Thursday, August 24, 2017

Heaven in Lee Vining

The morning’s first light shined on my face, waking me from my cozy pine needle bed. It felt so good to finally be out of the heat of the desert and in amidst the pines. I sipped my shitty instant coffee sitting up against a tree in my poached camp sight on land claimed to be property of Los Angeles. What a bunch of assholes, traveling all the way up here to claim land that isn’t their’s to steal water that they don’t deserve. Some day the people of the East Side are going to band together, rise up, and kick those greedy jack weeds off of this sacred land, but I digress. The day’s objective was to ride up to Convict Lake and shuffle my tired legs up to Mt. Morrison. After bailing off my California 14ers objective, I opted to cruise home and spend a little time bouncing around some of the easier routes along the way. 

Once at Convict Lake, my cumulative fatigue made for a slow transition from bike to feet. Eventually, I was hiking up the creek, a place I’d only skied before. The change in modes of transportation always affords a different learned intimacy to a place. The steep route and scramble up to Morrison was just what I needed for the day: a little alpine fun, without too much commitment. After a few hours I was back at the bike, ate some food, and was moving on towards Lee Vining for the evening. 

Afternoon showers were moving in and a strong head wind slowed my bike to a crawl. My legs were dead and my tired mind cursed the extra struggle. Soon the rain began to fall, soaking my slow progress. Looking for some reprieve, I pulled into a rest stop where I met a guy riding his bike from LA to Portland. He wore a 80’s -esque jacket, a cotton hat, and some cutoff shorts.  We talked for a while about our trips as he smoked a cigaret, and I marveled at his unpretentious bike set up and lackadaisical effort toward his end goal. “How is this guy going to make it to Portland?” I thought, but he assured me that this was his shortest tour yet. Feeling antsy from wasting time I wished him a safe trip and hopped back on the bike. 

I rolled into Lee Vining, cool air and the scent of fresh rain blowing in my face. I reveled in the ability to be traveling by bicycle. As I neared the Mobile Mart I could hear jam band music wafting over the hills and a certain joyous energy was emanating from the nearby gas station. It was free music night at the Mobile Mart, and every dirtbag and tourist was from the area was hanging out, eating and drinking, and enjoying the night’s festivities. 

“I’m glad you made it!” I hear over my shoulder. I turned to see a scruffy man with a huge smile framed between greying sideburns. “We saw you struggling up the hill in the rain on the way over,” he said, “I’m Ed. Go get a beer and some food, you’ve earned it.” He patted me on the back and walked off. Everyone was giddily drinking and eating, and there were a group of dirt laden people dancing up near where the band was playing. The parking lot was filled with every manner of dirtbag mobile, from fancy sprinter vans to old beat up Toyotas with mismatched camper shells. People asked me about my trip, and each one had a more interesting story about their own state of travel and life. I sat leaning up against a tree drinking a tall can of Tecate and wondered to myself, “Did I die? There is no way this is real.” Right then, a lady walked up and offered me a chicken sandwich. “ Yep, I’m dead somewhere out in the Sierra, and this is Valhalla.” As I ate my sandwich, Ed came back over to talk to me about my trip. I told him what I was up to and he smiled a huge contagious smile. We talked about the East Side and about his own adventures. Eventually he bought me a couple beers and we sat at a picnic table as the sun set, discussing life values. “Get out, enjoy life, live a simple inexpensive life, and you won't have to work so much,” he told me. Ed was retired now, living in Bishop and had much wisdom to give. Eventually, as the band’s set was coming to a close, Ed wished me a good night and safe travels and wondered off to bestow his wisdom on someone else. I grabbed my bike, and bumbled up the hill to find a soft place to sleep. Before I dozed off to sleep that night I drunkenly wrote in my note book: “If there is a heaven, it is in the Sierra, specifically on the East side, and it culminates ever so often at the Lee Vining Mobile Mart.” 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

California 14er-fest

I am nervously writing, sitting here in a comfortable chair, coffee in hand. Last night I tossed and turned in a nice warm bed, obsessing over the affairs of the coming week. On Monday morning I will set out on a trip to link up all 15 of California's 14,000 ft peaks under the power of my own two legs. Starting out of Tuttle Creek I will hike and climb all of the 14ers in California unsupported, riding my bicycle between trail heads along the way. I have chosen this fashion of movement (unsupported and human powered) because it seems like the best and most pure style to do it in. Using the current Fastest Known Time as the trip's structure I am shooting to finish in Shasta 9 days after I begin.

Had I been writing this post even a month ago I would have been doing so with giddy excitement and even a bit of pride, but now only a couple days out from starting, I sit here with anxiety and nervousness stiring in my belly, reminding me that I am on the cusp of a vast unknown for me. That unknown, as I have to continually remind myself, is the ultimate reason for doing something like this, as it presents the greatest opportunity for personal grown and self discovery. Besides, no matter how much this trip scares me, it's too late now, I've already told too many people about it 😁.

I have had awesome support from Patagonia, Naked Running band, Vfuel, and Drymax socks. I also would have been totally lost with out the bag help from Javier Yanco at Yanco customs, without whom I'd probably be trying to carry everything in my hands. Lastly, the support of the Reno Mountain Runners, and anyone else who are letting me borrow your things, has been awesome!

All the Goods 

Follow along on my Instagram account: @schultefox.

Happy trails!

Erik Schulte

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why I Hate the San Juan Mountains

I arrived back in Reno around 5:30pm on Monday afternoon. All day the vibrant sun rays stretching across the Great Basin beat against my windows, baking me in the small cab of my truck. I left Salt Lake City earlier that morning en route to home minimally using the air conditioner in an attempt to stretch the gas in the tank as far across the arid landscape as possible; less stops means I’ll get home sooner. Upon arrival I was greeted with regular rush hour “traffic” and smoke filled air from  near by fires. 

The week before I had been living in the most pristine sub-alpine valley, surrounded on all sides by steep limestone and quartzite walls. Every run began with stiff thousand-feet-per-mile trails up the sides of this canyon until you made it to around 12,000ft where you would be greeted with the most spectacular alpine terrain anyone could ask for. Monsoon season was upon the San Juan Mountains, so each day thunder showers would threaten off and on. While in the alpine you would do the dance of determining the actual threat of these storms, treading the line between ambition and safety. “Can I scoot up a little higher, or do these clouds actually mean business?”As dramatic as this sounds, these moody storms create a heightened sense of awareness as well as beautiful high alpine pastures of tuft grasses and wild flowers putting on the most vibrant of color demonstrations. After miles and miles in this enchanted land it would be time to drop back down past tree line through conifer and aspen groves with knee high ferns damply slapping at your legs as you run down hill. Once finished with your purposed route the rest of the tribe of mountain shufflers and ultra-folk would gather, enjoying the stories of each others days well spent under the power of their own legs and lungs. This is Hard Rock 100; a unique time when mountain and ultra runners ritualistically descend on the quaint mining towns of the San Juan Mountains in south-west Colorado to celebrate with the 140 people who were chosen by the Hard Rock lottery to run a big loop around this spectacular landscape. 

By the end of the week I had begun to take for granted the ease of access to a people and a place. “Lets do a 30-something run tomorrow” was a common statement you’d mention in passing. Eight hours of shared trail and alpine meadows became common place. And then, it was time to go home…Camp Hard Rock was over. I never really attended summer camp as an adolescent, but I figure this is probably what it is like when it ends. Damn.

Now, before we go on from here, let me make something clear: I love the Sierra. It is the greatest mountain range in the world (yes, I said that) and the high desert here in Reno has its own spectacular beauty and energy. Nonetheless, coming back to the heat and the stark contrast to the environment from the week before has left me jaded. Since I’ve been home I caught myself thinking, “this trail is too flat”, or “where is the afternoon thunderstorm”, or “why is it so freaking hot”. Thus, for putting these evil thoughts in my head, I now hate the San Juan Mountains. I hate how they have inspired some wild and tough individuals to put on a 100 mile foot race through them. I hate how this race brings together a unique clan of like minded people whom from the outside look to be crazy, but whom I feel more comfortable and at ease with than any others. I hate their rugged beauty as it unrelentingly surrounds you. This is surely a terrible place. See for yourself.

Mt Hayden above Ouray

Afternoon showers and some rhubarb pie. 

Beer Mile

Well, maybe I don’t completely hate them…

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vernal Equinox in Reno

The sky is filled with clouds, taking the days from bright, sunny, warm, to the cloudy days of Spring
Spring in the Carson Range, is a tumultuous time
The gently resting snowfields slowly succumbing to the sun's
        radiant heat
From below, new life frantically pushes up against the hard and crusted soil,
Undermining Winter's attempt to smother all things in white
Spring is the growing pains of the new generation, reenacting the rituals of the past
The death of winter recedes to the resurrection of the earth, much like last year, but completely new
       and different.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Finding Contentment

The weather outside sucks today. Okay, thats a fairly subjective statement. Its windy; like 40 miles per hour windy. Its drizzling AND there is a fire near our house. What?! I took Watson out for a walk in the smoke filled air, and even he did not enjoy it. He looked up at me, as the rain slapped us sideways across our faces, with a "WTF are we doing out here?" look. Thats what sort of day it is outside.

This is weather that I very rarely would have had to deal with in Southern California (where weather is more of an idea than a tangible reality). So, being here in the Sierras this past year learning that my plans and ambitions are somewhat dictated by the seasons has been a bit of a lesson slowly learned. Not only that, but other things get in the way such as money, time, work, and other "adultish" responsibilities, all of which help to shuffle Summer goals into Fall, and before you know it the snow is flying up high in the mountains and your SOL for any non-technical bi-pedal movement. "Better wax up those skis," everyone keeps telling me excitedly, but all I feel is the anxiety of not being able to accomplish the lofty ideas I've dreamt up while staring at everyone else' Gram feeds earlier this year. "The best laid plans..."(I'm not sure how that saying ends).

The other day (when it wasn't stormy out) I was running up Thomas Creek and came upon the most beautiful array of fiery fall colors. Such beauty that my up tempo run came to a screeching halt. For a moment I forgot about what strava would say about my pace and marveled at the scene before me. After too many poorly shot photos with no real focal point, I picked back up and focused on the rest of my run. This is the point in the blog where I am supposed to have some great epiphany that solves all my problems. Nope. I'm still wrestling to find some sort of contentment with not accomplishing any of my goals this summer.  I guess some years are like that. Nonetheless, the seasons move forward whether I like it or not. Summer is over, and Fall is marching toward a (hopefully) snowy Winter. What ever the season, the mountains sure are beautiful, here, right now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Colorado and the Power of 4

I started the trip by sitting out side of my house waiting for the mail carrier to drop off my shoes(which arrived the next day after I’d left). After the postal carrier didn’t have my package in his jeep I hoped in the fox den and headed towards Colorado. 30 minutes later I sat on the side of highway 80 with a flat tire and no functioning spare, waiting for the tow truck to drag me and my truck back to Reno. All of this was more than enough for me to rethink driving the thirteen hours out to Aspen to run a competitive 50k that I was thoroughly under trained for. Since injuring my ankle back in June I was only able to get in one (yes one) solid week of running before it was time to wind down and rest up for this race. So there I sat Thursday afternoon in the tire shop waiting room wondering if I should just stay home for the weekend.

The next day, after thirteen hours of driving across the western US, I arrived in Montrose, CO. I had decided the trip was worth it weather or not I was going to run well on Sunday. After Chris got off work we went for a run, and it was there, as I settled into a familiar rhythm of fox trotting a few steps behind a good friend, that my decision to journey out to Colorado for the weekend was validated. We ran on the local Montrose trails, making jokes and talking as if we still lived a few blocks away. 

The race, itself, was uneventful, other than it glaringly exposed holes in my rigorous week of training. I felt great on the uphills all day as the steep climbing played into my non-running strengths (hiking), but months of riding bicycles down hill and taking care of my tender ankle while running had left me completely void of downhill running muscles. So, after loosing sight of just about everyone on the first downhill I resolved to work as hard as I could on the ups, but not worry too much about the race results. I finished the race in 6:19.xx, about an hour behind first place. In the past I might have been super bummed about my lacking performance, but this race was different. I was happy to be back on my feet, pushing hard in the mountains, and to be with friends.
Steep Start

Running by myself after getting passed by everyone on the down hill.

After the race we all went back to the camp, ate some store bought fried chicken and macaroni, drank beers and stared into the fire as dusk turned to darkness. It was as perfect as any day could end. The next day I shuffled my beat up legs after Chris on the way up to Maroon Pass. We talked, enjoyed being out in the mountains together; I apologized for moving so slowly, he pretended like it wasn’t that slow…just like old times. Soon it was time for me to head back to Reno, feeling like I hadn’t gotten enough time with Chris, Elisa, and Penny, but living with a renewed vigor from sharing a few days together. 

Me struggling.

Why do we run in the mountains? Why do we do anything at all? There must be an infinite amount of individual answers to these questions, but for me, at the root, is the possibility to share our experiences with others, and for these experiences to foster deep seated relationships that ultimately help to define ourselves. 

Race/ Weekend Gear List:

Patagonia: Strider Pro Shorts, Cap 1 (cutoff) tank top, DuckBill Trucker Hat.
Inov-8: Terraclaw 220’s (even though I already put 500 miles on these kicks, they still felt good and snappy on race day!)
Julbo: Aeros - feels like I’m wearing nothing at all.
Drymax: Max Protection Trail Crew Socks - Kept my feet happy all day.
Naked Running Band - held all my water and gels keeping my hands free to power hike the ups and flail on the downs
VFuel: Started the day off with Ginger Twist in the bottle, and ate a smattering of Peach Cobbler and Cool Citrus the rest of the day. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Mid Summer's Injury

On an ill fated June morning I sprained my left ankle; and that is about as interesting as that story gets. I wasn't somewhere "cool", I wasn't doing anything worthy of a 'Gram post, I wasn't even running fast. I was on Nevada's version of California carpet trail, and for the four miles post sprain, I pretended to run normally trying to convince myself it wasn't so bad. I was unable to run for the next five and a half weeks, so I guess it was a little worse than I initially wanted to accept. I missed two races in that time, and was relegated to bicycle riding (which is the cool thing for injured ultra runners to do right now, so I'm pretty hip). The time off from running wasn't without its teaching moments though, so here are some things I've learned in the last month:

1. Ankle sprains take a loooong time to heal.
 Like WTF? Right? After weeks of limping around and staring at everyone's social media about how great the mountains are in the summer time, I nearly lost my mind with my inability to join in all the revelry. The fourth of July was the worst! I sat at home watching the live stream of the Mt Marathon race, eating chips and drinking beer. I'm sure that helped my ankle heal faster. Nonetheless, I eventually realized that the more patient I am with the healing injury the quicker it would heal up, which is probably something that I have learned with every injury I've ever had...and then promptly forgot.

2. You can go almost anywhere on a bicycle.
 It was that same realization I had when I finally finished a 100 miler: I can run almost anywhere. With a somewhat sufficient bicycle the possibilities to travel under my own power were endless! That is until you don't plan a route out very well and get yourself lost on a series of dead end fire roads somewhere near the California/ Nevada boarder. Unlike running, on a bicycle you can travel a relatively long way in a short period of time, and before you know it you are surrounded by the rolling northern Sierra Nevadas on an unmarked fire road, and have been out of water for hours.  My mom made me buy a smart phone after that one.

3. Baby Steps!
Just like Bob learns in the coming of age drama What About Bob, taking baby steps is the only way to deal with my new problems. So perhaps the first day my ankle felt good I shouldn't have hiked the steepest possible route up Mt Rose, and maybe I need to learn to move my feet a little faster on the downhills. Thank you Dr. Leo Marvin.

After all of this, its fairly likely that I will soon forget these lessons, and hopefully be gleefully trotting around in the mountains again without any ankle related worry in the world.  Cheers!