Alaska

Alaska, the last great wilderness, or as John Muir said “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world”. This mythical area was next on our wanderings, a mere 4 days after landing back in Vancouver from our explorative and adventurous Yukon trip. In the 4 days in-between we had worked, packed up, cleared up, partied our goodbyes and left Vancouver to begin our 5 months backpacker trip home via the America’s. Unlike what is to be a more rough and ready, stuff all your belongings into a 60 litre bag, turn up in a city and wonder how to get to an eclectic and eccentric hostel, we had given ourselves one last parting gift in the form of a 10 day cruise from Vancouver, up to Alaska, before heading south finally alighting in San Francisco. Purchased in 1867 for $7.2 million from the Russians to become America’s 49th state, this great landmass spans over 586,000 square miles, is inhabited in only 5.3% of its phenomenal landmass, and is home to some amazingly adaptive creatures and amazingly awe-inspiring scenery. As we departed, teary eyed from Vancouver late on Saturday we wandered around the 10 floor bulking cruise liner and wondered if 24 room service really was free, if we really could dine at 4 course exquisitely decorated dining rooms, where the gym was, what temperatures the sauna, outdoor and indoor jacuzzi’s were, and what time the 12 station buffet closed (it turns out it only closes for 15 minutes between 5pm and 5:15pm). Was this really us, was this what we were after, could Hannah take in the obvious show of money and glorification? Maybe not, but now we were on board we decided to revel in...

Yukon Adventures – Days 4-6

This is part two of my blog posting on our trip down the Yukon River. The first part can be found here We awoke trepidisously in our tent wondering what the lake would bring to the days affair, yesterday’s events quickly coming to the forefront of my mind, but as we peaked out of our 4ft hole, a calm, sunlit day was in force and it looked as though it was here to stay. Indeed it was, and although we were both a little nervous clambering into our little floating world as we set off around 8am, after 20mins of paddling we were under way gently paddling northwards in and around the coves and admiring the views once again. With over an hours worth of hard paddling and not consulting the map during yesterdays storm however, exact knowledge on our location was proving hard to fathom, and we just couldn’t seem to figure out exactly how far up the lake we had travelled. We knew though that as long as we stayed with the shore on our right, we’d be going in the right direction and eventually, one day, would hit the end of the lake. Our day 3 on the water was to prove one of our longest as we were keen to make some headway and make up any potentially lost time the day before, and with an early start, a quick stop at lunch and another for a break around 3, we finally ended the day around 5 on a deserted beach having decided to carry on another km or so past the more well trod campsite-esque looking beach earlier. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery This was true wilderness camping; no campsite, no nicely flattened rock ridden earth for a tent, no potential fire pits or areas for storing food, but we both revelled in the fact and enjoyed overcoming all these small obstacles to make a little home-away-from-home on the rock strewn beach. As per protocol we cooked, cleaned, and stored all our food a good 30ft away from our tent. We gently watched the sun go down over another spectacular sunset with mountains, reflective lake and lapping water in our sights and lulled to bed as we both slowly dozed off to a star ridden sky. Thump, thump, thump, thump, sniff. I awoke at around 2am to some heavy footfalls outside. My brain awoke and started to process the noises. Thump, thump, thump …… sniff …… Bear! I could hear a bear and he had literally stopped metres from the tent. CRASH!!! F**K!!!!!!! The bear had just swiped the tent! “Hey are you alright” asked Han as she awoke thinking I was outside and had just fallen into the tent. “Shut the hell up, there’s a bear outside” I whispered to her, frozen, terrified, petrified in a scared rigid pose. We both stayed silent, listening. Wondering. Hoping. My mind was swarming with thoughts from where the bear spray was, to what do if it started to try to come in. After 10 seconds or so, it seemed that our vigilant food storing was paying off, and we heard the bear slowly lumber away as his footsteps died off into the distance. A minute later I moved again, we both agreed it had gone away and tried to sleep. “Whoosh” said the wind. “Shit, a bear is running towards the tent” said my brain. “Splash, ripple, splash ripple” whispered the gently lapping waves “F**k, a bear is swimming towards our tent” alarmed my synapses. An so it went for the rest of the night as I dozed in and out of sleep, perceiving every noise to be a bear-related attack just waiting to happen. At 7am we both woke up to another glorious day and played chicken to who was going to open the door to the tent first. But the bear had...

Yukon Adventures – Days 1-3

This is part one of my blog posting on our trip down the Yukon River. The second part can be found here I wake, its Christmas day, I wonder why every Christmas Eve since I discovered the wonders of beer I decide to drink unsavoury amounts of the sweet flavoured nectar the night before the big day, trudge downstairs, take some paracetamol in an attempt to shake the headache off in time to be able to gluttonise myself over the next 14-15 hours, and have the usual disapproving shake of the head from mumsy Wilkins. An hour later and I’m unwrapping my presents, slyly playing the ‘who’s going to be the person to open the last present’ game by hiding a book shaped object underneath the table to bring out an opportune moment after my dad reveals one from down the side of the sofa – his usual ploy. As I unwrap the present with a sense of satisfaction at winning the game for the 3rd year in a row, I look at the title and read ‘Journeys to take before you die’. With 38 different ideas on adventures and locations to explore in the world, I skim through it and place it to one side wondering if it’s a coffee table paper weight or a tome of knowledge and adventure. A year later and Han and I are ticking off one of the journeys as we traverse over the Atlas mountains in Morocco making our way down to the Sahara Desert. Four years on from there, and with two years of Vancouverite living under our belt, the book was once again proving to be a bible of inspiration – the ‘canoeing down the Yukon from Whitehorse to Carmacks’ trip was calling out in its geographically prevalent voice; the trip had stuck in my mind from the book those 5 Christmas’s past. Do we have the time? What about a cruise to Alaska we wanted to do? How much does it cost? What about bears? Coyotes? Cougars? When are we going to fit it in? Were all questions zooming through our minds, and then in a moment of clarity and enlightenment we realised….. “lets just book it”. Two months later and we found ourselves at Up North Adventures signing forms for bear sprays, canoes, paddles, satellite phones and an array of camping and cooking equipment from pots and pans to axes and saws. The reassuring tones of Bernie, one of the shop assistants who was helping us with all the intricacies and packing procedures, were helping us to smoothly navigate through the multitude of questions we had, but were juxtaposed with some gut feeling that this was a bigger and more dangerous adventure than we were letting ourselves face up-to. I almost felt like a cheat, out of place, somehow pretending to be someone I wasn’t, outwardly being Superman but inside feeling like Clark Kent, but I kept on reassuring myself with three base principles: This is a common trip to take, especially in summer, and lots of people undertake the expedition. We’re going down a river – we can’t get lost or go the wrong way. They’re letting us do it with minimal fuss and no background checks or delving questions. It was with this mantra that I figured that at the end of the day, its simple paddling, down a river, with some camping thrown in every night. What could possibly go wrong? We had opted to take the classic route from the fairly populous city of Whitehorse (sporting circa 27000 inhabitants, over 2/3 of the entire population of the territory), located around 60 degrees north in the Yukon Territory of Canada, to Carmacks, a small town of around 3500 people and 350 river kilometres northwards. The route and towns were made famous in the turn of the 20th century when gold was found on the Yukon River...

Halves, full’s, knees and straits

The month of June pulled me through on a manic adventure ridden tour, that before I knew it July was settling in to its mid term lazy sun driven days, and August was getting excited for it annual month long tour. And so as I write this on the first trip back for a year to the heat-wave sun-burnt England, I take a deep sigh, relax, and reflect on what has been an amazing variety of fun and frolics in Vancouver and beyond over the past 40 days and 40 nights since the last update. Early on in June, as the remnants of spring were finally subsiding and summer was shining brightly on the horizon Han had her inaugural Half Ironman race across in the wine region of the Okanagan. Lying between the Coast Mountain Range and the Rocky Mountains, we’ve visited this area twice before to taste and gargle our way through 6 or 7 vineyards a day, but this time as we headed East along the scenic mountain road of the I5 mine and David’s minds were firmly set on crewing Han and ensuring her race went as smoothly as possible, rather than on Elephant Island, Borrowing Owl and the Hidden Chapel vineyards. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The original Ironman started in 1978 (where the 1st place athlete on the final running leg ran out of water and was given beer instead, only to finish in 2nd), has long been coined the toughest of tests of human endurance, and the Half Ironman is no mean feat clocking in at a 2km swim, followed by a 90km cycle and then finishing with a 21.2km (half marathon) run. Han set off on a beautiful wind swept morning as highs, lows, grit, determination, helium filled aerial camera failures, and the usual dose of food, beer, and good times with good friends were had, but the small film that David and I made can explain Han’s race more succinctly and emotionally than I could here. A week later, and in a concerted effort for Han to rebuild the lost muscle and used up calories, fun fuelled Friday found four of us drinking and dancing our way through Vancouver Craft Beer Festival, sampling a host of weird, delightful, crazy, surprising, obnoxious and mind flowingly tasty beers. Although the event finished at the rather subdued 10pm, meaning the next morning was headache free and breakfast ready, we found it pleasantly surprising to be drinking outside in a city that usually outlaws such crazy behaviour, especially as the sun was shining throughout the event. The next weekend arrived and Han and I took a well earned rest over on Sechelt as we shut down at my aunt and uncles house for 3 days, enjoying the 180 degree panoramas of the Strait of Georgia. A week passed, Saturday arrived, I looked up from my GPS watch and I took in the heads of 7,000 runners as I stood near the front of the Vancouver Scotia Bank Half Marathon, hoping to improve on my personal best that I had set in February of the year in a time of 1:21 and 20 seconds. I knew that over the 21.1km course, a 3:45 min/km pace would find me stepping across the line in just under 1:20, so as I ran down the gradual decline before traversing back up the said hill and shooting by the 5km mark, I was happy to see my pace just hitting under the target at around 3:40. With a 6km downhill section to follow, I knew that I had to stay around that pace, if not slightly quicker, to give myself some leeway on the elevation neutral zone, before the slight uphill, round the coast on Marine Drive, over Burrard Street Bridge, and around to Stanley Park and the finish if I was to stand a chance at...

Ultra Marathoning – Trials and Tribulations

I wake up and roll over. I momentarily wonder why my left achilles is throbbing on every movement, and why my legs want to tell me a story of pain and non-paid overtime. My mouth is dry and my head is taking longer to process anything and everything. Then I remember I ran my most mentally and physically demanding trail race for over a year the day before, where once again I was shouting at myself that I would never enter another ultra marathon again. Roll back three weeks and my legs are telling me how much they enjoy being part of my life. Barry and I are tootling along South down the I5 heading towards Olympia in Washington to compete at the Capitol Peak 55km / 50mile trail race. I was feeling some what relaxed and in good spirits, which considering I had crashed out and ‘bonked’ at the 32km mark in my last Ultra Marathon on Orcas Island, was somewhat surprising but welcome. I had done the right race-prep, I had had a good solid run 4 days earlier where everything seemed to be in working order, but most importantly I was ‘in the right place’ mentally. With the ghost of Orcas Island sitting squarely on my shoulder, I wanted to run the Capitol Peak 55km with the aim of ‘just finishing’. I had no goal, no timeframe, no body else I knew running to pull my competitive brain along to uncomfortable zones (Barry was undertaking the 50mile option), and was actually looking forward to just getting out there, taking my time and enjoying the race as much as I could. I had also learnt a lot about fuelling and food / body management since Orcas, and was going to be strict with myself to stop at every aid station to relax and refuel. People have called ultra marathons an ‘eating and drinking competition with running thrown in’ and this was a mantra that I’ve slowly had to comprehend and learn. Your body burns up around 400-600 calories per hour while ultra running, and unlike shorter races you just can’t run for 5+ hours without taking food on board during the run – your body just can’t sustain that calorie deficit and keep on moving. And thus one of my goals at Capitol Peak was to learn to eat and drink properly during a race, and not feel rushed past the aid stations. The race started well, I was running at a comfortable 5-6min per km pace depending on terrain and elevation, and was happy tootling along listening to the conversation of 2 other runners who had camped up behind me. The first aid station came up at only 8km in, but I was strict with myself and against everyone else’s race schedule, stopped, drank some water and ate a few carbs before carrying on. This was a schedule I kept to for the rest of the race. Being a very symmetric kids-drawing-of-a-mountain elevation profile race, the first half of the run was all uphill, but against all long distance races I’d competed at before, I reached the top of the climbs at 31km and was feeling good. Not just, ‘good for 30km, but actually pretty crap’, but just ‘good’. I had enjoyed the infamous ‘grunt’ that we had been warned about at the pre-race talk, I had even ran up some of it and passed a few runners in the process, posed for the photo at the top, before whistling down the other side chatting to a Belorussian runner from Minsk (post race analysis would show I was actually 2nd fastest up that section from the 20 or so runners who had uploaded their run onto Strava).    With the rest of the race net downhill, by the time I got to 35km I knew I was going to finish. I felt confident in myself, my running, and my body that we were going to drag ourselves through the next 20km...

Sun Run Time

My life in Vancouver has definitely taken a running turn over the past year, as I’ve thrown myself into the running scene and enjoyed, gritted, pushed, found limits, jumped over the figurative running wall, stubbornly succeeded, un-stubbornly failed, and tried to find that elusive escapism that pounding out miles with just you, the trails, great friends and the elements can give you. However, as much as the enjoyment factor is a large part of the scene, my competitive nature and constant search for targets, times, goals and numbers has found me standing toe-to-toe at the start line of a surprising number of races and distances over the past 18 months in Vancouver. I found myself competing at the 48,000 strong 10K Vancouver Sun Run two weeks ago, along with the just-hoping-to-finish 55K Capitol Peak ultra marathon a week later; both races as far removed mentally as their distances were physically. The first would find me in ultra competitive race mode, where as the other would both humble and surprise me. Coming into the Sun Run I knew I was probably the most race fit and fastest I’d ever been for the distance, and thus was excited to have some clearly defined time goals in mind, each of them becoming more hopeful than the last. A korfball friend back home had recently finished her 10K in an astounding 37:05; closely following her speedy shoes was my buddy Big Nick (who organises a local 8k run back home in Birmingham) who had a PB of 36:40; and finally there was the quite possibly craziest distance runner I’ve ever known, local running friend Barry, who had a blisteringly fast 36:06 PB from a year ago. The Sun Run is one of the largest road races in North America, and...