It was a beautiful weekend so Cody and I headed up the coast to Santa Cruz to spend some time with his family and get some running in. We were both really excited to explore a new place: Wilder Ranch State Park.
The bluff trail was pretty typical: wide, flat, with incredible views and way too many people. It’s not really our scene so we decided to do this section first and get it out of the way. When I heard Wilder “Ranch” I was assuming we’d be running through horse and cow pastures, not unlike what we’re used to at Cal Poly! Instead, there were millions of artichoke and brussel sprout plants! Since those happen to be two of my most favorite vegetables, I silently schemed about how much I’d be able to carry in my tights. Not wanting to arouse suspicion with lumpy pants or ruin my karma, I decided against the veggie raid. Plus, have you ever seen an artichoke plant? They look like giant spiny, spikey death bushes, poised to attack if you came too close.
While I was spending time dreaming about food, Cody silently bounded off in his new New Balance MT 101s, a lightweight, racing-flat like shoe with enough tread to handle trails. I wished him luck, knowing that he wanted to have a fast day as I kept with my “ultra-runner shuffle”. After what seemed like many miles of trail and acres of crops, I began to wonder when the bluff trail would end and when I would intersect the new trail that wound inland, up to the hills and trees. I was starting to see less and less people and when I finally realized I was alone, I began worrying that I was lost. The trail looked like it started to head out away from the ocean, so I followed it for a while. It ended when I hit the train tracks and tons of signs that warned no trespassing onto the farms. I headed down the tracks a ways, hoping to come to a sign or something that would lead me in the right way. I passed a second dead seagull on the trail. Was this a bad omen? I hoped not. I was starting to get worried and on top of that, discouraged, as I imagined Cody prancing through the forest, miles and miles ahead of me.
It was time to get out of the farmland. I’d make my way out to Hwy 1 and then find the
right trail from there. I decided to risk it and cut over the train tracks, into the forbidden land of crops. I shyly inched my way past rows and rows of brussel sprouts (no more thoughts of eating this time around), but when I saw a sign for the Santa Cruz Gun Club, I got out of the open and dove down through rough brush, sneaking my way out onto the highway.
Success! I had made it out and I could see two people not far away, walking down what looked like the trail I should be running up! Checking my watch, I realized it was well over an hour into the run and I had only (supposedly, although this was according to the map that had shown a trail so easy to follow online) covered five miles. All I could think about was how Cody was probably almost to the car and here I was: ten miles to go. Time to step it up! I sailed (well, that’s how it was in my mind. In reality, it was surely much less graceful) up to the ridge top, happy to know where I was and be on top of the hills, rather than down in the flats. I watched the landscape change more and more to my liking: ocean to coastal hills to forest. I took one look back at the water before I turned, ducking onto the single-track as it headed straight into the trees. What a drastic change! Just a second ago I had been on a grassy ridge and now, in a dense redwood forest! I was absolutely giddy! Over and over again I said to myself: this is why I love running! I immediately forgot about the bird omens, guns, and the thought of Cody being so far ahead. None of it mattered because I was having a blast!
I quickly picked my way over and around roots until I came to a creek, which led me out of the woods and into a beautiful meadow. I climbed out of the bowl that I had just descended in to and then stopped at a fork to figure out where I was heading next.
“You’re hard to catch up to!” a familiar voice called out behind me. Cody had been lost among the vegetables too and somewhere along the line, we had switched places. We spent a minute taking a quick stretching break to share our getting lost stories. And of course, we had to oogle at the magnificence of the forested stretch. Cody’s knee was starting to give him some problems- a longer run the first time out in minimalist shoes may have been a bit ambitious.
Sometimes (okay, all the time) it’s way too easy to be overambitious. I’m really trying to harness my excitement at the beginning of a run (I’ve been known to bounce around and talk too much at the beginning of a 50, only to bonk and plod my way through the last 20 miles), but how can you when things feel so good and it seems like you could go forever? Especially in MT 101’s! These shoes are my second foray into minimalist running (after the requisite Five Fingers), and I must say they feel pretty darn good. Plus they’re way cheaper than most trail shoes, retailing at around $75. No matter what though, minimalist shoes require time and patience. So maybe for now I should stick with the trusty old Cascadias (on my fifth pair!) for the longer runs. But anyways, despite attempts to rehabilitate my runner’s knee while containing my angst to train, the Santa Cruz trip turned out to be a beautiful weekend on some sweet new trails.
We finished up the run by casually enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. Our 15 miles ended up taking longer than what we had hoped and anticipated, but we realized that it didn’t matter. We had a great day on a fun new trail.
Do this run!
Headed to the Santa Cruz area for a bit? Among the multitude of state parks in the area (so many cool trails there), Wilder Ranch provides its own unique beauty. It’s also probably the most varied, from bluff trails to chaparral ridges to dense forests. And it’s only five minutes north of town!
There’s also a pretty cool indoor climbing gym called Pacific Edge if you want to get some strength training in.
And you can’t pass up the Patagonia outlet store!
But watch out for bums! Just kidding, actually most of them are pretty cool, even if they do speak rather unintelligibly.