new snowshoes, new adventures

27 01 2012

Winter has finally (sort of) arrived here in southern New England.  Yes, as I type this, the sleet is falling, and all of the snow has melted away…but at last we finally had SOME snow over the past week.  I’ve been absolutely jones-ing in a terrible way for crazy winter weather, especially after the freak snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of snow on us back in October.  I grew up in Ohio, but moved to southern California in 1994.  With the exception of two years that I spent in Michigan (working a Master’s degree during the late ‘90s), I haven’t experienced the full duration of a winter season since high school!

While southern California was a very “convenient” place to train in many respects due to its fantastic weather, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  My husband and I would often joke about the enthusiasm of our local San Diego weathermen/women during the infrequent rain “storms”…a headline would tear across the television screen, screaming something like “Winter Storm 2009!,” while outside in 55 degree temperatures, gray cloud cover would produce a misty haze necessitating the occasional use of windshield wipers.  Traffic would consequently come to a grinding halt on all of the freeways and multiple car pile-ups would result, all because of a little water on the road.  As a community college instructor, attendance in my classes would suffer, and those students that attended would envelop themselves in furry-hooded parkas and scarves.  Crazy.

On the other hand, many ultrarunners, like myself, actually thrive in what the average person (especially the average person from SoCal) might consider to be “severe weather.”  We like challenges, live for extremes, and relish new adventures.  One example of my predilection for seeking out ridiculous running conditions occurred this past fall, when we were hit by a second tropical storm (after Hurricane Irene) that called for heavy rains and winds.  I had a podiatrist’s appointment in the next town on a day when my SUV was unexpectedly in the shop and my husband was out of the country; we had just moved here, and I didn’t really know anyone local yet let alone know of any options for public transportation.  I DID know, however, that I was going to be charged the full amount for a missed appointment with less than 24 hours notice.  So what did I do?  I put on a waterproof jacket and an emergency poncho…and ran the 8.5 miles to the doctor’s office.  After that, I ran to the auto repair shop and picked up my Xterra, making for about a 15 mile training day in heavy rain.  Not too many miles in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I ate an entire pizza after a hot shower.

Given the above, you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of a cold, harsh New England winter!  And then, you can probably imagine my disappointment as days passed through December…and into January…of 40-50 degree weather?!  Add to this receiving a shiny new pair of Dion racing snowshoes from an ever-supportive husband for a Christmas gift…and imagine my mounting frustration.  Day after day passed of checking the 10 day weather forecast, hoping for snow, and feeling ever thwarted.

That is, until last week, when we received a modest few inches after a steady snowfall all day on Saturday.  We also enjoyed some frigid temperatures earlier in the week, during which I happily completed a 2.5 hour run in 12 degree weather, and an easy 8 miler in similar temperatures with a couple of inches of powder that called for my trusty Yaktrax.

snowy run, bundled up like the Yeti

Ah, but on Sunday, we finally had some REAL accumulation – a beautiful blanket of white that beckoned, “get those snowshoes and head to the trails!”  I couldn’t ignore the invitation.  I put on several more layers of clothing than normal as the temperature in town was a whopping one degree; this meant that the temperatures were I was planning to run were likely zero or possibly even below.  Cold.  I also grabbed my running pack and those shiny new racing snowshoes.

I had my husband drop me off at the trailhead, as I had gotten stuck a week prior in snow (apparently my Xterra doesn’t do too well in the snow).  With the snowshoes in hand, I had a few minutes of “how the hell do I strap these damn things to my feet” but finally figured it out.  And then I headed down the hill.

ready to roll!!!

At the beginning of my last blog post, I talked about that crazy nightmare that many of us have where we’re trying to run away from a bad guy or a monster and our legs just don’t work, feeling like we’re wading through jell-o.  That was pretty much my first experience in snowshoes.  No one had really been on the trail – at all – so I was blazing through fresh powder, several inches deep.  Talk about a full body workout!  It took me a bit of effort to stay upright, as at first I kept tripping on the back of the snowshoes.  My running form changed, being forced to keep my legs further apart to avoid tripping and falling on my face.  After about a half mile of downhill, I turned onto another trail, heading south and uphill, and started to get the hang of things.

After switching to a different trail, I had one of the best surprises of my first snowshoe excursion: getting to see a variety of animal tracks, including coyote and moose.  MOOSE!  I knew that these were in the area, given that my husband brought home an antler (which he had found on the same trail) as a “happy new year” gift a few weeks ago.  Yeah, weird, I know, but that’s how we roll.  But wow, it was cool to see evidence of moose in person!  Those prints were BIG, as in the size of my hand.  I’m not sure what I would do if I actually came face-to-face with a moose on the trail…not sure at all how I would react.  If it’s anything like the time I saw a mountain lion cross the trail in front of me (yes, this happened last summer on one of my last trail runs in the mountains of eastern San Diego County), I’d probably freeze, stare…and possibly crap in my compression tights.  Might be time to develop a better game plan.

animal tracks: coyote, moose, and me

The rest of my first snowshoe experience went uneventfully.  I slogged back up to the trailhead, completing 2.6 miles in 52 minutes.  Slow.  But exhilarating!  Here’s hoping for some more REAL weather so I can hit those trails again in style sometime soon.

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