Iceland 2014 – Part 1

Iceland. It’s not the typical summer vacation destination, but it’s definitely one of the best in my opinion. It’s an expedition to another planet and a massive playground for those who enjoy outdoor activities. When you leave this country to return home, it’s as if you’ve awoken from a dream. Leaving Iceland behind is the hardest part.

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As always, with a limited amount of time (8 days), I wanted to see and do it all. The best way to explore this country is by driving along the ring road; the main road that circles the entire country. My only complaint is that this ring road eventually brings you back to where you began, which means that the trip is over. Iceland is almost as large as Pennsylvania with around 300,000 inhabitants (Forest Hills, Queens and Flushing, Queens combined already has that many residents). And yes, I managed to squeeze in some workouts and running sessions.

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Iceland is around 5 hours from New York so there’s no excuse for not stopping by. My wife and I embarked on our 4-year anniversary trip to the land of the midnight sun. Yes, the sun never really sets during the summer. Looking up at the moon and stars in the night sky is something that won’t be happening this week. And forget about the Northern Lights this time. The weather was perfect (for me); 50F-55F during the day. It definitely felt warmer than I expected, people can actually get a sun burn. Although the Icelandic language uses the English alphabet, you soon realize that it’s futile to pronounce anything. Give this a shot: Eyjafjallajokull.

The journey begins in the largest city in Iceland; Reykjavik (Smokey Bay).

 

Day 0: Reykjavik
From our hotel in Reykjavik, we went to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church to get the Googlemaps view of the city. Reminds me of the model town in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.

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We then explored the city a bit. We checked out some shops, the Sun Voyager, and the Harpa building. Everybody eats ice cream cones like it’s a hot summer day here.

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After a long walk around the Old Harbour, we went on a brief boat tour which sailed to Lundey; a small puffin island. Then we ate some catfish and lamb before heading back to the hotel to sleep off the jet lag.

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Day 1: West Iceland
Before leaving Reykjavik with a group of 20 others and starting the ring road in the clockwise direction, we stopped by the Pearl building. The top floor is a fancy rotating restaurant.

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After driving through valleys and fjords, we stopped by Hraunfossar lava falls and Barnafoss (children falls). Hraunfossar flowed from a volcanic eruption under the Langjokull glacier nearby. By the way, some Icelandic: Foss means waterfall, Jokull means glacier, Nes means peninsula, Hraun means lava, and Fjord means fjord. After sampling a Hraun chocolate bar, I was immediately hooked (jumbo Kit Kat with lava rock chocolate design).

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The next stop was the Deildartunguhver hot springs; the most powerful hot spring in the world. The sulfur smell had me avoiding hard-boiled eggs for days.

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Then we summited Grabrok volcano crater (510 ft) and walked around the rim for some epic views of the mossy lava field landscape.

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Even when you finally arrive at your hotel after a long day, you can’t help but go back outside for a stroll. The Borganes area felt like “the hills are alive, with the sound of music”.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Getting Vertical

There is usually a low point in the journey to greatness. This is when you are presented with a choice. Is the prize worth the effort? If it isn’t, then go on another journey. If it is worth it, then there is another question to ask. Did I make a wrong turn somewhere, or, is there another way to escape from this low point? Here is a short story.

Mt. Rainier Training Session 2:
Total elevation gain: ~3,000 ft
Total backpack weight: 35 pounds 
Total hike time: 4 hours

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I decided to revisit the Hudson Highlands and increased the difficulty a bit. I figured it would be easier to just summit Mt. Taurus (~1,400 ft) twice. Unlike previous hikes, it became hot really fast, from 65F to 80F. And the insects! Did you know how much I hate flying bugs? The way they buzz in your ear and attempt to enter any hole in your face for no reason. They also have a tendency to bite or sting whenever they feel like it. The woods is a scary place for me during the warmer months. Spider webs everywhere, gnat swarms, bees hovering around me, and mosquitoes chasing me during my entire hike in the woods. Occasionally, a camouflaged frog would jump out of nowhere and scare the crap out of me. Also, there were hoards of these grasshopper creatures that would jump as I passed by. A few of them actually crashed into my body and face; this just got me crazy. As in a sparring match, I kept my hands up to keep my face protected (good thing there was nobody around to witness how stupid I must’ve looked). The insect repellent was useless. A gallon of water was not enough to quench my thirst in this heat. The only thought on my mind was: Never Again!

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What madness drove me to enter this Temple of Doom insect chamber and confront the things of my nightmares for 4 hours in the heat? To summit Mt. Rainier of course. How can I continue my training throughout June and July if I couldn’t handle the conditions of late May? Am I done? Is this it?

I’m at the low point. So I ask myself: “Is the prize worth it?” I’ve gotten this far and can’t stop now. So I then ask myself: “Is there another way?” After much deep contemplation, I’ve decided to stop the outdoor training. And then it hit me. I live in NYC; the land of the skyscraper mountains. I could simply walk-up a bug-free staircase and I take the elevator down to focus 100% on the vertical ascent.

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All I had to do now was to find a tall building in which the management would allow a non-suspicious looking dude with a 40 pound backpack to have staircase access. After being turned down by a few large hotels, I began to ask around. Then finally, I asked the right person at work who happens to live in a building with 24 floors. The staircase access was granted after explaining my quest. Here is my new mountain:

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Look at this 24 floor mountain. It’s more like 23 floors since the thirteenth floor is always missing for some reason. If you assume that each floor is 10 feet high, then it’s easy to calculate how many floors you need to walk up. Let’s do this.

Mt. Rainier Training Session 3:
Total elevation gain: 312 flights ~3,000 ft
Total backpack weight: ~35 pounds 
Total hike time: 2 hours

Success. 312 flights! 2.6 flights per minute pace (including breaks and elevator time).

Mt. Rainier Training Session 4:
Total elevation gain: 408 flights ~4,000 ft
Total backpack weight: ~35 pounds 
Total hike time: 2.5 hours

Yes! 2.72 flights per minute pace (including breaks and elevator time). I’m already feeling confident enough for the Day 1 Rainier challenge. The requirement is to ascend 4,500 ft in 4-5 hours. Feeling unstoppable, I decided to take it a step further and give myself a stress test. Why not run a 5 mile race and then run home from Central Park for an additional 9 miles the following day?

OFF TO THE RACES:
Portugal Day 5 miler @ Central Park, NYC
June 15th, 2014. 8:00AM and 63 degrees. 5,027 finishers.
Results: 7:55 pace, 1486th place, ~70% percentile, (C-)

A counter clockwise loop of Central Park minus Harlem hill. To be honest, I didn’t feel like racing to begin with. Somehow I ended up running a sub-8 race anyway. The 9 extra miles were hot and sweaty but not too difficult, as if I could’ve kept going somehow. From Central Park to the Queensboro bridge then homeward bound via Queens blvd.

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I actually enjoy the noisy journey home and save a whopping $2.50 subway fare. Actually, I don’t save anything because I have to buy water and Gatorade from the bodega instead.

Random Thoughts

I just started watching Hannibal; a combination of Monk and Dexter. I recommend this one after watching the first season last week. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on vacation. I find it funny that it now has become necessary to figure out how to make time for workouts while vacation planning. Setting up running routes requires some serious Googlemapping. But I don’t think I’ll get lost on the Ring Road…

Color running and Corporate Challenges

Two new running experiences to add to the list:

OFF TO THE RACES:
Color Run@ Citi Field, Queens, NYC
May 31st, 2014. 9:00AM
Results: Un-timed Race

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This was a 5K on my list for a while now but never came around to it until now. Why now? The Color Run finally hit Queens, about a 5K away from where I live. If you know me by now, then you already know what had to be done. Yep, wrap a long weekend run around this event. A 5K to get there, the 5K Color Run, and the 5K home. I made sure to wear clothes that would be destroyed along with $5 shades for eye protection. Lots of free things at Expo such as a headband, shirt, bracelet, and socks, but not my style.

Firstly, FloFoto was on the course taking pics and the above photo was only $5 (MarathonFoto could learn something with the $25 photos). The crowd was much larger than I thought, and younger on average. For the first time, I was feeling kinda old (I’m above 30). Not many people actually ran this thing, many just walked it. Put it this way, when my wave launched, I was in the lead for 2-3 minutes, feeling like a Kenyan. And the course, ha, a snake course inside and outside Citi Field’s parking lot, ehhh.

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Perhaps at around each kilometer or so, you have to pass through color zones where you get powdered in a certain color. Pink, Blue, Orange, Purple. No red? I was looking forward to red on my face, aw. This would be the first finish line that didn’t have a clock. The slogan is “Happiest 5K on the Planet”. This was a “fun run” after all. Also, it was the first time where I saw someone pull out a cigarette and smoke it right at the finish line.

The finish line party is the main event of the Color Run. It’s like a mini-concert with a lot of free stuff being tossed into the crowd. Once the crowd is large enough, the countdown begins and everyone throws their color packets in the air. I was wise to hold my breath for the whole half-minute. I recall opening my eyes for a split second only to see grey everywhere.

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I would’ve partied with the younger crowd but this 30+ year-old needed some breakfast. Besides, the mainstream music these days isn’t my style and I still have one more 5K to run. The journey back home was quite amusing. Little did I know that the powder mixed with sweat made me look freaky and received some strange looks, hehe. Somehow, I ended up green-ish, a color that wasn’t used at all.

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OFF TO THE RACES:
JP Morgan Corporate Challenge @ Central Park, NYC
June 4th (and 5th), 2014. 7:00PM and 75 degrees. 28,000+ finishers.
Results: 8:10 pace, 4993rd place, ~82% percentile, (B-)

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A 5K (3.3 miles actually) after work, this sounded like a good idea. This is a race where you don’t sign up as an individual but instead, sign up as a group with your company. Me and some colleagues entered Central Park with 10 minutes left, which was a really bad choice. Chaos! Thousands of walkers and runners were all mixed together without a proper corral assignment system. First come first served, late comers like myself were “punished” for not getting there sooner. We were stuck on the line to the start line, for about 30 minutes. After waiting for 10 minutes, I already regretted signing up and just wanted to go home. It just became hotter every minute while being herded with the crowd while sharing the air with everyone.

At the start line, you have to quickly become a master swerver if you wanted to race it. I may have even jumped over a few people. This is a race but there are too many people walking everywhere! To avoid crashing, you had to get off the road and run in the dirt and grass. My expected 7:30 pace ended up as an 8:10 pace, boo. It was just a big mess, a first and a last for me.

Random Thoughts

Less than 2 months left until my Mt. Rainier trip. Last week, 6 (2 guides and 4 clients) climbers died on the mountain via the Liberty Ridge route; a technical route for experts. There hasn’t been a disaster like this since 1981. Also, the guides are with AAI; the same company I signed up with. Although I’ve never met these adventurers, I was still shocked and upset at this news. If this never happened, then just maybe, those guides would perhaps be taking me up Rainier. As amazing and beautiful as Rainier is, it can be a monster.

After doing some research to find some relief, I learned that the Liberty Ridge route and the Muir route (for beginners like me) are on opposite sides of the mountain and there hasn’t been any fatalities on the Muir route with AAI. Also, safety is the top priority. Summit day could be cancelled due to risky weather conditions. I’d rather live to reach the peak another day. Although it may seem scary, I’m actually content and look forward to the summit attempt.