Thursday, April 11, 2013

Moab, Arches National Park, A Half Marathon and 4x4ing!

Sometimes you just have to push yourself to accomplish things.  Even when your motivation is low, you just need to push through the challenges and accomplish things.  The act of accomplishment can then provide motivation to go and achieve even greater things.

That is the way I feel about our trip to Moab in the middle of March!  After school was out on Thursday March, 14th we packed up the car and headed to Moab, Utah.  The purpose of the trip was that I was going to run in the 2013 edition of the Canyonlands Half Marathon.  This is the race in which I broke my left leg in 2011.  Because of my personal history with this race, I was determined to go back there, run the race and actually complete it this time.

As soon as Zack arrived home from school we gathered our things and packed up the Explorer.  Earlier in the day I had taken Finnegan and Lex to the kennel.  Zack arrived home at 3:30PM and we were in the car headed east on Arapahoe Road at 4:10PM.  We were headed east so that we could pick up Lisa as she was going with us.

After picking up Lisa, we jumped on E470 heading towards C470 and I-70.  Even though we got on the road during rush hour we made steady progress.  Within an hour we were on I-70 in the midst of the mountains.  A quick stop for food in Silverthorne was the only interruption to our drive until we reached the far west of Colorado.  We made an hour long stop in Grand Junction so that we could visit with one of Lisa's good friends and then we were back on the road to Moab.

Arriving in Moab around 12:30AM we quickly got to our hotel and got situated for the night as we had a scheduled range-led hike in Arches National Park at 10:00AM.  It seemed as though the alarm was ringing as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

The hike we took was a ranger lead hike into the Fiery Furnace area of the park.  This is an area that is very difficult to navigate and easy in which to get lost.  The difficulty of navigation and travel is due to the ruggedness of the terrain.  The sandstone rock has eroded into countless rock columns, fins, arches and outcroppings.  Whereas it might be several hundred feet as a bird flies from one point to another, the path on the ground may be a mile or more because of the obstacles in the way.  Additionally, the paths move in all three dimensions in radical ways.  Deep chasms must be crossed and steep rock outcroppings must be scaled.  The terrain also makes it very easy to get lost.  There is no easy line of sight from one place to another as the view is most frequently blocked by tall rock columns and outcroppings.  GPS signals are difficult to receive as the open sky is blocked in many directions by the stone.  Getting lost in this difficult environment would ruin your day but it is easy to accomplish.

Unfortunately, I didn't read the small print for the hike when I signed us up for it.  The small print said that we had to be at the Park Visitor Center one hour prior.  Fortunately, we were able to go directly to the Fiery Furnace overlook and join up with our group there.

Hiking into the Fiery Furnace was an adventure but one filled with amazing sights and lots of solitude.  With the exception of the group with whom we were hiking we lymost had the place to ourselves.  The ranger led us through a complicated maze of rock formations deeper and deeper into the labyrinth.  If we had to find our way out ourselves, we might still be in there even now.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and you wonder how the forces of nature sculpted all the different shapes and forms.  We had the opportunity to climb through one of the smallest arches in the park.  It was really kind of silly, but it was neat to do.  The hike left me with deep impressions of the beauty of this rugged land.

 (You can get a sense for the rugged terrain from this picture.)

 (Zack going through the smallest arch in the park - Crawl Through Arch) 

(Zack and me in front of Walk Through Arch.)

(Lisa and me in front of Walk Through Arch.)

 (The terrain was incredibly rugged!)

After sending three hours in the Fiery Furnace we weren't done with Arches National Park quite yet.  Lisa had never been there before, so we had to go to Landscape Arch which is the biggest arch in the park.  Though perhaps not as famous as Delicate Arch - the Arch that is prominently featured on most Utah license plates, Landscape Arch is important to see as no one is sure when this arch will collapse.  Eventually all of the arches collapse as the forces of wind and water continue to relentlessly tear them apart.  However, Landscape Arch is most likely in it's final years or decades.  A portion of it fell in the 1990s and now a section of it is very thin and teeters on the brink of falling.  Seeing this arch is a definite requirement of any visit to the Park as you never know when it might finally collapse. 

The hike to and from Landscape Arch is relatively shortly - only 1.5 miles round trip.  We stopped and lingered along the way, taking plenty of time to take in all the sights.  The arch was still standing but it really does look like it might fall any day.  As you approach the arch, it is difficult to make out from the cliffs behind it as it is so thin in places.  Once your eyes can pick the arch out from the surrounding stone you come to realize how magnificent it is.  The park will lose a beautiful landmark when it finally collapses but all around you other arches are forming from the bright red sandstone.

(You can see how thin Landscape Arch is in places.)

(All of us in front of Landscape Arch.)

We returned to Moab for some lunch after we visited the Landscape Arch.  We didn't have any real plans for the rest of the day other than food and some relaxation.  Given I had taken the day off of work, I made sure I got a nap.  What is a day off without a nap!

Whether due to the nap or nervousness about the Half Marathon, I didn't sleep well that night.  My alarm was set for 6:50AM as I had to be up and out of the hotel room by 7:10AM.  Though the race didn't start until 10:00AM, there were some logistics that took some time to get to the start line.

The starting line for the Canyonlands Half Marathon is 13 miles outside of Moab and located in a narrow canyon through which the Colorado River flows.  Because of the number of people running the marathon, 10 miles of Utah Highway 128 are closed to traffic.  To get runners to the start line, buses are used to move the runners from a park in the center of Moab up the canyon to the starting point.  The buses began shuttling runners to the start line at 7:30AM and I wanted to be on one of the first buses.  I got out the door of the hotel at 7:15AM, walked the 1/3 of a mile to the city park and boarded the second bus headed for the start line.

Once I arrived near the start line, I staked out a "comfortable" rock where I could wait for the race to start and stretch.  As a result of my broken fibula in 2011 I wasn't taking any chances, I used the 2 hours before the race to stretch every inch of my body!

Despite my arrival near the start line at 7:50AM, the time until the race seemed to fly by.  The local radio station provided a DJ and he played some great songs.  While sitting on my ever so "comfortable" rock and stretching, I took the time to do a lot of people watching.  It was interesting and fun.  The variety of people who come and run this race was diverse.  There were the guys (and gals) in there 70s or 80s and the kids who looked like they were still in grade school.  Of course the majority of the runners were made up of 30 and 40 somethings looking to hold onto their youth by beating their bodies to a pulp running this race.  (That aptly described me!!)

About 30 minutes before the starting gun went off the race officials allowed us to move to the exact starting line to line up.  These last 30 minutes were the longest of the wait as the wind was blowing and I had taken off my sweat pants and put them in my "stow bag" for delivery to me back at the finish line. (Just in case anyone wondered...  I was wearing running shorts under my sweat pants!)  I was also going to ditch my long sleeve shirt but decided to keep it because I was freezing. Long races like the Canyonlands Half Marathon provide you with bag that you can drop off at the start line.  They allow you to take stuff to the starting line and then there is a truck there at which you drop it off.  Before the race starts the truck runs ahead and drops everything off at the finish line.  Many other people stripped down to just tank tops and running shorts.  To stay warm everyone was crowded in as closely as possible waiting for the starting gun to go off.  I felt really bad for the people who weren't in the middle of the crowd!

At 10:00AM sharp the starter's gun was fired and we were off.  Well we were kind of off - because the crowd was so dense it took me 3 minutes to cross the start line!  The first several miles of the race are all downhill and this has a tendency to make you run faster than you want to go.  During 2011 it was the beating I took on that first hill that pushed my leg over the edge so I was very careful to run the pace that I wanted to run and not the pace that the people around me were running.

Though I desperately wanted to run the entire distance of this race, I had concluded before the race began that it wasn't in my best interest to do so.  This was my first time back at racing since I had broken my leg in 2011 and I was determined not to mess myself up again.  After the first 3 miles I began to alternate running and walking to keep my legs in the comfort zone. 

Seven miles into the race I began to have some issues with muscle spasms in my both of my feet.  Even with all the work I have done to repair and loosen my body since 2011, there are still areas which by nature get extremely tense - my feet being a primary area.  Thankfully I could assess the situation and I knew I was in no danger of doing long term damage to myself, so I ran through the spasms.  It wasn't really pleasant but I have done worse to myself before.

The scenery along the race course is absolutely gorgeous as the first 10.6 miles of the race run right next to the Colorado River though the canyon I described above.  The scenery allow my mind to wander and enjoy the experience.  Before I knew it I had made it through a majority of the race!

The last 2 miles were relatively painful as I just couldn't get my feet to stop hurting.  But at long last after just over 3 hours I crossed the finish line.  I was so glad to have finally finished this race that I almost started crying.  Zack and Lisa were waiting for me at the finish line and it was so great to have someone there to cheer me on for the last several hundred painful yards.

(Crossing the finish line!)

Even with the pain in my feet I managed to walk the third of a mile back to the hotel.  As soon as I entered the hotel room I ripped off my shoes and plunked down on one of the beds.  It was so good to be done!!

We still had one more adventure to undertake in Moab.  We were signed up for a 4x4 Hummer tour of the slick rock desert outside of the town.  The tour was called the Hummer Slick Rock Sunset Safari and it was fabulous.

A little to the east of Moab, right past the town cemetery is a place call the Sand Flats Recreation Area.  Consisting of mile after mile of steep slick rock formations, Sand Flats is an a place that is famous for it's challenging trails and corresponding crazy exploits of the people who come there to test their 4x4 vehicles.  The Sunset Safari tour though it seems pretty crazy is mild compared to some of the things that other drivers do. 

The key moments of our tour where going up and down very steep rock formations.  Had the driver made a mistake at some points he certainly would have flipped the vehicle.  The steep inclines of the terrain where incredible as there were times in which people in the third row of seats were looking almost vertically down on those in the front seat!  Though Lisa and I loved it, Zack was definitely less enthusiastic about the experience.

 (This gives you an idea of the steep grades of the route the tour takes.) 

 (A beautiful evening in the desert!)

(Zack wasn't liking the tour that much.  He didn't like the steep terrain on which we were on.)

(The Colorado River down in the canyon below.  The road on the left hand side of the canyon was the road on which most of the Canyonlands Half Marathon was run.)

 (The snow capped La Sal mountains in the distance look alien next to the miles and miles of slick rock desert.)
(Zack and Lisa in the Hummer we rode in for the tour.)

In addition to the 4x4 experience, we were surrounded by spectacular scenery.  The highlight of the tour was when we stopped at the edge of the canyon high above the Colorado River.  You could see for miles and with the sun setting, everything was bathed in a warm golden glow.  Those kinds of sights will keep visitors coming to Moab for generations to come!

We arrived back in town shortly after sunset.  Besides finding food we needed to make sure we bought some souvenirs to take home with us.  What's a mini-vacation without getting some souvenirs. 

Then it was off to sleep and before you knew it the sun was coming up and we needed to head back to Denver.  The trip back was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we ended up driving through a snowstorm the last 100 miles of the trip.  It wasn't anything too bad, but it made for some slow driving.

There's lots more adventures to write about as I catch up on all the things that have gone on in the last month.

Until the next post - thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

No comments: