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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deer Staring into the Head Lights

I actually made it out the door, driving to the mountains at 4:40 AM.  So early in the morning, I drove cautiously on the lookout for drunk drivers.  But I didn’t need to worry about them.  Instead, a deer jumped out in front of me as I drove the toll road to Trabuco Canyon.  I have ALWAYS heard that if you’re going to hit a deer, don’t slam on your brakes.  If you slam on your breaks the deer will fly into your windshield upon impact.  If you can’t avoid the animal, you’re supposed to hit it head-on.  Yikes.  I would find that difficult to do. 

Fortunately, I was so cautious looking for drunk drivers, that I saw the deer before it even hopped onto the highway.  And being that I was on the road alone, I was able to tap my breaks and slow down in time.  The deer stood in the middle of my lane for a second, looking straight into my head lights, and I thought, “Oh no!  It’s going to be one of those situations – a deer staring into my headlights runs head-on into my truck.”  As it turned out, the doe turned around and hopped back over the barrier into the wilderness.

I’m rather glad that I didn’t need to hit a deer.

The sky still black when I drove into Trabuco Canyon Lot, I couldn’t see a hint of the mountain range.  Then I drove that long 4.5 mile bumpy road to the Holy Jim lot.  By the time I arrived, the sun had not risen above the horizon, but the sky was light from its morning glow.  Six other cars were parked in the lot, and that made me oh so happy!  I chatted briefly with several cyclists as they took off for a Trabuco/Holy Jim loop.

My agenda:  20 mountain miles

Of course, I included Santiago Peak in my run.  Why?  Because the peak KILLS me (that is the last 2.5 miles getting there), and also Twin Peaks Ultra goes there TWICE.  Looks like I’m the deer staring into the head lights. 

I decided to ascend West Horse Thief instead of descend today.  To get to West Horse Thief, I first needed to run 2 1/2 miles of shady, gnat-filled Trabuco Trail.  After a couple of gnats actually landed on my eyeballs, I put down the sunglasses and ran in a dark forest.   

Trabuco Trail: 

West Horse Thief in the morning was lovely.  I ran mostly in the shade with awesome valley views, and also views of Santiago Peak.  I practiced my power hike on the steepest portions and ran the less steep portions.  Before I knew it, I caught up with two of the mountain bikers I met in the parking lot.  They were flabbergasted.  “Do you ever see anyone RIDE up this trail?” they asked. 

“Only down,” I answered. 

They realized first that we met when I drove into the Holy Jim lot. 

“Hey, weren’t you guys going up Trabuco?”

“We ARE,” they both replied.

“No, you’re on West Horse Thief.”  They practically did a backflip laughing.  They laughed even louder when they asked me to describe where they went wrong.   I told them that at the sign, they needed to follow the arrow pointing to Trabuco.  Smile  Very cool guys to be able to laugh at themselves.  And friendly.   

Anyway, the best thing about West Horse Thief is that it’s getting easier, AND I’ve got it memorized, AND it’s really over before I realize it. 

Pointing out Santiago Peak from West Horse Thief:

Next up, I ran the Main Divide for several miles up to Santiago Peak (about 4.5 to Holy Jim and 2.5 more to the peak).  Heat was EXTREME.  And I passed several groups of hikers resting in the shade at the top of Holy Jim Trail.  I noticed about 3 of those hikers tying bandanas around their faces, to avoid the gnats no doubt.  I wanted to tell them that doesn’t work – I’ve tried it.  It only nearly made me suffocate.  But I decided they would learn that soon enough.  I learned the best way to deal with gnats is to breath through the nose, put up with them landing on your face, and wear earplugs for music (because they WILL fly into your ears).

About a mile away from the peak, I also met two male hikers coming down, they were so ecstatic and friendly, I asked if I knew them.  It seemed that I had to know them by the way they were acting.  They said, “No.  We just haven’t seen ANYONE, and all of a sudden here comes you, A LADY!  Great job!!!”   They knew how to do this hike, I could tell by the driven way they progressed down the trail in the heat.  

The Main Divide:

Santiago Peak:

I met even more hikers as I made my way down.  It seemed I was a novelty.  They had all come up via Holy Jim and wanted to know which way I had come.  No one had heard of West Horse Thief, and most wanted directions.  I didn’t give them the nitty gritty about how you want to die the first, second, third, etc. time you go up that trail.  But I gave them precise directions.  If they can hike to Santiago Peak, they can hike up West Horse Thief.

I took Upper Holy Jim on the way down, that very tricky single track.  I met several hikers.  I also came upon a group of young men and a few ladies resting in the shade.  They seemed the “survivalist” types, clean cut, wearing khakis with their knives in holders on their belts.  I wear mine simply clipped to my pack.  Anyway, the entire group stood up and moved so that I could pass. 

I thought that I’d make good time running down “lower” Holy Jim.  Turns out, that’s when I felt the effects of heat exhaustion begin to set in.  I felt just like I did when I DNF’d Bulldog a few years back.  I felt overheated to the core, lightheaded and wanted nothing more than to lay down in the dirt.  I put my hands on my knees and stood in the shade for a few minutes then took off, conserving fluids.  About a mile later, I caught sight of the rockslide near the spring that I often refill at and began guzzling my fluids more frequently.  At the spring, I drank up, filled two of my handhelds and emptied my shoes of rocks.  Then I drenched  my head with that cold spring water.  I also washed my face, drenched my head again and draped it with a cold, wet bandana.  I felt revived.  But not enough to run a fast pace to the canyon floor.

I took the remaining 3.5 miles at a comfortable pace, practicing my pivots at the switchbacks.  I met many suffering cyclists, all going down.  I also came upon many, many hikers going up, all seeming like they weren’t carrying nearly enough fluids.  When two cyclists passed me at a slow pace, I stepped to the edge and nearly fell back.  I felt a great camaraderie when one of the cyclists reached out to grab my hand and pull me back. Both guys apologized profusely when they didn’t do anything wrong. 

After I passed the detour to Holy Jim Falls, I came upon dozens and dozens of hikers, all making their way or leaving the falls -- more hikers than I have ever seen making the trek.  With about 1 mile remaining I crossed the creek where a male and female hiker sat down to rest on their way to the falls.  They were young, very young, probably 19 or 20.  Their hair was shiny, their skin smooth and flawless.  As they each took out a perfectly white cigarette to light up, they asked me this, “Did you run to the falls?” 

I nearly busted up laughing.  But I held it in.  I didn’t want to shame the young couple.  I mean, “Did it look like I had run 1.5 miles to the falls and was now returning?”  My clothing was crusted in salt.  My head was draped with a bandana, and I had just saved myself from heat exhaustion. 

I stopped briefly and told them where I ran and they both laughed and said, “That’s crazy!!” 

I replied, “You’re right, that is crazy; I AM crazy,” and I bid them farewell and a good time at the falls.

This running adventure should be over except for one thing.  The parking lot was full as I did some minor stretching at my truck.  I could hear a branch snapping, a distinct sound that I remember from my youth.  When I was about 17 or 18 I was playing Frisbee in the forest (yes, this is true, my husband-to-be was there as well) when suddenly we heard a loud creaking sound.  We all stopped to listen and witnessed a tree simply fall to the ground before our eyes. 

Well, I heard this exact creaking today.  And it grew frequent.  I could tell that it came from above from one of the several enormous trees that a row of cars, including mine parked beneath.  I hurried to unlock my truck and drive away when in my nervousness I fumbled.  Another woman was walking around her car.  And then we both heard it, the loud creak, then CRACK.  Having no idea where this thing might land, I ran away from the sound, to the back of my truck and stooped down beneath the truck bed.  The other lady ran too.  She hollered something out loud.  Stooped down I hollered back, “Where is it?” 

“Above the white car” she said.  With that I stood and looked up.  A huge branch had broken and was now weighing down on another over-sized branch.  That branch in turn was creaking like it would break soon too.  The other lady got out of harm’s way and paced about her van.  I drove out ASAP.  As soon as I got cell service, I phoned the ranger station number that I got from information.  They were closed!  And the recording didn’t even give me the opportunity to leave a message. 

As such was today’s lovely long run adventure.  You too can have this much fun when you hit the trails. 

I’m serious.

Thanks again for reading!

My Activities W Horse Thief - Santiago Peak - Holy Jim 7-22-2012, Elevation - Distance


  1. Haha, that is a lot of fun indeed Lauren! You are crazy for sure but I must admit I relate all too well.

    1. Thanks Johann. It makes me feel happy that there's like you who can relate. : )

  2. Wow. Crazy run and that tree sound would have scared the life out of me. Now that my life is calmer, I would love to join you on one of your adventurous runs...know I cannot keep up with you but I can try. :)

    1. Rachel, I'm sure you can keep up with me. You are a tough runner! Join me any time, if you don't see anything posted w/ OCTR, e-mail me, because I don't post all my runs. Oh, and re: the tree sound. I went back the very next day for a hike with friends, and sure enough, a cluster of branches had fallen. Yikes!