I did not run the Harding Hustle this year. I worked it. That’s pretty usual. Normally I work this race. It was only last year that I ran the 50k route. This year (July 25) working it was the best option considering my foot problems. But somehow, I got the grand idea that when this race was over, I would run back to my truck. I worked the 50k turnaround point (Santiago Peak). Shortening it when I could, the run back would measure about fifteen miles. Hehe. What was I thinking?
From the onset, the mountain did not treat my foot kindly. In fact, it beat the crap out of it. John and Emmett pulled up in a truck at about mile six, and I stupidly passed up a ride down the mountain. When the Modjeska Peak crew drove by my foot was no better, and I let them pass without a word. I don’t know why I did that. I suppose I thought I could hack it. Eventually though, I realized that I did not want to hack it. At about mile 8 I grudgingly picked up my pace, hoping that I could make it to the Laurel Springs Aid (the five miles remaining mark) before they packed up. Fortunately, I arrived just as they began to tear down, and I got a ride in for those last five miles. My foot throbbed with pain. On the way in, I got into a good plantar fasciitis conversation and learned that heel walking and toe walking might help. My foot was in such pain after those ten miles however, I could not bear walking on my heels back at home. I limped around the rest of the day, and also for the next day at a big family gathering at my parents’ house. The good news to this story is that I eventually broke down and purchased a bathing suit the week prior (having refused to do so because I am the heaviest I have been since I was pregnant. And I am NOT pregnant). During one of my good moments, I decided that I better start enjoying life no matter how much I tip the scales and purchased a suit. I had a wonderful time swimming in my parents’ pool with all their grand children (there’s eleven of them). Best thing is: I did lots of heel and toe walking in the water. And get this: the next morning, I walked out of bed without a limp. No limp, no pain all day. It was a miracle.
I continued the heel and toe walking on the grass in my backyard. Continued calve stretching and going to the gym for some cross training for the week. I had minimal pain and only very slight limping. And so therefore, Friday, July 31, I set out for another adventure with my friend Kelly. A while back I had mapped out an alternate route to Yaeger Mesa, which looked like it would cut off about four miles from my usual loop to this paradise in Trabuco Canyon. I figured this loop would measure around 12 miles – and I can do twelve miles, even out-of-shape (muhahaha).
Well, thank God for Kelly. She really is a strong woman, and a trooper who didn’t mind one bit going along on this death-defying adventure. Before we even arrived to the trailhead, we drove up on two drunken, half-naked lovers wrapped in a sleeping bag before an empty bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey, in the middle of the road. I cannot imagine being so drunk that I would think cuddling IN THE MIDDLE of a mountain road would be a good idea. Well, after missing them with her car, Kelly pulled over and I opened the door and yelled at the couple. “Get out of the road!” They just stared back at me dumbfounded. “You’re drunk,” I reminded them. “You are in the middle of the road. You are going to get killed. Get up!!”
We left the couple at about 6:20 AM and arrived to The Main Divide at about 6:30 AM. We were off immediately, hoping to beat most of the heat. Well, to begin, the first three miles (up The Main Divide and then Los Pinos to the Peak) is nothing but extreme technical uphill. Extreme. But beautiful.
Right around the peak, we took a right turn down a shady single track, which I believe is Bell Ridge. We did lots of sliding on our butts because the trail was so steep in parts – but nothing like what awaited us. I fell once when I decided the trail was easy enough to run. It was an easy fall with no issues.
Approximately one mile after our turn-off, we came to the junction for Yaeger Mesa. Here is where it really got scary. I grabbed at branches, hugged tree trunks to stop from falling. I slid down, first with my feet beneath me, then realized I could manage better if I left one leg stretched outward. At times, my sliding got out of control and I worried that I might find myself falling off the mountain. It was hairy. Beautiful, but hairy. My leg was bloody from a scratches. My fingernails were filled with dirt, my clothes caked in grime, my face covered with gnats. But I embraced the gnats. They really were the least of my problems. I gagged on more than one. And I breathed them in frequently. I was a sight to see for sure.
At last, we made the mesa, the lovely Yaeger Mesa. We found a giant bell that rang out across the canyon. We took a tiny trail around the mesa to further investigate and found a small camp with a fire pit, empty water bottles and a shelter built from pine tree branches. Finally, we located the remnants of a small plane crash before continuing down the mountain into Trabuco Canyon.
The trail was treacherous into the canyon. I stopped briefly before a particularly harrowing portion to take in the view and come up with a game plan when my feet slipped out beneath me. I slammed to the ground, teetering on the edge. In my attempt to throw myself away from the cliff, my hand slammed down into a cactus bush. Fortunately, my hand bounced right up and the thorns exited as quickly and quietly as they entered. Not one broke off in my flesh. I gave Kelly quite a scare with that one. And I don’t think I was the same thereafter. I was dinged.
For the remainder of the trip, my foot throbbed. I stopped frequently to rest and stretch. Kelly was going strong, and I am ever so grateful for her patience. The climb back out of Trabuco Canyon to The Main Divide was excruciating for me. It was about four miles, technical uphill in the heat. The anticipation of knowing just how close The Main Divide was killed me. KILLED ME. Anticipation is agonizing when you are tired and in pain. I felt I could not take another step. But I knew I was not going to get there whimpering about it. I just put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again, until FINALLY I made it to the top of Trabuco Trail. My pack was out of water. But I only had 2 more miles to go. Hallelujah! Kelly ran off ahead of me (then turned back to meet me and walk it in). I let two cars pass me by without asking for a lift. I should have asked for a lift. My foot was causing terrible pain.
When it was all over, I met my family at my brother’s home. And I swam again. I also did some heel and toe walking in the water, and my limp and pain subsided immensely.
Life is good.