John Muir once wrote: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” I don't think there is any better way to express how I feel while running through the mountains not worrying about what issues lie below the trees. Those can be dealt with later.
This was my 4th trip up to the White Mountains for epic hike/run type adventures. Ever since I began training for and competing in ultra distance/time events I've made it a point to make one trip up a year (hopefully more this year) for such an adventure. Those adventures typically consist of one of the two main treks in the area:
The Presidential Traverse (Presi): "A Presidential Traverse is a strenuous and sometimes dangerous trek over the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains. Contained almost entirely in the 750,000-acre (3,000 km2) White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range is a string of summits in excess of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). To complete the traverse, one must begin at either the northern or southern terminus of the Presidential Range and finish at the opposing end."
The Pemigewasset (Pemi) Loop: "The Pemi Loop. The name alone brings a wistful smile to the faces of many New England hikers. Eight wide-open summits on the New Hampshire 48 list of 4,000+ footers—each offering spectacular views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness."
Back in 2013 I completed the Presi with a good friend Joshua and a few others as we were training for the 24 hour Worlds Toughest Mudder (the Tough Mudder World Championship event). Also notable was this is the first time I had ever been real hiking in the mountains so I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. After the first few hours and the most epic sunrise I've ever seen I began to hate the rocky nature of the White Mountains more and more with each step. Though, when we got to the top of Mount Washington we were greeted with some of the best visibility ever seen from that point being able to see 100+ miles out onto the horizon. The trip took us about 13 hours total and by the end I hated hiking so much that I swore I would never go hiking again. After a few days and realizing just how awesome the trek was, I changed my tune. 2013 Strava File
In 2014 I wanted to get out with a couple buddies (Tyler, Jesse, and Jordan) as Tyler and I were prepping for our first 50 mile ultra marathon. We hit the Presi again the week after Labor day (which means we had to do the full thing self supported without any water or food fill ups along the way). I thought that with this group of awesome friends and athletes we should have no problem improving on my time from the year before. Though, unfortunately the Presidential range had other plans for us. We hiked our way to finishing in about 14 hours and Jordan and Tyler hated this trek as much if not more than I did the year prior. I think Jordan still hates me to this day for dragging him along. 2014 Strava File
In 2015 I took Woo up for her and I to run/hike the Pemi in an effort to better prepare ourselves for the upcoming 3 day Emerald Necklace stage race. We ran where we could and hiked often but the 9,000k+ feet of elevation really took its toll on us as the hours wore on. It took us about 16 hours to make the loop. This was the longest Woo had ever been on her feet and the most miles she had ever run straight through. As such, it really did help to better prepare her for the stage race so it was definitely worth it! 2015 Pemi Loop Strava File
Now, back to the present. On Friday I got an email and text from my coach Amy asking if I wanted to join her for a Pemi loop on Sunday. Of course, my answer was yes, though I did have to rearrange some things we had planned for the weekend (thanks Woo!). Now, my legs are still recovering from the 24 hour race two weeks ago, but I figured she knew better than anyone if this would be good for my legs or not so what the hell? The plan was to meet up at 7am at the Lincoln Woods trail head in Lincoln, NH. This was about a 2 hour and 15 min drive from my home so I would have to leave wicked early. Not a problem, except that we had a packed day of plans the day before (including authentic southern crawfish boil at a friends house then hanging out with my boy Billy before he packed up and moves to Colorado to pursue his dreams out west). So needless to say I consumed some beers the day before and stayed out later than I should have.
I woke up at 4:30am thinking I had about an hour to take my time getting ready before leaving the house to meet Amy at 7am. As I was laying in bed after hitting the snooze button I double checked my math and realized that I only had 2 hours and 30 minutes to get up, get breakfast, finish packing, stop for gas, and drive 2 hours and 15 minutes to be on time. OH FUCK! I hopped out of bed immediately ran around the house and was out the door in about 10 minutes. I may have been traveling over the speed limit all the way north, but I made it just on time and had everything I needed (surprisingly). Amy's husband Brian (also badass ultra marathoner) was going to be along for the trip as well, (which really worried me if I was going to have to keep up with the both of them all day). While I was waiting for Amy and Brian to arrive I saw another runner as I was coming out of the bathroom with a "Western States 100" visor on. Naturally I had to ask him when he raced it (even though I haven't gotten the opportunity yet) and as we began talking I correctly guessed he was there to meet Brian. It was not until later that I realized that I was talking to the one and only Adam Wilcox (oh no big deal just the Adam Wilcox who currently holds the FKT on the Pemi Loop...who I may also stalk on Strava). Phew, at least I wasn't running with them.
Amy and I set out right about 730am aiming for a 10-12 hour time for the loop. Which I was still concerned would be a stretch given my tired legs and my 16 hour past attempt of the loop. This was actually the most time I've spent with Amy since she began coaching me after we met a little over a year ago. We chatted about life, running, training, bats, cats, and anything else you think of while running for that long together. I've always said there is really no better way to get to know someone than to spend some hours together on the trails. Today was no different, and it was just a perfect day.
The first couple of hours are pretty uneventful as you head along the river and slowly start gaining elevation before heading up the first steep climb to Bondcliff and Mt. Bond where we landed about 2 and a half or so hours in. From there the views were pretty uneventful as it was really cloudy. We stopped for a quick snack and pushed on. We got to the Galehead Hut which is the only spot on the loop where you can fill up water about 13 miles and 4 hours into our day. I was packing my Orange Mud double barrel shoulder pack which was stuffed to the brim with nutrition, first aid, water purification tabs, and a jacket plus three 24oz water bottles full of Tailwind. I knew this was packing very light for me and it would be tough to make it through with enough water, especially if it got really hot. Luckily I knew there were a couple of streams (one before Galehead and one a bit after) that I could fill up in if needed.
We finished filling up at the hut and took off for the several mile climb up to the top of Mt. Lafayette, which is the hardest climb and highest peak of the loop. I was surprised when we kept ticking off miles hiking at a steady pace up the rocks and running wherever we could run. Not a hard pace, but we were definitely working as the miles went by. When we made it up to the top of Lafayette almost 20 miles and about 7 hours into the run. From there we had a couple of smaller peaks with some beautiful run-able ridgeline, but mostly down hill to the end. We hit the top of Flume at about 8 and a half hours with about 6 miles to go. At that point, I was hoping to finish under 10 hours, which would be a HUGE PR for me on the loop also the first time I've ever attempted any of the fun NH mountain treks with another ultra runner. We didn't kill ourselves going down, but we pushed just hard enough (mostly zone 1) to get to the finish line in just under 9 hours and 50 minutes.
It was an amazing adventure with my coach Amy and I am really glad to have been able to make it up for the day. Afterward we grabbed some delicious dinner and beer nearby then I hit the car for the 2 hour and 15 minute drive home. I left my house before 5am that morning and returned before 10pm. Talk about your making the most out of a day?