Briones, and the Tour de France

Last weekend was so fun — and my girth is expanding so rapidly — that I decided to make riding a priority again, while I still can. Yesterday I headed out to Briones.

I got a late start, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to ride the whole 14 miles around the lake at a leisurely pace before I starved to death. I decided I’d just do the Bear Creek trail, which is the 3-4 miles of deeply wooded singletrack on the south side of the lake. Much of my best thinking happens at Briones, and yesterday was a good thinking day.

Dixie and I had some glorious centaur-like moments of bliss, and some equally fun “you don’t tell me what to do!” / “oh yes I do!” moments. When she’s in the mood, she is smooth as silk and responsive to the smallest shifts of my weight… and when she’s not, she’s got the roughest, most “I’m an overused rental horse” trot. But she’s safe, and she’s brave (for a horse), and she’s got so much personality.

When I wasn’t focused on riding her, I thought about the things I’d really liked about my childhood, and how to implement them in Young Ekthorp’s life. (His current “call name” is Young Ekthorp, due to me spending too long in Ikea the other day while thinking about baby names.)

I was a pretty free-range kid, and I spent hours every day in the many acres of woods behind my house. When Maxx moved in next door, he joined me, but most of the time we were completely alone, running around like children being raised by wolves. We weren’t in any danger (we knew to hide from any strange adults, because they’d yell at us, not because they’d abduct us), but obviously in 2020 I’ll get thrown in jail if I let my 5 year old out of my sight for ten minutes. Sigh.

But aside from spending all that time alone out there, my dad took me on a hike every weekend. Literally every weekend, from when I was three til I went off to college at fourteen. I loved it at the time, and it’s one of my favorite memories now. So that’s what I’m going to do with my kid.

And we’ll take Dixie. He doesn’t have to ride her if he doesn’t want to (but she’ll be there if he gets tired and wants a pony ride back!) She enjoys hiking and jogging with me, and if there’s grass she’ll happily stand around and let Ekthorp poke ants’ nests or eat bark or whatever he wants to do. It’ll be our thing.

G’s dad was in the Navy, so they didn’t have that kind of continuity. I hope he invents his own thing to do with the boy. I don’t think I’d have cared one way or the other if my dad wanted to sit and watch an old movie once a week with me; it was more the routine itself than what the routine was. So maybe they’ll watch an MST3K every Tuesday or something, or maybe they’ll get a 3D printer and make weird plastic things, or who knows.

Anyway, I did take a couple of pictures. The reservoir is so low!IMG_2795There’s the dam. IMG_2796And there were goats. We almost died. Hundreds of bloodthirsty devil-goats, barely contained behind a flimsy fence, just waiting for Dixie to let her guard down before they charged and devoured us. It took quite a lot of pony-kicking to get past them and gait along the dam, and almost as much kicking once we’d turned around and were headed for home. Oh, horse.IMG_2798Baleful stare.IMG_2802So I was feeling better about my prospects as a parent when we got back to the trailer. I’d brought some cheese and a soda, so I scarfed some food down before I loaded Dixie, but really I was thinking longingly of the leftover GF pizza in the fridge at home. I was tired and hungry and I had just enough time to get home, eat pizza, take a shower, and maybe even wedge in a little nap. A successful day.

I drove to the barn and unloaded Dixie. Our driveway is a one-way semicircle, and when I started to park the trailer (in a line of trailers, perpendicular to the driveway — tricky but not super hard) one of the lesson people got in her car to leave. Damn. I get performance anxiety when there’s somebody waiting for me to just park the trailer and get out of the way already, so I pulled out of the driveway, went fifty yards up the road to the wide spot, and turned around. Three cars went by downhill, and then there was no traffic, so I pulled back out and coasted down to the barn driveway.

As I turned left into the driveway, I heard little tires screeching and looked over into the mirror in time to see the fucking Tour de France piling up into the back corner of my trailer. I had just enough time to think “please don’t go under my tires,” and then I finished the turn and got the trailer out of the road and jumped out to see if they were ok.

They were not ok. One dude just had road rash, but the other dude had a really obviously broken wrist. Their two friends were a little further back and managed to swerve or ditch it. Broken Wrist wanted 911, so I took the blond uninjured one up to the barn — we’re in a little valley with no cell reception for anyone, but the barn has a landline. (And right beside the phone there’s a laminated emergency sheet: 911, park police phone number, barn phone number, address, and directions to get there. I applaud whoever put that there.) 911 took their info and put him on hold, so I went back down to the trailer and dug out my first aid kit and gave Broken Wrist an instant ice pack. (You do have instant ice packs in your trailer, right? I’ve used them three times now and they’re the bomb.) The park police showed up, then the fire truck, then the EMTs, then finally OPD.

It was a very calm and controlled accident scene. The bikers were upset that they’d gotten hurt, but not pissed at me — they were going way the fuck too fast to stop and we all knew it. It was exactly like if I’d ridden up on something strange, like a person wearing a tutu leading pack goats, and gotten thrown — “well, fuck, this sucks, but it’s not your fault.”

I gave my info to the park police, but there wasn’t much for me to do. After giving the bike guy the ice pack, I sort of retreated to the front of my rig while they gave statements and the EMTs got to work. Various people from the barn wandered down the driveway and kept me company — Tiempo’s new owner brought me a Coke, yay. Eventually the injured ones were carted away and the uninjured ones headed off to finish their ride (as one does). OPD came over and talked to me. Definitely an accident, definitely their fault if it was anyone’s fault. He gave me the accident report number, but I shouldn’t need it — steel always beats flesh, and all they did was smudge my trailer’s dirt.

Then I got in the truck, parked the trailer on the first try, and headed up the hill to let G know why it had taken me two hours to drop the horse off. Tragically, I didn’t have time for my snack or my nap, and I barely finished dinner before I was too tired to stay awake any longer.

Young Ekthorp had been soothed to sleep (or jounced to unconsciousness) by the ride, so he made not a peep during the whole accident scene. He kicked me once as I was parking the trailer, just to let me know he was ok.

I ate the pizza for breakfast today.

2014 Tahoe Rim Ride – volunteer

This was the third year of the Tahoe Rim ride, and my third year attending it. Here’s my ride stories for the first year, and for the second year. Tahoe Rim is definitely the prettiest ride I’ve ever done, and if you’ve got a horse that can do 50 miles, I highly recommend it!

I rode the last two years, but this year I volunteered instead of riding. Logistically, this is a monumentally difficult ride for management to put on. Base camp is the smallest area I’ve ever seen, on Nevada Forestry land. There’s space for 20 rigs, plus a couple of cars and two management trailers, and we have to leave-no-trace it to stay in Forestry’s good graces. That means bagging poop and hay, not scattering it. Yes, it’s dumb, but we play by their rules on their land.

The other logistical nightmare is the vet checks. The only feasible spot for an away vet check is at Hobart Reservoir. It’s only 18 miles by horse, but two hours by vehicle. It’s hard to get volunteers and vets out from the VC back to base before the front runner 50s come in, and it’s impossible to get a vet back in time for LD riders to complete and show for Best Condition. With such a tiny basecamp, they just can’t cram in enough riders to pay for a third vet, so they’ve dropped the LD ride. I know the lack of an LD was a big disappointment to a lot of people, but it’s just impossible on this route. Hopefully, if you’re wondering about some of the “whys,” that helps.

Because Adventure The Trailer is tiny, in good shape, and no-frills, I’ve let management use it as the rescue trailer every year. The road up to the away check at Hobart is, apparently, nightmarishly bad and too tight to bring a gooseneck. (I’ve never trailered up there or had to be pulled at Hobart, fingers crossed.) Bumper pull to the rescue! The past two years I’d just hi-tied Dixie to the management trailer, piled all her junk beside it, and waved goodbye to my trailer in the morning.

Last year — before I even got pregnant! — I magnanimously offered to run base camp, if I got to bring Dixie and tool around on her in the morning. The main crew has gotten their timing down to probably get back to base before the front runners make it back, but knowing someone is there to man the finish line makes everybody happier. It turned out to be perfect: I got to see my friends, ride a bit, take a nap, do Important Volunteer Stuff, and ride again on Sunday pulling ribbons.

On Friday I headed to the barn and hitched up the trailer, then went down to the corrals and grabbed Dixie. I always say the same thing to her — “You wanna go for a ride?” — but I’ve got some nonverbal tell that lets her know I mean An Endurance Ride and not a stupid boring-ass conditioning ride. She bounced along beside me up to the indoor arena, where I turned her out to roll. I always let her roll before I ride or trailer, and it usually goes like this:  she flings herself down, rolls luxuriously two or three times, then she shakes off, sighs, and comes to stand by me, bored and half-dead. But if she thinks we’re going to A Real Ride, she does her best bronc imitation. On Friday she went bucking up and down the indoor, screaming nonstop, for five minutes. Eventually she came to the gate, quivering, and waited for me to lead her out.

The trip up went smoothly, aside from stopping four times in ~200 miles to pee. My son has reached the developmental milestone of kicking me in the bladder, and while I’m super proud of his coordination, I’m already over it. 😉 We made it to camp in plenty of time to get set up and settle in for the meeting. Afterwards, I spent a few hours wandering around visiting friends’ camps, then headed off to bed pretty early.IMG_2625What you see here is about 80% of the available space at basecamp.IMG_2628RM Sanne going over the trail.IMG_2630Our vets, Karen Hassan and Sue McCartney. (And my new white truck!)

I played the “but I’m pregnant” card and scored a spot on on a real bed in a gooseneck, woohoo! For some reason I thought one sleeping bag would be enough, but it wasn’t, and I nearly froze, and I laid there all night being too warm to get out of bed and go find another blanket but too cold to actually sleep, cursing my short-sightedness (and later, cursing my child for kicking my bladder, because to hell with getting up to pee.) At some point I got warm enough to doze off, and then it started getting light, and then it was time to get up and get going. I blame no one but myself for this idiocy — I’m a Cold Person, the kind who wanders around the beach in August in a parka, and being pregnant has made me even colder. Ladies who suffered through the third trimester in hot summers, I hear your pain and I understand it on an intellectual level, but I have the opposite problem. I am a lizard and I require a heat rock, thanks.

Dear G:  I would very much like a proper subzero sleeping bag for my birthday or Christmas or even both. Please and thank you!

But that’s camping at 7000’ for you — the sun is gloriously hot, but the shadows and nights are cold. C’est la vie.

We got some hot water going for coffee and discovered that we had no cups, creamer, or sugar. But Folgers instant with some hot chocolate powder is surprisingly good, and everybody who came by scrounged up a mug or an empty water bottle to caffeinate, and the volunteers headed out to Hobart right on time at 6 am. I got Dixie saddled and got ready to start the ride at 8.

People who hate to get up in the morning and people who do these things at a good clip love the late start time. I hate it, because I can’t sleep much past pre-dawn anyway, and I ride slow as shit, and an eight am start time means an eight pm finish time, and that’s pretty close to dark. (Cold, cold dark.) There’s not a whole lot of margin of error for getting lost before you’re lost in the wilderness at night, and even if you make it in by cutoff, there’s not a whole lot of time to get your horse untacked before dark. (Cold, cold dark — where’d I throw that blanket, anyway?) I think next year they’re going to start the ride at 7, yay!

I got everybody’s numbers checked off and called the trail open at 8, then ran down, slapped my helmet on, and hopped on Dixie. I knew she’d be so unhappy to watch all the other horses leave camp without her, so I planned on riding drag for about 8 miles, up to Snow Valley, then turning off the ride course and taking a different trail back to camp. I made sure lots of people knew where I was going and when I should be back, and I knew that around the lake is the one fucking wilderness in the entire state of California where my stupid AT&T phone actually works, so I felt totally safe haring off alone.

I fell in with my three friends from Susanville. I rode TRR last year with Angela and Pam, and this year they’d brought Kim with them too. I’d thought I might start with Lucy too, but she went blasting out of camp mid-pack (and finished a very respectable 13th — good job, Roo!)IMG_2640Headed out!IMG_2646Looking east toward Carson City, NV.IMG_2650Looking west toward the lake. You can see the North Canyon Road down there.IMG_2652That’s about how I felt all weekend.IMG_2662This is the best sport in the world.IMG_2665Almost to the Snow Peak crossroads.IMG_2672Marlette Lake in the foreground, Tahoe behind it.

Dixie felt great, and the sun was up so I was warm and happy, and we powered on up to Snow Peak at 9200’ in an hour and a half. I kept going past the turn just a little further, hoping that the photographers were nearby, but they weren’t close so I turned back.IMG_2679Dixie was not thrilled. She doubted my navigational skills. She did everything she could to let me know that we were Off Course and we’d Lost The Other Horses and we needed to turn around again. I rode back to the crossroads and hopped off to run down to the North Canyon road, and it was a lot like dragging a cat on a leash. I’d jog for about fifteen feet and she’d slam on the brakes to stare meaningfully back up the hill. Eventually I quit even looking back and just jogged along screaming “Let’s go, come on, trot trot TROT!”

Out of all the places I’ve been, I love riding the high Sierras the most. Riding the high desert is a very close second, but the high desert is pure bleak beauty. All you get in the desert is scrubby little trees and rocks and miles and miles of views. The highest parts of the Sierras give you the same scrubby trees and views, but you also get pockets of green forests and breathtakingly blue lakes.

If you’ve never been out here, google image search Lake Tahoe. All the pictures look photoshopped, but the thing is, it really looks like that. Except for the days when it’s snowing, the sky and the lake are always cerulean blue.

IMG_2682I don’t think there are any horses this way so I don’t think we should go this way, human.IMG_2685I see something that could be a direwolf and you’re taking fucking selfies? What is wrong with you, human?

(I still just love her American Trail Gear custom bridle – thank you ladies!)IMG_2687So we headed down from the gnarled little trees and granite boulders, down into the aspens and big pines. Just like my phone camera can’t really capture the blue of the lake, it can’t show you the aspens as they’re meant to be seen. The air is so thin at that altitude and the aspen leaves flutter in the slightest breeze, snapping green and silver like living tinsel. Maybe this year I’ll make it back up there for a day trip at just the right time to see them turn fall colors.IMG_2688Anything could be lurking in those trees. Anything.

The road from Snow Peak zigzagged down and ended at a locked gate (with a well-worn path around it — one of those gates intended to stop vehicles, not peds) at the North Canyon road.

The TRR trail circles around this road. We start out climbing the Tahoe Rim Trail to the east of the road, do the flume roads and peaks north of Marlette, then head back toward basecamp on a scenic hilly singletrack just to the west of the road. As you well know, I love endurance but I get sick of doing endurance after about 40 miles, and every year I spend the last ten miles sulking along wondering why the fuck we’re on this stupid singletrack going up and down more stupid goddamn hills when I know for a fact there’s a nice flat wide sand road a hundred yards to my left.

Well, now I know why we take the stupid hilly singletrack instead of the nice wide sand road:  it’s a bicycle interstate. I don’t care, and Dixie doesn’t care, and one horse can get along with hundreds of bikes on a wide trail, but it would be a disaster to run 30-50 horses down that road!

Anyway, at that hour of the morning, Dixie and I were headed along a gentle downgrade for about five miles, and every bike we saw was coming up the hill. She doesn’t mind bikes per se, and I don’t mind them either in those circumstances. (They scare the shit out of me when they’re flying down hills, silently overtaking us, unable to stop before they literally crash into us.) We just gaited along past the endless line of people walking their bikes, people gasping and drinking water, people wobbling doggedly uphill at half a mile an hour, and a few superhuman athletes pedaling steadily uphill. Everyone offered to switch mounts with me 😉IMG_2693The road meets up with the trail around Spooner Lake, and we picked up the ribboned trail to zip along the last few miles of the finish. We got back to camp at 11 am and I got Dixie settled back into her “home.”IMG_2696She was mildly disturbed to still be alone, but she ate and drank well in between long sessions of staring into the wilderness contemplating her own mortality. I propped my feet up on an ice chest and fell asleep in the sun for a while. Eventually I woke up, called to confirm the dinner delivery, and got the finish line set up.

Part of the away check volunteers made it back to the finish around 3. About 3:30, we started getting calls. Some asshole had sabotaged part of the trail ribbons at that campground up by Marlette. But the map had written directions on the back, and everybody eventually got back to the beribboned trail — disappointing, but not insurmountable.

I hung out at the finish line, bullshitting with a handful of other people, til the winners came in at 4:05. If I remember correctly, we had four riders come in within about 30 minutes, then a couple more by 4:45, but 9th and 10th didn’t get in until about 5:30 — don’t quote me on this; I didn’t think to take a picture of the finish sheet so you’ll have to wait for Official Times. Lucy made it in, riding with Jerry Z, before 6, for 13th and 14th. (Or 12th and 13th? I don’t remember; I’m a terrible source of news and gossip.) The Susanville crew came in right when I’d have finished, right before the awards at 7:30 or so. I do remember that we had 35 starters and three pulls at Hobart. Two minor lamenesses, who chose to hike five miles down from the vet check to the paved road, and one colic who stayed at the vet check quite late getting fluids and got an adventurous ride out in Adventure The Trailer. (And there’s your example of the other reason there’s no LD:  if one vet leaves the VC in time to get to the finish for the LDs, but a horse needs treatment at the VC, everybody who needs to vet is going to have to wait for the horse that needs treatment, and it’s just going to be a cluster.)

Eventually everyone was in and accounted for, and awards were handed out, and the ride started to break up. One more shout-out to my awesome friend Beth K, who got Best Condition on the dangerously handsome Durango — it was his first BC and very well earned! First place got a custom embroidered jacket (and the first two riders chose to tie and split the cost to each get a jacket), BC got one of those cool English riding exercise blanket things (I am bad with words so here’s a picture), and all the completions got logo Tom Collins glasses. There was plenty of food and beer (and lemonade for women of a certain condition). An excellent ride!

Saturday night, I retreated back to my truck. My thermarest isn’t nearly as soft as a Real Bed, but with an extra sleeping bag on top, I was very, very warm and I slept great.

On Sunday morning, about a third of the camp was still there. We all crawled out of bed around seven, drank more ghetto mochas, and stood around blinking and scratching for a while. Eventually I hooked up my trailer and started test-driving it — Saturday night, the trailer wheels had locked up coming down the sand road into camp, and we were understandably paranoid that maybe there was a mechanical problem. I took it out to Highway 50 and headed a couple miles west toward South Lake Tahoe, and traffic was light enough that I could drive like a drunken asshole (slamming on the brakes randomly and staring at the trailer wheels.) Everything seemed fine, so I came back to camp and did donuts with spotters watching, and eventually we concluded that it was ok. I think the truck they were hauling with had a brake controller that wasn’t calibrated quite right and it was kicking in too hard on the sandy hill, locking the trailer wheels and making it look like there was something wrong.

Finally, the paranoid endurance rider consensus was that Adventure was still safe, so I got Dixie tacked and loaded everything else by 10 am. I made sure at least two people knew where I was going and when I’d be back, and with a regal wave a rock-star \m/ Dixie and I left camp to go pull ribbons.pulling ribbonsI’d meant to go backwards up the trail, but Dixie blew right past the turn for Spooner Lake so we just headed out the normal route. It took about three ribbons for her to learn the new game: walk or gait briskly to a ribbon, sidle up so the clumsy human can grab it, and take off again.IMG_2720G says this is a cute selfie.

The local HS cross-country team came through in the opposite direction, so we pulled off the trail and watched as 30 runners zoomed by for about ten minutes.IMG_2731All cell phone pics at altitude are totally overexposed, but if you squint you can see the cross-country runners in the sunny trail. Dixie was quite interested, but not upset.IMG_2700Big granite at a scenic overlook.

We worked our way up the trail to the first pie-plate turn and I took the zigzag connector back down to the canyon road. I ran the nicer bits of the trail, and I was really pleasantly surprised at how good I felt at that altitude. Downhill running is about ten times easier than flat or uphill running, but still, I haven’t lost much condition. When the trail got a little more technical, I slowed down to a brisk hike — no point in risking a fall — and we popped back out near the end of the canyon road. I got back on and Dixie knew where we were, so we blasted down to Spooner Lake and started pulling ribbons again. IMG_2751 IMG_2752Yesterday we were up top!IMG_2763North Canyon road. Boulders, trees, and bikes.IMG_2778Spooner Lake, the smallest of the lakes you’ll see at TRR.IMG_2782The trail around Spooner is quite lovely. Little meadows and aspens everywhere. Usually by the time I get to Spooner it’s twilight and I’m 100% done with everything, so I was really glad to see it fresh on Sunday!

Beth (along with a bunch of other volunteers!) had marked the trail. I think every ride is marked a little differently, depending on local terrain, but our rides usually have ribbons on the right, with three ribbons in a row warning you of an upcoming turn, and then a ribbon every so often as a confidence marker. The trail markers did a great job, but a couple of the turns didn’t have enough trees and they’d hung ribbons on bushes. I muttered “fucking Beth” every time I had to get off my tall horse to get ribbons from bushes — love you Beth! 😉 But Dixie was so good for me. I quit faffing around with the tie-rope and I’d just get off, grab ribbons while she grazed, stuff them in my bag, and hike off to the next bush while she followed me like a dog. We’d hike til we found a stump or boulder, I’d get back on, and she’d sigh and gait off toward the next ribbon.

Nothing in this world brings me to tears as fast as thinking about how far Dixie has come. She was such a head case when I got her. Everything scared her, and any question you asked was answered with a resounding “no.”

She’s still not very trained, but she’s broke. Start an endurance ride, go off trail, go down a bike superhighway, then take a nap alone? Sure. Go off alone, figure out the ribbon-pulling game, and follow the human around? No problem. She’s got such a good brain, and she’s so sound, and those are the two things you’d never have thought she’d have when I started with her.

I got back to camp at 1, texted people to let them know I was back, and got Dixie loaded and on the road by 1:15. I’d hoped to have pulled more ribbons, but the trailer brakes gave me a late start, and I had the Preggo Starvings by that point. Time to go!IMG_2787Goodbye base camp! Riders, on behalf of the sore and tired volunteers who have to finish hauling trash out, thank you. Everybody did a really nice job picking up after themselves.

I ended up going all the way to Auburn for In’n’Out, because all good endurance adventures begin and end at In’n’Out. I even had good traffic all the way home and made it to the barn at 6. Unloaded the Brave Endurance Horse and had a hell of a time getting her past (gasp!) a human, sitting in the hatchback of his car, with a dog beside him. Really, Dixie? Really?

It was a phenomenal weekend. I’ll be back next year, hopefully riding it again, but if not, the baby and I will just run basecamp again. If you’re anywhere within driving distance and you’ve got a 50 mile horse, you really should do this ride! It’s absolutely a Destination Ride.

Crewing the San Francisco 50

That would be Coastal Trail Runs’ San Francisco 50/100 mile ultramarathon, not (sadly) a 50 mile endurance ride at the same spot. It’s logistically impossible, but wow would it be a gorgeous spot for a ride! The race is held in the gorgeous Marin Headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 50 mile runners basically go from the Bridge to Stinson Beach then back to the start.

Last week, after extensive planning and tapering, Mel decided to run her first 50. I happily announced that I’d come crew for her, which basically consists of handing your runner some M&M’s when things are going well and cajoling them out of quitting when things aren’t going well.

While I am a loyal friend, I’m not actually loyal enough to stay for the whole 50 miles. I figured if Mel actually needed cajoling, she’d need it later on, so I agreed to meet her starting at mile 16, the Muir Beach aid station. She started running at 7 am; I didn’t actually get out of bed til 7:30.

As always, I simply set off into my latest adventure with only the most minimal of preparation. I had a cooler and bag full of snacks for both of us, and I brought a parka because the coast is cold, but that was about it. I printed out an extremely figurative map (pdf) and a list of aid stations (pdf), plugged “muir beach” into my phone GPS, and drove off. I’d been to Stinson Beach once, two and a half years ago, during my very first visit to San Francisco, but that was the limit of my coastal knowledge.

The PCH was about as awful as I remembered. It’s definitely the kind of highway one wants a zippy sports car or perhaps a motorcycle for, even more so on days when there’s a fucking road bike race on the highway argh. But I’d given myself plenty of time, and I got to Muir Beach well before 10 am. Sure enough, there was an easy-up, sure sign of a race aid station, in the parking lot. Scrawny people in tech shirts and bulky shoes were milling around. It was 55 degrees and foggy with a stiff ocean breeze.IMG_2241 IMG_2242I dragged my crew stuff over and huddled sullenly in my parka and knit cap. After a while, sulking got old, so I started talking to the volunteers and other crew. They all seemed to know what they were doing better than I did, but their runners were all more experienced than mine. The blind is crewing for the blind!IMG_2245They came down that hill, which is only a moderate climb for the course.

Just before 11, Mel rolled in. She was going about 4 mph (sorry, ultrarunners who stumble upon this post: I still can’t think in minutes per mile), on the slower side of things, but still according to plan. Better to go slow and have enough in reserve to finish!

I mentally gave her A’s for gait, attitude, and impulsion. She ran over the boardwalk into the AS and she was moving very well. She was cheerful and moderately interested in food, and after just a few minutes she zoomed back out on the trail.IMG_2249I wouldn’t see her again for 10 miles. She’d go up a giant fucking hill to the Cardiac AS (no crew allowed), then down a giant fucking ravine to the turnaround point at Stinson Beach. I had about three hours to wait.

In an endless line of weekend tourist traffic, I made my way down the PCH to Stinson Beach, dodging more goddamn road bikers and getting passed by motorcycles. I had a little freakout because the streets of Stinson Beach (the town) were completely packed, and every restaurant’s four little parking spaces were occupied, and the sides of the narrow roads were all packed — but then I realized I wasn’t at the beach yet. Stinson Beach doesn’t even have a traffic light, so I kept going through The Four Way Stop and found the beach access.

Hundreds of cars were there already, but the lots were only about half full. I drove around slowly til I found the ubiquitous easy-up, the only one in the park, and drove past it very slowly. The easy-up sure didn’t look like an aid station, but it’s not like I have vast experience in these matters. It looked for all in the world like an extended family had set up for a daylong picnic. I glared at it for a long time, but I didn’t see any little cups of water, so I decided it maybe wasn’t actually the aid station. I circled the four parking lots again. Eventually I noticed ribbons, which led to a park bench with cups of water, so I parked and hiked over. Yep, aid station!IMG_2252I don’t understand. How can it be an aid station without an easy-up?IMG_2253

I found Mel’s drop bag. If it hadn’t made it, I’d need to hit the general store and try to find stuff she might need, but it was there so I was free to attend to business. I fed the baby some french fries and ice cream and walked over to the beach.

Conditions had improved slightly. My truck said it was now 56, and the fog had lifted to about 200’ in the hills. Sensibly bundled up in sweats, wool, a parka, and a hat, I viewed the beach. Psychotic Californians were all over the place in bathing suits. The Pacific is much, much prettier than the Gulf, but shit, this is your idea of a weekend at the beach? Y’all are insane.IMG_2261I’m a long way from Destin.IMG_2262Mel came in before 2 pm, still quite cheerful. She changed shoes, ate half a burrito, and charged back out.IMG_2256The lady facing the camera laughing was crewing for Yellow Shirt, so we saw each other all day. Go Yellow Shirt!IMG_2258Dramatic recreation of a perky runner. IMG_2259I think she went up there, into the clouds…IMG_2260But this shot (to the north) is a more accurate picture of what that Steep Ravine climb was like.

She’d climb the monster ravine, hit Cardiac again, go back down the monster hill, and make her way back to Muir Beach. I hit the bathroom again (seriously, being pregnant means spending nine months constantly on the lookout for the next good place to pee) and drove back over to Muir.

Muir Beach was completely packed when I got there. The small parking lot was totally full, and I slowly circled through it in a line of 20 hopeful cars. To hell with that; I drove back up the road, turned on the side road to Muir Woods, and parked in a line of overflow parking. I had at least an hour to kill, so I sat in the truck and read a book and snacked until 4. Then I grabbed Mel’s crew bag and hiked down to the beach.

By now the parking lot was half empty, of course. But I’d just hiked ten minutes in and I didn’t feel like hiking back out to move the truck, so I settled in and waited. The lady running the Muir Beach AS is hysterically funny and the time passed quickly.

I figured that if Mel was going to hit a low point and need bullying encouragement to go back out, this would be the place. This was 38 miles, so it was further than she’d ever run before. If she could just make it to the 42 mile AS, it would be psychologically too far to quit, but 38 miles might be tricky.

But I had nothing to worry about. She showed up still smiling, still running, and still moving symmetrically. All she needed was a caffeine pill and some more burrito. It was only 5:30, and I’d see her again before 7, but she grabbed her headlamp anyway and charged off.IMG_2265Looking like a Real Ultramarathoner ™. And in a better mood than this snapshot indicates!

I got some more detailed directions to the next AS and hiked back to the truck. (“So I just turn right on Tennessee Valley Road and take it to the end and there’s an aid station somewhere?” — “Yeah!” — “Aiight, thanks again, bye!”)

Apparently 5:30 on Saturday is when the day trippers go home, and traffic was unbelievably bad. The 7.5 mile drive took me almost 50 minutes. I didn’t think Mel was going to put on a burst of speed and beat me to TV, because negative splits are more honored in the breach than the observance, but I was still a little nervous!

I easily found the parking lot / aid station at the end of Tennessee Valley and got parked. As I walked up to the easy-up, it looked like some dude was flinging bags into the back of a pickup, and I almost headed his way, but then I saw a familiar-looking face and got sidetracked.

It was Errol! I even remembered his name! I re-introduced myself (“I talked to you at Mt. Diablo when my friend had just finished her first 50k, and now she’s doing her first 50 miler!”) and we immediately fell deep into conversation. He was cheering on a friend doing the 100, and once she got to the 50 mile point he was going to pace her for the last 50. I remembered seeing his runner at Muir and said she was moving slow but looking good. Eventually I dragged myself away to set up for Mel. Where was her bag? There were only a few crew bags left.

I asked the volunteer and she said they’d taken the 50 drop bags at 6:30. Yes, that dude flinging bags into the pickup had taken the bag I was looking for right out from under my nose. First crew fail. Sad trombone.

But there wasn’t much in it that wasn’t also in the crew bag I had, or the mounds of crap in my truck, so I settled in to wait. Mel came charging in about 6:45, with a new ride run buddy. Kyoko, a crazy Japanese woman, had flown over to run the 50. I can’t even say that’s insane; I’d probably fly to Australia to ride the Quilty if the opportunity presented itself.IMG_2271Errol, Mel, Kyoko.

Mel was totally perky. She’d hit her mental wall, overcome it, and picked up with Kyoko in good spirits. She ate a slice of pizza faster than a teenage boy, screamed just a little as she applied more anti-chafe stuff, and charged straight out. Errol’s friend had just arrived, so I stayed a few minutes to cheer them on.IMG_2273I teased her about doing it backwards. She had a handsome younger man putting her clothes on!

Right as I was about to leave, another woman came in and started looking for her crew bag. Apparently it wasn’t just me being unobservant; the “we’re pulling 50 mile crew bags at 6:30” thing wasn’t very well advertised. This lady was in a panic and I could see her mood going south, so I cornered her and asked her what she needed out of her bag.

“My headlamp!” she wailed.

“Ok, hang on, I have a spare in my truck,” I said.

I ran to the truck, snatched my old faithful Husky headlamp out of its hiding spot, and trotted back.  The lady was already sulkily headed up the trail, and I yelled for her to come back. She was near tears as I got the headlamp fitted to her head and showed her how to turn it off and on.

“Do you need anything else? Electrolytes, anti-chafe, food?”

“I want my food!” she wailed.

“I know, dude!” I said. “That totally sucks.”

“How do I get this back to you?” she asked.

“I’ll be at the finish, and if you don’t see me — it’s a $10 headlamp. Pass it on to somebody else who needs it. Go, have a good run!”

I was (selfishly) a little sad as I watched my headlamp disappear up the hill. It was just a cheap POS headlamp from Home Depot, but I’d had it for seven or eight years. I got it in law school, when I was remodeling houses in Memphis with my friend Stephen. I’d packed up our tools with that headlamp many times, and I’d fed my horses with it for years, and it had ridden around on the shifter of a sports car and three different trucks. I had the feeling that I wouldn’t see it again — but I couldn’t let that woman go out with no light for 8 miles. All I could do was hope that a light from a stranger turned her run around.

And then I was off into uncharted territory: the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At night. With one bar of cell reception at best. I knew I was taking the very last exit before the GG Bridge and then driving to Rodeo Beach, wherever the fuck that was, but of course I’d never been there or looked at the map ahead of time.IMG_2274I was rather surprised by the one-way tunnel.

I drove through what looked like half-deserted military housing. Creepy. I went past a mysterious house on a hill with one light burning that looked exactly like the cover of a gothic novel. Eventually, I saw an easy-up on the side of the road, so I pulled off.

I knew that based on previous legs, I had at least an hour to kill. It was cold, natch, and getting dark, so I sat in my truck right beside the easy-up and read for an hour, then bundled up and headed over to the one lonely volunteer. We talked for a minute, and I hiked up the spur trail to see if I could see Mel and Kyoko. It was gorgeous and desolate. IMG_2276The aid station was just on the other side of that row of trees. Yes, that’s a barn! You can board there or stay short term. I would love to do a long weekend out of that place, maybe 20 miles a day for two days. Next year? Anybody brave enough to haul out there with me?IMG_2277It looks very much like what I imagine Scotland looks like.IMG_2278A few course volunteer runners came through. They’d just glowsticked parts of the course, and one woman was particularly proud that this was her third race of the day. She’d volunteered at Brazen’s race in San Leandro, run a beer relay race (exactly what it sounds like; she was justifiably mad that she got beat by an old guy / pregnant lady team. I guess the old guy picked up the pregnant lady’s beer-drinking slack!) and was now glowsticking trail for the SF100. I stood around in the cold twilight getting more and more worried about Mel. Finally, 45 minutes after I thought she should’ve come through, I decided to drive to the finish and see if I’d missed her somehow. I left the drop bag and headed down the road to the beach.

I came over the last hill, past some of those creepy tsunami-warning signs (FLEE TO HIGH GROUND! GODZILLA!), and saw more half-deserted zombie military barracks. I passed a few runners chugging down the side of the road and suddenly realized one of them was Mel! She had run right through the aid station while I read in my cozy truck. More crew fail. More sad trombone.

I doubled back, grabbed the crew bag, and went to the finish. Mel had finished and gotten her buckle, and now I needed to get her on the road to Davis before she started to crash. We loaded up in my truck and spent ten minutes driving around the creepy half-deserted military housing, looking for where Mel vaguely remembered having parked at 6:30 that morning. I got her packed into her car and briefly debated going back to the finish to look around in the dark for somebody I might recognize who could still have my $10 headlamp, versus just driving home to eat real food.

Real food won, as it always does.

I had two ways to get home: over the Golden Gate, through the city, and over the Bay Bridge to Oakland (20 miles), or all the way back up to San Rafael, over the Richmond Bridge, and back down to Oakland (32 miles). When I got through the one-way tunnel and back to 101 (and the land of AT&T reception), my iPhone enthusiastically suggested going through SF so I agreed.

This won’t make much sense if you’re not familiar with San Francisco, but if you are, you’ll be appalled with me. That son of a bitch phone took me through North Beach and the Financial District at 10 pm on a Saturday. In a truck. Man, fuck you, iPhone. What did I ever do to deserve that? Couldn’t we go through the Presidio and down Geary or something? I’ll trade an extra 20 stoplights to not have to go through the FiDi ever again.IMG_2279That string of lights in the fog is the Bay Bridge.IMG_2280One (Deserted) Embarcadero.IMG_2281Yep, fun. I needed to be in the right lane, too. FML.

All in all, it was a wildly surreal day. Crowded beaches, deserted moors, abandoned military installations, and skyscrapers. And I got to cheer my BFF on as she ran fifty freakin’ miles in one day!

Here’s Mel’s run comic, and here’s her Q&A/run story. Definitely worth reading if Google has sent you here looking for info about any of the GGNRA ultras — San Francisco 100, TNF San Francisco, and PC Trail Runs’ Headlands race all use the same trails and aid station locations.