The Kusam Klimb Report
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and I have a good reason for that. I’ve been busy working on my next book, Life’s too Short to Drive a White Car!, which will be launched later this summer.
However, I have left myself some free time for fun and today completed another item on my “50 Things I’ve Never Done Before” list in celebration of 50 years on this big, crazy ball. Today I did the Kusam Klimb.
I am more than happy to sit on the couch this evening and type up a blog post after completing the gruesome 23 km Klimb. I’m moving slower than a 97 year-old grandmother with suction cups on her shoes. But don’t let the fact that it hurts me to put pants on at the moment deter you from thinking about doing the event next year!
It’s not as if I hadn’t trained. I’d been climbing stairs several times a week for the past 6 months as well as climbing Mt. Benson in Nanaimo once a week.
But I probably should have paid closer attention to the trail guide and topography outline on the website which outlines how steep the trail is. You can click here to see the trail profile. But I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because that might have ruined a few nights of perfectly good sleep worrying about it all. There are advantages to a bit of naivete.
Anyways, let me tell you about the event.
The starting point is the lovely village of Sayward, on the north end of Vancouver Island. I had stayed overnight in Campbell River and drove an hour to reach the Heritage Hall, where all the “fun” begins.
The start line had the typical laid-back, west coast vibe to it. Although the Klimb was scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., the organizers announced a delay due to a few folks still being in line for the bathrooms.
At approximately 7:06 a.m., with absolutely no fanfare other than the faint sound of a toilet flushing in the distance, the 10 second countdown began and we were off.
The first 2 kms of the race (and I use the term “race” loosely in my case…..) were on a relatively flat road before turning off onto the trailhead of Bill’s Trail. Although I’m not a runner (due to ACL and MCL surgery in my left knee, a deteriorated meniscus and arthritis) I shuffled along with the group, figuring it would be good feng shui for the rest of my day. I shocked myself by shuffling the entire 2 kms, a distance I’ve not run in years. I am not sure if there’s any correlation to the fact that I can hardly put my pants on at the moment.
Just before making the turn onto Bill’s Trail, there is a potentially fortuitous sign which reads:
This is your last chance to change your mind and head home I suppose. “I sure I’m tough enough!” I said and began to head up the mountain.
At the 4 km mark, things began to turn steep. I was thankful for the many stairs I’d climbed in recent months and for my past experience in endurance events. I knew enough to pace myself, eat early and eat often, “drink, drink, drink, pee, pee, pee” as one of my mountain biking friends used to say about hydration and to keep my heartrate aerobic. Which means that you can keep up a conversation. Or keep swearing. Whatever.
The fun part of the Klimb up was the ropes sections. There are some sections that are either so steep or so technical that ropes are installed to help you climb easily and safely. And so that you can feel a bit like Batman too. Nice superhero touch event organizers! Next year I’ll be sure to wear my cape.
The crowd begins to thin and I even pass a few folks.
“Do you mind if I pass on your left?” I asked.
“Go ahead, steam on by”, one fellow replied.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it steaming….”, I joked.
“There’s steam coming off you so I would!”
What can I say, you heat up on the ascent, even in a t-shirt and shorts. Eventually I hit snow on the way to the summit and things became a bit less “steamy”. As I hit the snowy approach to the top, I could feel my legs tiring. I slowed down my pace, knowing that I still had to make it back down the other side. With my knees, that would be the most difficult part of the day.
Three hours and fourteen minutes after leaving the start line, I finally reach the summit. There is no crowd, no sign, just a couple of volunteers letting you know that you’ve arrived. And the sense of satisfaction you feel that you’ve made it this far.
Now to get down from there. The descent is my least favourite part of any climb. It wouldn’t be if my meniscus were intact but it’s not which is why I brought my hiking poles with me, to reduce a bit of the impact.
The first part of the descent was easy. In keeping with the Batman theme, all I had to do was hang onto a rope and scream “Wheeeeeee” while sliding down a slippery slope of snow for about 500 m or so.
Around this time in the race, I was beginning to feel thankful for my new shoes and socks performing beautifully. You see, I did something that you’re never supposed to do. I purchased new shoes and socks just days before the big event. This was even my first time hiking in them!
But then I break a lot of rules in life so it was a risk I was willing to take. And thanks Universe, it paid off!
On the other hand, I had forgotten to plan for underarm chaffing which is what happens when sweat, swinging arms and clothing meet. Let’s just say that for the next few days I’ll be like that odd character on Seinfeld who never swung her arms when she walked.
With chaffed underarms and an unhappy knee but no blistered feet, I continued my descent through a dense forest trail. The trail gremlins must have known about my new shoes which is why there were so many mud puddles in this section.
Finally, a logging road! I began to shuffle again. A guy comes up behind me and we chat. “We must be close to Checkpoint 3″, he said, “that’s where they have the nanaimo bars.”
My pace picks up. My knee hates me. But I don’t care.
I reach Checkpoint 3 and yes, there are nanaimo bars. There is a God! I’m a bit hungry at this point. I’d only had a few date newtons thus far and a banana at the summit. I grab a nanaimo bar. I glance at the watermelon, then back at the nanaimo bars. I take another nanaimo bar and wash it down with some Gatorade.
For the next 45 minutes, my stomach was rather displeased with me. Note to self: stick to one nanaimo bar next year. Second note to self: By next year, I mean at next year’s Kusam Klimb event not for the whole year.
Speaking of next year, yes, I am going to have to do this event again. Apparently Mt. Kusam offers some of the most stunning views on Vancouver Island but not when there’s fog. Thanks a lot fog! So I’ll be back next year hoping to enjoy more of the scenery on the Klimb.
Somewhere after Checkpoint 3 a sign appeared, “7.2 km to Heritage Hall”. Around this time in the race I apparently lost the ability to perform simple math. So I’ve done 18 kms? No, wait, 17 kms. Oh eff, I don’t know. I’ve got 7.2 kms to go. Add non-functioning brain to the chaffed underarms and angry knee at this point.
I am tired. I am walking now, still using my poles to help my knee. I take a quick glance at my watch. It’s sometime after noon and I figure that at my pace I can finish before 2 p.m.
The Kusam Klimb website says that the average person finishes the Klimb in 7 – 9 hours. If I completed it in under 7 hours, that would make me somewhat above average!
Inspiration begins to run through my nanaimo bar-filled veins.
The really above average people finish the race in crazy times. The guy who won last year completed the race in 2 hours and 23 minutes! That’s less time than it took me to reach the summit! I figure he is some sort of cross between a gazelle and a mountain goat.
I pass Checkpoint 4, about 5 kms to go. At one point, the trail crosses a small river where a ladder on the other side takes you up the steep riverbank. I try to lift my leg up to the first rung. It doesn’t want to go. It was spent. I had to hoist it onto the rung with my hands. Foreshadowing for aforementioned pant-putting-on difficulties to come.
Finally, I reach Ryan’s Road, the home stretch! It’s just after 1:30 p.m. and somehow I’m wondering where all the time went.
I slowly approach the finish line, a few kind folks are sitting on their lawns, shaking noisemakers. “Good job!”, “Way to go!” I am quick to thank them for their encouragement. “We’ll be here for another 4 or 5 hours!”, they said. I love Sayward.
I turn at the orange pylons guiding me to the finish line. I hear the announcer. “Run! There’s someone right behind you!”
Somehow I muster the energy to run myself across the finish line for a time of 6 hours, 42 minutes and some seconds.
I did it. I was tough enough. I was also tough enough to say “No, thank you” to the volunteer who offered me another nanaimo bar at the finish line.
You can find more photos of the event on my Facebook page.