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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Beautiful Modjeska

I shut off my early morning alarm ONCE AGAIN.  But all was no lost Sunday morning.  I threw caution into the wind and pulled my truck out of the driveway at 9:30 AM.  9:30 AM!  An hour later I was winding my way through a little town called Silverado, driving 25 miles per hour, onward to Maple Springs Road.  With the weather warming up, I feared I hadn’t packed enough fluids for an afternoon run and stopped by the only market in town for a Gatorade – just in case.  

At the trailhead, I continued on driving up a single lane road until the pavement ended.  Parking my truck beneath a tree in the woods, I headed up the dirt truck trail at approximately 10:40 AM.  The heat was sweltering, and quite frankly, I wondered how I was going to manage a mountain run.  With a cold Gatorade in hand and 72 fluid ounces on my back, I moved on as I always do – one foot in front of the other

I hoped that I could run up to Modjeksa Peak because I have this thing about summiting.  Love to summit.  If the weather grew too unbearable though, I gave myself an out, with a turnaround point at “Four Corners,” which is 4.25 miles up the dirt road called Maple Springs. 

Thank God for shade.  The first leg of my mountain run went well – I arrived to “Four Corners” having finished the Gatorade but without dipping into my hydration pack.  My leg “injury” did not cause a problem either.  I did experience a slight ache though, and took two ibuprofen since I decided to venture onward to the peak. 

I ran straight through “Four Corners,” where three off roaders parked.  And the gnats kicked in just as I turned onto The Main Divide.  With little or no shade and gnats flying at my face, the rocky terrain proved difficult.  But who am I kidding – this portion of The Main Divide is always difficult for me.  So, it was business as usual – one foot in front of the other.

At a little over 5.5 miles travelled, I turned the bend in The Main Divide for a view of two main peaks in The Santa Ana Mountains:  Modjeska and Santiago, the far ends of the saddle.  Wow.  I still daydream about it even a whole day later.  Setting my eyes on these peaks makes everything all better, the gnats, the heat, the rocks . . .  This is an emotional spot in the mountains for me – the scene of so many victories and agonies as well.  It’s what I see back home, the backdrop for most of my coastal runs.  

I turned off The Main Divide and trudged up the sort-of-single-track to Modjeska Peak.  No more cars or motorcycles.  I had this part of the mountain all to myself – except however for biting horseflies that took tiny chunks out of my arms and legs, oh and lest I forget, swarms of gnats hovering about my face, focusing on my mouth, nose, ears and eyes. 

Heading up to Modjeska:

The final ascent:

At last!

Polish actress, the beautiful Helena Modjeska, whom this peak was named after:helena modjeska

A mountain biker once told me about a short-cut coming off Modjeska Peak that takes you straight down to “Four Corners.”  I’ve looked for it, asked hikers and other bikers about the trail, to no avail.  That is until I ran The Harding Hustle last month. I  don’t recall whether it was during my first or second trip up to the peak that out of the corner of my eye I noticed a  “do-not-go-here” trail marking.  Do not go where? I thought.  There’s only one way to go.  And that’s when I saw it, a partially hidden, true-single-track disappearing down the side of the mountain. 

This Sunday, I sought out that trail on the way down from Modjeska.  The trail seemed so obvious now.  Still, I felt a little nervous.  Bike tracks relieved me some.  If a mountain bike could take the trail, then I could take it.  Hopefully.  A lot of short cuts are short because they take you down the face of a cliff or something ridiculous like that.  Determined to focus, I shut off my music.  But I kept the ear buds tucked into my ears else the growing number of gnats drill through to my brain.  I could hear them crashing up against the buds, desperate it seemed to hit gray matter. 

The trail was steep, so steep that in some points the ground merely slid beneath me as I attempted to run the terrain.  It’s been a long time since I’ve ventured onto new ground.  The views were immeasurable.  The trails were shady.  They were rocky.  And they were swarming with gnats.  Fortunately, my short cut didn’t take me down a cliff.   But because I ran an unbeaten path, I was extra careful not to fall.  My cautious gait was so slow, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a “short cut” after all.  But soon, very soon, I caught “Four Corners” in my sight, and it seemed as if I had cut a mile and a half or so off my trip.

The “short-cut”:

Sure enough, this trail dumped me off right at “Four Corners,” on a portion of single track so steep, I sat and slid down it.  Oh ya!  Only 4.25 miles to go:

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