Sunday, August 23, 2009

#61 - You CRAZY, Vancouver!!

61: Do the Grouse Grind

Bright and early on Saturday morning, I dragged my lethargic ass out of bed and downed a bowl of fiber-licious cereal. Today was the day that I would FINALLY follow in the steps of every other Vancouverite and do the Grouse Grind. For those unfamiliar, the "Grouse Grind" is a strenuous hike from the foot of Grouse Mountain to the very top. The total hike is 2.9km (1.8 miles) with the base at 274 metres (900 feet) above sea level and the summit at 1,127 metres (3,700 feet). I don't know how the hell this thing got so popular, or why the parking lot was already PACKED at 9:00am, because it was freaking torture!!! At the bottom you say your farewells to your friends, plug in your earphones and haul ass until you can't possibly lift your tired, shaking leg onto one more rock or stair.
It was my first time so I didn't know how to pace myself, which is why I was on the heels of the guys for the first 12 minutes before realizing that if I kept it up, my heart would beat right out of my puffing chest and explode. I slowed down significantly, cranked the volume on my ipod and went on my merry way. I figured that if I kept the upbeat tunes going and maintained a moderate pace, it would be challenging, yet TOTALLY easy at the same time. So...was it challenging? Incredibly. Entirely. An overwhelming challenge. It was a challenge in every sense of the word. It was a battle against the mountain and a one hour struggle with myself. It was a literal and figurative uphill battle of mental and physical strength. I think the biggest issue for me was that it was just not at all enjoyable. It wasn't like when you're working out really hard at the gym, sweating your ass off, you're exhausted, your mind keeps saying, "ok...ok...that's enough, that was a good workout, it's been fun but let's go home," and you say FUCK YOU MIND this is tough but I feel AWESOME and I'm going to power through. No...nothing like that. My mind kept saying, "shit...this is NOT FUN," and I was all, "I KNOW!!! Let's get the hell out of here! Where's the escalator??" I didn't feel that rewarding feeling you get while suffering through an intense workout. It just didn't feel good.

If you've ever been really intensely hungover where you get to the point that you're about to throw up, you feel like a wave of nausea is washing over and drowning you, you're on the brink of vomiting....that feeling, that crippling feeling sustained itself for the entire second quarter of the hike. To make matters worse, when I saw the first sign on the trail I thought to myself, "wow, half way...not bad, I can do this, let's crank it up," only to realize that it said "1/4 Mark", not "1/2 Mark"!! Devastating!! 

I resisted the temptation to peek at my stopwatch, took a few swigs of water, blew my runny nose all over my tank top (yes...and that certainly wasn't the first or last time), lifted my heavy legs one after the other, and blew through the mental barrier that I had built up in my head. Don't get me wrong though, I still detested every strained, sweaty second of it. I thought about a few things over and over on the way up: Why does everyone do this? How can I communicate my utter displeasure with this hike accurately in a blog post? When the hell did I get so out of shape?

I was wearing a really cool fanny pack (I won it at a charity brunch and never thought I would use it...who knew!) so I had room to pack my camera. I indulged in a few breaks here and there, taking some pictures of the beautiful, steamy forest. I'm still convinced that the "fog" you see is just everyone's hot, tired breath. During the nauseous phase, I took my earphones out (they were making me feel worse, like puke was going to come out my ears and the earphones would plug it up into my brain) and listened to my own feverish panting. It was a fascinating silence, because I could still hear everyone breathing, but I was constantly staring at the path ahead so it was almost like nobody else was around and the trees
were alive. Then again, maybe I was just hallucinating? Your body does some pretty strange things when you're at the brink of collapse. 

Upon reaching the 1/2 Mark I was semi-revitalized. I don't want to mislead and say that I was "revitalized" because that would insinuate that I got a second wind or became somewhat lively. The 1/2 Mark inspired me to keep going, because now I knew that turning around and going back was just as far as continuing to the top. In all honestly though, I would never have given up, but at times, I really felt like I wanted to. I'm too competitive to let my initial efforts go to waste - if I start something, you'd bet your ass that I'm going to finish it. Even though I can clearly remember how painfully boring and torturous I found this hike, I'm already contemplating doing it again to beat my time. Insanity peppers...I must have eaten insanity peppers for dinner because I can't even believe that I'm writing that. I was going to title this blog post "The worst hour of my life" and I'm already making tentative plans to relive that hour of unpleasantness. Granted, I am getting sick ( come the excuses!!) and I've been more sloth-like in my workout regimen than usual, so I think if I were to relive this horror show, it might be a little less painful of an experience. 

By the time I hit the 3/4 Mark I had conquered my mental road blocks completely and I was almost getting into it and enjoying the "great workout" aspect of the hike.....OK, not really, but by the time I could see the sun shining down from the opening at the top of the trail I broke out into a kind of bizarre looking gallop/prance. I sprung from step to step, losing my steam after about five. I learned that lesson earlier (but I guess forgot) when I had wanted to pass someone. I ran up about 10 stairs in a very poorly thought out burst of false energy. After that foolish sprint I had to stop and compose myself, and you guessed it, the person I had passed was now passing me at their slow and steady pace. Total dumbass move. Below you can see the final short stretch to the top of the trail. The only thing that could have looked sweeter was if an edible chocolate bunny was standing at the opening with my school tuition in his arms.
Reaching the top of the trail was triumphant, yet not as rewarding as I had thought it would be. As you can already tell, I didn't enjoy it! And I'm the kind of masochistic person who gets pleasure out of brutal workouts and strenuous physical activity, so this surprised me. I'm not one to judge something (or someone) too harshly on first impressions, so I think I'll get my butt back to the gym and give the grind another solid effort. I'm also hoping that next time, the city isn't blocked by an annoying layer of clouds! On the gondola ride down we broke through the cloud cover, but I had really been looking forward to the view from the very top. I guess that's nature's way of telling me that I've got to come back and give it another try. 


  1. Good for you! Sorry it wasn't really your thing. I love hiking! :)

  2. I've never done the Grouse Grind and I have no desire to. I'm just not much of a hiking person. :P

  3. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE hiking, I love outdoor expeditions, but I guess I shouldn't refer to the Grouse Grind as a "hike" - it's more of a uphill race? against yourself? You go as hard as you can until you can't take it anymore, then catch your breath, then when you feel like you couldn't possibly move your legs one more vertical inch, you keep going! It's a workout alright!


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