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.


  1. It's too bad you couldn't make it to the ocean, but still a cool run exploring some new private roads. ;)

  2. How about Native Sons Rd to Durham Rd and connect to Tunitas Creek OSP? I know Clare's got the route figured out with Clare's house to the Sea. Let me know when you try this next time!