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I Need A New…

So now my first few short training runs are in the bag; six months to go.

Being well into “middle age” (and retired from professional life for a few years now) does not make me old. The body may age, but I refuse to get old. That’s a conscious decision we can all make.

Last year, my logbook indicated that I ran, walked, and hiked a total of 2,700 miles in calendar 2016. At the start of that year, our local running club, the Lake County Milers, posted a mileage challenge―speaking to my competitor’s spirit―and I had some big things planned for the year. For example, I trained for and ran only one ultramarathon, the Redwoods Creek 50K (31 miles), and then I planned for and hiked the John Muir Trail in California (approximately 220 miles plus an additional 30 miles to join the JMT from Cottonwood Lakes trailhead). I also walked my second Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via de la Plata (625 miles).

John Muir Trail, California, 2016


Via de la Plata, Spain, 2016

Following those milestones, and over this last winter, I took some time off, rode my bicycles a bit, and worked on muscle tone at one of our local gyms. Oh, and I hoped the pain in my foot wasn’t plantar fasciitis. The downsides to all of this winter inactivity (relatively so, for me) were weight gain, anxiety, too much wine consumption (in my opinion), and restlessness. I needed to get my foot pain sorted out, and I needed something new to focus my competitive spirit on. I needed a new challenge. But first, the foot.

I developed a mastermind of advisors in the hope of solving the foot issue with their help. I talked with friends and acquaintances. I received all sorts of advice—all good, usually beneficial—but all attempts provided only temporary relief. Knowing I didn’t want to hear a confirmation of fact, a wise friend of mine was very tactful when he said, “Maybe just treat it like it’s plantar fasciitis, and see what happens.”

I tried every known stretch, exercise, anti-inflammatory, and home remedy. I tried ice, heat, and vibration, and I got really frustrated. Nothing seemed to help the pain in my heel for long. I would try something and rest for a while, and then I would try to walk a few miles or run a bit. But the next morning, the pain would be back just like the last time. I don’t like focusing on the bad things that come my way, but it’s super frustrating when you are accustomed to being very active and are sidelined.

The ever popular frozen water bottle.

The vibrating, heated Acumo Massage Ball.

The Strassburg Sock™.

So I gave up on self-help, fought my own resistances, and eventually sought professional advice. It was a last-ditch effort to solve this long-term issue. By the way, you wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve talked with who have suffered from this malady. So off I went to see the docs. I got x-rays and ended up receiving a dreaded steroid shot in my heel. Let me tell you, that bloody hurts! Fortunately, only for a short time.

So now the heel was on the road to recovery, and I was back to looking for that new challenge.

And then it happened; it found me. A few weeks back, I received an e-mail from the French organization that put on the stage race in the Sahara, which I ran back in 2014. The e-mail said that the organization would hold its first-ever stage race in Peru (in the Ica Region’s desert) this fall. And the introductory price for previous finishers of the race in Morocco was very attractive.

I just received word from the French: “We are pleased to confirm your registration for the MDS PERU.”


Here is an explanation about the race from the official website:

The MARATHON DES SABLES PERU will take place from 26 November to 6 December 2017. It will replicate the original race: approximately 250 km divided into 6 stages, to be completed at free pace in self-sufficiency conditions in a desert environment and with the support of a quasi-professional organising team.

The event will take place in the Ica desert, 300 km south of Lima. Endurance lovers competing in this first MARATHON DES SABLES will discover the most beautiful South American desert. They will move about in one of the world’s driest regions, with huge dunes and sandy plateaux perched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes cordillera.

Of course, the organisers will export across the Atlantic the core values that have patiently laid the foundations of MARATHON DES SABLES: thirst for challenges and adventure; sharing with the largest number of people; safety of everyone; self-respect; and care for the environment. Organised with the full and active support of the Peruvian authorities, MDS PERU also aims to spotlight the beauty of this charming region.

Pictures from MDS Peru Facebook page

Oh sure, I’m aging (beats the alternative), but I’m not an old man. And why should that stop me anyway? Or anyone?

Preparing to Hike the John Muir Trail

Continued from, A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail

I was originally inspired to hike the JMT thirty years ago when I first climbed Mount Whitney. On the mountain, I met a man who was just start ting his weeks-long trek of the JMT. I was hooked, but it took awhile for me to get back to that item on my ever-lengthy bucket list.

Preparation to hike the JMT starts months in advance. I found that obtaining a wilderness permit can be the most difficult and confusing part of the whole process. There are very strict quotas for entering the Sierra Nevada wilderness, and the entry points are controlled by lottery systems and somewhat complex bureaucratic paperwork.

Obtaining a Wilderness Permit

Backcountry wilderness permits are required for anyone staying overnight in the wilderness and entering the wilderness from a trailhead (originating in either a national park or national forest). Each national park or national forest has their own lottery system.

Here’s a list of national parks and forests the JMT passes through with links to their wilderness permit pages:

Yosemite National Park (Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows with access over Donohue Pass)

Sierra National Forest (West-side access near Florence Lake and Lake Edison)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Road’s End, Mineral King)

Sequoia National Forest (Kennedy Meadows, Golden Trout Wilderness)

Humboldt/Toiyabe National Forest (Twin Lakes, north of Mono Lake)

Inyo National Forest (Mount Whitney – Whitney Portal, Cottonwood via Horseshoe Meadow and others)
The Yosemite National Park lottery system (for Happy Isles trailhead in the valley) works by faxing an application (the PDF is available on their website) to the park service 168 days in advance of your chosen departure date. In this process, you are only making a reservation to get a permit, not actually securing a permit. Hence, if you do not show up to pick up the permit, it becomes available for others on a walk-in basis.

Walk-in permits: 60 percent of Yosemite National Park permits are available through the reservation process. The other 40 percent are available on a walk-in basis. For highly desired dates, you may need to get in line for a walk-in permit during the wee morning hours the day you want to hit the trail. Read up on this process on the Yosemite National Park website noted above and watch this YouTube video for more information.

The Inyo National Forest lottery (Mount Whitney and surrounding trailheads) occurs through the federal reservation system and begins on February 1each year. Identical to the process for Yosemite National Park, you are only making a reservation to pick up a permit, and failing to do so allows others to claim the permit on a walk-in basis.

Walk-in: Permits not claimed are then available on the day of trailhead entry on a walk-in basis. Use the link to Inyo above for more information.

Are You Northbound or Southbound?

Because of the difficulty in securing a permit, I ended up getting permits for my friend and me to enter the backcountry well south of Mount Whitney, at a place known as the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead in Horseshoe Meadow (click here for map). This southern entry point resulted in two additional days (thirty-to-forty extra miles) being added to my complete journey. My friend planned to return to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead after accompanying me for the first few days, rather than walk the 211 miles to Yosemite with me. I couldn’t really blame him!

The location of the entry point also determines the direction of the trek. In my case, this meant I would be traveling northbound (NOBO) on the JMT, which is opposite of what most people see as the proper direction, southbound (SOBO) from Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but either way the trail is amazing, covers the same distance, and requires the same amount of work.

Come Prepared! 

As I’ve addressed in previous posts, you must train to meet the goal. I routinely walk, run, cycle, or go to the gym six days a week. This twenty-year-old habit gives me the physical foundation to take on something like the JMT. I have this attitude about my training and my outdoor endeavors: “Do what you set out to do, and then some.” If I go out for a ten-mile run, I’ll take the long way home to make the mileage just a bit more. Having to walk an extra thirty-to-forty miles to even begin hiking on the John Muir Trail was not as big a deal as it could have been, thanks to adequate preparation! See my blog post, How To Train For The John Muir Trail, for more specific advice.

Finally, you’ll need proper gear and sufficient food. A gear list is a must for me, and I plan every detail. I believe that most things must have more than one purpose. Pack becomes pillow; pot becomes tea mug; trekking poles become lean-to poles, etc.

Don’t forget about the resupply logistics. A thru-hiker—someone walking a trail in total—cannot carry all the food from the beginning, it would simply weigh too much. Not only that, the bear-proof food container (required by federal regulations) cannot hold all that one needs for weeks on the trail.

The BearVault™ 500, fully loaded for my first nine days on the JMT. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

Resupply must be dealt with in some way. Before beginning my trek, I mailed a resupply bucket to Muir Trail Ranch, which is near the midpoint of the JMT. When I needed to resupply, I left the JMT for a couple of hours, reclaimed my bucket from the friendly folks at the ranch, repacked, left trash in their collection cans, purchased a new fuel canister, and returned to walking the trail that same day.

Resupply storage building at Muir Trail Ranch near the midpoint of the official JMT route. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

I started this process in January and hiked the JMT in August of the same year. The permit process may take months, and your training may last a long while to best prepare you for the trail. But once all the pieces are in place, “There’s nothing to it, but to do it,” as they say.

Coming up next in this series, A look at my typical day of hiking on the John Muir Trail

How to Train for the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, central California Photo credit: Miguel Vieira, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

The Allure of the Trail

Any serious thru-hiker will have the John Muir Trail on his or her bucket list. In a few short weeks I will begin hiking the 215-mile long trail for the first time. I am looking forward to my latest trip (of a lifetime) as I finish the last few weeks of my conditioning schedule. I want to share some thoughts on how to prepare for the John Muir Trail.

High Country Along the John Muir Trail Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

High Country Along the John Muir Trail
Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC By 2.0

Also known as the JMT, the John Muir Trail is considered to be a serious trekking endeavor. The trail’s website states that it “is the premier hiking trail in the United States. The trail starts in America’s treasure, Yosemite National Park, and continues 215 miles through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft.” Due to the length and terrain, this particular trail is not to be taken lightly. (more…)

How to Properly Train for Your World Travel Adventures

Some of the world’s great sights (such as the ancient Mayan city of Coba on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico) include a fair amount of walking

Last week, in my latest installment on preparing for world travel, I encouraged you to check with your physician or, at a minimum, do a very honest self-assessment before starting a conditioning schedule to meet your adventure dreams. This week, I’d like to discuss progressive training, a method of gradually conditioning your body, to meet the demands of your travel destination. I will also provide you with a generic training plan. In future posts, I will discuss specific goals like hiking the John Muir Trail in California and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Though specific, the training methods for these locations can be modified to meet your needs. (more…)