A Day in Downieville

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been on my dirtbike.

I attribute this to a whole lot of factors. But last weekend, with the help and urging of my dad, I got back on the bike for the first time in almost 11 months.

And I’m happy I did.

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Brussel Sprouts and Artichokes

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

This was a little bit frightening

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.

What I had to crawl through to get back out to 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!

The trees!!

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!

Santa Cruz has the fanciest Safeway we've ever been to. With a walk in wine cellar and attendant!

So check here for a trail map.

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.

Cody’s deeper thoughts: The game

The Game is simple. And it’s played by everyone. That’s because the Game consists of just about everything. School is part of The Game. Work is part of The Game. Games are part of The Game. In The Game, we hurt, we play, we work, we suffer, we usually fail, and sometimes we win big. There’s no reason to be scared or nervous when playing The Game (after all, it’s still just a game). The Game is politics and emotions. The Game is also stress. When someone masters The Game, they relax in peace while playing it (and winning it) even more. Not many people master The Game. Heck, not many people even know it exists!(Which is why many people aren’t very good at it). When was the last time you played The Game? Are you playing it right now? Did you play it in your big interview? What about when you got pulled over last week? When you took that test? Gave the presentation? Asked for the raise? It doesn’t matter now because you were playing it whether you knew it or not. See, the best way to win at The Game is to know that you’re playing it. If you don’t know you’re playing then the only way you’ll win is by luck. If you don’t know you’re playing then you’ll spend your time worrying about other things. Things like what other people think, what you can’t do by yourself, your upcoming sociology test, impressing your boss. Of course these things are part of The Game too, but if you know you’re playing then it becomes pretty hard to worry about them. The Game is freedom. So open your mind, open your eyes, find what scares you, attack everything, lose, lose, lose, win, lose…play The Game.

All of this may seem pretty confusing. And it is. The Game is hard to explain. But the first time you realize you’re playing, you’ll smile. You may even laugh. Don’t worry about the looks you get, just continue playing.

PS-Things the game is not: life and death situations of any kind, loving your family, raising your kids, sticking with your friends, believing in your purpose. These things are life.

Resolutions

A new year can be really exciting. A chance to start something new, give up something old, or have a good excuse for doing just about anything. 2011 is going to be big year for Cody and I, calling for drastic resolutions and tough goals.

I woke up about a month ago to news that has quite possibly changed my life. I had been chosen in the lottery for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. In high school on a random Saturday night in June when there was nothing better to do in the small foothill town of Auburn, I used to sit with Kristen and watch the top Western States runners finish at our high school track. Sitting there in the bleachers under the bright stadium lights, I began the thought process I believe to be common in humans when witnessing such a feat. Wild (and not all that inaccurate) imaginings of what those people must have gone through in the past day. Not surprisingly, as I lay in my warm bed that night and thought of the other runners who were still on the trail (and still would be when I got up in the morning), I felt a teeny tiny spark. It was small and feeble and flickering heavily, but it had its root somewhere deep inside me. From then on, no matter how hard I tried, I could find no reasonable method of extinguishment. There was only one thing that could to be done. And it had to be done.

With a relatively small ultrarunning career under my belt, I’ve got Western States looming above me just 7 months away. I’m having runner’s knee issues and I need a solid plan. First: give up something old. I just turned 22 and was never much of a rebel in high school, so drinking I guess is still pretty new to me. But hey, I’ve come to really enjoy a good beer (But who am I kidding? I’m in college and the cheap stuff’s good too!).

It won a Blue Ribbon

No more, no matter how many blue ribbons it has!

And I know it may be sacrilege in the ultra, trail and mountain community to give up the Sacred Nectar, so please forgive me in advance. It’s not that avoiding the occasional beer is going to somehow make the 100 mile distance easy, but when I set my mind to something, I prefer to commit entirely. By giving up drinking at least until Western States, I’ll be developing a unified lifestyle with one goal: finishing that damn race (and having “fun” doing it!).

So on top of a healthy diet, no alcohol and major attempts at developing a solid sleeping schedule (we’ll see how well my last two quarters at Cal Poly play into that plan), I’ve come up with a program. Crossfit during the week, road trips to various mountain ranges on the weekends for long, hilly days. The Miwok 100k will serve as a gauge for both Kristen and I in May. I’ll spend a week or two at our friends’ house in Las Vegas after I graduate for heat acclimation, and then I’ll shuffle forward for probably close to 30 hours to end up on a rubber track that I used to despise running the mile on in PE. Only this time I’ll have a buckle in my hand.

I know I’m rambling, but I can’t talk about all this without mentioning why I’m even here writing this. To be true, it’s all Kristen’s fault:) Kristen is the entire reason I got into running at all, let alone ultrarunning. Every success I ever gain and every mile that grows my soul (that’s what running does), I owe to her. Thank you Love!

For me, I wasn’t quite lucky enough to win a spot at Western States this year. I’m still aiming my sights high, though. I’m registered for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July. While I so wanted to get into Western States, I’m really excited to be looking at a 100 mile race at all. When I first started thinking about the possibility of doing an ultra, I knew that I would one day run 100 miles. I’ve always gone into my previous races with the thought that these were merely stepping stones before I reached my ultimate challenge. It feels a little strange that this is actually going to happen. I don’t know if the nerves have really hit me yet. It still seems so surreal that my dream may actually come true.

cow

I don't eat these guys anymore, or drink their milk.

Before I can run 100 miles, I know I have to get serious with not only my running, but with how I cross-train and with what I choose to fuel my body with. I’ve been vegetarian for over 5 years now and I love it. My body feels wonderful and healthy, and I love that I can make less of an impact of the environment based on my food choices. As my New Years resolution, I decided to take this one step further by becoming vegan. I typically eat this way on my own anyways, since most animal products are either too expensive, too high in saturated fat for my liking, or both. The one area that I know will be a challenge for me is sweets. I’m the type that can never resist cookies if they’re in the same room as me and I spend a ridiculous amount of time at the frozen yogurt shop, Yogurt Creations. But I really think this is the right step for me to make. Not only am I taking a stronger stand on my dedication to the Earth, but by cutting out food products that tend to weigh me down or make me feel bad, I know I can take my training to the next level. For all of you wondering, I also practically never eat processed foods and I try to eat a diet based on almost entirely whole grains and lots fruits and veggies, which I know plays a large role in my performance.

Cold in the desert

Day 2 of running in Las Vegas. Our climbing friends wanted to do a longer climb and Kristen and I had an insatiable itch to have an excursion on our feet. So we parted ways at the trailhead after some directions from our local friend and took off in the crisp desert air. The high in Las Vegas today was supposed to be 31 degrees (counting wind chill). And our goal on this bright New Years Eve day was to summit Rainbow Mountain, part of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Rainbow Mountain stands tall and colorful over the 13 mile scenic drive that skirts the valley of the Conservation Area, but at only 6,800 feet seemed a very doable half day, 12 mile trip. Our friend said the trail ran into a riverbed. From there we’d begin a “hike” until reaching low angle slab, which we would scramble up to get to the ridgeline and eventually the summit. To be fair, our climbing buddy did mention that this summit involved a lot of scrambling and would become more of a hike than a run. But to me, a summit sounded more fun than a flat run in the valley, so we gave it a go!

From the car, the trail was flat but rocky and fun. Then we descended into the riverbed and became instantly excited. We marveled at the huge sandstone boulders with yellows and oranges of every hue. We rock hopped and scrambled our way up the canyon, with 1000 foot walls rising into the sky until just a strip of cold blue could be seen above. Our curiosity was piqued when we heard plates of glass shattering below us. The gravel riverbed between the boulders had a layer of suspended ice. During the last rain the top must have frozen so that when the flash flood was over, nothing but floating sheets of brittle ice remained. We marveled and took pictures at first, but later frustrations would cause us to hike through the loud webs of frozen water with little remorse. A few hundred more yards of scrambling and I began to feel the first signs of my lifelong nemesis: frozen fingers. The rocks were cold, probably below freezing, and moving off them to scramble upwards was already taking its toll on my poorly circulated digits. Then suddenly icicles dominated the scene! Frozen trees, frozen rocks, frozen bushes, frozen sand. We were beginning to see a trend. One poor little tree was completely engulfed, every one of its bare branches saturated and thickened by shimmering white ice.

Continuing up the riverbed we started catching glimpses of our path ahead. The canyon continued with large rocks and dense brush for at least another mile, banking left and out of sight. As we scrambled further the pace slowed. Attempts were made at skirting the river by edging along the blank slabs of the canyon walls. This was slower, and things got cold. 12:30 pm and it should’ve been getting warmer. But the walls were high and we remained in the shade. An icy breeze blew down the canyon and found its way under our clothes. The bottle I’d been carrying hit the ground, startling me. I had dropped it but my frozen fingers couldn’t feel the release. Kristen and I looked at each other, looked up the canyon. Another breeze brushed our faces and necks. It echoed our thoughts: bail.

Once the decision was made, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We scrambled rocks, stopped occasionally to warm our hands and generally flailed our way back down the river. We found the trail again and began to run. Moving fast was wonderful. And just as feeling came back into the extremities we burst into the sun. And all was well. We floated back to the car amongst the desert sage and jumped in the little cab of my truck. It was warm. The sun had been beating in on the seats while we were away, and the shell of aluminum and glass was gloriously impermeable to the wind.

As we drove back into town, I felt no remorse. Our goal was to summit a mountain and get in a bit of a run. As the day would have it, we ran three miles and scrambled three more. It took three hours to complete our six mile excursion. Getting shut down can be difficult, as I know you know. We’ve all been there at some point. Looking back, you have to decide if you’re happy with the decision you made. Did you give up at the first sign of hardship or did you simply avoid disaster? I’m friends with quite a few outdoorsy folks and their answer to this varies about as much as the (very) interesting clothes they wear. But like every subject that’s ever been argued, there’s always a happy medium. And it depends on nothing but you. Some people would’ve kept on. But then again, some people climb 1000 foot rock faces alone with no rope. Some people would’ve never gotten out of the car. But then again, some people are satisfied with suburban life and a BMW. Kristen and I find ourselves somewhere in between. We’re happy with that.