gorgeous Belgian... and when I say gorgeous Belgian... I mean the variety pack of beer. This is a typical Friday night for us.

On weekends that Kati has to work... I get a weekend pass to do as I please. This means late nights getting smashed with my friends, strip clubs, and hard core drugs...

Actually it means none of the above (grandpa remember?). It simply means I'll be in my robe, house slippers, and in bed before 10pm and get to run for hours on end without feeling guilty that I'm leaving my wife home alone. Keeping it simple.


After going into work for a few hours early Saturday morning to run the monthly alarm tests, it was trail time!

I work close to Tannehill State Park. By no means is it my favorite place to run. It is a smaller park, decent singletrack with some wider trails. To get any decent mileage out there, you have to string together some loops and run them a few times. However, Tannehill has so much history behind it.

I parked in my normal spot near the Blacksmith shop and popped in to see what he was making. After chatting for a few moments I hit the trails. I started out on the wider jeep trail until it hit the singletrack. A few miles in I came across the slave cemetery.

I love this place. It's extremely peaceful. The South has so much history. I'm not saying all of it was good, but show me a history that was. I'm proud as hell to be from the South. We, as a region and country, have progressed so much, and I'm so thankful to live in a place that believes in equality. Hopefully we will continue to progress as a region and country and continue the fight for other types of equality as well.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

I sat around a few minutes praying and paying my respects to the dead before heading back into the forest.

I hit a few switchbacks before rounding off my 2.5hr run out at Tannehill.

I usually don't break up my runs but on days where I have other obligations (haircut)... sometimes it happens. I grabbed a glorious double bacon cheeseburger on my way to get my hur did... and before I knew it... I was at the north trail head at Oak Mt. A solid 3.5hr run would have me back at home, showered up with pizza in the oven before the wifey got home.

I didn't have a specific route I wanted to take. I simply wanted to do a lot of climbing and be on top of Eagle's Nest at sunset. I started on the Blue trail and headed up to King's Chair for a brief peek out over the valley. I ran hard along the ridge of the Blue trail until I hit the Orange/White connector. At the end, I decided to blast down the Red trail. I knew if I went down Red I'd have to climb Shackleford. I love running the Shackleford ridge during the winter because all the trees are dead and it gives way to some amazing views. I dropped down the long Yellow/White connector climb and continued on Yellow around Tranquility. I refilled my water bottle in the bathroom before heading back onto the trail. I heard some hammering up near the old abandoned cabins so of course I had to make the steep climb up through the pathless woods to investigate. The Boy Scouts were fixing up some of the old broken down cabins. Well... I say the Boy Scouts... the Boy Scout's dads were doing most of the work... the boys were mostly huddled around the fire pit. I followed the gravel road up to the beginning of the Lightning MTB trail. I chatted with two MTB riders as I downed a salted caramel GU. I took the horse trail to the base of the Y/W connector to ensure another good climb.

After surfacing from the climb, I ran the ridge until I hit the Orange connector to hop over to the Blue trail. I was in the shadows now. I was racing the sun at this point. You can see Eagle's Nest almost the entire time you are running the Blue ridge. I was keeping time by the amount of sunlight left on Eagle's Nest tree line. I finally got to the base of Eagle's nest before making the steep climb up. I scaled to the top, climbed the rock facing, and looked out over the horizon. I tossed on my headlamp and started the decent right as the sun started to disappear over Shackleford...


I got up early to catch a sunrise... well... I didn't get up early enough to actually see it, but I did spend a lovely 2hrs cruising some of Alabama's finest single track. It was perfect to say the least!

I got back to the house in time to have a cup of coffee with Kati before she headed off to work. I then proceeded to enjoy my bacon, toast, and orange juice breakfast before curling up with the cat for a 2hr nap. I awoke from my slumber, cleaned up around the house, took the recycling, and ate lunch. What to do now? I guess I could go back out and run...

I parked at the beach area, laced up the shoes and headed back out onto the singletrack. There were soooo many people out hiking today! I stopped to take a picture for an older couple who had just climbed to the overlook on the Green trail (quite impressive btw!). We chatted about the crazy Alabama weather (is weather the go-to language for older folk?) and then we parted ways. I debated whether I really wanted to go down to Peavine Falls. Beautiful weekends attract so many hikers to Peavine. "It would be nice to soak my feet..."

After descending down to the base of the falls, I removed my socks and shoes and soaked my tired feet for a few minutes. BRRRRRRRR!!!! The water was freezing... but relieving at the same time. I sat on a rock to let my feet air dry before re-lacing and heading up out of Peavine.

I finally got back down to my car. I threw my water bottle into the back, grabbed a koozie, and headed down to the water. I peeled away some trees sagging down into the water to reveal an ice cold beer. You really don't need to pack a cooler in the winter if you have a good hiding spot near the edge of the lake. I finished my weekend off basking in the warm sun with an ice cold brew in hand...

(Well... I really finished it off with an Epsom salt bath and an ice cold brew in hand... but I'll say it was by the lake... a little more manlier that way...)

This weekend was all about keeping it simple. I put in a little over 10hrs on the trail. No specific routes, time goals or mileage. Just pure and simple enjoyment of being outside and on the trails. Honestly... I think it's better that way.

I guess it's about time to throw in a Red Box, pour another Belgian, slip off the house slippers, and call it a night...

Till tomorrow...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wild Azalea 50

After completing the Bearly Ultra and Christmas had come and gone, I started browsing race sites to start putting together the 2014 race schedule. I had in mind to maybe cut back on the number of races and just do a select few for the year with a few local races thrown in. I slowly compiled a list of races that I would like to do with the first one being in March. But then I stumbled across the Wild Azalea Challenge...

I normally don't look for races in Florida or Louisiana because there aren't any mountains down that way. I love to climb. I say the steeper, more technical and rugged... the better. However... The Wild Azalea Challenge is one of those "semi-supported, old school, low key, take your cell phone, here's a list of emergency contacts" kinds of races... the ones that I freaking LOVE. And it's the longest trail in Louisiana... yea... it needed to be explored.

To be honest... I almost bailed on this one. It had only been two weeks after a hard run ultra, and after a 13hr work day on the Thursday before the Wild Azalea Challenge, I wasn't too keen on driving 8hrs. I just wanted to stay home and have a nice relaxing weekend on the local trails. Thursday night I came home and half packed a travel bag and my running shoes. I said I'd make the final decision Friday morning.

Me - "Are you extremely busy at work?"
Kati - "No... why?"
Me - "Can you book me the cheapest room you can find in Alexandria?"

And just like that... I set off for Louisiana.

8hrs later I'm throwing bags down in a Super 8, and heading off to a pre race meeting.

After the meeting I opted out of finding a local pub for a few drinks (navigating Alexandria just wasn't appealing) and decided to head into Target. Only Target on the planet that doesn't sell alcohol. It had me worried that it may be a dry city. NOOO! My two beer pre race ritual!? What shall I ever do?! Well... no worries...  it wasn't dry. The no name grocery store saved the day. I could have opted for the gas station through the crawl hole in the fence outside of my window...

Upon first observations of the room one will notice the connecting door.

I couldn't tell if it was locked or not so I took extreme precaution and placed a chair in front of it. At least this way if someone did try to get in... it gave me a few seconds to grab the knife from my nightstand. After a few brews, 4 too many episodes of a tree house building show being broadcasted on the rainbow tube tv, and the packing of my race pack... I fell asleep.

The start of the Wild Azalea Challenge was a chilling 27 degrees. The first mile or so wasn't actually on the trail itself, so Lane (local ultra/trail runner) volunteered to lead the pack until we hit the trail. With a few words from the RD, we silently set off into the cold morning.

Not knowing the trail in the least bit, I blindly followed Lane as we ran through what seemed like pathless woods. I finally started noticing the yellow blazes that had been talked about during the pre race meeting. He assured the group that it would be much easier to follow that first section back to the finish during the day light hours. The trail was primarily covered in leaves... thus hiding the roots. I hit an invisible root (one of many falls throughout the day) and fell pretty hard around mile 3. It wasn't anything serious, but it did tweak my hip flexor a little, which continued to bother me for the remainder of the day.

I stopped at the first aid station to tighten my shoes. The aid stations were 3-4m apart and consisted of water/Gatorade/bananas/GU/snickers etc. in a plastic container on the ground. I fell behind a few runners, but quickly caught back up. We all chit chatted for a little while and then I pushed ahead of the pack. I felt strong, but knew I was pushing it too hard.

For me, being the leader of a race can be a curse. It gets me out of my rhythm. My mind starts to wander, I constantly look back... it almost takes the enjoyment out of it. I tried my best not to think of it that way... but my pace kept picking up.

I crossed over a road and was already talking to myself, "I could have sworn an aid station was supposed to be there." Oh well... I had plenty of water to get me 4 miles to the next one. Being the middle of winter, I couldn't help but to think of how beautiful this trail is when everything is in bloom. The morning sun was shining through the trees, and it was in this moment... I knew I had made the right decision to come down. It felt good to be in Louisiana cruising through a National Forrest. Usually the only cruising I do in Louisiana is when it's down the clean streets of New Orleans...

Humph. No aid station here either?!? Given that there were only 4 volunteers putting on this race, I came to the assumption that the lead group was running faster than they could put out aid. No worries. This was definitely turning into the old school/self supported type of race that I was hoping for! I knew there had to be supplies at the next aid station since the 27 mile mountain bike race and foot race started on the opposite end at 8am. I started to meet head on with some of the MTB racers. Everyone was so polite! The trail etiquette was outstanding. Even when I was hiking some of the climbs (yes... there are climbs in LA), bikers were throwing on their brakes to let me have the right of way.

I finally got to an aid station around mile 18ish and refueled my bone dry bottle. Back on the trail the weather was turning... PERFECT. Sunny, breezy, and in the 50s... you couldn't plan a more pleasant day for racing. I continued pushing harder than I wanted because I was still leading at this point. I was in a stretch of trail where I was completely alone when I heard something rustling out in the middle of the woods. I glanced over and then had to steal another glance to ensure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. Wild horses. Three brown and white wild horses were standing in the middle of the woods. Never in my life would I have thought to see wild horses... especially not in the middle of Louisiana! I'm still kicking myself for not snapping a picture of them (again... leader curse...). The curse wouldn't last for too much longer...

I got passed around mile 21ish by the overall winner. He looked strong. He had a good pace and still had a lot of bounce in his stride. After he passed, I picked up the pace in pursuit but came to the conclusion that he wasn't going to be caught.

I finally got to the turnaround at mile 25. The volunteer heated up some chicken broth on a portable stove and poured it into a mini Gatorade bottle I had just emptied. I took a look around for our drop bags. Another volunteer took the truck to the store to get more supplies to replenish the aid stations... want to take a guess where the drop bags were? Ding ding ding! In the back of the truck. The volunteer apologized and told us he'd have them at the next aid station. It didn't bother me at all... I wouldn't have minded a fresh pair of dry socks (clean socks can do wonders for your mental state), but what I really wanted was to lose my buff and throw on my trucker hat. I mean if that's all I really wanted from my drop bag... I have no complaints about 4 volunteers busting their butts to make sure the runners have aid.

I set out of the turnaround with two runners in front of me. Unless they blew up somewhere in the next 25 miles, I knew I wasn't going to catch them. So instead of trying to wreck myself attempting to catch them, I settled into a pleasant pace. I wanted to really enjoy the second half of the race since I spent most of the first half cursed.

Since it was an out and back course, there's really not much left to describe. It just felt wonderful to be throwing down some distance on my legs in a new environment. I did come across a mutilated bird...

Around mile 42/43 I got passed by Elena Makovskaya, who had flown down from New York to visit New Orleans and was using the Wild Azalea Challenge as a training run for an upcoming 100 mile race in Vegas.

I knew I was nearing the end when I passed the fire tower and old couch...

The yellow blazes ended and were replaced by yellow caution tape. As I came upon the lake, I could see the finish tent in the distance. I rounded the corner to the cheering of a small group. There was no huge banner, no loud speaker calling out your name... just a group of proud, smiling faces wanting to congratulate you. These are my favorite types of events. Nothing beats the down home feeling of races like these. I finished with a new 50 mile PR of  9:34. After talking with the RD about the race, one of the volunteer's sons handed me a finishers shirt, bandana, hat, a cold beer and pointed me in the direction of the pizza.


After a quick change of clothes, a few slices of pizza, a beer, and some great conversations with the other racers and volunteers... I hit the road. I didn't want to stay in another hotel. I just wanted to wake up in my bed and not have to travel on Sunday. After a many Red Bull and a few stops to stretch out my tight legs... 8hrs passed and I pulled into my garage.

I would like to thank a few special ladies in my life for helping me through the 8hr drive...

1) my mother dearest - for offering to pay for a hotel room if I would simply pull over
2) my wife Kati - for texting me every 30mins to check in
3) Ke$ha
4) Katy Perry
5) Miley Cyrus

Go ahead. Judge me. I have no shame. Deep down... you have a guilty pleasure too... you may just be afraid to admit it...

Till tomorrow...