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The Race

Course MapThe Wasatch 100 endurance run is located in the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City. The race is one of the most challenging 100 mile races in the world with a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 26,500 feet and cumulative elevation loss of approximately 27,000 feet stretching through varying trail conditions of dirt, scree, and rock. Runners start near the entrance of the East Mountain Wilderness Park and finish the grueling course in Heber City having a cutoff time of 36 hours to complete.

The Runner

Pat Canonica, Boxford, MA – Pat’s list of marathons and ultra’s spans the globe participating in these 26+ mile events throughout the U.S., Mt. Everest marathon, Kilimanjaro marathon and the list goes on. Pat has the mental toughness along with the physical endurance to challenge himself in these testing events. He’s responsible for encouragement to run the Boston and Nipmuck marathons. It will take an act of God or more convincing from Pat to get me to run an ultra. Pat’s never at a loss to provide motivation and has the spirit to run any event.

The Coordinator

Melinda Vaturro, Boxford, MA – Coach, nutritionist, Ironman finisher, chef, and “soccer mom” extraordinaire. Melinda was responsible for putting together Pat’s “Pacer” support team with an objective to make sure Pat was safe with a group who had medical training, distance running experience and survival skills. She prepared aid station drop bags containing needed food, supplements, clothing and first aid supplies Pat would need throughout the race. From the home base of Alta she drove numerous times through the mountains for the start, aid station pacer exchanges and the finish and needs something sportier than a Ford Escape for the next event. Just ask Mike.

The Pacers

Mike Yako, Boxford, MA –  “Energizer Man” – Endurance runner, volunteer fireman, medical first responder. Mike arrived from the east coast and paced well only having a maximum of four hours sleep before setting off to the start with Pat for the first 39 miles. Back at Alta base camp he looked refreshed as if he could have gone the distance. Could this run be in Mike’s future? If so I’ll be his wing man.


Start Elevation: 4920 @ mile 0

Big Mountain Aid Station: 7432 @ mile 39.07

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 11579

Distance: 39.07 miles

Arrival Time: 18:11

Time 05:00 to 18:11; 13 hours 11 minutes

Transition time @ Big Mountain: 22 minutes

Matt Gibley, Tahoe City, CA – “Happy Trail Pacer” – Rock climber, Wilderness First Responder and just a happy young man with fresh legs. I recently met Matt outside of lake Tahoe performing a few climbs high above Donner lake. Matt relieved Mike at Big Mountain Aid Station pacing Pat 13.5 miles to Lambs Canyon Underpass Aid Station, and then did a second duty relieving me at the Brighton Lodge Aid Station for another 7 1/2 miles. Matt did a great job getting Pat to the Pole Line Pass aid station and enjoyed every second of the race. He never became tired.


First Pace

Big Mountain Aid Station: 7432 @ mile 39.07

Lambs Canyon Underpass: 6111 @ mile 52.48

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 2750

Distance: 13.41 Miles

Arrival Time: 23:12

Time: 18:33 to 23:12; 4.75 hours

Transition Time @ Lambs Canyon: 21 Minutes

Second Pace

Brighton: 8765 @ mile 74.63

Pole Line Pass: 8928 @ mile 82.31

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 3164

Distance: 7.68 Miles

Arrival Time: 14:00

Time: 10:00 to 14:00; 4 hours

Greg Chokas – “Night Pathfinder” – Trail Runner, Wilderness First Responder, and survivalist. Endurance events include a 1/2 Ironman and two marathons. This was a first time involvement in an endurance race and beginning a trek at midnight (officially 11:30PM). Being awake for 18 hours then starting the 22+ miles was a test I cherished and would do again. Survival, Sherpa and tracking skills kept Pat and me on the trails through the night…


Lambs Canyon Underpass: 6111ft @ mile 52.48

Millcreek/Upper Big Water: 7627 @ mile 60.94

Distance: 8.46 miles

Arrival Time: 02:54

Time: 23:33 to 2:54; 3 hours 23 minutes

Transition Time: 106 minutes

Brighton Aid Station: 8765 @ mile 74.63

Distance: 13.69 miles

Arrival Time: 09:57

Time: 04:00 to 09:57; 5 hours 57 minutes

Transition Time: 3 minutes

Cumulative Elevation Gain(Lambs to Brighton): 6500

Cumulative Distance: 22.15 miles plus (see story below)

Cumulative Time: 23:33 to 09:57; 9.5 hours

The Story

(Most of these details are from my leg of the race and I’m sure Mike and Matt have stories of their own.)

Pre-Race Pasta DinnerEarly morning after a pre-race pasta dinner Pat, Mike and Melinda were up at 2AM heading to the starting line for the 4AM start. Pat and Mike began a dusty start wearing headlamps covering 39 miles in 13 hours. Matt took over the role as pacer at Big Mountain Aid Station pacing Pat until Lambs Canyon Underpass arriving with headlamps on at 11:15PM, 13.5 miles, 4 hours 45 minutes later.

Pat and Matt at Lambs Canyon Aid Station - Mile 52.48Melinda and I awaited them at the aid station. Pat looked tired as expected but good. The next 15 minutes he rested, ate and refreshed while we prepared his pack for the next push to Upper Big Water Aid Station. I geared up throwing on my pack and we started our 10 hour journey. The 18 hours of waiting had no negative effect on me as I felt awake and physically and mentally strong with the aid of ibuprofen. A mile away from the aid station we escaped the noise of the interstate and approached the sound of a flowing stream for the next few miles. Reflectors marked the Lambs Head trailhead beginning a 2000 ft. elevation gain. With a good pace we were soon passing racers who left the last aid station before us. Keeping things lively on the trial I would ask, “Feelin’ good?” he’d say “Yes.” (truthful or not) and I’d say  “Lookin’ good.” A few songs kept us moving and amused during the ascent. A good mental state is needed as much as physical condition.

Evening PressWe climbed to the Mount Aire Trail where the city lights of Salt Lake City were glowing below. Besides the glow of the city silhouettes of the nearby mountain peaks were the only formations we could see in the distance. The trail descended to Elbow Fork leading to an s-curve road ascending to Upper Big Water/Millcreek Aid Station. The three miles to the aid station were never ending. Temperature was dropping seeing our breaths and a quick stop made to add a layer. Pat’s intake of water was slowing with stomach problems persisting and the aid station couldn’t arrive quick enough. Keeping a close eye on him I went ahead 50 yards at a time looking for reflective markers or the aid station then would drop back reporting what was ahead. He pressed on.

Early AM ViewsCutoff time at Millcreek was 4AM. We calculated a best time of 2:30AM and arrived at 02:54 putting him in good shape for time. I gave Pat’s 102 number to the check-in greeter while he prepared for rest.  With no cots available I wrapped him in blankets and placed him in a chair until one cleared. Moving to the cot area with propane heaters helped take the chill off while he counted his egg laying chickens back in Boxford in his sleep. Fifteen minutes later he awoke, ate Ramen noodles (yes, the staple of the Peaceful Pathfinder) and crackers. We geared up for the next 5.25 mile journey to the Desolation Lake Aid Station. Confusion and chaos set in at the check-out table. As we were leaving a pair of racers was arriving. With the commotion Pat set out on the trail while I interjected his number to race officials. Catching him a few minutes later we were both glad to be alone on the trail again. We encountered the late pair of runners one more time before sending them back to the aid station to sign the “Did Not Finish” papers. Later we found the under-trained boisterous pair was pulled from the race. Blood was flowing again with a solid pace keeping us warm while increasing pace down hill. A varying degree of elevation gain was in Sunrise from Red Lover's Ridgestore to the remote Desolation Lake Aid Station. Minimal foods were offered at that station but soup was sufficient to keep us going up to Red Lovers Ridge. We made the ridge as the glowing sun crested the eastern horizon. Cool temps would now subside giving way to another hot day.

Need My Ironman HatThe sun was directly in our eyes as we made the final approach to the Scott’s Tower Aid Station. Pat asked for his Ironman hat which was no longer clipped to his running pack. Not a good situation since a hat was needed but more importantly the hat has HUGE sentimental value from a Lake Placid Ironman he finished. Off I went running down the trail while he carried on to the aid station. Pat made this a pass-through stop refueling and grabbing some food only taking a few minutes before carrying on. I ran about three quarters of a mile back and disappointingly gave up on where the hat could be. As a mountain biker approached I asked if he would keep an eye out for the hat. Finding my reserves I ran back to the aid station. While heaving the Sherpa pack over my shoulders the cyclist approached hat in hand saying “This must be one important hat!” It was more than he knew because I sure did!!

On the TrailThe aid station was packed and ready to leave when I arrived. Being physically drained from the Ironman hat rescue and recovery operation they were able to offer a diet Dr. Pepper, bottle of water and a 5 lb bag of pretzels. Carrying a giant bag of pretzels wasn’t going to work so I took my sweaty hat off and  filled it with as many as I could.  The aid station team knew Pat was at least 20 minutes ahead and offered a ride in their Suburban until we caught him. When we were close I jumped out losing a few pretzels and asked if anyone lost an Ironman hat. As he turned with a huge grin I placed the hat on his head and we carried on like nothing happened. We had a laugh as I commented the cliché, “We both know this is about the journey not the destination and man have we’ve been on a journey.” It was literally downhill from there to the Brighton Lodge Aid Station. We needed to keep a fast pace to come in under the 10AM cutoff time. I went ahead to let the greeters know runner 102 was coming and prepared items from his drop bag for the next leg of his journey. Pat arrived at 9:57AM. He made it!! There was one problem, where was Melinda and Matt?? Pat was in “carry on” mode. I mentally prepared myself for 22 miles, did 25, but could I go a marathon distance with him to the finish? I could if needed and learned when you leave Brighton there’s no turning back. The next aid stations were remote like Desolation Lake and the finish in Heber was the only place with paved roads.

Mountain ViewsAs Pat entered Brighton Lodge and weighed in I texted Melinda with a “Where are you?!” Arriving on two wheels, stopping on a dime she ran to the lodge. Matt threw on his pack and met Pat. They went on their way. One problem, there weren’t going the right direction. Melinda, with supplements in hand, caught up to them handing over needed supplies and pointed out the correct direction. Melinda had to drop Mike at the airport then scoot/fly to Brighton Lodge Aid station. Mike made the flight and Matt made the pacer switch. All was back on track. At least for 7.5 more miles…

Cresting Red Lovers Ridge

Pat and Matt made a difficult 1,700 ft climb over the next 2.7 miles which is a major challenge at that point in the race. The climb consumed Pat’s reserved energy as the days sun heated the rocky landscape adding a level of difficulty. From Sunset Pass, the highest point in the race, to the finish the final miles are an undulating decent with a few steep drops. Not an easy task for tired legs. Pat pushed on for another few miles before a steep decline took its toll on his taxed legs. A scare of loose footing made him decide to end the day. He knew at this point making the next cutoff time would take a superhuman effort with his tank running low. Matt and Pat did the right thing, ending the run completing an extraordinary 82.31 grueling miles at 14:00. Matt went ahead to inform the Pole Line Pass Aid Station where he and Pat were able to get a backcountry ride to the finish where Melinda and I congratulated them.

Pat was slightly scraped from the final miles of his brutal trek and in good spirits as he always is. We returned to base camp sharing stories of the day and prepared for a celebratory meal.

Kudos to Pat for an incredible effort in his 33 hours of running, hiking and slogging. Great pacing by Mike and Matt and a job well done by Melinda coordinating the event. What’s next?…

 – Greg

“The five S’s of sports training are: Stamina, Speed, Strength, Skill and Spirit; but the greatest of these is Spirit.” – Ken Doherty

Big Sur calls…

Exhausted after five hours of driving from Lake Tahoe luck was on my side with Spring Lake State Park Campground in Santa Rosa having an overflow site available. I arrived at 7PM and was on the road 12 hours later with a needed extra strong coffee in hand to assist with the day’s long southern travel ahead.

Store in BolinasPreferring to stay near the shore I connected with Route 1, the Coastal Highway, at Point Reyes Station and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Not surprising, fog was settled along the coast providing a thick backdrop to the small eclectic town of Bolinas and Muir Beach Overlook where WWII soldiers commanded bunkers in case of a Japanese attack. A short drive to Mill Valley was the most tightly winding and steep section of Rte. 1 navigated. Swerving downward into town I met new The Mighty Golden Gate Bridgefriends Nell and and friend for tasty fish tacos. We shared a conversation of experiences in the area, then the journey continued crossing the towering Golden Gate Bridge to the highly recommended Big Sur by a good friend. Looking eastward from the Golden Gate was Alcatraz. A landmark to visit on the next San Fran trip.

Had to...One hundred sixty miles and four hours later arriving at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park CAMPGROUND FULL signs weighed heavily. Camping options were ticking in my mind when a park ranger informed me one of the overflow sites was available. Acquiring the site without reservation this time of season was like winning a small lottery. Good thing since all campgrounds further south were over capacity. With headlamp on, camp was set, dinner consumed and sleeping bag zipped for needed rest to tackle the next days coastal drive.

Camping next to a 1,000 year old friendAlthough a road warrior for the previous few days the breathtaking drive along the winding ocean-side Coastal Highway had to be made. Getting a good night’s rest kept me bright-eyed to stay on the sometimes unprotected road falling to the Pacific. Making the drive is also a personal choice of gaining knowledge of the landmarks and where to explore the next few days. Jealousy set in seeing motorcycles cruise the road. Was wishin’ I had my ride!

Sleeping, resting, playing Elephant SealsPiedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery down the coast offered a seaside trail to get the legs moving and escape the 100+ visitors maneuvering for position at the closest seal viewing area. The massive seals were lounging, mostly sleeping throughout the day with pups by their sides. Further down the trail were more rookeries where there was private viewing and a great sight of a U.S. Naval light house.

Small Church in San Simeon with Hearst Castle in the backgroundSan Simeon, originally inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans, was the furthest southern travel 65 miles from the start of the day. On the northern return to camp making a stop at Julia Pfeiffer state Park I found the best campsites that could be had on the coast. They weren’t occupied but reserved later learning no shows are a normal occurrence with people reserving the sites just to hold them. For the next day’s event the trail head for Tan Bark Trail was located for a good hiking effort to reduce the stiffness of a few days of driving.

Tan Bark Trail Head Tan Bark Trail heads east from Route 1 placing you in what feels to be an enchanted forest. Standing tall Redwoods surviving a 2008 fire, a quiet flowing stream and rich green undergrowth made the forest a comfortable place before being exposed to the sun and heat higher along the trail. Near the peak of the ridge sits a rusted evacuated Tin Shed as it’s called at one time providing residence before the land was donated to the state. Preferring not to hike “out and backs” a fire road provided a return option with spectacular coastal views to complete the moderate 8 mile hike. At the car lunch was packed and a Ranger Trail to Partington Coverecommended trail opposite the Tan Bark Trail seemed to be an ideal place to follow, relax and eat. This sub-cove of Partington Cove was the hidden gem of the trip. The size of the small cove, the boulder crashing waves, and a mountain stream flowing into the ocean water made this a special place and perfect spot for lunch. The ocean was too powerful for a swim but the mountain stream would be more ideal. Sitting in a small pool of cool fresh water was as if being in a private “cool” tub looking into the Pacific. Dried, dressed and more than content I Tunnel Connecting Coveswalked a path through a tunnel where another cove provided docking for small ships which loaded tan bark decades ago. The dock is now gone but remnants of the pylons remain. Carrying on beyond the viewing area, scrambling rocks I was able to get a different view of the cove. Not many would venture this far and the solitude of the late afternoon sun and the sound of waves were peaceful.

@ Pfeiffer BeachWith the sun still suspended above the horizon there was a final stop to make at Pfeiffer Beach, one of the windiest beaches in the area due to it’s location on the coast. Approaching the beach the noise of the wind grew and the force of the 40 to 50 mph winds were eventually felt. The windblown sand on my skin felt like being in a snow storm on Mt Washington, home of the world’s worst weather. I could have used goggles the way the sand was hitting my face and eyes but at least the cold sub-zero temperatures weren’t present. A Little ScrambleIncredibly, for some reason, this was the first time in a year and a half I felt none of the back and leg discomforts nagging me daily. Feeling pain free and running the 1/3 mile beach a few times thoughts of Forrest Gump came to mind. “Run Forrest Run!” I enjoyed the wind like Lieutenant Dan did the storm in the crow’s nest of the Bubba Gump shrimp boat. Running into the wind took Spartan movements while running with the wind I felt almost as fast as Usain Bolt. (There’s a short video below the picture gallery to give an idea of the wind.)

L.A. Photographer MarciaMarcia, a photographer from L.A. was fighting the wind for pictures of the formations just off the beach. After helping each other we ended up with good shots then found a calm area for her to tend to a sandy camera while I watched the force of Mother Nature’s small rogue waves and sand swirling winds. Pfeiffer Beach and Marcia’s company was appreciated until sunset taking in every last minute of the most beautiful rugged beach I’ve encountered. My soul was rejuvenated that day. One of the best in years. I wished Marcia safe return travels for her 5 to 6 hour drive back to L.A. and returned to camp.

The following morning the hesitant return journey to San Francisco began. Stopping in Carmel, home of Clint Eastwood, a good cup of coffee was needed. Mr. Eastwood wasn’t at the local café but this high end town had visitors from around the globe from the languages and accents heard in conversations.

The final stop was Los Gatos meeting a past colleague, Stacey, who introduced me to the posh town and a few good restaurants. The last supper was traditional Italian before following the concrete path to San Fran airport returning the small rental with 2,000 miles added to the odometer.

The almost two week journey was a whirlwind in a good way. A learning experience taking its time settling in….

This post is dedicated to my friend and “brother” of twenty years Bob Steffen. Bob’s recommendation of Big Sur brought the experiences, pictures, and peaceful/soulful times to enjoy and share. Wopila Bob!

Peace – Greg

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy

Famous Pathfinders

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