Leaves of three? Seek them out.

October 17, 2014

Leaves of three?
Leave them be.

Anyone who has lived near poison oak or poison ivy (which probably means almost anyone in the North America) has grown up with that rhyme.

Of course once you start doing much hiking you realize there are many plants with “Leaves of three” which aren’t Poison Oak or Ivy.

BrambleLeafBrambles are probably the most common. And while brushing against a bramble vine isn’t really a problem, anyone who has hiked through a bramble thicket will agree that they should also be left alone. Quite a number of other species in the rose family have leaves of three, some of which are relatively harmless to blunder through.

CloverLeafThere is also a genus named “Leaves of three”, or Trifolium in latin. But the clovers are quite innocuous. Various other legumes also have a trifoil leaf pattern, but none causes dermatitis.

A friend of mine does landscape restoration and is working on a project at City College. They have been tasked by the local basket-weavers to provide an area for growing the textile plants used by the Chumash. Many of these are rushes, most of which are easy to find. But one is a sumac.

This plant seems to have been eradicated from the front country, and my friend didn’t know where to find it. But it is actually fairly common in the back country. I made a little map of where I’d seen it (click on the map to make it legible), and then offered to get her some twigs to root when I next went into the back country.

RhusLeavesNow when I was a child, poison oak was placed in the sumac genus. And this particular sumac is called Rhus trilobata, or three-leaved sumac. In other words it looks almost exactly like poison oak. It’s leaves are a bit smaller, but that’s about it. If the flowers were blooming they’d be easy to distinguish, but they aren’t blooming now. In fact the best time for rooting these plants is when they are dormant — when all the leaves have dropped off in the autumn. Which makes them a bit tricky to identify. One stick looking very like another. Luckily I know exactly where some patches are.

Now I’m not supposed to go harvesting from the National Forest, but this patch was encroaching on the trail so I was actually doing trail maintenance. When I got to my patch I saw that this fiction was well founded as there where signs that it had been hacked back in the past.

I took out my snips a collected 8 springs, each about as thick around as a pencil.

One of the common names for this plant is “skunkbush”. I’d never known why before, but I figured it out by holding a bundle of it in front of me for an hour as I ran down the mountain. It’s a strange smell, not really like a skunk, but sort of musty…

When I finally got home I placed them in water. A bouquet of dormant twigs.

Not all Calories are created equal.

October 8, 2014

I had always assumed (without thinking much about it) that when a food package claimed its contents represented 100 Calories then that figure would be basically correct. In other words, if you took the food and dessicated it and burned it, it would give off 100 Calories. I’d also assumed (even though if I’d thought about it I’d have known this to be wrong) that the amount of energy in the food would be closely correlated to the amount of energy the body could absorb from the food. Both assumptions turn out to be incorrect.

The first assumption is incorrect because the second one is incorrect. Foods are labeled using a process called the Atwater System which attempts to adjust the actual Calorie content of food by a factor related to how well the body absorbs energy from that food.

Note that in this essay I focus on the ability of various foods to provide energy (that is Calories, or at the lowest level ATP molecules), not on food’s structural (or other properties). I am interested in how best to refuel during a race — which means about all that matters is energy. This is not about recovery and only slightly about pre-race preparation.


Let’s start by looking at the monosaccharide, glucose. Eukaryot cells can directly catabolize it. Each glucose molecule goes through a series of reactions in which it is broken down into CO2 and water, in the process it releases (in optimal conditions) 38 ATP molecules. ATP molecules are then used to power reactions within the cell which require energy. In actual practice only about 28-30 ATP molecules are produced (conditions inside the cell are rarely optimal).

Now the energy released in ATP⇒ADP + P reaction is: 7.3kcal/mole. So, since the heat of combustion of a mole of glucose is 686Cal, then the body captures about 29*7.3/686 = 30.8% of this total energy. The rest is released as heat.

When not exercising glucose can be stored in muscles as glycogen and it takes 1 ATP molecule to add a glucose molecule to a glycogen one (Glycogenesis). The reverse reaction (Glycogenolysis) does not produce any ATP so storing glucose as glycogen represents a 3~4% energy loss. (But this loss will be irrelevant to someone exercising as it will not happen then).

Now let’s look at fructose, another monosaccharide, but not one that most cells of the human body can directly catabolize. Instead the liver snags fructose molecules and converts about half of them to glucose at a cost of 2 ATP molecules per fructose molecule. Some of the rest of the fructose is catabolized directly by the liver a process approximately as efficient as glucose catabolism. So efficiency of fructose catabolism is dependent on where the fructose gets used, but, averaging over both pathways, a molecule of fructose produces one fewer molecule of ATP than glucose does, and much of the energy will not reach the muscles at all.

A sucrose molecule consists of a glucose and a fructose molecule bound together. Joining the two involves releasing a molecule of water, so sucrose is slightly more energy dense than its components. In the gut sucrose is broken down into its two components, and their energy is then released as if they had been swallowed whole.

Not all carbohydrates are digestible (cellulose is not), but they will still burn at about 4Cal/gram in calorimeter, so all those Calories will be completely wasted to the body.

substance Cal/gram moles ATP/gram moles ATP/Cal
glucose 3.81 ~29/180 ≅ .161 .0423
fructose 3.79 ~28/180 ≅ .156 .0410
sucrose 3.94 ~57/342 ≅ .167 .0423
maltodextrin ~4.1 ~(n*29)/(n*172+18) ≅ .167 .0406
(maltodextrin is a polymer containing many glucose molecules which is the primary ingredient of most gels. I have used 10 glucose for computational purposes.)


Now fats (and oils and such like) consist of three fatty acid molecules bound together by a glycerol. They are broken down in the gut. Some can diffuse directly into the blood stream from there, while others go through a more complicated process. Fatty acids are not very soluble in water, but there is a protein in the blood (albumin) which binds to them, thus increasing the blood’s ability to transport them. Like glucose fatty acids can be used directly by the muscles. However because they are not very water soluble transporting them around the body and especially the cell takes longer than similar transport for glucose — which is why carbohydrates make a better fuel supply when energy is needed quickly. Moving a fatty acid into the mitocondria appears to be the rate limiting step for their catabolism.

A fatty acid consists of a COOH head (methyl, the acid) attached to a variable length carbon/hydrogen chain (the fat). In nature most chains are between 6 and 22 carbons long. Chains longer than 22 carbons are not catabolized efficiently. In saturated fats there are two hydrogens for each internal carbon, in unsaturated fats there is at least one C=C double bond. The energy in the molecule comes from the breakdown of the long chain. Every two atoms of saturated carbon on the chain yield theoretically 17, but in practice 14 molecules of ATP. For a fatty acid with 2n carbon atoms the total yield is about 14n-6 (as it requires some ATP to prepare the acid in the first place, and the final two carbons must be treated slightly differently).

Energy from fatty acids
fatty acid n ATP Δc mol weight ATP/g ATP/Cal
CH3(CH2)4COOH 3 36 835Cal 116 .310 .0431
CH3(CH2)14COOH 8 106 2390Cal 256 .414 .0444
CH3(CH2)20COOH 11 148 ??? 341 .434 ???
(Fatty acids with chains that are longer than this can be broken down, but no ATP will be generated until the chain is reduced to the above size)

Most (but not all) fatty acids in nature have an even number of carbon atoms in their chains. Odd numbers can be dealt in some animals, but no one is sure how (if) that works in humans. Unsaturated fats produce slightly less energy than saturated fats, the amount depending on whether the double bond is in an even or odd position in the chain and whether it is in a cis (more common in nature) or a trans (usually man-made) configuration — trans fats being more easily dealt with.

So, from the point of view of energy, saturated fats are better, and trans unsaturated fats are better than cis unsaturated fats. Rather the opposite of what we expect from a general health perspective.

Fat cannot easily be converted to glucose and so can’t be used to build glycogen stores.


Proteins are broken into amino acids in the gut, and then processed further in the liver. But there are 20 amino acids that can be coded for to produce proteins and they have different properties. Most, but not all, can be decomposed to produce glucose, the others can be decomposed to make ketones which can be used in fatty acid catabolism, while some can go down either pathway.

When catabolizing carbohydrates and fats the waste products were just CO2 and water, which are easily disposed of. Amino acids contain all kinds of junk. All of them contain nitrogen which must be converted to urea. But converting nitrogen to urea costs ATP, about 4 of them per nitrogen atom.

Serine is a simple case: serine dehydratase converts serine to pyruvate and ammonia — without needing energy (ATP) input. Now pyruvate is an intermediate in the catabolism of glucose (in other words the cell can digest it). Two pyruvate molecules can be converted back to glucose (to be shipped out of the liver) at a cost of 4 ATP+2 GTP ≅ 6 ATP (Gluconeogenesis) or a pyruvate molecule can proceed down the Krebs cycle and eventually produce ~12 ATP, but that energy is stuck in the liver.

So if we want energy that can reach the muscles then two molecules of serine produce one molecule of glucose (at a cost of 6 ATP) and 2 molecules of urea (at a cost of 8 ATP) while glucose produces ~29ATP. So one serine molecule will produce ~(29-6-8)/2 = ~7.5 ATPs.

Alanine is another amino acid which can be converted to pyruvate.

Energy from amino acids
amino acid ATP Δc mol weight ATP/g ATP/Cal
serine 7.5 346Cal 105 .071 .0217

Most amino acids can be converted to glucose and so can be used to build glycogen stores — albeit inefficiently.

Unfortunately I have been unable to follow the metabolic pathways for other amino acids, so I don’t have a good handle of general protein catabolism.

Energy that is not directly used is lost as heat.


  • Per gram fats have between 2-2.5 times the useable energy of carbohydrates
  • Per gram carbohydrates have about twice the useable energy of serine
  • Catabolic efficiency (in terms of mole ATP/Calorie) is about the same for fats and carbohydrates
  • While serine is about half as useful as either.
  • In other words a Calorie of fat or carbohydrate is about twice as useful to the body as a Calorie of protein
  • Energy that is not directly used is lost as heat. Which means that using an inefficient fuel supply like protein will cause the body to heat up faster, which is generally not good.

Given these data, I don’t really see the point of the 40-30-30% mixture of a Balance Bar™ as an energy source during exercise. I see little reason to supply 30% protein, it just looks like a bad fuel supply to me (of course Balance Bars don’t say they are for exercisers). On the other hand it does explain why some GUs contain a little fat as well as carbs. Now an ultra runner, who needs energy at a slower rate than a marathon runner, should probably be eating more fat than a marathon runner…

Caveat: These results are the best I can do; I hope I have interpreted things accurately, but I am not a biochemist or a nutritionist.

Upper San Roque Creek

October 2, 2014

Every now and then I get the urge to follow one of our local creeks. I do this out of curiosity, I want to see where the creek goes, and what grows in it, and I do it out of stupidity as the creek bed is a pretty unpleasant place in which to travel. I generally pick the end of the dry season in an attempt to limit at least one unpleasant aspect of creek travel.

Today I followed the creek that runs along Jesusita trail. This is called San Roque creek down near Steven’s Park, but where the trail comes out on the road (near the little bridge) there is a junction and one tributary goes up to the left, along the road, and the other goes up to the right along the trail. I followed this latter tributary. I don’t know its real name.

I followed it downhill, starting at the base of the switchbacks on the trail. I went tromping off into the woods and then climbed down the steep bank of the canyon to reach the stream. Rather to my surprise it actually had running water. I haven’t seen running water in San Roque creek for months, but this high up there is some, and it keeps going for about a sixth of a mile.

SR waterfallThere’s a nice little waterfall here, I suppose it really is a waterdrip, but there is certainly water flowing.
SR waterfall
It is covered with venushair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) which means there must be water here year round.

Looking down the canyon there are lots of Giant Chain Fern, another sign of permanent water here…

The canyon is covered with lots of sticks, and as I move further down, lots of dead trees. I guess the stream is the lowest place in the area, and any nearby trees that might have been killed in the fire 5 years ago will fall and roll down into it.
SR deadfall

SR deadfall2
These deadfalls make progress very slow. It takes me an hour to go half a mile.

Further down there are bramble thickets, and poison oak.

Every now and then some kind person on the trail would notice me crashing around down below and ask if I were lost, to which I would reply “I’m not lost, just stupid.”

Next time I’m taking the trail…

Just follow the arrow.

September 27, 2014

Up and down, and in and out,
Here and there, and round about;
Ev’ry corner of the place,
Ev’ry twist is in the race,
Ev’ry outlet, ev’ry drain,
Have we run, and run again.

Yoemen of the Guard, W. S. Gilbert

I wasn’t expecting to run the Westmonster XC 5K, but when Rusty (or Mike) posted the workout yesterday it was part of it. A three mile marathon pace run on Mountain Dr. followed by the race on Westmont Campus.

My group agreed we’d go for a 6:50 pace on the MP run. But… well, Mike and Dan were running 6:30s, so the rest of us did too. 6:30 isn’t hard for 3 miles, but it is no longer a pace I could imagine holding for a marathon. Then I had about half an hour to trot down the mile between where we finished on Mountain Dr. and the race start on campus.

I was going to do the race with tired legs, which was what my coaches wanted, though my legs would be a bit more tired than they should be…

The course looked like crochet work when drawn on the campus map. Up here, down there, backwards, forwards, looping and recrossing… But on the ground it was well marked, with white chalk lines on the grass and little green arrows stuck to the pavement when we went on roads. And, even more usefully, lots and lots of students at every intersection to point us the way. And for me… there was always the back of the guy in front.

As we lined up I noticed that Cindy was behind me. Now Cindy is a (much) faster 5K runner than I, on roads at least, and I assumed she would be on a cross-country course too, so I encouraged her to move up. But she claimed injury and a race tomorrow and stayed where she was. I was in the second row, behind a guy who looked fast. Craig was beside me.

We were warned not to run into the photographer on a ladder about 100yds ahead.

We set off. There were a fair number of little kids in front. Some deserve to be there, but most have no idea what they are doing and are going to fade in a quarter mile which turns the race into an obstacle course for a while. Oh well. We start downhill and fast, and then uphill even more steeply, and then a quick right turn and down to the playing fields. And I have to dodge around a little kid who has slowed down. Ahead of me is Craig, and right behind me is Bob Tmur. Mmm. I would like to think I’m still faster than Bob. I hope I’ll pull away…

Oh, we go further down below the playing fields, and then up on the other side of them. I’m not sure who is behind me now. I don’t think it is Bob, but there is someone right there.

My legs do feel tired.

We keep going up. As we cross an open patch I see shadows. The person behind me has a pony tail, so I’m guessing it is Cindy. Hunh. Maybe, injured and with a race tomorrow, she runs at my pace?

Westmonster 2014 Cindy and Me
Taken by Brad Elliott, © Westmont

Now back down to the start line, and a second (but different) loop through the campus. Cindy is still behind, Craig still ahead (though both he and I, and presumably Cindy have passed a couple of other people). We come up to an intersection we went through not long ago, there are still runners from the first loop here, and the students directing us have to guess which loop each runner is on to direct us in our different directions. They seem to do a good job — at least for me.

As I run across a flagstone patio area I notice there is a white arrow on the ground. I don’t pay much attention to it, until suddenly it is stuck to my foot. I guess one of the green arrows somehow turned over and I just ran over the sticky part of it and it’s now mine for the rest of the race…

I wonder if there is any easy way to get it off my foot (without letting Cindy pass me, of course) and I can’t think of anything. So I keep running with a sticky paper arrow flapping around. It’s annoying but not really a problem.

We climb the monster hill now. I think I pull away from Cindy a little on the hill. Hmm. I might be a better climber than she, that would make sense given the kind of running I normally do.

At the top of the hill Mike and Ricky are spectating and cheer me on. Then they notice my arrow and laugh. As Cindy crests the top they cheer her too, and tell her “just follow the arrow”. I think this is about mile 2, and if I recall correctly it’s mostly downhill from now on.

Craig, who this morning was complaining of a hamstring injury is getting further and further ahead of me until I can no longer rely on seeing him to tell me where to turn.

Cindy now catches up with me and then pulls ahead too. Ah well.

The arrow continues to flap around my foot.

Back down around the playing fields, and then up to the road again. Somewhere my arrow disappears. Someone else can run with it now.

Then a little dip and on to the track. It seems to take forever to get around the track with Cindy about 50yds ahead and Craig out of sight.

20:47. Pretty slow for a road 5K (which this was not, of course). That’s a bit better than a 6:40 pace.

Cindy’s husband berates me: “You had a good lead at the top of the hill, how did you lose to her?”

A tale told by an idiot.

September 24, 2014

Ban Ki-moon (UN Secretary General) said that yesterday’s climate change summit was a success.
Obama said that the US (under his presidency) has done more than any other country about climate change.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Hamlet III.3

Out on thee! ſeeming! I will write againſt it:

Much Ado IV.1

On Monday ~300,000 people marched in New York (and tens of thousands in other cities) protesting climate change. On Tuesday the UN held a day-long summit. This was billed as the “Last Chance” to prepare for the Paris COP 21 conference in December 2015 which is the “Last Chance” for the UN process to do any good. (I’m not sure why we are ignoring COP 20 in Lima this year).

Of course, there have been plenty of “Last Chance”s in the past, and presumably there will be plenty more in the future. No one is willing or able to commit to the needed changes.

The hope was that world leaders would come to Tuesday’s conference and make all sorts promises about reducing emissions and giving money to the poor countries who will (probably) suffer the most from climate change (like being entirely drowned as the see level rises) but have been the least responsible.

Nothing of the sort happened. No one made any new emissions pledges. The US refused to give any money to the poor, and only a few European countries and Mexico actually did so. Nothing that was desired was achieved.

The Green Climate Fund was conceived at Copenhagen as a way of transferring money from the rich to the poor. It is supposed to have $100bn/year after 2020. Currently it has ~$2.3bn total. That’s not per year, that’s ever. It is laughable.

On the other hand they did come up with a new policy on reforestation. Um. I thought they did that at Copenhagen 5 years ago? And this new policy was established without consulting Brazil — the country with the biggest chunk of rainforest?

Maybe they need a new forest policy because REDD (the last one) didn’t work? Is there any reason to believe that this one will be any better?

One of the other few “major” commitments of the summit was to put a price on carbon. Of course the US did not agree. Nor did one of the countries soon to be underwater.

In spite of this Obama had the gall to make a speech claiming the US under his presidency had done more than any other nation on climate change, and then he volunteered to “lead the international community”. This from the man partly responsible for the disaster at Copenhagen, who has done practically nothing at home about climate change, and who made no commitments yesterday.

He led his regiment from behind
(He found it less exciting).

The Gondoliers, W.S. Gilbert

Personally I think there is a high chance that any policies Obama has promulgated will be rolled back in two years if the Republicans win the presidency. And really what has he done? All I can think of is that after 5+ years he has got the EPA to make proposals for limiting emissions from power plants. Important, yes, but only one small aspect of the problem is addressed. The US has decreased its CO2 emissions in recent years, but that has only been because natural gas has become cheap. But peak natural gas will probably happen next year. I expect the decline will slow and turn to an increase again soon…

This is the graph which matters more than any words we heard yesterday:

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase, and the rate of increase is accelerating. Nothing we have tried in the last 20+ years has changed that basic fact. Nothing said yesterday will change that.

We continue to betray ourselves.

Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us.

A Mid-Autumn¹ Night’s Dream

September 21, 2014

I go, I go; look how I go,
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow.

Dream III.2.1135

Luis organized a training run for the Red Rock race at 7am going from Red Rock (day use area) to Camino Cielo and back.

But a week ago the temperature on the coast was about 100°F (and the trails were worse) and I didn’t want to do a 20+ mile run in that sort of heat. So I decided to start at 4am, thinking I’d be back about 9 before the day’s heat really kicked in. And I thought it would be fun to go for a long run in the dark… And that would get me to the top of Camino Cielo about the right time to watch the sunrise.

Yesterday I drove up to Camino Cielo with the intent of placing some water at the turn around point — only to be stopped about a mile from it. There was a skateboard race going on, and I had to wait for the current heat to finish. About 5 minutes. So I waited. Then they let me though. The finish line was where I had intended to stop and it was full of vehicles, so I drove on another quarter mile to the next pull out. Then walked back, hid my water on the trail, returned to the car, and had to wait once more for the next heat.

I didn’t even know we had skateboard races…

I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get to the end of Paradise Rd. but I figured if I left home at 3am that would get me there in good time. As it happened I got off a little early.

When I got to Lower Oso I found that there was a gate across the road there with no passage (for cars) allowed beyond. Damn it. There was a sign near the gate claiming “Gate closed Sunset to Sunrise” — clearly I’d never bothered to read it before. I grumbled quietly to myself as I parked the car. Let’s see… it’s about 5 miles from Lower Oso to Red Rock so… Mmph. That’s almost an extra hour or so each way. I don’t have enough food with me for that. I’m going to have to turn around before Camino Cielo, which means I won’t get to my water. Grrrr. I’ll miss the sunrise over the ocean too.

There were certain sections of trail that I really wanted to run on (sections I rarely do because they take so long to reach if I start from the front country). Turning back at the Grotto sounds about right. It’s probably ~3 miles from there to Camino Cielo, so it’s still going to be a bit longer than I intended but not by much.

All the bathrooms at Lower Oso appeared to be locked or out of order.

Nothing seemed to be going right.

But then I started out and everything was all right again. The stars were very bright. When I ran Nine Trails last month I was mostly running within the reach of city lights — even if the cities were small cities — and there was a (nearly) full moon, so the stars were dimmed. Tonight there was no moon, the night was clear and all cities were hidden by mountains. It was dark. The stars were bright. Orion’s Belt was dead ahead.

I trotted on into the darkness with the insects singing all around me.

After about 2 miles the road fords a channel of the Santa Ynez river. Or rather it would ford the river if there were any water in it. As it is there is just a dip that is covered with concrete (rather than asphalt) and then a rise on the other side. There are several of these crossings. All are dry.

After about 45 minutes I reach the end of the paved road. Red Rock trailhead. A dirt road takes off to the left (behind yet another gate) and that is my route.

Almost immediately I scare up a nightjar. There’s a great whirring of wings as the bird rises from the trail in front of me. — I think it’s a nightjar (or nighthawk, or whatever they call them here), it’s a little hard to be sure in the dark.

After a quarter of a mile or so a bit of single track takes off on the right. That’s the race route, but… I’m kind of interested in seeing were the road goes. I know the trail is just a short cut (also I’m not familiar with it and am a tiny bit worried about following unfamiliar single track in the dark — I’ve only run it once, and there was a steep drop off beside it). Anyway I take the road.

The road goes into darkness. But I do see a goldenbush beside it.

And then I pass the places where you can get good views of the dam (for Gibraltar Reservoir) but I have views of nothing but night at the moment.

And then down into the canyon below the dam, and up the other side.

I get a little lost here. There’s a junction, and one road is the main road, and the other is the driveway to the where the caretakers of the dam live. I end up running around their houses by mistake and waking up a rooster, and then a dog, and then a voice comes out of the darkness asking me where I’m going.

(Anyway that was the gist of the question)

Oops. I apologize. Find the real road again and continue.

It’s not far now to the turn-off for the Mercury Mine. And now we are getting into a section that is actually familiar and becomes more so as I go further toward the Grotto.

After about a mile I see some Matchweed, a plant I have previously only seen growing on the edge Cottam Meadow (of course it is pitch black still, but I recheck it on the way back — in the light — and that is what it is).

I, um, get a little lost at the Mercury Mine too, and I end up running down the road to mine itself, rather than taking the high road that skirts it. But when the road dead ends my mistake becomes apparent, and I run back up the hill a little way and find the junction which I missed before.

It has taken me two hours (and some seconds) to get here and I’ve gone almost 11 miles. It’s about 5:30 and it’s still pitch black.

Moon and DarknessA little before 6 I see a crescent moon rising over the hills ahead of me. My eye can see the hills underneath, and a bright crescent against a dimly lit (earth-light lit) rest of the moon. The camera has different ideas…

I’m currently running high above the riverbed/floodplain of the Santa Ynez river, so I have a good view of the moonrise and the coming dawn.

Moon CrescentTen minutes later I try again. This time with better effect. The hills are visible (as is my flashlight) and the moon is a crescent.

MoonCrescent2 MoonCrescent3

Now I head down into the canyon of the nameless stream the flows out of the Grotto, and the moon is lost to sight. I turn up Cold Spring trail and run the quarter mile to the Grotto. Last time I was here there were still a few Indian Paintbrush blooming at the waterfall, the last few of Castilleja minor for this year. Two are still here, and I peer at them in the dim light of pre-dawn. Yes, there’s a tiny bit of color left, and the top is still in bloom.

Time to turn around.

Brickellia-nevinii-plantBut a little further down Cold Spring there’s a Bricklebush that I’ve only recently identified. Not our common Bricklebush, but Nevin’s Bricklebush. I only know of three plants, so whenever I get close to one I like to check it’s status. So I go a tenth of a mile out of my way (this time down the canyon), and there it is. Still blooming.

It is now light enough that I can see the trail, and I turn off my flashlight.

Then back to the trail to the mine, and out of the canyon.

While I’ve been down there a fog has come out of nowhere and is covering up the dawn. In the next hour or two the fog will become more pronounced, and lower, until I’m running through it by the time I’m back at the mine.

ThreadleafRagwortI can now see all the blooms I missed on the way out. I’m seeing a fair number of flacid senecios (rather an unfortunate name, I feel). I was down this way about two weeks ago and didn’t notice any, but today they seem fairly common.

I trot along past the various landslides and wonder how on earth I got past these in the dark? More to the point there are some bike tracks here on the trail. How did they do it?

CalSeedsA bit further on I spy some Calochortus seeds. I’ve actually gone looking for these lilies on this trail a couple of times over the summer and never seen them. But I’ve always turned back to the Grotto before I got this far and so have been disappointed. I’m guessing these are C. fimgriatus (though there are a couple other species with this seedpod shape, still the plant size and habitat are right for C. f.). That’s good to see. There are only about 7 plants here now. I’ll have to return here next July (I hope it’s cool then…)

CalClavSeedsFive minutes later I find a very large patch of C. clavatus seedpods. This is a much bigger surprise; I really hadn’t expected to find that species anywhere near here. I’ll have to come back in May… And 10 minutes after that I find another (but smaller) patch of them. I guess they are more common than I had imagined.

I start calculating how long it will take before I see Luis’s party. Somewhere around the dam I guess… They started at 7, but didn’t have to run from Lower Oso (at least I hope they didn’t).

There’s a outlook point here, right above the Mercury Mine, and whenever I pass it I stop and look at Gibraltar Reservoir — the upper reaches anyway. It’s shrouded in mist, but even so it is clear that no water is visible at all. The lake floor is covered with shrubs. It’s been dry a long time here.

Ten minutes down the road I finally do see some water.

Then I hear voices, and turning a corner find Karen, Heidi and Andreas. But no Luis. Ah. They started at 6 (and the gate was open for them, lucky people). I tell them where I stashed my water (in case they go there). I realize that I seem to have plenty of water still. It’s a cool day, and now it’s misty. Less need for liquid. I’ve completely forgotten to worry about it.

We say our good-byes and go our separate ways.

I slowly climb out of the reservoir basin, and then back down toward the dam. I hear voices again, but I can’t see anyone. Oh well.

About 5 minutes later, down in the canyon below the dam I meet the first of Luis’s party, and then Luis himself. He wants to know if anyone else started early, so I tell him about the others.

GibDamA large group is running with Luis, but there are some stragglers. I pass Simone and some others (my glasses are fogged up and it’s hard to recognize people). I turn back to chat, and as I do I see the dam. I couldn’t see it in the darkness on the way down. It’s impressive. When I reach the top of the saddle there is an even better view, looking down from above you can see there is water behind the dam. Still. Some.

Now I need to find the turn-off for the trail (now that it is light, I’d like to run down it). I didn’t notice this end of it on the way out… Anyway as long as I can see the tracks of Luis’s party I know that I haven’t passed it. And here there are footprints spread all across the road. New prints too, the sand is speckled with mizzle and the footprints have disturbed it.

Eventually I find the trail, and plunge downhill to Red Rock and Paradise Rd.

Lots of cars here now, but not mine. I’ve got another 4.5 miles to run.

On I go.

After about two miles I can see a bit of blue sky. I’m still under clouds, but the mountains across the way are in sun. It’s nice to see the sky, but I fear that means it will heat up soon…

A couple of trails hit the road along here. I knew about the Mattias Connector, but now I also see where the Camuesa Connector comes in. A bit later, at the final stream crossing, a trail takes off to the left and heads down through the river bed. Lucky it’s dry. I’m pretty sure this is more of the Camuesa Connector and that it will take me back to Lower Oso. So I head out into the unknown. There are only two more miles or so…

The sun is out now, and it is getting hot.

The trail is a bit difficult to run on. It is alternately sandy and rocky. But it’s kind of fun to see what is growing inside the riverbed.

The great grey-green, greasy Santa Ynez River, all set about with sycamore-trees.

The great grey-green, greasy Santa Ynez River, all set about with sycamore-trees.

There isn’t just one trail here, as I had thought, there seems to be a maze of twisty little trails all alike. Still I guess that if I keep picking one going downstream I’ll be OK.

I cross Arroyo Burro Rd. now. Only about 3/4 mile to go now. Google Maps gets this trail wrong. They claim it stops here (among other problems). But it doesn’t stop it keeps going.

I pass a family out horseback riding.

Mmm. Maybe the maze of twisty little trails isn’t quite as easy to get out of as I hoped. I’m on the wrong side (south side) of the river now and climbing the bank away from it. Oh dear. As I recall the hint was “Don’t go west”, and I’m going west.

So I head north at the next intersection. And north again. And eventually I cross the river, and climb up the north bank, and am 50 feet from my car.

¹If mid-summer’s day is on the summer solstice, then surely mid-autumn’s day is on the autumnal equinox.

Kingsnake Predation

August 28, 2014

Posted on EdHat

Two weeks ago someone running Nine Trails found a king snake eating a rattler on the route.

Today, as I was running up Jesusita I passed Heidi and Brett and others coming down. They told me to watch for a King Snake eating a lizard further up the trail.

Taken by Heidi Heitkamp at ~5:30AM.

Taken by Heidi Heitkamp at ~5:30AM.

Sure enough, right before the trail gets really steep, right in the middle of the trail was a small king snake eating a western fence lizard. But I didn’t have a camera. I debated turning around to get a camera, but instead kept going — there was a flower I wanted to see further up.

I found my flower and turned back, but I ran a little faster than I usually do. When I got back to the steep spot the snake was exactly where I’d seen it before and seemed to have made no progress on eating the lizard. It appeared stuck on the front legs.

I wondered if the snake could actually eat it? The lizard appeared bigger around than the snake, and the legs were even bigger…

Predation events are rare…

Anyway it seemed that the snake wasn’t going anywhere and I figured I might actually have a chance to get back home; grab camera; return. So I sped up. It took me 20 minutes to get back to the bike, 13 minutes to get home (downhill), 3 minutes to get the camera, 15 minutes to get back to the trailhead (uphill), 20 minutes to get back to the snake.

On the way down I passed a woman taking her dogs up the trail. Perhaps the dogs would disturb it.

On the way up it was starting to get hot. Perhaps the snake’s metabolism would speed up and it would finish and move away.

And when I got there it was gone.

I swore.

That was a long way to go for nothing.

Then I searched more carefully.

The snake had moved. It was not gone, but it was no longer in the middle of the trail, being instead some distance off to the side. Whew.



It’s not a large snake…


The only other time I can remember running back so far to get a camera was one day when I stumbled on two snails mating in Ranomafana (Madagascar). The snails there are enormous, about 3 inches long, but like all snails they are slow. I figured I’d have time to run back and return before they were done (In fact they seemed to spend more than 8 hours together — I kept checking them throughout the day.)

Helicophanta ibaraoensis mating Jan 1999

Helicophanta ibaraoensis mating Jan 1999

Rounding errors in Running Foods

August 26, 2014

Rusty gave me a enormous bag of cliff blocks the other day, so I’ve been eating those on long trail runs rather than GU gels as I usually do. I think it takes me longer to get nauseous when eating these blocks than when eating gels. I also seem to notice that I am hungrier when eating the blocks than when eating gels. This might be part of not being nauseous (if I’m nauseous then I don’t notice hunger, and if I’m not then I do; or maybe I don’t feel nauseous so I run harder and get hungrier?). Or maybe the blocks and the gels have a different number of Calories?

So I came home and checked. The blocks are said to have 100 Calories/serving of 3 blocks, and the GU gels claim 100 Calories/serving of one packet. That was what I thought. So I should be consuming at the same rate…

But then I looked a little closer. A “Mountain Berry Cliff Block” is said to have: No Fat, No Protein and 24g Carbs. A “Salted Watermelon GU gel” is said to have: No Fat, No Protein and 22g Carbs. Now Carbohydrates burn at at rate of about 3.8 Calories/gram.
3.81*24=91.5 Calories/3block serving
3.81*22=83.8 Calories/gel serving
So you’d think I’d get more hungry from eating GU than blocks? But I don’t…

Ah! Not all GU flavors are the same. “Chocolate Outrage GU” has 15Cal from Fat, No Protein and 21g Carb=80Cal. So that one has 95 Calories/serving.

Flavor Cal Fat Cal Carbs Tot Cal Claimed
Salted Watermelon GU 0 84 84 100
Chocolate Outrage GU 15 80 95 100
Salted Caramel GU 0 84 84 100
Strawberry Banana GU 0 95 95 100
Peanut Butter GU 15 76 91 100
Mountain Berry Cliff 0 92 92 100
Chocolate Cherry Cliff 0 88 88 100
Citrus Cliff 0 92 92 100
Margarita Cliff 0 92 92 100
Mountain Huckle Hammer Gel 0 84 84 90
Orange Hammer Gel 0 80 80 90
Raspberry Gel 0 80 80 90
Apple-Cinanamon Hammer Gel 0 88 88 90

Those were all the flavors I had on hand to test. And, of course, I have no idea how accurate the carbohydrate/fat readings are. Could there be something else in these concoctions which would increase the Calorie content? (Alcohol is the only other thing I know of that can be metabolized but there are probably others, and I guess it doesn’t need to be metabolizeable to count toward the Calorie content).

Still it does seem to me that there is likely to be significant error in the Calorie labeling of these products.

Different carbohydrates have slightly different heats of combustion in a bomb calorimeter.

Glucose 3.81 Cal/gram
Fructose 3.79 Cal/gram
Sucrose 3.94 Cal/gram

However maltodextrin (the primary component of GU, and a component in cliff blocks) is a variable length polysaccharide, so heat of combustion is going to be variable too. At any rate I can’t find any data for it. I used 3.81 as a factor in my calculations above (but even had I used 3.94 none of the totals would reach 100 Calories).

Now within the body the energy currency is glucose so all carbohydrates are converted to glucose before being used. Within the cell the energy currency is ATP and one mole of glucose is converted into theoretically 38 (but in the real world about 30~32) ATP molecules. In the theoretical case only about 50% of the glucose energy is captured in ATP (in the real world it’s even less).

To use a molecule of fructose it must first be converted to glucose which takes up 2ATP molecules, so fructose is less efficient.

To use a molecule of sucrose it must first be broken into a glucose and a fructose (the energy released in this break down is too small to make an ATP molecule — I think). Then the two simple sugars would be oxidized as above. So the efficiency here is again slightly less than 50%.

Nine Trails by Night

August 16, 2014

Nine Trails started out as Patsy Dorsey’s training route for long ultras. Then she turned it into a race, and that first race was run in 1991, the year before I moved to town. So it’s been in the background of my mind since I moved here. But I’ve never run it. At first I didn’t race, but Nine Trails has always been the week-end after Thanksgiving — and I went back East for Thanksgiving. One year I persuaded my parents to allow me to skip the family party so I could do the race — but I got injured and went back to them anyway.

Nine Trails starts at the flagpole of Cater Water treatment plant, goes up San Roque road for about 100ft and then heads off onto Jesusita trail, up to Inspiration and down to Tunnel trail. Up Tunnel trail to the Rattlesnake connector, and down that to the Rattlesnake meadow. Up Rattlesnake trail to Gibraltar Rd. and down that to the west fork of Cold Spring. Down the west fork to the east fork, and up that to the Hot Springs connector. Out the connector, past the hot springs and the old hotel site to the Edison catway that leads to San Ysidro trail. Then up The Wall, a very steep catway, and down Buena Vista connector to Buena Vista trail. Up the trail to the Romero catway, out that to the Romero connector, down that to Romero trail, and finally down the trail to the trailhead. At which point we turn round and run the whole thing back to the start. About 35 miles total they say…

Nine Trails Map

In 1994 the west fork of Cold Spring was washed out by the flood and the race was not held until 1997 when west fork trail was finally rebuilt. In 2008 the Tea Fire happened two weeks before the race (and made the trails unusable) and in a mad scramble Luis moved it to Ojai at the last minute. In 2009 the Jesusita Fire burned most of the rest of the trails and Luis gave up and created Red Rock to replace Nine Trails. In 2012 and 2013 he has organized fun runs along the course in August, and this year he announced he was going to put on the race again — but in August.

Now I think running on our trails in August is too hot. So when he made his announcement I suggested a night run instead. Of course by the time I learned about the race it was far too late for Luis to change his plans. But it occurred to me that there was no reason I couldn’t do the run on my own. At night. I am hoping to do a night race next May, so it would be good training. I wouldn’t need much support, just a couple of water bottles hidden in the bushes.

I tried to persuade others to join me, but no one seemed to want to. Some wanted to race, others were worried about running in the dark (and most, of course, had no interest in Nine Trails in the first place). Ah well.

When August finally arrived it turned out to be relatively cool with nice early morning fogs. I was tempted to run the race after all. Of course the fog doesn’t reach as high as the trails, and if it’s the high 70s in town it’s probably high 80s on the trails. And that would be hotter than I’d like (even though not as hot as I feared).

The moon would rise at 11:10pm on the night before the race, and it would be waning gibbous so there would be some light out there once it got above the mountains. I decided to start at midnight. Civil twilight starts at 5:54am. So I need to be prepared for ~6 hours of darkness.

Thursday night (30 hours before my start time) I placed a gallon jug of water at the hairpin on Gibraltar, and another at the Romero turnaround (hidden in the bushes, of course).

That night I had a strange dream. I was trying to drive my parents to the Earthling bookstore (long closed now) through a snow storm (never happens in SB) and somehow I got lost when crossing the river (there isn’t one in SB). I ended up wandering in a part of the city I’d never seen before. I hoped that didn’t mean I’d get lost on the trails. I used to do them in the dark when I hiked with the Sierra Club. This would just be longer… and later… and just me.


  • Getting Lost — not unlikely, but I’d probably realize it fairly quickly and find myself again
  • Falling — possible. At worst I’d have a broken leg and be unable to run, but of course a whole bunch of people would be running those same trails in a few hours. This would be the best time to do that.
  • Mountain Lion — Highly unlikely, I’m not going to worry about it.

    (However someone else saw a lion at Romero just a few hours before I ran)

I had no idea how long it would take me. I had run from Romero to Cater in ~3:25 so I figured that if I were racing in the daylight then a 7 hour run was conceivable but highly unlikely, while shooting for 7:30 would perhaps be reasonable. But by night? with no one to run against? Getting lost? Fumbling for waterbottles in the dark? I’d be lucky to break 8 hours.

Well I’d see…

I tried to sleep from 2pm until 10. Not very successfully, but I did rest even if I didn’t sleep much.

It was about 60°F when I set off from home at ~11:30pm. I had a couple of long sleeve shirts with me in case it got chilly and a cap in case it got sunny in the morning.

In the dead vast and middle of the night,

Am thus encount’red. A figure like myself

Cloth’d at all points exactly, cap-a-pie,

Appears before you, and with solemn run

Goes fast and stately by.

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

Cater flagpole, about midnight. (I thought flags came down at sunset?)

I got to the trailhead a little before midnight, but I spent some time frumphering around with my gear and locking the bike so I actually started at 12:04am. And I had to trot down the tenth of a mile to the flagpole. In the real race this time on the road means the fast people get to pull ahead of the slower ones so they don’t have to pass on the single-track. But it’s part of the course even if I have no one to pass (or be passed by).

So many people had told me that they were worried about my running in the dark that I was actually starting to worry myself — not about anything particular, but more that I was overlooking something.

But when I started it just felt natural and all my worries vanished. The only real concern I had had was that my light would not be bright enough and I’d slip and fall. But my light was actually quite bright (125 lumens) and I did not feel that my foot placement was a problem (it wasn’t quite so bright when looking ahead and I did once charge off on a side-trail when the main trail bent sharply, but I quickly realized something was wrong and backtracked 10ft).

The insects were singing nicely with their legs (or wings, or whatever) and I was surrounded with their quiet chirping (until it started to get light).

My light was quite bright, right in front of my feet, but several times I felt myself wondering where exactly I was on the trail. I know that trail backwards and forwards and can usually tell precisely where I am on it. But this evening I kept finding myself disoriented until one of my usual landmarks came into view.

I had expected that I might perhaps run faster because I wouldn’t be distracted by flowers, but I found I was. I kept looking for them in places I expected them and sometimes I would see them, and sometimes I would not. I’ve only recently started wondering about at what times of day the various flowers bloom. I now know for instance that Clematis blooms at night. On the other hand Coastal Morning Glory folds up its flowers and doesn’t open them up again until about 5 (which is still well before twilight). But the flowers were certainly less distracting than usual.

Goleta At NightAs I climbed up above the traverse there were some nice views of the city of Goleta all lit up. But I couldn’t hold the camera still enough, and after this one attempt I decided it would be pointless to try more pictures until the sun came up. Yet another distraction gone.

I was glad to see that Luis had routed the race onto the trail rather than the catway/fireroad. That’s where it’s supposed to go.

I got up to Inspiration in 43 minutes. Not fast, but not slow either. It seemed like a reasonable pace when these 3.4 miles are the start of something 10 times longer…

There were some nice views of the SB city lights here, but I would have needed a tripod. I’d vaguely thought I might get a shot of the gibbous moon rising over the ocean, but that happens in the winter (or maybe never up here). The moon was too far north, over the mountains.

Then down the other side. If it had been lighter, and I’d had someone to run with I’d have gone down this bit faster. I’m not sure which effect would be more important — light or company.

Up Tunnel. I do my first walking up some of the more technical rockfaces. When I get up to the flat section I look down on the lights of SB spread out below me. This is probably the best place on 9T to see that. Maybe someday I’ll climb up with a tripod and good camera at midnight…

I’ve been eating 3 Cliff blocks every half-hour (Cliff gave Joe gave Rusty gave me an enormous back of blocks the other day, so I figure why not use some up today). At the one hour mark I was planning to take a salt tablet, but I can’t find the salt tablets in their pocket. I know I put them in, but there’s a bunch of other stuff in there too which is hiding them. Oh well, when I get to the hairpin I’ll need to stop to refill my water and I’ll find them then.

Rusty warned me that he thought going down the Rattlesnake connector would be bad at night, but it turns out to be fairly easy. Perhaps because I can’t see far in front of me and so don’t worry. Perhaps because when he last did it the trail was full of star thistle or something.

When I get down to the meadow it’s time for more food, and I decide to take a salty GU instead. I feel nauseous almost at once. Hmm. I wonder if GUs have been causing my nausea in the past? Could it be that switching to blocks would solve all my problems (Sadly, no, I learn later).

Up Rattlesnake and then pounding down Gibraltar. I thought I might try turning off my light once I got to the road and just run with the moon. But the moon is very dim compared to the light and I don’t feel safe. So on goes the light again.

As I approach the hairpin I see there’s quite a collection of vehicles already here. And a camper and a large pickup truck, and the aid station tent is all set up. As I come nearer I realize there is someone standing in the aid station just looking at me. He (or she) doesn’t move. It’s kind of creepy. As I get even nearer I realize it’s a skeleton, and that gives me a start. And then I remember Luis’s habit of placing a skeleton on the Born to Run course. It’s never bothered me there, but then I’ve never approached it in the dead of night before.

A dog from within the camper starts to bark, and I quickly run past so as not to wake any sleepers. The dog quiets.

Now somewhere off to the left here, I hid a gallon of water. There’s my marker tree. I click my watch and remove the camelback and start to search. (My watch says that I got here in just under 2 hours, and this is as close to 1/4 of the course as can be, so I’m on track for an 8 hour run). But I can’t find my bottle. I run down into the brush and rummage around down there. I start to get quite worried. Finally I give up. It’s gone. I still have some water left, I’ll fill up at Romero. Then it occurs to me to look on the other of my marker tree. And there it is. Yay!

I fill up my camelback, find my salt tablets (take 2), hide the bottle again (but in a much more obvious place — no one else will come by before I return). Oh, and I can leave my cap here too. I haven’t needed it so far, and shan’t until the sun comes up high enough to reach the trail. And onward.

That whole process took just under 5 minutes. I guess that’s one advantage of a real aid station — you don’t need to look for your water bottle’s hiding spot.

Onward and downward. When I ran this with Gene and Tyler the other week we just bombed down this trail. It takes me about two minutes longer to get to the bottom than it did then (and we were running in the dark that morning too), so I’m thinking that I respond more to company than to light. Of course they’d both be ~30 minutes in front of me if I had done the race so I won’t have had them to chase anyway…

Then up Cold Spring east fork. Somehow I miss the turn at the final stream crossing. I guess there’s a (short) trail that just goes straight ahead, which I usually don’t notice because I see the rocks in the stream, but tonight my puddle of light doesn’t extend to the rocks and I just see the trail continuing — until 10 feet later it doesn’t. Hunh? Oh. I go back, and find the normal route.

Up to the Hot Springs Connector. And now for the first time I can see out east to — well probably — to Summerland. SB and Goleta have been crystal clear with no sign of fog, but there is a haze gathering over these lights.

Down to the catway/fireroad. Occasionally the road twists enough that I see the lights of SB, still clear of fog.

And then The Wall. This is a really steep, half-mile section of catway. It can be a killer. But tonight it doesn’t seem that bad. Oh, I have to work at it, but I keep running and don’t feel too tired. Maybe it’s an advantage that I can only see a small circle of light right in front of me, and not the wall of road rising steeply up into the distance. I don’t get downhearted.

Down and up Buena Vista. Along the Romero catway to the Romero Connector, then down Romero Trail to the gate. This is the turnaround and again, just under two hours. And there is Cynthia. She said she actually wanted to drive here at ~4am and wait here till I showed up. I tried to dissuade her (I wouldn’t want to do that and I didn’t think she should have to either). But she did it anyway. Then she found a weasel to watch (I’ve never seen a weasel) which wanted to watch her, and the two of them entertained each other.

Somewhere off in the bushes I stashed another gallon of water. But it isn’t where I remember putting it. I crash around. Still nothing. I wander around again. Eventually I give up. I have some water, I just need to ration it. I’ll make it to the hairpin where I do have water (And boy am I glad I found that one).

Bye to Cynthia and off I go.

(I went back the next day to look for the bottle — to avoid littering — but I couldn’t find it in the daylight either)

Back over the trails I’ve just run. But the catway feels very steep in this direction and I have to walk it. I walk fast, of course, but it’s still slower than running. I’m not pleased about this.

But the steep bit ends and I run down to Buena Vista, and up Buena Vista Connector and down The Wall.

And then the Catway to Hot Springs gets steep, and I’m walking again. This has a much longer steep section. It occurs to me that I’m getting hungry, perhaps 3 blocks/half-hour isn’t enough. I eat another. After a bit I’m eating two blocks every ten minutes or so.

Halfway up Hot Springs I run out of water. I’ve still got about an hour to go. I’m walking up bits of Hot Springs too.

I remind myself that every mouthful of carbs (blocks) turns into ~half a mouthful of water after it has been metabolized. Can I eat myself unthirsty?


Then down Cold Spring and up the West Fork (I keep eating). I think eating all those blocks has helped. I run up the West Fork. But I’m getting very thirsty.

My light dims. This happens when the battery has only 10% of its juice left and it switches to a low power mode. But I realize that I don’t need it much. It’s starting to get light enough to see without it. But not quite completely, but I don’t need full strength.

TwilightThen I cross the west fork of the creek and start to climb out of the canyon, and as I do, I see the first signs of the sunrise. There’s a little color over the ocean off east. I turn off my light.

TwilightAs I climb higher the views get better.

And when I reach the top of the trail there’s my water, and my cap and good heavens Cynthia (This time she is watching bats, which I do see). I fill up my camelback. She offers to take back what I don’t need. Well I shan’t need the near empty waterbottle. Nor these two long-sleeve shirts, nor the light. I probably won’t use the cap either. But I don’t give her the waterbottle quite yet, I drink most of what’s left in it. I’m thirsty.

SkeletonSomehow the skeleton doesn’t look as creepy now as it did in the dark… (the bats aren’t creepy either)

This quarter has been slow. I’m no longer on track to break 8 hours. All that walking. I should have started eating more earlier. Well, I’ve learned. It might also have helped if I had had more water.

I’m beginning to feel nauseous. I guess I drank too much too quickly. On the other hand this is the first time I’ve felt nausea from drinking water. Maybe my normal nausea is catching up with me? I hope not. It’s worth trying to do another cool run again, only without misplacing a water bottle…

I am able to eat, just not as much as I would like. I had hoped that this final quarter would be my fastest (because it’s mostly downhill and I don’t need to hold anything in reserve, and I have run it fast before). But that’s not going to happen today. I’m able to get back to my 8 hour pace, but that’s not fast enough to make up for the extra 16 minutes on the last section.

It’s now after 6, so the real race has started. I’ve been wondering where I’ll meet the first runners. I’m guessing near the junction of Rattlesnake and Tunnel. Maybe on the Rattlesnake Connector itself (though I hope not, it twists so much that if someone comes bombing down that trail there won’t be time to get out the way). I keep my eyes and ears open as I go up the connector, but I see no one.

Just down from the Connector on Tunnel I do see someone, but he’s hiking, not running. Not him. But he’s the first person (except Cynthia) I’ve seen since I started my run.

And then I see Nash, he’s sitting on a rock waiting for the race to pass. Not him either.

And two more hikers. Not them.

Finally about halfway down Tunnel I see a guy, head down, pounding up the trail. I can’t see his face, nor guess who it is, but he’s clearly the first runner. A little way behind him comes Tyler, walking easily. And then more and more. When I get to the bottom of Tunnel, the flood has turned back into the occasional trickle.

Jesusita FogUp to Inspiration. I plod along, running, but not fast. Not fast enough. Although Inspiration is bright and sunny, the city below is covered in fog. It looks as if it will be hot today (it got up to 85 in the city, and much hotter on the trails); I’m glad I started at midnight. I would probably have done much worse in the coming heat.

Flagpole MorningI try to sprint down the remaining 3.5 miles, but it’s not really a sprint. I’m not really sure where the finish line is. Is it the trailhead? or the flagpole? I’m hoping that when I get to the trailhead it will be obvious. But it isn’t. No one is around. There’s no indication anywhere. So I click my watch at the trailhead and again at the flagpole. It’s probably the flagpole.

Cater to Hairpin 1:54:24 + 4:45(looking for water)
Hairpin to Romero 1:50:23 + ~4:00(looking for water)
Romero to Hairpin 2:16:40 + 2:27(repacking)
Hairpin to Cater 1:58:33
Cater to Cater 8:10:50
Very Dirty Toes

Very Dirty Toes
Trail shoes are designed to “breath”. On a dusty trail they breath mostly dust


August 5, 2014

Methane is in the news at the moment for many reasons. Perhaps first is Obama’s plan to reduce CO2 output by 30% by 2030 by reducing coal consumption and increasing the use of natural gas at our power plants. When natural gas burns it produces about half the CO2 that coal does when it burns (for the same amount of heat/power output) so this seems like a big win. Unfortunately it has several problems:

  1. Natural gas is a gas. It leaks. It leaks everywhere. At wells, in pipelines, in processing facilities. No one knows how much it leaks. You might wonder why this matters, but over 100 years a given amount of natural gas will trap 20 times as much heat (cause 20 times as much global warming) as the equivalent amount of CO2. So seemingly small leaks can spell disasters. A recent article by Scientific American concludes that even if fully implemented Obama’s plan would not achieve its goal of a 30% reduction by 2030.
  2. Although we currently have a glut of natural gas that is likely to be temporary. Current projections say that shale gas production in the US will probably peak around 2015 (next year!) and decline steeply thereafter. Relying on it is stupid.
  3. Switching to natural gas will not be cheap. And that infrastructure will still be here in 20, 30, 40 years time. Unfortunately in 40 years time we cannot use it. Natural gas still produces far too much carbon. We need to get our carbon consumption down by more like 80% by 2050, and if we invest heavily in natural gas we will have a bunch of useless expensive junk in 40 years time.

A far better solution would have been to invest heavily in renewables, but that seems to be politically infeasible. Of course even reducing coal usage also seems politically infeasible so perhaps it would have been better to bite the bullet and try for something that might ultimately work…

Another interesting new story is about the recent discovery of mysterious new craters in the Siberian tundra. Three large craters have recently been found. The one which has been examined most closely was probably caused last summer (2013) when the underground methane hydrates heated up to the point where the methane came out of solution, expanded and exploded the ground above it. But there are only three craters, and that was last year.

At approximately the same time as that discovery a Swedish research vessel in the Arctic Ocean found plumes of methane gas bubbling up from 500m subsurface. This should not be happening in the Arctic, the water should be cold enough to trap the gas in hydrates. Even if it were happening the gas should be eaten by microbes before it reached the surface. But it appears that an underwater warm current is now melting the methane hydrates and releasing the gas.

One of the great imponderables (or “tipping points”) in climate sciences was if or when the methane hydrates in the tundra and oceans would release their methane. The problem is that there is an awful lot of methane trapped in these hydrates. Remember methane is a very potent greenhouse gas? The fear is that once methane starts leaking it will cause the earth to get warmer, which will cause more methane to leak, leading to a positive feedback loop where there is exponential heating as all the methane hydrates disappear.

The terrifying thing about passing a tipping point is that once passed there is absolutely nothing that can be done (on a human timescale) to return the world to its prior state. Even if we stopped burning any coal or oil or methane it would not be enough. If this is happening, we are screwed.

No one really knows how much hotter it will get. Nor how fast it will happen. The IPCC has not included this in their estimates.

But the process now seems to have begun. We will find out. Perhaps quickly (where “quickly” may mean decades or even years rather than the centuries that the IPCC has assumed we have).


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