TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Revisiting My Meltdown on The Main Divide

For a long time I have been wanting to revisit my meltdown on The Main Divide back in August 2013. It’s been nearly 7 years since that nearly fateful day. Yet I think about it time and again and use it as a point of reference often. I have known for a long time how wrong I was in explaining what happened to me that day.  In my post written very quickly after the event, I blamed a lack of calories for my demise. I somehow thought that I needed more than the 400 calories that I packed along in the form of mainly gels (100% carbs 1/3 of it sugar!). Problem with the calorie theory is, I have been running and hiking in almost exclusively a  fasted state for a few years now without any problem (even in the heat.) I ran the Calico Trail Race earlier this year in a fasted state and did not suffer for it, and in my opinion was better for it. Also as far as the calories go, I have an image of myself on that hot August day trying to suck down a gel as I struggled up Trabuco Trail toward The Main Divide. I was already sick at that point.

I mistakenly blamed lack of calories because I had plenty of fluids. I had driven out to Trabuco Canyon beforehand and stashed water in a forest area off of Holy Jim parking lot. When I arrived to that location during this run on August 3, I rested and drank up plenty there,  then filled up my pack (adding electrolytes) before beginning my five mile run up Trabuco Trail. Eventually, lack of fluids may have been a problem on that sizzling day, but not because I lacked them – it’s that I just couldn’t drink anymore, I was too nauseated.

From August 3, 2013, in Holy Jim lot refilling before heading off up Trabuco Trail

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So, if it wasn’t fluids and it wasn’t calories, what was it that I fear nearly killed me on that day in the Cleveland National Forest? The answer is easy. I can tell you without hesitation that it was heat. Yes, Heat. I was suffering from heat exhaustion (what I call heat sick). There is no mistaking it. The first time I can remember succumbing to heat sickness was about 1984, 85 while fishing in Utah. My mother-in-law-to-be drenched a towel in the lake water and placed it over my head and then sat me beneath an umbrella. She didn’t pour fluids down my gullet. She instead attempted to cool down my body temperature. Unfortunately, I didn’t put this together and had to learn it all over again and again. The next big time I recall heat sickness striking is during Bulldog 50k in August 2010 with temperatures over 100F. I got so overheated that even fully  submerged in the stream I could not cool down. I could not cool dothermometer-4767443_1920wn because I was already heat sick; I was past the point of no return. When this happens the heat is overbearing, especially in my head, I’m confused and lethargic, so much so that I’ve nearly fallen asleep before sprawled out on the trail with heat sickness. Heat sickness is a brutal hit to my system. I can be sick for days, sometimes with the chills and body aches – at the very least I’m in bed right away at home and out until the next day. Heat Sickness is a terrible thing, which is why I really wanted to revisit that day back in 2013 and set the record straight. I know it was heat exhaustion that prompted me to call for help. There is no mistaking heat exhaustion and it is silly that I did not immediately see this (I was fooled by my abundance of fluids!). My problem on August 3, 2013 was The Heat. (I capitalize it in reverence to The Heat’s mighty force!)

scorching-sunYou can drink all the fluids you want but it will not save you from the heat. Fluids help, and lack of them (and electrolytes) greatly hinder (and also kill you). What you really need, in addition to fluids when you’re out in the heat, is to cool down. Heat raises your body temperature and unless you cool it down you are going to get sick and then eventually, you are going to have heatstroke and die. It’s tough to fight back from heat exhaustion. But here’s the trick: Do Not Ever Get There. Work with the heat -- don’t ever let it overwhelm you. I learned that I need to cool down if I get too hot because once my body temperature gets too high, there’s no recovering: I am heat sick.  A lot of people confuse “cooling down” with hydrating. Yes, hydration can aid in cooling me down, but it’s just not that efficient. What I need is shade. I need to stop and get in the shade. Assuming I haven’t reached the point of no return (for me body temp above 101F) I’ll cool down in just a few minutes and then I’m good to go. The tiniest bit of shade will do, the shade of a small trash can will do. And if there is no shade (shame on me for being out in the heat with no available shade!), but if that happens, merely stopping to rest can help cool me down, sitting helps too (along with drinking fluids of course as well).

So, there you have it. I have set the record straight on my Meltdown on The Main Divide. I do need to add that I didn’t come up with the phrase “Meltdown on The Main Divide.” Some time after my August 2013 heat sickness, I stumbled across a mountain biking website that had a thread going called “Meltdown on The Main Divide.” When I began to read, I realized that the mountain bikers were talking about me and what had happened that day. In preparing to write this post I did an online search and darn it, I wasn’t unable to find the thread.

Keep cool out there! Hot smile

Friday, July 24, 2020

Breakfast in a Cave

IMG_3806Wednesday (July 22), I blocked out time in “The Schedule” to get in a 10+ mile loop, beginning at Moulton Meadows in Laguna Beach. I began at the top of Mentally Sensitive where the weather was quite chilly and I even wondered for a moment if I should have brought something warmer to wear. No need to worry. After gingerly making my way straight down Mentally Sensitive into Aliso Canyon, I had warmed up plenty. (Look at that first drop in the elevation profile!) Actually all of Aliso and Wood Canyon was like an oven this time of afternoon. I was greatly looking forward to the shadiness of Wood Canyon.

At about 4 o’clock I arrived at Cave Rock in Wood Canyon which was the perfect place to cool down and break my fast. I climbed up to the “big” cave on the side of Cave Rock and had a small meal of meat and cheese with a meadow view. I could hear branches breaking across in the trees. When I focused I caught a glimpse of a deer hoping about but lost him pretty quickly. That got me thinking: I really need a small pair of binoculars (another thing to pack!).

Lovely hike, even though it was one of those “climb out” hikes. The climb out was nice and gradual though with mountain and ocean views! Besides that – the climb is always good for the soul (and for that matter, so is breakfast in a cave.)

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IMG_3857Back in Laguna Beach after the Climb up Cholla & West RidgeIMG_3915

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Eight Miles In

IMG_3722Monday, June 20, I put myself on a schedule, written out the night before on a steno pad that I always have with me (except when I’m wandering). I really needed to do this – without a schedule I have no structure in my day. I get things done whenever I feel like it, which sometimes means never.  Without structure, I am nowhere near as productive as I desire. In fact, without structure, it seems every aspect of my life (mental health, nutrition, sleep, exercise) suffers. So, from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm yesterday, as per my schedule, I answered students’ emails and troubleshooted a couple student projects, did several household chores, chatted over the phone with my oldest son (not on the schedule) and then shot over to the closest grocery store to pick up vanilla ice cream for the blackberry pie my middle son had baked the night before. (The blackberries were fresh, picked from a bush in my backyard.)

This structure came just in time. I could tell that my mood was declining the longer I held off. After my five hour block of work, I scheduled a hike that was obviously long overdue. The state of everything (and I mean everything, but in particular: COVID19, politics, unrest, etc.) was really weighing on me. And I felt  particularly down after reading details in the news about some recent murders, one in New Jersey, the others in Florida. I should never read the details in cases like these. The details haunt me. Haunt. Me. When I finally set out into Aliso Canyon for the Big Loop a little after 3 pm I was trying to shake the haunting images of what I had read. I guess if I could pick only one word to describe what I was feeling it was this: fearful. I was able to drift in and out of this funk as I strolled through Aliso Canyon and its brown summer glory. But I kept returning to a place where my thoughts were dark.

IMG_3726Hiking, running, wandering always gives me peace. Sometimes that peace is immediate -- I feel it with my first step. Other times, it takes a few more steps, sometimes a mile, sometimes two. This sense of peace that I talk about is not necessarily a feeling of “happiness”. It is more a feeling of weights being lifted off my shoulders, a feeling of acceptance and perhaps hope coupled with a joyful kind of lightheartedness all at once. I feel like I can breathe easier and think clearer with this peace. It’s the whole goal.

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At about three miles in, I sat on The Rock in Wood Canyon, just past Wood Creek Trail to break my fast with some cheese and beef sticks. After another mile of winding trail beneath a shady forest canopy, I took the steep incline up to the ridge chatting with my mother over the phone. And then I hiked much of West Ridge listening to a Youtube interview.  All of this was wonderful for my soul: food then grinding out Cholla Trail  while talking to my mom, which made the difficult work much easier, toping it off with a hopeful interview overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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View of Saddleback Mountains from West Ridge in Laguna BeachIMG_3743

I barely saw anyone in the canyons on the way out – one or two cyclists and a couple runners. West Ridge had one or two hikers as well until I neared the Top of the World at Alta Laguna Park. By then we were well into evening with a cool ocean breeze. It was no wonder that the top was crowded with people either taking in the views or heading out for evening hikes. Practically everyone was masked. But as crowded as the place was, we were all easily able to keep our distance.

The playground was taped off in the park, but the restrooms (real restrooms with sinks, soap and running water, a luxury I don’t often have on hikes) were thankfully open. As I hightailed it out of the park into the neighborhoods (finishing up about 7.5 miles), more and more cars pulled into the park emptying people with masked faces headed out on their evening strolls. 

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I left everyone behind and marched across the lovely neighborhood that runs along the ridge so that I could re-enter the park in Aliso Canyon. It was during that portion, right around eight miles in that peace finally arrived with all of its gifts. Eight miles in. And at about 8.5 miles in, I came up on these guys grazing on the hillsides and began my trek down Meadows trail:

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Perfect Timing (nearing end of Meadows Trail, about 2 miles out from my truck):

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Car Wreck Trail

IMG_3601 (2)The last hike I got out on was Friday, July 10.  I decided pretty quickly after arriving back to my regular stomping grounds  to take the most difficult incline in the park, Car Wreck Trail. With rising temperatures in Southern California, I was starting to think that I wouldn’t get in many more hikes over the next several weeks. Anticipating that loss, I was craving something tough. Granted, we are not having anywhere close to record temperatures. It’s just I don’t want to even flirt with heat sickness (Too many close calls!)

It’s debatable I suppose, whether or not Car Wreck Trail is the toughest trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons. Mentally Sensitive would be the only trail close to Car Wreck’s difficulty. Here’s the deal in a nutshell: Car Wreck Trail is steeper but it is shorter than Mentally Sensitive. Yes, Mentally Sensitive has some pretty dang steep portions. But Car Wreck’s steepness is constant from the car wreck onward all the way to nearly the end when it finally reaches Mathis trail close to West Ridge. I, by the way, did not make this trek with the mask as pictured above. I carry a mask with me, but don’t wear it when I hike. Don’t need to. I don’t see others, and when I do, it’s easy to social distance. Thank God this is my hobby, my medicine, the thing I do. I easily gave up the gym when COVID19 came along. I gave up the trails for a short while when the crowds arrived. But they’re back to desolate again, so I am in my happy place!

My route on this lovely summer late afternoon/evening: From Canyon View Park, Wood Cyn/Coyote Run/Mathis/Car Wreck/Mathis/Top of the World/Canyon Acres/West Ridge/Cholla/Wood Cyn. Car Wreck as promised was quite difficult (look @ that profile!). 7.65 mi, Elev Gain 1,305 ft.

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Lovely evening hike during these tense times. Looking forward to getting out again. Really need to see to that quickly. It’s for my own good.  Confused smile

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Pigtail Weather

IMG_3471July 8, on a Wednesday afternoon, I decided to head out to Laguna Wilderness and Crystal Cove for a change of scenery. Wow, those trails are hot out there, and virtually all of them completely exposed. Pigtail weather is definitely upon us here on the southern California coast. Long hair covering my neck, even if in a single ponytail, is not a good match with hiking in the middle of July, even on the coast. Normally, I just might cut my hair shorter to get it off the back of my neck. COVID19 makes that a little difficult. And so, I’m growing it out for now. Old as I am, I revert back to the hairstyle of my youth.

July 8 returned a wonderful 11 mile loop. And I got to dip my toes in the ocean which is the very best thing about these trails in Crystal Cove State Park  (video). I got some good elevation gain too (1,677’) – all of it on the way out! My preference, if I haven’t stated it before (& I’m sure that I have 100 times), is to do the climbing on the way in, not on the way out. This is why I don’t often do what I call the El Moro Loop. Once in a while though, especially during pigtail weather, I like to get out and do this spectacular loop over above the Pacific Ocean.

I finished up this hike with a delightfully cool ocean breeze at precisely 7:45 pm. I remember because I had just 15 minutes to make it back home to watch The 100 on television with my fifteen year old son. I had to take the toll road to come close (cost: $6.75). I made it home at 8:05 pm dirty and tired and not at all resenting the huge climb out of El Moro Loop. Summer evenings on the coast will do that to you – it will make everything shine with a better light even when your hike included a climb out!

El Moro Loop (From Ridge Park: No Name Ridge to No-Dogs to ranger station to the Pacific Ocean. From Pacific Ocean back toward El Moro Cyn, but after bridge quick right onto BFI (Big Friggin’ Incline) to El Moro Ridge to Bommer Ridge back to Ridge Park.

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