Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dipsea, Dipsea, Dipsea, Dipsea, Race Report! 2012

The Quadruple Dipsea Race.  What an interesting concept.  I am not completely decided on whether I like this race or not.  I definitely learned some things on Saturday.  This race was a humbling experience for sure, and one that should remind me to train specific for my next race.  I think I understood that idea, but I did not implement my training to be prepared to the max.

First, parking in Mill Valley can be interesting, even at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It is a small tourist destination with boutique shops and a quaint downtown area, and most of the rest of the town is fancy houses in the hills.  Parking is scarce, so hence, I ended up in something called 4 hour parking (from 9 am to 5 pm).  Which meant that I needed to finish the race in about 5 hours (since the race started at 8 a.m.).  And I knew that I was going to be hanging out at the finish line for a while, eating and hamming it up with the other runners.  So, I guess I was just going to take my chances.

Mill park, the place where we start from is a pretty cool place in the shade of some old redwoods.  There is a nice playground area for the kids and it seems to be a nice play to have a start to a race.  Before the race some of the Quicksilver guys were going through the usual ritual of comparing muscles.  Toshi always wins the calf muscle contest, so we went with biceps this time.  Mark Tanaka(the guy on the right), was cheating a little bit, I guess he felt a little insecure about his contribution to the gun show...

Quicksilver Muscle.  Credit: Marc Laveson
After that, we strutted to the front of the starting line of the race.  In these races, the runners are generally self-seeded, meaning that you should have a pretty good feeling about what pace you are going to go at and where you should place yourself in the crowd with relation to your competitors so that you will not impede the progress of the race.  Coming off of my fifth place finish at Firetrails, I was feeling pretty confident and decided to put myself at the front with everyone else who thought they were pretty fast.

Someone said go, and we were off.  This race is kinda funny because everyone takes off from the starting line, and then within like 150 ft, we reach the stairs, and start a slow slog up the mountain that makes it look like much less of a race and more like a bunch of fools walking up some stairs at the end of November in not nearly enough clothes.  I kept a consistent effort up the stairs and thought to myself that it was not really that bad, just get through the stair section and then get the wheels going.  It all seemed to work to plan and I was cruising in the top ten, feeling pretty good about myself.  Then came the long slog of a climb up to cardiac hill.  I knew it was coming, and just sort of geared down and grunted it out, but a couple of people passed me on this section, including Caren Spore, the womens course record holder.  That didn't bother me too much as I knew she was completely capable of beating me in this race, and I knew I would have a chance to reel some people back in on the descent down into Stinson Beach.  At the top of Cardiac is the lone aid station between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach.  I was all loaded up with everything I needed, so I just cruised through.  Our brilliant Quicksilver racing team leader, Greg Lanctot, was volunteering at Cardiac, and was busy all day taking pictures, giving us special treatment, and feeding us valuable intel on the other runners.

I was happy to be going back downhill again and basically cruised this section down to the beach.  I did pass Caren again, as well as everyone else that had passed me, and was feeling like I was not wearing myself out or anything, just doing my thing.  There are sections of stairs in all kinds of places on this course, stairs of all shapes and sizes.  Even on the downhills they were messing with me.  I couldn't use my long downhill strides that usually give me a leg up on my competitors, and with all of the choppy, concentration zapping, tip-toe action I had to pull off to navigate down the steps, I guess it was just taking a toll on me, but I was still feeling good.

I cruised through the turn-around at Stinson and headed back up the hill.  This was where I found one of the useful aspects of this race.  I was able to see all of the runners in front of me, and how far in front of me they were, as well as all of the runners behind me.  Another cool thing is, you get to see all of your running club teammates, and get to cheer them on, and they get to encourage you too.  That is a nice pick me up when you are working that hard.  Of course Caren passed me again going up, her strength is definitely her climbing.  Another guy caught up to me, David Smith.  We ran for a ways together and chatted it up.  He interrogated me about the fastpacking that I was doing and it was cool to loose myself in a convo while getting the climb over with.  I got back up to Cardiac and just flew through again, and David stayed to fill up on stuff.

The downhill was fun, bounding over the roots and rocks and basically feeling like a kid running down a hill.  But then, more steps!  They just keep hitting you, in little sections, but they just seem to zap the momentum.  I was catching up to another runner and then finally hit the final long section of stairs back down to Mill Valley.  This is where David came bounding past me, showing how a veteran takes the stairs.  David has been running the Quad since 1996, I was 16.  So much to learn.  I just felt like a bumbling idiot trying to time my steps so that I could take two at a time, only to start to loose my footing and get scared of falling the rest of the way, then backing off to one step at a time, it was really annoying.  Marc was out on the trails cheering us on and he got a nice picture of me descending.  I know my brother Josh would love this picture because he digs my running shorts.

Running down from Cardiac.  Credit: Marc Laveson
By the time I had reached the turnaround I was feeling a little on edge, but I thought to myself, all I have to do is put a even effort at climbing those steps one last time and then have some fun.  It was hard, a lot harder than the first time we went up those stairs.  But I got through it.  Then as I hit a stretch of trail that I could start opening it up on again, I noticed that I didn't have any pop in my legs.  It was strange.  15 miles into an ultra and my legs seemed dead.  I thought it would pass.  So I hit the small downhill before the slog back up to Cardiac, and things seemed to start to get back to normal.  But then that climb just really got me.  I ran through Cardiac again, and started the downhill.  This time the downhill felt much different.  I was just trying to get my composure back after that big climb, I couldn't really build up my speed at all.  And then, we hit the steps again, and it was not pretty.  A few guys were passing me on this section and I realized that I had slowed down a lot.  I got down to Stinson Beach again and knew I just needed to get this last leg over with.  But I seemed already defeated.  My legs would feel like cramping, so I would back off a little, and then I would try and pick it back up again, but it was just not working out for me.  I got back up to Cardiac for the last time, and then cruised back down to the finish with whatever I had left, and it wasn't much.  But I finished: 18 place in 5:16.  The finish was fun.  Toshi cheered me in, and then I turned around and watched a whole cohort of Quicksilver runners come in behind me, including womens second and third place finishers, Amy Burton and Clare Abram.  Got some pizza, and chilled out.  BTW, this was one of the most beautiful days for a trail race in the Headlands ever.  Views forever on the coast.  It was fantastic.  I didn't chill out too long though.  I started to get nervous about me parking situation and decided to get back home. Luckily no ticket, maybe the community just knows the situation every Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I had estimated, based on other runners finishes in this race in previous years, and comparing their performances in other races that I have run, that I should have been able to get in the neighborhood of 4:40 to 4:50 range.  On a bad day I thought I could still break 5.  Turns out this is a much different race than what I am used to.  I had thought that Mission Peak would have been a good analog, except for the stairs, but Mission Peak trails are generally well groomed fire-roads- not much tip toeing going on there. The climbing wasn't a bad analog, but the muscles you use when climbing stairs are a little different from the ones used to climb a steep hill.  I am going to have to think about how to approach the training for this race if I do it again.  A local reporter interviewed me after the race and ended the interview with the question about whether I was going to come back and do it again.  I said that is a tough question to ask someone right after they just got done running a race that took over 5 hours and destroyed their body, but I also told her: maybe.  She walks away and says: you'll be back.  She is probably right.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stinson Beach to Tomales Point Fastpack Yo-Yo

Santa Cruz Mountains made sense to me, it was my backyard.  High Sierras made sense to me, it is majestic.  So where could we go next?  I looked at google maps near my house in Sunnyvale, California, and tried to spot the the parks that might be suitable for a hundred mile plus fastpacking adventure.  Henry Coe looked promising, but this time of year it can be hard to come across water.  But, but, when I looked north, on the other side of the golden gate bridge, I saw this massive expanse of parks from the headlands all the way north to a place called "point tomales" on the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.  It looked promising.

When I initially proposed an idea to hike from the headlands to point pinole to my buddies, it was received with enthusiasm.  It has an esthetic quality to it, I like the out and back loops, especially if I can combine a series of trails so that I can get maximal exploration quality.  As a bonus, this time of year is pretty much the best time of year to spend time on the coast around here.  It seems weird, but the summer months are overcast with lots of fog, and low visibility on the coast.  If you want awesome coastal views, the late fall is pretty much prime for northern california.  So it was planned.  It turns out it is harder to match up everyones schedules to go on such an adventure as it would seem.  At the last moment Marc had to fly to China again, and then Toshi had a wedding to attend.  That is just life...  But Toshi did decide he wanted to hook up with me on Sunday to get a couple of days in with me, and I am very thankful that he did!
Black is the route out to Bolinas Ridge.  Red is the route back to Stinson Beach.

Black is the route out to Tomales Point.  Red is the route back to Bolinas Ridge.

The plan was that I would set out to Stinson Beach after Joanne and Hayley's Mermaid run and hike to northern Point Reyes, where I would hook up with Toshi on the next day.  And so it happened.  It is actually tough to find a parking spot in Stinson Beach on the weekends, it is very much a tourist town.  People wanting to hang out on the beach, visit the cafes, chill, go for a hike, whatever.  After I found a spot, I set out on the Matt Davis trail to hike up to the Coastal Trail which would in turn take me to Bolinas Ridge.  On the way up the Matt Davis trail I ran into Marc, to much of my surprise!  He decided to go out for a training run since he had to fly out the next morning.  It was nice to have some company on this climb and we chatted things up, how he was recovering from the poison oak from our unnamed adventure from the previous weekend, and how he was getting experience on these trails to get ready for the TNF 50 mile race that is coming up really soon.  He followed me up all the way to where I decided to follow a well worn path that diverged from the trail and went straight up the hill.  It was a challenging climb, and apparently he got a picture of me in all of my misery after the deed was done.  Well, one climb down, many to go.  We said our goodbyes and I went off north while he continued on his training run.  

Stinson Beach and the southern tip of Point Reyes from the Coastal Trail.

Clear Views all day long.

Hang-gliders point.
I ended up on a road for a while because I went past the coastal trail on my climb up the hill.  As I was running I spotted the trail snaking down the hillside, and I knew I would rather be there than on the road, so I started running down the hill.  When I did I came across these people that were preparing their hang-gliders to take off of the cliff.  They take off from here and land on the coast, pretty crazy!  So, naturally, I decided to run down the cliff.  It wasn't really a cliff, but a steep hill with loose footing, so pretty much I just slid down the hill until I reached the coastal trail where I continued north.

Wildlife on the trail.

Cool hills seen from Bolinas Ridge.
These are the trails that can be traveled on Bolinas Ridge.
I descended Bolinas Ridge on the McCurdy trail and ran into Point Reyes.  It was a beautiful day and I was enjoying the trails.

It is interesting to come upon trees that seem oddly out of place.

Ridge Trail at Point Reyes.

Dinner at Glen Camp.  Didn't camp here, but there was water...
 I cooked dinner at Glen Camp, the plan being that with less daylight this time of year, I would have to traverse a significant amount of trail in the dark to still hit the mileage splits that I wanted.  This meant that I would cook dinner while in the light, and then just hike until I got to my intended destination where I would bivy up for the night.  After dinner I continued north and watched the sun set.
Sunset Saturday night.

More sunset.
 It was actually really depressing to hike in the dark by myself.  I didn't think it would mess with me as much as it did, but there was something about proceeding in the darkness that made me feel really sorry for myself.  I kept thinking about my little kids faces and how much I would like to be holding them at the time, and how much I would like to be in my recliner right then watching Jericho(my new Netflix fix).  But I continued on.  Every once in a while I would look into the forest and see bright eyes shining back at me, various animals that my headlamp was reflecting off of, but it freaked me out.  As I was wandering these trails I started to think about where I wanted to sleep.  As I climbed the Drake View Trail, I was passing in and out of young growth pine forests and it made sense to try to find a spot among the trees to sleep.  I finally found an opening big enough to sneak off of the trail to find a nice little spot to lay my bivy down.  The good thing about sleeping here was that the pine needles were a very nice cushion to sleep on.  The bad thing was that every time the wind picked up, the forest made this awful, creepy, screeching sound.

Slept in a young growth pine forest.  Nice padding.
 The next day I felt a lot better.  It is funny how sunlight can totally change things.  I was hiking up to Mount Vision.
Looks pretty weird, right?  That is a pathway carved into another young growth pine forest.

A look at Tomales Bay from Mount Vision.

Descending down from Mount Vision.
 Mount Vision had some grate views of Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero.  I enjoyed this descent very much.
A picture of a coastal ranch.
 I then entered ranchland.  Basically ranch after ranch, I think mostly dairy farmers.

Here, ranches become historic landmarks.

This is where I set up to await Toshi's arrival.  I got a nice little nap in the sun, and took the opportunity to dry out everything.
 Toshi and Judy arrived right at 10 a.m. which was the plan.  It was an incredible pick me up to see them and enjoy a picnic of leftover chinese wedding food.  It was sooooo gooood.  You have no idea.  They got some fancy stuff from the wedding, and I gobbled it all down, well not all of it, but I was totally satisfied.  It was rather surreal laying out on Toshi's new tarp with boxes of various mushrooms, duck, scallops, etc, and looking over the ranchland that disappeared into the sea.

Judy was kind enough to let me borrow her husband for another weekend.

Toshi, on purpose, tried to disguise himself as a run of the mill hiker.   I, on the other hand, decided to show my pride as a "runner".
After we were done eating, Toshi and wife said goodbye(I didn't put that picture up- it was a bit too hard core for this blog...).  Toshi and I were on our way to point Tomales, the northern tip of Point Reyes and the turn-around point for this adventure.

We were now passing through Tule Elk preserve on the northern end.

Tule Elk.  They are protected on the norther side of Point Reyes.

This ranch is way old.  I think they planted these trees back when it was new, in 1860 something.

The alphas were impressive.

I don't think this is natural.

More beautiful views from the cliffs.

Some gnarly trails at point Tomales.

Pretty sweet wave action.

More views from point Tomales.
After Tomales Point, we headed south to explore more trails on the southern end of the park.  Our next destination before heading back towards Stinson Beach was Alamere Falls.

Thinking man with a backpack...

Toshi was trying to show off for the Elk.  They thought his rack was lacking in stature.

Pretty weird cricket.
As we approached the southern side of the park, we decided to explore some new trails near the ocean. Turns out this was a lot more ranchland.  Below is a hill we decided to climb to have a nice place to cook dinner and watch the sun set.

We climbed Devil's Ring-finger where we decided to cook dinner and watch the sun set.

Oh yeah.
It was a beautiful sunset and then we were off into the night.  Turns out it is much harder to follow farm roads in the night than what you might think.  The cows make their own trails, and they look very similar to the path that was supposed to be the "trail".  I really appreciated the company during this night-time hiking, considering my experience the previous night.

It was interesting to try and navigate in the dark, trying to figure out where we were with respect to the maps we had.  On more than one occasion we would come to a trail junction and find ourselves in a considerably different location than we had thought.  We tried to keep each-other in check while trying to decide which fork to take, but this was an insufficient voting scheme.  It would have really helped to have a third hiker to side with one person or the other to make some decisive move and backup our second guessing...

It was just a matter of time before we really screwed up.  We followed a trail that dead-ended at a barbed wire fence(like all pasture fences), but it looked like the trail continued on the other side.  It didn't make any sense to us though.  There should have been a gate, or a sign, or something, that communicated to us to either proceed over the fence, or at least tell us what to do.  We noticed a trail that went up the hill along the fence to the north and we took it.  As we wend up the "trail", there were several obstacles that we had to get through that told us that maybe that wasn't the trail we were supposed to be on.  As we got higher up the hill, and as we consulted our maps more, we realized that we were going in the wrong direction.  It was decided to backtrack to the main trail.  To the south of the main trail there was a tributary to the "Estero do Limantour".  We knew we had to cross it at some point, and thought we remembered some trails going down to the body of water somewhere back on the main trail.  So we backtracked even more.  After exploring some more in the dark and getting even more muddy from being down by the water, we came to the realization that there was no apparent crossing, so we decided to go back to the dead-end at the fence and see if we could follow the fence south to a crossing.  This proved to be another brush scramble that yielded no results, and we ended up back at that dead end.  There seemed to be only one option left: take that trail up the hill and see where it went.  As we climbed the hill yet again and kept getting higher and higher and farther off of what our maps were telling us, we realized we had to do something else.  We decided to jump the pasture fence and headed east towards another hill.

This proved to be a challenge.  As we climbed the hill, the brush got worse and worse, more thorns, more things that hurt.  We came to yet another fence and followed it south.  We finally weaved our way through the brush and onto another farm road.  As we followed this road, we thought we were on the right track to converge on the trail, but much to our disappointment, the road just seemed to melt into various cow trails that diverged across yet another pasture.  We followed yet another fence south and crawled through some more brush until we ended up in yet another field.  This one though was different.  The grass was tall, and it was obvious that it was not being grazed.  We crawled down and hopped over a creek, and crawled up the other side.  As we continued south, thinking that the more south we went, the better chance we had of finally ending up on our trail, things started getting thicker and yuckier.  And by yuckier, I mean swamp.  Our feet started sinking into the mud and we frequently were stymied by dead ends of un-passable thickets.  There were various plants that were stinging us in new ways that we had never been stung before and we were getting tired, cold, and worried about our current predicament.  We went in circles a couple of times, looking for that "secret" trail through the swamp, and then we started to give up hope. Finally, it was decided to find a solid piece of ground in the swamp to bivy up for the night and see if we could get a fresh start for the next day.

As we were setting up and licking our wounds, trying to wipe ourselves down just a little bit before we got all of our sleeping gear nasty, the thoughts started creeping into my head.  I knew we were totally, and completely lost, and there seemed to be no nice way to get out of where we were.  We were surrounded by very unfriendly plants and fences, and we didn't know where to go.  It occurred to me that we might spend the whole next day just trying to find some semblance of civilization so that we could limp our way home.  It was rather depressing.

This is where we slept in the swamp.  You can't see the cow patty that I am set up on... 

The Swamp.
I think we slept pretty good actually.  We were really worn out and it was a pretty late night.  We awoke to the dawn light, packed up, and made our way out of the swamp to assess our situation.  We climbed a hill so that we could get a vantage point and consider our options.  When we got to the top of the hill, it became apparent that getting through the swamp was going to be one of our last options.  As we scanned around, we noticed a farm road on the opposing hillside, and since it was really the only thing that looked like it was worth walking on, even though it was going in the wrong direction, we decided to see where it went.  When we crawled back over to the road, we realized that it headed south around the swamp.  This was very good news.  We started running enthusiastically, hope reentering our consciousness for the first time in a while.  The road then led to yet another gate, but we recognized the road that it connected with, we knew that if we followed it, it would take us back down to the dead end, except the other side of the "dead end".  So we went.  When we reached that intersection of despair, we spotted several signs that indicated that we were merging with Muddy Hollow Road, the road that we had been looking for the whole time.  The signs, and the road, were just around the corner around some bushes, on the other side of the dead end.  Below is a picture of the fence that we were expected to jump.  We couldn't believe it.  But, we got a nice adventure out of it, and we knew we were back on track, so we were happy, and starting to consider all of the fun things that we could still get to that day.

Are you sure we are suppose to jump that fence?
The next leg of our adventure would take us along the coast trail to Alamere Falls, a wonderful waterfall that empties directly into the pacific ocean.  The coast trail was beautiful.  It just snaked along the hillside along the coast, with clear views of the ocean.  We passed a cool backpacking camp, basically right on the coast where there was a single, large eucalyptus tree that Toshi just had to climb.

Coast Backpacking Camp. 

Cool Eycolypktus tree at Sky.  A strange creature habituating it's limbs. 

Does it get any better? 
Arch Rock.
We ate breakfast at Coast camp, and then continued along the coast trail.  Along the way we reached "Arch Rock", a pretty cool formation on the ocean.  After that, there was a challenging climb up to the cliffs that we would be running along for several more miles before we finally had a big descent down to "Wildcat" backpacking camp.

Long way down from the cliffs.

View from trail down to Wildcat Camp.

Can you spot Alamere Falls?

We spent some time exploring the area around the falls, trying to figure out a way to get down to it.  We should have done our homework, we couldn't figure anything out.  Turns there were a couple of options, I guess we will have to come back sometime!

Since we hit up all of our destinations for the trip, it was time to make our way home.  We were moving pretty good, but knew that we would probably have to finish in the dark before we reached Stinson Beach.
Toshi and me enjoying our last trail meal together on a bridge.

The cool hills again from Bolinas Ridge on our way back to Stinson Beach.
Another awesome sunset
We got back to Mount Tamalpais State Park and the sun was gone by the time we hit the final descent along the Willow Camp Fire Road into Stinson Beach.  This was a tough downhill to do in the dark.  It was rocky and steep, and my headlamp was just not sufficient for the task, so I took it really slow.  But, we finally made it back to town and then spent a while trying to find my truck again(everything looks so much different in the dark).  For the last couple of hours of hiking we had been discussing what we wanted to eat when we got back to town(of course).  We drove around the seemingly deserted tourist town, until we came across a nice little cafe close to the beach that seemed to be open.  When we went inside, we realized that the place was a little bit too nice for the state that we were in.  I had wrapped myself in some sweats that hopefully covered up some of the smell, but I am sure I didn't look too good.  As we sat down, with lines of drool coming our of our mouths(ok, that was just me), we looked at the menu with dazed eyes.  Scallops wrapped with bacon?  Some other fancy stuff I can't pronounce...  The waitress approached us and Toshi asked if they had cheeseburgers.  They said sure, and then proceeded to list off a gazillion different cheeses we could choose from.  The waitress got all the way to "Point Reyes Blue Cheese", and Toshi and I knew what we were having.  Best burger of my life!

All in all, it was a great adventure.  It is actually kind of nice to look back and realize that we had faced adversity, and we came out on top.  And that made the experience that much richer.  The whole trip was over 100 miles, and I would totally recommend Point Reyes to anyone.

Here is a compilation of a few video clips:

Boring Details:

Gear Review:

  • Basically same gear as Santa Cruz Mountains and Sierras.
  • Jetboil Sol Stove: A-.  Another data point:  I used a 4 oz. gas canister for Toshi and me for the Santa Cruz trip.  I used that same canister for this trip.  Basically it seems that you can do two, three day backpacking trips, cooking meals for two people, twice a day, with one canister.  Amazing.  Good deal too, it's like 5 bucks for a can.
  • REI Minimalist Bivy: B. Still haven't used it in the rain, but it gets the job done everywhere else.
  • Inertia X-Lite sleeping pad: B-.  I keep thinking about getting a full length pad, I guess that means, maybe this one isn't getting the job done.
  • Zissou Lite Nautical Long Sleeping Bag.  A.  Fantastic.  Totally worth it.
  • Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack: A-.  Just keeps performing.  No issues this trip.
  • MSR Hyperflow water filter: A. Seems like I am still learning how to keep it in best working condition.  You really want to backfilter it regularly to maintain flow rates, and there seems to be some tricks to doing that right.
  • Outdoor Research Ultra Light Ditty Sacks: A-.  Still seem to be holding up pretty well, but I noticed some wear on the smallest bag, the one I use for all of my miscellaneous stuff.  Seems that hard edges might not be so good for these bags.  Will keep updated on durability.
  • Black Diamond Ultra Distance Hiking Poles: A+.  The best.


  • I don't have anything new to report on the essentials: Gu, Bars, trail mix, jerky.
  • Banana Chips: A.  We get these great banana chips from our co-op that are fried in coconut oil, one of the "safe" oils that I would recommend.
  • MaryJanesFarm Organic Indian lentil rice mix thingie: B+.  It was a smaller serving than what you get from Backpackers Pantry, or one of the other brands, but it seemed to be just the right amount of food for one of my stops.  And it was good.  But what I have discovered is that anything with indian spices in it seems to be pretty good.
  • Alpine Aire Pepper Steak: B+.  A keeper.
  • Backpackers Pantry Cashew Chicken Curry: B+.  More Indian food.
  • Out of all of my fastpacking trips so far, this has probably been the best in terms of having my food dialed in.  The right amount, the right stuff, etc.


  • With less daylight available, I took a little different approach to this trip.  I would cook dinner while there was still light out, and then just bivy up in the evening when I had reached my intended destination for the day.  It worked fine, except I do not recommend hiking in the dark, by yourself- no fun.
  • There was more running involved on this trip than Santa Cruz and Sierras.  It was flatter terrain, and not nearly as epic of climbs as we had faced in prior trips.  That is ok, the views made up for it.  I do enjoy a nice long climb though.  I would say we ran 60% of the time.
  • Pack weight was about the same as previous trips, maybe a little less at 22 lbs because I carried a little less food.