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Kayaking on the Gila River

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Kayaking on the Gila River

The Gila River was flowing at a yearly high rate (357 cubic feet per second-C.F.S.) and I received a phone call from Billy Joe, an adventurer who also has type 1 diabetes. Google unveils a record flow at Winkelman (our entrance point) of 55,000 C.F.S.! A slight difference from our day on the river but it would be enough flowing H2O to make things interesting.

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Initially, I was to join Billy and a friend to support his journey down the Gila River from Winkelman to Kearny, Arizona. The Gila River is not a large flow of water but for the arid desert Southwest it is a vital piece of the life puzzle for the area. It is not a deep river, although I can share that in many points it was over my head. We will get to my means for analyzing this fact, later.

Billy Joe on the L. Photo by Billy Joe's friend.

Billy Joe on the L. Photo by Billy Joe's friend.

I would receive a phone from Billy the night before the trip and he had secured a 2nd kayak so that I would be able to join him on the river instead of along the river. While I have a decent background of sea kayaking this would be my first time to river kayak. No spray skirt nor bear spray. With a bright and early start I scrambled to pack items for the trip. My nature is to start packing well before an outing and meticulously go over the details. I am a planner and know that I need/want diabetes supplies, safety and camera gear, food, etc. I headed out the door a little short on the full list of items. While I am not aquaphobic, I dabble in some level of -ic that is right below aquaphobic (water panic).

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The journey would start well and gave the indication that it would be a simple float. River was moving us along at a good clip and thick, lush vegetation crowded along the vital water source streamed by. Soon the river narrowed under a railroad bridge and the nestle of branches and trees encroached upon our water highway and revealed a drop off. Grabbing nearby foliage, we analyzed our situation and decision to 'ride' the drop or negotiate around it. Negotiation appeared to offer minimal opportunities so we rowed forward. No problem and we continued on our way to Hayden then Kearny.

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At some maze of roots and branches and a narrow point with a funnel of faster flowing water I ran into a low hanging branch. When this happens the outcome is somewhat settled. You can do your best to push off, duck, or skirt the 'object' but if the current is flowing in its direction and/or you pick a less than adequate line, you will be stopped. While you may be furiously tackling the water with your oars the liquid freight train continues forward and the laws of physics begin to evolve. I was flipped.

Billy Joe taking it easy. The only good landing area we saw until near the extraction point.

Billy Joe taking it easy. The only good landing area we saw until near the extraction point.

Into the river I went and I was now submersed, pawing upward to break the surface. At the same time, you, the kayak and your oar are riding the current, thankfully at the same speed. At this point it is a crushing reality that I need to keep that kayak in my grasp and capture the oar. Pure misery if any of those vital pieces got caught up in the thickets and I was still moving downriver. Really difficult to land on the steep slopes and go back upstream to retrieve anything.

Billy Joe's Video on our kayak adventure.

This is not the first time I have been introduced to a body of water while kayaking. During an ocean kayak venture, I unvoluntarily exited the kayak and found myself in Sitka Sound (Alaska). Thankfully, it was close to shore and I had a spray skirt. Bobbing in the Gila River, I now had an open kayak that was now full of water. I knew how heavy 90 ounces of water was to run with. Imagine the weight of a boat full of water. Billy Joe had been just ahead of me but he was out of sight and screams to know that I had been hung up. I secured the oar, righted the kayak and found a spot to 'park' the kayak while I did some bailing to lighten the kayak and pulled it up the steep slope to turn over and drain the aqua pura.

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This would happen a number of times and I began to get more comfortable with an equation that would have overwhelmed me in the past. Do not ask me to go out on a raging river and practice kayak exits, but I was taking some steps (strokes) in the right direction by the end of the day to getting more comfortable in a watery environment.

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Me and my gear (I had tethered the living daylights out of my gear bag) did survive and I am happy that I had this opportunity. It was a learning experience and I realized that many things could have gone wrong. Yes, oh yes, the insulin pump brilliantly kept on ticking. Thankfully, we did not encounter these landmines and did have a memorable, but good  ish time on the Gila River.

I am working on a video of this. Take a deep breath!

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Oracle Rumble - A tough race, but I did cross the finish line

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Oracle Rumble - A tough race, but I did cross the finish line

The morning was chilly and dark, and I was sleepy, slumped on a bus crammed with strangers as we rolled toward a nondescript parking area near Winkleman, Arizona. Our bus ride began at Oracle State Park (Oracle, AZ) and we were being shuttled a long distance North of where I had hoped to receive a medal, signifying that I had survived the Oracle Rumble. Our legs or a savior vehicle would take us back to the park and I would find out which method of delivery that this race would unveil. 

Matthew Nelson (Race Director) addresses the runners at the start

Matthew Nelson (Race Director) addresses the runners at the start

I had haphazardly jotted my name into the small section of the application that mentioned long distances, remote areas, headlights, medical care, etc, etc. that was the Oracle Rumble 50 mile race. I felt really good about this decision, at least on paper.

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Bus chatter revealed that the two closest runners to me were from San Diego and Seattle. I felt blessed that I lived a mere 1/2 hour from the start line but knew that would have no bearing on whether I would finish, only that if I was in pain and anguish, I would be home soon.

Aid station at 8 miles

Aid station at 8 miles

I overheard some details of the race from the year before (first year of the event). It was 11 degrees at the start line. Another blessing as it was in the balmy mid 30's as we pitched our warm clothes and extra gear into the vehicles heading back to Oracle State Park. 

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While the Race Director, Matt Nelson had tooted a rifle around the grounds of our start area, he gave us the preparatory speech at the start line with no rifle in sight. I anticipated a fired off rifle to start our episode across the desert, but, was disappointed. Maybe the rifle was for any runners who might start their journey before the countdown. 

The remote aid station at 15 miles

The remote aid station at 15 miles

My race started off well, but took a crash dive about 20 minutes in. My insulin pump began beeping at me. An annoying tone that was a message to Dave that there is an issue and that he needs to take care of it, immediately. My immediate response was the realization that while the pump whined that the battery was almost dead I was 27 miles from a AA battery. I had checked the pump battery situation the evening before and it was over 1/2 full of power. I should have swapped batteries at that point but have not had a battery lose over 1/2 its gusto overnight. Another lesson learned and I turned off my CGMS (Continous Glucose Monitor System) that was giving me readings of where my blood sugar was. Rather important stuff for a person with type 1 diabetes running an ultramarathon. I would have to take blood sugars with a blood sugar monitor. That extra time would crush my hopes and plans of winning this race. Oh wait, I still do not have that speed. Maybe next year.

Decision time

Decision time

I am pretty good at adapting and plodding forward through epic craziness. As I watched my blood sugars go from 119 while on the bus to 222 and 298 (about 3 miles in). This hyper supersonic action of a rising blood sugar was not a result of eating anything. Nerves? Not sure, but another factor that I would overcome. 

Galiuro Mountains in the distance

Galiuro Mountains in the distance

The blood sugar would slowly crawl down to a good level and I gained some extra mojo now that I was almost 'normal'. The course was not in the normal category as it did start with a downhill trend, but would become a real up and down affair. I never did see the actual feet gained on this race but I did read a number of accounts from mountain bikers who had raced the length of the Arizona Trail (almost all of the Oracle Rumble is on the Arizona Trail) and I saw many who stated that this section is the most difficult one that they encountered.

Galiuro Mountains in the distance

Galiuro Mountains in the distance

I trooped forward, mile after mile and was creeping toward the aid station at about 27 miles. I had started to feel the cramps developing and knew from my previous ultra that I dearly wanted to avoid cramps. I had spent a considerable amount of time stretching and taking longer runs but my genes were living the wild life in the cramp department.

Oracle State Park

Oracle State Park

I sat down and fed my face, my cramps and my muscles at the aid station and made a decision to exit the 50 miler and settle for the 32 mile event. Actually, the decision had been made a number of miles ago and I knew it was the right choice and I was very glad that I had taken on the challenge and finished 32 miles. I knew that a lot would have to come together for a 50 and that 32 miles ain't bad. While I hover at an age where I shouldn't be doing what I am doing (and with type 1 diabetes) I have done 2 ultramarathons, a 24 hour team mountain bike race, crewed for the Race Across America (bicycle) and will be doing a bungee jump at the Grand Canyon in about 10 days, all within the last year and a half. Live life fully! 

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Grinding Up Mt. Hamel

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Grinding Up Mt. Hamel

Grinding

Up Mt. Hamel

This is Canada:

  • Really good people reside here. Jaime said it best, "Canadians aren't faking, they really ARE that nice"

  • Overuse of the term eh!

  • An obsession with hockey, curling and Tim Horton's. Tim Horton's website sadly informs me that I am 253.5 miles from the nearest Tim Horton's (Whitehorse, Yukon Territory)

  • Creation of some rather cruel races

  • Home to the Canadian Death Race

  • My feet on Canadian soil, I was headed off to one of my more unique adventures. The Canadian Death Race is set on a stunningly beautiful course. The wilderness of Canada, the lofty mountains, glassy blue lakes and a thick blanket of forest just screams, Adventure! The race is 125 kilometers and touches the sky while summiting three peaks. Using the conversion factor, a kilometer equals: extremely hilly, muddy and pain to follow. Using the complex conversion factor indicates that rain is a must. Eh!!!

I Challenge Diabetes - Team Shot

The route from the start line to our sleeping bags back at Tent City would scramble our two teams of 5 and two solo runners over hill and dale.  Hill would be the insufficient, lacking term, that really means mountains,  lofty peaks that this race makes no effort to avoid.  The 3 summits tagged in the death race equate to over 17,000 feet of elevation gain

Dale (Tuck) would be the race founder and C.E.O. of Canadian Institute of Extreme Racing.  With a title like that, and the creation of an event known as the Death Race, need I say more?

Starting the trek up Mt. Hamel

I was racing on the

"I Challenge Diabetes"

team.  This is an organization created by Chris Jarvis (a Canadian Olympic Rower with Type 1 diabetes)  for people with Type 1 diabetes.  We had 2 relay teams of 5 and 2 solo racers.  A truly amazing group of people.  Inspiration has a home.  We were here to inspire others with diabetes and to continue living the adventure that defines who we were.   We had cool race shirts and we had diabetes and we were soon to become death racers.... 

 I was on the 4th leg of the race and had much of the day to rivet into race mode.  I went over my vital, required gear list, my recommended gear list, and my necessary diabetes items. Prepared for most everything except a Moose attack, I was off to the transition zone.

A team that planks together....Igor!

Late afternoon, the first drops fell from the heavens.  Within a few minutes, Marco completed leg 3 with a hand off of the official timing chip and race coin.  That coin would be payment for Anne's shuttle across the Hell's Gate Canyon, at the confluence of the Smokey and Sulphur Rivers.  I am guessing that the ferryman is not in a very pleasant mode if you arrive without the required coin.

Game time and off I rambled. To work for a magical view means that you climb like hell.  I would have about 5,000 feet of gain within 6 miles, before I reached  the top of Mt. Hamel.  It was quite the grind but  well worth it.  There were even nice Canadians running, hiking and crawling along the route.  Suffering, but still nice.

One of my favorite quotes from the race came from Heather when she shared to the team one of our experiences.....that you all got to experience a real "Albertan summer" (rain, sun, wind, cold, sort of warm all within the same hour).  I lived the Albertan summer experience only to find that the experience would evolve into 5+ more hours of rain

Grand Cache from Mt. Hamel

I was running well as I headed down Hamel.  A heinous climb meant that there had better be a long, long downhill.  Unbelieveable sights as we wove our way down the rugged terrain.  Hamel Loop conquered, I zagged past the aid station and loaded up on H20 and began the last 6 miles to the end of this leg.  Inventory time:  H20 - check, food - check, working headlight - ok, not really, so I pulled out headlight #2 - check, trekking poles ------------------------trekking poles - uncheck.  Yea dude, the expensive trekking poles you borrowed.  Back up the hill to the aid station for poles and evidently to make up some wild dream that I needed more mileage on top of about 23 already. 

For lack of a way to verbalize that sound that a insulin pump makes when it is not happy and there are issues, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, you get the idea.  I had a dead pump and deader than dead continous glucose monitor system.  Error message on the pump informed me that it was now retired and  the latest victim of the 'death' race.  Thank goodness that I was within about 1 hour of finishing and that I was spending my weekend with a bunch of people with type 1 diabetes, and extra pumps. 

Time chip and race coin handed off to Anne, rain crashing down, mud pits beginning to swallow runners whole.  It was near midnight, I was cold, soggy wet, blood sugar was creeping upward  and I knew that this was one of the greatest experiences of my life. 

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