Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Week in motion

Some weeks seem locked in continuous motion, so much so that I feel the need to go out for a quiet run by myself, just to be still. As I drove through the freeway sprawl of Orange County after a day of mountain biking with Keith and Amber and then working at the Starbucks in Big Bear Lake, I thought about how much of my life I invest in movement. In 2014, I spent upwards of four months away from home. This year, the final tally may be more. Strava has already tracked 15 days' worth of self-propelled motion in the past 4.5 months, and the time investment of movements I don't track — flights and long-distance drives — adds up as well. What is it about movement I so value? I thought about this as I drove up and down the quiet streets of Laguna Niguel, ignoring a confused GPS and trawling the entrances of gated communities to find the one where my sister, brother-in-law, and new niece are house-sitting for an indefinite period of time.

Gated communities are a bewildering concept for me. I understand the desire for security, but I feel locked inside when visiting such places. I find myself wandering the maze of a spacious home and wishing there was a 7-Eleven nearby that I could just walk to, and sit on a curb while sipping a Big Gulp and watching the world go by. You don't really see people outside their homes in gated communities, and everything feels far away.

The purpose of the visit was to meet my niece, now 8 weeks old. She's a cutie, with a big-eyed stare and an occasionally bewildered expression that makes me feel envious — "This is completely new to her. She still has everything to discover."

My parents were in town as well, and I was able to go for a couple of hikes with my dad. I don't think either of us expected to find anything terribly interesting in Southern California, at least within a half-hour drive from Laguna Niguel. Dad found a trail idea on Yelp, Black Star Canyon. I looked up a route on Strava and got the impression that this was going to be a painfully easy road walk, winding up a gentle hillside to the top of a ridge. This was a good thing, as I was in taper mode before the Ohlone 50K, and anyway this was a good way to spend time with my dad (in the spacious house, we all tended to retreat to personal spaces, which is something else I don't like about big homes even though I'm an equal offender.)

The first mile after the gate was a flat paved road. I felt bad, like it was my fault that coastal California was a boring place for my Wasatch-Mountain-trekking father. We wound our way along a fireroad to a weathered post where someone had scratched "waterfall" with some arrows in the wood. So we followed them, dropping into a stream bed that was teeming with poison oak. I pointed out the identifying characteristics of the plant to Dad, and within ten minutes he was more attune to its presence than me. As the canyon narrowed we picked our way over and around increasingly larger boulders, until we were fully scrambling up stone walls. I came to one maneuver where I couldn't quite lift my foot into the only available foothold ($%!* tight hamstrings), and Dad grabbed me underneath my arms and pulled me onto the ledge. It instantly brought back a memory of being 17 years old and hiking with Dad along the knife ridge of the Pfeifferhorn, where he similarly boosted me onto a narrow ledge beside dizzying exposure. I was never afraid of the mountains back then; I always felt safe when I was with Dad. I still feel that way, at 35 years old, with two more decades of fearfulness and scary experiences in my memories.

At the end of the boulder-choked box canyon we reached the waterfall, which was dry (this is California.) The following day, we did a much more mellow five miles to a robber cave, where we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches as rain poured down outside the sandstone cove.

I'd hoped to spend more time with my sister, who was understandably preoccupied, but I'm hoping we'll have another chance to visit before spring comes around again. I had to leave Friday morning for weekend plans at home. Traffic was demoralizing, from the parking lot of Los Angeles to the aggressive, bumper-to-bumper peloton of I-5. Driving in California makes me want to stab sharp objects into my legs, which is why I don't actually do all that much traveling close to home. But I persevered through the road rage and made it home just in time to join Beat and Liehann on our weekly training ride up the Black Mountain and Indian Creek climbs. By late evening our friend Roger arrived. Roger was visiting from Australia for a Hoka One One sales meeting and the Ohlone 50K, and planned to spend the whole weekend with us.

We found out late Friday afternoon that our race had been cancelled, supposedly because it had rained on Thursday night and the access roads were wet. There were also reports that lightning struck near the finish staging area and the power was out at the picnic area. Either way, a little rain on extremely dry fire roads, three fair-weather days before the race, seemed a strange reason for the park administration to cancel one of the Bay Area's longest-standing trail races. We were all disappointed, but promised Roger we'd show him a good time anyway. On Saturday we put him on Snoots for a five-hour ride up and down several steep hills. On a fat bike. For a guy who's mainly a runner. Because we're awesome friends like that.

Since Roger came here for a 50K, we schemed our own 50K, joining friends Steve and Ken for an all-day outing in Henry Coe State Park. Ken designed the route, and although I don't know Ken well, I do know he likes technical terrain and he's a fast runner, so I should have known better than to agree to what turned out to be an ambitious loop. My running has been limited lately, and although my base is good I'm a fit enough to put in long miles, I feel out of practice and a sense of imbalance has returned. Ken's route connected pieces of singletrack that were sometimes so faint it was difficult to discern the route from anything else, although bushwhacking across grassy hillsides and thorny manzanita groves was fundamentally no different than following the "trail." Roger took a series of photos that sum up this excursion well:

Navigation huddle.

"Running" on the "trail."

Picking burrs out of our shoes and socks. Roger had to leave his pair of shoes with us in California, because he was never going to extract enough of the plant material to get them through customs in Australia.

I rolled my ankle on a clump of grass around mile nine. The joint didn't swell, but it became increasingly more sore, and my footfalls felt even more unstable then before. By mile sixteen I was concerned about the risks I was taking with my summer cycling ambitions by continuing to attempt to run on this terrain, and also feeling guilty about the slowness of the hiking I was mostly doing. We let Ken and Steve continue on their epic, while Roger, Beat, and I made our way back to headquarters on an extremely steep, rolling fireroad. Compared to the more gentle grades of the "trails," most of the fireroads in Coe are gut-busters. Boring, too, when you consider that you're a person on foot and could be out blazing your own adventure through, as Roger calls it, "The evil poisony oakses." (Roger, like my Dad, also learned what poison oak was this week and became an expert at identifying it. "We don't have stuff like this in Australia," he said. To which I replied, "Yeah, but don't you have all those bad snakes and spiders and pretty much everything out there is trying to kill you?" "I'll take the sharks over this," he said.)

"I actually like fireroads," I thought. "Room to breathe. Room to move." We wrapped up 22 miles, which feels so much longer and harder in a place like Coe. But since it wasn't the Ohlone 50K, I think we all left feeling vaguely unsatisfied, quietly scheming our next chance for motion. 


  1. I think I recognize Hat Rock where the "sock picking" is taking place. It's also memorable to me as a hike where I decided to throw away my socks instead of trying to pick them clean!

  2. you're lucky to have a great dad. My dad got lazy once I hit teenage years, couldn't get him off the couch. Yet, in younger years we did everything together. Dads that do stuff with their kids are great dads. Its so so easy for dads to fall into the trap of being lazy couch potatoes (99% of the population)... its the path of least resistance trap.


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