Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ka'au Crater Hike

Of the eight or so amazing hikes we did on our recent trip to Oahu, Joe and I agreed that the Ka'au Crater trail was by far the best -- in fact, we both think it's the best hike we've ever done.
Start/finish of the trail, and location of marriage proposal
The sign at the start of the trail seemed a little sketchy, and the first steps of the trail involved a rope, which foreshadowed the adventure to come.  According to Joe's All Trails app, the trail is 4.5 miles.  It turned out to be more like 6 miles -- 6 very slow miles.  Our fastest mile took about 29 minutes, and we had one mile that took us more than an hour.  The total elevation gain was 2,300 feet.

The beginning stretch was fairly flat and took us through what looked like a prehistoric forest, with huge trees and beautiful vines hanging down.  It was rooty and muddy, and we followed along the singletrack beside some old pipes.  (This was an opportunity to continually quote The Simpsons: "What the hell is this, some kind of tube?")  We passed by a group of twenty-somethings who were talking about their hostel and their trips to Africa and other exotic places.  Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves following a stream, and it was pretty clear we'd lost the trail.  We decided to keep going along the stream, because that was the general direction we wanted, and then we came to a pool beneath a small waterfall.  We didn't want to backtrack, so we swam through the pool and climbed up the waterfall.

[Joe's note after reading this post: "You should tell them how I made you go in first and test how deep it was.  Say something like, "Heroically, Joe had me go in first to test the water level."  Okay, Joe, done!]

Anyway, after we climbed up from that waterfall, we soon came to an awesome waterfall we could go sit behind.  That's where the twentysomethings caught up to us, and we took a picture for them.

After we left the kids behind, we pressed on, and never lost the trail again, and we were virtually all alone on the trail.  That was the first in a series of three big waterfalls we passed.  We climbed along the side of the second one, and we got to climb straight up the third one.  (Video here.)  We were thankful for the ropes that had been placed in all the tricky spots by an older guy who called himself Uncle Joe, who Joe had met at the HURT 100 race the previous weekend.

After the waterfalls, we climbed up to the rim of the volcano crater.  It was surreal to pop out of the jungle and see the flat plain of the crater below us.  On the near side of the crater, we were in the clouds, and it was windy and drizzling.  At one point, it seemed like it was raining upwards at us.  Climbing around the crater involved a lot of rope-assisted climbing until the halfway point, and then a lot of butt-sliding down steep, muddy ridges.  (Videos here and here.)  The trail made a lollipop shape around the crater, and once we got about halfway around, the clouds started clearing, and we could see the beautiful views of the mountains, the city of Honolulu, and the Pacific Ocean.  We kept marveling at how anyone could have installed the powerlines we saw at the top.

Butt-sliding down the ridge, in the clouds

Every once in awhile, we'd joke about our "blistering pace" ("Wow, that last mile was sub-sixty minutes!") and marvel about how incredible this hike was, and how we might never in our lives find anything to top this adventure.

We had no idea the hike would take as long as it did, so while I had enough water, I had only brought the one energy bar that we split at the second big waterfall.  We hadn't had lunch, although we had some excellent shave ice in between our morning hike (Koko Crater) and this hike.  I was starving, and before we started our descent from the ridges around the crater, I asked Joe if we could split the granola bar he'd brought.  He generously gave me the whole thing, which I was super grateful for.  Then we headed back down into the jungle-like, rooty singletrack, which rejoined the trail we'd started on.  Joe says it was around this point, with less than an hour left in the hike, that he decided to scrap his plan to propose later that night and propose when we got back to the trailhead instead.  We were enjoying the most adventurous, beautiful, strenuous hike we'd ever been on, and we were stinky and filthy with mud from head to toe.  He said this was more true to "us" than a fancy hotel dinner would be (although we did enjoy a fancy hotel dinner later that night to celebrate).

When we were almost at the trailhead, I delayed us a little bit by attempting to wash a layer of mud off in the stream.  It didn't work so well, and right before we got back to the trailhead, Joe looked back and commented, "Now it just looks like you have diarrhea running down your legs."  I responded, "Yeah . . . looks like" and we both laughed.  If I had realized that Joe was about to propose in two minutes, I would have joked with him about making the least romantic comment possible in what would typically be the most romantic situation.

Another funny thing was that Joe reached the trailhead a couple seconds before me, since he was ahead of me on the trail at that point.  I didn't know what he was planning, so I called ahead, "Can you take a picture of that sign at the top?  The one that says it's an unmaintained trail or whatever?"  Joe obligingly turned on his camera and tried to take a picture.  He just got his GoPro right before the Hawaii trip, and he's still working on mastering it, so he accidentally took a video of the sign, and you can hear him ordering, "GoPro Camera mode" in a frustrated attempt to use the voice command.  I asked him to save that video forever.  It's pretty funny.

Finally he was able to take the picture I requested, and then before I could walk away toward where we'd parked the car, he gave me a side-hug and said, "So I was going to do this later at the fancy hotel, but I decided this is more 'us.'"  Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.  Since he hadn't planned the proposal this way, he didn't have the ring, and we joked that that level of preparation was also appropriate for us.

Another detail that's fitting for our personalities is that instead of buying a ring, we're using a ring I already had, because we'd rather spend our money on experiencing more adventures together than on something that, like as not, I'd probably lose anyways.  Later that afternoon, he showed me what he got instead of a ring: he started a savings account for us labeled "Julie and Joe's Australia Vacation."  He put the money he would've spent on a ring in that account, and he set up an automatic transfer to keep adding money from each paycheck.  We're hoping to have enough to go sometime in 2018.  Australia has always been my dream trip, and I still can't believe that it's actually going to happen.

I don't know if we'll ever be able to top the adventure we had at Ka'au Crater, but it'll be fun to spend a lifetime trying.  We're also looking forward to coming back and doing this trail again next year and more times in years to come, because it will hold an extra special place in our hearts as the site of our engagement.

Back at the Air bnb right after the hike and proposal

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

HURT 100 race report, or Why I'll be entering the HURT lotto again next year

This past weekend, I tried to race the HURT 100.  My boyfriend Joe and my good friend Edward came to Hawaii with me to crew and pace me.  Our friend Jessica, who lives in Oahu now, also came out and crewed for me, which was awesome.  I owe every happy footstep during the race to these guys.  I made it to mile 67.5, which counts as a 100k "Fun Run" finish.

I thought I knew what "hard" meant.  But HURT redefined that term for me.  Like I said to my crew during the race, it was exactly what I signed up for.  The course was brutal, the views were spectacular, and the people were beyond wonderful.  It was so cool to be on the course and experiencing the race that I'd watched online, read about, and tried to enter multiple occasions.  This time around, it was more than I was capable of doing.  But for whatever reason, I'm not leaving Hawaii crushed; I'm actually even more excited to try this race again -- and again -- until I can finish it.  (And maybe more times even after that.)  Bonus: Both Joe and Edward are excited to enter the lotto and run the race also, and we've made a pact that no matter which of us gets in, we'll all come back to Hawaii to crew and pace them.

I can't really do this race justice in a race report, but I'll try to jot down some highlights.  If nothing else, hopefully re-reading this again next year will help me learn from this experience and have a more successful race next year.

Pre-Race Meeting
Pre-Race meeting near the start/finish (Nature Center)
The highlight of the pre-race meeting was the "blessing of the race bracelets," where we each dipped our bracelet into a bowl of water, which would supposedly increase our chances of finishing.  I knew I could use any luck I could get!

The race directors also mentioned the especial need for hydration vigilance.  They recommended runners drink 32-64 oz of water between each aid station.  They said the vog (volcanic fog) present in the air would result in increased dehydration.

Race Start
Before the race, the race directors had us hold hands with our fellow runners and stand in silence, listening to the water flowing in the stream under the bridge.  It was very peaceful.  Then the guy next to me asked a runner with a huge ultra-beard whether he had a separate bib number for his facial hair.

Loop 1
It was so fun seeing the course the first time.  The roots were beyond crazy.  I never found them annoying during the race, though -- even the section where the trail was entirely made up of roots, along the side of a cliff.  I thought it was pretty fun.

Photo credit: Ultrasignup

I took a wrong turn on the first loop.  I was on the third and final leg of the loop, and a lady with a French accent who was hiking along the trail saw me turn right when I approached a gate.  She asked, "Aren't you supposed to follow the orange flags?"  I said yes, and kept going.  After about a tenth of a mile, I realized, "Wait, was she trying to tell me something?"  I wasn't sure what to do, so I pulled out the turn-by-turn directions from my vest.  They clearly stated that on the orange leg, you have to go through two gates.  I was so thankful to that lady, who reminded me of Lise Plantier, that I kept thinking I should message Lise after the race and thank her for saving me on that loop.  And then I had to keep telling myself, "That wasn't Lise!"

Just beyond those gates was my favorite part of the course.  During the daylight (so during loops 1 and 2), the views to my left were breathtaking.  I've never run in such a scenic place before.  We ran through so many different landscapes: bamboo stands, jungle, ridges with ocean views, huge tropical pine trees...  The tropical bird sounds were fun, too.

I did loop 1 in about 6:10, I think, which wasn't a good sign in terms of making the 36-hour cutoff.  (There are 5 loops.)  Each loop has three big climbs of about 1,600 feet apiece, which equals an elevation gain of about 24,500 feet total.  On each climb, I lost my will to live a little bit, and then as soon as it leveled out for a bit, I quickly regained my appreciation for the beauty around me and truly enjoyed being in the race.

Loop 2
I slowed a bit in loop 2, but I felt pretty steady.  I felt like I was eating enough.  The aid stations were the best stocked I've ever seen, and the most convenient and hygienic.  All the food was labeled with fancy placards, and most items were packaged in single-serving ziploc bags, so you didn't have to worry about insects or unwashed hands touching your food before you could.

Each time I saw Nikki Kimball on the course, I was amazed by her positive attitude.  I've seen the documentary about her, and I've read so much about her, I felt a little starstruck.  She was never in first place, but she was always cheerful and chatting with those around her, and she said "Good job!" to me each time we crossed paths.

It was so wonderful seeing Joe and Edward (and then Jessica too) at each aid station.  That was definitely motivating to me whenever I was feeling tired.  By the time I saw them at the end of loop 2, the sun had set.  At Nu'uanu aid station before the last leg of loop 2, Joe reminded me that he'd be able to pace me on loop 3.  (Pacers can start at mile 60 or at 5pm Saturday, whichever comes first.)  Joe would take the first 2 legs of loop 3, and Edward would take the 3rd leg of loop 3 and all of loop 4 (assuming I'd make it that far).

Loop 3
It was great starting loop 3 with Joe.  There's a 1,200 foot climb right from the start, and we were in the dark, but I was still moving okay.  At some point during that first leg, though, I started really slowing down.  I thought I was taking in enough nutrition and hydration, but I think I really started slacking in both, and got behind.  I started feeling exhausted and light-headed.  The only thing that cheered me up and energized me a bit was hugging Joe, so I did that a lot.  Joe estimates I hugged him about "a dozen or so times" in the 15 miles he paced me.  A couple times when I felt really dizzy for a second, it would be along the side of a cliff, which was really scary.  I sat down for a couple seconds each time this happened.

After two legs with Joe, Edward took over pacing.  Edward had some good jokes, which were helpful.  My favorite: "What's brown and smells like red paint?"  Answer: brown paint.  Unfortunately, by the time I picked up Edward, my energy levels and well-being had sunk even lower.  He had to negotiate with me to get me to eat any food.  He'd hand me something and tell me to eat it, and I'd walk with it in my hand for 5-10 minutes until he forced me to take a few bites.  At some point, I started moaning.  Then I started talking to myself, saying "Okay, okay, okay, okay," and "Go, go, go, go," over and over.  Poor Edward commented that he should make a soundtrack of the race, and that he'd never let me live this down.  I asked Edward whether I had to start worrying about cutoff times, and he told me to just keep going and not worry about it; Joe would do the math for us.

Even if I wasn't physically feeling well, I always thought I'd be able to keep a positive attitude; to keep smiling, and find joy despite the suffering.  I'm probably most disappointed in myself about the huge pity party I threw during loop 3.  I kept saying "Good job" to fellow runners, and I think I was still polite to my pacers and crew, but I was miserable and whiny.  I definitely didn't achieve my goal of smiling throughout the race.  I hope I can learn from this and practice finding joy in the future, regardless of circumstances.

Loop 4
When I finally made it back to the start/finish (Nature Center), I handed Joe my pack and asked him to refill my bottles while I went to the bathroom.  As I said this, I could tell from the look on his face that there might not be a point.  I asked him, "Wait -- is there a point?"  He said, "Just go to the bathroom.  We'll talk about it later." 

As I sat there peeing, I already knew what he'd say.  And I was remarkably okay with it.  I guess the suffering out there had taken a toll.  And I really couldn't imagine how I'd be able to get through 40 more miles of the HURT course.  That's not to say that I wasn't terribly disappointed in myself, though.  I really had thought I'd be able to finish.  My goals for the race had always been to finish, and finish smiling.  When I came out of the bathroom and Joe told me that loop 3 had taken me 9 and a half hours, and that I'd have to do the next two loops in 6 and a half hours each (even quicker than I'd done loop 2, when I was feeling good), I knew it was over.  He said as much, but said that I could still finish the Fun Run distance.  So I got ready to go out.  Edward made me take a 12 minute rest, lying down on a cot, before I continued.  He thought it would reset my mind.  I didn't sleep at all, I was just gone mentally and exhausted physically.  But I laid down like he insisted, and then I got up, changed my shoes, and took off for a final leg with Edward.

On that leg, I was in a much better place.  I had eaten a bunch at the Nature Center, and rested a bit, and was wearing fresh shoes.  And I no longer had the despair of wondering how on earth I'd be able to get through so many more loops, so many more climbs, so many more miles.  The "finish" -- the end of my race, and my suffering -- was now within reach.  7.5 miles, 1 huge climb, lots of tricky roots and rocks, and then it would all be over.  It was kind of sad each time we crossed paths with other runners, whose 100-mile finish was still possible, and I kind of felt like a fraud when they would tell me "Good job."  But when we got to Manoa Falls for the last time, I stopped to take a last look, and admire the beauty of it.  And Joe was there to meet us, and we all three ran from the falls down to the Paradise Park aid station, where I told the captain I was dropping.  As befits their pirate theme, they had me walk the plank since I dropped there. 

So I didn't achieve my goals of finishing smiling, but at least I finished "my race" -- the 100k -- smiling.  And hopefully I've learned things that will help me be a better runner and human being in the future.

Post-race banquet
There's a really nice banquet held at the Mid-Pacific Country Club the Monday night after the race.  It really feels like HURT is one big family -- ohana -- and it was nice feeling like all three of us are part of that family now.  Attending the banquet increased my desire to come back and try again in the future.  At the banquet, they had printed lists of 100 mile finishers and 100k finishers.  Of 126 starters, 42% finished the 100 mile race.  33% didn't even make it to the 100k distance.  As the race motto states, "We wouldn't want it to be easy."  And this wasn't even a muddy year!