click on any picture in a post for a larger view

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Setting the Clock Back to Zero

Welcome 2013. It’s nice to meet ya!

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions.  I like to look back, but only briefly.  And I like to look forward, but not too far – it freaks me out, makes me anxious.  What I do like is starting over, setting back my running log to ZERO.  I REALLY like starting over.  Monday has always been “start over day” for me.  But in reality, every single day is start over day (in that sense, every single hour is start over hour, every second is start over second.)  A new year though, brings out the strongest sense of a new beginning. Starting a new running spreadsheet with zero recorded, really makes that hit home.   I feel I have a blank slate, not only with running, but in life.  I have more lessons to learn, opportunities to grow.

This morning I woke for the first run of the year.  It took me five days to get out a run in 2013 because we are still in “celebration” mode here.  The boys are on Christmas vacation, as am I.  We took in a few hikes, some good food, etc.  It seemed so long since I ran, it almost felt like I wasn’t a runner.  Nah.  I knew all I had to do was get those feet moving and I’d be on my way up the mountain.  That’s how I did it this morning, one foot in front of the other, up Maple Springs Road, then The Main Divide to Modjeska Peak, for an 18+ mile out-and-back.  And what an adventure it was.  The mighty mountain taught me a few lessons, and beat me up quite a bit in the process.

What fun!Running Maple Springs Modjeska out-and-back 1-5-2013, Elevation - Distance

The run up Maple Springs Road was lonely and beautiful.  It was cold, with spots of snow here and there.  The creek ran slightly heavier than usual.  I bundled up to keep warm, wearing two pairs of shorts, two warm shirts, a beanie and gloves, plus my new compression socks which surprisingly do a terrific job keeping my legs warm. 

A pristine creek crossing on Maple Springs:

Admiring moss covered rock along the way:

Very quickly, the road filled with snow and ice.  At first it wasn’t thick, but it was tremendously icy.  I learned almost immediately to run the trail edges, to stay in the white stuff.

white stuff (fluffy snow):  good

white stuff (chunky snow or with vegetation poking through):  good

Slushy mud: okay

ice:  bad, very bad

black ice:  (that is clear ice that you can’t tell is ice):  downright evil!

I met three mountain bikers making their way up Maple Springs.  One of them rode right up.  The other two struggled as I did, slipping and sliding, finding our way to make it through the terrain.  Two dirt bikers also passed by, and one of them slid so closely to me, I fretted for a second he was going to run me over, perhaps knock me off the mountain.

Gradually, more mountain bikers made their way up, the majority struggling.  And gradually I got my groove, having slipped several times, I made pretty good time “staying in the white.”  That is running in the fluffy snow that lined the trail’s edge.  Sometimes that meant running along the cliff, other times up against the mountain wall.  

I nearly made “Four Corners” injury free.  And then it happened.  I can’t recall exactly what occurred.  But I do know that I slipped.  And then I fell.  My previously injured right wrist slammed into the ice, as did my right butt cheek.  On impact I slid haphazardly down the road, stopping when I hit the white fluffy stuff.    I pushed myself up, brushed off the snow  and continued running up to “Four Corners,” which was full of mountain bikers, and empty of snow.

With only a mile and a half to Modjeska Peak, I figured I’d be running down in no time.  I fretted a little over going back down Maple Springs.  But my feet soon forgot that fret since I was now running on dirt, glorious dirt toward The Main Divide. 

It wasn’t long on The Main Divide when I hit snow again, ICY snow.  I’d run along, then the “white” would end and I’d need to run across a patch of dirt or carefully maneuver across ice to get to the fluffy white stuff.  I struggled, to say the least!

Eventually a man ran ran down The Main Divide toward me.  He must have seen the distress in my face, as this was all he said, “Stay in the white!!!”  Believe me.  I already knew that.  (But not well enough!)

I came across more mountain bikers on The Main Divide, some of them verbally worrying about the trip to Santiago Peak.  I phoned my husband (yes I got reception!) and I continued with one foot in front of the other, RUNNING.  A slow run, yes, but running nonetheless. 

Though only a mile and a half to Modjeska Peak from “Four Corners”,  I was alone for a long time.  A half mile distance probably took me fifteen to twenty minutes.  And then suddenly and surprisingly two other runners ran down The Main Divide toward me.  What a surprise!  We chatted trails together, exchanged names, and turned out, I knew one of them.   I am “virtual” friends with Self Inflicted.  Imagine that, we meet on a snowy mountain on a cold winter morning, seemingly in the middle of nowhere (funny thing is, I saw Self Inflicted’s run posted on Facebook and thought, “Too bad the meeting place is so far away, else I’d probably go.”)  Funny. 

Self Inflicted and Eric:

After departing Self Inflicted and Eric, the snow and ice thickened a great deal.  I ran down the middle “in the white stuff” when it ended, I found my way to more fluffy snow.  But due to a second’s loss of focus (YES, A SECOND!) I found myself running on black ice.  BAM!  My left knee slammed into that ice so hard, the first thing that crossed my mind was BROKEN KNEE CAP.  The solid smooth black ice broke and tore at my skin, drawing blood.  Instantly after the knee impact, my left wrist slammed down, allowing the ice to tear a chunk of skin off my palm. 

I could not move for a moment.  I had to get my “wits,” get some air back into my lungs.  Laying there on the ground I saw several mountain bikers slipping their way uphill, one of them straight toward me.  “I can’t move,” I said to him.  He continued heading straight toward me.  I didn’t realize that he couldn’t control his direction.  “I can’t move,” I said again (I really could not), but then realized that was moot.  I kind of slithered to the side as he slowed and made his way by me.  Several other cyclists came up behind him, all asking if I was okay.  I said that I just needed to get my “wind.”  But I stood up anyhow, so that they could see and be on their way without worry. 

Surprisingly, I was able to walk with minimal pain.  And even more surprisingly, I ran the last quarter or mile or so to Modjeska Peak.

Modjeska Peak was under direct sunlight and void of snow.  Santiago Peak from a far looked snowless, but I knew that trail up was shady and would be icy and snow filled as well.   I ran to the edge of Modjeska, past the small cluster of towers and took in the majestic views as a Sheriff’s helicopter hovered above.

View of Santiago Peak from Modjeska Peak:

Some self-portraits from Modjeska:

I headed back down The Main Divide cautiously, but confident.  Mountain bikers making their way up, questioned me about the terrain, and I honestly told them, “It’s icy, it’s difficult.”  Some of them turned around.  Some of them made the trek.  And some of them made the trek to turn around a little later and meet me on the way down.

I met some more familiar faces from today’s adventure at “Four Corners.”  They headed down Harding Truck Trail on their mountain bikes, and I ran onward down Maple Springs.  I was an expert at running this snowy ice by now.  Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t cocky.  I ran yes, but I was cautious, and I focused. When I ran the snow-free, sunny part of the mountain I experienced pure joy.  What would have normally been hard was a relief.  And I thought, “Isn’t this just how life is?  You go through the hard parts, then later, other times don’t seem so tough.” 

With about 4 miles remaining, my knee ached pretty badly.  I didn’t want to take any ibuprofen however (for reasons that I may or may not bore you with later).  With about three miles remaining, hikers making their way up began asking me (again and again, seriously) “How far til the end?????” 

I thought to myself, “The end?  Where’s the end?”  I didn’t want to be a smart ass, so I asked, “The end of the paved road?”  They would say “Yes,” and I looked at my garmin and told them with a smile.  And as I ran that terribly long last couple miles in, I lamented on where’s  the end?  Is it “Four Corners?”  Is it Modjeska Peak?  Santiago Peak?  Ortega Highway? Heck you could keep going around the world and end up exactly where you’re at, and that’s the end.  When the last couple (a man and woman) asked me how much longer until the end, I had the urge to respond, “You are at the end.  You are at the beginning and at the end.” But I did not respond such.  Instead, I glanced at my garmin and told them, “two miles.” 

TIPS:  Where to run in snow & ice . . .

In this picture, don’t dare take a step on the sides of the shot, run right down the middle:

The middle of the road may look safe, but beware – it’s ice.  Run the far edges here:

Don’t even touch that brown snowy stuff on the left, it may be slushy, which is okay, but you are bound to hit a patch of ice, and down you will go!  Run the right.

Stay in the white fluffy stuff:

Do not even step on this stuff (background toward edge is okay), but the rest will send you flying!:

Again, the white fluffy stuff, that is key:

Happy New Year!!


  1. Quite an adventurous tale! You were very persistent - I think I would have gotten frustrated with the ice & headed back. Nice work!

    1. Thanks Average Woman Runner! Believe me, after my last fall, I so much wanted to turn around and go back. But the peak seemed in touching distance, it was only about a quarter mile away. I had to do it. Thanks for reading. :)

  2. We dont get much snow in Arkansas but I ran in it once and felt pretty badass. When we have cold yucky weather its mostly just ice so I knew far too well about black ice and to stay in the fluffy stuff, but I still worried so much that I was going to fall on my butt.

    1. Thanks for reading Khourt! I'm not sure running in the snow gives me much training. But I do think it makes me a little tougher. That black ice is about the worst thing a runner or hiker or walker or driver or any person can come across on the road or trail. I never truly knew how bad it could be. I'm spoiled here on the coast (we never get ice).

  3. Lauren, I really enjoy reading you blog. Lets just say I would have never explore Aliso Canyon if it wasn’t for you blog, so I thank you for that and all the wonderful pictures you take. This weekend I want to explore the Saddleback Mountains (The Holy Jim Trail). Do you know if they have paper maps of the main trails – as they do at Aliso at different parts of the park?

    1. Hi Alex. There are no paper maps on the trails in Saddleback, but there is a big board map in the Holy Jim Parking lot. Note, when you are looking at that map, there are two roads basically in front of you. The one to the left takes you to Holy Jim (there is a sign on that road that says "to Holy Jim.") The one on the right takes you to Trabuco.

      When you first get on the road to Holy Jim, it will eventually fork. Veer to the right and just keep going. It's 5 miles up. You hit The Main Divide at what is called Bear Springs. If you go left for 2.5 miles you will be at Santiago Peak. If you go right for about 4 miles you will be at the top of West Horsethief. Good luck. If you go on a weekend, you should see plenty of people making the hike up Holy Jim, either to the falls or all the way to Santiago Peak. Most hikers will be able to help you out with direction.