In case you don’t know my brother here’s a little background. First off, we’re mirror-image identical twins. And the first thing most people want to tell us is “But you can’t be identical, you’re not the same gender.” Or, maybe they’ll tell us “But you can’t be identical, you look so different”. (By which they really mean, “Why is he so much shorter and rounder than you?”). So let me explain. My brother is transgender and I am cisgendered. He also had childhood Leukemia before doctors really knew what they were doing with radiation and chemotherapy (but happily they knew enough to save his life) and those treatments changed how he grew. So here we are, an identical matching set that now looks more different on the outside than the inside.
How we got into running
When we were 24 years old my brother decided to run a marathon with Team in Training which raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I joined him and together we flew to Honolulu for our first ever marathon. Since then we’ve run many more – some together but mostly on our own.
Last fall my brother texted me that he had just signed up for the Antelope Canyon half marathon in northern Arizona. I had so much fun running around Page, AZ last February during a family trip that I was eager to go back. Plus, I couldn’t let him go out there alone. I signed up for the 50 mile race.
A training buddy is invaluable when it comes to running through the winter. Even though we live three hours apart we regularly texted each other pictures of frosted eyebrows, complained about getting slushed by 18 wheelers and whined about getting up in the dark to run long weekend miles.
My brother had a knee replacement a year ago so every injury-free run was a huge success for him. As for me, my training went really well, just running is so easy (compared to training for an Ironman). Plus, I love running in the winter despite the slush, dark and cold. Something about the stark landscape, the openness of the winter sky and the lack of people feels so easy and spacious, like I can be fully me and not worry about what anyone thinks. I had some of my most pleasant long runs ever and was able to stay off the roads almost entirely because of the thin to non-existent snow cover.
My favorite training runs were going up the Cadillac Mountain Road looking for snowy owls. I made this video during one of those runs when I was trying to figure out how to use my GoPro camera. Some might say this video is a bit tedious and uneventful, but that’s exactly what I love about running and nature – mostly it is deeply soothing and non-eventful!
There were a few stumbles in our training – I had some nagging achilles pain where a thick lump appeared after this fall’s Vermont 50 but I visited a PT weekly to keep it in check. Thankfully the most painful days coincided with the weather and there was enough snow to skate ski instead of run.
A week before the race my brother fell hard on the ice and bruised his knee and shin so badly that by the time I met up with him it looked like it should be amputated! His knee remained stiff right up to the race but besides worsening his pre-race jitters it didn’t cause him any problems.
The Road Trip
We flew from Maine to AZ the Wednesday before the race and commenced our first twin-only-trip in over 15 years. If you don’t have an identical twin I am sorry. There’s something about hanging out with a different expression of yourself that is both supremely comfortable, like wearing your own skin, and hilarious, because if you can’t silly with yourself, who can you be silly with?
The first night we drove north to the Prescott National Forest and found a nice little patch of desert dirt to camp on. The coyotes woke us up shortly before a local rancher rumbled by in his diesel rig and the sunrise was spectacular. From there we drove north to Sedona to check on the vortex and get breakfast. The town itself was unremarkable but the canyon was gorgeous. We stopped in Flagstaff to stock up on groceries for the rest of our trip and then headed north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
There’s a reason our thru-hiking trail names are Turtle and Hair. My brother is slow and
methodical and visiting a new place requires a good deal of orienting and planning. I prefer to leap into things and figure it out experientially. Even so, we do ok, like that evening at the Grand Canyon when took off from our campsite on a 6 mile run along the rim trail while my brother drove around in loops looking for the parking lot where we were going to meet to watch the sunset. He made it there eventually as he always does and we caught the last few seconds of the sun sinking below the horizon.
Camping that night was freezing. Literally. In an effort to avoid checking luggage I had left my down coat in Maine so I spent most of the night doing sit ups in my sleeping bag to stay warm while my brother happily and loudly snored away next to me. I woke him up in time to join me for a brisk warmup walk down to Yaki Point to watch the sunrise, which was spectacular as expected. For breakfast we ate our fourth meal of sandwiches and headed north toward Page, AZ.
We derived to spring for a hotel room the night before the race, albeit a very cheap one. When we arrived I had to remove the left over food from the mini-fridge, the hair from the bathroom sink and the dried leaves from the towels. (This explains why I almost always prefer my tent to hotel rooms). My 50 mile race started at 6am so my brother graciously got up with me even though his half marathon didn’t start until 8am.
My run started in the dark, but soon we were running straight into the sunrise greeting
the new desert day. It was a lovely race, even with all the sand. I never quite know
what to tell non-trail ultra runners what it’s like to run 50 miles in a day. It’s a little like the days I birthed my two babies. A mix of knowing and not knowing, bliss and pain, boredom and expectation, skillful body and mind management, and of course, beauty, lots of beauty. I love the solitude, even when there are other runners nearby we’re all having our own experience, we’re all getting through in our own way. Mostly in trail races like this, at least where I am in the pack, no one is trying to beat anyone else so there is an easy camaraderie and the shared joy and gratitude for getting to do what we love.
I finished somewhere in the top third for women, but more importantly I met my goal of
finishing before sunset. There is great satisfaction being able to run 50 miles before dark! As has happened in these longer races, after 11 hours of drinking Tailwind and squeezing down the occasional Gu my stomach totally lost during the last hour and not even the bacon quesadillas the local cross country team kids were cooking up at the last aid station could tempt me!
The following day we headed south back toward Flagstaff. It’s a lovely drive because Arizona is a lovely state. I’ll leave you with this portrait of our drive together. There’s nothing better than taking a road trip with a good friend.
More pictures from our trip and the race – Ultra Adventures Antelope Canyon 50 miler in Page, AZ. And if you want to know what it was really like to run this race you should watch this guys very funny but horrifyingly accurate video of the day.
I technically still have a few races left this season – the Mount Desert Island Marathon next weekend that I get to run with Jerome because it’s his first ever marathon(!), and the Downeast Double Trouble trail series that I’ll run with my girls at the end of the month. But mostly this season is winding down and it’s been a really good one. You might recall I suffered from plantar fasciitis for most of 2014 – and then it mysteriously healed during my full Ironman race last September. Well I am glad to report that I’ve only had the slightest twinges of achilles pain since then.
Pain-free, I had one of my best xc ski seasons ever, and finished it by winning the women’s 40k Maine Huts and Trail’s race. I also got really strong at skate skiing and was able to skate 12-15 miles at a time around Acadia’s (perfectly groomed) carriage roads. Skate skiing seems to be great physical therapy for me because it helps me strengthen my external hip rotators. I think the peril for runners who skate ski is that it can aggravate and tighten the tibialis anterior muscles along the front of the shin which can definitely be a precipitating factor in plantar fasciitis. This is a good example of why its important to know the cause of your chronic injury – one athlete’s medicine could be another’s poison.
My first long run of 2015 was a huge success, I finished the Antelpe Canyon 55k feeling like I could easily continue another 15 miles and even though it was a slow run with lots of deep sand, I finished in the top third. The race was a great ending to a great family vacation.
I went from that into a few more ski races followed by a couple rest weeks and then straight into a 15 week Ironman training plan. This put me in great shape Memorial Day weekend when I ran the Pineland Trails 50k 45 minutes faster than I did two years ago. Two weeks later I ran 34 miles at the Great Cranberry Island “Great Run”. One of the great things about the Great Run is that it’s a whole bunch of running back and forth on a small island so you end up passing everyone a couple dozen times and by the end you kind of feel like one big happy running family. Seeing Mike Westpahl run past me every half hour was awesomely inspiring, if you haven’t yet watched this video of his incredible run that day, please do. It was also amazing to watch the women’s champion Leah Frost run with such impeccable form right to the very end. I keep an image of her perfect kick in my head when I’m running now and I swear it’s making me faster. (Thanks Leah!) I also had a lot of fun dancing to the music at the end of each lap.
The weekend after the Great Run I headed to South Berwick, ME for the Sea to Summit sort-of-ironman. The night before the race I slept at the start line in my brother’s sedan. I do not recommend this pre-race strategy. Anyway, soon enough I was wading into the murky waters of a tidal river starting the weirdest triathlon swim ever. We ran through mud for a a big chunk of the swim on the way out and then dodged some pretty nasty slabs of slate on the way in. The 100 mile bike ride up to Mt. Washington was nice. I flip-flopped with a fellow female rider which kept me motivated and focussed during the five and a half hour ride and especially up that last mountain climb to Wild Cat ski area where the run up Mt. Washington starts from. I crushed the run/hike up the Lion’s Head trail and though I was hoping to make it up in under two hours I was happy with 2:20. I’m positive I could do under two on fresh legs.
My next race was the Norway Sprint triathlon. Having not learned my lesson I slept in the car the night before the race again. I’ve slept in my car before races for the last 20 years, but I had forgotten why I borrowed my brother’s car the month before – which was because the backseat of my car is broken and doesn’t fold down anymore. Sleep is a generous term for hanging out in a sleeping bag in the front seat of your car waiting for sunrise.
The race went well despite the sleep deprivation. Once again I had a good female competitor in the bike ride and we averaged over 19mph going up and down the hill together. I do have a new bike this season and I absolutely love it but in triathlon world it is still an aluminum clunker and the fact that I can beat a super aero carbon bike is infuriating to high-tech riders. Thus even though I beat my competitor back to the transition she was very relieved when she passed me on the run. We ended up first and second in our age group, and I’m glad she beat me or she might have beat me up!
After Norway my summer was filled with glorious long runs and bike rides. I discovered the Graham Lake loop north of Ellsworth freshly paved and about as scenic as Maine gets. I ran some great mountain loops around Acadia in preparation for the Vermont 50. I hiked Katahdin several times in search of elevation and had my 9 year old daughter join me on one trip. My family also joined me in hiking several sections of the Maine Appalachian Trail which was great fun. I remained injury-free except for some mysterious and sudden low back pain that my amazing chiropractor was able to cure with just one visit. Thus I landed at the start of my last two big races in great shape.
This year my cousin and I opted for the Pumpkinman half ironman in place of the Lobsterman Olympic length race that we’ve done for the past six years. It was a little sad to miss the Lobsterman which was once again blessed with perfect late summer weather. Instead we arrived at the start of the Pumpkinman the following day in a cold gray drizzle. But I thrive in cold wet conditions, partly because I have to bike really hard to stay warm. I averaged 20mph on the 58 mile course and ran the 13.1 miles in 2 hours – my best time in nearly two decades!
Two weeks later I headed to Vermont for what I hoped would be my reward for a great, injury-free, rest-filled, well-nourished training season. I did not sleep in my car the night before even though this fall I finally traded in my decrepit old honda for a Mazda5 with excellent seat-folding capacity (a pre-requisite for any car I own.) I did however sleep in my tent at the start line. I love it when race directors provide start-line camping, it makes everything so much more relaxed. I rolled out of my tent at 5:30, made tea and toast and strolled down the hill for a 6:30 start. Alas, I quickly realized I’d made a fatal error. I was wearing shorts I’d never run in before and suddenly they were giving me a huge wedgie. Panicked, I ran back up to my car, switched out the offending new shorts for my old standbys and sprinted back down the hill to the start line with a minute to spare. Nothing like a little pre-race warm up!
The Vermont 50 was an almost perfect race for me. I still have a hard time focussing on speed on more technical terrain (tight switch backs, rocks and roots) and this is particularly true on longer races when I’m more apt to be alone on the trail. I can practically slow to a walk without even realizing it – I guess I’m still a thru hiker at heart. The other thing that really slowed me down in this particular race was that I had to mess around way too much at the aid stations. I thought I had it all figured out but what happened is this: I had made a cute little laminated card with my projected pace on it that would double as a funnel for pouring Tailwind drink mix into the inconveniently small mouth of my platypus water bottle. This plan worked perfectly until I misplaced the card/funnel at an aid station. I even ran back a few hundred feet to check the aid station trash but gave up in the end, truly confounded about its disappearance (two days later it was discovered in the top pocket of my vest).
The consequence was that at the next three aid stations I had to find some kind of something to roll into a funnel. The volunteers tried to help by ripping up cardboard coke boxes and creatively folding tissues. After a final and impossibly frustrating attempt to get Tailwind into my water bottle I headed out of the second to last aid station on a seven mile section that has been really hard for me the last two years. This year I made sure to bring an extra quart of Tailwind so I wouldn’t crash two thirds of the way through. But then about a mile out I pulled my water bottle hose toward my mouth to take a drink and all of a sudden I felt water pouring down my back. I quickly tore my pack off, flipped it upside down and rescued the remaining quart of Tailwind. It took me some time to get the water bottle hose reattached and there was nothing I could do about my soaking wet, sticky shirt and shorts. Fortunately it was cool enough that a single quart was sufficient to get me through the rest of that section.
The last part of the VT50 a real highlight. I had been passing back and forth with three guys for the last 20 miles and I ended up pacing them the final three miles. This can be a rough section because you basically climb up Mt.Ascutney and run down the ski trail to the lodge to the finish. Most people walk a good chunk of the uphill and often can’t run the downhill because their quads are shot. But I felt strong enough to run the whole thing and the guys refused to pass me, which of course made me run even faster. By the time we got to the final zig-zag downhill I felt awesome! My quads were strong and I was able to really fly down to the finish. Or at least that’s how it felt. The guys all high-fived me at the finish and I though to myself “maybe I really am a runner!”
I had very little soreness the following days and the hardest part of recovering was forcing myself not to run despite feeling “rested”. I know myself and I know that I probably need way more rest than I feel like I need. In the past I haven’t taken that rest and I’m sure that has contributed to my plantar fasciitis and hip arthritis. So I’ve been running easy the last week or so, no more than 6 miles at a time, nice and slow. I feel a little nagging in my heels and achilles and I hope I can get some good myofascial work soon to help break up the adhesions I feel building up in my calves. Incidentally, I’ve learned that stretching does nothing for this issue and strength work while still recovering might be a really bad idea. I’ve also learned that while Tailwind is awesome for preventing stomach issues and keeping my muscles fueled on long runs, I need to recover my gut as quickly as possible afterwards. This means lots of probiotics, fermented vegetables (my favorite is ginger kohlrabi) and as little starch as possible.
Overall it’s been a great season testing out some new training ideas: more intuitive training, less by-the-book schedules, way more strength work, more rest days, more sleep, and little or no food on long runs (just Tailwind). I’m looking forward to another winter of strength and coordination (I love Annie Grindal’s class at the Blue Hill Y!), more slush running and skate skiing. I’m thinking a few 50 mile trail races next season (Antelope Canyon, Cayuga Trail and VT50) and maybe a full Ironman . . . Mt. Tremblant? I hear Ironmen are cheaper in Canadian dollars . . . If any one knows of a good parking lot in Montreal, let me know.
The back story . . .
When Lucy was born nine years ago I gave up my yoga studio in Vermont and moved back to Maine. I’ve been a nomadic yoga teacher ever since. Over the last nine years I’ve taught in at least a dozen different studios from Portland to Eastport. I taught a Monday evening class in Belfast for a few years but finally ended it when I was having trouble staying awake on the drive home. I taught a Wednesday evening class in Ellsworth – and enjoyed that drive home much more thanks to WERU’s Drive Thru and Carlton’s local humor. I stopped teaching evening classes that required a longer commute sometime after the black ice episode when I slid off the road on the way to class and had to have my students come rescue me (thanks John and Anita!).
Bringing together the power of yoga and Pilates
Four years ago I was having a hard time finding a yoga class that fit my schedule so I wandered into Wendy Hay’s Pure Pilates studio to see what going on. I was perplexed by Pilates – why would one want to do 50 mins of sit-ups? But Wendy’s easy laughter, precise teaching and clean space quickly became addictive. So did getting stronger. It turns out that many of my aches and pains were coming from being too flexible and Pilates helped me maintain my mobility while greatly increasing my stability.
Then, a year and a half ago Wendy decided to take on a new baby (her boutique store Mae) and I decided to take a Pilates Mat training course in hopes of maintaining our group’s weekly practice. And over the past year I have done just that and while I can’t duplicate Wendy’s expert class rhythm, I’ve enjoyed integrating the anatomy and alignment I’ve learned from my 20 years of teaching yoga.
A permanent home
When the lease for the studio became available last month it seemed like an obvious place to anchor my weekly classes. No more shlepping mats, forgetting the box of class-cards, squeezing my classes in around other people’s schedules or remembering which key unlocks which door!
I am very happy to claim Mountain Studio as my home base. It’s nice to have a permanent home for my yoga and Pilate’s props and of course my reformer, and it’s wonderful to finally have my own space for private lessons.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and it will take another month or so for me to pull together some of the stray pieces (website, signs . . . ), but my new weekly classes are already filling up. I’m also excited to have new class offerings from other teachers coming soon (make sure you’re on my email list to hear more).
Now, a quick note about next week’s schedule – the girls and I are headed to Fiddle Camp (for Lucy’s ninth birthday!) so I will be out of town June 14-19. However, Lane Lucas (who attended the Pilates Mat training course with me) will be teaching the Pilates Mat class on Tuesday and Thursday morning, and Jerome will teach the Monday evening yoga class. The Wednesday morning Creative Core class and Thursday morning beginning yoga class will be cancelled this week. I will be back to teaching the regular schedule on Saturday June 20th.
I am looking forward to sharing Mountain Studio with you, be sure to come by if you are in the area.
I’ll be leading my 7th annual Spring Cleanse April 17- May 7, 2016. I still call it a cleanse, even though the word shift would be much better.
I wrote this post last spring to address the reason why the term cleanse is misleading.
The whole idea of cleansing and detoxing is off-putting to many people. Not just because anyone with a science background can tell you that the human body is well-equipped with natural and effective detoxification pathways and that these pathways work whether you will them to or not and that purposely speeding up or otherwise enhancing these pathways is neither necessary nor helpful to your health. But also because the yoga world of cleansing and detoxing has become enmeshed with the less than healthy world of fasting, rapid weight-loss and body-perfection (read this funny and sadly accurate post about “Thinspiration” on yoga-beast.com)
So about the first point, yes, it is true, your liver works 24-7, performing 500+/- complex biological functions, including moment to moment detoxification. Your kidneys are amazing detoxification/elimination organs too, as is your colon, and to a much lesser degree, your sweat glands and lungs. Daily detoxification is like doing the dishes, sweeping the floor and putting away your clothes. It is a necessary daily task that keeps the system running smoothly.
About the second point. Fasting, cleansing and detoxing are indeed marketed as a body-positive way to loose weight while also getting that slim, fresh-eyed, yoga-glo look. But having tried so many of these (juice fasting, raw foods, sawdust and moss . . .) I can tell you that no rapid-weight loss plan is body-positive or healthy. Juice fasting and/or nutrient and calorie restricting “cleanses” can seriously mess with your metabolism (which takes weeks if not months to recover from). In addition, these fasting detox diets don’t help you develop real-life eating and relaxation skills and they can seriously undermine your own body-wisdom and self-esteem.
Over the last decade I have come to understand that the “cleanse” that most of us need most of the time is a simple, nutrient dense rest and renewal. What we need are a few weeks to remember how good good food tastes and we need a little structure and support to get us back on the vegetable wagon. New, simple recipes, new spices to inspire us and a menu plan to help us prepare more meals at home. A few guidelines to help cut out the junk calories and stimulants so our organs and glands can get a break. That’s it. You might loose weight, you might not. You will very likely feel better either way.
House cleaning versus house resting
It’s not that you need to do more housecleaning. Most of us can get away with several months (even years) of cursory daily house cleaning before the ring around the toilet bowl or the dust bunnies under the bed seriously impacts our quality of living. But if a cursory pick up is all we have the energy for at the end of the day then when do we repair the broken chair leg or the clogged toilet?
A healthy body follows a similar strategy. Regular daily detoxification cleans up most of the mess. If all goes well we get sick once or twice a year and feel pretty good in between. We sleep soundly and feel rested in the morning, our skin is clear, our elimination is regular and our mood and energy patterns are stable.
But if we don’t take regular breaks from the common stressors in our life (diet and lifestyle) we leave little time for restoration and repair. Over time we start to feel the effects. Our digestion gets cranky, we get sick more frequently, our joints ache, our breath smells . . .
A good cleanse is a good break
And that’s when a seasonal cleanse can help. Ideally a Spring Cleanse and Sugar Detox is a way of taking the load off your system so that not only can your body perform it’s normal, natural everyday detoxification, but it can also start to repair and heal your otherwise neglected gut, skin, hair and joints.
The less stressful a cleanse is, the more repair can happen. That’s why my cleanses provide an easy to follow, satisfying, anti-inflammatory diet complimented by stress-reducing daily practices. That’s also why I don’t use a one-size-fits all approach. For some simply eating three regular meals a day is a huge relief for their system, while for others that schedule feels too restricting and causes a good deal of hunger-fear – which totally defeats the purpose. Some love the comfort and simplicity of a Kitchari monodiet while others gag at any mention of the K word.
Probably the biggest obstacle I face when leading my group cleanses is convincing people that it’s ok to make and follow their own rules. We have been trained to rely on experts and we’ve lost trust in our bodies and our own wisdom. It’s tricky because external boundaries and rules are helpful for getting us back on track until we can start to feel our own way again. So yes, my cleanses include rules – they are the rules that I have found help most people feel better most of the time. They are rules to help get you oriented, to provide structure and support, to free you up. They are not meant to be permanent, punitive or self-limiting.
Clear the way for self-empowerment
There you have it, my cleanses aren’t about cleansing or detoxing. I mean, those things are going to happen – if you’ve been eating a lot of sugar or drinking a lot of coffee and then you suddenly stop doing those things, you will trigger a natural detoxification response.
But really, my cleanses are about taking the load off. They are about reducing the “noise” of inflammation and reactive mucous so you can start to clearly feel and hear your own body’s wisdom. They are about exploring how you respond to different stressors in your life and giving yourself the time and perspective to shift those things as needed. I believe that you know exactly what you need to do, and my job is to help you hear it.
If this sounds good you can read more about my upcoming Spring Cleanse here.
(It’s ok to skip the words and scroll down to the pretty slideshow . . .)
Why the desert?
Jerome and I met in Colorado 15 years ago and soon after we went on our first backpacking trip together to the Maze in Utah’s Canyonlands followed by a road trip around Utah and Northern Arizona. We fell in love with slick rock and desert (and each other) and have always wanted to go back to explore more. So, this February we took the kids and headed west for nine days of High Desert and canyon exploration.
“But camping with kids seems so hard!”
The most common thing I’ve heard from my friends since I starting planning this trip is “I could never do that with my kids (and/or spouse)!”. And I understand what they mean, because parenting in a house with a roof and a refrigerator is hard enough. What really helps in my case is that in my pre-mom life I was an outdoor educator and Wilderness EMT and so I am very comfortable in remote areas. Actually, I am more comfortable camping than staying in a hotel, and Jerome will tell you, I’d much rather pee on the side of the road than in a restroom. I have the skills to keep us warm, safe and well-fed in a wide variety of conditions. In addition, before we got married we hiked 2,500 miles of the Continental Divide Trail together- whatever disputes we may have had about how to pitch a tarp, cook pasta, or stuff a sleeping bag are well behind us. Camping for us is a regular, comfortable routine with minimal spousal dispute (unless it comes to getting lost and needing to ask directions . . .)
Turning kids into willing backpackers
As a family we have built up our camping routine slowly – and you can too. We started by sleeping outside in our front yard or friends yards when they were only a few months old. When they were 2-3 years old we graduated to nearby state parks. Over the years we’ve established little rituals, like who sleeps where in the tent, how to pee and poop in the woods and how to be careful around the camp stove. By the time the girls were 3 and 4 we started taking them on canoe camping trips to nearby lakes, and motorboat overnights to islands in Blue Hill Bay. This gave us the freedom to bring more gear without having to carry it on our backs. As a rule, the more confident and experienced you get, the less gear you need. Once everyone can consistently keep themselves warm, dry and fed, back up clothing, food and gear becomes optional.
Planning an Adventure
After a summer of trail running and hiking the girls seemed strong enough for a more strenuous backpacking trip.
The first thing I needed to do was find a cheap way to get the four of us somewhere warm enough to camp during February school vacation. I lucked out and landed a great deal from Boston to Las Vegas – on Virgin Air no less!
Next up, I applied for a backcountry camping permit at the Grand Canyon. It’s kind of a fun, antiquated reservation system where you mail or fax the Park a trip-leader application with your desired dates and camping locations. Supposedly, to beat the crowds, you need to send your fax in on the morning of the first day of the sixth month prior to your desired trip date. After figuring out what that even meant, I was disappointed to discover that I was several weeks past the magical date. I sent in my application anyway and hoped for the best. Fortunately it turns out February is not a popular month to camp in the Grand Canyon. Maybe because it is winter? The Park sent me a permit about a month later with an ominous note saying that because of trail work, there might not be water at the campgrounds. They also included a trail map with elevation totals. It looked like our hike would be similar to hiking down Katahdin in one day and back up in two days. That seemed doable.
The next thing I did was what any ultra runner would do. I searched for trail races in Arizona in February. Ding ding ding! I found the perfect race, Ultra Adventure’s Antelope Canyon 55k in Page, AZ and on the final weekend of winter vacation. I signed up and several days later casually mentioned to Jerome that I might want to run a race to celebrate my 40th birthday . . . Thankfully he’s either the most supportive or most resigned runner’s-spouse ever – he didn’t even blink.
Thus, the next obstacle was finding a cheap rental car. I always opt for the smallest possible ride because I’m stubborn that way. I view cars the way light-weight backpackers view packs. The smaller it is the less you can bring and the easier your life will be. This is more true in theory than reality, especially with kids. [Fortunately when it came time to pick up our car, the guy behind the counter saw Georgia and Lucy fighting over who would pull the luggage in the cart and kindly gave us a free upgrade to a Mazda 5.]
With packing economy in mind I honed in on our gear. I told the girls they could bring 2.5 outfits (in case you’re wondering, a skirt counts as a half, a dress as a whole) and this had to include their camping clothes. We made a gear checklist and Lucy assigned each family member their own color check mark. You can find a complete annotated version of the list we came up at the bottom of this post, and here’s Lucy’s original Camping Checklist.
Keeping it light is harder with kids!
When Jerome and I thru-hiked we kept our pack weight between 15-25lbs depending on the weather conditions. Each day of food added about 2lbs, and since we often carried 4-6 days of food at a time our packs rarely exceeded 35lbs. But with kids our packs have swollen in weight and girth. In order to keep the kids’ packs around 10lbs we parents would each need to carry two sleeping bags and two sleeping pads, plus the bigger tent and extra dishes.
No matter how well prepared we are, there’s ALWAYS last minute craziness
I had to make several last minute gear repairs including relocating the spider family from my ancient backpack, patching a thermarest (after submerging it in the bathtub to find the leak) and sewing up the huge rip in our four person tent that I ordered on clearance from The Clymb (you win some you loose some . . .) Our living room was a total disaster the night before we left. Mostly because trying to organize anything in the middle of feeding, dressing and getting kids to school while keeping yourself presentable for work and fitting in one last training run is a painful experience done best with a bottle of wine nearby.
The afternoon we were supposed to drive to Boston we realized that we hadn’t yet shoveled the 4 feet of snow off our roof. So when Jerome got home from work he spent the last two hours of daylight on the roof while I dragged in several loads of firewood so our neighbors could keep the fire going if the power went out. The kids focussed on enthusiastically preventing the cats from making a last minute escape into the -10 degree snow covered wasteland that surrounds our house. Finally, at 6pm, we headed south to Boston and made it to our park-and-fly hotel well before midnight.
The next morning we squeaked out of Logan just before the next big storm and soon found ourselves under blue skies and flying directly over the Grand Canyon!
In the end all the planning combined with incredible good luck weather-wise made for a wonderful and unforgettable family adventure. We camped free on BLM and Forest Service land, ate from a cardboard box stocked with all kinds of yummy things from the Natural Grocer in Flagstaff and completed an excessive number of Junior Ranger programs.
For a visual tour of our trip I made this slideshow. Enjoy!
For a full race report filled with lots of nice photos of the course, check out Fast Cory’s page.
The Annotated Gear List
___ 1 Short sleeve synthetic or wool shirt
___ 1 base layer (Synthetic or thin wool long sleeve shirt and pants. Often found on Sierra Trading Post or Campmor websites for less than $20 per set.)
___1 Light-weight fleece layer (Shirt and pants. Ours are all hand me downs, but are also often found at second hand stores)
___ 1 pair shorts or skirt.
___1 set rain gear (Jacket and pants. These are annoyingly expensive and hard to get as hand me downs because they don’t age well – I get the ones from L.L.Bean because they are light and comfortable and provide good warmth for their weight).
___ Warm Hat with ear coverage
___ 1 pair light weight fleece gloves or mittens.
___2 pairs socks (wool or synthetic, cotton is blister prone and don’t wear as well in the wild)
___ 2 pairs underwear.
___ 1 sun hat. Light weight visor or ball cap.
___1 pair shoes (my kids are barefoot all summer – even on our mountain hikes, so I know their feet and ankles are strong enough to hike long distances in lightweight sneakers. The bonus is no blisters and a much more agile, less tiring gate than you find with boots).
___1 pair “camp” sandals. We brought our homemade Xero sandals to avoid stepping on cactus spines and scorpions.
___ 1 set of light weight, unbreakable bowl and cup (we love our silicon bowls from Guyot Designs, they are a little on the heavy side but totally indestructible and I swear, Georgia loves hers so much she will eat anything you put in it.)
___ 1 small spoon. Any small spoon will do. Leave the fork and knife at home.
___1 sleeping pad. The girls use our old ¾ length ultra light thermarests, but we’ve also found that once they fall asleep, they’ll stay asleep on any surface and you can steal their thermarest out from under them, if say, yours deflates in the middle of the night . . .
___ 1 synthetic (not cotton) sleeping bag. Ours kid’s bags are mummy bags good to 20 degrees. Basically, the cheaper the bag the bulkier it is (taking up most of your pack) and the heavier it is. So it’s up to you, the parent, to decide how much of your kid’s gear you want to carry and how much you’re willing to suffer versus spend.
___ 1 head lamp or small light weight flashlight.
___ 1 quart water bottle. It was an investment, but the girls like the Camelbak kind and I do to because I don’t have to get their water out of their pack for them every 5 mins.
___ Camera (one between the two of them)
___ Backpack. Finding a good, affordable kid’s backpack is not easy. School backpacks aren’t the best for multi-day trips because the straps tend to made of thick, stiff, shapeless foam that does not feel good on little shoulders after a few miles. They also tend to be heavy and bulky and lack the structure needed to distribute the pack’s weight up against the kid’s body where it will be most comfortable. That said, kid’s don’t need a huge fancy pack. In fact, smaller and simpler is probably better because it will keep them from carrying too much. We lucked out and with a little help from a friend the girls got to demo a pair of very cool Vaude 15 Liter Minimalist packs. This model isn’t specifically made for kids, but it’s smaller size worked well for them. The top flap pocket has two zippered compartments which made it easy for the girls to store their snacks and cameras where they can get to them. We appreciated how simple and light these packs are and they will fit the girls even better next year. The girls appreciated having “real” backpacks, and we all know the more a kid looks the part, the more they act the part.
In addition to the same list of personal gear, Jerome and I also bring:
___2 stacking ~1qt titanium cook pots and lids (left over from our thru-hiking days).
___ 1 butane/propane camping stove, because we find with kids we need to be able to drink vast quantities of tea while camping and we don’t want to mess around with cranky stoves (alcohol, white gas, tin cans, whisper heavies etc . . . ) We carry one 8oz container of Isopro fuel for three days of camping. FYI – you can’t bring filled fueled canisters on the plane – we picked ours up Peace Surplus in Flagstaff.
___ 1 stirring/serving spoon (also serves as my eating spoon). Metal so it won’t melt.
___ 1 four person tent. We like ours, it is simple to set up but compared to our home made 2 person tarp-tent (made of parachute cloth) the tent is heavy and takes up a lot of space in our packs. We’re going to experiment with sewing a 4-person tarp-tent this summer.
___ 1 ground cloth (a piece of Tyvek cut to fit the shape of our tent’s footprint).
___ First aid kit. Fits into one pint sized ziplock: Bandaids, sports tape, gauze, alcohol wipes, steristrips, second skin and tweezers. You can do a lot with sports tape and gauze.
___ Water sterilizer. We use one of the smaller, simpler Steripens.
___ ½ liter metal thermoses. Because we really like our hot drinks.
___ Simple knife – with one blade and a can opener
___ Sports Bra
___ Small plastic comb
___Small container face soap – because it feels really good to wash your face at the end of a dusty day.
___ Small container face oil – because the desert air is cold and dry!
___ Dental floss – endless possibilities.
___ Cellphone/camera. Keep on airplane mode unless you want battery to die before your trip is over.
___ Small LED lantern – to hang from tree or tent so kids don’t have to wear headlamps and therefore won’t continually blind adults with their highbeam.
____ Spices. A few small baggies of spices go a long way to making camp food edible. We bring a few teaspoons of salt, pepper, cinnamon and curry powder from home so we don’t have to buy big containers once we’re there.
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