Mid-summer passed uneventfully, but I maintained a relatively high standard of fitness, even for me. As August approached, I spent significant time staring at park maps and planning trips, getting a feel for what I could do with the kids while we were visiting my parents in the PacNo.
As for my time, I had some ideas: good, bad, probably both. The date finally arrived, and I packed my children into a metal tube to be flung through the air at several hundred miles an hour by a set of controlled-inferno air compressors. The day after we arrived, my adventure started: a childlike, carefree delight of re-discovering the paradise in my backyard.
There is a trail that runs along the waterfront, up the cliff near my parents’ house, out past the airport, across the nearby river, and along a local lake. I joined the trail at its closest point, then took back roads into some familiar territory: the road that led to my friend’s house, the same road on which I used to sprint between telephone poles to do speed work (or sprint walks) back at the beginning of my running career. It was all coming full circle! Or at least it was a closed path, wended among the hillocks and dales of modern life. And from here it would emanate once again, a new path this time, a longer and slower path, perhaps to return but perhaps not.
On this particular day, I just ran by that old road and went home, 9 miles of wishful thinking. Then I got up the next day to do another 9 miles, this time along the water and around town, a route I'd never seen before. The next day counted another 9, these across town and through a trail system I had never known existed. And the next day saw another 8 hammering along the nearby trail once again. Then 9. Then 8. Then 10. For seven straight days, I pushed 12 km or more out of my legs, and on the 8th day, I took my parents’ car early in the morning, drove to a familiar trailhead, and took “the alternate trail”, one I had never set foot on, figuring on doing another 10 miles, these in the mountains to celebrate their dominance in this landscape one final time.
Instead, they asserted that dominance and beat me back.
The trail I was familiar with led to Lake Angeles, heading up a series of switchbacks a thousand feet or more. It then carried on around the lake and went up to the ridge, a ridge I didn’t know the altitude of but was pretty sure was about 2000 feet above the parking lot. Along the ridge lies a connector trail that hooks to the top of the alternate trail I now printed my tread on.
One way to deal with running on an unfamiliar trail and staying on course is by using any known features as a sort of map edge, reducing the odds of simply getting lost. After all, if an unknown segment of trail is bordered by known segments, it’s damn near impossible to lose the way in any meaningful sense. So it was on this day, when I opted to take on the unfamiliar segments (the alternate trail and ridge line), then descend via a familiar path once I reached it.
I started up at a modest pace. It was a climb from the start, and I was pretty sure the trail was something like 7 miles heading up to that 2000-foot ridge. The trail did, indeed, go up, and after about 30 minutes, I paused to check my phone for position and altitude. I was already over 1500 feet above the parking lot, about 2 miles out. That seemed about right, and I was confident the trail would flatten. I carried on.
Another 30 minutes ticked off, still significantly vertical, and I finally reached an area looking out on the crease through the mountains, ridge visible at the top. The ridge was about 1500 feet above me, perhaps a little less, but it appeared to be at least a half mile or more away horizontally. That meant a minimum of 3 more miles. I checked the phone, which indicated an altitude about 3000 feet over the parking lot. And just under 4 miles notched.
An hour of running, not quite 4 miles. Typical speeds for my outings on this trip had been in the 12.5-13.5 kph range; this run was about 6 kph. I looked up at the steep climb in front of me and figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a glance around. Up I went, another 500 feet almost straight up the wall. Far short of a mile. Time elapsed: 20 minutes. I was now only a little more than 4 miles into the run, my legs jellied, approaching 1.5 hours on the trails. My confidence descended as my heart raced.
I snapped a photo from just below 4000 feet, turned around, and tried to bomb the descent. Even with the speed increase, with straightaways bookended by steep drop-offs that required forethought to even approach, I couldn’t reach top speed; with my mind already mostly out of the run, each switchback seemed a death-defying feat. I finished with 12 km logged in an impressive 2-and-change-hour slog (hey, check out that notch up in pace!). And my legs still felt about as solid as a slug’s trail.
When I got back to civilization, I could hardly walk. But boy did I feel good.
Next up: Every way Virginia
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.