This post is highlighted by Your Daily Word Prompt – a random word on a random website designed to spark creativity! Today’s word is grouse! I’m doing a look back on the climb of my life back in September 2021.
I love playing tourist – especially in my backyard. Even here at home, I love going out to various pieces of Bay Area Americana like the ride to the top of Mount Diablo, the Winchester House, and walking across the Golden gate Bridge. Likewise, it’s fun to do the same sorts of activities north of the border in Vancouver, BC. There’s one local favorite that just keeps getting away from us.
Randy has talked about the Grouse Grind for a few years now. He laughs as he calls it Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. Usually, we get foiled by Vancouver’s wet weather, however, this trip we had plenty of sunshine to make sure. The Grind as it’s commonly known is just under 3 km (1.8 miles for those of us in the States) and a strenuous climb of 1127 m (3700 feet). The pandemic wasn’t necessarily kind to my overall level of fitness. To say that I was nervous about this one – was an understatement.
The Grind’s website looked like an invitation to a downtown Vancouver gym with fitness models out in nature highlighting the athletic prowess the mountain requires. It had been years since I’ve been on a Stairmaster in my regular loop of 4 miles in 900 feet seemed underwhelming compared to this physical challenge.
Randy laughed and frequently mentioned “you’ll be fine” which somewhat helped, however, had this overwhelming feeling that somehow I wasn’t going to make it to the top. The good news was I only had to go one way! Once I got to the top, all hikers had to take the tram back down to the start. My knees were spared the same distance going downhill! Thank you!.
The hike at the beginning definitely got my legs more than warmed up. The hike is almost exclusively through the deep forest. The richness of the forest in the Pacific Northwest cannot be underestimated. The warm sun and the cool breeze really did make for excellent hiking conditions that day.
About 30 minutes in, I was feeling good. My San Francisco East Bay hiking groove was in full swing winding up the mountain. The maintainers of the trail divided the climb into 40 sections. Hikers could easily tell where they were in the Grind by watching the markers. I fell into the groove of the Grind counting the trailblazes up the mountain as they went by: 2 of 40, 5 of 40, 7 of 40. About 1/4 of the way in, my legs could start feeling the burn. I was beginning to work!
Randy mentioned “the sign.” It’s designed to ward off more casual hikers but I do have to say it was nerve-racking for this hiker. I was really starting to sweat and could feel the park service’s laughter against my efforts really starting to second-guess myself. I was looking around for the different hikers around me to see who is continuing – and it was all of us. Onward and upward we went.
There is nothing on either sign that was incorrect. The journey from 10 of 40 to 20 of 40 became steadily more difficult. I had hikers of all ages, of all fitness types, of all personas on the trail. Some hikers would get ahead of me and then would slow down as I passed them later up on the hill. Likewise, as I took needed rest, hikers behind me would then jockey ahead. The constant passing and being passed generated camaraderie around me. We knew we were all being punished by the mountain. Smiles and atta boys were plentiful all the way up the hill.
Right before the halfway mark, my blood sugar hit a hard low. I knew I was working hard and the glucose meter confirmed it. I’d been steadily dropping since I started the hike and with blood sugar below 4 mmol (72 mg/dl) and dropping steadily with the mountain climbing steadily ahead of me – I needed to reload my carbohydrates and more aggressively stop the flow of unneeded insulin. That’s the big challenge with diabetes – everything endocrine-related to glucose inside of you is a manual transmission job. Even the awesome inter-workings of Loop couldn’t keep up with the mountain.
Shortly thereafter, the trail rewarded us with the halfway mark. Everyone around me let out a sigh of relief that we had achieved, collectively, a major milestone on the hike. What we didn’t know is that things would continue to get more difficult, the higher we climbed.
The trail got narrower, steeper, and less maintained the higher we went. By the time we got to 30 of 40, the trail was pretty narrow with several bridges, crossings, uneven terrain challenging even the most adept hikers. At this point, I passed younger hikers who I thought were fitter than me. I also got regularly passed by those who clearly have local knowledge on how to Grind right.
After climbing almost 3/4 of a vertical mile, we finally reached the top. To say that my legs were tired was a complete understatement. What I did feel was a deep sense of accomplishment that I’d ground Grind. At one hour, 41 minutes, and 30 seconds I was happy. “Average” came in at 1:30 – but for a 44-year-old man coming out of a two-year stay-at-home pandemic, I’m not shedding any tears.
What surprised me most at the top was really seeing how far we had climbed in such a short distance. Vancouver felt very small on top of the mountain. The views really rewarded the fruits of our labor. Will I do it again? Maybe. Either way, I’m going to need to up my California hiking regiment before grinding again!
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