Saturday, November 23, 2013

A relaxing day at the beach

I'm not sure I could ever get excited about training for a calculated, reasonable fitness goal — not when there are outlandish adventures to be had. And, like many milestones in life, it's not even so much about the outcome of the outlandish adventure as it is about the journey there. The preparations. The training. How do you train for an outlandish adventure? With smaller adventures, wherever they can be found and woven into the fabric of daily life. Fitness for the sake of fitness? Sure, that's great. But fitness for the sake of adventure? There's the hook for something meaningful.

Now that it's winter training season, I'm hoping to put in weekly long, leisurely paced runs and/or hikes. The very best part of this goal is asking myself, "Okay, where do I want to run this week?" For more than a year now, I've followed Leor Pantilat's fantastic adventure running blog, and at this point I must have twenty of his route ideas saved in my "Life List" file. The guy covers big miles on jaw-dropping routes across Northern California and the High Sierra, taking fabulous photos along the way. One of the more local runs is his Point Reyes Pilgrimage, a 24-mile, figure-8 loop through the hills and along the coast of this National Seashore. I recruited our friends Harry, Martina, and Steve to join us for the Saturday outing.

The weather couldn't have been more sublime. Sixty degrees, clear skies, comfortable humidity, no wind — not even an errant breeze. Summers on the Northern California coast are frequently cool and foggy, but winters here have a higher frequency of clear and warm weather. The best part about this mix-up of seasons is, summer is still the busy season for tourism. During the fall and winter, beautiful days such as this can be enjoyed in relative peace and solitude.

Descending the Woodward Valley Trail toward Drakes Bay.

Leor's route had spurs leading out to a few beaches, but he noted that some of these beaches were only accessible at low tide. We knew that high tide was right in the middle of the day, but there wasn't much we could do about it — we also only have nine hours of daylight to work with this time of year. Still, we scrambled along the rocks of Sculptured Beach with tempered hopes that we'd be able to attain access to Secret Beach.

Within a few hundred yards, we were debating whether it was worth wading through this keyhole. Currents are strong in this region and can rip a swimmer out to sea without much warning. If you lost your balance in the wrong wave at the wrong time, things could go bad in a hurry. We opted to turn around.

There was still fun scrambling to be had, though, even if it wasn't completely necessary.

There was 4,300 feet of climbing on this route, but by far the most strenuous part of the run was jogging through the sand along the shoreline. Despite mild temperatures, my face and arms cascaded sweat. Steve and I joked about working this hard for 350 miles of Alaska snow while wearing primaloft body armor and towing a 30-pound sled, and then stopped laughing because it wasn't a joke. This is actually how tough the ITI is going to be, pretty much the entire way. I try not to think too much about it on a beautiful November afternoon on a beach in California. At least I have a justifiable excuse to come back here soon.

Arch Rock. Running toward this cliff, I thought, there's no way we're ever going to get around that. Lo and behold, there was an arch under Arch Rock, allowing us to slip under the cliff and climb up a drainage on the other side.

Martina and Harry are both recovering from injuries and opted to skip the second ten-mile loop. We left them on Arch Rock and began the long climb back to the ridge.

While we nibbled on snacks above Wildcat Camp, Steve said, "This is why I became a trail runner. I wanted to have the fitness to just run and hike places like this all day, without it being a big deal." Yes. Exactly that. It doesn't have to be outlandish, extreme, epic, whatever superlative you feel like using — it can just be a relaxing day at the beach.

We crossed Wildcat Beach to Alamere Falls. When we arrived here, there were at least two dozen other people milling about the area. We ran 15 miles to this point and had only seen a handful of people so far all day, so the crowds shattered our illusions that Point Reyes, despite its proximity to San Francisco, is a hidden secret of an idyllic coastline. But the falls were a gorgeous destination, and the point were we turned to run north again.

The Glen Trail was a fun romp through a lush Douglas Fir forest, with more green than I have seen in a while. It was a great day. Thanks, friends. And thanks to Leor for the inspiration. I can see Point Reyes becoming a pilgrimage of our own.