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Sunday, September 16, 2012

I’m Not Proud (But I Didn’t Have A Choice)

After spending the morning with my family, I drove off to the coastal hills for a 1:00 PM trail run to finish off this “hard” week.  When I arrived the gates were closed, yet cars were parked in the lot and along the road.  People were also turning around their cars and driving back the way they came.  I pulled up next to the ranger who stood at the gates.  She told me the park was closed for everyone coming in.  There was a fire in Laguna Beach.  It wasn’t out of control.  But if it did get out of control and they had to evacuate the park, they didn’t want the trouble of evacuating too many people. 

As this kind woman spoke to me, my brain was elsewhere, thinking:  “Please stop talking.  I get it!  I just need to somehow sneak into the park, then I can stay.” 

“Okay, thank you.”  I smiled, turned around and drove off.  I thought of all the park entrances and decided that Top of the World would be my best bet.  So, I went on my way, taking about a half hour driving into Laguna Beach.  I could see smoke in the distance.  Then suddenly the traffic came to a near halt.  At this point I figured that the rangers could easily block entrance at Top of the World.  Then I remembered a way in that most people don’t think about.  There is a park in the neighborhood that Mentally Sensitive ends near.  So, off I was, driving approximately 5 miles an hour to my destination, hoping I could sneak into Aliso/Wood Canyons.  I had to run trails today, especially so close to The Taper.

I felt sneaky.  I felt selfish.  I didn’t really like what I was doing.  But I really wanted to get in this run.  And besides, I tried to justify, if anyone’s going to be safe and know what to do if trouble arises, it’s going to be me.

Before I continue, I should go into a little background for people who don’t live here.  October is fire season in California.  It has always been (Okay, it’s not exactly October, but it’s close).  Some Octobers we escape without fires.  Other Octobers we get clobbered.  A few years ago, my parents were evacuated in San Diego county from wildfires that burned down several neighborhoods.  Also, some years back in Orange County, we had some pretty bad fires, closing some mountain trails for a year or more. 

I remember as a child living near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains (L.A. county), seeing those mountains ablaze again and again.  Ashes used to fall down like snowflakes in our backyard.  Our car windows were coated with ash.  I guess you probably got the point that October is fire season, and that we are a little paranoid about it around here.  But more so, we are paranoid about it in Laguna Beach.  In 1993, during my senior year in college, Laguna Beach had a firestorm like no other that I can remember.  Other areas got hit too.  But Laguna Beach only has 3 ways out – Highway 1 South, Highway 1 North, and Laguna Canyon Road. 

We lived pretty close to the Dana Point / Laguna Beach border at the time.  Standing outside our apartment, we could watch for hours, miles and miles of headlights trying to escape the city.  A bright orange glow shined at the tops of the hills.  Ashes rained down everywhere.  Entire neighborhoods burned to the ground, 366 homes total and 17,000 acres in Laguna Beach alone.

The local community has very good reason to be paranoid about fires.  This is why I’m not proud of circumventing this paranoia so that I could run. 

The hills were smoking as I drove on today toward the park near Mentally Sensitive.  Dozens of firemen, dressed in heavy gear climbed the hillsides in 90 F degree heat.  A helicopter occasionally flew by to drop fire repellant. 

I finally made it to the street I needed.  It was blocked by police.  So, I drove around to get to the other side of the smoldering hillside.  I parked along the street, happy to see no law enforcement or fire crews, and ran into the city park toward Mentally Sensitive.  Before I arrived to the trail, I spotted Meadows Trail in the distance.  Three fire trucks were parked at Meadows’ entrance.  So, I wouldn’t be running down Meadows.  Thing was, Mentally Sensitive’s trailhead is visible from Meadows.  And so, I bushwhacked my way down the hillside so that I could reach my trail unseen lower down the slope.  Thing was, when I came upon my trail, I could still see the firemen.  I don’t know if they could see me, or if they even cared.  But I ducked, yes, I’m not proud.  I ducked as I ran along the trail.  If only I wasn’t wearing my dang orange hat.  Eventually I had to stand erect, the trail was so steep.  When I did, I didn’t look back.  I ran down Mentally Sensitive and didn’t ease up until the trucks were no longer in my sight.

I was in!  And unless they evacuated the park, I was going to stay in.  But I didn’t see anyone for at least three miles, so of course I worried that they had indeed evacuated the park.  Finally, I came upon some mountain bikers.  Later I came upon small groups of hikers, so I felt confident the rangers had not evacuated.  Unless the same ranger who told me they were closed saw me, and remembered me (dang orange hat), I was home free!  Just to make sure, I took a single track as soon as I could.  I ran Coyote Run, feeling pretty good physically.  But the heat was tough. 

In all I ran a ten mile loop.  I was supposed to run 12 miles.  I goofed, because I forgot to look at “The Plan.”  Therefore, I came in about 2/3rd’s of a mile short of my 72 weekly miles.  (My oldest son said that I should just run around the block, I laughed at that notion – smart boy, but this Mama’s done running for the week!).

Shhhh (please).  Running down Mentally Sensitive:

Finishing up Meadows, headed into Wood Canyon:

Coyote Run Trail:

Running up Rock It Trail:

Headed back to my truck:


  1. Ha, I would have done the same and would feel the same as you. At least you know you weren't putting yourself in danger.

    1. I'm beginning to wonder my sanity Johann. LOL. Thanks for reading

  2. Fire season, ugh. My house almost burned down in 2007. I love where I live and accept the fire risk but October always makes me nervous.

    1. Oh my gosh Scott!! I'm so glad that your house didn't burn down. I am fearful too. We live downtown, so we're pretty fire safe. But if I wasn't so fearful, we would probably be living in Laguna Canyon, Modjeska Canyon, Santiago Canyon or even up Ortega by now.

  3. Looks like a fun and exciting run!

    1. If I wasn't so dang tired it would have more fun. : ) It still cracks me up that they forgot one entrance.

  4. "...if anyone’s going to be safe and know what to do if trouble arises, it’s going to be me." This coming from a woman who has snuck into closed parks before, runs in the blazing heat to the point of exhaustion, runs through gnat clouds, and runs where there are not only snakes but rattlesnakes. Glad you survived to write about it.

    "In 1993, during my senior year in college..." what did I just read? Why do I think you're so much older than me? Man, now I feel old.

    1. LOL Lumberjack. I really am a law-abiding citizen. I really don't look for trouble. It just comes with the trails. : ))

      ps. I went to college late.