This morning I woke at the ridiculous hour of 4AM. Why? So that I could drive an hour into the mountains and run The Candy Store run as the sun rose. The drive up the windy mountain was uneventful as car after car raced down in the opposite direction from Riverside county, to jobs in Orange County. I parked in lower Blue Jay Campground. Tents were erected through out the grounds, but not a person stirred. It seemed also that not a creature stirred.
I took off on the same rocky trail that we took off on in Old Goat 50. The skies were cloudy. And as I descended down the mountain, I heard child screams and laughter coming from a campground above. I felt like I was making slow time, yet I felt good. I didn’t tape my arches, nor did I roll my shins beforehand. I wound down the trail and made the first point of interest (the Chiquito / San Juan intersection) in about 37 minutes. I consider 45 minutes very decent time for me. I didn’t want to care about time on this run. I wanted to enjoy. Still, I couldn’t help but celebrate a tad.
I continued on San Juan Trail, which was shady and lush, climbing up toward the Viejo Tie. Ear phones dangling around my shoulder and not in my ears, I desired complete awareness of my surroundings. The trails were desolate. I was completely alone, except for what lurked out there in the forest. I felt relieved when I hit exposed trail because I had a better grasp on my surroundings.
Memories from Old Goat flooded my mind as I ran. I recalled where I fell. I recalled when I passed, when I was passed. The Tie went by very quickly, especially compared to the first time I ran it. Still, I felt like I moved slower than I did during Old Goat. Yet, I made the Chiquito intersection in about 50 minutes (1 hour is VERY decent for me). Again, I felt accomplished. So relaxed was I, the trails’ technical difficulty didn’t throw me.
I ran in and out of shady lush forest, on overgrown single track for the next few miles. My mind wandered to all the things I needed to do (grade papers, make calls, pay bills, organize, organize, organize). I thought a lot about our dying friend. I told myself, “Don’t think! Don’t think!” I found this quite difficult. That is until I told myself to do just one thing today: call the hospice. With that one thing resolved, I was finally able to empty my mind.
The poison oak on Chiquito was unavoidable. Even though I have been immune to the plant’s poison, I’ve heard that immunity doesn’t last forever. I’ve run through the stuff head-to-toe before with no consequences (knock on wood!). This morning, I occasionally stepped aside from a bush. But then my thigh would brush against several leaves. Eventually, I realized it was useless. There was no escaping the plant.
“The Candy Store Run” is approximately twenty miles, mainly downhill from Blue Jay to The Candy Store, mainly uphill on the way back. Beginning this run at The Candy Store rather than Blue Jay, is the much easier way to go because you run the harder part on strong legs. Both ways are long. Both ways are lovely. But I wanted hard. Excruciating in fact. This is why I began on the mainly downhill for an uphill climb on tired legs.
I passed Chiquito Falls still feeling strong, feeling like I’d make The Candy Store in under 3 hours. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the store. I saw another person running up from the other way. He wore all black, just as I did. He didn’t startle me. I could distinguish that he was a trail runner by the two handhelds. But who?
Why, this other runner was my friend John H.!! I laughed out loud. I mean, what are the chances that I’d come across someone I know? We stopped and chatted for a good amount of time, laughing over the things we put our trucks through and how we both stash water in the mountains. We talked about Old Goat (John was a sweeper who swept my friend, Emmett). As we chatted, he helped put my mind at ease over finishing a fifty miler. John seems quite “laid back” about running, whereas I tend to tense up. Anyway, I didn’t worry about making The Candy Store in under 3 hours anymore. It’s not often I get to talk trails and laugh out in the middle of nowhere with a friend.
But then, I was off running again; John was off running again as well, in opposite directions.
Toward the end of the out portion, I came upon a couple hiking groups. One man looked at me as though I was crazy. Another gasped, “Running?” At the giant fallen tree, decomposing for years, I began my climb up to the parking lot. The sun was out in vengeance. The climb was difficult. I finally ran into the parking lot in over three hours. Across the street, The Candy Store was probably still closed (unless they sell donuts for breakfast). I didn’t run across the highway to check, though I do love candy. Instead, I ran over to my water stash in the brush. After refilling, I set out for the return trip beneath an unrelenting sun.
It came as no surprise that the climb back out toward Chiquito Falls was miserable. But it was a lovely miserable. I climbed over boulders. I ran the uphills in the shade. Sometimes on exposed trails, I hiked. I passed more hikers, some in small groups, some with walking sticks.
Excruciating is a great word for the back portion of this run. Much of it, before Chiquito Falls, is exposed, hot and rocky. Tiny gnats swarmed my face. But despite this, I still felt good. No major aches or pains. At one point, about half way, I heard the pounding of fast running. Disoriented some, I was startled, thinking someone was running up on me from behind. Turns out, it was John. He wasn’t behind me. He was in front of me. We spoke briefly as I stumbled up the boulders. Except for the last climb up to the parking lot, he had mainly downhill to look forward to, whereas I was looking at several more uphill miles. Doh!
I came upon cyclists on the way out. I gave directions to a father and son. I could have cut the course short on a few occasions. But I decided to sweat it out. A cool breeze blew through the trees. And though I felt fatigued, and pretty miserable, it was the good kind of miserable. Seriously. There is a good kind of miserable – it’s the kind of miserable when a difficult, yet gorgeous run is nearly over.