Tuesday, May 29, 2012

See, California isn't so bad

Back when I lived in Juneau, I tried to coax my friends into visiting me by promising that I could prove why Juneau really "isn't so bad." "Don't worry about the possibility of mind-numbing rain; we can still go ride bikes on the beach and that's actually a lot of fun." Strangely, I never had any Outside visitors besides my parents in the five years I lived in Southeast Alaska. Since I moved to the Bay area, I've had several out-of-state friends express interest in visiting. I guess California is just a more visitor friendly location, and it's fun to have a chance to show off my new backyard, which I also believe "isn't so bad." This past weekend, my friend Danni from Kalispell, Montana, flew down for a Memorial Day vacation.

Another incentive I usually add when trying to coax friends to visit me is the promise that "we don't have to torture ourselves" — since apparently most of my friends assume my notion of "fun" is synonymous with grueling all-day slog fests. I try to reiterate that I do the slog fests on my own time, and prefer to have actual fun when other people are involved. I'm not sure Danni was banking on a 52-mile weekend when she flew out here, and honestly I wasn't either. But Danni and I are both too alike in many ways, and the miles stacked up all the same. On Friday we did ten miles on my current favorite running trail, preferred for its UTMB training-appropriate properties of being both steep and downhill runnable. After we descended out of the fog on top of Black Mountain, I pointed out all the local landmarks — "That cluster of buildings is downtown San Jose. There's the NASA complex. Google is just to the left along the shoreline." I also added fascinating bits of trivia that I learned from reading trail maps — "Mountain View is named after this mountain, because the town's settlers could, you know, see it from their settlement."

On Saturday we decided to fight the holiday crowds through Marin County to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. We picked up my friend Leah, who has about the same opinion of running that Danni seems to have about cycling — "It should be fun, in theory, but it's kinda not." Plus Leah was recovering from a cold, so I promised "hiking, only hiking." See? I can be a great activity negotiator.  We still ended up on a 14-mile walk, moving at a brisk clip. Walking long distances quickly is often more tiring than running long distances slowly, even at comparable speeds. But it did give us plenty of time to discuss possibilities for future bike adventures.

The scenery in Point Reyes was stunning, with a brisk sea breeze skimming the grassy hillsides.


Beat ran a few extra miles during the hike, and I joined him for a spur down to the shoreline. We found a hidden cove that seemed like an idyllic spot to run along the beach and maybe set up camp for a long stay. I mused on this fantasy until Beat pointed out that the high tide line ended right at the bluffs, which were too steep and loose to climb in most spots that we could see. Just like most great places in nature, Point Reyes is peaceful and enticing right up to the point that it threatens to kill you.

On Sunday morning we set out to run the Skyline to the Sea Trail, a popular backpacking route that descends from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Coast through the thick forests of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We set up a shuttle with our friends so we could complete it as a point-to-point run, 28 miles total.

We got a fairly early start in order to coordinate scheduling with our friends, and it was 45 degrees and foggy at the top of Skyline. The fog was thick enough that it "rained" on us for the first five miles, but it made for a wonderfully spooky run through the woods. Every Halloween, Danni and her husband Ted throw costume parties, and Danni dresses as some version of an Ewok. Beat and I attended the "sexy Ewok" party in 2010, so the mossy forest setting invariably prompted many Ewok jokes.

We all became increasingly more giddy as we loped through the Sexy Ewok Forest. "Oh, the wonders of combining endorphins and beautiful nature," Beat said. "And sugar," I added as I munched on a piece of Danni's Pop Tart. "Don't forget sugar."

Danni posed with some of the larger redwoods we passed, many with trunks hollowed out by wildfire.

We met up with Steve and Harry near Big Basin Headquarters and continued along a high ridge toward the coast. The pace picked up after we connected with the boys, and Danni and I had a tougher time keeping up. About two miles from our lunch stop, Danni mentioned she was having difficulty breathing. Seconds later she emitted several loud gasping noises and then went silent. I could tell she was trying to speak, but couldn't. I thought she was having an asthma attack and panicked a little, and tried to suggest that we turn around immediately and return to Big Basin to call for help. After she caught her breath again, she insisted it wasn't an asthma attack. We couldn't figure out what caused her airway to constrict so badly for several long seconds. She was fine for the rest of the run, but it was still scary. I thought another friend's visit was going to end at the hospital.

But we did make it all the way from Skyline to the Sea, wrapping up a mostly relaxing run. We spent Monday in San Francisco, moving only enough to make our way from a little bistro where we ate lunch, to a shoreline bar for midday appetizers, followed by a short jaunt through Golden Gate Park. I also had a chance to meet up with my aunt for dinner at a tasty Italian restaurant in North Beach. It was a fun day of marathon eating to make up for our weekend of marathon trail running/hiking.

It's hard to believe that it was just two years ago when I showed up on Danni's doorstep with the introduction, "Hey, I'm Keith's friend Jill," and the plan to hike more than 35 miles through Glacier National Park with a woman I'd never met. Two years later and a thousand miles apart, we're still sharing long marches and the occasional uncontrolled giggle outburst. Thanks for visiting me in Cali, Danni.