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Epic Runs With Gavin
By:  Edward McCarthy   (2009/06/17)

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For some reason, I seem to have been hanging out with fellow XC Ottawa alumnus and Ontario-ex-pat-turned-Westerner Gavin Hamilton (the man, the myth, the legend) a lot recently. Admittedly, a lot of this hanging out involves skiing; I can't seem to get away from racing him at the Western NorAms, and we did go to World University Games in China together. Outside of this, however, there seems to be a disturbing trend; any time we get together without snow, we run. When Gavin and I drove out West together in summer 2007, we planned our itinerary around trail runs in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in Saskatchewan (and Alberta). When he came visiting Vancouver in September, I took him and a friend for a long run on the North Shore's stunning Howe Sound Crest Trail (including the irresistibly named Unneccessary Mountain). The next day he proceeded to embarrass me in the annual Grouse Grind Mountain Run race. (Side note: no matter what anyone tells you, never, ever, ever do the Grouse Grind; it is the dumbest, least rewarding thing I have ever done, and I do a lot of dumb things. Also, never invite Gavin to a race with prize money; he'll take it).

All of these runs, however, pale in comparison to the epic awesomeness of the two most recent runs Gavin and I have done. To wit: a section of the Great Wall of China on March 3, and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on June 7.


Carl, Gavin, and myself mid-run

Gavin, myself, and our teammate Carl Steudler had made plans to spend a few days in Beijing doing the touristy thing after the Games in Harbin were over. After all, when are we going to get to China again? At some point before the trip, naturally, Gavin made the suggestion that it might be "sweet" to do a "3-hour run on the Great Wall." This became the single most important mission of our four full days in Beijing. (Another side note: I highly recommend Beijing, and giving it more than four days.) Being who we are, we decided to run on one of the less accessible, and therefore quieter, sections of wall, which had the added benefit of allowing an end-to-end run: from Jinshanling to Simatai.


Gavin carefully studies the history of Simatai

We may have underestimated the difficulty of getting there. After consultation with our guidebooks, people at our awesome hostel, and occasional random Beijingers, we figured out our transportation. This involved: getting up early and catching an early subway to a commuter bus; purchasing unidentifiable, plastic-wrapped, and mass-produced baked goods for breakfast; being accosted by a woman clearly looking out for Great-Wall-bound foreigners; figuring out which bus to get on and how much and how to pay; having me stay vaguely awake and somewhat alert to which stop to get off at (not so easy with one's command of Mandarin limited to "hello", "goodbye", "thank you", "steamed rice", "that's too expensive", "Canada", and "beer" - the essentials); getting accosted by a waiting driver clearly in cahoots with the woman at the stop; negotiating route, price, and pick-up time entirely non-verbally, probably getting ripped off; and hanging on for dear life as he passed cars that were already two abreast in a single lane.


The Wall drops down to the river valley at Simatai

The Great Wall, it turns out, is pretty great. Breathtaking is not too strong a word, and it goes on, and on, and on. Even though it was a dull, foggy, day - it even snowed on us for a bit - the scale of the thing is stunning. In addition, perhaps because of the section, perhaps the day, perhaps the season, it was quiet, and we were often alone. There were the obligatory people selling things all over the place: coke, water, beer, tourist maps, calendars, all available at any point on the wall, even far from any discernable easy access. The run itself was pretty extreme, as far as terrain goes; the Wall is steep ups and steep downs, in various states of repair and disrepair, and even overgrown in sections. Frankly, given the terrain the thing's built over, I'm not even sure why they bothered; I'd figure that if Genghis was going to attack over that land, he probably wasn't the type to give up easily. We made our run the solid, planned 3 hours, and every minute absolutely worthwhile. This run will be difficult, if not impossible, to top.


"Perhaps it's time to go back in the other direction..."


It is just as steep as it looks


And it goes on, and on, and on...


Representing!!!


A solid climb up from the river valley

As for the second run, Gavin got in touch with me before coming to a conference in Vancouver, asking if there would be anything fun to do if he stayed another day. Fortunately, a friend had just told me that the Juan de Fuca trail made a great one-day run, and, though on Vancouver Island, could be done by catching the first ferry to Victoria and the last ferry back. Often considered the undiscovered sister of the famous West Coast Trail, the JdF is a quiet 47 km gem on the South-West corner of the Island, from China Beach to Port Renfrew (one end of the WCT), along its namesake, the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Despite the fact that the trail, winding its way along the coast, is never more than about 100 feet above the water, and rarely more than 200 metres from the ocean, it has about 4500 feet of elevation gain and loss, as it goes up and over the bluffs that make up the topography of the Pacific Rim coastline. Significant portions of it are on the beach and it is affected by tides, becoming in some places impassable, or at least wet and salty, at high tides. Notwithstanding the virtual drought we've had here in the last few weeks, there was mud in places shin-deep. Tom, nursing a massive set of matching blisters on his arches, was kind enough to provide us a shuttle and go for what sounded like a pretty nice road bike himself. Gavin and I made the 47 km in 6.5 hours, though the blinders were pretty much on once we could smell the barn door in the last 10 km, if I may mix my equine metaphors. It was an amazing run, with some spectacular scenery and varied technical terrain, and this time there was no one selling anything. Go try it! But don't tell anyone, we wouldn't want it to get popular...


Tom and Gavin, prepped for a long-distance day


"I think the trail goes this way?"


"If we just go that way, maybe we can get back to China?"


As you can see, it's always cloudy and rainy on the coast


"Or we could wait for the tide to go out a bit?"


One of many suspension bridges


Gavin emerges like Aphrodite from the waves after a post-run dip


We are hoping these hairstyles catch on
 
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