Great River Ragnar Relay 2011

196 miles from Winona to Minneapolis, 12 runners, 2 vans, NO STOPPING! Last year when friends were posting about their exploits during Ragnar races I was very eager to give one a try. Great River follows the Mississippi north and I found a team in need of a runner through dailymile. I quickly agreed to join the team of mostly strangers, except for a few I knew from dailymile, and bided my time through the summer until August 19th finally arrived.

The night before I made my way down to the Twin Cities where teammate and van mate Erin gave me a place to crash. It was a short night as we hit the road terribly early at 5:15 with van mates Cory (Bill) and Derrick. Arriving in Winona with plenty of time to meet the rest of our team and pose for photos, we checked in, got our shirts, and readied ourselves to cheer on van one’s first runner as she started our team north.

Better than Bond Girls: Dirty Martinis

Better than Bond Girls: Dirty Martinis

the whole team, pre-race

the whole team, pre-race

Our vans took turns along the whole course. Van one started us out and their six runners led the charge until the afternoon on Friday where we took over at exchange #6 somewhere in Wisconsin. By then it was hot, mightily hot, and we’d already been standing around in the sun for awhile waiting for Ruth from van one to finish off her leg. Our time to shine finally came and Erin took the slap bracelet — yes, a 1980’s style slap bracelet acted as the baton — and headed out on her steamy, hilly first leg. Erin handled her run like a champ, despite the heat and intense hill she had to fight.

supporting Erin, about to dump water on her head

supporting Erin, about to dump water on her head

Our van stopped twice to give Erin support on her leg, which turned out to be a little too much since I barely had enough time to make a porta potty stop at the exchange and then hurry back to the van to get my bottle and fuel. I was literally running from the vehicle to the exchange location since she was finishing up her run with a fury. Not a big deal since I got there in time, took the slap bracelet and headed out. Sure, my Garmin hadn’t made its satellite connection yet, but it was time to RUN!

My first leg featured 5.2 miles, lots of heat and two big hills. There was a bit of shade along the way, but not a lot. A highlight was getting blasted by squirt guns from members of another team’s van out supporting one of their runners. The cool water gave my system a much needed jolt. The best part was a one mile downhill stretch near the end I was able to fly through. Only problem was my shoes weren’t tied perfectly and all the downhill friction blistered the balls of both feet, which would provide an additional challenge later on. Finishing up I was glad to see the downhill helped pull my pace down to 7:53 mpm for the leg.

finishing up my first leg

finishing up my first leg

Having finished my run shortly after 6:00 PM, all I had to do for the next several hours was cool off, change clothes, chill out and cheer on my fellow runners. It felt awesome to have a run in the books, Ragnar was really underway now! By the time our van finished up its first six runs darkness had fallen and we headed to the next major checkpoint hoping to get some rest before we again took over from van one. The next major checkpoint was at a fairground somewhere in rural Wisconsin and did have some amenities, including cold showers (which I avoided), pasta (which I was not interested in), and free coffee (which I did enjoy after some rest). Anna and I decided to try to catch some sleep in the big field that was available for tired runners. Some people had tents, but others, like Anna and I, just had a wool blanket for the ground and individual sleeping bags. I did manage to get a couple hours of fitful sleep despite the incessant cheering at the nearby exchange location, two car alarm incidents, and the light rain sporadically falling on us.

By 1:00 AM it was time to start thinking about getting ready to run again. Erin was poised and eager to take over for van 2, but it took me a little longer to get out of my own personal fog and find some mojo. Coffee and a little food helped. By the time she headed out I was feeling alert and well enough to run. Covered in nighttime safety gear — a headlamp, blinking tail light, reflective vest, and a reflective band around each ankle — I was ready to take on the darkness for 9.2 miles.

Erin again blasted through her leg like the champ she is and this time I was ready for her. Don and crew had me at the exchange with plenty of time to spare, having learned it’s better to get the next runner to the takeoff location quickly instead of spending too much time supporting the previous runner along the way. I took the slap bracelet and headed into the night, by then a light sprinkle added to the subdued splendor of the environment. The blisters were hurting, but I was able to focus on the joy of running and get beyond the pain.

Settling into the run with a comfortable 7:58 first mile, I was enjoying the rural country roads and the peace of the night. Even though I couldn’t see beyond the 20 feet illuminated by my headlamp, I knew I was surrounded by pleasant scenery. Somewhere in the second mile I encountered a long, steep hill. For awhile I didn’t know how long the hill was since I couldn’t see the top— it just went on and on. I took it as an opportunity for a short walking break and a chance to suck down a caffeinated gel.

Miles 3 through 7 were fantastic! I had warmed up and found my groove. The weather was absolutely perfect for running and I had grown comfortable with the darkness. Undulating hills the rest of the way kept the route challenging. Around the halfway point my van was waiting to see if I needed anything, but I was beyond content. Through this stretch I really felt like a competent runner who was actually racing. I passed a few people, but also got passed by a few others. The three who got by me were obviously talented runners. The first guy was cruising along at a sub-7 mpm pace and I tried to hang for a short distance before acknowledging the futility. The second guy who caught and passed me was running just beyond what was a realistic pace for me, so I chased him. What fun chasing a speedy beacon of light along country roads in the dark of night! At one point after his van stopped and gave him support, I caught his teammates and shouted over, “That som’bitch can run!” They got a big kick out of that.

Eventually I let him go and settled down while pushing through the last few miles. Working towards the finish I felt like I not only had one of the most enjoyable runs of my life, but had also done good work for the team. It felt great to be done with my 9 miles and to hand off the slap bracelet to Cory.

The next few hours were kind of a blur. Cory, Anna, Derrick and Don all had solid nighttime runs. Don’s leg brought us back into the daylight hours. Then van one took over and we got some rest at a school in Stillwater, MN. I took a decent nap on a mat in the gym. Time was moving slowly by then as my entire body and mind were rather exhausted.

Anna and I chilling out at the third major exchange before a nap

Anna and I chilling out at the third major exchange before a nap

Heading to the next major exchange where we’d take over from van one for the final time and bring our team to the finish, I was eager to get going again and try to knock out my last leg. However, the sun was up and back with the same intensity from the day before. Running in the heat again was not an appealing thought.

I took off after Erin knocked out another impressive run— she’s unstoppable. Starting out I felt fine and managed a strong first three miles at 7:43, 7:51, and 8:09 mpm. The gradual decline in pace shows I had little in the tank. After that the wheels really started to wobble.

Making my way into the wonderfully scenic Battle Creek Park of St. Paul I started to feel like running wasn’t the best choice of hobby anymore. The short ups and downs felt like major maneuvers. I was exhausted, the blisters were screaming at me and all I could think about was lying down in the creek for a break. I kept moving, but it was hard. There was even a walking break— the wheels were off. I managed to make the running happen again and pick it up for the finish, but being done was the best part of this leg. Stopping felt good, but it was bitter-sweet to see our Ragnar experience winding down.

finishing up my final leg

finishing up my final leg

We did good, Dirty Martinis, real good! And what a fine group of folks to rock the race with. It’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to hang with the van one crew some more, but van two had the most easy-going, fun-loving peeps a guy could hope to Ragnar with! Most amazingly, our vehicle didn’t get stinky at all. Kudos to our excellent hygiene!

our group finish

our group finish

Growing Green Trail Run 20K

Instead of inserting photos throughout the recap as usual, I’m just going to link to the whole set here and you can look through at your own pace. The photos tell much of the story although I don’t have any from the wooded sections or the numerous creek crossings. Sarah was at the race taking pictures from the edge of fields and at the start and finish areas, but the trail in the woods will have to remain a soggy mystery.

I started out fast wondering if I’d be able to hold a pace anywhere near 8:00 mpm. Early on while crossing soggy grass-covered fields I was reminded of the Trail Mix course with the softness and amount of energy the trail itself was absorbing. All the rain from previous days completely drenched the trail. Fortunately temps were in the low-to-mid 60s and through the morning we alternated between sunshine and cloud cover. The woods always offered shade and cool temps, but when circling fields the sun often beat down and made it quite hot out there.

With only 15 total runners it didn’t take long for us to spread out and for small packs to form. I pretty quickly found myself in 3rd place with 1st and 2nd a good ways ahead of me. Coming out of the woods I’d see the 2nd place guy after he finished up a section of field and wondered if I had a shot at catching him by the end. Because of his seeming proximity, I kept pushing even though I was tempted to back off and run easier with the pack that was a bit behind me. They seemed to be having a fun time together.

I never did back off and pushed through the entire course alone after those early miles where the runners spread out. With 4 creek crossings there were ample opportunities to wash off our muddied legs by splashing through with abandon. Some of the crossings had at one point featured boards for crossing, but the water had risen too high and washed the makeshift bridges downstream. No worries, we were already entirely soaked even before hitting the creek.

The mud would build up along the way and then we’d reach either a stream or a giant puddle with water at least up to our ankles. There was no way to avoid the water and mud, so we were all just splashing along merrily. Fortunately my shoes provided decent grip and I never went down. There were a couple close calls, sure, but I felt reasonably in control all day. The course even featured some monster hills, 3 of which made sense to walk up due to their steepness.

All and all it was a wicked fun course and after resigning myself to the slop I had a blast with the entire mess. I finished the 20K in 1:48.26 for an average pace of 8:52 per mile, which seems slow, but not for that course and especially those conditions. I’ll definitely consider driving out to Treasured Haven Farm for some of their other races. It’s a really neat spot and some fun runners congregated their yesterday. I might have to go back next year to hopefully see what I can do on a drier course!

Some Miles Around Our Wild Sphere of Life

A mix of roads and trails at an easy pace brought constant reminders of our massive tangle of being. Starting out in the trails across from home I sped around a corner and up a short hill. Gazing off into the trees ahead and above I saw a splash of red so bright its presence seemed to be for contrast and to get my attention. The scarlet tanager perched comfortably amidst the budding green leaves looked down on the slow, funny biped without concern. I stopped and watched for a few moments and then ran off again, winding around the path beside the creek as a belted kingfisher darted away. Another thirty seconds of running and I’d be near the kingfisher again, it’s call letting me know its proximity, but then it’d take off and follow the creek’s serpentine route until out of sight. Out of sight, not out of mind as its song echoed exuberantly— hidden momentarily, but refusing to be silenced.

Leaving the trails I cruised comfortably along the sandy dirt farmer’s road. Fresh smells of manure reminded me of waste and decay. A comforting wind cooled the sweat that came with my effort and the day’s intense sun. A mile and a half later I was on pavement again. Cars zipped by with their drivers shielded from the elements, alone in their cocoons of steel and plastic on the way to another place, away from here.

On that same road a little farther along, I came to a female raccoon, bloated and tits up. Within another quarter of a mile I found a young buck in the ditch beside bits of a car’s shattered signal light. The deer’s neck so twisted the body position defied any lasting peace from death. Fortunately a crosswind carried the stench of death away.

Heading for home and passing another farmer’s field I saw several calves grazing beside their mothers in the warm sun. Across the road a boy ran and played while his father mowed the yard. In the space of eight and a half miles and in a little over an hour I moved through so very much!

On this run I burned with all the living around and within me, spurred on by spring in all its grandeur. At the same time death gave me a nudge, not letting me overlook the fragility of our existence. Fullness of life wound round and braided tightly with death’s stark reality. Whatever daydreaming I may have considered letting myself slip into during this run was driven away with every sight and sound. With such clarity and resonance I heard and keep hearing: WAKE UP, WAKE UP, LIVE YOUR LIFE! DON’T WASTE A BREATH!

2011 Trail Mix 50K

Two days is not enough time to properly reflect upon the longest race of my life and clearly understand what happened. I endured a lot over those 31 miles through all that snow and mud-laden trail, under clouded sky and into strong winds, over hills and into broad valleys. For me, my first run beyond 27 miles, it wasn’t enough to dramatically change my life in easily graspable ways, but it was more than enough to bring much into question regarding running long distances and its relation to pleasure, pain and progress.

Heading into the race I felt reasonably well-prepared despite a tough February and March after yielding to a couple minor injuries and having to pull back significantly on my training. The main goal for the race was always exploratory as previously I had run four marathons and never gone longer than that 26.2 mile distance in a race. Leading up to the 50K I was able to pull off one seriously long training run at 27 miles, but only one more significantly long run of 20 miles or more. This winter was marked by several medium-distance runs between 12 and 17 miles in often nasty weather. It was definitely a tough winter and the struggle tempered my goals and sense of preparedness approaching the 50K.

ready to go

 

So, back to near-present on April 16, I made it to race morning eager to get going and see what it’s like to run, or at least keep moving, for 31 miles. Doing my best to let go for awhile of any nebulous goals of longer races, I wanted to focus on getting a real sense of what it’s like to be on my feet for a trail race longer than a marathon. Regardless of all I’ve read about long races and the struggles and triumphs of others, I definitely felt a need to start collecting experiences and an understanding of my own. With all this I stood at the starting line glad for the opportunity to spend several hours on trails while supported by others and determinedly cautious to not go out like a fool at a pace that would ruin my day. Sketchy weather and trail conditions added an extra layer of challenge to the whole event.

eager to start bye, see you after 7.75 miles!

Flurries were still falling early race morning with temps in the low 30s and winds whipping between 15 and 25 mph throughout the day. There were brief moments of sun as the clouds thinned later in the morning, but before long the cloud cover was again thick and impenetrable by any kind of warming light. The temperature warmed up slightly into the upper 30s or perhaps low 40s by the afternoon, but winds remained strong all day. When the trail hugged the lakesides, harsh gusts lashed weary runners and tested our resolve.

Weather aside, the trail surface itself presented a significant challenge. Much of the course followed wide cross country ski trails through Hyland Lake Park and really, they were quite nice. Problem was, all the recent precipitation, especially the inch or so of snow that fell the night before added to what was probably already a sloppy trail system from snowmelt that hadn’t yet been fully absorbed. In the beginning grass-covered trail was under almost an inch of snow. Less than one mile into the race we hit our first section of water and mud. It wasn’t a question of avoiding the muck, it was just a matter of to what degree we’d get wet and muddy. I attempted to jump over a narrow portion of that first giant mud puddle but on takeoff my right foot sunk into the muck and that was that— my right shoe was thoroughly soaked. Immediately concerns of blistering began to arise. However, I wasn’t too worried knowing I was on a loop course, each loop being 7.75 miles and not only did Sarah have dry socks for me back at the start, but she had another pair of shoes should this pair give me trouble.

I never had to change socks or shoes, despite a few unavoidable soakings on every lap. The shoes I wore, my Inov-8 Roclite 295s, handled like champs. On snowy grass, ridiculously muddy stretches, soggy woodchips, hard-packed dirt, and even on short bits of pavement my choice of shoes was a winner. Not only did they drain exceedingly well after getting wet, but their widely-spaced, grippy lugs provided excellent traction on every surface. Sure, the soft, soggy trails still made for additional work and required a careful stride so as to help avoid rolling an ankle, but at least my feet held up reasonably well. Undoubtedly though, this was the sloppiest trail I had ever raced on.

 

Along the way on the first lap I monitored pace and started to get an idea of what I was in for. My initial guesstimate and hope for how long the race would take was somewhere between 4 hours and 45 minutes and 5 hours. Five hours seemed reasonable as I previously had no problem holding a pace below 9:00 minutes per mile for training runs around 20 miles. So, an average pace of 9:30 mpm would’ve had me finishing at about 4:55— seemed conservative and reasonable to me. Of course I had not been training on anything quite as hilly or even close to as sloppy or soft as the trails I faced during Trail Mix. Even the woodchip-covered sections that weren’t waterlogged had such a thick covering that much energy was absorbed by the soft ground with each stride, certainly making it harder for a runner to maintain a quick pace.

The hilliness of the terrain surprised me. The race information page says it “is run over hill and dale on wood chip and grass trails”. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Of course the long winter and recent snowfall turned most every dale into an energy-sucking bog. The hills were not only more numerous than I expected, but some were steeper. I was never foolish enough to charge up the steep or particularly long hills like a madman and instead walked most climbs, but as the race went on my enthusiasm for running any sort of incline gradually waned. By the third and fourth laps not only was my desire for hill-climbing almost entirely gone, but it would take me longer to start running again after moving past the hills.

With fresh legs the first lap took me about 1:14, that’s an average pace of about 9:32— ouch! Quickly I began to realize the race would take me longer than expected. I hadn’t started very hard and was hoping I’d be able to maintain something close to the pace I had run over that first lap, but my legs were still feeling good and I knew later I’d be faced with tired, painful legs. Early on I began to adjust my goals and accept I’d probably be out there for more than five hours.

finishing up the first loop ominous clouds

Heading out on the second lap I began to notice how the snow was melting and the course was gradually getting sloppier. Not only had the traffic of the 110 50K runners began to chew up the ground, but the 252 25K runners had started as I finished up the first lap and before I was done there would be an additional influx of 67 4-member teams doing one loop in a weird mosh pit of an all-at-once relay. As the course got messier my legs ached more and more from the ongoing effort. About midway through the second loop I began to mentally struggle with the amount of work still ahead. Finishing up that second loop, around 15 miles into it, I was beginning to hurt and quietly wish to myself that I was signed up for the 25K, not the 50K I had been so eager to take on through previous months. I hadn’t begun to consider quitting, but I was already feeling somewhat defeated as a runner and was turning into something else, some kind of relentless, stubborn, quietly suffering trail slug.

 refueling after 15.5 miles

After another quick refueling stop chatting with Sarah and sharing some of my struggles, I composed myself and headed out for another lap. Not feeling great, but not feeling terrible, I ran slowly when I could and let go of all concern with pace. I took more notice of the scenery and chatted with runners as we passed each other. I’ve always loved the camaraderie on trail runs— there’s an especially easy-going and supportive type of runner that takes on events like this one. People kept telling me I looked good, which always made me laugh since I was feeling like a frenzied zombie.

Even with beautiful surroundings, the sense of enjoyment began to slip away as I grew weary of the loop course while pain and fatigue in my legs began to yammer in my mind with a louder voice than any sense of wonder about the park scenery. Fortunately I saw familiar faces on that third loop. Curtis, a friend from St. Paul, appeared in the 18th mile on a stretch of woodchip-covered trail pushing his son in a stroller. He looked out of place in that location and I had to laugh at him. He’s a runner and should have been out there with me, but nonetheless it was good to see those two. After chatting for about a minute he told me to go on and he didn’t want to slow me down. The idea of being slowed by a short conversation was hysterical as I had all but forgotten I was in the midst of a race. I said goodbye and ran on, ready to be alone with my difficulty for awhile.

Through the second half of the third loop I managed slow but steady progress. Walking all significant hills and running most of the rest at a very gentle pace I was forced to embrace a different kind of running from what I most enjoy. Previously I had been the type of upper middle-of-the-pack runner who most loves middle-distance races on challenging trails where I can run like hell and be done before my body falls apart. Approaching the 20-mile mark of this race, all desire for quick movement was gone and instead I was plagued with a wish to be done moving. Regardless, moving, however slowly, wasn’t all that troubling. Once I got the legs rolling again after each walking break I found I could maintain a slow run between 10:00 and 11:00 mpm despite dead-feeling legs and all my negative thoughts. Again towards the end of loop three I got a sweet surprise when finishing up a short section of pavement and there was Sarah waiting and cheering. She hiked from the race start to this point hoping to give me a boost. Her presence helped as I was feeling rather beat down. I headed back into the woods feeling better and knowing I’d see her again in a few miles.

about 2/3 of the way through my third loop, wishing it was my last, but no, there'll be another UGH!

Another lift for my spirit came during that third lap came when I saw Dave and Renee B. again. I had seen them on the second loop when I was still feeling decent and didn’t stop to chat. This time, since I was no longer in much of a hurry, I stopped, had an energy gel, and they ran with me for a short stretch. It was wonderful to meet them in person and to soak up some of their positive energy, which helped me temporarily let go of the negativity I had been grappling with.

Another motivating force came in acknowledging the support I’ve received from people who couldn’t be out there today, especially from Shannon L. who trained with me throughout the winter and because of an injury was at the race volunteering instead of running. Every time I saw her smiling face and heard her cheers I got a little boost and wanted to run faster. I thought of Anna T. who had hoped to run the 25K but couldn’t because of her own injury issues. And of course there’s many more on dailymile who regularly support my running. Then there’s all those people who I always think about while running, especially when I start to struggle, who not only can’t run but can’t walk for whatever reason. My love of movement in the natural world is something I definitely do not take for granted, so going forward since I can through my own minor difficulties comes easily when I think of those who can’t.

Finishing up the third lap I met up with Sarah a final time to refuel and this time Curtis and Blake had joined up with her. I had fun chatting with them for a few moments and really did not want to head out for that dreaded final lap. I didn’t doubt I could do it, I just didn’t really want it all the much anymore, but I did leave my friends and get it done. Despite my lack of gumption, I never seriously doubted I would finish, it just became a matter of how long it would take. Everything from the lower back down was exhausted and hurting, but I was not injured. There was nothing wrong other than the accumulated stresses of running far in challenging conditions.

Curtis finds it all very amusing, but Blake does not. still running!

Through that fourth lap I just continued on and gave myself over to the pain and fatigue. In fully accepting all that self-imposed suffering I found a measure of peace. I became somewhat comfortable with painful movement and being who and what I was in that time and place. Even though I had a hard time thinking about myself as a runner throughout this race since I was reduced to so much walking and terribly slow running, I was glad to verify through my own experience that I could go on through a fair share of physical and mental difficulty. There was no watershed moment of realization, nothing profound or especially noteworthy stands out in reflecting on those six hours, but what’s come over me is more akin to the gradual shaping of rock through erosion. Perhaps what I’ll learn from this experience is slower to form and will be longer lasting than other life lessons.

What it really means in terms of being a runner I am still trying to understand. I am neither wind-worn rock nor a mere runner and what I endured over those 31 miles can’t be reduced to total time, pace, miles covered or sloppy terrain overcome. There’s no doubt I can improve at covering long distances and even in more challenging conditions, but currently, only two days out from my first 50K, I’m not sure of the value in taking on such endeavors. I surely enjoy being in the wilderness running and hiking on trails, but running and life in general are about so much more than seeking joy or achieving a particular goal related to time, pace, distance or any other number. Will I go on? Will I head out for another, even more challenging lap?

As of now I certainly won’t rule out going farther. There’s nothing really stopping me and there’s certainly more to see, more to know as a runner and stubborn trail slug. For now though, it’s enough to be sitting still.

very happy to be nearly done! 

The Numbers:
Time: 6:00:02
Pace: 11:36 mpm
Place: 78 of 110 50K runners

» The rest of the photos are here.

Resting and Running

There are gentle mornings, like this one, slightly sore and stiff from yesterday’s run. Sipping coffee with the low hum of the computer while sun beams upon my cheek through the window. Slowly awakening body and mind make peace with the day. Quietly content to be a runner not running for a few hours, sitting and wondering about all the running my friends and I have done over the years, thinking about where it’s gotten us and where we are yet to go. All that sweat, determination, and ever-changing scenery. For the moment I am settled—glad for the appearance of stability, for the pause. Happy to be a runner at rest.

Rattlesnake Canyon & Tunnel Trails

For my final hike and run on the trails of Santa Barbara, Elodie, Scarlet and I decided to cap our weekend with a trek up Rattlesnake Canyon. We were tempted to take on the back country trails near Rancho Oso one more time, but figured the front country would give the three of us a better payoff considering our different trail chomping capabilities. This was to be Scarlet’s second ever trail run/hike, so she’s currently a light snacker. Elodie is seasoned and more of a steady grazer. Myself, still overcoming trail starvation from Minnesota’s long winter, I was more like a famished fool looking to gorge one last time. My legs were feeling rather beat up from the pounding I had given them over the last few days, so I wasn’t able to handle anything too long this Sunday anyway.

Rattlesnake Canyon presented a steep and challenging climb, but a well-worn, easy to follow trail that ascended quickly. After a couple miles of climbing I would be given the opportunity to branch off and seek even higher ground on my own. We hit the trail around noon. The sun was warm, but the air still cool. Being a popular trail, we encountered others right away. All kinds of people were on the trail from kids to older folks, and even a mysterious couple that may have been from another planet (or LA, more likely). We started our adventure feeling good and happy to be on the trail. After criss-crossing the stream a couple times, we were on our way up.

early view of mountains around Rattlesnake Canyon yay for running friends!

The shade of the lower half of the canyon with its gurgling stream and occasional waterfalls offered a relaxing atmosphere and several nooks and crannies to explore or for rest, but we wanted to giddy-up! We popped out of the shade onto drier, rockier sections of trails and then back in again. This pattern continued as we gradually made our ascent. The trail offered a good mix of southernly views toward Santa Barbara’s harbor, glimpses across the canyon, and then periodic respites from the hot sun. We only ran a few brief sections on the way up, but it was enough to get my heart rate ramping up with the elevation.

 
the three mountain running superstars

Reaching a particularly interesting opening to the heavens, we came to a stretch of trail inundated on both sides by mounds of yellow flowers. Bright yellow splashes coupled with burnt black trees from the 2007 Jesusita fire provided an otherworldly scene, another opportunity for me to feel happily out of my element. Adding to the SoCal exotica were vines with what I will designate as stabby fruit—go ahead, I dare you to have a bite! Then there’s the little lizards, which are everywhere through the rocky areas darting quickly in and out of crevices as hikers pass by.

more yellow flowers and burnt trees I dare you to take a bite
Bob the lizard

Through two miles of hiking we came to an intersection and I chose to head towards higher ground while Elodie and Scarlet continued on Rattlesnake Canyon Trail to Gibralter Road. Rattlesnake Connector Trail, which leads to Tunnel Trail, climbed with a fury, but it was narrow and overgrown near the bottom. Some sections in the middle were washed out to the point where I only had angled patches of dirt not much wider than my shoe to traverse. After awhile the trail became rockier and more stable. I powered through this section quickly, salivating at the thought of reaching something runnable with a view soon. My persistence was rewarded when I arrived at the intersection with Tunnel Trail

nearing the end of Rattlesnake Connector on Tunnel Trail at the end of Rattlesnake Connector

Off to the right I ventured, with smooth dirt at first and then a deliciously fun, technical trail full of rocks, twists and turns. Fortunately the ups and downs were short so I was able to pick my way quickly, but carefully through the challenging spots and run most of it. The only significant stopping was to refuel and take photos of the tremendous views!

Tunnel Trail towards Camino Cielo 

I carried on like this for about a half mile, being continually tempted to keep climbing and seeking a mystical union of elevation, panorama, and exertion that would be my trail running climax. Alas, I had friends to meet farther down and I was getting hungry. Plus what I had come to already was awe-inspiring and I was overjoyed to be alive and well up on the trails. Fatigue was beginning to set in and I needed to save enough for the descent.

way up on Tunnel somewhere looking back up while descending sweaty, happy trail runner

Coming down was a blast, just as it had been in previous days. Reaching the Rattlesnake Connector again forced me to slow down as the narrow and overgrown sections of trail were too dangerous to take very quickly. In time I caught back up with Elodie and Scarlet and we made our way back into the canyon.

narrow trail running friends cruising back down Rattlesnake Canyon

All was going well and the three of us were enjoying running everything but the steepest, most technical sections. Gradually winding our way down and into the canyon with Elodie in the lead, I was in the middle with Scarlet a short ways back. Elodie was deftly maneuvering a curve when suddenly, in the blink of an eye, she went down and was curled around a substantial pile of rocks. My stomach jumped up into my throat as all I saw at first was my friend on the ground amidst a pile of decent-sized rocks. In the few seconds it took me to reach her and ask if she was OK, she had already started moving and getting up. No major injuries, at least not serious enough to prevent her from getting back down the trail on her own power, but she did end up with a couple nasty bruises and scrapes, a cracked rib, and a small fracture in a wrist bone. Fortunately none of those injuries are enough to stop her from running. Not that I needed any proof, but Elodie is undoubtedly tougher than a bag of hammers!

one of many waterfalls along the creek in Rattlensake Canyon trail rash, OUCH!

We took our time the rest of the way down, walking leisurely and enjoying our surroundings. Elodie insisted she was well enough to run, but I think we were all fatigued and knew walking was the smart way to go. Eventually we got back to our cars and I was already somewhat wistful in knowing my time on the trails in such a tremendously beautiful area was finished. Fortunately I did well to get my fill in the four days I spent in Santa Barbara. Being able to share my adventures with good friends was certainly a highlight. Now, back in central Minnesota where the snow is still melting, I feel revitalized and eager to take on the trails of this neck of the woods soon!