When focusing on writing and defending my thesis, my blog posting fell to the way side–Here’s just a brief recap of what I’ve been up to since arriving back in the states in mid-June.
I arrived back into the states, did two trainer rides and signed up for my first mountain bike race in almost 10 months– and my first go back on my mountain bike in 7 months.
It was a bit ugly and 2 hours later I wondered why I didn’t sign up for the 10 mile option instead of the 20-miler. I somehow survived and was surprised that my legs went out much sooner than my lungs, so maybe running actually did something. I decided to do the race to help ‘race my way back into shape’.
Within the first week of arriving back into the states I secured a spot for Leadville (yikes!) but with no aspirations of defending my age group title. Instead, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to ride with another WBR team rider and get across the finish together (more on it all later, promise). It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it.
Given the limited time frame to get into shape and the fact that I was writing my thesis, I got in touch with my coach from last year to come up with a plan, which meant a lot of road and trainer rides.
I did not tell my parents about Leadville until I absolutely had to because was worried my mom would worry more about my stress level between training and writing. Riding gave me a good excuse to take a break and ruminate on what I had been working on. Only once did I go to the doctor to get some blood drawn and have a resting heart rate of 92, minor detail.
I defended my thesis and passed, if you’re interested in reading 97 pages about influenza vaccines, lettme know! I found that prepping for a thesis defense was similar to an endurance race.
You spend a lot of time, resources and energy working towards the goal. Don’t change your equipment the day of– I walked halfway across campus with the podium I had practiced with, and the night before you realize you have done everything you can at this point and just need to get some good sleep. Afterwards, I was able to spend about a week and half in South Dakota before heading back to ND for graduation. I was able to get some trail riding in with Barb why home. I’m now on my way back to South Dakota and will head down to CO in about a week for Leadville. After Leadville, it’s back to law school!
It happened to be baton twirling national championships at ND this weekend and I found a discarded baton in the grass that allowed me to relive my glory days, much to the amusement of my family- ha!
With the finite time that I have in Hanoi I knew that getting out of the city to sight-see would be limited so this past weekend decided between going to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. It wasn’t that hard of a decision because given the choice between mountains and the sea; I will always pick mountains. Off to Sapa I went. I took the train overnight (8 hours) in a sleeper car. It’s a bit odd to share a chamber with people you don’t know but everyone went to sleep pretty quickly and only awoke at 6 am as we pulled into Loa Cai. From the train station it was was a 45km drive up to Sapa and the views did not disappoint.I knew as soon as stepping off the train I had made the right choice, the air was so much clearer and thinner. Getting in to the hotel by 8am, I was able to drop my bags off and head to go to Mt. Fansipan (the highest peak in the Indochina region at 3,143 meters and for those of you back in the states 10,312 feet). Looking at the trail map it was feasible to climb with the fastest person going up in 2:30 hours and the slowest being 22 hours, yikes! I did not bring enough snacks so instead opted for the 45 minute walk to the gondola that would take you to near the top with 700 steps up to the top.
The gondola was enough to make me grateful I opted not to hike, the sheer steepness of the peaks made me realize why the slowest was 22 hours. Getting to the top with 700 steps I soon realized that the steps were not made with a size 42 shoe in mind as they were tall and shallow leaving me a few times grabbing the railing as to not fall backwards. Getting to the top the views were incredible at least when the clouds broke. I was surprised at how many people were at the top and then remembered it was only a gondola ride up. I was more surprised at how many people at the top were smoking (a reoccurring theme in Viet Nam). Getting down the gondola was a little more nervous wracking, the first time the mountain drops off my stomach ended up in my throat.
I spent the rest of the day just walking around the town and familiarizing myself with the area, and of course stopping to stare at the views from time to time.
The next morning I signed up for a trekking route that was 12km. One other reason that I was drawn to Sapa was the Hmong people. I read a book earlier this year, The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down. A story about a Hmong child and her family as they navigate the medical landscape in America. It’s a book that stuck with me as you see the lack of communication and good intentions by both parties fall short in the best interests of the child. The opening scene of the book is the mother giving birth to this child in a small house in the same room as her other children who were sleeping. They are only awoken by the cries of the new baby as the mother is silent throughout. Damn, now, I’ve never gone through childbirth but if I do I’m definitely planning on all the drugs. My guide who was Hmong talked about how with her first child her water broke on the trail and she hiked home, hopped on the motorbike and went to the hospital because she needed a c-section; one of her friend’s had her child on the trail(!!!!).
We trekked through terrace rice fields where there was a look of the irrigation system up close. I kept thinking of how many years back this practice has gone and how incredibly intricate it was. The trails were steep and with it raining the evening before a little slick too. Some of the Hmong women hiking with us wore slip on sandals and our guide was in rain boots and they all floated along the trail. Meanwhile I’m in full on trail-running shoes and still struggling to find traction. There is an ultrarace in the area in September of each year, I can’t even imagine how intense that must be given the grades that we were hiking. , It would be fun to come back and do the ultra for the views alone, even if it would destroy me.
Part of the economy in the area is based on tourism and the handmade goods that the various ethnic groups sell. I was able to resist the first group of kids that came up to sell bracelets but it must have exceeded all my self-will for the rest of the day as each child that would approach me I gave in, fortunately each bracelet was only 5,000 Dong (22 cents USD). One group there were 3 girls selling them, and I told them I wanted 5 which made their eyes light up. After thinking they were the only ones, I was soon swarmed with many other children–I have no idea where they came from. I won’t tell you how many bracelets I’m coming home with, but if you want one, let me know!
About half-way through the trek it started raining, unlike Hanoi it released the humidity and was a warm rain. It made me think of Forrest Gump and how he talked about it raining so much, “And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.” I had this same thought until I realized I was getting sprayed by an irrigation hose leak. My rain jacket did little to overcome the wetness and it was apparently clear why umbrellas are the way to go.
I had asked our guide about snakes and she told me not to worry, they eat them so if they hear us talking they run away so they won’t get caught. This made me feel slightly better. I only saw one snake while in Sapa and someone was carrying it on the back of a motorbike, I’m assuming to go home and eat it.
It’s one area that I wish I could have spent more time in but had to get back for a meeting on Monday and took the train back overnight. Walking back to the apartment at 5 in the morning the city was filled with calmness and most of the streets aren’t recognizable with all the shops closed up instead of spilling out.
More photos from Sapa and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi:
My first thought upon walking off the airplane and into the Hanoi airport was, “Oh wow, I’m tall”. Most days I think of myself as being 5’5-5’6″ even though I’m just over 5’9″. I blame this on the fact that Frank and Mary tower over me. I’ve never thought of myself as being tall before arriving in Viet Nam. Most of the people stood up and I soon realized that they looked much taller when they were seated on the plane. This sense of feeling like a giant hasn’t gone away.
I walked around a bit Sunday night but with the travel and lack of sleep on the airplanes went to bed at 7pm. Both Monday and Tuesday were holidays here, first International Labor Day and then celebrating the Fall of Saigon. I woke up at 4am the next morning and was ready to go. I facetimed my parents because it was early evening for them and waited until the noise of the street crept in to let me know the city had awaken. I got up and went to walk around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or “Lake of the Restored Sword”. I also walked across the Huc Bridge into the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Right before the entrance two girls in front of me had to turn around and the man seemed to be gesturing to their shoes. Looking at my sandals I wondered if it was a problem but he let me pass. I later realized it was because they were wearing shorts and had to go back and put smocks on to cover their legs.
The temple is still active with people putting money (fake money) to burn as the offering.
I then met up with one of the guys here for lunch to talk about preliminary things, like areas to go running and what places are the best to eat.
Tuesday was the celebration of the Fall of Saigon, which is probably a similar feeling to a Brit being in America on the Fourth of July, but with less fireworks. Given that everything was still shut down I decided to make my way to the Temple of Literature and maybe the Viet Nam Museum of Art. Unfortunately both of those are off my paper map by a few blocks and ended up instead at Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum and Museum.
There was a temple there as well, which I could not go in because of the shorts I was wearing and they didn’t offer smocks. I also didn’t go into the Mausoleum because it was closed, which I found a little ironic given the day of celebration. I never found the Museum of Art, which is what I was really after. I would go up to a police officer and ask, “English?” and they would respond, “Hello” and that was the just of it so besides trying to point on the map any phrases I knew in Vietnamese that I did not butcher were not sufficient enough to get me to where I wanted to be. I took a cab back to the hotel, which was maybe my first and last cab ride given how terrifying the roads are here.
Yesterday I woke up again around 4 so decided to go for a run when the daylight broke. I decided to go run around Hoàn Kiếm Lake because it was close and that way if I didn’t want to do 6+ miles I could just cut it short whenever. Within about the first 5 minutes I soon realized why I didn’t see more runners, the humidity and the heat even at 5am was miserable. Plenty of people where out exercising, either walking around or doing group fitness, but not a lot of runners. Most of them in normal clothes and a few times seeing their clothes drenched in sweat I wanted to yell, “Cotton kills!” but didn’t. The side street markets were also unfolding spilling out fruits, vegetables, and handmade goods. I couldn’t believe all the activity happening still in the wee hours. I only last 3 painstaking miles and then went back to my air-conditioned room and did yoga. I only had a dinner on the schedule for the day so spent most of the day just roaming around. The Old Quarter is a mix of tourists interjected with the locals. A lot of shops seemed tailored to tourists and then I turned a corner and found myself on a street that only sold coffins and memorial flowers.
(1) It doesn’t make much difference whether you look or not while crossing the road, there is always traffic so you just go–sorry mom!
(2) Not speaking anything more than really basic Vietnamese phrases means that I’m surrounded by thousands of people but still very isolated. My mom asked how I would do with it but it hasn’t bothered me yet, I’m actually enjoying it. I do worry that if I do something wrong and someone starts yelling I will have no idea why
(3) I have yet to a store that sells hairbrushes, and I’m in desperate need. I’m debating just cutting it so someone will have to brush it.
After some logistical planning we wrote down our route and figured out estimates of time with where we needed to be an when. We weren’t sure of what to do with the North Kaibab trail closure so just planned for 2 hours out from Phantom Ranch and then turn around which would put the total for the day at 12 hours. Perfect.
We headed to the South Kaibab trail around 7:15 and parked in a dirt parking lot and headed to the rim. I had informed Jessie that I was scared of heights and reminded her that if I’m crouching and hugging the wall, I’ll be fine just give me a minute to get over it. In truth, the moment before we stepped on the trail I had no idea just how much the exposure would bother me–I reminded myself to not let fear define my fate (and sung that song most of the way down). I had read and looked at pictures but I get nervous being on the third floor of the law school building and looking down.
We got on the trail, walked for a few yards and then Jessie asked if it was time to run, it was, and so we began going down. The trail was wide with a forgiving edge that gradually fell away instead of a shear drop off, and while a tumble would have resulted in death no doubt, I could at least trick myself into thinking I would survive. The views were astonishing and kept me focused from falling off the edge, it seemed the every corner we came around we would stop and just stare in amazement and then go, “how cool is this?!?” before proceeding on our way.
All the hikers going down were really nice about giving us room on the trail. At one point we came up on a big family and most of the group gave way, except for this 7ish-year-old girl with a red camelbak on, she stepped onto the trail in front of us with no fear and started running, so we followed her. We caught up to the next group of hikers and as we passed through, one of the group members goes, “is that for real?” Inquiring about the child, my response, “Yep, she’s our pacer!” The girl pulled off a little further down the trail, not too far from her family and it seemed like her group was spread out enough that we weren’t just leaving her.
It wasn’t too long before we saw the Colorado River and continued to navigate our way down the trail, and only encountering the two mule trains of the day on this section.
We crossed the bridge and rolled into Phantom Ranch area just before our estimated time. We stopped at the Ranger’s Station to ask about a trail that had been closed, the one going over the silver bridge to Bright Angel, she told us that it had opened this morning. This was great to hear because otherwise we would have to go back up part of South Kaibab and then over to Bright Angel on a cut-across with no access for water after leaving Phantom Ranch until back to Bright Angel. We headed over to the Canteen and pulled out some snacks and discussed the next part of the plan. It wasn’t even 10am. We couldn’t believe it, what would we do if we only went to the river and back, we’d be done so early so we decided to head up on North Kaibab trail and try to at least get to Ribbon Falls or Cottonwood Campground, even if it was longer than the allotted two hours.
We refilled our water, applied more sunscreen and set off again. We walked for a short period with a group of four hikers that were from Texas but then took off in front of them.
One thing that was sensational was how much the landscape changed from the top of the rim to the bottom, with the bottom of the canyon unfolding in a luscious landscape of shrubbery and color.
When I called a week earlier about trail conditions they said that Ribbon Falls Trail was closed and the only way to access was to cross the river, which is highly advised against. It wasn’t till we got to the trail junction that we saw this sign.
We decided to turn back around as some storm clouds began to encroach on us and at this point we were at about 15-17 miles, depending on whose watch you looked at. We started running and continued most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Except for when we stopped to take Senior Pictures because when you’re in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, why not?
We stopped again at the Canteen to refill water and have a snack before beginning the 9+ mile trek out. We did some wardrobe changes and applied more sunscreen, then took off. We got on the trail and began going up, the miles flew by going down but the tedious task of going up made them drag on, fortunately the views did not suck. We stopped at one point and watched some rafters try to get their raft unstuck from the one rock in the river they could have gotten caught on. We ran into a few people, but not many, and kept climbing the switchbacks on our way to the top. At this point both our watches had died so we didn’t have the best knowledge of how far each point was. We were often greeted with patches of shade, which I was grateful for because it seemed that the South Kaibab trail didn’t offer much coverage and I didn’t want to get sunburned. Approximately 4 miles later we reached Indian Garden Campground, we sat down and talked to a guy who was hiking rim to river to rim, he had done it about 50 times in his life and this was his 4th time this year already–goals. He said out of all the times he’d only ever ran into two snakes. This knowledge made me feel better because in my worst nightmare I would run into a snake on the trail and try to avoid it only to fall off the ledge.
We refilled our water, ate a snack and the guy informed us we were still about 4 miles from the top and had about 2 hours to go.
We began going up, again, this time at a steeper grade than the previous four miles. Steps began to feel laborious and arduous– every 5 yards was met with a waterbar, which meant lifting our legs just a little higher than just hiking uphill. With our watches still dead (I know I was hoping they would magically turn on too) we could only go off of how far away the rim seemed. I couldn’t believe people ran up this section (the FTK on R2R2R is just over 5 hours–crazy!!). We passed time by talking about plans to come back in the fall, what we would do differently and how we would prepare (yes, we are planning on going again to get the full R2R2R). Most of our concerns centered around nutritional choices, packing sandwiches and more real food instead of makeshift protein and carbs in the form of bars and GU. We also passed time talking about what we would eat when we were done, trail mix was no longer cutting it but we kept force-feeding at 45 minute intervals to keep our energy up.
Realizing our sun was going to be going down soon, we made sure to take even more photos.
We continued up the switchbacks. My first trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 5, I have a picture of Wayne and I by this arch on the trail. Upon seeing the arch, I figured we were very close to the top, what 5 year-old with a fear of heights would venture that far down? Apparently, this one, especially if I was with Wayne. Thinking that it would only be about 100 yards from the top I thought we were almost done–I soon found it was definitely closer to a mile.
The top seemed so close but visually still far off. The day had started turning to dusk and I asked Jessie if I should put my headlight on. While it wasn’t necessarily warranted at this point, I had drug it around the entire canyon in the event of having to use it and well I wanted to make it worth it. She said no. We kept walking and came upon a second tunnel. I started laughing, I bet this is the tunnel we made it to when I was a kid, and here I thought I was a fearless individual as a child, good to know I’ve always been risk adverse. The second tunnel we went under was only .18 miles from the top (I looked it up later). We could see the lip of the rim peeking out above. It was dark enough now that I was able to justify my headlamp but only because I saw one below us. I told Jessie, “better to be safe than sorry” but in all actuality I just wanted to use everything that I had packed at least once. We reached the top of the rim, saw the trail sign, I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ve made it!” and that was it. The finality was rather subdued. No fanfare, no one handing out water, no collecting a medal, and yet it was beyond comparison to finishing some races.
We grabbed some dinner showered and retrieved our car (taking enough steps already, we opted for a taxi). I think the dust I had collected on me made me close to the tannest I have ever been in my life. We went to bed early and the next day headed up to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We’re planning on doing it again this fall with options for R2R (going before Oct. 15 to get a car on the north side) and doing R2R2R–if interested let me know!
Here’s also what I’ve been telling people, even if you have no earthly desire to ever hike or go down into the Grand Canyon- GO! I could have spent hours just sitting on the rim. We did 32-33 miles and 12 hours going into the depths of not only the canyon but my soul– being completely present and in awe of my entire life. I left with a cup overflowing of gratitude.