Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I have a pretty neat work schedule that gives me a couple weekdays off each month and now that I don't have a training schedule to stick to, these days are likely going to be devoted entirely to hiking.  My inaugural trip was a raucous double-Dipsea this past Friday that resulted in minor adventures and major soreness.
After work on Thursday I headed to Oakland to crash with Jessie and hitch a ride into the north bay the next morning.  She works  near Fairfax, so I dropped her off and headed to Mill Valley, knowing only to stick "old mill park" into my phone's GPS.  I parked, gathered my pack and headed to the stairs with some guidance from people who looked like they might know what they were doing.  I definitely could have done a bit more research ahead of time, I sort of assumed that the path would be fairly intuitive as it's a pretty renowned spot, but I definitely had to ask a few strangers for help in the residential area where the trail starts.  I still got lost and ended up at Mountain Home Inn.  At least from there I had a point of reference, so the PDF map on my phone was of some use.  I hit the pit toilets and changed from jeans into running shorts and headed down an alternate route that would take me to the Dipsea trail.  These first few miles were glorious, I absolutely recommend exploring the Troop 80, TCC and other trails in the area, I plan to go back and do more for sure.  The trails were nicely shaded and slightly technical, allowing for easy fast hiking and as much running as my singing mood would allow.  I hit Dipsea and enjoyed some major staircase descent, dreading the return trip all the while.  The woods opened up to the scrubby hills that are famous for shortcuts and views and I arrived in Stinson Beach right on my 3 hour estimate, despite picking up a dash of extra mileage.  I headed for the sand, kicked off my shoes and enjoyed the glorious cool water in a way that only a runner can.  I decided to wear my NB101s, which are fairly minimal.  So although my feet were nice and cool, they were definitely starting to hurt a bit at that point.
I plopped down on the sand for a tasty PBJ and some Fritos (another bonus of carrying a backpack instead of just a hydration unit, packed lunch instead of solely GU) and relaxed for a bit.  I had brought a swimsuit and considered jumping in for a quick swim but I didn't really feel that I had the time to do so.  I didn't see anyone else swimming, so I would've wanted to check in with the lifeguards on duty first and my inadvertent re-route meant that I was unfamiliar with most of the trail I planned to return on.  So, I geared back up, took a piss and headed for the hills.  Before hitting the forest I got to see a bit of Blue Angel action in the distance.  They were in SF for Fleet Week and I caught a couple of loop-de-loops as they were practicing.  As I started to trudge back up those awful stairs I started to realize just how much pain I was going to be in for the next few days.  I was using my hips and calves in a totally different way than what I am used to and my pack weight was surely magnifying the effects at each step.  The trail leveled out for a bit and crossed a fire road a few times where I ran into four other hikers that were headed to the same place in opposite directions.  I pointed them towards the beach and beers that they seemed rather excited about and gave myself a little pat on the back.
The Muir Woods visitor center was bustling with activity, so I passed through quickly, only to find a sign noting that a portion of Dipsea was closed due to slides.  A responsible adult could have detoured via highway fairly easily.  I am not a responsible adult.  I said "fuckit" and trooped on towards imminent danger anyhow.  The portion of trail that was closed was relatively small and hugged the highway, so I figured I could scramble up to the road if necessary at any point.  There was only one obstacle and it involved a bit of a climb through some mild brush and an awkward straddling of drainage pipe.  As I made it back into Mill Valley I still lost a portion of trail and ended up jogging down a busy road back towards the park.  Luckily I had cell service and was able to find the most direct route back to the old mill park, making it back in time for a light stretch, a handful of chips and hitting the road.
The timing was perfect to pick up Jessie and we headed back to the comforts of home.  I was fully exhausted the next day and still have some soreness in my right calf now, but I cannot wait to get back on the trail and plan some extended trips for the next couple of holiday weekends.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recently read: Pharr Davis, Abbey, Thoreau and Walls

Throughout the summer I have focused on reading blogs and books to help maintain my training schedule and ever-increasing mileage.  It's much easier to get up at five to hit the trail if you've been dreaming of Walden all night.
That said, these four books have shaped the past couple of months for me.  I read a LOT of books and I read them fast, so retention of information is not always one of my strong points.  I like to think of this quality as a positive thing, I only remember the best.
Becoming Odyssa is Jennifer Pharr Davis's account of her first through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  This woman is a BAMF.  She first completed the trail in 2005, she broke the women's speed record in 2008 and she broke the overall record this summer, pulling off consecutive 50 mile days like nobody's business.  The book itself is a pleasant read that details the total experience of the trail; the personal, spiritual and of course physical aspects of her journey.  When my mom told me that they didn't have it at her local library I had a copy sent to her and told her to have everyone in the family read it.  Of course she obliged and has passed the book on to a few friends as well.  Although Jennifer and I would probably disagree on a lot of things, I admire her a whole lot and her adventures are a huge inspiration to me and have had an immense impact on my relationship with the wilderness.
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey was recommended by a college friend, I got about halfway through before leaving for vacation and was put in quite the anti-TSA mood before my flight to Seattle.  the novel details the hi-jinks of four eco-terrorists in the most lovely way imaginable.  The characters are not all as well developed as one might like, but they all have a different relationship with the southwest and take the actions that they do for different reasons.  Abbey was quite a character and had an extremely deep relationship with the deserts that he describes.  His prose is breathtaking at times and his anarchism balances this out in an unexpected way.
I finished this about a day into my vacation and perused the shelves at my grandma's house to find Walden.  Given that Henry David Thoreau was a big inspiration for Abbey, this was the perfect follow-up.  I got about ten pages in and wanted to smack myself for not having read this sooner.  The man sings the song of my soul. The book is boring at times, but the values of self-sufficiency and frugality that he preaches are vital to my own happiness and who I am as a naturalist.
Most recently I finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  (gotta love this interview) When my mom recommended the book she said something along the lines of "ohh, it's a memoir, the parents are alcoholics and they're abusive... It's really great."  Needless to say, I was hesitant, but luckily my mother is not very apt at identifying literary virtues as she recognizes them.  The story of Walls' childhood is certainly a heart wrenching one but she captures the adventure and romance in her parent's ideals in a very beautiful way.  It's a quick read and something that I would recommend to anyone.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

End of summer let-down

Today was a day I had been planning for a while.  In mid-July I decided to sign up for a 29k trail race and adjust my training schedule to absorb my previous goal of a half-marathon as a training run.  My sister and best friend encouraged me and on a whim I hit the register button, excited to push myself and start building distance for the 50k that I would really love to run next year.  I started running more, on both roads and trails.  I ran through my vacation and started taking my training more seriously.  I ran the half marathon and beat my previous year's time by 15 minutes.
Today nobody showed up.  Well, the runners showed up.  A La Sportiva vendor showed up.  But nobody from PCTR was there to hand out bibs, no start or finish in sight and despite a nice reminder e-mail from the evening before, the course had not even been marked.  My best friend Jessie had come to cheer me on and relax in the park while I was out and she commented on how laid back the crowd was, "maybe they know something we don't, everyone seems totally unfazed".
As a gal stood up to encourage people to just get on with it and run the course, people started gathering to take on their respective distances anyways.  Although I didn't join them, an amazing day was had by many.
I stood next to Jessie, contemplating whether I might take off with the other runners.  I realized there was no way I was going to run today.  I was angry.  I was angry that I (and a couple hundred others) had paid hard-earned cashola for a race, and no one had even bothered to show.  Beyond that, someone sent out an e-mail the evening before knowing full well that there would be no race that day (one can only assume as the course was unmarked, which generally happens the day before).  There were no volunteers bearing water and salted potatos, no course guidance and no frickin t-shirt.  I was also angry at the lazy relief that I felt.  After a short discussion, Jessie and I decided to grab a bite and go hiking in Wilder ranch.  There are plenty of loops to modify your distance and it's flat enough to walk briskly and chat.  We ran into a few folks and had nice little chats.  Overall a great day.
Still no word from PCTR regarding refunds or reasons... Who knows what happened to them.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dirt Inspires Women's Trail Half Marathon

Going into this race my only goal was to beat my 2:40 from last year.  My little sister came up to race with me and I had hoped that we would get to run together for a while and enjoy the lovely scenery that Nisene Marks has to offer.  Going into the race I felt pretty good, not very nervous, but I didn't really know what to expect from my body.  I hadn't tapered at all for this race and on Friday morning I had discovered that the supposed bruise under my left second toe was, in fact, a blister.  Gross.  I kept the toe sprayed and wrapped to avoid infection and was legitimately concerned that the nail would fall off before the race and completely thrash my ability to run.  Things turned out ok though, toenail still attached, no sign of infection.  
I didn't really have a strategy going into the race, even waiting at the start with my sister all I knew was that I was going to go balls out and just try to have a good time.  We ran in together for about a mile before Daisy dropped off and I think I may have pushed myself a bit too much during the first few miles of the race.  My heart rate was high and breathing was uncomfortably strained, even then it took me a few miles to figure out that I really needed to pull back and enjoy myself.  I just had two GUs shoved into my shorts pocket; I popped the first one at about mile 5 and planned to eat the second at around mile 9 (espresso love for a little turbo boost).  I ended up skipping it due to stomach discomfort, but didn't miss it.  Right around mile 7 I got caught up in the whimsy of the forest and really zoned into the trail.  It might seem kind of intuitive (duh, downhill) but really technical downs are my single most favorite thing in the world.  Prancing down a root-ridden slope on my toes makes the plodding uphill so worth it.  
I ended up walking several stretches but picked up the pace in the last two miles and sprinting in to make it under 2:25 by a hair.  I was met by my mom and four awesome friends and just about collapsed under the strain of the final sprint.  Daisy made it in at 2:48, had made about 4 new friends and said that it was the most fun race she had ever participated in.  I was a little concerned that she would have a hard time, so I was thrilled to hear about the awesome experience she had, she even placed 2nd in her age group and got a sweet GoLight daypack.  
I am extremely pleased with my finish, but I can't help feeling that there were areas where I could have done so much better.  I was plagued by general discomfort throughout most of the race.  Not necessarily pain, my legs felt great the whole way; more so cardiovascular strength and stomach gas.  In future races I am going to have to make a rule of chowing down half a banana about an hour prior, a practice that I already have in place for long runs that involve a bit of bus travel beforehand.  I also really want to invest in a new water-carrying method.  The belt I have been using is a complete pain and hand helds don't offer enough storage for the phone, clipper card, calories and key that I prefer to take on longer runs.  So it may be time to invest in a vest or pack, we'll see.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The best/worst day off of all time.

Today I did nothing.  I had planned to wake up at six, hop on the bus down to San Bruno Mountain for a solid eight mile run, come home and wheel my laundry down to the 'mat and then head to SPCA for some cuddly volunteer time.  Not a single one of these things was accomplished.  I woke up, hit snooze a couple times, eventually gave in to the bed and slept in until seven-thirty or so.  I know, livin' wild, what can I say?  After some internal argument and a few stretches, I decided I wasn't in shape to take on a big run and made some vegan pancakes that turned out to be a big ol' disappointment.  Between episodes of Weeds on Netflix, I managed to take a shower and get all my laundry packed up into the largest rolling suitcase of all time.  It's still there on my bedroom floor, ready to go.  I was still considering a short run in the afternoon, but I got caught up in cleaning the kitchen.  I watered plants, salted a snail that was after one of my peppers (stronger every day) and enjoyed a cup of tea on the stoop; so my day was not completely without fresh air.  The way the fog rolls in here is pretty amazing.  The view out over the mission is constantly changing.  Twin Peaks is often obscured by a big grey quilt and the sun pokes through threadbare spots over the houses.  I throw my head back, watch the little patches of grey swimming between me and my blue sky and I force myself to forget as the fog slowly overtakes my field of vision.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A few miles in Point Reyes

After a last-minute trip to Yosemite was cancelled just as quickly as it had been planned, the friend who had invited me mentioned he might like to spend the day in Point Reyes instead.  I quickly jumped on board, as I knew of a great spot near Bolinas that was a little out of the way.  I was able to plan an 11 mile loop for myself and a more relaxed 8 mile out-and-back for my friends that would take them past a lake and to some gorgeous waterfalls into the pacific ocean.  We left a little later than planned, but thanks to a nice cozy fog, traffic into the headlands wasn't bad and when we finally arrived the parking lot at the trail head was full but not packed.  We planned to meet back at the car at a specific time and parted ways.  The same overcast weather that helped us over the bridge made for a perfect-temperature day.  The first 2 miles in are on a busy coastal trail and I had to pass through some large hiking groups, I greeted a group of three gals as I passed and overheard one of them saying "oh my god, did you see her legs?" and that felt pretty darn good.  As I turned off of the main trail, it became instantly apparent that I was going to have to battle some serious plant growth, they may have been maintained once in the spring, but definitely not since then.  Most of the plants in the trail were harmless grasses, but I hit a bit of stinging nettle with my left palm and right thumb.  The pain took a few strides to set in and was pretty terrible.  I was concerned that it might get worse as the toxins absorbed, but the trail was finally clearing up and I didn't want to venture back through the overgrowth that I had just battled through.  Luckily the pain subsided a bit as I kept moving.  I hit a bit more nettle on both the front and back of my right calf but it wasn't nearly as bad.  I saw a few large banana slugs (of which I have an extreme pathological fear) and did my best to keep moving without having a nervous breakdown, while laughing at myself for having possibly the silliest mental illness on the planet.  I almost lost a shoe in some mud and gave the puddle a pretty stern talking to.  One of the pleasures of being in the woods alone is that you can let out all your frustrations and fears into the air freely.  Well about ten paces later I was spit out into an intersection and there was a hiker who had clearly heard my entire tirade against the "filthy, shoe stealing mud".  Although I smiled through my chagrin, I was happy to have brought a smile to his face.  I turned and headed down the ridge trail, which was not near or on a ridge at all, but through some beautiful, mossy firs that were surrounded by a thick mist.  As the elevation declined the trail became more and more overgrown again and I was concerned that I might have lost it at a few points, but hollered with joy when I made it back to the road for a short mile back to where we had parked.  At the car I realized I still had at least half an hour to wait for the boys and figured it would probably be longer, because they would have a hard time tearing themselves away from the stellar beach.  So, I decided to ditch my fanny pack and just carry a water bottle and jog in to meet them.  My run quickly turned from 11 to 14 miles, but I felt great.  I ran into the guys and we hiked back to the car together and stopped at the lake to sit down for a bit, if it were a bit warmer we would've swam as well and taken advantage of a kick-ass rope swing.  We kicked off our shoes and hiked the last third of a mile barefoot.  At the car we noshed on fruit, bread and cheese and decided to venture a little further north to poke around a bit and ended up at a small beach on Tomales bay.  The shallows were full of dead jellyfish that were pretty cool to poke at.  A local swimmer splashed ashore and told us that he occasionally runs into large swarms of the milky-colored moon jellies, but they don't sting.  We slowly made it back down to the city, singing along to some Brazilian tunes that we didn't all quite understand.  We had nachos and 'ritos in the mission and shared a pot of tea before they headed back down to the valley.
I was surprised at how easily I covered 17 miles and am not experiencing much soreness.  The stinging nettle welts are slightly irritated but hardly noticeable and I think if I make it back to those untamed "ridge" trails I'll just wear long tights next time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coming to terms with urban banality

It has now been nine months since I moved to San Francisco to start my adult life.  Whatever that means.  It's not that I wasn't an adult before, my college experiences definitely changed me, but by the time I graduated I had already become well able to bathe regularly, clean an oven and file taxes on time every year.
Lately, though, It has come to my attention that a traditional "grownup" lifestyle is basically a trap.  Now, when considering taking off on an adventure there's a lease or mortgage, 403(b) and furniture that's not from Ikea to be considered.  It's easy to claim that material things have no importance in life, but seriously, they do.  Selling off and giving away all of your possessions and traveling to a foreign country is fun, I've done it.  However, I know that eventually I will want to come home, or at least have a home to come to.  This involves replacing all that crap you got rid of in the first place and it can be a big fat pain in the neck.  I think I slept on a leaky air mattress on the floor for the first four months after moving here and let me tell you, it was not fun.  
That being said, I have finally gotten into a comfort zone within my home, there are chairs to sit on, plants to water and usually food to eat.  And only now do I realize that I'm stuck and I have possibly been ignoring my own priorities all along.  Living in the city means that my monthly transportation cost rarely exceeds $100.  But it also means that it's tough to get out into the wilderness.  There is one coastal trail that wraps around the edge of the peninsula, but otherwise running trails requires leaving the city which can easily entail an hour or more of public transportation and then several miles of pavement before even getting to a trail head.  Not having a car also means carrying water, snacks, phone and transit pass at all times as well as trying to predict weather conditions before getting dressed.  San Fransicans can attest that weather can vary drastically from one neighborhood to the next, let alone across the bay.  Little by little I am growing accustomed to meeting my own needs in this way, but it can be frustrating to have to sink so much additional time on trivial things and training for a big trail race can feel more like a chore than a joy.  
To counter this I have gotten in the habit of always running to peaks on weekdays when I don't have the time to get out of town.  Getting up to the top of Bernal Hill, Twin Peaks or Telegraph Hill offers a satisfying challenge, I get to run on rocks and dirt for a bit and the views are often exhilarating enough to remind me of why I call myself a trail runner in the first place.  
So slowly I have been adapting and refocusing on what is most important to me.  Most importantly, I have been able to find my peace and joy in running again.  I know that as I build strength those pavement miles will seem like small hat compared to the time I am able to spend on the trail and this motivates me.  I have accepted that I have to get out there and try new things, even if it means taking a bus through bayview to get to San Bruno Mountain in running shorts with an ugly water belt.