Sunday, April 21, 2019

Henry Coe Backpacking 2019: Still in one piece...

A few weeks ago I began to get the itch for another Coe adventure.  I'm not sure why - I've been to every corner of this park in all kinds of weather and different kind of conditions.  The fun of the mystery of exploration and seeing what's over the next hill is out at this point: I know this place like the back of my hand...  And yet there is the pull to keep coming back for more.  Of course this is the case for any of my trail running exploits at this point.  Even with the thousands of miles of great trails around the bay area, I have traveled them all, in races, out of races, training runs, backpacking adventures, etc.  I keep going back because it is fun!

Spring is the ideal time for Henry Coe.  The winter rains have saturated the watersheds - the ponds are full, the creeks are flowing, the water is nice and cold, and the grass is green, and the flowers are blooming.  I was keen on a solo backpacking experience, not because I'm anti-social, but because there is a real experience to be had in being in the middle of nowhere all by yourself.  The feeling of vulnerability and overcoming the tough physical and mental obstacles give a very real payback of achieving a certain amount of confidence and aptitude that is appealing to me.  Day to day life seems to provide a fa├žade of safety and comfort that is nice - this is why as a civilization we have decided to tend in the direction of climate controlled dwellings within range of supermarkets.  Nothing wrong with that - it is what I signed up for as well - a great place to raise a family...  But there is still the itch to insert just a little bit of adventure to spice things up.

 This particular weekend, on which I planned a three day trip Sat through Mon, was the only weekend of April that worked with the family schedule.  It happened to be a weekend with great weather - lucky me!  I've made a few changes to the way I approach these Henry Coe trips: I now go with full coverage to protect from the brush and the sun.  It gets pretty warm, but the payoff in terms of avoided pain is well worth it.  Nylon hiking pants, long sleeve white perforated light tech shirt, my lucky Wheaties bandanna around the neck, and a full brimmed hat was the way to go.

  • Red was day 1: 32.45 miles with 5463 ft climbing
  • Green was day 2: 27.82 miles with 7726 ft climbing
  • Blue was day 3: 11.29 miles with 3258 ft climbing
  • Totals: 71.56 miles with 16447 ft climbing

As I ascended the valley from the Hunting Hollow entrance to the park I was forced to wade through the creek multiple times.  While refreshing, it did mess me up later as the wet feet began to show signs of wear as the day went on.  I made a silly rookie mistake by wearing regular running socks instead of my trusted Injinji toe socks.  This led to multiple hot spots developing on my toes as the day went on.  I took a break in the middle of the day to dry out my shoes and socks, while filtering water and eating lunch and applying duct tape to the problem toes.  This provided temporary relief, but as the day went on there were more creeks to wade through and more damage to deal with.  At the end of the day when I was able to air out my feet and remove the tape I was both relieved to give the feet a break, but also worried about how they would hold up for another couple of days.

The hike was pretty magical.  The greens were brilliant, the spring flowers were in full bloom, the birds were singing, and the views were forever.  There was such complete sensory stimulation with the eyes watching the teeming of life, the ears hearing birds songs, and the nose picking up the aromas of the various pollen wafting through the air, and the skin feeling the warmth of the sun and cool of the breeze.  And there were no distractions, it was just me and the hills, and it was great!

When everything is going great it is kind of sad how just a little bit of doubt can start creeping into the head and start dominating your thoughts.  When I was several miles into the hike I began to notice that there seemed to be excess moisture coming off of my backpack.  Generally this just means I am working hard and sweating and that sweat gets channeled down the back, but I have had issues with my hydration bladder springing leaks before and that was my fear.  The problem is that if that thing springs a leak, almost everything in your pack is going to get drenched, and depending on the size of the leak, you may not have water carrying capacity either.  These are all pretty catastrophic situations for backpacking at Coe, and it started occurring to me that my trip might be cut off prematurely.  Fortunately when I took that break to fix my feet and eat my lunch, the inspection of my pack revealed that all was fine and that huge worry was lifted from my thoughts.

Coit Lake

As I headed north through the park I decided to take a route that would bring me to each of the lakes along the way.  This route wasn't necessarily the most efficient to get to my main destination of the Orestimba Wilderness, but I wasn't there for efficiency, I was there to see things.  The lakes did not disappoint, it was a joy to witness the vibration of life that thrives near the water.  At one of these lakes I met some fellow backpackers and we had the usual conversation about where we were headed and what was going on.  When the guy heard what I was up to, he got this far off stare in his eyes and confided in me his desire to one day make it to the wilderness on the north end of the park.  Apparently last year he had gotten himself in pretty good shape and was ascending the final ridge that separates the state park from the wilderness, the Mississippi ridge, when he injured his knee because he was pushing too hard.  He had to turn around, but at the top he did get a glimpse of wilderness and vowed to return one day and complete his mission.  Its stories like that that remind me not to take my health and capabilities for granted, and it reminds me that these things are hard and deserve the attention and respect that they require...

The hike proceeded up and down the ridges until finally I dropped down off of Mississippi to Orestimba creek where I followed the old farm road past the Rooster Comb and on to the confluence of the Orestimba and Robison Creek where I filled up on water one last time before climbing up a slight hill and making camp and preparing for the ascent of Mt Stakes in the morning.  One interesting tidbit from this hike was that I saw the first woman that I have ever seen in the Orestimba.  I was shocked when I was about to leave Orestimba creek to take the Rooster Comb trail and I see a woman in short shorts, running shoes, and a small fastpack coming off of the trail in my direction.  I asked her what she was up to, and she told me all about the trail/not a trail situation that she just went through.  I would imagine she didn't really know what to expect from the wilderness as the maps clearly show where trails should be, but when you actually go out there you find out that it's been a long time since anybody did any work on them, so a lot of times you are dealing with remnants of a trail.  I think she was glad to be done with it.

The Rooster Comb

Camping on the hill was a peaceful affair.  You could hear the water falling over the rocks in the distance and the frogs starting their chorus.  I chocked down my AlpineAire Chicken Gumbo (average), crawled into my tent, and sent my wife a good night message through the satellite messenger.  I then read until I thought I could pass out and then began my regular backpacking routine of barely sleeping at all.  As the first light became available in the morning I slowly started packing up my stuff.  At some point while crouched over in my small tent I felt my back give a slight twinge.  Not good.  I then slowed everything down, paying close attention to my posture and being extra cautious, got ready for the climb up the mountain.  The climb was uneventful.  My back complained, but I found a rhythm and routine of changing posture that seemed to provide some relief.  When I finally pushed through the last chaparral bush and ended up on a newly graded dirt road on top of the ridge, I knew I had made it.  I followed the dirt road west towards the high point of the park at which point I recognized the outlines of the old farm road following another ridge back down to the Robison valley.  As I climbed back down the ridge I found a fork in the road that might have been the Mt. Stakes trail that headed toward red creek road.  One day I may explore this path, but I knew that this trail is notoriously overgrown and hard to follow as you near the valley floor, so I opted to follow a path that I was already familiar with.  As I neared Robison creek I must have missed the trail that Sachin and I were able to successfully navigate several years back and was forced to bushwhack down the same gully that I was forced to take the first backpacking trip that I had done at Coe.  After refilling my water at the creek, I did my best to navigate the brush and creek climbing up-river towards the pass that leads to red creek on the other side.  At some point I realized I had missed the trail and ended up on yet another bushwhack.  Finally I linked up with the trail and was able to successfully navigate down to red creek, but not without first twisting my ankle in a hole in the grass field.  The issues were piling up at this point:  my back was bothering me, my toes were chewed up, my ankle was messed up, and I was rattled by all of the bushwhacking.  When I got down to the creek I decided to take another break to eat some lunch, air out the feet, and dry out my camping stuff that was still damp from the morning dew.  It was a good decision as I was able to chill out in one of the most beautiful parts of the park, and regroup before the big climb up the chaparral trail back to Mississippi ridge.

I hiked to Mississippi lake, which is kind of a stunning place given it's location high up on the ridge and the fact that it is the biggest lake in the park.  There I sat down to review my route options to get back to the car.  I had seen most of the stuff that I had set out to see, I had climbed Stakes, and now I was trying to figure out where I might want to make it to set up camp that night.  I aimed at making it to Los Cruzeros, which is a beautiful confluence of streams in the middle of the park.  This also happens to be the place where my family and I had quite the adventure several years back.   I made it to the stream as the sun was starting to set, and refilled my water.  Learning from that family adventure, I decided to climb up from the stream to an open meadow to camp that night to avoid the extra moisture from the running water and the cacophony of the frogs.  Again, it was another peaceful night.  I enjoyed my Backpackers Pantry Three Sisters Stew (average), sent the wife a message, read my book and passed out.  This night I slept like a rock - I think I finally wore myself out!

The next morning I had almost no flexibility in my back, which made packup really challenging.  Somehow I muddled through the whole affair - just took my time and tried to enjoy the beautiful morning with the early sun just starting to glow over the green pastures around me.  My hike up to Mahony Meadows was incredible.  This ridge is definitely one of the most stunning places in the park right now with the bright green open grassland dotted with ancient oak trees and placid ponds.  As you hike along the ridge you are treated with views forever.  As I headed south along the ridge I could see the steep drop down to the coyote creek valley below and the Coyote ridge on the other side to the right.

I made it back to the car just before lunch time and concluded what ended up being a great trip to Coe.  Mid-April is definitely one of the nicest times of the year to explore the park.  Here are some pics a vids:

Video Montage:



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Quicksilver Challenge Kids Race 2018!

We have had racer in the Quicksilver Challenge Kids race ever since Hayley was six years old.  Now we have four in the race.  Hayley is about to age out: turning 13 before next years race, she will have to become a spectator or graduate up to the 10k.  The race is a one mile out and back course on a rolling fire road.  The kids are always excited about this race because they usually get some pretty nice goodies at the end.  I like it because it is free.

Seth beat Hayley last year - which I think she took pretty hard, getting beat by her then six year old brother.  This being her last year, she decided she was going to go all out and take back the crown as the fastest Johnson kid miler.  

Small turnout this year.  But it is a fierce group of competitors!

And they're off:

Don't know this kids name, but by the looks of it he might be one of the well trained quicksilver cross country boys.  The kids all agreed - he was fast.  He had a pretty comfortable margin for the win.

Seth charged up the last hill to the finish like a little dude on a mission.  Apparently he ran with Hayley for most of the race and then decided to drop her like a bad habit and flew to the finish line for second place.

Hayley ran a well paced third place.  She seems resigned that Seth might officially be faster than her - but I have yet to remind her that if she so chooses - that she has many years of actual distance training ahead of her and the potential to transform her as a runner.

This little girl ran with beautiful form and took it out hard with Seth on the opening downhill.  Well done.

Blake chugged up the hill with a determined pump.  He was ready for a donut!

Ada ended up getting into a little bit of a sprint at the end, dueling another determined gal for a finish. 

Notice Ada relaxing HARD in the background.  They earned their goodies!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pacing Sachin at the 2018 Headlands Hundred

A few weeks ago I was honored when my buddy Sachin asked me to pace him at the Headlands Hundred.  Here I will write down my account of what transpired.

Headlands was not Sachin's first choice of the hundred mile mountain race that he wanted to prepare for this year.  He is a goal oriented dude that when he sets his mind to something he is very meticulous and focused in every step of the process.  He was originally training to complete a race called the Fatdog 120, a 120 mile race in a real alpine environment in Canada.  That race got canceled at the last minute because of forest fires.  He had already done all of the training, spent all of the money (including investing in an altitude tent to help him acclimate to the elevation), so the cancellation understandably came as a blow.  He decided that all of that investment shouldn't be wasted though and decided to find a replacement race.  Headlands fit the bill with it being a local hilly race with pretty straight forward logistics.  The race would not however test his mettle with respect to technical mountain trails at elevation - but his fitness and mental resolve would still be put on the line. 

I got to sleep in, make coffee, read my book, generally just chill out, and then drive up across the Golden Gate bridge to hang out on a beautiful sunny day at the beach before expecting Sachin somewhere after 4 p.m. at the 50 mile mark of the race. 
Sachin - all smiles and high fives at the 50 mile mark.

Sachin was somehow able to convince his girlfriend Kate to drop him off at the race, drive around the headlands for 20 hours following him around and catering to his every need at every aid station (mixing drinks, wardrobe changes, gear exchanges, etc), driving around his stinky pacers, and then drove him home.  Something tells me he owes her one or a lot. 

In stark contrast to last years race, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the runners were fully exposed to the sun pretty much the whole day.  That took its toll on the runners!  Sachin was however able to take pretty good care of himself, and ran some really well paced loops, never burning himself up.  This discipline really helped him cash in once the temperatures started dropping.

The best thing about this years weather was the fact that the views were amazing.

Sachin came into the 50 mile aid station in fifth place.  He ran the first lap in 4:45 and the second in just over 5 hours, staying steady.  The leader of the race at the time, John Burton (who I've paced at a couple of races now) decided to withdraw.  Then Sachin started to methodically catch the other racers in front of him because they were starting to slow down, while Sachin was holding steady at his 5 hr per lap pace.  I should note that most every runner in ultra-running, especially at the longer distances (100k, 100 mile, etc) slow down as the race progresses - something that is known as a "positive split".  It is so hard to fend off muscle and brain fatigue when you are talking about those kinds of distances.  Sachin was somehow able to keep things even. 

This was the moment that Sachin was about to take the lead of the race from Mike (guy I don't know) at about mile 62.  After we put some distance on Mike, Sachin was explaining to me that this leading a race thing was pretty stressful.  He did not like the idea of having to worry about everyone chasing him for 40 miles!

After Sachin took the lead we headed down into the Tennessee Valley aid station (kind of the main hub of aid stations where the race passes through multiple times).  Many of the volunteers were super excited about helping out the new race leader.  The funny thing was that many of the volunteers remembered me from last year (I take pride in thanking the volunteers and joking around and trying to have fun).  As we were leaving the aid station they were all cheering for me doing an awesome pacing job.  As we headed up the next hill, I was joking with Sachin about how I was getting more love than he was... 

From the moment Sachin took the lead it was basically my job to try and get him to relax a little because this leading a race thing seemed to be rattling him a little bit.  He kept second guessing his pacing, nutrition, etc.  I told him to just keep doing what he was doing.  That was all he had to do.

There are a lot of out and backs on this course where you are able to get an idea of where your competitors are at with respect to you, so you can tell how much you might be able to relax or push depending on what you are trying to accomplish.  The tricky thing is that there are several different races going on at the same time and sometimes it is hard to keep track of who is running what race and who your competitors are.  Especially in the dark.  Sachin was relying on me to give him information on where everyone was - but I was doing a piss poor job.  I guess I wasn't super excited about that part of my job because in my mind it just didn't matter where the other guys were at.  There would be nothing good that would come of Sachin getting this information.  Either the guys are catching him - in which case he might try to speed up and burn himself up just trying to keep the lead, or Sachin was creating a larger gap - in which case maybe he could relax a little and make sure to take care of himself and just finish the race.  Personally I like the idea of keeping him a little bit on edge so he would stay in the zone.  That zone was paying off handsomely for him.  He was entirely focused.  He was in and out of aid stations without wasting any time.  He peed while hiking.  He was relentless.  He thought about every way that he could save time and be efficient.

As we crested the hill at about mile 78, he was totally convinced that the headlight that he saw behind us was someone that was about to catch him.  I said yeah, maybe - doesn't matter, just keep doing what you're doing.  He then proceeded to drop some insane downhill miles down to the golden gate bridge.  I was barely keeping up with him.  As we got to the aid station at the bottom (with me huffing and puffing), I turned to Kate and Sachin's buddy Matt who was able to help out with crewing duties last minute and I told him that if Sachin throws down another downhill like he just did that I was tapping out and Matt would have to take over.  He said he was ready to go.

Sachin and I started heading back up the hill and since this was an out and back section we had a chance to really scope out second place.  It took us a while before we ran into someone that we thought might be in his race.  I estimated maybe a 20 to 30 minute lead.  Sachin was worried.  I decided to do the math for him to try to relieve him of some of this crazy paranoia he was going through.  Basically the chaser would have to average over a minute per mile faster pace than Sachin to catch him.  When we crested the next hill, Sachin decided to drop some seven minute miles down to the next aid station - I couldn't believe it.  Your quadriceps just shouldn't be working that well at mile 87 of a hundred mile mountain race!  When we rolled into the aid station I tagged Matt in to get Sachin to the finish line - I was toast.

I caught a ride with Kate to the rest of the aid stations to track his progress and then watch him and Matt roll into the finish line for the win in a time of 19 hours and 56 minutes - the eighth fastest time in race history.  Before the race Sachin had communicated an "A" goal of sub 22 hours and a B goal of sub 24.  I'm not sure if he really believed he was capable of achieving what he was able to set out and do, but it was one of the coolest things to get a front row seat to:  To witness someone totally nail their race and in the process blow everyone's expectations (maybe even including his own).  I'm just glad he allowed me to be a part of it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Backpacking w/ the boys in Santa Cruz Mtns. 2018

Time for a spur of the moment backpacking adventure with the boys:


The women folk accompanied us on our first mile to wish us farewell as we marched off into the wilderness.

Pretty soon it was just us and the trees...

Seth spotted a good plot to set up for the night, so they went ahead and started site prep and construction.

I gave them the option of rain fly or no.  At first they thought it was pretty obvious that they should have protection against the elements, but when I explained to them the pros and cons, they decided to try without...

We then retired to the "kitchen" as the boys designated the space within their grand plan.  Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki was a big hit for this age group!

During an after dinner walk we discovered a truly huge tree.  This thing was one of the biggest trees I've ever seen in these hills.  The boys named it "Big Aspidistra", or big A for short.  We then continued to name every worthy tree on down the alphabet: Big B, Big C, etc.  In fact, on this trip we came across so many large trees that we made it all the way through Z.

They slept better than I did.

Nice foggy vibe in the morning.

Down by slate creek someone had gone through the trouble of creating some wonderful trail art.  The boys and I had a great time discovering several of these gems in our exploration of the creek.

Trail art.  I gave it more thought since then and have decided that this is just a great idea to keep kids entertained in the forest.

Everyone's favorite slug.

Baby newt?  Who knows...  But Seth names him "little black spot", I think this might have been the highlight of the trip for Seth when he discovered this little guy under a rock...

Little snake.  We came across one that looked just like this one a half hour later, and the boys were convinced it was the same snake.

Blake likes Jerky.

And climbing.

And waterholes.

And rocks.

And waterfalls.
Video of waterhole.

Video of little snake.

Not clean.