Friday, June 26, 2015

An authentic update on my book

Title in the works still, tentatively: Ultra-Souls
Climbing mountains and managing the 100 in 100 project, one of the many things I do on the weekend, besides avoid writing my book.

The last few weeks have been a real turn around point for me working on my book. For the last several months I've been caught up in temporal transitions. Jumping from point to point in my book and not following an emotional arc like most good novels do. This led to too many tangents and a general feeling of apathy and loathing when it came to the process of writing my book...

I am trying to write this blog on what I've learned about writing the past week but I keep getting distracted. Instead of ignoring these facts, I am going to list them: 
  • Jade's Kombucha that she just finished
  • The hum of the laundry in the background inconsistently swish-swashing my dirty clothes back and forth
  • Enrique Iglesias playing on the TV screen in the next room over
  • Cashew whining like a whistle.
  • The impending doom and the fact that very soon I'll owe Bundy a beer if I don't get this published before 5:00pm
  • The fact that Jade will read this shake her head and say something like "what are you writing?" 
  • Your vs. you're and the hopeless fact that I am may never get it right. 
  • The fact that I would be a terrible monk, if they ever let me in which I don't think they ever would. 
  • The fact that Western States 100, Ronda del Cims, Mont Blanc 80km and the legalization of Gay Marriage all likely trump my interest and my audiences interest in reading this update.
  • Who will read this? Who will read this if I actually wrote this blog? 
The past two weeks have been an absolute turnaround for my novel though. This past week, especially.

Saturday Night I attended a poetry reading with Jade at Balboa Park I was captured and moved by the way one of the poets Maria Mazziotti Gillan managed to capture her life so vividly and authentically down into small one to two page poems. 

Sunday I attended a three hour writing class with Jade on "Outlining your Novel" and for the first time ever, I was able to write down a successful and well synthesized tag line that I liked.

Finally, Monday Andrew and I attended a lecture by Dr. Donna Eckstein on How to Tell Your Story The event was hosted by the San Diego Writer's and Editor's Guild, Andrew and myself were the youngest in the room by what I estimated to be about ~40 years or so. And so I felt a bit foolish standing up in front of the crowd of WWII veterans and aging baby boomers saying "I am writing a memoir..." heads turned and analyzed my young age as I finished my sentence, "On how I got in to running 100 mile foot races" I'd forgotten how many heads our sport turns in a room full of reasonable people.

I am currently in the second edit of my memoir. I have too many words, too many pages written down. I'm no longer stuck in the mire of useless temporal transitions but I am having some difficulty  in applying what I've learned from these three experiences. I am constantly facing distractions and flailing terribly with my time management skills and the appropriate times to write this book. I could use more organizational skills and better self-discipline when it comes to getting page by page done. I am nearly constantly intmidated by notions of "where to start" when staring down at a 300+ page paper. But...

These are all demons to be fought. The book is still coming. 

For a far more well composed blog on Monday's meeting please visit:

Boo-yah! Published before 5:00pm PST, I don't owe you a beer now :) :) :) 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Santa Rosa Ridge Traverse: More cactus than you can swing a bush at!

Santa Rosa Traverse: 41.8 miles
Number of Peaks: 5
Elevation Gain: 14,755ft
Lowest/Highest point: Sea Level (Salton Sea)/ 8,717ft (Toro Peak)
Previous FKT: 1.5 days (Toro Peak to Highway S-22)
Our FKT: 19hrs and 59min’s (Highway S-22 to Highway 74)

Santa Rosa Mountains and previous attempts: 

The Santa Rosa Mountains are a remote and rugged desert mountain range located roughly two hours northeast of San Diego, CA. The range crawls up from the northwestern shores of the Salton Sea and spans out 42 miles northwest before tapering off at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs. 

The small desert community of Borrego Springs offers a swooping panorama of the ungainly ridgeline. Going from east to west the range extends from sea level to high points at Villager Peak (5,755ft), Rabbit Peak (6,666ft), Dawn’s/ Lorenzens Peak (6,582ft), Toro Peak (8,717ft) and finally Santa Rosa Peak (8,073ft) before ending at 4,000ft at Highway 74.  

Toro Peak’s western side has been graded and radio towers now claim the ranges highest point. It’s a popular area for weekend warriors and family camping but step just a few miles east on the ridge and it’s nearly uncharted territory, where quite possibly the last person to pass through the jagged angular rocks may have been Cahuilla Indians some hundreds of years ago.

Various online sources and a small log book I found atop Dawn’s peak reported scattered attempts of one a half day to three day west-east traverse of the Santa Rosas. But to my knowledge no one had ever completed the range from east to west in one single day push. 41.8 miles? It had to be possible.

Months before: 
Two months before the attempt I was sitting alongside my friend Robert and Greg at a brewery sipping down a beer. The three of us poured over Greg’s computer analyzing his 3-day trip on the ridge, Greg was the only other person we knew who’d made it the journey from east to west.
Robert and Greg were mumbling about the reality of running it under 24 hours, I leaned in to view the screen closer, 40’ish miles? 

“So we could totally do this in like 12 hours? Ya?” I said naively staring at the total mileage. The both of them laughed and shook their heads. What was up there that would be so difficult? I’d made it up Rabbit Peak in 2 hours and 40 minutes a month ago during a race. And according to Google Earth, Rabbit looked like it equated for at least 1/3rd off the entire range. 12 hours seemed like a conservative goal. 

The night before:

The two of us were blessed with a strange and out of season cold front blew into San Diego late May 2015 and opened up what we thought was a closed window to give an attempt at the epic Santa Rosa Traverse. 

“Hey Robert, just getting out of a play here downtown, I’ll head over shortly…shoot didn’t realize it was 9:30pm already, I’ll be 15 minutes late!” I said quickly while hopping into my Jeep and speeding towards North County.  My good friend Robert was waiting at the usual Starbucks parking lot by my house. 

Although our journeys often began at mundane suburban coffee shops our destinations couldn’t be further apart. Dark caverns with underground rappels, historic trestle bridges and countless remote peaks were just a few of the place I could recall traveling with Robert. The reason for meeting up with him this Friday night, would be no different. 

My Jeep puttered in next to his old Subaru Outback.  

“Nick, good to see ya..You ready to go?” He said. 

I’d spent half of my day in a haze staring at piles of hiking and running equipment I’d gathered in my garage, “which was the right pack?” “How much water did we say?” “12 bars, 14 bars? 4 or 6 sandwiches?”….

“ya I’m ready” I said back to him smiling. 

The logistics of making a shuttle work for this traverse were immense. Separately, we drove two hours north to the intersection of Highway 74 and the access road leading to Toro Peak, the official and geological end of the Santa Rosa’s where we dropped off Robert’s car. 

Saturday 12:30pm:
The Jeep...I still can't recall the last time I washed it...

“Man it’s going to be a long 12-hrs before we see that thing again!” I muttered to Robert and he grabbed his things and climbed into my jeep. He laughed. 

My eyes drifted open and shut as we spent a paycheck or two driving the Jeep two hours around the entire mountain range to the eastern terminus, ten or so miles northeast of Borrego Springs.
Driving onto the dirt pull-off I stopped the vehicle yawned and rubbed my eyes
“Dude, I’m a need some kind of sleep before we rage into this thing” I said.  

Within seconds both of us passed out and jumped awake when some twenty minutes later when a strong gust of wind blew open my driver side door.

“Jesus….These are going to be some rough ass conditions” I said while Robert fiddled with his pack making last minute adjustments. 

I threw on my Inov-8 Race Pro 10 pack, it was my first time trying out the sideways bladder but was happy with how well it sat snug against my body. I was even more excited to try out the new TerraClaw 250’s, what better way to gear test than traverse 40+miles in them?
The new Inov-8 Terra-Claw test run!

S-22 (Sea Level) to Villager (5,755ft) Total Miles: 7 Time: 2:49:00

We started at 3:00am and heavy winds blew us along towards the base of the ridge.
Evil, evil Mojave Yucca looms over our heads in the dark night.
 Despite only getting thirty minutes of sleep the two of us were spot on navigation to the top of Villager Peak. 

Sun peaking out at the top of Villager Peak
We summited in 2hrs and 49min’s an entire hour and ten minutes slower than when I’d raced it a few months back. But this wasn’t the headphone jamming, waist pack wearing trip I’d done in February. This was a full on traverse. As an orange haze cast over the sky, I looked west and could barely make out the shape of a mountain in the far distance…Toro. 

Villager! One down!

Villager Peak (5,755ft) to Rabbit Peak (6,666ft) Miles: 11 Time: 4:22:30

Moving west from Villager we descended and covered peaklet after peaklet. These small climbs and descents always seemed to multiply in my mind before the true and final steep ascent to Rabbit Peak. 
Heading towards Rabbit
As we reached the last climb, we entered into the scattered Juniper Tree forest with intermixed Manzanita and what we called “Toe-Kicker” cactus, our nickname for the perfectly poised cacti ready to stab you in the foot. Robert and I learned that lesson one too many times. 

"Little bunny foo foo went hoppin through the cactus..."

In the last few hundred feet we broke into the thicker Juniper-Scrub Oak forest. Thickening on the Northern slope, we aimed left averting the sharp branches (for now) and reaching the summit in 4hrs and 22 min’s.
Slackers, taking a break on Rabbit

Rabbit Peak (6,666ft) to Dawn’s Peak (6,582ft) Miles: 17.4 Time: 8:52:37

Both Robert and I knew that once we took our first few steps beyond Rabbit Peak, the two of us, with our minimal food and water supply were committing. There would be no turning back, there would be no quitting. Forward would be the only option.

After a short break on Rabbit we were instantly thrust into a mess of rigid scrub oak, scraggly juniper and unyielding manzanita. We struggled immensely to find small interstitial spaces to crawl in between the evil (and probably endangered) shrubs. The slices in my legs, the cuts on my arms, the stabs of Yucca to the thigh, this was the wicked and rapid initiation into the terrain that defined the rest of our trip. 

"Left at that bush...then duck under...hmm..nope"
Ridge after ridge, our progress often slowed to a crawl as we stood at high points staring at the next hill top and then glaring at the valley between. We tried to piece together the small patches of bush free clearings in one horribly painful puzzle after another. Microscopic decisions to go left or right around a single bush often ended in macroscopic mistakes where we’d ascend the wrong ridge.
As we drew nearer to Dawn’s Peak, minutes of mistakes had evolved into an hour or so of wasted time and we both had the scrapes to prove it. I could see the cairn atop Dawn’s Peak, but between us and the top was the thickest, healthiest Manzanita chaparral forest I’d seen in my life.  
"What am I doing with my life!?!"

"Don't go up these rocks...They don't go anywhere"
Time was ticking whether it was the 12-hour time goal or our inherent short supplies, decisions were hasty, too hasty. I followed Robert as he dove back first into a thick scrub oak connecting two small clearings. I winced as I passed through the center of the tree and a branch caught my thigh, expanding on an already existing cut. Shorts were a bad choice. 

It took minutes to gain feet. The two of us jumped from rock to rock and crawled from clearing to clearing. I watched as my GPS ticked over the eight hour barrier and as I crawled hands and knees under a large Juniper, untangling my pack from a persistent branch, I finally understood why the two of them had laughed at me and my 12-hour time goal back in the bar months ago. 

I looked up and could make out the cairn some hundred feet above me. Anxiously, I blazed a path straight towards it, braving several more long scrapes on my shins and arms. I was sure that this would be the worst of it, that we were nearly finished, that surely we’d covered at least 25 or more miles now and that Toro would be one or two ridges over. Robert reached the top minutes after me,  
“Half-way!” Robert exclaimed with his hands up in the air smiling. 
Grawwhh!! The top!

Jerry Schad! Author of Afoot and Afield in San Diego


Dawn’s Peak (6,582ft) to Toro Peak (8,717ft) Miles: 30.0 Time: 16:41:40

Extending my arm to touch the foreign stacked pyramid of boulders, I breathed heavily and plopped my weary legs down on the ground. 

“Halfway?” I exasperated to Robert. There was no quitting though. There was no way out I assured myself as I stared thousands of below at Clark Dry Lake.

I scarfed down two small sandwiches and looked again at my watch and then at my food supply. Slowly, I chewed the second sandwich, realizing rationing might soon become a reality.
After a long break, the two of us hobbled back to our feet and began moving towards Toro. We were instantaneously thrust back into sea of thick chaparral mazes. 

Hours quickly rolled by and I’d made the mistake once of turning around to see how far we’d made it since Dawn’s, only to see the cairn in the very near distance and Toro still infinitely far away. Robert and I mutually decided that it was in our best interest to just look at the shrubs.

Following a chain of clearings I’d spotted from a high point we veered to the far right of the ridge trying to avoid summiting an unnecessary peak. Disaster ensued as the clearings really weren’t clearings and we were quickly forced into unyielding walls of scrub oak. We traversed further and further right holding onto the small hope the next ridge might yield a clear shot at getting to the Alta Seca bench (the next prominent point before Toro). We cascaded through loose gravel and small boulders, crawling on our stomachs under trees and down into a deep gully. Sadly, I looked back at the small high point I’d tried so desperately tried to avoid and saw that the entire ridge after that point was entirely clear compared to the hell we were in the middle of. 

“Robert…I’m sorry man…I must be…I must be getting tired” It was my poor judgement that had led us far right and lost us so many minutes and so much mental energy.

Robert just laughed “Well we came here to climb right?” he said staring upwards from the gully, “so let’s just keep climbing!” He was so positive it pissed me off. 

"Well we'll just keep climbing!"

Lured by the sirens of instant gratification, the two of us know suffered the consequences as we dragged our heels through thicker and thicker brush. We slowly trended left at about a half a mile per hour, our morale diminishing with every new microscopic decision. 

We were now deep overhead climbing at a 60% grade through the most thriving chaparral environment I’d ever seen. It would be beautiful, I’m sure, if I wasn’t trying to pass through the middle of it. 

We fought tooth and nail to reach a massive rock outcropping. The two of us weary and scratched to hell, scrambled up and over the huge boulders when a strong gust of wind hit me the face, the top!
A small cairn and old wooden post marked that some other unfortunate souls had made the same journey.

“I know this place” Robert exclaimed and continued on to recount all the previous trips he’d made to this area, the Alta Seca bench. 
"...At least I think I know this place..."

“Rock cairns!” Robert shouted over excitedly. 

“Those poor, poor people” I said out loud to Robert as the two of us started following the poorly marked semblance of a trail.

Rock cairn or strange natural coincidence?

Following the cairns down into a pine tree meadow I underestimated a drop, slipped and collapsed onto my side making a small “umph” against the soft pine needles. Too tired, too weak and too unmotivated I just laid on the ground.  

“Nick you alright?” he said with concern. 

“..Meh…” I mumbled and slowly stood up. Sun would be setting soon, we needed to get to Toro.  
At the upper half of the Alta Seca bench we wove through gorgeous and pristine Pine Tree meadows and aside from the occasional toe kicker cactus, I was eternally thankful that we’d finally risen above the thick chaparral forests. 
Pine trees! Finally Pine trees!!!
Robert entertained me with stories of how he’d ran through these meadows in a full jumpsuit and goggles and scared the life out of a young family hiking. 

Not soon enough, we were finally digging our poles into the final ascent of Toro Peak. 

"The road!"
“The road!” I cried out to Robert. The true end was near. It was an ironic and strange peak to ascend, the ease of the graded fire road and massive radio towers stood in thick contrast to the hellish 16 plus hours we’d just spent in some of the most remote terrain in all of Southern California.  

I stood at the top utterly exhausted and watched the sunset as thousands of feet below a massive cloud layer rolled east over the mountains vanishing into the air as it reached out towards the desert.

Toro shadowing over a distant Dawn's, Rabbit and Villager

“All downhill from here ya?” I said smiling over at Robert

“…well…we still have Santa Rosa” He said. 
"Done!" ...wait what?"

Toro Peak (8,717ft to Santa Rosa Mountain (8,073ft) Miles: 34.17 Time: 17:57:16

“Gah what the hell really?” I exclaimed. He was right, in my angst to be done with the traverse I’d completely forgotten about the last little bump on our way down to highway 74. Santa Rosa the thorn in my back, the rock in my shoe, the nagging pain, the last thing between us and the end.

We toggled between short bursts of running and a crippled speed walk. The graded road was nice, but seemingly endless. At its low-grade my patience was wearing thin as we reached the turn off towards Santa Rosa and that last damned 500 feet of ascent. 

Cutting the roads we went off trail to the top and horrified a family huddled around their campfire roasting marshmallows. The two of us haggard, torn up, lumbering men emerged from the total darkness,
“Any idea how far down to the 74?” Robert said spryly to the man. 

“Bout’ ten miles or so” the man beckoned. 

Heads down we stumbled forward up the last few feet to the burned down cabin that marked the final summit.
Santa Rosa Mountain and the burnt down cabin

Santa Rosa Mountain (8,073ft) to Highway 74 (4,600ft) Miles: 41.8 Time: 19:59: 16

We reviewed what little rations we had left. 

“I got a Gu and uhhh” I reached my hand into my pack “and uh half this lara bar…” I mumbled picking off the rocks and lint that had gathered on it. I wondered for a brief second how long it had been sitting unwrapped in my pocket, but the thought quickly faded as I took a bite “well make that a quarter of a bar now”. 

We passed back by the marshmallow family and disappeared back into the obscure darkness from where we’d emerged.

Ten long ass flat-low grade miles extended into infinity. The same thick cloud layer we’d seen from above was now blinding our headlamps. I reached out my arm and watched as the fog swallowed it whole.

“We’ll we just gotta go down…” I exclaimed to Robert. Hours passed. And there was no conversation. There was no hope. Just fog. And the hollowness of the long descent that ate away at what little morale we had left. 

Finally we caught site of Robert’s Car. Morale skyrocketed and our pace turned into a quickened run.
“This is it! This is the last switchback!” Robert exclaimed, as he flew past his car headed down the mountain. I thought he was an idiot at first for passing by his car, until I realized it didn’t count until we touched Highway 74…still a half mile beyond where we’d parked yesterday. 

Our toes crept onto the black asphalt of highway 74 at approximately 10:58pm. 19hrs and 59min’s after we’d begun what I thought was going to be an “easy” 12 hour run journey. I was completely and utterly humbled by the difficulty of this short mountain range and complained endlessly to Robert as we made the final, final ascent back to his damned car.

The finish line sign!

Done finally done! Damned 1/2 mile back to Robert's car...