Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
Thank you Microsoft for all of the amazing memories, friendships and a lifetime worth of learning about business, technology and perhaps most importantly, a lesson on how to work together with others to achieve a common vision. It’s funny how the skills I learned in grade-school about how to cooperate and work well with others ended up being the most important ones in my career.
I joined Microsoft over 13 years ago – as an intern. Towards the end of my internship, I was given the offer to join full-time. After exploring some other career options, I figured what the heck – Microsoft would be a great place to spend a couple years (at most!) before going to get my MBA. I never imagined that a 20 year old would be given so much responsibility anywhere else. I accepted! The MBA never happened. I was learning a ton on the job and fell in love with Seattle and the company. What I thought to be a short stint turned into much more.
During my career I worked on mergers and acquisitions, new business models, product naming and branding, pricing, market research, product planning and finally, business planning for our retail channel. I’ve traveled the world, met with Fortune 500 companies and CTOs, worked as an individual contributor and been a manager of several different teams. I worked on line of business software, productivity software, enterprise services, consumer services and operating systems. I couldn’t have asked for a more broad-based and educational experience.
I can say without question that happiness in the workplace is directly related to the person you work for. A boss means everything. I’ve been lucky to have many world-class managers. Thank you to my past managers: Paul, Marc, Jason, Jenna and Bernardo. You gave me the latitude and flexibility to do my work as I saw fit and apply my own creativity, with just enough guidance to stave off disaster. You looked out for the business and also for my own well-being. Thank you for that.
I am leaving Microsoft to travel the world, see the American country-side and witness my life through a different lens. I’m not leaving to join any other company – as most people would think. I don’t have a startup idea or some other business venture on the side. I am simply resigning to do something now that I thought I wouldn’t be doing until after I retired.
Most importantly, I am lucky to have the chance to go on this great adventure with the most special person in my life – my wife Alison – before kids or further obligations come into the picture. For my entire adult life my identity has been largely defined by Microsoft and the Seattle area. Aside from heights, the only thing that scares me is the idea of living a life wondering “what if…” I’m going to find the answer to that question.
So here I go. I’m going to spend the forseeable future (a year? maybe more?) living a different type of life that is free of daily work, and full of whatever else comes to mind. Some days will be great, others will be tough. This vagabond style of life is not going to be forever, but it is the right thing for now. As a 34 year old, I have many more years of my life left to work (and plan to!).
For now, it is time to get my but out on the road while I am healthy and able.
You can follow our exploits at www.raviandalison.com.
On my honeymoon here in French Polynesia. Right now we are on the island of Moorea. Much of the cuisine here is French style. Tons of fish and meat oriented dishes. There is a lack of awareness amongst locals and the hotel staff regarding vegetarian food on the island, though there are many options available if you choose to seek it out. It does amaze me that given how expensive everything is and the number of tourists that come through that there are not more veggie options.
The fruits here are great, pineapple and papaya especially. There are citrus and coconuts too.
Many restaurants have pizza, pasta and salads to choose from if you are vegetarian. All places have desserts….Chocolate mousse, ice creams, creme brule.
Intercontinental Hotel: several options on the menu, including a salad (tell them what you want and they will make it), a veggie pizza, veggie sandwich (again, tell them what you want on it, it isn’t on the menu), veggie stir fry noodles (they have tofu…but you need to ask them for it), French fries, samosas. The breakfast buffet here is epic. Made to order eggs, pastries, fruit bar, cereals, potatoes, several steamed veggies, meats, coffee and self serve espresso machine. We got the breakfast every day and then just had an afternoon snack and dinner.
Le Sunset restaurant at the Hibiscus Hotel: veggie pizza was very good, best of three pizzas we had here so far. The goat cheese salad was great and very big. We also had French fries (thick cut, like steak fries). The view is remarkable, right on the beach. Prices are also affordable compared to other places. The owner will pick up and drop off if you stay nearby.
Les Tipaniers: close to the intercontinental hotel, this place had an amazing vegetarian lasagna. We also had a veggie pasta dish that was quite good. Prices are decent, though Le Sunset was cheaper. They also pick up and drop off from hotels nearby.
Le Plantation: this place actually had a section of the menu labelled vegetarian! They had a few options….a veggie/soy pasta dish, a tofu mango stir fry with rice and some other stuff. The food was decent. However it was very expensive and I preferred the food at the other places noted above.
Overall, as long as you eat cheese/eggs, there is plenty to eat here for vegetarians. Vegans will need to be creative and plan ahead – bring a few bags of nuts, visit the local grocery store for fruits when you arrive. It is doable to travel here as a vegan, but definitely plan for it!
Also, prices are costly, even small restaurants outside the large hotels will cost about $80 for dinner for two….for one drink each, a salad to share, two entrees and a dessert to share. Costs are roughly double what I would pay back in Seattle at a decent restaurant.
Alison and I headed up to Deception Pass State Park for a last-minute overnight camping adventure. We’ve gotten in the habit of going on overnight camping trips through the summer (OK, this is our third one!). Even one night of camping is enough to clear out the cobwebs from a full week of everyday tasks and drama. As soon as I arrive at a campsites I shut off my phone. This time I had Once of Runner with me to pass the time.
Deception Pass is on Whidbey Island, about 100 miles north of Seattle, WA. It was a 90 minute drive. There are two routes to get there, one involving a ferry (shorter by distance and more scenic, but more expensive and time-consuming considering the ferry ticket and wait times) and the other by driving around to the top of the island and down to Deception Pass. We choose the latter route.
There are over 300 campsites, with all the basic toilet amenities you would expect. 2/3 of the sites can be reserved ahead of time, and many of those sites have great peek-a-boo views of the water (one of the straits just north of Puget Sound). The other campsites are decent, they do not have great views, but there is plenty of privacy since the sites are well spaced out with plenty of plant overgrowth between the sites. There is a well-stocked convenience store just before entering the park in case you need provisions.
There are several of beaches nearby (just a few hundred meters) from the campsites with sandy shores, calm water, driftwood to lounge on and also a large lake (Cranberry Lake) where folks were fishing and canoeing. We saw quite a few stand-up paddle-boarders and kayaks. In theory people also swim in the water here, but it was too cold for that when we were there. Trails also meander through the park for those who like to get in some trail running or hiking.
For $31 ($21/night for the campsite and $10 for two bundles of wood) – this is a highly relaxing and fun way to spend the weekend for less than the cost of a trip to the movies. Oh yeah, for dinner we made gluten-free mac & cheese & s’mores.
I returned to Seattle this evening after 10 days in Beijing, China for work. This was my third trip to the city in the past 4 years. During the first trip, in 2007 there was plenty of chaos amid preparation for the Olympic Games. The roads were torn apart. The airport was not yet completed and I had no clue how they were going to manage to pull it off. The pollution was so bad at the time that when it snowed it looked like gray ash was falling from the sky. My second trip, in 2009, showed a massive difference. Traffic was moderate and the skies were far more clear. This trip was longer than my past trips, and the change even in a few years is quite large.
The roads in Beijing are really great. My points of contrast are those in India or South America where I have travelled. In fact, the roads there are smoother than most of the roads in Seattle. Traffic in general did not seem that bad, in part due to tight restrictions on which days you can drive (normally every other day) and steep fees and a lottery system for getting new car licenses.
While rush hour is horrendous and cars change lanes and generally make sudden moves all the time, there is general order on the roads. People stay in their lanes (mostly) and there is a separate barricaded lane for bikes (and motorized vehicles resembling bikes!). There were no wild animals wandering the streets, and everything was spic and span. The city was super clean. The infrastructure is modern and growing fast. I took a trip to the outskirts of Beijing for a meeting (it is massive…we drove 40K from the northwest to southwest corner and we didn’t even reach the end of the city) and saw the huge new high-speed bullet train system that has been built (it is being expanded to other cities as well). There are corporate office parks being built seemingly in “no mans land” on the outskirts of the city complete with shopping malls and theaters and luxury clothing stores, with the assumption that in a few years time the city will expand to fill the space. It looks weird with all the empty space between things but it definitely shows that the government is thinking ahead. Everyone is building ahead of demand…..maybe brilliant…maybe a disaster waiting to happen!
The market for luxury goods is UNREAL in China, and Beijing is a hotspot. There are now over 1,000,000 millionaires in the country and that number is growing crazy fast. Just 10 years ago there were ~100,000 millionaires. The new rich are for the first time ever discovering luxury goods, and there is no shortage of retailers selling them. My hotel was on top of a massive shopping mall with all the major global luxury brands (Prada, Gucci, Rolex, Hermes, etc.). That wasn’t it though, just a kilometer down the road there were duplicate stores for all these brands (along with Armani and others). At one point during a 15 minute cab ride I counted 4 Prada outlets! It’s insane. China is one of BMW, Audio and Roll Royce’s largest markets. It is the second largest market for Rolls right now – with the a 1 year waiting list for the Beijing dealer at an average selling price of $1M USD! The Chinese middle class really like big cars, with the streets littered with the big BMW 7 series sedans and Audio A6″L” extended version cars. I’ve heard even the Honda Accord’s there are longer with more backseat leg room than the versions we get in the US. Part of this must be due to people having drivers, which makes them care more about the back seat comfort. Part of it also just seems to be that a lot of people like to show off their new wealth and cars are a good way of doing that.
While people might think of China as a “third world” country that is not the case. Progress has created a lot of opportunity and the large cities are creating a strong and large middle class. There is a lot of wealth being created as the markets open up to foreign investment and as the government continues to use its massive trade surplus to provide the infrastructure to make this possible. The consumer spending is being driven by the middle class….which is roughly 75 million households today and it expected to more than double in the next 3-5 years as urban centers grow. Someone was telling me that there are 10 cities that are half the size of Beijing right now, that are forecast to be just as big within the end of the decade. I don’t know how that is even humanly possible, but seeing all the construction even on the outskirts of Beijing tells me there is a hint of truth to that.
The food in Beijing is also…well…”unique.” Restaurants are fans of the picture menus, where they show you what all the finished dishes look like. It’s a horror show! Cow stomach, duck feet, squid, whole fish, whole ducks with the head staring at your…totally gross.
That said, it’s actually possible to survive as a vegetarian there. In fact the food can be quite good if you know what to order and aren’t grossed out by the tablet next to you eating soft-shelled turtles and Peking Duck. You just need to have someone with you to point things out and tell waiters to not add random bits of meat and fish to stuff.
Chinese are big on their veggies….you can see people trucking around massive cabbages and leeks on their bikes on the way home from the store. I ate plate after plate of broccoli, leeks, bok choy, lotus root, cabbage, celery and other greens. I also had lots of tofu, rice noodles, plain rice and some other veggies cooked in various ways. My favorite meal was a “hot pot.” This entails a massive boiling pot of broth (I’d get mushroom broth) in which you dunk all kinds of noodles and veggies. Normally there is a bunch of meat added…but these are pretty easy to make veggie as well. The fruits are also awesome. Mandarin oranges, dragon fruit and large fuji apples were my staples…though there was a ton of other stuff available at the markets (including durian!…no I didn’t try it).
I managed to escape for a day to see the Great Wall. I’ve seen it before, but opted to go to a different section of the wall near Jinshanling (75 minutes from the city) this time. It’s that good. If I went back to China next year I would go again. Words and pictures cannot do it justice. It is my single greatest memory of visiting this area. Unbelievable.
I do hope to go back again for more sight-seeing and exploration outside of Beijing. The country is growing rapidly and there is so much potential there, and also so many things of historic value to see. Of course, there is also a lot of poverty in China, but it wasn’t overtly visible in the city itself (unlike India where it is everywhere). I do want to get outside the urban centers on my next trip.
The 2011 Baptiste Power Flow Immersion is complete!
500 + yogis gathered in Estes Park, CO for a three day immersion in Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. Led by Baron Baptiste, this gathering included Master Teachers from around the country leading workshops in addition to plenty of teachers and students of all skill levels coming together to practice.
Each day began with a four-hour master class led by Baron that included mediation, intensive Vinyasa Yoga practice and plenty of time for group dialogue, sharing and partner work (handstands anyone?!). Following lunch, students could choose from a wide variety of afternoon breakout session. Some were discussion based while others involved more practice – all led by remarkable master teachers from the Baptiste community.
Each evening following dinner there was a different event – including a premier of the new documentary for the Africa Yoga Project and a Yoga Dance Party on the final night.
I’ve been to many yoga workshops and multi-day trainings but the Power Flow Immersion was unique. It was unique in the size and welcoming nature of the community that gathered to practice each day. It was unique in its setting – with Estes Park being the gateway to the gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park (where else do elk walk by you on the way to yoga practice?!). It was also unique in the balance between intensive practice and discussion sessions with just enough free time that allowed things to really “sink in”.
For me, the most unique thing was the overall quality of the teaching. Each Baptiste training I’ve been to has been more impactful than the last. Part of it might be that I’m becoming more receptive to the teaching and as such – things are starting to really “click” for me, and it’s also true that Baron and his committed teach of staff and master teachers are continually evolving and improving their approach. That’s part of what I really like about this community – everyone really seems committed to constant and never-ending improvement – and that includes Baron and his teaching!
I’ve walked away from the past three days with a new found sense of possibility for what I can create in my own life. I’ve been inspired through witnessing the transformation of others around me in the Baptiste community. I’ve also learned the difference between power (good!) and force (not good) and how these energies show up in my own practice and everyday life.
I have a few more days remaining here in Estes Park as the Yoga Journal Conference kicks off today and continues through the weekend, but already the experience has greatly surpassed my expectations. If you have an opportunity to attend at Baptiste program, don’t hesitate to do it! Whether you have a desire to teach yoga or not, you will surely come away with direct experiences and practical tools that you can apply to create massive progress throughout all aspects of your life.
Here’s a video recap of day 1 (I’m in the video about half-way through!).
The most important thing is to decide to take responsibility for whatever happens in your life.
It doesn’t matter if someone else was involved or deemed ‘at fault’. Responsibility is ultimately centered on ourselves.
We are in charge of how we interpret situations, the emotions we feel about them and our reactions to them. A situation that could be absolutely infuriating to some could be totally pleasant to others.
I was in an airport a few months ago and my flight home was cancelled abruptly. A bunch of people were so ticked off they were yelling and screaming at the attendants – who obviously were powerless over the situation. These folks were just wasting time (and risking not getting one of the few spots on the next flight out) and destroying their own sanity.
Others, myself included, rushed over to the service desk to get checked in to the next flight right away.
Still others I noticed…took the opportunity to have a more relaxed dinner at the airport and were content to get an overnight stay at a hotel – since they weren’t in a rush to get home. They were almost using it as an excuse to extend their vacation.
We all were faced with the same situation but the choice of how we reacted to it was completely in our control.
I shouldn’t call this a race report since the objective was less about racing and more about experiencing the culture and the beauty of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. Arriving at the starting point of the race involved 2 flights, a 2+ day ride in a van and an 18 mile rugged and hot hike down into the canyon town of Urique. The days prior to the race were filled with intense hikes and general overload of the senses with a new language (Spanish) new food (quintessential mexican) and new people (both Urique locals and Tarahumara Indians). I ended up finishing the event, which was my goal. It took me 12.5 hours, far longer than I hoped – but I don’t care too much about that. Crazy and unexpected things can happen after pushing the human body for many hours.
I had an amazing time and plan on returning next year. If you are at all considering doing an ultramarath0n or even visiting the Copper Canyons – I highly recommend it. I felt totally safe the entire time, and see that much of what I had read in the news about violence and killings and foreign travelers being at risk was overblown. Do your homework before going, but also recognize that the popular media is really good at creating attention grabbing headlines that aren’t always indicative of reality.
Day 1: There are many ways to get to Urique Canyon. My method was definitely not the fastest, but it was cost-effective, safe and made for a good chance to meet other interesting people. I flew into El Paso and stayed overnight at a Motel 6 with another racer that I met online. The hotel was clean and safe, and 12 of us were all meeting here to board a van driven by Doug “Diego” Rhodes, who operated a hotel near Urique and served as a guide to visiting gringos. The next morning we awoke to the sight of a large white van parked outside. We immediately wandered out to meet our fellow adventurers. It was exciting to meet the people we would be spending the 10 days with! Everyone was super cool, including a large contingent from Seattle, two people from Ohio, one from California, three from Utah and one from new Mexico. Amazingly, it turned out that 4 people in the van were vegan!
Day 2: We headed south and immediately crossed the border uneventfully (there is rarely much traffic heading south, but always traffic coming back to the US). Heading through Juarez was not a big deal. It’s been tagged as “the most dangerous city in the world” by popular media but it seemed just fine. We past plenty of trucks filled with armed guards, humvees and dudes with machines guns on the streets (military) – but I didn’t see this as much different from other places I’ve been to in South America (Lima or Quito in particular). Diego made sure we moved swiftly through the city.
We departed Juarez after a quick stop to exchange money and continued heading south through a flat and windy desert, stopping in the small town of Cuatemoc for the night. The next day we continued driving to Diego’s hotel…which is more like a ranch. It’s in a beautiful part of the country, with rolling hills pierced by rocky cliffs, pine tree forests, bright blue skies all the time and an elevation of 6000 feet. Here we met Caballo Blanco himself! Caballo is the race director and all around supporter of the Raramuri people (also know as Tarahumara, Raramuri is their traditional name), he would be our guide into the canyon and make sure everything was cool leading up to the race. He is an incredibly genuine and nice dude.
Day 3: The next day we had an off-day, and we welcomed some additional travelers joining us at the ranch. All-told, 27 gringos’ met up at Diego’s place! In the morning I led a yoga class to help get us loosened up. Various groups spent then spent the day exploring. My group went on an adventure that had us hiking and scrambling up the side of a mountain near the ranch. We hit the summit where there was a large flat plateau and started running! We explored a bit and eventually spotted a trail that descended the other side of the mountain toward a small town. We took the trail and made it down into the town, and returned back to Doug’s place via a dirt road. In the afternoon. A few of us went out on another hike to visit Tarahumara burial caves, complete with lots of human bones.
Day 4: After lots of food and a night’s rest, we prepared for our departure to Urique, which required an 18 mile hike up and over a mountain ridge, and down-down-down 5000 feet into the heart of the Copper Canyon. Our luggage would meet us in Urique via van. All 27 of us loaded up on tons of water and food and proceeded on the hike. It was gorgeous, one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. We spotted hawks, buzzards and wandered close to some “grow fields” if you know what I mean. The temperature rose sharply through the hike – well into the 90’s. The trail was at times steep and made of loose slippery rock pieces and dirt. The adventure had begun!
After 13 miles we hit a part of the trail where Caballo let us loose to run the rest of the way into town if we wanted. It was another 5 miles or so, and a bunch of us took off. It was a tough run for me. I was super dehydrated from the heat and my legs had absolutely no energy. I trotted along slowly and eventually made it into town. The first night I stayed at Entre Amigos, run by a gringo named Keith, with about 10 other racers. It was a gorgeous property full of tropical fruit trees bursting with fresh fruit (papayas, grape fruits, oranges, lemons, limes) and a super huge garden that all guests were allowed to raid at will. He had a bunk house with dorm style beds and a few double-bed room. He also had a bunch of campsites. I opted for a campsite, and since I didn’t have a tent, I just slept with my sleeping bag on top of a tarp under the shade of a mango tree and the stars! We had free use of the kitchen – and cooked out own dinner of fresh beets and kale from garden, with rice, salsa, tomatoes, avocados and tortillas we picked up from a small store in town.
Days 5-6: My friend Jim from New Mexico and I opted to move into a clean and simple hotel room right in the heart of town. Staying at Keith’s was nice but we realize that sleeping on the floor would get old after a few more nights. We got a room with two double beds and a private bathroom at what was dubbed “the nicest hotel in Urique” for 300 pesos per night (less than 30 dollars).
The next two days featured hikes of the entire course, led by Caballo. You might be thinking…”Hey, isn’t it crazy to hike the entire course in the days before running 50 miles?” The answer is absolutely yes!!! Which is why I chose not to do the hikes :). Others did do the hikes, covering 18 miles one day (first major loop of the course) and 22 miles another day (second major loop of the course). The last 10 miles were a repeat of part the first loop and they skipped that. A second reason why I didn’t do the hikes is that I was feeling incredibly sick the day after our hike into Urique. I was massively dehydrated and had a raging headache most of the night. I opted to lay-low and rehydrated. I went out for a 20 minute run in the heat to help acclimatize on each day instead. After a couple of days I felt back to normal.
Day 7: Rest, eat, sleep! This was a true day off. The town was buzzing with energy as Raramuri hiked in from all over the canyon. More gringo’s arrived and it was fun just walking around town and meeting people. I led a little impromptu yoga class in the town square which was fun. We had an audience of Raramuri watching us!
The course featured three loops of 18, 22 and 10 miles – that all begin and end right in the heart of town. In terms of course severity – the overall conditions made it by far the most challenging terrain I have ever run on. Technical trails. Rocky dirty roads that made it tough to run fast even on the flats or downhills. Searing heat (it was over 90 degrees for most of the course, and probably hit 100 in certain spots). Some crazy long and steep climbing. That said, many other gringos who were veteran racers of 100 and 50 mile ultras said the course wasn’t that bad as far as 50-milers go, and that the total elevation change wasn’t super hard (9,000 ft total climbing). It’s all in the eye of the beholder I guess :).
Loop 1: The 18 mile loop had a 10 mile out of back along a dirt road (note: all dirty roads here are riddled with rocks, they aren’t nice and smooth roads like we have in the USA!). This stretch had a bunch of “death hills” (as Caballo likes to call them). The next 3-5 miles was an epic climb on technical single-track up a mountain followed by a winding and long descent on a dirt road back into town.
Loop 2: The 22 mile loop to Los Alisos features a long flat 6 mile stretch on dirt roads before climbing brutally up the side of a mountain for several miles. This part of the course is very hot and exposed with little shade. After hitting an aid station 11 miles in, you turn around and run back!
Loop 3: The final 10 mile repeats the out and back “death hills” from the first loop.
The weather for the entire week of the race was hotter than normal, and race day looked to be the same. Hydration would be super important.
My gear was as follows:
- Lululemon lightweight top
- Lululemon running/yoga shorts (they have a liner….eliminates chaffing)
- Bodyglide – use all over or suffer!
- Headsweats visor
- Amphipod 22oz handheld bottle
- Amphipod waist belt with 2 x 10oz bottles and pouch for food/electrolyte tabs
- Hammer gel flask – holds 500 calories of gel
- Inov-8 Roclite 295 trail shoes
- Ironman triathlon socks
- Medical tape (I tape my pinky and big toes to prevent blisters)
- Orange flavored Hammer gel bottle (big one) – use this to refill gel flask after each loop
- Nuun electrolyte tablets – 9 tablets
- Hammer Endurolytes tablets – 10 tablets
- Cliff Shot Bloks – two packages
- Cliff Bars – a couple in my drop bag just in case
During the race I planned to consume 250 calories per hour and I came in just under that in actuality. I took in 2500 calories total during race day, which was OK given that I was moving so slow for the last 10 miles. I was never really hungry during the race, and afterwards I was so tired I skipped dinner and fell asleep at 7:30pm! Not being hungry is a sign that I took in enough calories, though I was probably under hydrated a little.
I carried 40 ounces of water with me (handheld bottle and waist belt), with 1 Nuun tablet in the handheld bottle and the other bottles just plain. I carried Nuun with me and dropped 1 tablet in my handheld each time I refilled it (about 1 time per hour). I took 6 Endurolytes during the race – at random times and gave some tabs out to Raramuri that I saw cramping. A key strategy for me was to dump at least 10 ounces of water on my head and back every hour if possible. When I saw an aid station, I immediately emptied my bottled on myself before refilling. This strategy totally saved me from imploding due to the heat.
My calorie consumption was as follows
- Loop 1 – 18 miles – 500 calories of gel, 200 calories of shot blocks, a ~3 banana halves, 5-6 orange quarters and 2 cups of pinole (ground corn mixed with water) at aid stations
- Loop 2 – 22 miles – ditto
- Loop 3 – 10 miles – 500 calories gel, 1 banana and 2 pieces of orange
My feet had zero blisters, which other folks found hard to believe while chatting afterwards. I’ve always had pretty resilient feet and been blister free for most of my running life. Also, the Inov-8 Roclite shoes are incredible and wrapping my toes in tape (it stayed on for the first 35 miles) helped for sure.
Guadaloupe Coronado and the Big Climb (~18 miles) aka “if you aren’t awake you will be now!”
Mile 1: The race start was 6:45am. The Raramuri are known for going out incredibly fast. It was crazy to see about 100 people take off sprinting as if they were running a 5K! The experienced runners (Raramuri included) stayed in the mid pack and waiting for the carnage to take place during the first major climb. I went out nice and easy as we cruised the flat paved road through town and onto a very rocky dirt road with mild rollers for the first mile.
Miles 2-5: We hit some major hills. Caballo calls them “death hills”. They aren’t that bad by themselves, but in cumulative they will crush you. At this point in the race I start walking anything that even smells like a hill! Some folks try to run even the long hills…I don’t know what they are thinking! The weather stays pretty cool and there are quite a few aid stations…about 1 every 2 miles or so.
Mile 6-8: We hit a turnaround point and retrace out steps. I notice that a lot of the locals are cutting the course! They are taking small trails that veer off the road and re-join the road later on. They aren’t saving that much time…maybe a quarter-mile at most, so I ignore it. The way I see it, I get to use my technical gear and they get to use home field advantage of local trails :) .
I really begin to feel that this course if harder than I thought. The footing is tough even on the dirt road, with tons of large and small rocks and sections with soft dirt/sand. It’s super tiring on my feet and lower legs. I start to get concerned about my ability to finish.
Miles 9-13: Turning off the dirt road, the technical single-track and climbing begins. I walk a ton of this…since we climb for what seems like forever. A bunch of people pass me…and then the field thins out a bit. There are no aid stations on the climb. I’m glad I brought both a water bottle in my hand and two 10 ounces bottles in my waist belt. I am pretty sure I’m not going to finish this race…I am just not in good enough shape and my legs are dead.
Miles 13-15: Finally…an aid station! I grab some oranges and some strange “bags” filled with water. They are like the milk bags we used in school, only filled with water or a Mexican sports drink called “Zuca.” I grab one bag and bite the end, squeezing the water in my mouth. I grab a few more and squeeze them into my water bottles. I grab a few oranges and a cup of pinole. Wow, that pinole is good stuff! The route descents down a twisting dirt road. At times the road is too steep for me to run comfortably, so I sadly walk parts of the downhill.
Mile 16: I round a corner and smell like someone is smoking a joint…a big a strong one. I look to the right and left and see no one in the fields. I keep running downhill and catch up to two young kids (they may have been Raramuri or local Urique boys, not sure) who have been racing since the start, they were about 1/2 mile ahead of me most of the race running in jeans, cotton t-shirts and sandals! They looked like they were 12 years old at most. I then notice they are passing a joint back and forth…I laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of being out-run by two young kids in jeans and flip-flops smoking a joint. I can’t make that up if I tried.
Miles 17-18: Reality sets in about how hard this course is. Caballo Blanco passes me with a big smile on his face and some words of encouragement. He is running light and smooth. I am assuming at this point that I am not finishing the race. My legs are totally trashed half-way down the descent and my feet really are super tired from all the rocks. Regardless, I need to run back to town so I continue on and feel better as we enter back into town to complete this big loop. I head to my drop-bag and refill my Hammer Gel flask and grab some more Nuun and Endurolytes. I decide to start the next loop and see what happens.
Los Olisos Out and Back Loop (~22 miles) aka “a run through the blast furnace”
Miles 19-25: I feel very good during the flat to slightly rolling stretch through the Urique river valley. I pass quite a few people, including a few “gringo’s” that were starting to feel the heat as the temperatures were climbing into the 90’s by now. There were several places to take aid and I enjoyed some banana pieces at each along with 2-3 orange wedges and a cup of pinole. I ran about 80% of this stretch, only walking a few of the bigger hills.
Miles 26-29: After crossing a suspension footbridge I begin the climb to the grapefruit orchards of Los Olisos. The temperature is climbing rapidly and I estimate that is hits at least 100 in this part of the course. The landscape turns into a moonscape devoid of much vegetation as I climb the steep trails. Footing is tough and the trail is narrow. I really struggle just to hike this section. Runners are going both directions on this trail and there are steep drop-offs at some points. I dumb water on my head all the time to stay cool. I’m diligent about taking Endurolyte tablets or dropping Nuun in my bottles. I pass out Endurolytes to a Raramuri who appears to be cramping badly. He is very thankful.
At one point I hit a steep and narrow part of the trail with a cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. I’m trying to go one direction and runners are coming back at me in the other direction….and a Burro is also trying to navigate the trail amidst all the chaos. I go spread eagle against the cliff until the Burro saunters by and I continue on. Only in Mexico!
Miles 30-33: Hitting the turn-around point I am totally out of water. I ran out long ago and am very dehydrated. I drop some iodine tablets (thanks Mark!) into my bottles and refills at the one aid station (the water was from a nearby spring since they couldn’t carry bottled or bagged water up this trail). I laugh at the sight of the station being manned by a couple big security dudes carrying M16’s! I devour some oranges and carry on back down the mountain slowly. I am super tired and still worried about just finishing. Looking around though, I am inspired by the Raramuri, persisting with little gear or fuel – I keep moving on.
Miles 34-40: Completing the descent I retraced the flat section back to Urique, which is suddenly much tougher than on the way out! My feet are incredibly tired and I run about 50% of this section. I can’t believe that I am walking flat and even some downhill sections but nothing I can do about that. The weather is burning hot. I dump water on my head to keep cool at every chance I get. I run the last mile back into town and hit my drop bag for a refill of Hammer Gel and water. Looking at my watch I realize that no matter what I will finish this course, even if I have to crawl. I have enough time even if I end up needing to walk the last part of the course.
Guadaloupe Coronado Out and Back Loop (~11 miles) aka “death hills”
Miles 41-45: I run out-of-town for a few miles. I see people running the opposite direction towards the finish line. These folks are completing in about 9-10 hours. I’m very jealous! I see some friends and that is cool. Once I hit the first small climb I start walking again, and find running next to impossible. Ever little hill has become a death hill. Caballo was right!
Miles 46-50: It takes absolutely forever to get the turnaround point. All my energy goes into maintaining forward motion and the sun starts to go down and the weather cools. There are fewer people out on the course so there is less to distract me. I’m walking and walking slow. No more power hiking. I try running occasionally and it’s super painful. My friend Bookis rolls up next to me and that motivates me to jog again. We stay together through the turnaround, where I take aid. I tell Bookis (he ran the entire race in Luna sandals!)to not hang with me since I’m not capable of running any more. I continue walking most of the next few miles, and the darkness comes quickly. By mile 49 it is almost pitch black, with just the stars and moon out. I hit a dirt road and occasional trucks passing by force to move to the edge of the road to avoid becoming roadkill. They help to light my way. At one point I almost impale myself on a bull cow that happened to be standing in the middle of the dirt road…lucky for me I heard it’s moo in time!
Mile 50-51: I see the lights of Urique and run back into town. I actually feel a lot better now. Amazing how seeing the finish provides a great burst of energy! There were tons of people in the village, and they were having a finish/awards ceremony on a stage in the town square. There was no post-race tent or food stuff given out. In fact, when I finished it took a few seconds to even find one of the race volunteers to tell him I finished! Surprisingly, instead of him telling me my time he asked me what my time was! I was too tired to talk so showed him my watch, he wrote it down and said good job. 12:32:01. Several hours longer than I thought it would take, but no matter, I finished! I saw some other gringo friends: some recently finished and laying on the sidewalk in recovery while others had been done for hours. I gave some high five’s, took a photo and stumbed about 100 yards back to my hotel room, where my roommate was resting (he got food poisoning and didn’t race).
The Long Journey Home
The morning after the race we said goodbye to friends departing via bus, and then piled into our van for the long and hair-raising climb out of Urique Canyon via a 90 minute twisting dirt road winding its way up the mountainsides. We had an overnight stop in the small Mexican town of Cuatemoc before continuing on to El Paso. My flight home became more interesting when I missed my connection in Denver (after sprinting across the entire terminal!), resulting in another overnight stay! I finally arrive back home safe and sound.
This Copper Canyon experience is one I’ll never forget. I’m already planning on returning next year.
Ever since hearing about the Tarahumara from Tony Robbins at a workshop several years ago (Tony was sharing tips on fitness and endurance), I’ve dreamed about visiting the Copper Canyons of Mexico. Reading Born to Run a short while later got me really excited and upon meeting Caballo Blanco (Micah True) and Barefoot Ted in Seattle and hearing about their efforts to help the Raramuri (means “running people”…and is what the Tarahumara call themselves), I realized that the only thing stopping me from doing it was a strong commitment to do so. So here I go, on Saturday (February 26th, 2011) I’m leaving to visit the Copper Canyons. I’ll stay there for a few days and also compete in the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, an epic 50 mile endurance run through amazing off-road terrain.
The race has been organized by Caballo for several years, and serves as a celebration of the Raramuri way of life as well as a fund raiser to support them through the Norawas De Raramuri foundation. Running comes naturally to the people that live in the canyons, as it is their primary mode of transportation between villages, given the terrain is too extreme for roads and cars. Running is also a form of play, with villages playing a “ball game” that often lasts for several days and involves kicking a small wooden ball along a dirt path, covering upwards of 100K+ at a time! Yes, all for fun. For these strong and kind people, running 50 miles really is nothing big. They run in simple sandals made from old tires, wear simple cotton clothing and having fancy in terms of energy gels, bars or camelbacks for hydration. Despite their simple approach, they are incredibly fast! For me, it will be a big mental and physical test and be the longest I’ve ever run in one stretch (when I say run I really mean jog/walk!).
The Copper Canyon Ultramarathon will feature around 20-30 “non-local” runners (mostly from the US) and over 200 Tarahumara runners. Non-local runners have all donated funds that will go back to support local villages, and every local finisher will receive 100Kg’s of corn (their primary food). The top finishers will a lot more corn (I think the winner gets 1 ton!).
The canyons, are very remote – requiring a 3+ day journey (each way!) just to get to the start of the race. I’ll be flying into El Paso, Texas and meeting a handful of runners. After an overnight stay at a cheap motel we’ll meet a guide who is taking us via van across the border (very quickly passing through Juarez!) for a 2 1/2 day overland journey to the edge of the Copper Canyons. After a night’s stay at a hotel we will then hike around 18 miles down into the canyons, to the small village of Urique that will serve as the “race headquarters.” I’ll spend 3 days in Urique hiking the entire race course with other runners, exploring the canyons and relaxing as much as possible. I’ll be staying in some very simple dorm-style accommodations. Hiking 50 miles on rugged terrain 3 days before a race might not be the best race taper strategy, but this is more about seeing the canyons and meeting the people than racing per se :) . I’ve also heard they have amazing grapefruit orchards in the canyons – if this is true I’ll be in heaven!
It’s also the case that the diet of the Tarahumara is primarily vegetarian – based on corn, chia, beans and fruits and vegetables. There is some meat in their diet, but it is limited simply due to cost and the limited land for animal farming. As a vegetarian, this is all good with me!
On March 6th, the race will begin. The course will have a lot of elevation change, I think something on the order of 8-9000 feet of climbing in total (and then descending the same). Some of the course is on old dirt roads and some is on single track. Temperatures in the canyons will be a dry 80-85 degrees during the day and as low as 45-50 in the evenings. In terms of aid station, I’m still unclear exactly what will be offered, though I’m assured there will be “enough”! I’m betting on water and fruit along the course in at least a couple of spots since the route is a figure 8 and will pass through the village a couple of times. My race strategy is to use an Amphipod waist belt to carry around 40 ounces, and an Amphipod hand bottle for another 20 ounces. I’ll carry 600 calories in energy gel (in a gel flask), a bunch of almonds, a Cliff Bar and electrolyte tablets (1 per hour at least). If the aid station situation isn’t ideal, I’ll carry another bottle.
My expectations for the race itself are simply to finish with a smile on my face. Under 10 hours would be awesome, but I recognize that it might take around 12 hours. I really don’t know what will happen to my body after 32 miles (the longest I’ve run) so it’s all uncharted territory. The only important thing as far I am concerned is to finish before dark (we start at 6am) and not get lost…navigating the trails in the dark won’t be fun (or safe).
I won’t have internet access while I’m down there, so however this adventure goes down, you’ll get an update when I return.
Enjoy this above clip until I parse through everything and get a proper write-up posted.
I took this video using my Flip HD camera on Sante Fe Island in the Galapagos. It shows Sea Lions messing around and barking at each other. You can even see the swim up a few minutes in (note the large forehead)!
Leaving in a few hours for Ecuador. I will be spending some time cruising around the Galapagos Islands, exploring Quito and the surrounding area. I probably won’t be doing any (or at least not many) blog updates until I return in a few weeks. Have a great holiday and I’ll catch up with everyone in the new year!