woensdag 20 juni 2018

maandag 21 mei 2018

Hiking Advisor - Fastpacking Eisleck Trail

Het stond al even op mijn agenda, een activiteit mee organiseren voor Hiking Advisor. Tijdens het vorige vrijwilligersweekend had ik met Ivo afgesproken om samen een "fastpacking" weekend te in te richten door gedurende drie dagen met lichte bepakking stevige afstanden afleggen langs de erg mooie Eisleck Trail. We zouden uiteindelijk met zeven zijn. Ivo en ikzelf als organisatoren, Tom die al ervaring heeft in ultra-light backpacken en ultra-lopen, Hans die van zichzelf een erg goede conditie lijkt te hebben en al eens zin heeft in een stevige tocht, Karin die zich aan haar eerste meerdaagse tocht waagt (rustig beginnen? nee joh!), Yvan de iron-man die, eens op dreef, niet meer te stoppen is, en Jean-Pierre, die volgend jaar Legends zal finishen.

Vrijdagavond ga ik Tom en Yvan ophalen om samen naar Angleur te rijden en daar de trein naar Kautenbach te nemen. Het verkeer verloopt zo goed als het kan aan de start van een verlengd weekend, en om 22u 's avonds komen we aan in Kautenbach, waar Jean-Pierre al wat eerder gearriveerd was. Zoals steeds gaat de bar "net sluiten", maar kunnen we nog wel een biertje krijgen op deze sympathieke camping. We praten het komende weekend kort door en delen eerdere ervaringen vooraleer we elk onze minimalistische shelter opzoeken. Jean-Pierre in een bivvy, Tom in een Nordisk Lofoten, Yvan in een hangmat / bivvy. Zelf heb ik een poncho bij, die ik als tarp kan opzetten bij eventuele regen. We gaan mooi op tijd slapen om de volgende ochtend Karin, Hans en Ivo op te halen aan het station en vandaar samen de Eisleck trail te starten. De totale afstand is 104km met 4200 hoogtemeters, waarvoor we drie dagen hebben. Een mooie uitdaging dus!

We splitsen de groep op in wandelaars en lopers, waarbij Karin en Ivo de ganse tocht al wandelend op een stevig tempo zullen voltooien, terwijl de rest af en toe een eindje loopt tussen het wandelen door.  De eerste dag lopen we van Kautenbach tot net voorbij Clervaux, waar we op camping Woltsdal in Maulusmühle overnachten. Er zijn douches, streekbier en frietjes, dus we klagen vooral niet. We slapen net langs het riviertje, wat natuurlijk erg nat is. Diegenen die een open shelter hebben worden getrakteerd op een mooie sterrenhemel. 's Ochtends ligt er een laagje ijs op mijn slaapzak, best fris dus!









De tweede dag lopen we over de waterkering tussen Rijn- en Maasbekken en passeren we de gestarte werken van het Ourthekanaal. Na 47km, behoorlijk wat gepuf en een stevige maar verkwikkende regenbui, bereiken we Engreux, waar we overnachten op de bivakzone. Jammer genoeg is deze erg druk bezet en zijn de wandelaars er in de minderheid. 's Nachts krijgen we nog enkele buien te verwerken, de ene al steviger dan de andere, wat een prima bijkomende test is voor lichtgewicht materiaal.










Na de laatste nachtelijke bui beginnen we de derde dag 's ochtends vroeg om onderweg te genieten van een mooie zonsopgang. Na een aarzelend begin met de nodige praktische haltes, komt het tempo er opnieuw goed in, waardoor we ruim op tijd aankomen in La Roche. Yvan en Jean-Pierre hebben dringend verkoeling nodig, en springen bij aankomst dan maar in de fontein. Na een frietje nemen we de bus naar Melreux om daar over te stappen op de trein naar Angleur, waardoor we mooi op tijd terug thuis zijn.

Weekends als deze zijn altijd te kort, maar evenzeer de moeite waard. Bedankt aan de deelnemers om erbij te zijn, en natuurlijk Ivo om het merendeel van de organisatie voor zijn rekening te nemen. Hopelijk tot binnenkort!

















dinsdag 15 mei 2018

UTS 2018

Last year, after not being able to do Grand Trail des Lacs et Chateaux, I got a message from Matthijs, asking me if V3K in Snowdonia wasn't something I wanted to do. It didn't take long to think about it, and next thing I knew we were making our way over Crib Goch. It was such an fun adventure, it took me only a minute to respond to Michael Jones' Facebook post in November, introducing Ultra Trail Snowdonia, a "Beautiful beyond belief, savage beyond reason" ultra of 100 miles and +10.000m elevation (according to Garmin, it was a bit longer, 181k and 11.130m elevation). The cut-off was 48 hours, which sounds perfectly doable, but this is Snowdonia, where the terrain is always rough going. To top it all off, Michael added a few "fun" technical sections, preferably passing during the night, just to make sure you get to spend as much time out there as you can manage. After Legends Trail, this was definitely going to be my major challenge this year.

After the kit check, we started on a rainy Friday evening at 5pm to climb Snowdon a first time. Although the next three sections didn't have too much elevation, it became quite clear this was going to be a true meat-grinder type of race, without any parts where you can just zone out and let your legs do the work. After the rain and just before sunset, the clouds parted and we were going into a pretty cold night. The guys at the checkpoint at Carnedd Llewelyn must have been frozen solid, but were still so kind to share a bit of their coffee. The other summits of the Carneddau had a thin layer of ice on them, which made for interesting going, so no fast progress there either. But while descending Pen yr Ole Wen, I was treated with a most spectacular sunrise on Tryfan and the Glyders. After a good breakfast at Gwern Gof Isaf, the rest of the first loop went very good, passing the beautiful located CP7 and arriving back in Llanberis after 20 hours and almost three hours before the cut-off, which was as much as I could hope for. From there on, Bobby and me stayed pretty close to each other and had a chat from time to time. Somewhere during the day I also got a text from my girlfriend, cheering me on as I was in 17th position. Somewhat later, I received a second message, telling me there were only 17 runners left, so I was in last position (but still in the race)! From the next checkpoint, our final group was formed, and it seemed a good idea to stay with Bobby and Pip, especially going into the second night. After going up Snowdon again with a beautiful sunset, the descend to Rhyd-Ddu seemed to take ages. Good thing Bobby already knew parts of this route, as I was starting to see some things that weren't there, like faces in the stones and a cassette tape. I also started mixing English and Dutch, so wasn't making too much sense anymore (but in my mind everything was still ok!). I don't think Pip or Bobby were in a much better condition, because we could agree very quickly 30 minutes sleep at Rhyd-Ddu was a good idea before heading up the next mountains, which contained a technical section along Nantlle Ridge. After having the crew at the checkpoint taking care of us and getting a much too short nap, we were out again with only 6 hours to spare to get to the next checkpoint, which was close as it took the leading group 4 hours. But we managed to get to Beddgelert in a little over 5 hours. Looking back, I don't think I would have made it either by myself or without that 30 minutes of sleep. I think I helped by pacing the group on the uphills, Bobby saved us a lot of time when navigation wasn't clear, and Pip always seemed to find the quickest way of the hill again, so we made a good team. Although the way-marking was most impressive, a clear head is still needed to find the correct way, which wasn't always easy during the second night with time ticking away. After Beddgelert, we made our way up Cnight, which I have wanted to do for years, then down again to Nant Gwynant, a long climb and a scrambly section on Y Lliwedd, down again to the miner's track, and a very last climb up to a crowded Snowdon before making our way down to Llanberis. We finished after 47 hours, with less than an hour before the cut-off, to a quite intense welcoming.

I think for me, what makes a good race, is getting into a position where you think there's no way on earth you are going to finish, and the organisation, volunteers, other participants, people at home, and yourself, make you do the impossible and carry on and finishing anyway. And that's exactly what UTS delivered. I have doubted more than once whether I could finish, but there was always somebody giving me a little nudge in the right direction, getting out of the door and up that hill. As Bobby said, the terrain in Snowdonia is also very rewarding, after each climb there was a beautiful view, which made you want to continue.

In short, if you are looking for an adventure, a once in a lifetime experience, UTS might just be the answer. The RD, volunteers, route etc. are all highly recommended!

Thanks again to everyone involved, this is one event I will remember and I very much hope to see you again next year.

http://apexrunning.co/

Rainy climb to Snowdon

With Wiebe on one of many boggy sections


Sunrise on Tryfan and the Glyders

Glyder Fawr

One of the many many stiles

Sun setting again on Snowdon

Pip on Cnight
Almost there!

Final climb: done


maandag 14 mei 2018

Brecon Beacons 2018

Ah, the Brecon Beacons, how I love those hills! Ever since my sister moved over to Wales, 15-ish years ago, I have visited her every year, combining family visit with hiking and trekking. I guess for me it is where I discovered the outdoors, the wildcamping, enjoying being out there, in "good" weather, driving rain or strong wind. And because of going to the Beacons almost once a year, the place is littered with memories by now, all of them good ones.

The plan was to go camping for three days together with Oskar, our recently adopted furry friend, but a misunderstanding with the vet and the ever watchful border control ruined that party.
I arrived pretty late Saturday evening at the Llyn y Fan Fach car park, but right on time to see a beautiful sunset. Welcoming indeed! I didn't have much of a plan, except to try and take it really easy, with UTS coming up next weekend. So I took it very slow and enjoyed the summer weather as much as I could, followed the Beacons Way along Fan Hir to Fan Fraith, after which a more direct route took me back to Llyn y Fan Fawr, where the water was too inviting not to take a swim. After another night on top of Fan Foel, a short but gorgeous walk was completed.

So why do I like the Brecon Beacons so much? They are not as spectacular as Snowdonia further north in Wales. The highest summit, Pen y Fan, is only 886m high, and not that steep either. But there is a sense of timelessness which can easily be felt here, where Pen y Fan and Corn Du keep watch over the other mountains and have seen glaciers come and go. In a world that often moves to fast and seems to be screaming for attention most of the time, it is a great place to visit.

After the walk, I drove to my sister's place, and passed Maen Llia, the standing stone between Fan Nedd and Fan Dringarth. The information sign says the purpose of erecting this stone is not clear, it could have been a place of worship or a boundary, but I like to imagine it is a connection to the past and future and a place to stand still, if even only for a short moment.

After these three days, I stayed at my sister's and family, and went for a day hike at the waterfalls near Ystradfellte. If you're looking for variation, there's plenty to be found here!



 















zaterdag 7 april 2018

Istria 100 - DNF

So, Istria... I quit at the second checkpoint after merely 25k, leaving 143k unfinished. For those of you interested, my reasons for DNF'ing are below. In short, I wasn't feeling the race at all, and looking at how the event was organised, this wouldn't get any better further in the race. I also had a small injury and a more important race coming up. And frankly, I was in a holiday mood. I might actually return from a holiday well rested for a change!

1/ The race
Of course, looking back, I should have known. This just isn't my kind of race. What I love about long distances, is the feeling the rest of the world ceases to exist and you descend into your existence deeper and deeper. Call it what you will, but for me ultra-running is meditation. This doesn't work in races that are too crowded, in which you hear the next runner's breath over your own footsteps, and need to be constantly adapting to other people's pace. There were about 400 starters at the 100 miler, but after around 40k, the 100k-runners would be joining as well. And then there were two more distances that would join in. In short, there was no way I was going to be able to go to that special place you only find in ultra. Places you get to in races like Legends.
But yes, I should have known! Sayings like "gezellige drukte" or "hoe meer zielen, hoe meer vreugd" don't make any sense to me. I guess it's a big risk on making plans way ahead while you're still discovering the sport and your place in it. For example, last year I ran the Eiger 101, which follows a beautiful course, but is way too crowded as well. My big lesson is that I need to be careful I don't choose the popular races. Rookie mistake!
Obviously, going to Croatia with Charlotte to run together with Olivier, Chloe, Ingo, Karmen and Alexandre remains a good idea.

2/ The feet
After Legends, my feet were a bit swollen. No big deal, except that two weeks later, at Crêtes de Spa, I felt the second joint of my right big toe and the outside bone of my left foot were very sensitive. I tried to give it some rest, but a few days before Istria, while we were visiting Bergamo, I tried running on my normal trail-running shoes. No way on earth I was going to run in these! I actually resigned to the fact I wasn't going to start in Istria, and didn't feel too bad about it, which probably didn't help in the end either. 100 miles is still a long long way to go, and you need to be focused.
When I tried running on my barefoot shoes, things felt a lot better, so I figured it might have had more to do with the shoes than the feet. So maybe I should try another brand of shoes? After some googling, I found a shoe shop in Milan (yes, I actually drove to Milan to go shoe shopping, never thought I would) where I could pick up a pair of Altras. The owner of the store apparently is the organizer of Transcendence, so I headed out the store as quickly as I could before I could sign up on any of their crazy ideas. Running on the Altras was less painful than on my TNF's, but I'm sure I would have done some damage if I continued in Istria, which would have jeopardised next month's Ultra Trail Snowdonia.

3/ The holiday
After visiting friends in Cologne, my girlfriend, our dog and I drove to Bergamo for a short holiday. Although the weather was "awful" according to local standards, I really enjoyed my coffee in the morning sunshine, going for a run in the mountains with the dog, and spending time with Charlotte. Lago di Como may be overrated, but it was a good mini-holiday. So much so that I decided I would prefer continuing this holiday instead of begin grumpy in a race which is too crowded with painful feet. Strange thoughts indeed!
Oskar at Lago di Como

First hill-run

Post-run nap

4/ DNF
I'm actually happy I quit. This just wasn't my race, and I know better what to look for now. I'm also strangely relieved on having had my first DNF, which I dreaded for some time. DNF'ing is only a matter of time if you continue this sport, and I might best get it over with when everything is pointing in that direction (which doesn't mean I'm convinced I will finish all other races of course).

In every race there are moments where you ask yourself, "why the hell am I doing this?! When I get home, I'm signing up in the local chess club!", but usually you find answers in the moonshine, the sun coming up, a mountain view, a rainshower, or just in yourself. Not this time.

And wasn't it simply too close after Legends? I honestly don't think so, but that's just my personal feeling of course.