Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday at Keystone

My Sunday run took a group of three to Keystone to run the mountain bike trailz. Mitch, Leaha, and I met at 10:00 to do at least a loop. I knew the trailz could be sloppy and was prepared to bail at one circuit--which as I recalled was about 5 miles.

We took out and I was amazed to find that the trailz were not sloppy at all. Keystone has a lot of rocks especially during the first half if you are running the serpentine loop clockwise. What wasn't rocks was packed sand, with a small stream of runoff water following the trail. Only in a few places were there puddles on the trail, and even fewer places where any mud was squishy. I ended the day with wet feet, but not muddy shoes.

Any drainage no matter how slight had running water. For much of the way, we ran to the sound of a tumbling stream due to such heavy recent rainfall.

 Our first of several water crossings. 

Leaha made it across with one wet foot I think. Mitch just plowed through it. Blue, although being part Lab, was most hesitant. Dad had to pick him u and carry him across. But by the end of the day, Blue decided the water wasn't all that bad and was indeed great for a drink.

 I know the trailz here quite well, but there were a few new ones cut. One had signs taunting the passer-by as to it being too tough. So, of course, we had to add that loop to our journey. It was about a half mile which included a bit of climb and a few rock outcroppings. Nothing to sneeze at.

 This large tree blew over at east 10 years ago and just won't die. Anytime I run through with someone, I have to get a hold-it-up picture. Leaha really put some muscle into it and for a second I thought she might set it upright.

 Blue gets in on the action, but I have to say it didn't look like his heart was in it.

 This power line easement gives a great look over the Arkansas River. There are miles of ATV trails in the river bed and were no doubt muddy. There's also an old railroad bed that resembles a trail, but I am sure it was a long continuous mud hole. We passed on that.

Looking the other way, I always get this picture. We did a loop-de-loop and ran right under the electric tower about a half mile later.

 A small waterfall along the way. There were probably lots of others but I only got this one picture.

We had 4 or 5 water crossings and by the end of the loop, we just waded through. The cold water felt wonderful on our feet.

With the newly added loop that we were dared to run, we ended up with 5.9 miles for the loop. Leaha called it a day, but Mitch, Blue, and I went out for some more mileage. The old asphalt road which is actually the old HWY 51 (and I mean Real old) goes downhill a half mile with a drop of 134 feet. Of course, I wanted the spike on my elevation chart that we'd get on the way back up.

Then we ran up the main highway on the shoulder right into a fierce headwind for 3/10 of a mile to the entrance of Keystone State Park. I knew of a graveled loop that ran through the park. I had run it a few year ago and was under-impressed, but hey--it was mileage.

 A few hundred yards into the park area, I saw a new trail head sign.

This trail started out as gravel and turned into a nice dirt single track. We also crossed a couple of wooden bridges, one of which has a lot of brush and leaves log-jammed under it damming up quite a bit of water. Mitch took it upon himself to correct the problem and found a short stick and started poking around at the plug of branches and waterlogged leaves holding the water back. Well, I jumped in to help and thrust my hand down into the leaves pulling out whatever I could get a grip on. Gradually, a little water started flowing through, and as the water level dropped I could see that there was too much debris wedged into easily remove, so we gave up. after we jogged away, it dawned on me that the dam, as it were could have been built by a beaver, and there could have been one just about t chomp on our hands. Also, there could have been a nest of water moccasins living there.  Oh well. But we'da been famous.

The Ranger Trail took us by this pond, and from there we followed a gravel road out to the main road. Then we found the older boring trail that I had run before, and took it down to the edge of the lake, and followed it back to close to the park office and to the main highway. Mitch had the great idea to plow through to the mountain bike trails we'd run earlier, and he nailed a little bail-out spur that led us right to the trail that took us back to our parking lot. This kept us off the shoulder of what was a busier-than-expected highway

10.5 miles for the day in 3:14, several water crossings, two rain showers, not much mud, and some good times.

And we had 1,217 feet of climb.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lake Bixhoma--one of NE Oklahoma's best kept secrets--and I'm spilling the beans.

I needed a decent run--some quality time on my feet moving in some sort of forward motion. Since it rained a half a foot on Friday, running at Turkey Mountain seemed like a squishy idea. So I decided to go to my favorite place to run in spite of wet conditions--Lake Bixhoma. I had put out the word to a few friends and about six of us expressed an interest in coming, but life as it often does had other plans and three of us showed up to play.
Picture by Johnna Ellison
A gravel road runs around 2/3 of the lake. I always park at the point where it's around halfway in either direction and it is truly relatively-to-actually flat. A nice bonus was a freshly delivered porta-potty to replace the recently demolished bathrooms. I have no problems using a tree, but there are times when a clean porta-pot is just the bee's knees. Johnna and Bryan-formerly-known-as-Mitch (BfkaM from henceforth) wee about 15 minutes behind me. I took that time to take a few pictures and run what would turn into some hill repeats. The road leading down to the lake is a steep descent, and it's a great place to do hill training.

[I have a hard and fast rule about hill repeats. If you only go up and own one time--folks--it's not a repeat. It's just a Peat. Do it twice and you've done a repeat. But do not make the mistake of saying you did hill repeats--you have not. Repeats is plural, and you must do a =third one to claim repeats status. Three or more = repeats. Two = a repeat. One is just a peat.]

I also managed to take a few pictures of waterfalls before my buddies got here. Bixhoma had received a ton of rain--more than Tulsa I bet. These falls were awesome, but I knew the falls below the lake would be amazing. You could hear them a quarter mile away.

On the west side of the lake--years ago, some boy scouts had begun cutting the Ichabod Crane Trail. It went from the gravel road up a steep ascent and just dead-ended. It remained that way for years, but today there was a new sign at the trailhead. We were up for some semi-muddy climbing and were surprised to find a lollipop loop trail about a half mile in distance with 113 feet of ascent.

With the west out and back done, we went for the east side. This side takes you across the dam and to a locked gate which we ran around. at the end of what remains of a gravel-turned-double track trail, the beginnings of some single track was started a few years ago. Last winter (13-14 months ago) Johnna and I plowed our way through some newly flagged trails and made it maybe as much as a half mile before we lost sight of any further ribbons. Today, it did not look like anyone had dome any more work on it. The tall grass (weeds and briars) kept us from venturing out. As cold and wet as it was, Johnna had collected a tick already. I am usually a tick magnet and had not sprayed or anything. we'd just get our miles in some other way.

On the way back, we took a road that went u a nice hill through the woods to a Fred-Flinstone sort of campground. Someone had made a couple of chairs out of huge rocks. Since we were here last, it looked like a second chair was forthcoming as there was a huge pile of newly acquired large flat rocks. A, so a massive firepit was constructed, and had well-contained a few campfires recently. I have always thought the rock chair looked like an altar. I always look to see if I ee any remains of spilled blood on it. To play out my fantasy, BfkaM holds a dagger (which looks very much like a water bottle) high in the air before plunging it into the sacrificial redhead. Oh--it was just acting folks!

From there, we hit the falls. It was a muddy descent to the edge of the stream at the base f the falls--steep enough that I wondered if we were making a good decision going all the way down to the water's edge. But we did make it and it was worth the trip. There was much picture taking, and I could hardly hear our conversation over the roar of the falls.

A  nice cloud of fog rose from the white water cascading over the 30n foot drop. We talked about tubing down this, kayaking, hamster balling. Of course, these falls are non-existent unless the lake is full from a heavy rain.

Mitch had to get home so Johnna and I headed back up the big hill and continued on north down a long gentle descent about two miles from where we parked. From three, we tackled what looked like an interesting hill to the east. A narrow paved road appeared to just go straight up into the clouds. There was a locked gate but an obvious trail where foot traffic and ATV traffic skirted around the gate--and there weren't any NO TRESPASSING or POSTED signs. That's like saying "Yall come on in, ya hear?" This climb was 173' in a quarter mile.and was possibly the steepest paved road I've ever been on. I don't see how a car could even climb the route when the road was wet. The trip back down was not a run at all. It would have been easy to have your feet slip out from under you resulting it a face or butt plant.

I'm not the biggest fan of running on the road, but these roads weren' all that bad. We did flip sides several times to cars coming u behind us and such. Then there's the paparazzi that pulls up and starts taking our pictures. Turns out it was friendly fire--none other that Clint Green who evidently saw my Facebook posts of the waterfalls and decided to come see for himself. We chatted with him for a few minutes both times whe passed us.

Johnna and I both wanted 15 miles for the day so we had to tack on another couple out-and-backs at the lake.

I seized the opportunity to Storm the Dam (running down the steep embankment only to trudge back up) but not before taking a couple pictures to document the deed.

I ended up with 15.66 miles with multiple stops for bathroom breaks, Clint Green breaks, petting dog breaks, picture taking breaks, refilling water bottles, shedding clothes, putting clothes back on, etc. We conquered 2,156 feet of vertical--which looks good on an elevation profile. ;-)

The City of Bixby has recently been putting a bit of money into updating the facilities here. It seems like a new bathroom might be on the agenda. They have already added a few picnic tables and a huge gazebo on the SW corner of the lake perched on a raised knoll with a spectacular view of the lake and the evening sunset. The three of us talked about having an organized group outing here sometime and cooking some breakfast stuff for after the run. Let's do it before it gets too hot!!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lake McMurtry recap

2017 marked the 19th running of the Lake McMurtry Trail Run NW of Stillwater, OK along the western shores of one of Oklahoma's most scenic lakes. My friend and ultra-running mentor Earl Blewett started and RD'd this race for 10 years starting in 1999 with the help of Chuck Streit. TATUR took over the management of the race in 2009 with me handling the RD duties.

Photo by Clint Green
Each year a few more people camp and some make it a long weekend of partying with a little race sandwiched in on Saturday. Cint showed up and helped me a little with setting things up and did a great job taking pictures during the race. This sunup is a classic sight at McMurtry--we had great weather to run in and the trailz were in perfect condition.  I also had some needed help from my sasquatch buddy RJ Chiles who helped me set up the Leap O' Doom.

Chrissy grabbed me and Arnold Begay just after we sent off the 50K early starters for a quick pic. Arnold, with the help of Jess Thornton, worked the Peninsula Aid Station on the north loop.

The 50K early starters had an hour head start, and then regular start took off at 8:00. The 50K was a small crowd compared to years past, but the 25K and 12K had big numbers.

                                            Drone video by Trey Nixon
Trey's video shows how amazing this small lake is. After the 25K was off, I took Trey and Angela out to the south aid station, and he took his drone and flew it back across the lake to the start line. Cool stuff.

The 25k and 50K had about 3/4 of a mile to get their legs loosened up to make the running jump across the deep chasm known as the Leap O' Doom. 
Photos by Clint Green
Along the way, we had signage with tips on leaping techniques, and historical information on the infamous chasm.

Photo by Laura Bower
JWe even had a public service warning to look out for creepers with cameras.

Photo by Clint Green

Just kidding. Clint was assigned this location for official picture taking.
The north loop featured over a mile of shoreline trailz.

Photo by Clint Green
These runners actually extended their distance by bypassing the Leap.

Photo by Clint Green
Meanwhile back at the start/finish aid station, Michelle Plate and Dana were holding down the fort and slinging the usual aid station stuff, including salted potatoes. 

Photo by Trey Nixon
On the south side of the lake, Jessy Deanna, Laurie Biby, Trey Nixon and Angela Childress had things running smoothly. All runners hit this stop twice, and the 50Kers go through four times. Trey evidently had his drone taking pics for this one.

And the awards!! Thanks to Susan MelonWestmoreland for her precision work lettering the geckos. 
Photo by Clint Green
12K women left to right: 1st place--Rachel Coulter, 2nd place--Debbie Murnan, 3rd place--Elizabeth Hubbard.

Photo by Clint Green
12K men right to left: 1st place--Clay Mayes, 2nd place--Garrett Morton, 3rd place--Kye Knapp.

Photo by Clint Green
25K women right to left: 1st Place--Hannah Robinson, 2nd place--Randi Lackey, 3rd place--Susan Roets.

Photo by Clint Green
25K men: Center-Michael Tupper--1st place, Left-Anthony Lounsbery--2nd place, Right-Chad Hetrick-3rd place. 

Photo by Clint Green
50K women right to left? Chrissy Whitten--1st place, Polly Choate--2nd place, Susan Roets--3rd place. 

Photo by Clint Green
50K men left to right: Dyan Allen--1st place, Richard Airey--2nd place, Yatika Fields--3rd place.

Full results can be found HERE.
Photo by Clint Green
Brandon finishes his 50K and snatches a cookie cake away from Clint. Brandon has been known to devour an entire cookie cake in one sitting--over 30000 calories. But hey--it was his birthday. He and his brother Cameron are up and coming contenders for the win in ultra races a few years from now. Watch out for them.

A shout-out to Chuck Streit. Chuck cooks up a mean batch of authentic jambalaya each year at this race, He also makes some killer vegetarian barley and lentil soup. Chuck is a do-all sort of guy and keeps things running smooth around the finish line. He also spends hours and hours maintaining the trailz at McMurtry.

Photo by Clint Green

William Barnes aka Dirty Sanchez had our bbq smoking since the night before the race. This slow cooked brisket and pulled pork (and ribs) were wondrous. I couldn't be around his smoker and be vegan.

Dana really had to pull some strings to get off work so she could be here for the race. But had she not been able to come, she still had hours of time put in prepping the aid station kits and organizing the post race feast. Her and  Susan Melon Westmoreland drove over early Saturday morning and were lifesavers for me. I had somehow gotten my Piriformis flared up, and could barely even walk toward the end of the day. They jumped in and did so much of the packing everything up after the race. There's no way i could have gotten everything loaded without them.

Anther attagirl to my friend Chrissy. She has been on a tear ever since she set her eyes on doing Pumpkin Holler for her first 100 (which she finished with flying colors.) Besides winning the 50K here, in the three weeks prior, she ran 24 miles in a 6-hour event and followed that with a 100 miler the next week, and then 65 miles in a 24-hour event the week after that. And she seemed to get stronger in every race. Yes, she did take a week off after winning the 50K here. ;-)

As I mentioned at the top, this was the 19th year for this race and my 9th year as RD. I'm excited to stay at the helm for the 20th running.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

McGee Creek Misadventure

Sunday morning after I ran all day and night at the Spring Fling 24 hour event in Coalgate I decided to make a third try at finding the trailz at McGee Creek. I tried once before and gave up when I found it was quite a bit further from HWY 69 than I thought; then the next time I made it to the lake, but could not find more than a 2-mile loop. It turns out that the hiking trailz are on the far east side of the serpentine snake-tongue-shaped lake. This time, I zoomed in on my google map app and dropped a pin where the trail head was, and it took me right to the place. The park office should have been closed, but a park ranger guy was there doing some maintenance on the building. He answered a few question that I had and gave me a paper brochure/map.

He suggested a few different route options leaning toward the shorter distances I think because I was moving quite slow getting out of my truck and was wearing blue jeans and clown shoes (Hokas--I'm sure he expected any legitimate hiker would have hiking boots.)

The trailhead was right behind the park office. It was a safe place to park, which I liked. I still had my Salomon pack bladder filled, and my trekking poles handy. I was accidentally prepared. Entering the trail, right away, I knew I had found a trail running paradise. These forest service roads (more like jeep road) were cushioned by pine needles from tall pines and on this foggy day, the treetops seemed to disappear into the low cloud cover.

About a half mile down a gradual downhill, it started raining-- but again, I was accidentally prepared. At LandRun a few weeks ago I had packed a contractor trash bag and had cut arm holes and a tight neckline opening as well. My homemade poncho hanging down halfway between my knees and feet was sufficient but would have been perfect with a sash. The rain was steady and actually heavy at times yet I was dry and toasty. 

At one point I came upon a rock among many on the trail that was shaped like a face. Someone had placed two small forks on it where the eyes would have been--sort of a cairn--sorta creepy, kinda cool. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but it was raining too hard.

My plan was to run the South Rim Trail to where it intersected the Little Bugaboo Creek Trail and take that back to the main trail that led back to the park office--a 4-mile round I figured. 
Reaching the bottom of a long descent (about 1.5 miles) I had my first water crossing that was easily traversed thanks to well-placed rocks. Then I had a steeper climb that topped out 3/4 of a mile later by a section line fence. I followed the fence line to the left for 100 feet and then the trail veered left from the fence line and back down another hill. Finally, I popped out in a clearing that was actually an equestrian camping area. No horses, but I had noticed a little horse poop here and there.

Checking my map, I saw that I could stay on the South Rim Trail for about a half-mile up a pretty good climb to the Bugaboo Creek Canyon overlook. I was game for that--I'd have 5-mile trip instead of a 4-miler. But after a half mile, I was still climbing and seeing nothing that looked like an overlook--and the rain was really coming down.

Finally, after 3/4 of a mile, I saw a faint trail leading over to a rock outcropping and what must have been the overlook. It was good for a few pictures. These huge boulders towered 50-60' above the valley floor below. It seemed like such a good place to explore, but I did not have an unlimited budget of time, and it was getting sloppy wet.

On this dreary day, I couldn't capture the majesty of this place. Whereas I'd normally spend time looking for creative camera angles that caught the essence of the towering rocks, today my phone was getting wet.

Leaning over the edge, I found out that these rocks were pretty slick, so rock scrambling for me today.

From there, I had a 3/4 mile run back down to the horse camp clearing, and on to the Little Bugaboo Creek trail.

This was pure single track, and for a while ran alongside Little Bugaboo Creek--a beautiful boulder-strewn cascading stream--if only it were not dry. I am betting I was a mere few hours from this being a raging stream as it continued to rain on me and my run.

It did seem like this trail was not really going the direction that the map indicated. Twice, I pulled my map out of my pocket under my poncho, and could only see that if I kept on this trail I would eventually intersect a trail that led back to the park office.

At 5.5 miles, I began to get concerned. It was cloudy and I could not get bearings based on the sun, but still, it sure seemed like the trail bent more to the north than the westward direction. I felt I was getting further and further away from where I needed to be going. Eventually, I intersected an unmarked trail that briefly gave me encouragement. I got my map back out and tried to focus on it, but the rain was coming down hard and my glasses were fogged up. The wet map was starting to disintegrate in my hands. Desperate for direction, I used my zombie instinct and took the left turn. It seemed like that would go more toward the south and toward my truck. 

Then I came to another intersection that said South Rim Trail, and another road that veered west. West definitely seemed wrong, but I rationalized that where I had earlier jumped onto the South Rim Trail was somewhere in the middle of it and I'd surely come to the trail leading up the hill to the main trail head. Then I came to a familiar water crossing--one I had crossed before. WHEW!! Now I  was sure I was going the right way. And just after that, I saw the rock that was shaped like a face with small rocks for eyes.  I felt at ease--happy that a well-planned adventure was concluding. A few minutes later I saw what looked like a roofline just ahead. I just knew I'd see my truck through the trees any second--then the roofline turned out to be a just a fallen tree. :-/ And the climb got a little more intense--I sure did not remember starting my trip with such a steep downhill!!! When I reached the top the steep climb, the trail intersected a fence line---oops!! I had gone in a big albeit a funky shaped circle.

So now, I was at a loss. I decided to improvise. It seemed to me that this fence line could be followed straight west and it should intersect with the fence at the park office. Good plan. The fence line was cleared--sort of. I started west on a gradual descent that just kept getting steeper. When I reached the bottom, there was a bit of water flowing across it--but it was rocky and not at all muddy. Then I had a good long climb--about half a mile up and I'd estimate 75-100 feet of climb. Then the next descent ended in some dense thickets. A dead end!! I could still see the fence through the thick undergrowth and thought I could just hang close to the fence and punch my way through. So into the briers I went. My poncho quickly was shredded from the thighs down, and I descended down a ravine, walked and waded through it for a while, and then clawed my way out of it. And there was no sign of the fence. Did I get turned around in the ravine? And if so, where did I need to go from here? Every possible answer to that question seemed wrong. It was 3:30--far from getting dark, but for the first time, I was cold. I had water to drink and snacks in my pack, but no headlamp. What to do what to do? My best bet was to retrace my steps and try to get back to the fence that I had lost. Down the ravine but not in the same place I was in earlier, I tried to walk what I felt was upstream. Finally, I climbed back out and then descended into another creek bottom where I found a log that I remembered stepping over earlier and saw brier that had a piece of my trash bag toga in its teeth. And then I found the fence line. Good.

Fifty feet into my fence line climb back up the first of two hills, I saw a faint trail that led to the north. I really wasn't interested in this when I saw it earlier, but now felt it was worth looking into. Why was this trail there if it did not go anywhere, and maybe it was what led westward bypassing where the fenceline trail dead ended. And a good trail it turned out to be. There was fresh horse poop on it, and it was seemingly leading somewhere--somewhere like to the fence that disappeared. Now I was back on track!! Up a hill, down a hill, and up another. But at the top of the last climb, the fence made a 90 degree turn to the south!! Now I was screwed. 

At this point, I was sure I was a 1/4 mile of or less from the park office, but I could not afford to make another mistake like bushwhacking through thickets. The faint trail that followed the fence around the turnto the south did not look at all promising, and hey--what if I was just confused? Maybe I was sleep deprived--no wait--I was!! My map was yellow mush. I tried to bring up my google maps on my phone, but my fingers were wet, and water had gotten under the screen protector, so my iPhone was useless. And if even if it were not, I could not read it with my fogged and soaked glasses. So despite my fatigue, I made what I thought was the best decision--trek my way back down and up and down and up, around the brier bypass trail, to the long trail that I was on by mistake, and back to the intersection where I was sure I needed to go left, I should go right. At least I'd know where I was. Sort of.

On the way back, a few things had changed. The road had water standing so it was splashing through puddles all the way. My water crossing had the rocks pretty much covered. I waded through without even thinking about it. I never saw my face with the rocks for eyes. That worried me, but maybe the rain and running water washed the eyes off. I took the turn that I was so sure was wrong earlier, and the road gradually ascended and a half mile later I was at the park office!!! My 4-mile trip turned into a 9.8 mile wandering.

So after looking at the map online, I see that the final right turn the fence made might have taken me back to the park office. I'm anxious to go back again on a day when I have more time and it's not raining. There are 25-30 miles of trailz here. You know I'll be back.

What did I learn?
1. Always study the map of where you're going. That's how I managed to find this place after two tries. 
2. Laminated maps might be a good thing to have. A map on recycled paper in the rain is not much use.
3. Horse poop can be a good sign, but more often than not--it's just horse poop.
4. Trail gremlins (or maybe bigfoot) just LOVE making cairns and rock faces and then removing them to jack with you.
5. Impromptu adventures are sometimes the best.