A Sad Goodbye – Crowsnest to Kananaskis

The next day dawned bright and clear, it was hard to believe our luck with the weather!  Sure it was hot, and we spent a lot of time filtering water and soaking our shirts, but it was amazing to be able to sleep without the fly and with no need to dry anything out. I had been really nervous about severe thunderstorms heading into this hike, but so far we hadn’t even seen a cloud in the sky!

Alicia was doing everything she could at this point to bring her feet back to health. She would get up an hour early to tape and lubricate, but her feet were still in a lot of pain.  We discovered that she was wearing wool socks (which I’ve found are a disaster in hot weather), so I suggested that she send a message via the InReach to Brian so that he could purchase new socks for her at Spry (the local running store). We were meeting Brian for a resupply later that afternoon and she could get new socks.  It was hilarious to be online shopping via InReach text, but you do what you have to do. I was impressed with Alicia’s willingness to explore every option to fix her feet, and optimistic that we were getting over the hump and would be able to find a solution.

The High Rock Trail (HRT) is gorgeous, with steep climbs leading to gorgeous viewpoints of the eastern slopes. The trail was a mix of “barely there” steep single-track, and machine-cut switchbacks. I loved the relentless up and down, and had to resist the urge to frolic in meadows filled to bursting with wildflowers.

We met our first GDT hiker a couple of kilometres from the end of the HRT, I think his name was Paul.  He was hiking solo northbound, and was taking a break in a cutline filled with daisies and wild strawberries. As we continued our hike, we realized that there were strawberries everywhere!  If Alicia and Nicola weren’t there I definitely would have taken a seat and enjoyed at least an hour of grazing. I will definitely be returning to this section of trail and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.

A short bushwhack brought us to the northern terminus of the HRT where Brian was waiting for us with the resupply.  We were predictably a couple of hours behind schedule, and we were very happy to finally see him. After enjoying a lunch and repacking our bags, we set out towards Tornado Pass. I had run this section a few years ago enroute to a scramble up Tornado Mountain, and I was excited for familiar trail.  Soon we were at the avalanche debris section that I remembered from that run so long ago.  The debris still had not been cleared, but a bit of a path had formed going up the wrong side of the valley.  We followed the path, assuming it would wrap around the debris field, but we soon found ourselves bushwhacking in the woods.  Paul had passed us during our lunch break, but we caught up to him in the debris field and we all enjoyed the bushwhacking together. Thankfully, I knew where we had to go, so we got back on track traversing to the other side of the valley without too much wasted time.

On my previous ascent of Tornado Pass I had found that the switchbacking paths were quite useless.  I think they are game trails, never actually switchbacking, just traversing horizontally.  This time around I set a course straight up the very steep slope. Alicia and Nicola, following behind me, were not impressed with my route choice.  And that’s how I earned my trail name, “Horribilis”.

The route becomes rocky and a bit exposed with loose rock just below the pass. Nicola did an excellent job coaching Alicia through the terrain, and I marvelled at their teamwork.  Soon we had crested the pass, and enjoyed a quick dinner before descending into the valley.

It was getting late in the evening and we needed to set up camp soon, but we were determined to make it as far as possible before stopping.  Alicia’s feet had her near tears, so I gave her a T3 that was left over from my June surgery. We put some tunes on speakerphone and began fast walking/jogging down the trail.  We were all in great spirits, and it was amazing how fast we could move when motivated by darkness and cheesy music.  Thus began the tradition of “Power Hour”.  Our last hour of everyday was almost always our fastest.  Encouraged by good tunes and the thought of a warm sleeping bag.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 52.6km/2372m

By this point we were moving about 1/2 a day behind schedule.  I think we had underestimated the terrain a bit. I thought the trail north of Crowsnest would be primarily quad trail, but it actually was mostly single-track with a lot of elevation change.  The views throughout were incredible as we traversed across high-alpine cirques bursting with wild-flowers.  The Beehive Natural Area made my heart sing and I knew I’d be back to explore more as soon I could carve out the time.  We met a few more GDT hikers, and it was nice to feel like we were part of a larger team of adventurers.  

Alicia’s feet continued to get worse and the painkillers were no longer effective. The 3 of us slowly came to the realization that she may not be able to continue for the entire journey. At one point Nicola and Alicia stopped to embrace and have a little cry. It felt like we were saying goodbye.  For the first time (but not the last) I found myself tearing up with emotion.

We pushed on, stopping only when necessary. The bugs were motivation to keep our breaks short.  That evening we came around a corner and surprised a pair of grizzly bears.  We hadn’t seen any wildlife at all up until this point so it was very startling. Alicia screamed in surprise and turned to run. I put my arms out to stop her from running and grabbed my bearspray, safety off.  Thankfully the bears crashed into the woods, and we followed up the incident with a brief safety talk about bear encounters.  Of course, it would have been better to start the hike with a refresher on bear safety, but better late than never.

That night a thunderstorm boomed in the distance so we slept with the fly on for the first time. I envisioned golfball sized hail pummeling the tent, but thankfully my imagination is much more severe than reality and we escaped with just a sprinkle of rain.

  Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.6km/2922m  

We were now “only” 60km from Kanananskis, and I was excited at the prospect of seeing Matt. It felt like we were transitioning to the next phase of our journey.  Matt also had new shoes for me, and I couldn’t wait to get out of my blister-inducing Goretex trail runners.  I was familiar with every step of the next section of trail: over Fording River Pass, down Aldridge Creek, suffer along 30km of gravel road, and then up and over Elk Pass.

I knew from a previous trail run that the next ridge we’d climb would have cell phone reception, and it felt like getting there was a major turning point.  When we reached the ridge we all called our loved ones, and Alicia was convinced by her husband that she needed medical treatment for her feet. We developed an exit strategy; we would all hike to the gravel road together and then Alicia would hitchhike into Elkford while Nicola and I carried on to Kananaskis. The plan was bittersweet and I felt a knot in my stomach, knowing how hard Alicia had worked towards this dream and now having to step off the trail so early on.

When we reached the Baril Creek Junction, I mentioned to Alicia that she could exit there instead of continuing over Fording River Pass. The route out was 9km and straightforward, leading to a busy access road only 90 minutes from Calgary.  We could probably even just call a friend with the InReach for pick up.  Alicia wasn’t comfortable hiking the 9km on her own, and I regret that it never occurred to me that we could have accompanied her for the 9km trek.  Although adding an extra 18km onto a 60km day is a pretty big ask …

Anyway, we decided to continue up and over Fording River Pass together.  The views in the early morning light were as spectacular as I remembered.  The descent from the pass is very long, ending with a rocky trail which included multiple creek crossings.  This terrain was not foot friendly and Alicia was in tears, while Nicola and I watched feeling completely powerless to help.  Eventually we reached the gravel road and we found someone random camping there. We told him our predicament, and we felt a lot better knowing that there was someone there to help Alicia out if she had trouble hitching a ride.  We also sent a message to Julien (Alicia’s spouse) via InReach, letting him know her location and what the plan was.  Minutes later we got a message back that Brian was on his way from Crowsnest Pass to pick Alicia up. Our minds at ease, knowing that Alicia would be taken care of, the two of us headed down the road.  As we left Alicia yelled at us.  I wasn’t 100% sure what she said, but I was pretty sure she said she had cell reception! 

The walk up the gravel road was hot and miserable.  Nicola set a quick pace and my feet ached. I wanted to slow down and take breaks, but I also knew that we still had another 50km of walking before we’d reach our crew. We couldn’t afford to break. Thankfully, Nicola and I worked well together. Every time I was about to speak up to say that I needed a break, she would suggest we stop. We never wasted time, stopping only to filter water or lubricate hot spots on our feet. At one point we tried to get off the hot road and take a parallel side trail. However the alternate trail turned out to be a bog.  Our shoes filled with mud and we were forced to sit in a creek to wash off.  This was my favourite part of the whole road.

When we finally reached Elk Lakes I was wrecked.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure we had minor heat exhaustion. How could we possibly continue on to Upper Kananaskis Lake in that condition??? We sat on a bridge and ate our dinner, trying to muster up the will power to continue.  That’s when I realized we could meet our crew at the Elk Pass parking lot instead of Upper Kananaskis Lake.  It would shorten our day by 5km and make the evening seem more manageable.  I messaged the crew via InReach to let them know the new plan, but in the back of my mind I knew the crew was likely out of cell reception and would never receive the message.  Still … I had hope.

As soon as we got off the road and back onto trail our legs were rejuvenated. Smiles appeared on our faces and the foot pain faded.  This is when I began to fully understand the dangers of road walking.  Sure, it’s fast but it can destroy your feet and your psyche.

We descended the trail to the Elk Pass parking lot, and spotted a mountain biker riding up the towards us.  I couldn’t quite recognize who was on the bike from that distance, but somehow I knew it had to be my friend Jamie. He had been waiting with Matt all day to crew us and we were so relieved to see him!  He let us know that Matt had managed to score a campsite at Interlakes campground and was waiting for us there. We told him of our plan to stop at the parking lot, and he rode off to the campsite so that Matt could drive back and pick us up.  We sat down in the parking lot, refusing to walk one step further.  It felt so luxurious to be lounging on the pavement.

While we were waiting, a couple of GDT hikers walked over to us in the parking lot.  They hadn’t been able to find a campsite and so they were trying to random camp near the parking lot.  A bear had disturbed their camp area and now they weren’t sure what to do.  We had room for another tent at our site so we invited them over to join us.  It felt great to be able to help out other hikers.

Minutes later, Matt arrived to pick us up and drive us the short distance to the campsite.  Matt, Jamie and Jamie’s family had prepared a feast of bacon, pancakes, sushi, beer and probably many other delicious items I can’t remember.  We ate until well after dark, and enjoyed a restful sleep in the back of our camperized Forerunner, while Matt agreed to sleep in the tent.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 62.4km/1500m??

(watch died on Fording River Pass, so elevation gain is a guess)

I made a YouTube video about our trek from Waterton to Kananaskis. Check it out!

Hot, hot heat – Waterton to Crowsnest on the GDT

Day 1 dawned bright and full of nervous anticipation.

I savoured my hot coffee and oatmeal, knowing that this would be my last hot breakfast for many days (we chose not to bring a stove on the trail). We spent the night at a friend’s cabin just 10 minutes north of Waterton National Park, so the drive to the trailhead was short.

The journey began with a 6.5km run along the lakeshore to the southern terminus of the GDT.  The GDT is funny like that; neither terminus is accessible by car so you need to hike to your hike.  We had arranged to meet up with Matt at Red Rock Canyon (roughly 30km into the day) so we were only carrying light packs for this first section.  It was nice to be able to start the journey with light packs and fast feet.

The sky was bluebird without a breath of wind.  I had been nervous about keeping up with Alicia and Nicola on the running section, but they graciously allowed me to set the pace in front and I settled into an easy jog while soaking in the views.  Mark (our videographer) leap-frogged around us on the trail, sprinting ahead and then setting up the camera to get a few seconds of content. Mark had a backpack full of equipment so he was getting an impressive workout!

We reached the border at 8am on July 26th. It was time to begin our 1100km journey north on the GDT.  I turned on the InReach tracker, but predictably forgot to start my watch. Oh well, accurate Strava stats were not critical to the success of this mission.

The usual route off the Akamina Parkway was closed for construction, so we followed the official GDT detour to Cameron Lake.  We had some mild bushwhacking on the Cameron Lake Trail and my skin began to break out in hives, apparently I was allergic to some of the plants.  The itch began to burn, and I had a hard time blocking the sensation from my mind.  I reminded myself that there were antihistamines in my main pack, I just needed to get to Red Rock Canyon to find relief.

We ran down from Cameron Lake to the Parkway and began the hot, road run up to Red Rock Canyon.  I wilted on the pavement, and Alicia and Nicola were very nice about waiting for me while I slowed to a crawl.  It was hard to put my ego aside and not push the effort to keep up, but I knew it was the right thing to do for long term success. Thankfully we were on the road for less than 5km, and when we got to Red Rock Canyon Matt was waiting for us with cold drinks and blueberry bacon pancakes!  Matt makes the best pancakes and we enjoyed a delicious lunch before donning our heavy packs and heading up the Blakiston Valley Trail.

As soon as we were back on trail, I was confident I could keep up with the group.  No longer wilting on the hot pavement, I was able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery as we hiked.  I was in my element.

We took a quick dip in Twin Lakes before saying goodbye to Mark and heading up and over Sage Pass.  We had now hiked out of Waterton National Park and were headed towards La Coulotte Ridge, one of the most exposed sections of the GDT.  Our goal for day 1 was to camp as close as possible to the base of La Coulotte Ridge. This way we would have lots of time to get over the technical terrain in the morning. We opted to camp at Jutland Creek, which appeared to be the last suitable camp spot with good water access.  Just before we reached the camp I tripped on a rock and landed hard on my face.  I was bleeding from my mouth, hand and knee but thankfully still had all my teeth.  Alicia, who was walking well ahead, also had blood on her face and we all broke out into laughter wondering how it was possible for my blood to have splattered that far.  (In the end, we decided that her blood must have been related to a bug bite).

We reached camp relatively early at 7pm, but there was no point in hiking further so we enjoyed the early bedtime.  The bugs were out in force and we layered up in our Goretex so that we could enjoy our dinner without being eaten alive.  The cloudless night meant that we could forego the fly and we spent the night sleeping under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.8km/1948m

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The hike up La Coulotte Ridge was straightforward.  We didn’t find much of a trail, but the route basically just went straight up the steep slope to gain the ridge.  The sun rose as we climbed and by the time we reached the ridge the air was already to starting to warm.  It was another hot, bluebird day.  For 14km we traversed along the ridge. It was very slow going with lots of elevation gain/loss, but the views were spectacular and I enjoyed feeling like we were climbing over multiple peaks.   Following a goat trail, we accidentally contoured below the true summit of the ridge. Not wanting to miss the peak, we dropped our packs and backtracked up to tag the summit.  When I set my pack down it seemed to take on a life of its own and started to roll towards a cliff.  Panicked, I lunged forward and caught the bag just in time.  At this point I was feeling like a total clutz; allergic reaction to plants, wimping out on the pavement, falling on my face, and then nearly dropping my pack off the side of a mountain … I guess it’s good to get over all of that stuff early??

There was no water for the entire ridge traverse, but we got lucky with several snow patches to cool us down.   There was a good trail through the forest once we got off the ridge, and we enjoyed a nice lunch in the shade of the trees beside a stream.  My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I recall there were a few small stream crossings over the next several kilometres and I enjoyed the cold water on my feet. I can’t remember if we were taking our shoes off for the water crossings or not at this point.

We met Brian at Castle Mountain Resort around 2pm.  It was hot, and we took shelter under the shade of a tree while enjoying cold beer and snacks.  Brian had brought our resupply and provided the cold beer, but he was also planning on camping with us that night so we decided to leave our overnight supplies with him so that we could hike with less weight.  Yes I know, we were super spoiled on the south section of this trip.

We said goodbye to Brian and continued down the HOT road.  Have I mentioned how much I dislike heat and pavement?  I could feel hot spots developing under my feet but  I didn’t want to complain out loud – I always feel like giving voice to the pain makes it more real.  I had been lubing my feet regularly so there wasn’t much I could do about it at that moment anyway.  At some point Alicia mentioned that her feet were also sore, I remember being happy that I wasn’t the only one.  I didn’t realize how bad it would get.

We were beginning to realize that the GDT app consistently underestimates distances (at least compared to my watch) so our evening campsite on top of Willoughby Ridge seemed to be an endlessly moving target.  We walked and walked, eventually reaching Brian just as the sun was setting.  Brian had cooked us up a hot stew, and we were so grateful to sit down and enjoy a hot meal after a very long day on the trails.  Another cloudless night meant that we left the fly off our tent for another night.  Such a luxury to be able to sleep under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.3km/2351m

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Brian spoiled us with a 6am breakfast of pancakes and hot coffee in the morning.  Pancakes were becoming a theme on this trip – they are the absolute best trail food.  I wonder how long they would keep for before going moldy? If you marinate them in butter and maple syrup would they last longer? 

It was another bluebird day and the continental divide was lit up in the morning sun.  At some point we missed a turn, continuing down a gravel road when we should have taken a hard right onto an ATV track.  Luck was on our side however, because Brian was coming up the road in his ATV and asked us what we were doing there.  We checked our map and realized we were 2km off-route.  Thank God Brian was there to turn us around or it could have been ugly. This wasn’t the last time Brian would come to the rescue.

Back on route, I really enjoyed the quad trail/gravel road/road walk back into town. It felt like an awesome accomplishment to have walked all the way from the border to Crowsnest Pass! By this point my feet were getting significant hot spots from all the hot road walking, but I was able to relieve a lot of the pressure by using my poles.  Unfortunately Alicia’s feet seemed to be getting worse by the minute and she had opted not to bring poles for the first section of trail. I debated giving her my poles, but I worried that if I did that my own blisters would become unbearable.  We stopped at the 7-11 in Coleman for Slurpees, pizza and blister supplies.  Sitting in the shade on the cool concrete was some kind of weird, dystopian heaven.

Fuelled up and bandaged up, we continued down the road and eventually onto a very dusty and exposed quad trail.  We were on leg 5/6 on Sinister 7 and I knew the trail well.  We stopped at nearly every creek to cool off and treat our feet. I had successfully popped most of my blisters and the pain was not increasing.  Alicia’s blister battle raged on, while Nicola’s feet were unscathed.  Here is my theory for why we had such different foot experiences:

Nicola – previous thru-hiking experience. Pre-taped her feet.  Synthetic socks. Breathable shoes. Poles.

Alicia – trench foot only a month prior so was hiking on very soft skin.  Wool socks. No poles.

Myself – gore-tex shoes (I knew these were a risk, but had chosen them because I wanted extra grip on La Coulotte). Synthetic socks. Poles.

Eventually we got off the quad track and started to make our way along the brand new High Rock Trail (HRT).  This trail had only opened up a week or two prior, so hiking it was a last minute decision.  For 2020 the official GDT route still went up the mining road on the BC side of the divide, but starting in 2021 the official route will follow the HRT.  The HRT is not efficient (I think the trail builders made it their mission to add as much elevation change into that route as possible), but it is incredibly scenic.  Taking the HRT was unquestionably the right decision, and I think in the future it will become a classic backpacking route.

Alicia followed behind as Nicola and I hiked up front.  At one point we thought we heard Alicia laughing, but then we realized she was crying.  We stopped in our tracks and my heart dropped.  Flashbacks of Bighorn 2019 went through my mind, sitting beside the trail bawling my eyes out because the blister pain was insurmountable.  I could empathize with her pain, but I couldn’t take it away. In addition to her pain, Alicia was frustrated because she felt like she was falling behind/holding us back.  We switched our hiking order so that she could be in front.  She was moving super well, but despite our assurances we could tell she didn’t believe us.

That night we camped at Window Mountain Lake. At the base of the trail there was an interpretive sign talking about “ursus arctos horribilis” the latin name for grizzlies.  I thought it was an awful name to call a grizzly; they are majestic, incredibly powerful beasts, not in the least horrible!

We set up camp and took a quick dip in the lake.  The lake was not as cold as anticipated, I will definitely come back here for future camping trips.  That night was another cloudless night, sleeping under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 53.22/1634m

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GDT – The Aftermath

It has been nearly two weeks since the end of our thru-hike on the GDT.  I want to share and record my journey in writing, but I’m slowly coming to grips with the reality that hiking the GDT cannot be put into words, rather it is something that must be experienced.  If running 100 miles is like living a year of your life in a day, then thru-hiking the GDT is like running a 100 miler a day, for 18 days straight. Life is simplified to the placement of one foot in front of the other, while at the same time the importance of each footstep is amplified x1000.  Miss a junction, take a wrong turn, stumble on a rock, choose the wrong socks or shoes, trip on some deadfall and your hike could be over.  Feet, food and health become obsessions.

Smiling faces on top of La Coulotte (GDT Day 2)

I worried that living outdoors for nearly three weeks would spoil me.  That I’d become sick of trail food, tired of the outdoors, and need to take some serious time off to just veg out on the couch eating pizza.  In reality, the exact opposite has happened.  I have found my need to be outdoors stronger than ever, and I’ve developed a serious addiction to sugar.  If you need me, you can find me up a mountain shoving my face full of cookies and gummy worms.  In the last 8 days I’ve climbed 6 mountains and eaten more junk food than I’d normally ingest in an entire month. I’m not sure if this is the most recommended recovery method from a long hike, but it seems to be working.

Mouth full of cookies on Mount Tyrwhitt

I don’t own a scale so I don’t know precisely how my weight changed on the trail, but I figure I lost about 10lbs.  As I finished the hike my legs looked skinny for the first time ever, muscle striations were clearly visible on my arms, and blood vessels were popping out on my stomach.  The gaunt look was accompanied by a ridiculous appetite and intolerance to cold.  Thankfully, my mom and Matt had anticipated my hungry return home, and I have been well taken care of with big pots of stew, tuna mac and cheese, pancakes, bacon, seafood chowder and anything else I could think to request. My vascular stomach is softening up, and on Sunday I noticed I was back to being the least dressed person on the mountain top.

My body held up reasonably well on the trail, especially considering this is the first time I’ve attempted anything of this magnitude.  My left shin became inflamed during the 2nd week of hiking, but that injury was virtually healed by the time I finished.  Going into the 3rd week my right shin started to become inflamed, however this never affected me very much because we were doing so much bushwhacking. I’ve discovered that shin splints don’t mind bushwhacking nearly as much as nicely groomed trail.  In the days following our hike my shin swelled up further and the range of motion was limited. I found that the pain and swelling would subside with movement so I took this as justification to get out scrambling as much as possible. With each mountain climbed the shin seemed to heal further, and as I write this the swelling and pain have completely dissipated.   

My goal for the coming weeks is to put this experience down into words the best I can, even though I’m still not totally sure what this will look like. I also plan to put together some short video clips for our YouTube channel, Mountain Movement.  I hope that by sharing my story I am able to preserve these memories and influence others to challenge their perceptions of what’s possible.

GDT – Prelude

I had hoped to write a more well thought out, insightful blog post leading into the GDT, but life has been intense and I haven’t had the energy.

The combination of surgery, reopening/managing a gym during a pandemic and training/planning for the GDT has pushed me to max capacity.  Most of these stresses could be viewed as positive learning experiences, but experiencing them all at once is more than a bit hectic.

I am beyond grateful for my friend and family support; I know that no matter how badly I mess up the planning for the GDT they will have my back.  My support network has stepped up in an incredible way – offering to crew, house sit, lend equipment, and act as emergency back-up.  Nicola and Alicia have also been great, as I know I’m not always the nicest person when I’m stressed out.  It’s amazing to me that we’ve made it to this stage in our journey without having a major blowout.  I realize this comment may sound a bit negative, but I maintain my sunny world view by managing expectations.  If I expect the worst, I am constantly experiencing happy surprises when things aren’t so bad!

My head space going into this journey is a bit mixed.  Last weekend a friend of mine was killed in a ski accident.  I’ve met few people who ski with as much stoke as he did, and I have no doubt that when he started down that couloir descent he had his tunes playing and a huge grin on his face.  I was looking forward to getting out for more ski adventures together next winter.  The mountains are a land of contrast; they give so much joy, but they also balance that joy with tragedy.  My heart breaks for the friends who were with him that day and witnessed the accident.  I wish there were something I could do to provide comfort, but I know that time is the best healer. No words or actions can take away that pain.

With this incident fresh in my mind, I am going into the most challenging mountain adventure of my life. While I don’t anticipate that the trail itself will be particularly dangerous, I am concerned about weather and river crossings.  Recently we have had hail and thunder of epic proportions, and it’s terrifying to think we may be stranded outdoors with minimal shelter while golf ball sized hail is being hurled from the sky.  I have similar reservations about being swept downstream in a river swollen from storms and lingering snow melt.  While I am committed to finishing this trek, I know that sometimes these things are beyond our control.  I aim to embrace the process, and relinquish control of the outcome.  While I’m out there I will relish every moment. I will thank Mother Nature for allowing me to experience her fully, in all of her awesome and terrible beauty.  I will remember my friend, and celebrate life, and practice gratitude for this wonderful opportunity.

 


Some pics from ski adventures with Nav.  Radio Nav lives on.  Rest in peace my friend.

Goodbye Timf

I owe you a Timf update and a GDT update.  That’s too much for one post, so here’s the Timf update.  I’ll keep you waiting on the GDT…


3.5 weeks ago I went in for sinus surgery to remove Timf.  In addition to removing the cyst, the surgeon took out all 4 of my wisdom teeth.  I woke up from the anesthesia groggy and confused, with a mouth full of gauze and stitches.  The sinus incision was quite long, extending from my first bicuspid all the way up to the back of my cheek beneath my cheek bone.  I was mentally prepared to be in a world of hurt after the procedure and the nurse sent me home with an ice pack, Tylenol 3s, ibuprofen and instructions to sleep as much as possible.  Because the sinus incision was so large she told me I was on extended sinus precautions.  Basically, I was not allowed to do anything which would cause a large increase in blood pressure, and I also had to avoid blowing my nose, stifling sneezes or drinking from a straw.  The nose blowing/sneezing/straw restrictions would last for 3 weeks. I had minimal restrictions related to the wisdom teeth – I should start with a soft food diet, but I could add in solid food as pain permitted.

 

Matt drove us home after the surgery and he did a fantastic job of taking care of me while the freezing slowly came out of my face.  I was a bloody, drooling mess, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was like a scene from a horror movie.

 

For whatever reason, my recovery was extremely fast and easy.  The pain was always manageable and I was able to wean off the meds in a few days, (this was good because I wanted to save some of those T3s for the GDT).  I was eating solid food almost immediately and found I had a ravenous hunger.  I was very diligent with the ice pack for the first day, having been told from multiple sources that ice packs are a key component to a comfortable recovery.  My swelling was minimal.

 

I’ve only been on antibiotics once before this, and I didn’t handle them well. Knowing this, I made sure to drink tons of kefir, eat yogurt and take probiotics.  This seemed to work, as my GI distress has been minimal compared to my last experience.

 

I only have had two significant complaints during the recovery process.  The first is that there is an open hole (slowly shrinking) from my mouth to sinus.  This hole makes drinking awkward as it feels like the water is sloshing around inside my face.  I also don’t taste very well on that side of my mouth.  I can feel air flow moving between my mouth and sinus, and while it doesn’t hurt I find it a bit uncomfortable.  I also recently discovered that I have very poor sense of smell.  Apparently Moxie was farting up a storm and I couldn’t smell a thing.  Maybe this is a good thing?  During my 2 week follow up appointment I got the surgeon to look at this hole, there is still a 3mm gap.  The rest of my healing is excellent but I’m a bit concerned the hole won’t fully close on its own.

 

My second complaint was the stitches for the sinus incision.  The surgeon used a thicker thread for these stitches so that they wouldn’t dissolve as quickly as standard wisdom tooth stitches.  The ends of the thread constantly were stabbing into the side of my cheek, until the inside of my cheek resembled mashed potatoes.  Thankfully, he removed most of those stitches at my follow up appointment, and as I’m writing this I only have a couple of stitches left remaining in my mouth.

 

The Timf saga is not entirely over, as I still have a couple of potentially infected teeth in my mouth and a lot of bone loss, but for now I’m feeling very good and breathing much better.  I’ll decide what to do with Timf’s aftermath once I’m done the GDT.

 

I’m feeling incredibly grateful for all of the support I’ve received, and that my body appears to have handled this entire saga like a champ!

#beatSinister – 50 Miles on the Red Deer River

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this pandemic has left me feeling a bit lost. As a fitness centre manager, my life has been profoundly affected by physical distancing measures.  My fitness facility is closed and all my staff and instructors are on temporary lay-off.  Normally my day to day life is filled with personal conversations with members about their lives; their goals, dreams, struggles and failures.  I love this interaction and gain a lot of fulfillment from it. Skype and Zoom meetings are not filling that void.

 

Outside of work I cherish my solo time, running trails through the mountains and exploring new places almost daily.  This moving meditation fills my soul and keeps my emotions balanced.  When they closed the provincial and national parks I almost couldn’t handle it. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was preparing to wig out and extricate myself from society entirely.  Being told to stay in the city, surrounded by 1.3 million of my closest friends, but not actually allowed to interact with any of them was not okay.  I’m sure many of you can relate.

 

Thankfully, the government has reopened the parks and I am slowly easing back from the edge. Try as I might I still don’t love my work situation, but at least now I have my trails back.

 

Earlier in the year I registered for the Sinister 7 100 mile race, however that race (like nearly all races) has been cancelled. The only other endurance event I have planned for this year is an 1100km FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt on the Great Divide Trail.  Thankfully, this project meets all of the physical distancing guidelines and I am optimistic that it will go ahead as planned.  In preparation for 2.5 weeks of 60km+ days on rugged trails I’ve been doing a lot of walking.  Running has been fairly low on my priority list, since I’m fairly certain our legs will be toast by day 3 regardless of how much running I do in training J I’ve been enjoying getting out for longer days, even if they’re not necessarily faster days.

 

In lieu of Sinister 7, Sinister Sports is putting on a series of virtual ultra events.  The first virtual ultra event was called Beat Sinister. The race organizers recruited “Agents” to run pre-specified distances, and race participants would try their best to beat those agents. Most of the agents are highly ranked ultrarunners or well-known figures in the trail community. As a past winner of Sinister 7, I was invited to act as one of the Agents.  It sounded like a fun event and a good way to get some extra training in for the GDT, so I accepted the challenge. On May 23rd I would run 50 miles on trail, and try to put down a time that people would find challenging to beat.

 

I came up with a relatively flat, snow-free, out and back course in the Ya Ha Tinda, then I recruited my friend Philippe to join me on the adventure.  Ya Ha Tinda is a 2.5hr drive from Calgary so I opted to drive out there the night before and camp.  Philippe was going to join me in the morning for an 8am start. There is no cell reception in the area so if Philippe wasn’t there by 8am, it meant something had come up and he wasn’t going to make it. I waited at the gates until 8am, but Philippe didn’t show up. I plugged in my tunes and set off for a solo adventure.  It was a bit of a bummer not to have company, but I enjoy solo running so I wasn’t too worked up about it.

 

A few kilometres into the run I realized I’d taken the wrong fork at a junction so I turned around to retrace my steps.  Running up the hill behind me was Philippe!  I must have just missed him in the parking lot. We regrouped and set off down the trail together.  The route was muddy and we spent a lot of time dodging puddles, but overall the pace was steady and we enjoyed easy conversation.  My personal best time for a trail 50 mile is 7:56 and I briefly wondered if we could come close to that time.  However, the combo of puddle dodging, occasional deadfall hopping and heavy packs soon made it clear that a sub-8hr goal would not be realistic.  I set an adjusted goal of 9-9:30 in my head.

 

The trail was covered with an interesting combination of animal scat: bison, horse, deer, elk, cougar and bear. I had fun pretending I was some sort of animal tracker and wondered if I should post some scat trivia on my Instagram. Just after the 30km mark we came to a drainage and got a little turned around.  I saw a blaze on a tree on the other side of the creek, however I didn’t see an obvious trail. We wandered up and down along the bank for a bit before braving the cold water crossing.  The blaze marked a lovely forest trail and soon we were cruising over roots and rocks on spongy forest floor.  This is some of my favourite kind of trail and it gave me a big energy boost. There were also bear tracks on the spongy trails, which definitely helped our level of alertness. At 40km we came to our turn around point – the Natural Bridge.  This is a super cool area where the Red Deer River narrows to a slot canyon and we took a quick moment to enjoy the views before heading back the way we came.  Elapsed time was 4:39.

 

At this point my legs were feeling a bit more sprightly than Philippe’s so I ran ahead.  I also had to filter some water (I had carried 2L, whereas he had 3L) and I didn’t want him to have to wait for me. There were fresh bear tracks on the return trail, but we never saw the actual bear.  Philippe passed me by while I was filtering water and continued to walk up the trail. I caught up to him slogging through a particularly dense patch of deadfall.  He seemed to be slowing down and I was mentally preparing myself for a slower trudge back to the finish line.

 

I can’t remember precisely when it happened, but suddenly Philippe started running at a pretty good clip.  I made a comment on the pace, he looked down at his watch, and then he just kept getting faster!  I knew the pace wasn’t sustainable, but I was also feeling competitive and there was no way I was going to let him drop me.  We continued at this breakneck pace for the next 10km, only slowing down when we hit a hill or the trail was washed out.  Now we only had 20km to go and I wondered how long this second wind was going to last!

It turns out that when Philippe hiked ahead while I was filtering water he had eaten a bunch of food.  Stumbling through the deadfall had given him time to digest, and then when we were back on smooth trail he was ready to go!  Sadly, the second wind didn’t last forever and the final 16km back to the vehicles was a bit of a sufferfest.  We both ran out of all our food and water.  I debated filtering more water, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I watched the time closely, determined to finish in under 10hrs.   I stayed back with Philippe, hoping that we could both make it under this arbitrary number, but with a mile to go it became clear that I had to run ahead.  I squeaked in at 9:59, Philippe finishing shortly after.  Ironically, with his late start he also finished 50 miles in 9:59 J

 

This was a super fun event and race format.  I still don’t know if I was a successful Agent, or if some of the participants beat me, but I was happy with how my legs held up and I think we did a pretty good job of putting a challenging time out there.

 

Fuel:

3.5 litres water

12 Oreos

3 Mars Bars

A handful of gummy worms

A handful of sour JuJubes

(Next time I think I will bring some salt. Potato chips tasted amazing on the drive home)

Sorry to Keep You Waiting

For those of you who don’t follow my Instagram, sorry for keeping you waiting.

 

The biopsy results were the best possible.  I have an apical cyst, which means surgery will not be nearly as extensive as I thought it would be.  I still have a large cyst which needs to be removed, but it is completely benign and I should be able to have it removed with just a day surgery.  Dr Matthews is no longer my specialist, and I’ve been referred to an oral surgeon whose name I can’t remember.

 

Besides the overwhelmingly good news that I am not going to have “extensive surgery with a long recovery”, I still have a lot of questions and I found my biopsy follow up appointment to be quite frustrating.  I don’t yet have an appointment with my new specialist.  The specialist will call me at some point but Dr Matthews was unable to give me a timeframe. I also don’t know what this new surgery will look like, or what the recovery will be. I have no surgery date and no one to contact to ask these questions.

 

Of course I tried to ask Google what to expect, but Google was not helpful.  Most of the studies I could find dealt with patients whose cysts were in the 4-8mm range, Timf is 23mm.  Also, my teeth are still alive and it seems like in all the case studies I looked at the subjects had dead teeth.  It’s likely for the best that Google is not an apical cyst expert, this way I can’t waste my energy thinking out the various scenarios.

 

Dr Matthews cautioned me against getting too excited about my summer adventures.  I have decided to ignore this advice.  I registered for Sinister 7 and I’m making plans to run the Great Divide Trail with some friends.  After 3 months of being in limbo I am still somewhat in limbo … but I’m ready to move on.  If I find out that I can’t participate in these adventures I will deal with that hurdle when it comes.

 

I have hardly been doing any running these last several weeks.  I haven’t been a total slug, but I’ve been enjoying skiing, bouldering and weight-lifting instead.  If I’m going to run 1100kms this summer it’s time to pick up my socks and start building my run volume back up. I’m looking forward to adding some structure back into my life.

 

I am so grateful that Timf is as mild as a large sinus growth can be, and that this will soon be a chapter of my past life.  I hope to embrace this learning experience; to remember the support I’ve received from my community and to run every day with joy.

 

Happy Trails!

 

It Takes a Village

First, a description of biopsy day:

My mom and I waited patiently in the minor surgery area of the McCaig Tower at Foothills hospital.  I was just starting to come down with a cold and my mom had had her cold for a few days already.  We are the picture of health as we sit on the waiting room chairs sharing a box of Kleenex. The lady who has just been in before me looks like she’s in pain and I wonder what exactly I’m about to experience …

The procedure room is brightly lit and has a lot more medical equipment in it than I was expecting.  Don’t ask me what I was expecting, I really don’t think I had a clue.

Dr Matthews and another doctor come in.  Dr Matthews explains the procedure to me: first he’s going to freeze me up ‘really good’ and then he was going to use a cauterizing tool to make the incision.  The incision would be made in the roof of my mouth, near the base of my molars.  This is where the CT scan showed the bone was thinnest and the growth appeared to be most aggressive. After the incision Dr Matthews would go in with a tool and punch through the bone to access Timf.  He assured me I wouldn’t feel pain with the punch tool, just pressure.

True to his word, Dr Matthews did a very good job with the local anesthetic and I didn’t feel a thing.  That being said, seeing the smoke rise from the cauterizing tool as he literally burnt away my flesh was super unnerving. I’ve never been more motivated to keep my head still.  It took him a couple of tries to punch through with the tool, but there was very little pain.  And then the procedure was done!

I was so amped up when they told I could sit up, I felt like I was going to faint. The doctors and nurse hung out with me for awhile while I slowly calmed down.  The nurse brought me some juice and I asked to see the little piece of Timf.  It was unremarkable.  I have had a previous cyst near the side of my knee. When they drained that cyst the fluid was thick, viscous and yellow.  Timf looked more like a flake of red fish food, floating in a clear storage solution.

Throughout the procedure I tried to get a feel for what I could expect my recovery from my actual surgery to be.  Dr Matthews was very non-committal and referenced potentially “extensive surgery” on more than one occasion.  I am trying hard not to read too much into this, but it is so hard to think that my entire summer might be spent in recovery.

The freezing wore off very quickly, and my mom drove me straight home so I could get some Advil and Tylenol.  If I ever have to go through this type of procedure again, I would just take the pain killers with me to the hospital.

My mom cooked me up some scrambled eggs while I sat on the couch like an invalid.  Looking back on it, I think I was still in shock. I spent the rest of the afternoon napping, and when I woke up my mouth tasted like burnt flesh.  Have you ever read the book Alive? I now understand why they had so much trouble eating human flesh.

The biopsy was followed up by the worst cold I’ve ever had, and I spent the next 3 days in bed or on the couch.  Thankfully I did not have much pain, just a giant hole in the roof of my mouth.  Matt was home all weekend so I was able to just lay around while he took care of me.  I am truly spoiled.

About a week after the biopsy I started to feel pain whenever I would drink cool liquids. This pain progressed in frequency to whenever I would drink room temperature liquids, or anything acidic like yogurt and berries.  I realized that the root of my tooth was exposed deep, down in my mouth hole. I could not drink anything other than hot liquids without giving myself intense brain freeze.

A quick shout out on social media gave me some potential solutions from friends who had been through similar scenarios. Try a straw? Use Orajel? A friend came over with some Traumeel, which is a homeopathic topical anesthetic.

The Traumeel helped … for about 5 minutes.  I would slather it on my mouth hole, and then guzzle water for the next few minutes until the pain came back.  I don’t own any straws, but a member at the gym brought me in one of those silicone straws to try. It definitely helped.  I picked up some Orajel at the local Co-op but like the Traumeel, it only helped for a few minutes.

The best solution to my problem was found a few days later when a member brought in some leftover topical anesthetic from his wife’s oral surgery.  This stuff was 20% benzocaine and I found I could drink without pain for 15-20 minutes after application.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it takes a village.  Look at how many people came to my aid to try to find a solution when they heard I was in pain!  Look at how my mom and Matt took care of me when I was in shock and sick. If there’s one overwhelming positive out of this whole situation, it’s that I realize I have a huge support network of people who genuinely care about me.  I have always believed in the basic goodness of humanity, and this stage in my life is highlighting that truth.


 

Looking Forward

I’m now 2.5 weeks  post-biospy and my mouth hole is definitely shrinking.  If I’m careful I can even drink without brain freeze!  It is a wonderful feeling to be hydrated again as I was getting so sick of tea.

On Thursday I get my biopsy results.  It feels like a big day, but then the more rational part of me tells me that it really isn’t.  Even after my appointment on Thursday, I’ll still need an additional appointment with the surgeon to discuss options, and then probably another delay until I actually have my surgery.  The real hurdle will be recovery after surgery, and I don’t yet have the information I need to know what that will look like.

Thursday is not that special, it’s just when Timf gets a proper name.

The naming options are:

  • Large periapical/radicular cyst,
  • Keratocystic odontogenic tumor, or
  • Ameloblastoma

Personally, I think Timf is much easier to say than any of those options.

The importance of the name, is that it will inform how much of a margin the surgeon will have to remove around Timf. Ameloblastomas need to have relatively large margins to prevent recurrence, whereas periapical cysts are much less aggressive. Let’s all hope for a periapical cyst 🙂

 

Thank you for following my journey. If you’re out there struggling, don’t be afraid to put a call out for help.  People are amazing!

My Big Fat Wish List

I love planning for the future.  I gain great satisfaction from dreaming up an adventure on the very edge of possibility, and then working towards that dream.  Right now I’m struggling, because I am unable to plan.  My future is an unknown, and I’m floating in the abyss at the whim of circumstances beyond my control.

 

In an effort to scratch my adventure planning itch I’ve decided to put together a Wish List.  Normally I hate the term “wish”- you either do something or you don’t.  Wishing is a waste of time and energy.  However, at this stage in my journey I don’t have a lot of ability to “do”, so wishing is going to have to be good enough.  Here’s hoping I get some of these wishes granted this year, and maybe next year this list can transform to my Big Fat To Do List!

 

So here we go, in no particular order:

  1. Multi-day adventures
  • 200 mile hike of my choosing
  • The Great Divide Trail
  • Family hike on the Juan de Fuca trail
  • Mount St. Elias, ocean to summit (lifetime goal)

 

2. Long Days Out

  • The Brazeau Loop
  • The Stein Traverse
  • Banff Triple Crown
  • Sub-11hr Iron Legs 50M
  • Sub-20hr 100 Mile Race (still needs to be a course I’m excited about)
  • Hardrock
  • Bluerock – Gibraltar – Picklejar – Junction Creek Loop
  • 10000m ascent and descent in 24hrs
  • Athabasca Pass, Mt Hooker and Mt Brown (haven’t done the math on this one, might be a multi-day).

 

3. Ski Trips

  • FHR on a sunny day
  • Mount Joffre
  • White Pyramid
  • Dolomite Traverse
  • Lake Louise to Lake O’Hara out and back (classic xc ski)
  • 2000m ascent in a trip

 

4. Scrambles, Summits and Ridge Traverses

  • Sub-6hr Banded Peak Traverse (with Arielle)
  • Full Opal Traverse
  • Mount Ptolemy
  • Livingstone Range Traverse – redo to the highway (with Arielle)
  • The Rundle Traverse (with Arielle)
  • Mount King George
  • Gap to Townsend (with Patrick)
  • Majo’s Loop (Nihahi, Compression, Prairie, Powderface)
  • Mt Fisher via Secret Pass
  • Mt Evan Thomas
  • Mt Daly
  • Tour de Noseeum, including the summit

 

Do you have an adventure idea you think I’d enjoy?  Send me a message and we can build my Wish List into a lifetime of adventures planning.

What’s Up?

December was a mess of doctor’s appointments. I had my CT scan at the Peter Lougheed Hospital. That same week my throat was feeling swollen and when I shone a light and looked down at it in the mirror I could see white. The technicians who were operating the CT scanner couldn’t help me, and they suggested I make an appointment with my family doctor.  I went to my doctor and it turned out I had thrush, a yeast infection that happens when you use a steroid inhaler and don’t rinse your mouth out well enough afterwards. My family doctor was able to prescribe me medication to combat the thrush. She also was able to give me the results of my CT scan, so I didn’t have to wait until January wondering about the scope of the Thing In My Face. 

 

Basically, Timf is a slow-growing mass which has completely blocked my right maxillary sinus and is associated with two of my molars.  For the most part, TIMF does not appear to be aggressive but it has eroded away quite a bit of bone. My family doctor could not tell me what these results meant in turns of surgery/recovery so I would have to wait until my appointment with the specialist to get answers. 

 

My thrush infection seemed to disappear as soon as I went on the medication, however the pharmacist made an error and only gave me 40ml instead of 140ml. As soon as I stopped the medication the infection came back with a vengeance, so I went back to my doctor and made sure to get the proper prescription from the pharmacist on the second time around.  None of the doctors I’ve talked to seem to think the thrush has anything to do with Timf, but I think it’s kind of a strange coincidence. 

I took a break from all the doctor appointments and we drove up to Revelstoke for a family Christmas. It was amazing to see everybody, and I wish we could have family gatherings more often.  The rest of the holidays were spent trail running, cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing.  I wouldn’t call it a relaxing holiday season, but it was just what I needed. 

Throughout the holidays Timf would swell and subside.  Constantly reminding me that it was there, but not causing any real issues besides the occasional headache. 

 I was really looking forward to today’s follow up appointment with the specialist. I am feeling fit and strong, and I want to run, race and adventure. I was hoping the specialist would give me a timeline for my surgery/recovery that would enable me to start planning these adventures. The specialist was able to explain the CT scan in more practical terms:  

  • I need to have a biopsy to determine what exactly Timf is. This will be a general procedure, and it is booked for the 24th.  I’m happy to not have to wait for another month before the next step in this process. Recovery from the biopsy should only be 1 or 2 days, but it means I’m going to miss the Calgary Roadrunners XC race 🙁 I’ve already emailed to see if I can volunteer instead!
  • The lack of bone and awkward location of Timf means that surgery may not be simple. After they remove Timf I may end up having a hole through the top of the mouth to my sinus. The hole would have to be filled using either a prostheses or bone graft.  Thankfully this is not a decision I have to make now.  
  • I asked the doctor about summer plans; he said there’s a good chance they will be affected by my recovery, so I’ve made the decision not to sign up for any more races. I was really hoping to run the Sinister Triple and do a 200mile hike in September, but I am going to have to learn to plan less and go with the flow more. With a little luck I may be able to sign up for races or go on adventures at the last minute. 

 

In the meantime, I will continue doing my thing. You can find me running, skiing, bouldering and weight lifting. Send me a message if you’d like to get out!