Author: zach

Mojave Desert Adventure Part IV

Mojave Desert Adventure Part IV

On the fourth day in the Mojave Desert we got off to a slow start and left our hotel room rather late (8:30AM) and we decided to explore Pahrump’s own Discovery Park in earnest. Discovery Park is interesting because it is an open space that 

Mojave Desert Part III

Mojave Desert Part III

On January 11th Apryle and I emerged from our warm hotel room and shuffled out into the cold parking lot in the pre dawn hours. We cleared the frost accumulation from the windshield and loaded the car with our hydration packs and food for a 

Mojave Desert Adventure Part II

Mojave Desert Adventure Part II

We awoke on the morning of January 10th and began our drive northwest through the Amagrosa Valley. The road snaked aimlessly through the treeless plain and anticlimactically crossed the California border. The bleak landscape was barely illuminated by an even bleaker sky. The first landmark we reached was Death Valley Junction, a town which appeared to be void of any inhabitants. However, the town name hinted that we may be closing in on our goal destination – Death Valley National Park. We reached the entrance of the park on State Highway 190 and realized that we had forgotten our America The Beautiful Pass, so we purchased a week pass at a lonely kiosk in the middle of the desert. I jumped out of the car to take my first steps in the countries hottest national park, only to find that it was a cool 58 degrees which was made even cooler with a slight drizzle and an 18 mph wind out of the SSE.

The first destination on our list was Zabriskie Point, where Apryle had planned a running loop through the Badlands of Death Valley. In less than 500 meters from the trailhead we crested a hill that opened up into a labyrinth of yellow domes that resembled a landscape from the fictional world of Dr Suess. The landscape was quite similar to Badlands National Park of South Dakota but had a unique personality of its own. Underfoot the ground felt like a course sponge and the surrounding mounds felt like they would permanently wash away after a strong rain. The wind swept through the shallow trenches that we were running through and kicked up pebbles into my clothes and hair. The sparse raindrops seemed to do little to dampen the surrounding soil, which hosted only the occasional scraggly Desert Holly plant. The narrow trail took unexpected twists and turns, ascending to passes, plunging into dry washes, and skirting along cliffsides. 

Our first deviation from the loop was an out and back trip to Red Cathedral, which was a red colored rock formation that formed a steep wall that towered over the landscape. We marveled at the geological wonder and then descended back to the second leg of the loop – Golden Canyon. This trail passed through a narrow canyon which was surrounded by golden rock walls streaked with red and grey converging lines. The trail terminated in a parking area off of Badwater Road, which mildly detracted from our wilderness experience. The determined sun broke through the clouds for a few moments as we made our way across the plain to Gower Gulch. We realized that we were quite lucky to see the landscape under cloudy skies because it allowed us to fully appreciate the colors and personality of the rock formations without the intense glare of the sun. Before entering the Gower Gulch we peered off to the Panamint Mountains to the west (our destination for the next day). A cloud hung over the highest peaks, which was followed by a layer of snow, which gave way to alluvial fans skirting the base of the range.

Gower Gulch looked just like a river bed carving through towering cliffs, but there was no river. Loose rock formed a winding path with sandy banks marking the shore of the pseudo-riverbed. The sun again became overwhelmed by the clouds and raindrops tried desperately to fill the gulch. We closed out our 9.5 mile (1683 vertical feet) loop with a quick out and back to Zabriskie Point and reflected on one of the most unique places we had ever been. 

Our next stop was the Furnace Creek visitor center where we perused the interpretive stations and gathered important beta for the rest of our trip. We took a short walk through the golf course because we were told that it was the best place for birding, but we realized how ridiculous it was to be walking through a wasteful human made structure in a national park and continued on our way. The fourth stop of the day was Artist Palette, which features an array of hues splattered across the striated mountainside. The volcanic deposits containing iron oxides and chlorite produce golden brown hills accented by deep burgundy, gold, coral, and amber splotches. These earth tones are contrasted by maroon, magenta, and emerald swaths that come together to resemble the name sake – artist’s palette. 

As we continued southbound through Badwater Basin we stopped at our fifth site – Devils Golf Course. Devils Golf Course is far more interesting and cheaper to maintain than the Furnace Creek Golf Course. This area includes jagged spires of rock salt which has been eroded by wind and rain. We engaged all of our senses as we marveled at the spectacle, listened to the crackling of the bursting salt crystals, touched the surface of the rocks, and even tasted the salt.

The Natural Bridge was our sixth stop and this geologic feature included an 11 meter tall and 11 meter thick bridge engineered by alluvial deposit. Rock, gravel, and sediment was naturally cemented together at the base of the mountain over many years. Which was then eroded away by cycles of flash flooding and changing stream course leading to the creation of the bridge. 

Our seventh and final stop for the day in Death Valley National Park was Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. We took a walk out to the salt flats, which was interesting because of its starkness but ultimately it was just long runway passing through a basin. We tried to search for the vulnerable Badwater Snail by scanning the salt marsh but we were unable to locate the small mollusk. 

After a full day in the park we continued south along Badwater Road to Ashford Junction. From here we headed east along Jubilee Pass Road which was nearly impassible in some areas due to large rock deposits over the road from earlier rain showers. We managed to make our way back to Pahrump in time for some late afternoon birding at Discovery Park. Before the sun set we managed to pick out a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, Song Sparrows, Mallards, American Coots, American Wigeons, Canada Geese, a pair of Swan Geese, a lone Snow Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose. After turning in for the evening, it was very hard to believe just how much we packed into one day in the desert!

Mojave Desert Adventure Part I

Mojave Desert Adventure Part I

We arrived at Las Vegas International Airport mid morning January 9th where made our way down Las Vegas Boulevard in order for Apryle to get a tetanus shot she had scheduled the night before. While starting a fire she was stabbed with a rusty piece 

Seattle Marathon

Seattle Marathon

I signed up for the Seattle Marathon rather late in the year because a friend (Paul Young) said that he had an entry available. I was excited to switch gears from the trail and hop back on the road to test if my legs still 

San Jose 50 Kilometer Race

San Jose 50 Kilometer Race

I arrived at the Sanborn County Park in the early morning on Saturday October 1st for the Spartan trail series 50 kilometer race. I was greeted by a couple of Black-tailed Deer at the entrance and they did not seem the slightest bit concerned about the line of cars or blaring music from the hill above them. Sanborn County Park is a forested 3,453 acre park located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The course traverses a large portion of the Sanborn County Park and features two out and backs with a loop formed near the start/finish area.

Sanborn County Park is the 7th largest park in Santa Clara County and is steeped in history, from the Ohlone Tribe to 1850s homesteaders to its eventual designation as a park in 1977. One the most unique features of the park is the San Andreas Fault, which makes a diagonal cut through the park from Lyndon Canyon, past Lake Ranch, and over to the Sanborn Road. The 1906 earthquake had such power that it almost emptied Lake Ranch and changed the course of several creeks. The plant communities in the park thrive due to the coastal summer fog and north facing slopes. The forest is mainly mixed evergreen (oak, madrone, Douglas fir, tanoak, and Redwood) with an understory of toyan, ceanothus, and manzanita.

Race Report

As the sun rose we toed the line for the 7:00AM start. The route quickly transitioned from a paved slight downhill past a pond and historic buildings, to a steep dirt trail. The opening climb ascended 1602 feet, starting at 1332 feet and topping out at 2934 feet in 3.4 miles. At the lower reaches of the climb the trail passed by Redwoods and then transitioned to Oak and Madrone dominated forest. However, upon entering the Todd Creek drainage the Redwoods reemerged and the dense canopy significantly reduced the lighting. Shortly before the first aid station a mile 3.1 (33:14), the trail transitioned from Sanborn to Skyline. Because I had enough fuel and water, I ran through the aid station.

The Skyline trail took a gradual dive down and featured several dozen twisting switchbacks and offered some excellent views of the mountains to the northwest. The Skyline trail transitioned into the John Nicholas trail and continued down to Lake Ranch Reservoir. Prior to reaching the bottom of the canyon and the reservoir the trail made a few creek crossings over wooden bridges. I blew through the second aid station as well at mile 6.6 (58:05). The trail continued past the reservoir and then up the John Nicholas trail to the turn around point and third aid station at mile 7.7 (1:05:5).

The weather was excellent for the first outbound portion of the race, sunny with temperatures climbing from low 60s to upper 60s. As I made my inbound journey, I passed my closest chaser along Lake Ranch (maybe 14 minutes back). I passed through the aid station again at mile 8.9 (1:13:44) and started the climb back out of the canyon along John Nicholas trail. The climb out of the canyon was about 1186 vertical feet starting from 1748 feet and ending at the Skyline at 2934 feet. The climb was runnable due to the gradual grade but I was sure keep the pace relaxed. Again I ran through the Skyline aid station at mile 12.3 (1:46:42). There was quite a bit of trail traffic with the 21 kilometer and 10 kilometer runners, which slowed my pace a little.

I began the steep (1602 feet) descent back to the start finish area, dropping from 2934 feet to 1332 feet. There was a slight variation from the outbound trail, the course took the Madrone trail and the San Andreas trail and eventually linked back up with the Peterson Memorial trail. This created a loop nearing the start finish area, which I reached in 2:13:47 (mile 15.5). I was optimistic to break 5 hours even if the wheels really fell off in the second out and back.

Unfortunately my strong climbing legs from the first loop vanished and my legs were feeling unusually fatigued for this point in a race. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had only given my legs 2 weeks to recover from Teanaway 100 miler. At any rate I was forced to hike a little up the steep climb and did not reach the Skyline aid station (mile 18.6) until 2:55:24, meaning I climbed that section 8:23 slower than my first outbound trip. I finally made an aid station stop and refilled my hydration bladder (meaning I consumed about 1.5 liters) and gathered some ice to put in my hat.

I could feel the temperatures climbing into the 70s as I descended to the base of the canyon. There were many more mountain bikers on the trail in my second lap, which added another challenge to keeping a consistent pace. The John Nicholas trail is mostly smooth with a few rocky sections, but lends itself to a quick pace. I reached the Lake Ranch aid station in 3:24:59 (mile 21.9) or about 14 minutes off the overall pace of the first lap. I continued up to the turn around aid station (mile 23, 3:34:05) and grabbed some electrolyte chews, ice for my hat, and some ginger ale.

I ran through Lake Ranch aid station one final time (24.3, 3:44:01) and was surprised that I did not see anyone chasing. I was ready to climb, though I knew I would be unable to match my pace from the first lap. I realized that I could really benefit from trekking poles so I grabbed a few fallen branches and fashioned my own makeshift poles, which I used to pick up the pace for a mile or two. As I made my way back up the canyon I passed my nearest competitors and a I little more confident with the gap I had created.

After about 1200 feet of climbing I reached the Skyline aid station in 4:30:39, meaning that my second climb took me 46:38 or about 14 minutes slower than my first lap. I was disappointed with how much time I hemorrhaged on the climbs, but I had to put that behind me and focus on closing out the race. I took a little over a minute at the aid station to fill my hat with ice, down some water and soda, and clean out my pack before the descent. The descent felt a little sluggish, but I managed to keep the time within 7 minutes of my first lap on my way into the finish. The grade on the Madrone trail was a little too steep for me to fully utilize gravity to my advantage and my quadriceps were working overtime for the eccentric control.

I came through the finish chute in 5:04:52, coming up short of my sub 5-hour goal. My second lap time was 2:49:51 or 37:18

slower than my first lap. The finish area had the most energy I had ever seen in a trail race, music blaring, excellent race announcer, and very supportive group of volunteers. Overall it was an excellent experience, the course was beautiful and challenging and there was an excellent post race atmosphere. Thanks to Nic and the Strive team for all of their support, thanks to the race director Luis, and thanks to all of the volunteers on course and in the finish area!

MileageOverall TimeAid Station SplitAid Station Split DifferenceLap TimeLap Time Difference
18.62:55:2441:37+ 8:2341:11+ 8:23
21.93:24:5929:35+ 4:441:11:12+ 13:07
233:34:059:06+ 1:131:20:18+ 14:20
24.33:44:019:56+ 2:101:30:14+ 16:30
27.84:30:3946:38+ 13:402:16:52+ 30:10
31.25:04:5234:13+ 07:082:51:05+ 37:18
Teanaway 100 Miler

Teanaway 100 Miler

As a side note this is my 200th post and my nine year anniversary of blewskersmiles, thanks to everyone that reads my ramblings. Apryle and I awoke at 2AM on Saturday September 17th 2022 and made our way to the western slopes of the Teanaway 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the West Loop FKT

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the West Loop FKT

On August 21st 2022, I visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park for the second time in my life. I previously visited the park on a cross country road trip (visiting Ohio from Washington) on December 15th 2017. This time the pretense was the same, I was 

Winter 50K “Warm Ups”

Winter 50K “Warm Ups”

Capitol Peak 50K

I started off the year with two semilocal 50K races in order to start increasing my long run distance and get myself warmed up for longer distance races of the spring. I like to have a balanced mix of big “A” races and also some lower key “B” races. It is also important to me to change it up and run races that I have not tried yet. 

Since I had already competed in the Captiol Peak 50 miler, I decided it would be fun to run the 50K distance with a different course this year. Therefore, for the first race of 2022, I signed up for Capitol Peak Mega Fatass 50K. The race was to feature an out and back course to Capitol Peak, however, due to snow levels the course was switched to two 25K out and backs. I was a little disappointed but thought it would still be an aesthetic racecourse. It basically consisted of two small loops near the start/finish and an out and back to the midway point.

The race got underway at 8:00AM on January 22nd and it was a cool (mid 30s) partly cloudy day. Apryle and I had arrived in the dark hours of the morning and slept a little in the car prior to the start at Magaret McKenny Trailhead. The opening miles were mostly on a gravel forest road (E9500), which gave way to the dirt single-track (campground trail), and eventually funneled onto the McKenny trail. For most of the opening miles I enjoyed the company of Mack Robertson and Will Rice. We set a good tempo and I was happy with the time splits we were hitting. Despite a continual uphill push and slick mud on the trail surface nearing the Sherman Creek turn around we covered the first 8.1 miles in 1:03:03.

We then turned around and made our way back to the start/finish area which was just a straight shot back to the campground on the McKenny trail (completing the loop with the campground trail that we used in the opening miles). The temperatures stayed cool and I managed to stay on my feet over the slick mud on the McKenny trail. I finished up the first lap with our pack of three in 2:00:41 (15.0 miles). This meant that we split our first inbound lap in 57:38. We stayed together for the next 2.3 miles until I started to pull away on the climb out of the campground at mile 17.3 (2 hours and 18 minutes into the race). I was not expecting to distance Mack and Will, but when I looked back it did not appear that they were going to chase me down.

I pressed on solo and reached the Sherman Creek turn around in 3:04:41 (22.9 miles), this meant that I ran my second outbound in a time of 1:04:00 as compared to a 1:03:03 in my first outbound journey. As I made my way back toward McKenny campground, I passed Mack and Will, who appeared to be behind about 3 to 5 minutes. I did not feel comfortable with that amount of time for a lead, so I tried to increase my tempo.

As the hours ticked by and the day progressed, the sun began to break free of the clouds and temperatures began to warm slightly. However, it was still a pleasant cool temperature to run. Although I was pushing the pace, I tried to be present and soak in my beautiful surroundings. Capitol Peak State Forest is a working forest, and therefore, it is in varying degrees of growth. Eight unique miles of course offered an accurate cross section of the patchwork quilt that is Capitol Peak State Forest.

Near the start/finish area the trail passed through older second growth forest with well-established trails that featured impressive wooden bridges over roaring creeks. However, as the course continued further into the park, the trail crossed logging roads with large treeless swaths that harbored young trees that topped out at shoulder height. The course then dove back into second growth forest with punchy climbs as trail drew closer to Sherman Creek.

As I reentered the second growth forest near the finish area, I focused intently on being sure I took the right trail into the finish. I closed out the race hard and stopped the clock at 4:02:52, good enough for first place. I had not negative split, but I was close, my second lap was 2:02:11, compared to my first lap time of 2:00:41. It is also worth noting that my second inbound time was 58:09, compared with my first inbound time of 57:38. This means I lost more time on the second outbound trip than my second inbound trip.

Thanks to the race directors and volunteers at the event and as always, thanks to Apryle for being there to cheer me on throughout the race.

The Statistics

Course: 29.78 miles and 4531 vertical feet.

Outbound 1: 1:03:03 (1:03:03)

Inbound 1: 57:38 (2:00:41)

Lap 1: 2:00:41 (2:00:41)

Outbound 2: 1:04:00 (3:04:41)

Inbound 2: 58:09) (4:02:52)

Lap 2: 2:02:11 (4:02:52)

Lord Hill 50K

With regards to Lord Hill 50K, I was a long time runner, but first time racer. Lord Hill State Park is situated along highway 520 near Monroe, Washington in Snohomish County. I often ran at this park when I worked a home health region along highway 2 from Monroe to Skykomish. However, it had been a few years since I had run at the park because I do not often find myself in Snohomish County anymore. At any rate, I was very familiar with the layout of the park and the many trails within the boundaries.

In my mind most defining feature of Lord Hill is the short but steep pipeline hill that runs through the middle of the park and that is exactly where the course started. We got things underway at 8:00AM and I kept the pace controlled. It was a cloudy morning and there was frost and ice clinging to the grasses and shrubs along the trail. All of the puddles had a thin veneer of ice and there was a biting chill in the air. These were the perfect conditions for a race, freezing when you are stationary, but comfortable when you are moving. The race started from the lower parking area near the Snohomish River and this was actually the first time I had ever started a run from this trailhead. I typically ran from the Northwest park entrance, so it was a nice change of pace.

I found myself with another duo of excellent runners in this 50K, Ben Rauk and Bill Johnson (who was running the 20 miler). I knew of Ben from other Japanese Gulch runners and it was great to finally share some miles with him. Almost immediately upon leaving the parking area, we were climbing the steep pipeline hill, which gradually gave way to a more reasonable singletrack trail that entered the woods to the right. All the turns were tight and there were roots trying to trip us all over the trail, which made finding a rhythm difficult. However, Ben and I managed to hold down a decent pace as we covered the first lap in 1:21:02 (9 miles).

The course was well designed, with the first .5 miles on the pipeline hill, followed by a right onto Loren’s Ridge, and a left on to Marsh Lake Loop trail just after the first mile. After only .4 miles on Marsh Lake the course took a left onto Temple Pond Connector as the trail passed by Temple Pond. At mile 2 the course turned onto Temple Pond Loop followed by a right turn onto Red Barn trail at mile 2.5. The Red Barn trail was the longest stretch of trail as it passed by Beaver Lake en route to Easy 8 trail at mile 3.3.

These trails flanked the northeast edge of park and the course veered left back into the park with the transition back onto the Pipeline trail at the northern terminus of the park. At mile 3.8 the course merged onto Beaver Lake trail and then to the boardwalks. After passing over the boardwalks the course reached the first aid station situated a top a small hill at the NW trailhead at mile 4.5. The course then doubled back over the boardwalks and onto the Midway trail; which continued for 1.4 miles before reaching the Main trail and Meat Cutter trail. The sharp descent of the narrow Meat Cutter trail emptied us out at the wide gravel River trail at mile 6.6. The River trail climbed to a junction with Redline trail, which narrowed and continued upwards.

At mile 7.5 the course turned onto the Midway Footpath, which I found to be the most difficult trail on the course. Although the trail lost 550 feet, it was over very overgrown terrain with many low branches and tripping hazards. From the Midway Footpath, the trail transitioned onto a gravel forest road (mile 8.4) back to the start/finish area (mile 9). The course then proceeded to repeat this pattern two more times.

The second lap was uneventful; we ran into some other runners and had to be a little more nimble in order to pass without trampling vegetation or tripping. The ice over the puddles began to melt and the trail was much sloppier due to the concentration of foot traffic and warming temperatures. Ben and I managed to reach the start/finish area in a time of 2:45:29 (17.9 miles). This meant that we covered our second lap in 1:24:27 or 3:25 slower than our first lap.

In the final big climb at the start of the last lap, I pulled away from Ben and tried to increase the tempo in order to try to negative split the last lap. I ran nearly the entire loop solo, only seeing Ben at the short out and back section at the northwest entrance trailhead. The hardest part of the final loop was definitely the last two miles, which snaked through a densely forested and vegetated hillside. The trail was extremely narrow, muddy, and overgrown with several stream crossings. When looking at a course profile, this section of the course would appear fast, but in practicality, it was a crawl.

I managed to cross the finish line in 4:09:38 (26.94 miles) for my second win of the year. I covered the final lap in 1:24:09, 18 seconds faster than my second lap but still 3:07 slower than my first lap. I waited to cheer Ben across the finish line and then I had to get back to Issaquah in order to make it to work for the afternoon. Overall it was an excellent race, the course highlighted the entire park with little repeat, the weather was perfect – cool with overcast skies, and the aid stations were well stocked. Thank you to the race director and all the volunteers for an excellent race.

The Statistics

Course: 26.94

Lap 1: 1:21:02 (1:21:02)

Lap 2: 1:24:27 (2:45:29)

Lap 3: 1:24:09 (4:09:38)

January 22Capitol Peak 50KCapitol Peak State Forest, Washington1st4:02:52
February 26Lord Hill 50KLord Hill Park, Washington1st4:09:38
Southeast Florida Expedition

Southeast Florida Expedition

Apryle and I traveled from Seattle to West Palm Beach on December 3rd 2021. Her parents picked us up at the airport and we traveled north to the town of Stuart, where we would be staying for the next week. Day 1: December 4 2021