Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wrapping-up summer

As the plane takes off from Lihu’e and leaves the paradise deep below, I think it is a time to wrap up this summer. For most people in this country summer ends when kids go back to school and the backyard grills get covered after Labor Day barbecues. For number of years now, we have been spending our Labor Day weekends on Kauai, where the Kauai marathon (and half marathon) has been happening on Sunday before Labor Day. Marketa has been coming back regularly to run those 26.2 brutal miles. Brutal because of the heat, humidity, and the steep, hilly course. No wonder there are typically only fewer than couple of hundred people running the full compared to twenty five hundred half marathon runners.  This year, I signed up for the half about a week before our departure for Kauai and then we watched one hurricane come dangerously close to the islands with another one right behind and scheduled to brush the state on race Sunday. Something must be happening with the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, hurricanes are a new phenomenon for us (not for the islands over a longer time span). Running in early morning hours can be very nice here, with clouds, rain showers and cooler temperatures as a result of the daily trade wind driven weather pattern, but hurricanes tend to suck in warm and super-saturated air from the south, making one suffer from the start. Kauai marathon starts tend to have a special mood – torches burning, prayers to gods in native language accompanied by conch blowing and a drone hovering above the crowd. Hula dancers and especially the Taiko drummers along the course complete the scenery, which alone would be worth doing the run – sunrise above the green mountains, bucolic farmlands, views of the distant ocean as well as the last half mile along the surf of Poipu shores.

Marketa ran strong this year, despite (unavoidable in this weather) blisters and increasingly problematic feet, causing her lot of pain past mile fifteen. I tried to match my 2010 time and gave it my best effort, hoping that my lack of training would not catch up with me too soon. I finished about a minute faster than in 2010 (at 1:57:09) but I almost blacked out in the finish area. I could not imagine running another 13.1 miles and I absolutely admire Marketa’s strength and mental drive to finish her 4th TKM. I know it meant a lot to her before her scheduled foot surgeries.

We succeeded to rest on a beach for a day after the run and not get our blisters infected – salt water and sand are the worst enemies of blisters, no matter what people say about healing powers of ocean water. The next day, we drove to the top of Waimea canyon, where at 5,150 ft of elevation, natural environments exist so different from the costal areas below. We hiked few miles out towards Mount Wai’ale’ale, the wettest spot on Earth on a “trail” that turned into a slowly decomposing wooden board walk with ladders and steps (often missing few stairs here and there). The trail leads to an overlook, a place closest to Ha’ena from any paved road on this side of Kauai. We did not reach that spot, since we somehow forgot that the best fast hiking speed on trails here is about 1 mile per hour, less on the Kalalau trail (forget trail running). We were lucky it did not rain, but it was likely the views down the 4,000 feet high cliffs would be obscured by low clouds anyways.

Amazing what passes for a trail on Kauai...

On my last day of vacation, we were lucky again to meet John, the North Shore Bike Doktor, who rented us two of his perfectly maintained hard-tails. As we were filling out the paperwork, we chatted about his last year trip to ride in Idaho, loss of trails due to the Wilderness act and heard his complains about the constant rains preventing him and his tribe of Kauai mountain bikers to ride their local trails since January (!). He told us about some crazy hikes he was planning, so I guess the guys here keep the adventures going. We use our mountain bikes to ride out seven miles on the narrow, winding and hilly road to Ke’e, trying not to get ran off the road by both tourists (who don’t know they are going too fast for such a road) and locals (who know well but few of them care). Bicycle transport allowed us to stop at three nicest beaches of Haena (Ke’e, Haena SP and Lumahai) without any parking issues, swim, eat tropical fruit and travel AC-free. The 14-mile round trip felt little bit like a workout, but I could hardly imagine a better way of spending a day on Kauai. I envy Marketa who will practice this island lifestyle for another six days.

The summer of 2016 was excellent for me, and I would also hope for Marketa, in terms of cycling. We rode together at Mammoth Lakes in July and thanks to her e-bike range, explored roads above Oakland, Santa Cruz mountains and elsewhere.  I go for a trail run once or twice a week, but I almost never think of specific distances or keeping any records of my runs. Running in Pleasanton can be hard due to steep hills and high temperatures, but my runs are times when I tend to let thoughts and ideas sort of flow through my head and decompress.
Mountain biking, on the other hand, is an activity that I tend to plan, with goals of visiting specific trails new to me, trails I haven’t ridden in a while, alpine trails in the High Sierras, or rides with friends I enjoy riding with. In that respect, this summer was fantastic: an impromptu trip to Seattle in June with Pavel, whom I could finally show some of my past favorite routes outside of Seattle as well as to see the new trails on Tiger Mountain.

Two consecutive weekends at the Sierras, one at South Lake Tahoe where the punishingly hard rides at altitude become tests of my physical abilities as well as a test of our riding group companionship. I promised to stop using the term “gradual climb” at times when everyone in the group had to dig deep, we learned that a hard ride becomes easier after a dip in a cold lake, we saw one of our friends ride his single speed rigid bike faster than any of us fully-suspended guys, and had good times sharing pizza and beers.

The second trip was camping at the Sierra Buttes which happened to coincide with the annual famous Downieville Downhill race. We saw some nice enduro racing action, shared gourmet breakfasts at the campsite (from now on I will bring peaches on all camping trips) and rode the superb Mills Creek trail to the top of an 8,000 feet  mountain. A casual conversation during a ride stop about a “modern” style of riding had Grant and me praise Pavel at the bottom of a long downhill, for having us taught how to improve our skills.

So the American summer may be officially over, but there is no reason for the rides (and runs) to stop – the trails will stay dusty until the winter rains begin, when they will turn into hero dirt, our legs and lungs are at the best shape of the season, the temperatures will drop a little bit, lakes will stay warm for another month, and the California endless summer will continue. Maybe, I will even consider taking the cover off our backyard grill to make cedar plank salmon again…

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