Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some Fun at Sierra Azul

 Not dead yet.  I bounced back from the Henry Coe trip pretty well.  Competed in our monthly 5k at work on Tuesday and ran a 17:59.  Still 50s slow from where my speed was at last summer, but I'm getting there.  Truth be told I know I was still in recovery and probably was not able to give the run an A effort, but I like to do as many of them as I can.  Got a good hill workout on the PG&E on Thursday morning, and generally felt ok going into this weekend where I planned to do another tough double long run Sat-Sun.  These double-long runs are a new addition to my training and I am looking forward to finding out if results get better.  For the last couple of years I have been doing one really long run on Saturdays, usually in the 50k range, but I wanted to change things up a little and see what happens.

Met with Toshi at Sierra Azul on Saturday morning.  We started out at Kennedy and ran up a mountain or two, and then back.  Kennedy is a fantastic dirt road to train on.  It is a relentless 4 mile climb.  I have a tough time thinking about another trail in the area that has the same profile.  It is all runnable and there are minimal downs or flats to catch your breath on.  Even though I think the PG&E at Rancho is steeper in a lot of sections, you still get some downhills there that let you sort of catch your breath before the next steep climb.  Kennedy makes no such allowances.

Looking DOWN at Mount El Sombroso.
We found this neat tower on a hill somewhere...

Near the tower Toshi discovered a plant that he claims to have a lot of experience with.
The Sierra Azul run was probably in the neighborhood of 22-24 miles and took us about 4.5 hrs.  The running was done at the beginning and end of the run with some scrambling and hiking in the middle of it, so it wasn't strictly a running workout, but a fun adventure in the hills.

The next morning I did my Rancho Black Mountain route again.  Completed it faster at about 3:15 and that was for about 22 miles.  My legs felt fine at the beginning and I was fine at the end.  I think there is something wrong with this picture.  From what I read I am supposed to be "tired" for my second long run and my legs are supposed to feel bad at the beginning of the run.  That is the whole concept of the training adaptations that you want to get out of the double long run, run on tired legs...  I have a feeling I am not pushing myself hard enough or am not running long enough.  I will probably have to adjust this, but we are heading into racing season now, so the training pattern is going to change anyways.  I will be living race to race, just trying to recover as optimally as possible and try an leverage any fitness gains that I might get from each race for the next race.  That a different beast in terms of being able to follow a training plan.

A bunch of kids just having fun.

Looking down at the valley.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Henry Coe Fastpacking

According to the National Safety Council your odds of dying from "Fireworks discharge" is 1 in 652,046, Lightning, 1 in 134,906, Firearms discharge, 1 in 6,609, Pedestrian (i.e. crossing the street), 1 in 701, and motor vehicle incident, 1 in 98.  Fastpacking Henry Coe must be somewhere up the on the list too.  Maybe I should qualify that: solo-fastpacking Henry Coe could be risky.  The ways Coe can get you are varied.  You think you can plan a route that will keep you with water the whole time?  What about the rattle-snakes?  I bet you thought those trails they show on the map are really trails too...  Just wait and see.

When I decided to cut out of work after lunchtime on friday to get a head start on Henry Coe this past weekend, I had the un-ambitious plan to just "explore" the park.  I had a pretty good goal of making it to the "Orestimba Wilderness", just because it sounded cool, and remote, and a little dangerous...
When I showed up at the rangers station to get my permits I asked some basic questions:  Can I go through the private property on County line road to get a shortcut to the Wilderness?  No.  Do I really have to go all the way to Orestimba creek road?  Yes.-But that is ambitious for a 2-3 day backpacking trip.  They then asked who I was going with.  I said solo.  They frowned.  I tried to explain that I cover a lot of ground.  I don't think they were too impressed.  

Henry Coe is a big park.  It is rugged, and it is remote.  And there do not seem to be very many hikers that go there, even though it is only one hour away from San Jose.  I suppose it doesn't have the coastal redwoods, or views of the ocean, or views of the bay.  And most of the trails probably scare away the average hiker.  I have heard that some people are freaked out by the fact that there are no other people there.  I guess if I grew up in the bay area I might feel weird NOT being around people too.  I liked the park.  I liked the seclusion and vastness.  It would be perfect if the trails were a little better maintained, but maybe that is the trade-off.

I picked my route through the park towards Orestimba Creek road (my gateway to the wilderness) with as much single-track as I could muster.  The park is comprised of several giant ranches that were given to the state back in the 50s.  This means most of the roads are old farm-roads that travel the ridges and are meant more for internal combustion engines than travel by foot.  The single track was pretty nice, but there were a lot of ticks.  Every few minutes I had to stop and flick them off of my legs- not pleasant.  On one of the creek trails I cam upon this old stone dugout.  It was pretty cool.

Old stone dugout.  I wonder from what era?

Cool stream side trails.

Random cabin on private property within the park.  Wonder how this happens?
 Some of the trail intersections were confusing and I had a tough time resolving my location with the map.  I had planned to connect trails to go to the south of Mississippi lake to avoid the bear mountain climb and the extra miles that would add, but ended up taking a wrong turn at on of my intersections.  This led me to make some false assumptions at my next trail junction and I ended up going up Bear Mountain road.  This road is criss-crossed by coyote creek.  Basically this meant wet feet.  Oh well, I have heard that that is good training for races too (running with wet feet).  By the time I realized I was not going where I wanted to go, I was too invested, and decided to go to the top and follow county line road around to the south end of Mississippi lake.
Views from Bear Mountain.

From Bear Mountain looking into the Orestimba Wilderness, where I would be going the next day.
 The sun was starting to set as I reached the lake and I was out of water.  I decided to fill up at the lake and discovered that it had a pleasant pond-water taste to it.  I guess you want to stick to streams and springs.  I then made it to the Hartman trail where I camped the first night on one of the ridges.  It was a beautiful camp spot, but the downfall of sleeping on the ridge like this is the wind.  I found that if I slept in a certain orientation, the wind was less of an issue.  The temps weren't too bad, and it was generally a pleasant night.
Views from my camping spot.

Sunrise the next morning.

Orestimba Creek road going towards Rooster Comb.
Rooster Comb
 The next day as I traveled north along Orestimba Creek road, I noticed a hill in the distance with some rock formations on the top.  It looked pretty interesting.  As I closed in I realized that was the spot where the park sends you off of the road and on to some single track that goes along the hill.  I guess the road continues into some private property.  Fine by me, it was flat and boring.  As I ran along the single track I kept looking up the hill at the formations and thought to myself that I could climb it.  And if that really was "Rooster Comb" as the map seemed to indicate, then there would be a Rooster Comb Summit trail waiting for me on the other side that I could just run down and continue up to Robison Creek.  Well, the video tells the story:

All kinds of wildflowers.
When I finally reached the Robison Creek trail I found some pretty water falls as the creek empties into Orestimba.  It is at this time that I was introduced to the "wilderness".  The trail signs no longer meant much.  There would be a post with a trail name on it, and an arrow pointing off into the general direction of where a hiker might go if a trail existed.  I followed what I thought to be the outlines of an old farm road only to have it disappear before me.  I would then check the map, and sure enough, all you had to do was follow the creek-that was the trail.  I came to a marker that claimed something called the "Pinto Creek Trail".  Studying the map, it led me to believe that if I followed this trail up the mountain, then I could eventually reach mount Stakes, the highest point in the park at around 3500 ft.  So I went for it.  Every once in a while I could see where a trail might have been at one time, but my best guess is that these are 50 year old unmaintained farm roads that are just going back to the wild.  At one point I got so fed up with the bushwhacking that I decided to scale one of the ridges with the hopes that I could find a cleaner line to get to the "mount stakes trail".  The issue was that as I reached the ridge I realized that there was still plenty of bushwhacking left to do.  I would make some progress, only to come to a dead end, have to retrace my steps and look for another line.  The process was slow, it was hot, and the shrubs were scratching me up pretty good.  I kept taking breaks under the random trees that dotted the hill to re-evaluate my plan with the map.  It seemed like I should hit the mount stakes trail at any moment.  As I continued the situation started to get desperate.  I was now way too far up, and battled through way too many shrubs to turn around to get back down to the creek.  It was hot and I was starting to run low on water.  The thing you find out about Henry Coe is that the water is low, and you need to plan accordingly.  I just kept thinking to myself, if I find the stakes trail then I can just hammer the downhill and get back to Robison Creek to fill up.  Then the thought occurred to me that the stakes trail was just as bad as the pinto creek trail, and then what?  It was around this point that I was following a deer trail along the contour of the hill and came within a foot of stepping on a rattle-snake.  I heard the distinct rattle sound at the last moment because it was being masked by the rustling of the bushed because of the wind.  My heart just about leapt out of my chest.  I backed off and was coming to the realization of just how messed up a situation I had gotten myself into.  I picked a different line and kept going at the hill.  I realized that there was now a higher probability that I was just going to top out rather than hit the stakes trail.  I could see the top ahead.  I really hoped there would be some old farm roads to lead me down the mountain when I got there.  One of the best feeling was when about half a mile from the top I got to the ridge and it just opened up for me, easy cruising all the way to the top.  Fortunately I found the roads I was hoping for:

From my climb up to mt Stakes, looking down at Robison Creek where I came from.
 The views were incredible from top.  You could see all the way through the central valley and the Sierras in the distance.  As I followed the road back to the mount stakes trail, I found out that this trail too was being overgrown.  It was still runnable for the most part, and since it followed the ridges of this really neat range it was just incredible views the whole way.  I would have enjoyed it if I wasn't worried about dying.  The scramble up the mountain and the rattle snake, and being almost out of water had left me in a pretty weary state.  There was little margin for error at this point, I really had to get back down to Robison.  As I tried to follow the stakes trail down I noticed at some point that it got a lot rougher.  I was really wondering whether I was going the right way.  I ran out of water.  At some point I reached another marker that said pinto creek .6 miles.  I didn't know what to make of it.  Did it mean that that was the Pinto creek trail (which is considerably longer than .6 miles) or just .6 miles until you could get water?  Well, the last thing I wanted to do was follow that thing down only to have to climb back up again, and I was pretty sure the stakes trail was going to bring back down to the valley.  So I continued on.  When I came around the bend I noticed one last steep climb up this pointy hill in the middle of nowhere.  That seemed odd to me because the map had indicated that the stakes trail was pretty much a straight shot down the ridgeline.  After studying the map some more I came to the realization that this was a random peak in-between the stakes trail and the pinto creek trail, and I was once again, in the middle of nowhere.  I couldn't exactly retrace my steps at this point because I could see the valley.  It seemed so close.  In reality I still had another 1500 ft of descent left.  I decided to follow the old overgrown road with the hopes that it would lead me to where I wanted to go.  I went up and over the peak and then, dead end.  Seriously.  The road just stopped and I was surrounded by impassible shrubbery.  I decided to try and find a way around and just pick my way down the hillside sorta like what I did to get up the mountain.  I came to a gully and knew where that was going, so I just followed it down.  That actually worked pretty good.  I finally made it back down to the valley and I quickly made my way over to pinto creek where I proceeded to gorge myself on water.  This did not make me feel so good, you would think I would learn by now, but it is a totally instinctual reaction to that kind of thirst.
From mt. Stakes looking into the Central Valley and the Sierra's off in the distance.
 I washed as well as I could in the creek and then continued back towards Orestimba creek road with the hopes of just getting back home as soon as possible.  I had had enough of Coe.  My camping spot that night was pretty nice.  It was above the Robison Creek falls.  The disconcerting thing though was that I would randomly get a tick on me while I was doing my evening chores.  I was worried that I was going to have to zip my bivy all the way up to keep the bugs out that night.  But as the evening progressed I had less issues and decided to sleep open again.  I also experimented for the first time with pulling the back-pad out of my backpack to put down at the foot of my bivy to provide a pad for my lower legs.  This seemed to work pretty nice actually.  I slept better this night than on many that I can remember while fastpacking.
Camping setup on day 2 near Robison Creek.

Looking down into Los Cruzeros
 Day three was just about getting back to the car.  I did finally connect up the right trails, the trails that I wanted to take that first day.  It was another hot day and I had learned from my previous two days at Coe.  I skipped filtering from Mississippi lake on the way back, picked a canyon-spring trail in leu of a ridge-top trail so that I could fill up on water, and generally had a pretty straight forward trek back to the truck.  I was wiped though.  The heat, and I think, the mental fatigue just accumulated, and I was just ready for it to be over.

I'm going to end this post with one of my favorite sayings by Theodore Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong
man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The
credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred
by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes
short again and again, because there is no effort without error and
shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the
great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy
cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and
who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that
his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither
victory nor defeat."

A romantic notion right?  I don't know if my wife would agree...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wunderlich to the Sea Attempt

 I planned to do a tough double long run this weekend to build on my workouts from last week.  I knew I wanted to visit Wunderlich again, so that was my starting point.  Wunderlich stretches basically from Woodside up to Skyline drive.  At the top of the park at skyline drive you have a couple of options for stretching your run to other lands.  Option 1: You can follow Skyline trail over to Huddart and get some more trails there.  That is a great run and is a common course used by local trail race organizers.  Option 2: You can continue on to El Corte De Madera Preserve.  This is a mountain bikers heaven, but that also makes it a lot of fun for runners (just keep your head on a swivel).

I chose to go to Corte Madera.  As I was evaluating which trails I wanted to use for my run I noticed how the park had a junction with "Star Hill road".  Curious, I followed the road on google maps and found that in 6.4 short miles I could be at the ocean.  This would turn my run into a much longer effort than I had originally planned (to be able to do another run on Sunday morning).  But it was too enticing, so I went for it.

The run up Wunderlich follows nice, well groomed, wide, soft trail with a gradual climb to skyline.  The whole thing is very runnable and provides for a nice stretch of sustained climbing effort.  When I got to skyline, I crossed the road and reached my normal entry point into Corte Madera.  There was a sign saying that that road was not open.  I remember last year that they were doing some sort of construction in this vicinity, but I never figured out what they were up to.  Anyways, I hopped the gate (common theme for todays run), and found this brand new parking facility with bathrooms and trail head info all ready to go.  Except it was still closed for some reason.  Whatever, it will be nice.  So I continued down the hill towards the ocean.

New parking lot at El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve
I get a kick out of some of the trail names that you will encounter in Madera like Methuselah, Giant Salamander, and my personal favorite: Steam Donkey.  I can only imagine how fun Steam Donkey would be to bomb down with a mountain bike, but running is pretty exhilarating as well.  Steep, banked curves, big drop-off to the creek, bumps, ramps, rocks, and a rainforest like setting make it a hoot.
Steam Donkey Trail
Once I started cruising down the Gordon Mill Trail, I noticed some vertical rock features lining the left side of the trail.  Looked like it would make for some pretty fun climbing...
An interesting "problem" for Toshi
Once I hit the Virginia Mill Trail, I kept my eye open to the left because I noticed on one of the switchbacks on the map that the trail came really close to star hill.  If I could identify the spot and scramble to the road I could shave about half a mile off of my run.  I notice the spot immediately, it seems that I was not the first to notice this feature.  The shortcut actually looked like it might have been the remnant of an old fire road or something.
Shortcut from Star Hill road to the Virginia Mill trail.
 I took some pictures so I knew where I could take the shortcut on the way back.  As I continued down Star Hill I came to a gate that claimed that the road now entered "private property" and that you should not "trespass" whatever that means.  I know google maps would not lead me astray (the way it did when Toshi and I had to climb barbed wire gates at El Soreno).  So I hopped the gate and continued on.  I knew why someone closed off the road- they wanted to keep it all to themselves!  It was fantastic, this road, lined with giant eucalyptus trees, cruised down this ridge with sweeping views of an idilic pastoral setting stretching out to the ocean.
Views from Star Hill road.

Eucalyptus lined road with awesome views.

One of the few witnesses of my transgression.
 I continued down the road until I hit yet another gate, that actually looked like the gate to someone's driveway, in fact, a hundred yards later was another gate.  I couldn't believe that this was still Star Hill road and realized that it would not be very prudent to continue on that course.  So I took the "other" road, which turned out to be Alston Ave.  I suppose I was still technically on private property, but it looked like a normal road with a driveway coming off to someone's house every once in a while.  As I continued down Alston, there were more and more driveways, and I started to get nervous.  At one spot I heard some hillbilly music going (at 10 a.m. in the morning) and picked up my pace.  at the bottom of the hill there was this old style gas station with antique gas pumps and all, totally fixed up, with a "real" hummer parked there.  I picked up my pace faster.
Reminded me of Kansas, except the cars in in pretty good shape for what they are...
 I was moving pretty good and was just waiting for some NRA lunatic to come screaming by in their jeep waiving their rifle at me (but this is California right, surely that wouldn't happen).  I then came upon some well groomed pastures where I notice a longhorn steer checking me out.  Realize that the there was nothing between me and the longhorn except green grass.  And I was wearing a red shirt.  I was pretty much running six minute miles at this point, but the longhorn didn't seem too interested in me and I quickly put some ground between us.  Then I came upon these "ponds".  I am fond of farm ponds.  I grew up fishing them, swimming them, etc, but I have never seen a farm pond like this before.  There was about the fanciest cow fountain I ever saw, and some sort of tropical lilies and plants and stuff lining the water.  Happy cows indeed.

These cows have it nice- designer drinking fountains and all.
 I kept going down the road, fully expecting to emerge onto some sort of road that I have heard of before.  The crazy thing is that all of these roads looked the same, had seemingly random intersections, and no signs.  I was pretty much guessing my way through the maze.  At one point a guy in his pretty white Acura weaved through a herd of cows and approached me from the opposite way.  I waved to him and he nodded to me like I was supposed to be there or something... whatever.  I kept going, but now I had to make it through the cows.  Not normally an issue for me.  The cows in Kansas always kept their distance.  But these cows just sat there and didn't budge.  No issue, except for the fact that some of these dudes had some pretty scary equipment on their heads.  Check this vid out where I am slowly "sneaking" by one of these comical looking beasts:

At least the guy in the Acura had some sheet-metal between him and a potentially gruesome death...

One of the many longhorns I crossed paths with
There were some sweet houses in this country.


"The other side"
 So I finally made it back to "Bear Gulch" road, a road I had heard of before.  Had to hop another gate and noticed that there was yet another of those "private road" signs.  I don't really know how that all works.  I guess a bunch of people get together and decide to close off their road from the "public" so as to provide a nice little sanctuary for themselves, or whatever, but it all seems pretty selfish to me.

It was one of those days.
From Bear Gulch I was able to connect back up to Madera and hook up my trails back to my truck.  An ultimately unsuccessful attempt to scout out another route from the bay to the ocean, but totally worth the effort, especially since I didn't get shot, run over, or mauled by a long horn.

The whole thing ended up taking me just under five hours, so it was still a longer run than I really had planned on for this day, but I decided to give Black Mountain another shot on Sunday morning.  Got up early and took the windmill pasture route.  Round trip about 16 miles and it actually felt ok, but I was wiped at the end.  I got a cool surprise near the summit when I ran into Bob, who I normally do track workouts with (him and Jean) on Tuesday or Thursday mornings.  I know he usually sticks more to the roads, but he seems to be venturing off into the hills as of late.  He said something about connecting up an ultra-marathon with those trails, and I assured him that would be a good idea.  I think we got another ultra-runner in the making.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

San Bruno Mtns and Black Mtn Running

Those of you who live in the San Francisco Bay Area have probably driven north on 101 at some time and seen the "South San Francisco" sign in the side of a hill.  I didn't go there on Saturday, but Toshi and I did go running on those hills behind it.  The San Bruno mountains are a pretty fun place to run.  There is definitely some steep stuff, basically any trail that gets you up to the ridge, but then the ridge is some fun up and down running with awesome views.

We parked on some random street that we found that dead ended into the mountains.  Toshi tried to tell me there was a small trail that went off to the right after we crawled through the fence, but it looked like a clear shot up the hill and I didn't want to waste any time getting to the top, so off we went.

See that road down there, we just crawled up that hill...

Views of the Pacific from the Summit

Toshi and another of his "poses"

The bay with Mount Diablo in the distance.

View of the bay as we were getting closer to 101.

Toshi, contemplating whether to jump or not.

Interesting down hill technique.
We hit the summit, ran along the ridge, did a couple of down and ups on the steep side trails, and now we can say:  Yeah, we've been there...

On Sunday morning I got up bright and early for a Black Mountain run.

First interesting thing I saw.

Approaching the clouds.

In the clouds.

Above the clouds.

Views of the bay.

Views down the ocean.

Back down to Rancho.
I took the long trail up to Black, windmill pasture-black mountain trail.  Hit the summit, then went down the other side on the Bella-Vista, then Canyon, then back up Indian Creek.  Hit summit again and then back to Rancho the way I came.  Toshi and I did about 2.5 hrs of running Saturday, and I was wondering how my legs would respond on Sunday morning, and everything went good, which was encouraging.  Got another 3.4 hrs of running.  I usually do one long run per weekend (unless on some crazy fastpacking adventure of course...).  But this was an interesting change of pace.  I might have to try this a few more times...