TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Crushing Fatigue

photo (11)For several months now I have been been feeling lethargic, and growing more so lately.  I have no motivation to do anything that requires too much exertion.  Though I train at the gym about five days a week, I can’t manage to move very quickly or for very long.  It’s a big bummer, more so I think, because this fatigue affects me mentally.  I feel weak.  And I hate that.  Hate it! 

I decided recently to research premenopausal symptoms, as I have the joy of going through that the past six months or so.  And while I did not find the term lethargy in my research, I did come across the terms “extreme fatigue” and “crashing fatigue,” as common symptoms.  Aha!  I guess that makes me feel a little better.  At least there’s an apparent reason to my lethargy.  But the more I throw the terms around in my mind, the more “CRUSHING fatigue” seems to fit my what I’m experiencing -- it’s crushing my physical and mental well-being, it crushes my spirit.  

This past Sunday evening, I decided to get out and just force myself to put in some trail miles.  I took a little run along West Ridge to Top of the World, which isn’t exactly flat.  And I must say, I felt pretty miserable in the beginning.  Actually, I never really felt “good” in the sense of feeling physically or mentally strong.  Once I decided that it did not matter what time I finished, that it was okay to finish in the dark however, I did enjoy the coastal scenes, the gentle off-shore breezes and little evidences of wildlife like bunnies scurrying across the road and stink bugs sticking their heads in the dirt.  I hiked some, and I ran some.  My legs felt like heavy awkward boards when I ran.  They felt a little lighter when I hiked.  I guess it would be prudent to take on something with not so much elevation during this “crushing fatigue” period.  But I can’t help it.  I’m just an elevation junkie.  

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unmarked Trails, Pink Clouds and Coyotes

Thursday evening I took off for a short run into Wood Canyon.  I really had no final intention on a destination, except for the fact that I knew I’d do between five and six miles.  Anymore than that, I’d be running in the dark, which is not such a big deal, else a ranger stumble upon me and write out a citation. 

The weather was pleasantly cool, as it has been lately during our mild weathered August.  The trails, though not crowded, had more runners and hikers than I’m used to travelling upon them.  I’m seldom out on the trails in the evening though. 

I wore my pf sock (a short compression sock) that helped immensely with my foot pain (either that or my foot is actually improving – I can never tell).  A little over two miles in, running along West Ridge, which overlooks Laguna Canyon Road and the Pacific Ocean, I stopped to snap a photo and noticed something I had never seen before.  There off two my right, only slightly obscured by brush, was a heavily travelled, unmarked single-track that descended down the ledge into Laguna Canyon.  I do not know how I never saw this.  I can tell you that my heart leapt with joy. Seriously.  There is almost nothing better than travelling along a trail that I have never before travelled, even if its practically in my own backyard. 

I descended quickly down this newly discovered single-track.  I don’t mean that I moved quickly, I mean the elevation loss occurred quickly, and oh happy day, I needed to kneel down and slide in some instances, to make the grade.   

Going down on this newly discovered trail:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI could see a large dog park down at the base of the trail, though I wasn’t sure exactly where I would come out.  I told myself, “a little further,”  . . . “just a little further,” until I decided that I needed to head back.  I didn’t want the climb out to be so difficult that it would leave me out in the canyon under darkness.  And so I headed back up, gleefully mind you, grabbing at the rocks to pull myself up along the trail.  It was beautiful.  I never even noticed any problems with my foot. 

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe sun was still slightly above the horizon as I ran along West Ridge.  Coyotes began to howl down in the canyon. And hikers seemed all headed in the direction to leave the park.  At the last minute, I decided not to run down Cholla Trail, the one I came up on out of Wood Canyon.  I pretty much always take Cholla.  But dang it, I’m bored of that trail, so I headed down Lynx instead, a less popular trail in these canyons, though I’m not sure way. 

Lynx is a wonderful rocky single-track, technical, but not death defying.  There’s even a bullet-ridden car in the gully, hidden to the casual visitor.  But if you stand in just the right place, you get a perfect shot of the old-fashioned, shiny, blue car. 

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When I finally dumped out into Wood Canyon, every cloud in the sky was colored pink.  As I ran back up the canyon toward my car, coyotes, many of them on both sides of the canyon barked and howled as the sun finally set on this lovely trail run.  It was the dogs’ turn for the canyons. 

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Harding Hustle and Yaeger Mesa

I did not run the Harding Hustle this year.  I worked it.  That’s pretty usual.  Normally I work this race.  It was only last year that I ran the 50k route.  This year (July 25) working it was the best option considering my foot problems.  But somehow, I got the grand idea that when this race was over, I would run back to my truck.  I worked the 50k turnaround point (Santiago Peak).  Shortening it when I could, the run back would measure about fifteen miles.  Hehe.  What was I thinking?

Santiago Aid Station, working with friends Emmett & John:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHeading down the mountain:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESLooking back at Santiago Peak:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

From the onset, the mountain did not treat my foot kindly.  In fact, it beat the crap out of it.  John and Emmett pulled up in a truck at about mile six, and I stupidly passed up a ride down the mountain.  When the Modjeska Peak crew drove by my foot was no better, and I let them pass without a word.  I don’t know why I did that.  I suppose I thought I could hack it.  Eventually though, I realized that I did not want to hack it.  At about mile 8 I grudgingly picked up my pace, hoping that I could make it to the Laurel Springs Aid (the five miles remaining mark) before they packed up.  Fortunately, I arrived just as they began to tear down, and I got a ride in for those last five miles.  My foot throbbed with pain.  On the way in, I got into a good plantar fasciitis conversation and learned that heel walking and toe walking might help.  My foot was in such pain after those ten miles however, I could not bear walking on my heels back at home.  I limped around the rest of the day, and also for the next day at a big family gathering at my parents’ house.  The good news to this story is that I eventually broke down and purchased a bathing suit the week prior (having refused to do so because I am the heaviest I have been since I was pregnant.  And I am NOT pregnant).   During one of my good moments, I decided that I better start enjoying life no matter how much I tip the scales and purchased  a suit.  I had a wonderful time swimming in my parents’ pool with all their grand children (there’s eleven of them).  Best thing is:  I did lots of heel and toe walking in the water.  And get this:  the next morning, I walked out of bed without a limp.  No limp, no pain all day.  It was a miracle. Smile

I continued the heel and toe walking on the grass in my backyard.  Continued calve stretching and going to the gym for some cross training for the week.  I had minimal pain and only very slight limping.  And so therefore, Friday, July 31, I set out for another adventure with my friend Kelly.  A while back I had mapped out an alternate route to Yaeger Mesa, which looked like it would cut off about four miles from my usual loop to this paradise in Trabuco Canyon.  I figured this loop would measure around 12 miles – and I can do twelve miles, even out-of-shape (muhahaha).

Well, thank God for Kelly.  She really is a strong woman, and a trooper who didn’t mind one bit going along on this death-defying adventure.  Before we even arrived to the trailhead, we drove up on two drunken, half-naked lovers wrapped in a sleeping bag before an empty bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey, in the middle of the road.  I cannot imagine being so drunk that I would think cuddling IN THE MIDDLE of a mountain road would be a good idea.  Well, after missing them with her car, Kelly pulled over and I opened the door and yelled at the couple.  “Get out of the road!”  They just stared back at me dumbfounded.  “You’re drunk,” I reminded them.  “You are in the middle of the road.  You are going to get killed.  Get up!!”

We left the couple at about 6:20 AM and arrived to The Main Divide at about 6:30 AM.  We were off immediately, hoping to beat most of the heat.  Well, to begin, the first three miles (up The Main Divide and then Los Pinos to the Peak) is nothing but extreme technical uphill. Extreme.  But beautiful. 

View from Los Pinos Peak: SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESLos Pinos Peak:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Right around the peak, we took a right turn down a shady single track, which I believe is Bell Ridge.  We did lots of sliding on our butts because the trail was so steep in parts – but nothing like what awaited us.  I fell once when I decided the trail was easy enough to run.   It was an easy fall with no issues.  

 

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESApproximately one mile after our turn-off, we came to the junction for Yaeger Mesa.  Here is where it really got scary.  I grabbed at branches, hugged tree trunks to stop from falling.  I slid down, first with my feet beneath me, then realized I could manage better if I left one leg stretched outward.  At times, my sliding got out of control and I worried that I might find myself falling off the mountain.  It was hairy.  Beautiful, but hairy.  My leg was bloody from a scratches.  My fingernails were filled with dirt, my clothes caked in grime, my face covered with gnats.  But I embraced the gnats.  They really were the least of my problems.  I gagged on more than one.  And I breathed them in frequently.  I was a sight to see for sure.  Winking smile

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At last, we made the mesa, the lovely Yaeger Mesa.  We found a giant bell that rang out across the canyon.  We took a tiny trail around the mesa to further investigate and found a small camp with a fire pit, empty water bottles and a shelter built from pine tree branches.  Finally, we located the remnants of a small plane crash before continuing down the mountain into Trabuco Canyon.

The Bell:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESYaeger Mesa:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The trail was treacherous into the canyon.  I stopped briefly before a particularly harrowing portion to take in the view and come up with a game plan when my feet slipped out beneath me.  I slammed to the ground, teetering on the edge.  In my attempt to throw myself away from the cliff, my hand slammed down into a cactus bush.  Fortunately, my hand bounced right up and the thorns exited as quickly and quietly as they entered.  Not one broke off in my flesh.  I gave Kelly quite a scare with that one.  And I don’t think I was the same thereafter.  I was dinged.

For the remainder of the trip, my foot throbbed.  I stopped frequently to rest and stretch.  Kelly was going strong, and I am ever so grateful for her patience.  The climb back out of Trabuco Canyon to The Main Divide was excruciating for me.  It was about four miles, technical uphill in the heat.  The anticipation of knowing just how close The Main Divide was killed me.  KILLED ME.  Anticipation is agonizing when you are tired and in pain.  I felt I could not take another step.  But I knew I was not going to get there whimpering about it.  I just put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again, until FINALLY I made it to the top of Trabuco Trail.  My pack was out of water.  But I only had 2 more miles to go.  Hallelujah!  Kelly ran off ahead of me (then turned back to meet me and walk it in).  I let two cars pass me by without asking for a lift.  I should have asked for a lift.  My foot was causing terrible pain.

When it was all over, I met my family at my brother’s home.  And I swam again.  I also did some heel and toe walking in the water, and my limp and pain subsided immensely. 

Life is good. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rain in the Summertime

While giving my rebellious foot a rest I have been putting in time at the gym with my sons. I'll tell you though -- gym training does very little to prepare me for trail running. It could perhaps if someone were to periodically shove me as I rode the elliptical. Or, perhaps try to gouge my eyes out or pull my hair as I rode the cycle.

Needless to say, I missed the trails dearly, so I decided to venture out regardless. Saturday we got a good downpour in the middle of July (that is very rare, even more so during a drought). Sunday, the sun shined brightly among big, white puffy clouds, so I took a chance and drove out to Trabuco Canyon. I was hoping that the rain filled our creeks just a tiny bit. But alas, though large puddles were dispersed along the canyon road, the creek beds were still bone dry.

Heading out . . .                                      A little closer

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Coming up on the canyon . . .               The turn off!SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Some off roading . . .

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Arrived!SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Figuring my foot would bring me down, I parked right at the trail head, as opposed to parking in the Holy Jim lot. This parking place cuts the regular ten mile out-and-back along Holy Jim to 9 miles. I figured I would probably need that. The air was hot and muggy as I headed up the mountain. Within about a mile, I stumbled upon a handful of ladybugs, which turned into stumbling upon hundreds of ladybugs resting in clumps along fallen logs and in the brown grass. A little more up stream, I found even more ladybugs -- thousands upon thousands of them on the tree branches, fallen logs and in again the grass. I could not help but stop and photograph.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI haven’t mentioned yet that my foot ached from the onset. It’s not in the worst condition it’s ever been; in fact I had been experiencing some relief due in part to stretching. But damn the foot. I really didn’t care and was not much bothered by the pain. I popped two ibuprofen after climbing a little over a mile, but unfortunately that did nothing to alleviate the pain. I'll tell you, it felt wonderful to be out in the wilderness again. I came upon several hikers, a couple of mountain bikers. No runners. At about mile three, the clouds began to darken. Shortly after that, I ran up on my first rattler -- she was a baby, an adorable little thing. Within five minutes, I came up on a family of hikers who pointed up my second baby rattler, coiled up right on the trail. I probably would have stepped on her if the group did not point her out.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAt mile four, the clouds were black, seemingly within touch. I worried some that I would get caught in a downpour. Still, I moved upward toward The Main Divide because it was just so dang close.

I arrived intact. The foot hurt pretty badly. The wind was also picking up. I saw two other hikers at The Main Divide, and heard several dirt bikes in the distance. I had popped my last ibuprofen, and since it did absolutely nothing to lessen my foot pain, I decided to take out my pf sock, an overly tight compression sock to wear for the down trip. Time was of the essence at this point -- it was practically dark as night, and I knew I was probably going to get rained on. But maybe, just maybe, I could endure more pain with this sock and make the down trip quickly.

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I trotted down Holy Jim averaging about a 14 minute pace -- the sock helped some, but let’s faces it, my foot still ached like hell. Occasionally, I got beneath a 12 minute mile. But as long as the dark skies remained dry, I felt comfortable at the slow trot. After about one and a quarter mile down Holy Jim, I felt a drop of rain fall on my nose. Then suddenly, I noticed a black tarantula on the trail. I took out my camera to snap a photo of the creature, and it was at that moment that the rain began to fall. It did not come slowly either. It fell down in buckets, long drops of cool rain, in every direction, the Earth slurping it up like it was dying of thirst.

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Immediately, I buried my electronics deep into my pack (my phone, camera and ipod -- which I had not turned on the entire trip). I dug in and picked up my pace down the mountain focusing on a quicker stride. There was no use trying to keep dry. Instantly, I was soaked through and through. And in my rush I neglected to really see what was happening around me. As I passed from one canyon wall to the other, in an area that looks over a great divide, I took a moment and stopped.  Then I really saw what was happening all around me.  I could see for miles, and rain  pounding down on every inch of it.  It sounded like millions of soft tiny claps. The rain drops were long and uneven, but at the same time in perfect symmetry. The site caught me so off-guard with its beauty that I instantly cried. I couldn’t help it. And I didn’t try to help it. I choked on my tears as I took off running again down the mountain. I really never knew how beautiful rain could be. It filled all of my senses. I could see it. I could smell it. I could feel it. And I could hear it. It was ALL rain, and I was this little dot running down the mountain in and among.

Occasionally, I ran under cover beneath some trees which provided protection from the rain. The trail though was becoming a small river, sometimes taking shortcuts down the mountain by flowing off trail into the brush. No real credit to myself, I had chosen waterproof trail shoes for this trip. I didn't choose them because they are waterproof though -- they just happen to be my favorite shoes. This meant that even as I stomped down into this muddy water, my feet remained dry.

After a while cover did not matter, as I was drenched completely. I noticed the Manzanita bark was blood red in the rain, and even though I wanted so badly to capture that in a picture, I did not dare open my pack and expose my electronics to the downpour. My progress was slow, as the rocks and mud beneath my feet grew very slick. It didn’t matter much how fast I travelled – I was happy with just moving forward.  More than once I slipped and nearly fell.  More than once the rain stopped for about a minute.  And during one of those times I raced to get my camera out so that I could snap a picture of the Manzanita in the rain. 

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At the two mile mark (that is two miles remaining) I could hear voices from up the trail. By now the river flowing down the trail had deepened, and I sometimes submerged my entire foot. Though I continued to hear the voices, I did not see anyone until I was running up on the one mile marker. Up the switchback trail, I waved at a man and woman wearing orange rain ponchos. I chuckled at the fact that I did not even think to pack for the rain. (Doh!).

I felt great relief when I reached that one mile marker. At that point, I ran within a well covered forest, loud with rain falling on its canopy. I heard a branch snap and fall in the distance. It sounded a lot like billiards being played out among some unseen giants.

After hitting that one mile marker, I began counting down in tenths of a mile. The river rolling in the middle of the trail flowed so heavily now, that my feet were completely submerged much of the time. Worried slightly over flash floods or mudslides, I didn’t contemplate these things much; they were just something that crossed my mind. I merely focused on continually moving forward. Fortunately, the rain was not cold. It was comfortingly cool.

I recall calling out "Two-thirds of a mile," then "1/3rd of a mile," then "a quarter mile til I'm at my truck!" At that point, I did not urgently press forward. Instead, I frolicked in the scene, kicking at the river at times, other times noticing how it diverted off the trail fast-tracking toward the creek bed.

And then, finally, I had 1/10th of a mile before I was at my truck. I heard voices up ahead, when suddenly I was standing at a small lake on the trail. On the other side of this  “lake” stood two hikers contemplating how to make their way around it. "Hell," I thought, "what does it matter. I am finished." And so I walked directly through the lake, which ended up being more than ankle deep.

Finally back in the truck!

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The drive out of the canyon was just as eventful as running down the mountain in the rain – lots of lakes and fast flowing little rivers.  I gave two young guys a jump who were stalled in the mud.  I drove it so well, that my tires did not spin in the mud once.  I am getting better off-road.  Back at home, I was sore as heck for two days because well, the gym can never prepare me for the trails. Smile

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Uncle!

I remember climbing Holy Jim some years back during Old Goat 50, at about mile 37, when I didn’t think I could take it anymore.  Staggering and nearly defeated, I had a quick chat with who I thought was a running friend (actually, he was a stranger, but I was close to delirious and he looked just like my friend).  Downcast, I looked up from the ground, eeked out a smile and said to him, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”  My friend (A.K.A. the stranger) said to me, “Just go until you cry uncle.” 

Uncle.

Uncle!

I spend most of my training hours in the gym nowadays, not because of the weather, as our summer on the coast is pretty dang mild. I’m spending most of time in the gym because my plantar fasciitis has become too much to bear.  I am so flipping sick of fighting against the pain, I am ready to rest. 

UNCLE. 

This past Tuesday before work, I took a quick 6 mile run down to the seashore, and though it was cool and breezy, I could not have suffered more had I been hit by a car!  I am here to report that plantar fasciitis does not do well on cement.  In fact, I think running on cement is about the worst thing you can do when you suffer from this condition. 

Aside from that freakish hell, I kept to my planned route (an out-and-back to where the sidewalk ends in Capo Beach).  The parking lots were surprisingly empty.  The campgrounds even had lots of empty spots.  The lawn at Doheny was unusually brown.  Most lawns are brown nowadays due to our drought and the mandatory reduction in watering.  I left my water bottle at home (as there’s a drinking fountain about every fifty feet) and carried with me my phone (which accounts for these pictures I snapped along the way – snapping pics helped to keep my focus outward rather than inward on the pain).

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Thursday, I said “screw the foot,” and headed out to Aliso/Woods for an out-and-back up Cholla Trail to West Ridge which lead me to Top of the World in Laguna Beach.  Even at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, the weather was breezy and cool.  And apparently, Canyon View Park has been watering their lawns more than Doheny State Beach. 

Canyon View Park off of Canyon Vistas Road, a back entrance into Aliso/Woods Wilderness:

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI ran 6.5 miles on trails, and though my foot felt a lot better compared to running on cement, I fear the damage has been done.  Pain is immense, my ankle is swollen, I have a knot in my arch, and when I’m resting my arches are constantly taped. I used to pride myself on injury-free running.  Dang it. 

Uncle. 

UNCLE. 

I’m not sure when I will be back.  I am not registering for the Harding Hustle at the end of this month.  I have not registered either for Twin Peaks. 

And this makes me sad.

But this beauty does not:

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