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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rain in the Summertime

While giving my rebellious foot a rest I have been putting in time at the gym with my sons. I'll tell you though -- gym training does very little to prepare me for trail running. It could perhaps if someone were to periodically shove me as I rode the elliptical. Or, perhaps try to gouge my eyes out or pull my hair as I rode the cycle.

Needless to say, I missed the trails dearly, so I decided to venture out regardless. Saturday we got a good downpour in the middle of July (that is very rare, even more so during a drought). Sunday, the sun shined brightly among big, white puffy clouds, so I took a chance and drove out to Trabuco Canyon. I was hoping that the rain filled our creeks just a tiny bit. But alas, though large puddles were dispersed along the canyon road, the creek beds were still bone dry.

Heading out . . .                                      A little closer


Coming up on the canyon . . .               The turn off!SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Some off roading . . .



Figuring my foot would bring me down, I parked right at the trail head, as opposed to parking in the Holy Jim lot. This parking place cuts the regular ten mile out-and-back along Holy Jim to 9 miles. I figured I would probably need that. The air was hot and muggy as I headed up the mountain. Within about a mile, I stumbled upon a handful of ladybugs, which turned into stumbling upon hundreds of ladybugs resting in clumps along fallen logs and in the brown grass. A little more up stream, I found even more ladybugs -- thousands upon thousands of them on the tree branches, fallen logs and in again the grass. I could not help but stop and photograph.


SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI haven’t mentioned yet that my foot ached from the onset. It’s not in the worst condition it’s ever been; in fact I had been experiencing some relief due in part to stretching. But damn the foot. I really didn’t care and was not much bothered by the pain. I popped two ibuprofen after climbing a little over a mile, but unfortunately that did nothing to alleviate the pain. I'll tell you, it felt wonderful to be out in the wilderness again. I came upon several hikers, a couple of mountain bikers. No runners. At about mile three, the clouds began to darken. Shortly after that, I ran up on my first rattler -- she was a baby, an adorable little thing. Within five minutes, I came up on a family of hikers who pointed out my second baby rattler, coiled up right on the trail. I probably would have stepped on her if the group did not point her out.


SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAt mile four, the clouds were black, seemingly within touch. I worried some that I would get caught in a downpour. Still, I moved upward toward The Main Divide because it was just so dang close.

I arrived intact. The foot hurt pretty badly. The wind was also picking up. I saw two other hikers at The Main Divide, and heard several dirt bikes in the distance. I had popped my last ibuprofen, and since it did absolutely nothing to lessen my foot pain, I decided to take out my pf sock, an overly tight compression sock to wear for the down trip. Time was of the essence at this point -- it was practically dark as night, and I knew I was probably going to get rained on. But maybe, just maybe, I could endure more pain with this sock and make the down trip quickly.


I trotted down Holy Jim averaging about a 14 minute pace -- the sock helped some, but let’s faces it, my foot still ached like hell. Occasionally, I got beneath a 12 minute mile. But as long as the dark skies remained dry, I felt comfortable at the slow trot. After about one and a quarter mile down Holy Jim, I felt a drop of rain fall on my nose. Then suddenly, I noticed a black tarantula on the trail. I took out my camera to snap a photo of the creature, and it was at that moment that the rain began to fall. It did not come slowly either. It fell down in buckets, long drops of cool rain, in every direction, the Earth slurping it up like it was dying of thirst.


Immediately, I buried my electronics deep into my pack (my phone, camera and ipod -- which I had not turned on the entire trip). I dug in and picked up my pace down the mountain focusing on a quicker stride. There was no use trying to keep dry. Instantly, I was soaked through and through. And in my rush I neglected to really see what was happening around me. As I passed from one canyon wall to the other, in an area that looks over a great divide, I took a moment and stopped.  Then I really saw what was happening all around me.  I could see for miles, and rain  pounding down on every inch of it.  It sounded like millions of soft tiny claps. The rain drops were long and uneven, but at the same time in perfect symmetry. The site caught me so off-guard with its beauty that I instantly cried. I couldn’t help it. And I didn’t try to help it. I choked on my tears as I took off running again down the mountain. I really never knew how beautiful rain could be. It filled all of my senses. I could see it. I could smell it. I could feel it. And I could hear it. It was ALL rain, and I was this little dot running down the mountain in and among.

Occasionally, I ran under cover beneath some trees which provided protection from the rain. The trail though was becoming a small river, sometimes taking shortcuts down the mountain by flowing off trail into the brush. No real credit to myself, I had chosen waterproof trail shoes for this trip. I didn't choose them because they are waterproof though -- they just happen to be my favorite shoes. This meant that even as I stomped down into this muddy water, my feet remained dry.

After a while cover did not matter, as I was drenched completely. I noticed the Manzanita bark was blood red in the rain, and even though I wanted so badly to capture that in a picture, I did not dare open my pack and expose my electronics to the downpour. My progress was slow, as the rocks and mud beneath my feet grew very slick. It didn’t matter much how fast I travelled – I was happy with just moving forward.  More than once I slipped and nearly fell.  More than once the rain stopped for about a minute.  And during one of those times I raced to get my camera out so that I could snap a picture of the Manzanita in the rain. 


At the two mile mark (that is two miles remaining) I could hear voices from up the trail. By now the river flowing down the trail had deepened, and I sometimes submerged my entire foot. Though I continued to hear the voices, I did not see anyone until I was running up on the one mile marker. Up the switchback trail, I waved at a man and woman wearing orange rain ponchos. I chuckled at the fact that I did not even think to pack for the rain. (Doh!).

I felt great relief when I reached that one mile marker. At that point, I ran within a well covered forest, loud with rain falling on its canopy. I heard a branch snap and fall in the distance. It sounded a lot like billiards being played out among some unseen giants.

After hitting that one mile marker, I began counting down in tenths of a mile. The river rolling in the middle of the trail flowed so heavily now, that my feet were completely submerged much of the time. Worried slightly over flash floods or mudslides, I didn’t contemplate these things much; they were just something that crossed my mind. I merely focused on continually moving forward. Fortunately, the rain was not cold. It was comfortingly cool.

I recall calling out "Two-thirds of a mile," then "1/3rd of a mile," then "a quarter mile til I'm at my truck!" At that point, I did not urgently press forward. Instead, I frolicked in the scene, kicking at the river at times, other times noticing how it diverted off the trail fast-tracking toward the creek bed.

And then, finally, I had 1/10th of a mile before I was at my truck. I heard voices up ahead, when suddenly I was standing at a small lake on the trail. On the other side of this  “lake” stood two hikers contemplating how to make their way around it. "Hell," I thought, "what does it matter? I am finished." And so I walked directly through the lake, which ended up being more than ankle deep.

Finally back in the truck!


The drive out of the canyon was just as eventful as running down the mountain in the rain – lots of lakes and fast flowing little rivers.  I gave two young guys a jump who were stalled in the mud.  I drove it so well, that my tires did not spin in the mud once.  I am getting better off-road.  Back at home, I was sore as heck for two days because well, the gym can never prepare me for the trails. Smile

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Friday, July 10, 2015


I remember climbing Holy Jim some years back during Old Goat 50, at about mile 37, when I didn’t think I could take it anymore.  Staggering and nearly defeated, I had a quick chat with who I thought was a running friend (actually, he was a stranger, but I was close to delirious and he looked just like my friend).  Downcast, I looked up from the ground, eeked out a smile and said to him, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”  My friend (A.K.A. the stranger) said to me, “Just go until you cry uncle.” 



I spend most of my training hours in the gym nowadays, not because of the weather, as our summer on the coast is pretty dang mild. I’m spending most of time in the gym because my plantar fasciitis has become too much to bear.  I am so flipping sick of fighting against the pain, I am ready to rest. 


This past Tuesday before work, I took a quick 6 mile run down to the seashore, and though it was cool and breezy, I could not have suffered more had I been hit by a car!  I am here to report that plantar fasciitis does not do well on cement.  In fact, I think running on cement is about the worst thing you can do when you suffer from this condition. 

Aside from that freakish hell, I kept to my planned route (an out-and-back to where the sidewalk ends in Capo Beach).  The parking lots were surprisingly empty.  The campgrounds even had lots of empty spots.  The lawn at Doheny was unusually brown.  Most lawns are brown nowadays due to our drought and the mandatory reduction in watering.  I left my water bottle at home (as there’s a drinking fountain about every fifty feet) and carried with me my phone (which accounts for these pictures I snapped along the way – snapping pics helped to keep my focus outward rather than inward on the pain).

photo (6)photo (5)photo (4)














Thursday, I said “screw the foot,” and headed out to Aliso/Woods for an out-and-back up Cholla Trail to West Ridge which lead me to Top of the World in Laguna Beach.  Even at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, the weather was breezy and cool.  And apparently, Canyon View Park has been watering their lawns more than Doheny State Beach. 

Canyon View Park off of Canyon Vistas Road, a back entrance into Aliso/Woods Wilderness:


SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI ran 6.5 miles on trails, and though my foot felt a lot better compared to running on cement, I fear the damage has been done.  Pain is immense, my ankle is swollen, I have a knot in my arch, and when I’m resting my arches are constantly taped. I used to pride myself on injury-free running.  Dang it. 



I’m not sure when I will be back.  I am not registering for the Harding Hustle at the end of this month.  I have not registered either for Twin Peaks. 

And this makes me sad.

But this beauty does not:


Sunday, July 5, 2015

4th of July Run on Santiago Truck Trail

I had already postponed a run this week with my Sheila, a long-time trail running friend.  So, as I tossed and turned past midnight, with the alarm set for 4:45 AM, I decided I was just gonna have to buck it up if I wanted to get out for an early morning run on the 4th of July.  I needed a run with a friend.  And I needed a run in the mountains.  That only way that was going to happen was to go out with the dawn patrol.

And so, fireworks and firecrackers rang out through the night as I attempted to get even a few winks of sleep.  I recall waking at 2:00 AM, again at 3:00 and my God, once again at 4:00 when I told myself that I still had forty-five minutes to gain a wink.  (And I do believe that I slept most of that time.)

When 4:45 AM rolled on in on the great U.S. holiday, the 4th of July, I was out of bed, slowly but surely getting dressed.  I pushed the button on my two-cup coffee maker and packed my vest.  I brought along about 60 fluid ounces of water (mixed with Nuun), a hat, sunglasses, a red bandana, my garmin, an Ipod which I probably would not use (but I never leave home without), a knife, my phone, lip balm, toilet paper (which I probably would use), ibuprofen, a camera (which I would definitely use),  and believe it or not, a jacket on this 4th of July – oh, and I believe my driver’s license was still tucked deep in my pack from my last run (and I think it’s still there).     

The fog was thick as I drove through Rancho Santa Margarita and even thicker along Santiago Canyon Road.   I attempted to answer a call from Sheila several times, mostly with no response, a couple of times I could hear her voice, but she could not hear mine.  I worried that she had perhaps cancelled, so I decided that as sleepy as I was, I’d go ahead and run anyway if that was the case. 

Eventually, we met up at the corner of Modjeska Canyon Road and Santiago Canyon Road and she followed me as we drove the windy road up to Modjeska Grade were we found a spot to park.  We took that asphalt, uphill road for about a half a mile before reaching the trailhead to Santiago Truck Trail.   The weather was cool, almost cold, the clouds thick and air misty.  The moon was still high in the sky as we climbed up above the low clouds.  We didn’t see another soul as we set off ascending that popular, yet remote trail named Santiago Truck Trail.  Within a half mile (I’m guessing), we stopped to take off our jackets and tied them around our waists. 


SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThere’s quite a bit of uphill climbing along Santiago Truck Trail – hiking kind of climbing for me during parts of it.  But there’s also some rolling hills, and with the cool weather and low-lying clouds, the climbs were very bearable.  I lost my red bandana along the way, but didn’t fret, as I was certain that I’d find it on the return trip.  (I of course did not find the bandana, but was satisfied that in my mind, someone else had found it, and that it would come to good use in their travels.  I was happy in the fact that I could pass on something that I had held for many years.)

As I mentioned earlier, the trails were empty when we first set foot on them.   I’m not certain when we saw our first travelers, but I am certain they were cycling.  All the travelers that we eventually came upon (and there were many) rode a bike.  Except for one:  there was a gentleman, wearing a vest pack like Sheila and I.  We met him on the return, on an uphill as he was traversing down.  He was fresh and smiling.  We smiled too, but fresh . . . not so much. 

But I digress, and have gotten ahead of myself.  We ran out to a flag, which flies across from the vulture crags. It’s also the location where the top of The Luge, a popular bike trail, meets. I had hoped that the flag measured the 5 mile mark, but recalled from earlier runs, that it would measure short.  Ends up, it was just shy of 4 miles.  So, after signing the registry there, we took off further to make the “out” portion measure precisely 4 miles before turning back on the trail toward our cars. 


I noticed more than one bunny cross our path.  And though I saw no snakes, I spotted their trails here and there.  With Sheila running out ahead, and about two miles remaining in our trip, I got to witness a tiny rockslide not too far from my feet as a spray of dirt spit forward from my left and a small boulder tumbled down and shot out onto the trail. 

Fossil Rock with about a mile to our cars:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

With only 8 miles covered on Saturday’s lovely run, I wasted my feet.  Wasted.  Particularly the left foot which throbbed pain from its arch for the remainder of the day.  My family and others in the neighborhood walked to a nearby bluff where we watched fireworks shot off from the marina.  I suffered pain on the walk there and back.  My relief was immense when my husband taped my arches later that night. 

That’s just the way it is right now.  I’ll take it. 

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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Trespasser

I often wondered about a particular trail that I’ve seen while running Santiago Truck Trail on my way to Old Camp.  After studying maps and looking at satellite images, I concluded that the trail in question is Joplin Truck trail, and it winds down the mountain dumping out somewhere in Rose Canyon.  From the maps and images I couldn’t precisely figure out where to catch Joplin Truck Trail in Rose Canyon.  I decided that my best bet in figuring out Joplin was to take it from above -- from Santiago Truck Trail.  However, the trip to the junction from Modjeska Canyon is around seven miles.  But from Trabuco Canyon, there’s a hellish trail (hellish because of the steep grade and exposure) that’s only about two miles to Joplin Truck Trail.  

Yesterday, Thursday July 2nd, in the middle of summer, during the afternoon, I thought it would be a good idea to finally check out Joplin Truck Trail.  I wanted something hard.  And I got it.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI parked my truck at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon, off of Plano Trabuco Road, just before Rose Canyon, and I trekked up the road into the canyon.  I covered a couple flat miles, past large sections of fenced properties riddled with “No Trespassing” signs.  At about two miles I hit Cadillac Trail which quickly ascends into the Santa Ana Mountains.  Cadillac Trail is named so, I believe because of the wrecked car a short distance up.  I have no idea if the car is a Cadillac.  It’s pretty smashed and all markings have been removed.  Maps name this trail Trabuco Creek Road.  

The trip up Cadillac was hot and steep.  Flies bit my legs, my arms.  And as I ascended the mountain, I noticed a couple trucks below make their way to Cadillac Trail. It was so lonely up there, I kind of hoped that one would attempt the drive up.  None did, they either turned around or headed further into the canyon.  I could tell 4WD’s had made the trip by the tire marks in the dirt.  There were also dirt bike marks, but no mountain bike tracks.  And occasionally, I’d see a footprint.  


In addition to the 70 fluid ounces in my hydration pack, I carried a bottle of water for the purpose of getting my bandana wet.  I frequently stopped to drench the bandana and wear it over my head or drape it around my neck.  The trek was extremely slow, and there was very little running involved.  I took mental notes of faraway trails I spotted in the distance.  And I explored all turn offs to discover which direction they travelled.  But I always went back to the main trail because my direction was up.  Up.  Up.  Up.

All the while, I could feel the tiny chunks of flesh being ripped from my legs by the flies.  A couple of times I found a bit of shade where I stopped to cool down and and the flies feasted on my flesh.  I noticed there were three types.  Some flies looked just like houseflies, except a little blacker and more than twice the size.  These flies took the biggest bites, but they also took a second before chomping so I often swatted them away before they bit.  There were also smaller flies with feathery wings.  They were black as well.  But these critters were much slower than the giant houseflies.  When I swatted them, I often killed or maimed the devils.  The third type of fly, that I didn’t identify until I sat in the shade, was an oblong insect, dark gray.  They wore what looked like a helmet, which made me think that they resembled little penises.  So, henceforth, I will call these flies penisflies.  Their bites hurt as well.  But as I got moving, the penisflies seemed to leave me.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWith about 3/4’s of a mile remaining before my turnoff, I came upon another hiker.  His face was red, and he hunched over slightly, presumably fatigued like myself.  He commented how difficult it must have been for me going up this trail because it was so difficult going down.  Quickly afterward, I came upon his hiking partner, a female who was taking the slope slowly.  Poor kids (though they weren’t actually kids, but younger than myself) had come a long way -- all the way from Cook’s Corner (I’m approximating a good 10 miles, and they had more than that to get back).  These two were the only people that I’d see on this adventure.  I hoped that I’d see them again when I closed my loop and headed back toward Trabuco Canyon. 


Two full hours into my trip, I finally made the junction down to Old Camp (a mere four miles of travelling).  Before moving on, I found a sliver of shade where I sat and drenched my bandana.  Heading onward, I soon found a trail that went off to the left.  Unable to get a signal for my phone GPS, I hiked up that trail for a high point.  I came upon the black remnants of a campfire and very little evidence of the trail reaching further.  Fortunately, I got a signal and found that there was a more promising trail about a quarter mile away.  I ran the short distance and found an unkempt, eroded single track.  I thought this could not possibly be the trail, though I did discover some mountain bike tracks.  No foot prints though.  Fortunately, I got a signal to check out the GPS and sure enough, I had arrived at Joplin Truck Trail.  Though no truck would ever be able to traverse this terrain.  It was single-track in the truest sense.  Single file, no side-by-side running for sure.  The trail was overgrown, rocky and covered with ruts and erosion. 

I ran along Joplin Truck Trail exposed to great heat, no shade, but glory, glory, no flies.  An occasional breeze also helped out.  And I still had plenty of water in my bottle to douse my bandana.  All the while, I travelled in the opposite direction of Trabuco Canyon where I had parked my truck.  Though I checked frequently, I no longer had a signal to access the GPS.  



Close to two miles down, the trail changed directions and I found myself running back toward Trabuco Canyon.  Orange County laid before me in all its glory.  I could see that clouds covered the Pacific Ocean.  And I could see Joplin Youth Center getting closer and closer. 

Joplin Youth Center is a lockdown correctional facility for very young (15 years and younger) felony criminals.  I know this because about 17 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first son I substitute taught for the county schools, which included “court schools” such as those located in juvenile hall, Los Pinos Boys Home, and Joplin Youth Center.  I accepted an assignment for Joplin back then, and recall driving a windy road through what I now know as Rose Canyon.  After passing through locked and guarded gates, I arrived to this facility full of wonder.  How could these young teen aged boys have gone so vastly astray at such a young age?  The center housed felons, rapists and murders among them.  I was some months pregnant at the time, expecting my own son.  I remember being weepy-eyed at the thought of mothers worrying about their criminally sentenced minors.  

I was terribly frightened to take on this assignment, more so than I was running down Joplin Truck Trail toward the facility on this hot summer day (where I probably had a greater chance of dying than I did taking on that substitute teaching job at Joplin Youth Center).  Turned out, the boys were terribly charming.  Visibly pregnant, they dotted over me, offering to do everything -- get the television and VCR, find me a chair in the lunchroom, even serve me lunch.  The way my assignment worked was this:  I was locked into the classroom.  Guards roamed the hallways with keys.  I kept a walkie-talkie with me.  If I needed help, or needed the classroom unlocked for any reason, I could radio the guards.  Here’s what happened:  within the first fifteen minutes locked in my classroom, my walkie-talkie disappeared.  Fortunately, after (nervously) chuckling out loud and demanding its return, one of the boys fessed up and handed it over.  There were no further incidents that day, except for my amazement over how these seemingly wonderful boys could be so ruthless in society.  I never had the opportunity to return to Joplin Youth Center before now, and here I was, a fifty year old woman, running straight toward it down the mountain on a scorching, hot summer day. 

With some of the outbuildings just in sight, I came upon a sycamore grove.  There was a particularly shady spot where a waterfall obviously made its home during our wetter years.  And then, bam -- my trail ended.  It was washed out.  But I was too committed in this loop to turn back.  So, I gingerly made my way down a ravine, butt sliding where needed, and half crawled my way back up to the trail on the other side, thrilled that I would soon be in Rose Canyon.  But I worried too.  What if the trail ended at the boys’ home?  What was I to do then?  Could I skirt along the lockdown facility?  If so, would I be accosted by authorities?  In preparation, I hid my camera.  And I also took the knife off my pack and buried it in my pocket (which of course made it now a concealed weapon -- doh!)

Washed out:


And then something happened that I did not expect.  The trail forked, but both ends of the fork were fenced off with barbed wire.  On the ground was a rusted sign that read Joplin Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest.  Erected in its spot was a sign that read:  No Trespassing. Do Not Enter, Correctional Facility.  I did not have enough fluids to return the way I came. I cannot say that I thought my out my situation carefully.  Instead, I scampered along the barbed fences hoping that they ended in the brush.  But they did not.  The barbed wire scaled up and down the canyon walls.  I considered trying to telephone the assholes at Joplin Youth Center and demanding that they let me in so that I could pass through, else I die on this forsaken trail.  (I was pissed!)

“Okay, okay, THINK!”  There’s got to be a way through this (last choice phoning Joplin Youth Center).  I shook the gate, hoping that it would open enough for me to squeeze through.  I tried stepping down on the barbed wire.  And then I noticed that a portion of the wire across the left fork seemed to have a wider opening than the rest.  And so, I got down on my knees and attempted to crawl through.  My pack got caught, and the water bottle flew out, landing on the other side of the fence, way out of reach.  I shimmied my pack and hat off stooped down there between the barbed wires, hoping that would be enough to get me through.  No luck.  And so I scooted back out, grabbed my pack and hat from the other side and wistfully waved my bottle of water good-bye.

Next, I inspected the fence along the right side of the fork.  That’s when I noticed that some of the wire directly in front of the No Trespassing sign was not barbed.  Hallelujah!  Wait a minute . . . did I say in front of the sign?  That’s right.  I was standing on the side of the fence that the sign warned not entering!  I hoped the non-barbed section, free and happy to be making my way down Joplin Trail legally.  

The trail was steep, but it was shady.  It was lonely and spooky too.  With no GPS signal I felt confident that the trail lead in the right direction even though I found no tracks.  Much to my dismay however, I encountered my next sign.  This sign warned me also that I was trespassing, this time upon a wilderness preserve.  Hell.  I really had no choice but to keep on going, checking frequently for a phone signal.   More and more overgrown, I feared this portion of the trail had not been walked upon for a long while.  And then another No Trespassing sign.  And then another.  Eventually, I got a phone signal, but I could not see the image on my gps – it was too dark.  I was able though to phone home and talk to my husband.  I mentioned briefly where I was and that I hoped to be reaching Rose Canyon shortly.  But overall, I was pretty much going to be arriving home late.  I had already passed the 6 mile mark, which was what I had approximated this run to be.  

Looking back on Joplin Truck Trail after hopping the fence:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Continuing on through the “Preserve”:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Eventually, I made it to a paved road in Rose Canyon.  But I was locked in, and needed to hop this little fence to get back into legal territory. 

Just call me the trespasser.  Winking smile

I guess it’s time to mark up my maps. 


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