Friday, January 24, 2020

Why Calico

For some years there during my late thirties and early forties, I ran road races. Lots of road races. The tally on the side shows races beginning in 2008 but they actually began a little sooner. I believe I ran my first Turkey Trot in 2003, and every year after for several years. I ran mostly 5 and 10k distances at first and could run a 10k in about an 1 hour. My best 5k's were a shy of 30 minutes. Not impressive except for the fact that I could even run at all. I was middle of the pack (and was fine with that). I spent a lot of time running roads and poured over race directories hunting for races within driving distances -- I had young children at the time (my youngest born in 2004).  

May 2008 I thought that I was going out for another typical road race. Instead, I landed myself an adventure that took me up a "huge" incline to the Bay Bridge in San Diego, CA. The incline was half the adventure. After that I ran alongside the railing (posted with suicide prevention signs) high above the Pacific Ocean for more than two miles where we leveled out at Coronado Island. The race was a total of four miles.

I had so much fun running the Coronado Bay Bridge Race it prompted me to search the internet for other interesting races, something more than the usual road race that I was accustomed. That's when I found the Calico Trail Run that started and finished in Calico Ghost Town (in the sleepy high desert town of Yermo, CA just outside of Barstow). People actually visit this tiny ghost town, and they visit from around the world. My husband camped there with his Boy Scout troop in his youth. And I also visited Calico Ghost Town as a Girl Scout back in about 1975. We camped in a valley just outside the old silver mining town in a place that we called Rainbow Valley. It was a beautiful colorful valley with greens, blues and reds in the distance rocks. I haven't been able to find the place that we camped back then, but I know that it was a very short distance from the ghost town where we spent some fun hours. Nostalgic as I am, the Calico Trail Run was a must. An absolute must.

And so I set out on a quest: learn how to run trails. I joined the OC Trail Runners and more importantly, I met Tom Fangrow, who in his infinite wisdom taught me a great deal about trail running (not to mention showed me the way on trails from the coast to the mountains). After an 8 month crash course on running trails, I felt ready. In fact, I had ran two 5 mile trail runs in my local foothills and another 10k trail run at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. I could now run uphills and my endurance was pretty good (but not good enough . . .  sigh; the story of my life!).

January 2009, I drove out to Barstow the night prior and checked into a nice hotel next to the train tracks. I mention the train tracks because a train rumbled by every couple hours. The next morning, I timidly walked past the crowd of runners in the lobby who were taking in a continental breakfast and I drove fifteen or twenty minutes to Calico Ghost Town. My mood was somber. (Perfect mood for a ghost town setting!) Even though I had learned much over the past 8 months, I was still a newbie. I knew nothing about hydration. Nothing. I was basically still a road runner. Road runners need very little water. If I carried water on a road race, I carried very little. There were always aid stations short distances apart where I could grab small paper cups of water out of the hands of volunteers as I ran by on the pavement. As a road runner my skin had never completely crusted over with salt. I mean all of my skin -- my face, legs, arms, all of it crusted in salt. I had never pushed myself to that extreme. I hadn't even Googled the word electrolytes.  

Calico 2009 was a beautiful run. It was rugged. The valleys were colorful and rocky with pink and blue canyons. The course teared me up with its beauty. And the course beat me down too. After a freezing morning, the sun appeared and scorched down on the mountainous desert terrain. My body crusted in salt and every muscle in my body was cramping. I drank water, a handheld that I refilled at aid stations 3 to 7 miles apart. But I did nothing else to combat dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance (evidenced by all the salt leaving my body!) Long story short, I tripped during a particularly rocky section and all the muscles in my body cramped at once. As a result, I crashed down onto the rocks, my camera smashing onto a boulder. It was a hard fall that took me several minutes to climb up from. In front of me lay 3 short miles. I guess I had enough adrenaline to carry me to the end.

A couple of race personnel rushed me when I crossed the finish line at my first Calico race. My arms and legs were crusted with streams of salty blood. I didn't waste a second at the finish line. I was so exhausted that I was ill. I made my way straight to the restroom because vomiting seemed the only option to cure my woes. After sitting there hunched over, my face in my hands for a good long while, my nausea subsided. Perhaps twenty minutes later, I arose and splashed water over my face and rubbed away the salt. I then painstakingly made my way back to the festivities and met up with a friend (Lori) whom I had run with a few times with the OC Trail runners. We sat together at the awards ceremony, she handed me some "salt" pills to help replenish my loss of electrolytes. Sitting directly to the left of us, Annie Harvey had just received an award for placing in her age group. As she got up to accept, she turned to me and said, "It pays off pays to run when you're old," meaning the longer you run, the more likely you are to place. To her side was her husband Steve Harvey (Old Goat) whom I had also never met and would not meet for a while yet. (Funny how things turn out).

Anyway, I wanted adventure. I certainly got an adventure. I got freezing temperatures in the morning hours and hot desert wind once the sun had its chance to shine. I climbed up boulders and slid down the other side. I ran through sand, then rocks and boulders and colorful canyons. I learned what is meant by a technical terrain. I got a really good schooling! Back at home, as my husband used tweezers to dig out the clusters of pebbles embedded in my arms, I was already thinking about running the Calico Trail Race again. As it turns out, I did. I crossed the Calico finish line 7 more times after that.

Just Before My First Calico Trail Race

After My First Calico Trail Race 

Calico 2010: I had some hip issues from obsessive (perhaps reckless) trail running but more from a four car pile up that I was involved in (totaled my van!). I was also recovering from a winter cold and was popping ibuprofen and "salt" pills to keep the forward momentum going.  Somehow I managed to cross the finish line once again. And once again, I began revving up for the next year.

2010; Making it a Family Event

And Here We Go Again!

Calico 2011, I was sick again and was not in a good emotional state. I pretty much started at the back of the pack and stayed there. I met another back-of-the-pack runner, Suzanne (from New Mexico I believe). And we ran through that awesome desert, best friends for a few hours, until the 30/50k split. I crossed the finish line in tact and once again began thinking about the next year. It's like I was trying to catch that perfect wave, the perfect Calico desert wave.

2011; Me and Suzanne at the 30/50k split

I would finally catch that wave in 2012. I trained hard and I spent a lot of time running over boulders at the jetty and my local beaches. Everything came together for me during the race. I handled the elements, my hydration and the terrain like a perfect wave. I placed this year, third in my age group.

I have not caught that perfect Calico wave since 2012. But I ran it and crossed the finish line in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. I registered for 2017, but the race was cancelled due to rain. I did not register for 2018 or 2019. I thought that I was done with Calico (so many, many issues, mainly chronic injuries derailed me, and I doubted whether I would ever run trails again.)

But then about 3 months ago, I don't know what it was, perhaps nostalgia, I got to thinking of my old friend Calico Ghost Town once again. I am foolish sometimes about these things. One of the things I have found to be a great gift in life is meeting up with an old friend. Just a few short days from now, I will be meeting up with an old friend, Calico Trail Run. I am nowhere near as ready as I wanted to be. My hope is merely to cross the finish line.(And beside all that, I need a good place to hold my pack's retirement party. My Ultimate Direction Wink is on its last legs.)





Tuesday, January 21, 2020

One More Big Loop Before Calico

Yesterday, Monday, January 20 was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the United States. Normally, I teach at two schools on Mondays -- one in the afternoon, and the other in the evening. It's usually a long day and I'm not back home until 9:30 pm. Monday's holiday was much appreciated (for both the extra day of rest and for what others went through to bring about change in my country). And so, I celebrated the greatest civil rights leader our country has seen, one who brought about change by peaceful means (which is a difficult feat!), by taking one more swing at the Big Loop at Aliso/Woods Canyons before Calico 2020.

The decision to do the Big Loop came last minute of course (I guess that's how I roll, I might as well own up). All weekend I had planned on something bigger, perhaps 19 miles, the actual mileage of Calico's race, which is a long 30k. I was thinking of something grueling with difficult climbs. But that of course would bring me to the mountains, adding two hours driving time (round trip) to any grueling route. OR, I thought Sunday night, I could sleep in a little later and take a 15 minute drive to some coastal hills and not work on climbing but instead on an overall push. Beat my recent best. That was my goal: beat 3:19 on the Big Loop. 

I picked up my pace right off the bat on Aliso Creek. Usually, I hike that first paved part. Not this day. Bundled in gloves, jacket and beanie, I ran all of Wood Canyon. I only stopped my run to hike up Cholla Trail, which is pretty steep, but only about a half mile. Surprised and thrilled, I was 15 minutes ahead of schedule when I reached the top of Cholla. I was using a finish time of 3:15 (beating my recent best by 4 minutes) for my calculations. It helps me to calculate times and distances when I'm pushing hard. It helps keep my mind off the fatigue.

Crossing over Wood Creek in Wood Canyon

Wood Cyn (Wood Creek is flowing down and to my left)

Cholla Trail (this is the part where I hike)

I reached Alta Laguna Park 15 minutes ahead of schedule! Fifteen. Minutes. I usually stop to use the restrooms here. But on this day, remember a holiday, there was a line of women out the door! So onward I ran. I was doing so good on time, I didn't want to waste a single second of it waiting in a bathroom line. After taking a couple minute walk break in the Top of the World neighborhoods, I took off running toward the wilderness park entrance at the other end. I figured that if I arrived at Meadows Trail in thirty minutes, I would have no problem creating the Big Loop in 3:15 (four minutes better than my recent best).

My time was so good at the top of Meadows Trail, I was on schedule to not only make the 3:15 time, but if I made decent time, I could possibly break 3:00. I doubled down on my focus and continued running, enjoying the lovely view of Aliso Canyon and the Saddleback Mountains. What a wonder Martin Luther King, Jr. Day it was turning out to be. 

And then, body memory clicked in. Suddenly, after struggling for 3 months waiting for this, my body remembered how to run when it's dirt-dog-tired. I felt it kick in, and with this joyous recollection, I was able to continue running all the way into the ranger station, beating my time by 18 minutes. I shocked myself. I now feel a little more confident about Calico. I may not die! (But I'll still probably take the DFL)

Heading Back into Wilderness Park, on way to Meadows Trail

Top of Meadows Trail (Looking at Saddleback Mountains)

Meadows Trail

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Silverado Loop

Saturday, January 11 I headed back to Silverado Canyon for my longest hike/run since I decided to "train" for Calico. The gate to Maple Springs Road was open, so I was able to park directly in front of the trail that I would be ending on -- Silverado Trail. Starting and ending here made what I (& others) call The Silverado Loop measure 16.86 miles on my Amazfit watch (with 3,727' elevation gain). 

The first 7 or so miles were a climb up Maple Springs. It was dang cold at the bottom of the canyon, and that's perfect practice for Calico! Things warmed up after about 8 miles when I finally took off the beanie and long sleeves (also perfect practice for Calico). There was the last remnants of snow toward the top of Maple Springs Road and on the Main Divide in the shadow of Modjeska Peak (which still had snow on its backside). 

As I write this post, I am one week out from Calico . I suspect I stand a good chance of placing last 🤣. Go DFL! But that's okay. Not near the shape I wanted to be in, but in much better shape than I started 3 months ago. So yay! It's been a long time since I've done the Silverado Loop. I cannot deny that I have progressed in the past 3 months. 

Those first 7 miles up Maple Springs are nowhere near the course at Calico (which is mildly rolling hills through desert sand). But the Main Divide to Silverado Trail, that was quite tough, and more comparable to some of Calico's terrain. There was so much climbing in the overall downhill along the Main Divide, that reaching the Silverado Loop took much longer than I expected.  

After turning onto The Main Divide, I focused on running long stretches to make up time for the Maple Springs Climb. I saw no other person on foot. Occasionally I'd see one or two motorcyclists and they'd nod or wave as they went by. I was completely alone and wonderfully lonely. The kind lonely where I don't focus on myself, but instead, on things outside me. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. It was beautiful. And some parts were hard has hell (which I took like a tortoise but recovered quickly after the climbs -- my saving grace in being able to tackle these longer distances). 

When I finally arrived to the top of Silverado Trail, I took note at the sun's position in the sky and thought, "Oh no, did I do it again?" With a quick calculation I realized that I had two hours before dark, and I knew from the last time I got caught out in the dark, that I could make it down that treacherous trail in more than half that time. And I did.

The Silverado Loop was a wonderful experience last weekend. There should be crowds, droves up people up there. Do they know what they're missing? I think not. One of my favorite routes in these local mountains, so I'm not complaining.

Maple Springs Road

Looking back at Maple springs Rd from the Main Divide

On The Main Divide

Ocean View from Silverado Trail

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

In Case Anyone's Checking

Phase 3 of course is not panning out either. I am however, doing much better than my progress from Phase 2 (which was pretty close to a failure). I'm still plugging along regardless of my progress. I'm back to my teaching jobs, so time is even more crunched. If I could only get my butt out of bed super early in the morning, I could get runs in before work. But I don't. And that is that. I haven't even been posting either (time is precious!), but I will tally up Phase 3 by the end of this month -- until then, here's a lovely recent hike/run along the great suburban trail, Arroyo Trabuco from last Wednesday, January 8 (before I was back teaching at both schools). The weather was dang cold (for us mere mortals in Southern California), but I am not complaining. I love to bundle up on the trails. The miles totaled 12.25, but I forgot to turn off my watch and drove a couple miles before realizing. So, Strava reports fourteen something (in case anyone's checking). 

View of Arroyo Trabuco Trail from Oso Parkway sidewalk
Creek Crossing (I managed to keep my feet dry here, but there's several creek crossings, and eventually I accidentally plopped down into the water)
Lovely, lovely Arroyo Trabuco (near Tijeras Creek junction)

Beneath 241 Toll Road, nearing O'Neill Park with Saddleback Mountains in background
Yes, this is a suburban trail, but look at all that beauty (This is why I call this the GREAT suburban trail)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Caught by Darkness

I am really not that reckless, though it may seem so occasionally. Actually, I am quite careful. First off all, I got out fairly late last Saturday, January 4. Still, I had several hours to make it up to Bedford Peak and I thought I could make it before dark even with a hell of a climb like Silverado Motorway (Silverado Trail). I'm not afraid of the mountains and I'm not afraid of the dark -- but I treat them both with mild caution, sort of like I treat water or fire. Water or fire are both wonderful things -- they can save your life, but they can also kill you.

I was behind on that Saturday from the start (taking too long to get out of the house) and then I didn't get to start my hike/run at the trail head. All 5 parking spaces were full and the gate to Maple Springs Road was closed. So, I had to park alongside the road about three quarters of a mile away \.

As I made that miserable but lovely trek up the motorway, I would wander in and out of cell service, and here and there I would hear a ding to signify a text. Turned out that my oldest son had some questions regarding an auto loan he was pursing. And even in the mountains on some God forsaken trail, I'll get back to my children. But when you get cell service marching up that trail, you have to stop in your tracks, otherwise you'll lose it. So, I plopped myself on the side of the cliff a couple of times to talk several minutes with my boy. I suppose the reckless part of this journey came about then. I really should not have wasted any time. I hadn't realized that I would be racing against the darkness. It was reckless not to realize.

Maple Springs Road on way to Silverado Motorway (Trail)

Silverado Motorway is a tough trek with a constant climb. Those phone calls put me back time-wise, but it took my mind off the trail's difficulty and it was good to talk with my son. I probably should have turned around at The Main Divide when I finally reached it. Problem was, I had my heart set on Bedford Peak. I was looking forward to hanging out there for a bit of self-reflection and peaceful moments. I will say however, being a former Girl Scout, I came somewhat prepared having packed warm clothing and the last thing I grabbed out the door was a flash light.

Climbing Silverado Motorway

At Bedford Peak (notice snow on backside of Modjeska Peak in background)

The bench that I expected and looked forward to Bedford Peak was gone. My time at this magical spot was lovely regardless. So much so, I spent too much time taking it all in. I was completely alone on top of a mountain. And I liked it very much. That's not reckless is it? 

The weather was cold, the kind of cold that makes you feel alive. I bundled up with long sleeves, gloves and beanie.  I had one hour before dark. One hour to travel more than four miles across rocky difficult terrain (but thankfully downhill!). I figured that wasn't going to happen, especially because I was going to lose a lot of visibility before dark, during the twilight. I ran at a fast pace (fast for me)  for much of the return, however, with fading light and technical terrain, I had to slow down quite a few times. I lost good visibility at those final (seven!) switchbacks toward the bottom of the canyon when I decided to take out my flashlight. What a great little flashlight my parents put into my sons' Christmas gift bags. It lit up the mountain for me and changed the game. It turned twilight and into day. 

I didn't make it down before dark. But I ran down the motorway much quicker than I would have if I wasn't racing against darkness. I concentrated hard on kicking out the back so that I didn't fall. I've been at this game long enough to know that one shuffle could send me flying (don't shuffle your feet on technical terrain!). By the time I crossed over the creek, I was in complete darkness. Right at that time, fire truck with sirens blaring pulled into the trail head lot. A paramedic came in afterward, and another emergency vehicle raced up the road as I ran down Silverado Canyon to my truck parked alongside the road. As I ran past all of the commotion, I overheard a mountain biker talking into the fire truck. He was describing someone who was sprawled out on the trail, and in "pretty bad shape." People stood on their porches looking up toward Maple Springs Road as I made my way toward my truck. It seemed that this little sleepy town was coming alive with lamps and porch lights and decorative lights roped from trees. A couple of people called out from their porches asking about the emergency vehicles. I hollered back what I knew as I ran by.

I did not learn anything further about the injury that night on Maple Springs Road. (I recently Googled it to no avail.) When I finally arrived to that desolate turnout on the side of the road (as there were no homes on this stretch) my car was one of four remaining. Which one, I wondered, belonged to the injured party? I felt relieved back at the truck, and calmer, and a little bit more alive. It was a good trip. I appreciated being caught by darkness. I wouldn't do it on purpose again, but I was glad that it happened and that I made it back safely.

Total trip was just under 9 miles and 2,265' of elevation gain.

Heading Down