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A very difficult Grouse Grind

Bottom of the Grouse Grind

I wonder if I will ever learn it: always drink water on runs over 30 minutes on hot summer days.

This afternoon I left the office a bit earlier to hike up Grouse Mountain. Before my trip to China in July I did the Grouse Grind 1-2 times per week, but I had not climbed it since I came back. The weather was nice, about 25 Celsius (although my car told me it was closer to 30 degrees) and a beautiful blue sky.

I mainly drank coffee during the day, so I had a glass of water before I drove my car to the foot of the mountain. Because most of the trail is in the shade of the trees I did not think it would be very warm and so I did not bring any water. I normally don’t drink during this hike, because it’s less than an hour and there is a Starbucks at the end of the trail for water or other cold drinks.

When I started off I felt some muscle ache in my upper legs. I did not really understand why, because I didn’t run yesterday (my last run was a 7 km mountain run on Sunday). But then I realized it may have been from a semi-dangerous kayak experience on Monday. Scott and I had gone for a kayak trip to Whytecliff Beach, but on the way back the tide currents were suddenly so strong that Scott could not paddle against it. He therefore held on to my kayak and I had to paddle as hard as I could to get back to shore. It took me 45 minutes and we finally made it, but I was exhausted. I know I put my legs and knees against the top of my kayak to be able to have a more powerful paddle stroke, and that’s likely why I felt my legs today.

No big deal and after a few minutes of climbing the muscle ache had disappeared. At first the climb went quite well, but it was a lot warmer than I had expected. So warm that I could not really get into a good rhythm, I was sweating a lot and had to keep on getting the sweat out of my eyes.

About half way my legs were suddenly very tired. That’s strange, because normally on the Grouse Grind my breathing gets faster before I feel tired, but now I was still breathing normally, although my heart was beating very fast. I thought that it may be because of the food (I had sushi for lunch, maybe I did not eat enough calories to burn?) and continued my walk. But then I realized I was getting thirsty as well, which is unusual if I climb up only once. Quickly my thirst was getting worse but I did not bring any drinks and I had at least another 300 vertical meters ahead of me. Going down wasn’t really an option. Not only is it not allowed, but it’s also quite dangerous because the mountain is very steep in many places.

So I just walked very slowly and even had to stop a couple of times. When I saw other people drinking (there were quite some other hikers on the trail) I almost wanted to ask them for a sip, but I did not do that and continued on. I came to a point where I would have paid $50 for a bottle of water if there had been any for sale on the trail, but of course this isn’t China so there are no vendors climbing up mountains to make a few extra dollars.

When I got closer to the top the temperature was much lower (the end of the trail is at about 1200 meters, so it’s noticeably cooler there than at the bottom) and I felt climbing up the rocks was a little less difficult. I knew I would be able to make it, but it was still not easy. I pushed myself very hard and eventually reached the top. My time: 1:01, the first time that the Grouse Grind took me more than an hour while hiking on my own.

I immediately got a cold chocolate milk at Starbucks and it tasted fantastic. Within minutes my energy came back and once I could walk again normally I took the cable car down and drove home. There I drank a liter of water and ate a banana and now I am perfectly fine again. It was a good lesson though. The Grouse Grind is not your average walk in the park, and doing it without water on a hot summer day can be dangerous. I have been dehydrated while doing sports in warm weather several times over the years and I will try to make sure this won’t happen again – and certainly not on the Grouse Grind!

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  1. I know that feeling only too well, it’s like a car that suddenly begins to sputter when you’ve taken a good look at the gas gauge, thinking that even though the dial says you desperately need fuel and that you’ve only got, say, 5km left in the tank, you have a bit of a reserve and you can likely push even further (naturally, I test this when I’m driving in the city so I don’t end up in the middle of nowhere — so I know it can go…just…a wee…bit…further…keep pushing on…).

    But you get a second wind, hammer up the trail some more, and then konk out again…it’s amazing. We’re truly amazing beings…

    I had the exact same thing happen at the gym yesterday…I came into the place like a lion, did a great warm up, did a class for an hour, felt totally great…then I still felt I had a bit of juice, so I (foolishly, it seems) skipped three more rounds (I skip like a boxer, so my knees are going to places they normally don’t), calisthenics, and by the time I got to the first round of calisthenics, that when all hell broke loose…I started to feel woozy, light-headed, dizzy, and I was like an old man climbing the staircase, blood rushing to the head like a blathering idiot…I’d totally emptied my reservoir in the class, so much so I *literally* had nothing left by the end…I couldn’t even speak properly…that severe.

    I stuck my head under the tap, sipped like a maniac, and I jammed a chocolate bar in my mouth like they were K-rations or milk powder, not even chewing, and I was back to normal, no more babbling ADM and unable to think coherently…it’s astonishing, how we all sometimes take the organism for granted…

    I was reading this amazing thing on the LCD at the gym the other day:

    ** carbs and whole grains are the fuel (energy your body engine needs to power itself forward during the workout).
    ** meats and other proteins are the thing that repairs and builds your muscles when you’re done exercising and spent your energy.
    ** water — and this is key — is the thing which cools your radiator. No water, you overheat. Engine konks out.

    Good to see that this was the worst that happened…but that’s three consecutive close encounters, M.

    ** the kayak.
    ** the grind on your return from CN.
    ** the bike ride…

    Good things come in threes, but somehow I don’t think this is what they meant…still, admirable that you’re always pushing the envelope and that this won’t change your approach (as it won’t mine)…I can’t imagine Miss Grace is happy about it though, or your parents reading this…

    But good to know you’re safe…

  2. Thanks for this interesting comment ADM. Grace is indeed not too happy, but she knows that’s part of who I am so I guess she accepts it. No risk no fun, but I try to avoid risks that put me in serious danger (having a family does change your risk perception). Things can always go wrong of course, but even the worst case scenario won’t be a lethal danger: the kayak could drift off to the open ocean (but there are always enough boats to help us out), I could collapse on the Grind (but then there are enough people who can help me get on my feet again with some food and drinks) or I could have a more serious fall on the bike (but I was wearing good protection, so I could break a leg or so, but probably nothing worse).

  3. The Baden-Powel trail is a well maintained 42 km trail across the Vancouver’s north shore mountains. Follow the fork left to stay on the grouse grind.