Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to the Grand Canyon

This morning I got notification that I have been accepted for a week long service project in the Phantom Ranch area of the Grand Canyon. This will be my 7th overnight trip into the canyon and my 3rd such service project. I am very excited and will start my training tomorrow. Even though I am in pretty good running condition, hiking in and out of the canyon requires a very different type of fitness. I will be walking the steps/ramps of USM’s football stadium, walking at incline on a treadmill, as well as walking in the heat of the day in a subdivision that has short very steep hills. The project is October 18-24 so I have lots of time to get ready.

I first visited the Grand Canyon about 30 years ago. Like most people, I took a short hike down Bright Angel trail to the 1.5 mile rest house. I also drove to various overlooks. I was hooked and I knew that I would return to hike into the canyon.

It was about 10 years before I got back. On my first overnight hike, I was with my friends Darleen Schauer and Margy Ferrara. We were all runners and in very good condition---for running. We hiked down and spent 1 night in the dorms at Phantom Ranch and then hiked out the next day. I can't even remember which trails we hiked. I do remember that we had a great time and I was hooked on the canyon.

The 2nd overnight hike was about 12 years ago when I was retired and moved to Hattiesburg. I organized a group of women for a rim to rim. There were 11 of us and that was quite a lesson in group dynamics and my inability to motivate adult women to actually train for such a difficult hike. That hike was the most difficult of all that I have done. We hiked over 14 miles down the North Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch for 1 night and then out the 10 mile Bright Angel trail. On that trip, we got caught on the trail during a severe thunderstorm that was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

Trip number 3 was another rim to rim with my friend Darleen Schauer and my 2 adult children. On that one we hiked halfway down North Kaibab to Cottonwood campground for the night. The next day we hiked on to Phantom Ranch for 1 night and then half way out Bright Angel trail, spending 1 night at Indian Garden campground.

Trip number 4 was a service project with about 10 other people, including my friend Mary Ruth Middlebrook. We worked at Phantom Ranch for a week, sleeping in the crew workers bunkhouse. That was a very nice experience since we did not have to carry as much weight. We did such projects as trimming trees, cleaning irrigation ditches, breaking up man-made dams in the Bright Angel creek, and cleaning the crew house. On this project we worked 2-3 days until early afternoon, had 1 day off and then worked another 2-3 days. We had lots of time to hike around and really get to know the Phantom Ranch area.

Trip number 5 was another rim to rim. This time it was with my then 12 year old granddaughter and my daughter and son-in-law. We hiked down North Kaibab to Cottonwood for 1 night and then on to Phantom Ranch for 1 night. On the hike out Bright Angel trail, we spent 1 night at Indian Garden campground. This was a great family experience, especially the time spent with my granddaughter. She was an amazingly good hiker and we spent some quality time together.

The last trip was a service project. There were about 10 of us and we stayed at Roaring Springs in the old pump house residence which has been made into a work crew house/ranger residence. We commuted 1.5 miles each day to Cottonwood campground where we worked building trails, painting, building storage areas and making general repairs as needed. We were there for 4-5 days and then hiked down to Phantom Ranch for 2 days before hiking out the South Kaibab trail.

The upcoming service project will be a Phantom Ranch and I think one of the reasons I was chosen is because they need someone to paint all the food storage boxes at the Bright Angel campground. Most people do not like to paint and would rather be working on the more active projects. On the previous project I painted all the storage boxes at Cottonwood campground and I don't mind the work. In fact it is quite interesting because you get to do so much people watching and interacting with campers/hikers.

We will probably begin our trip leaving Hattiesburg in early October and returning to Hattiesburg in early November. I am very excited, but I know that each year these hikes/projects will be more physically difficult. It is for that reason that tomorrow I will begin my training. That will involve walking the steps and ramps and USM's football stadium, walking at incline on a treadmill and walking in the heat of the day in a subdivision that has some short/steep hills.

I'll keep you posted on my preparation for this very unique and rewarding experience. I'm not sure who will be on the project, other than my long-time running friend, Janie Honeycutt and her husband. We have done a previous project and they are great hikers and hard workers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Drive From MN to AR

After we picked up our Scamp last week, we stayed in the Backus, MN area for a couple of days to make sure everything was working correctly. It's a good thing we did that because we had a problem with the hot water heater, which we thought they fixed after our first night and then found the next morning it was still not right. We also found that the outside step had not been installed correctly. The good news is that Scamp has excellent customer service. This is a family owned company and when presenting our concerns, we dealt directly with the son of the owner who personally took care of our needs.

On Friday we drove to the Odessa, MO area where we ran a 5K on Saturday. I have been running/racing for over 40 years and have done hundreds of 5Ks, including one in Leadville, CO (altitude of over 11,000 feet) where I ended up walking about a 100 yards. Saturday's 5K marked the second time I have walked in a 5K. In fact, I walked 3 times, running my slowest time ever for the 5K distance. Yet, I still won my age group. At age 66, there just aren't that many entries and those who do enter are mostly walkers. My time was so slow that I will not be posting it.

After spending 6 weeks running in temperatures in the 40-65 degree range, I simply was not prepared for the heat and humidity. I was so hot after the race that when I went back to the trailer and saw some people out in their yard, I asked them if I could cool off in their water hose. They agreed that I could. Since I had not had a shower in a couple of days, I just got my shampoo and washed my hair and took a cold shower (with my running clothes on) after which I felt so much better.

While on this trip, I have also not been "training" and I was not hydrated and my entire body has not been doing well after all the hours of driving. As you can see, I had lots of excuses. After the race, I said to Hollie that I had all the excuses for my poor performance and his response was, "excuses are for losers" and my response to him was that I wasn't a loser since I had won my age group.

After the race, we drove to Fayetteville, AR where we are now visiting my sister. The temperatures here have been well over a hundred for many days. Yesterday was no different. Knowing that I am going to have get acclimated for the heat and humidity of MS, I headed out for a run. My plan for acclimation is the run as far/long as I can and then run/walk until I've had enough. My sister lives near a bike/hike trail so I headed out on that. First, I walked .75 mile and then I ran 3 miles. I felt fine with that run, but stopped as soon as I felt I was overheating. It's a good thing I did stop and turn around because it took me forever to get back to the start. There was no water available on the trail and I was very near having big-time problems. As soon as I got back to the house, I drank a bunch of water. I then stood/sat under a cold shower until I began to feel somewhat normal. As soon as I got something to eat and started hydrating, I felt OK.

We plan to leave tomorrow to make our way home. We'll stop at least one night. I have a couple of high school classmates who live in the Pine Bluff area. I haven't seen them since 1962 and I may try to meet up with them.

This has been a very good trip and Hollie and I plan to return to Alaska next year. Other travel plans include a couple of weeks in the FL Keys in Nov and Dec and some extended time in TX, NM, and AZ in Jan and Feb.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In MN in our new 19 Foot 5th Wheel Trailer

I have not posted since last Thursday, so this will be rather long as I try to catch up. We are now in MN where yesterday we picked up our new 19 foot 5th wheel Scamp travel trailer. After we picked it up we boon docked in the Wal-mart parking lot. We wanted to make sure everything was working properly before we start our journey back to MS. It's a good thing we did that because the gas water heater was burning so hot that it blackened the outside grate covering of the trailer. As soon as we noticed the problem we turned the heater off. This morning we went back to the Scamp factory and they said there was too much air in the mixture. They made an adjustment and hopefully it will be OK. They easily removed the blackening on the grate.

Summary from last Thursday to yesterday:

Thursday afternoon the drove our truck onto the ferry that would take us from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC. The ferry holds about 88 vehicles depending upon size. There is also room for over 400 passengers. Our original plan was to sleep on the floor in one of the lounges. This is a common practice with many passengers. Once we looked around and saw how everything was arranged, we decided that we would not want to do that and we were lucky that there was one 2-person cabin left. The cabin had bunk beds and a restroom and the price was right.

This ferry ride was 36 hours and went through the beautiful inside passage. By taking the ferry, we cut off a significant amount of driving time and mileage. Since we no longer had our travel trailer in which to sleep, we also would have had to pay for motel rooms.

One of the highlights of the ride (for Hollie) came Friday morning when he was up and in the forward lounge early enough to see an estimated 70 whales, including humpback and orca, as well as dolphins. Also, the small towns where we stopped were absolutely beautiful. The amazing thing is that these places even exist because the only way you can get there is by boat or plane. But then, this is Alaska and it is just the way it is. There are very few miles of road in this very huge state.

We arrived in Prince Rupert at about 5:30 am and immediately started driving toward Backus, MN. We made about 450 miles the first day. Along the way we saw a couple of black bear and many lakes and rivers where people were camped and many were fishing. This past Monday was a holiday in many Canadian provinces and these people take their 3 day weekends seriously. The second day we also drove about 500-600 miles. We planned to do 400-600 miles each day and take 4 days to drive the distance of over 2000 miles. That did not work out. We had planned to stay the 3rd night in Minot, ND. We were unaware that there had been serious flooding in that area, with the displacement of many residents. That, coupled with an oil and gas exploration surge, meant that there were no rooms available.

I started calling various motel chains and found that the nearest reasonable rates were for motels in Fargo or Grand Forks. We decided to go for Fargo, which meant that we had to drive between 800-900 miles on Monday. The good news is that we were able to drive the remaining 100 plus miles yesterday and able to pick up our trailer a day early and save that night's motel bill.

We will probably say close to Backus another night---just in case we have any additional issues with the hot water heater or anything else. Then, we will probably head for Fayetteville, AR for a couple of days to visit my sister. We should be home in a week or so.

On the exercise front---neither Hollie nor I had done any running, walking or biking for 4 days so it felt good to get out and run. Right next to the Wal-mart where we boon docked was a hike/bike/cross country ski trail. I walked 1.25 miles and ran 5 miles. The temperature was somewhere between 70-80 degrees and since we had been exercising in Alaska in much lower (sometimes actually cold) temperatures, this was quite a shock. I am going to be in deep trouble when I get home where todays high is supposed to be 101.