My initial plans regarding Saturday’s run was not to blog the event. I thought that I’d act like it never happened, that I’d keep it a secret.
I changed my mind.
Let me start with the fact that the first 15 miles of my 20 mile loop in the Saddleback Mountains were absolutely joyous. I began running at sunrise. I felt strong. I ran without injury. I had water stops where I refilled on every occasion. I always had more fluids than I needed.
Saturday’s trails were in the same mountains that I always run. The only difference was, I ran the trails reversed. Instead of running up Holy Jim, I ran down Holy Jim, and instead of running down Trabuco Trail, I ran up Trabuco Trail. Reversing my loop was a mistake mainly because it meant a huge climb out back to Blue Jay (where I began this run). But the route wasn’t my biggest mistake. I could have done it if I had not made the BIG mistake. My biggest and crucial mistake was only packing a little more than 400 calories. Sure, I got the fluids thing down pat. I foolishly left something just as important out – fuel.
When I stopped in the bottom of the Canyon (Holy Jim Parking lot), I took out my water stash and refilled on fluids. For good measure, I guzzled down a great deal straight from the jug. I talked to a cyclist (who thought I was a bit crazy to make the climb to Blue Jay via Trabuco). I felt fine though. I knew the climb out would be difficult. But I can do difficult.
I took in my last 200 calories as I started up Trabuco. It isn’t very steep at first. I ran in and out of shade. I snapped a few photos. I even came upon another runner that I saw on the ridge, as he closed up his loop via Horsethief. He asked whether I was climbing up Trabuco back to Blue Jay. When I said that I was, he replied, “Nice work!”
As the climb increased, I grew weaker. My legs felt like lead, and I wanted to stop. But I wanted more to finish up this loop. So I trudged onward with the promise that I would stop and rest when I made the Horsethief/Trabuco junction.
That junction took F O R E V E R. I continued moving forward in a haze with one thought, “One foot in front of the other.” And thank goodness for the shade here and there. But my running had turned into a hike. And there was no changing that. I felt too weak. Still, I didn’t question whether I could make the trip back to Blue Jay. I just conceded to the fact that this trip was going to be dang difficult.
I stumbled across the dry creek and found a boulder on the trail in the shade. Here I sat and rested. I was sure my back did not face a good spot for a mountain lion to pounce. Yes, day time attacks are extremely rare (as are attacks in general), but I am still fearful about sitting or stooping down on a trail. Even when I tie my shoe, I usually bring my foot up rather than stoop down. Anyway, I rested for probably ten minutes on that boulder before gaining enough strength to continue on.
And then the shade ended, and the terrain became extremely rocky. With only about two miles left, I hung onto flimsy tree branches to rest. And then I finally resorted to more sitting. After walking approximately twenty-five feet I would have no more strength to continue. I felt light headed, like I might vomit, so I’d find another piece of shade to sit down on the rocky trail. I rested, taking deep breaths from my diaphragm. I sipped my fluids, I took electrolyte pills. Honestly, though, I took in the water at much lesser intervals. My nausea was getting too much to take anything down.
Some times I stopped more frequently, without even caring whether I found shade. I would simply plop down in the rocks and lean on my side. Standing back up took a great deal of strength, which I often used the aid of a branch. Whenever I could, I rested on a boulder. That way, the trip back to a standing position was not as painful. My thighs ached, kinda of like labor pains (a painful throbbing in the thigh muscles), when I stood back up. But I’d continue on until my breathing became so irregular and I thought I was going to pass out.
Now, my rests were flat out laying on the ground. I didn’t care anymore about positioning myself safely from mountain lion attacks. The ugly truth is that as soon as I bolted up because I was going to vomit, I would suddenly feel like I was going to experience diarrhea. Thankfully, this did not occur, because I did not have enough strength to prepare for such an occurrence.
With about 2 miles remaining of this climb, I began to worry. I mean REALLY worry. I didn’t know how close to “the edge,” I was. I mean, good, experienced trail runners have died on the trail. Did they know when they were at the point when that was a possibility? I didn’t know what it felt like to be at the point of no return. I checked for cell service, and I had none. I could not call family or friends. I could call for emergency help only.
The veins in my temples throbbed HOT blood around my forehead. I just needed to lay down, CONSTANTLY. I began to imagine how pissed my family would be if I died on the trails. And I decided I had to call for help. I made several attempts, to no avail. Then I began weeping as I made that climb upward. Each time I lay down to rest and get my regular breathing back, I’d try my phone again. Nothing.
Finally, I got an emergency operator. This is what I said: I am not lost. I do not need police, fire or medical aid. I need a ranger. I think I may pass out on the trail. The operator thought for sure that I was lost. I assured him that I knew exactly where I was. I was only a short way from The Main Divide (probably a 1/2 mile). A ranger would not be able to get a truck to me, but if I could just make it to The Main Divide, I could get in the truck for a ride back into Blue Jay. That’s all I needed. I was not injured. I was just sick and so light headed that I could only take a few steps at a time.
Then I lost connection.
I continued with the same routine: Walk some, lay down some and rest. The trail looked very different to me travelling it in reverse. My spirit was squashed again and again by false summits. I did not try and call emergency again. I figured that a ranger would be waiting for me at The Main Divide.
FINALLY, I caught a glimpse of the trailhead’s post. I would have run to it if I could have. Heck, I would have crawled to it if I could have. No, I needed one more rest up. So, I collapsed to the dirt floor and lay on my side, listening for a truck. Silence.
It was then that I got the biggest surprise in my life. A red and white rescue helicopter with red flashing lights swooped in just above Trabuco’s treeline and passed right over me.
No, no, no, no, no!!!! I did not need a helicopter.
I was mortified. I painstakingly pushed myself up and made those last steps of my walk of shame up to The Main Divide. The helicopter did not see me as it searched up and down Trabuco. I collapsed in the dirt, waiting for my strength to make the downhill trip back into Blue Jay when a truck pulled up. It was not a ranger truck, but two young adventurers who had driven the ridgeline from Silverado Canyon.
They gave me a ride down The Main Divide toward the campground. Lauren and Wes were their names. About then, my phone came into emergency service range, and I received several texts from the firemen in the helicopter. I felt like such a FOOL. I didn’t have my glasses so I could not text them back. Lauren text’d for me, to say that they had me in their truck.
The helicopter did not fly off for good until an OC Sherriff fire truck came booming around the corner. It was a huge truck, not your regular street fire truck, but a red, extremely tall mountain-terrain fire truck. I slid out of Lauren and Wes’s truck and continued on my walk of shame to the firemen. They brought me to the back of a truck so that I could sit on the ledge. They hooked me up to electrodes, took my blood pressure, measured my blood sugar. I couldn’t sit on the ledge any longer, so I made my way to the ground when my stomach began cramping terribly.
The three men were very kind. And I felt so stupid. I could have avoided this. They fed me ice-cold fluids. I refused a ride to the hospital, so they stayed there with me sitting in the dirt until my vitals returned to normal. My heart-rate was high, my blood pressure and my blood sugar were low. Oddly, my body temperature was low as well. It read 94F.
Probably about an hour later, I was seat belted in their truck being driven down to my truck. I thanked them profusely. And I apologized. I cannot tell you how much of an idiot I felt like.
(The profile below includes about a mile of the drive with Lauren and Wes):
Back at home, I still felt sick. Protein, I craved protein, and at first ate meat (two hamburgers!!). Then I stumbled to my bed and fell asleep still in my running clothes, caked in dirt from head to toe.
When I woke two hours later, my stomach and back cramped. After a hot bath, I made posts on facebook and decided I would tell this story because I didnt want anyone to have to learn it firsthand. Pack calories. Pack calories. Pack LOTS of calories. What was I thinking going on a 6,400’ elevation gain run with only 400 calories? I wasn’t thinking. And that is not good.
Even late into the night I still craved protein. I ate some junk food (like cheese!!) but really wanted more than anything – 3 bean salad. My friend Dena saw that Facebook post. She woke her husband, The O.C. Rock n’ Roll Chef. He made some 3 bean salad with the ingredients in their kitchen, and she brought it over at about 10PM. It was the best dang 3 bean salad I’ve ever had (I ate it for breakfast this morning too). Thanks friends! And thanks to the kindness of strangers, once again, I have been humbled. I really hope that I can help strangers as much as they have helped me.