Another Song of the Weather

November 24, 2015

January brings the drought
Dries the little forbs right out.

February’s blazing sun
Burns the leaves back into dun.

Welcome desiccating March
Come to help the garden parch.

April brings the sweet spring days
Blazing heat on golden rays.

Farmers fear unkindly May
Wind by night and sun by day.

June brings fog that doesn’t drip
Thirty days and not a sip.

In July the sun is hot
Is it shining?
Quite a lot.

August, hot and parched and dry,
Kills the crops under the sky.

Bleak September’s hot simoon
Is enough to make us swoon.

Then October adds a fire
Wind and ash and air that’s dire.

Bright November brings more wind
Dries the soil till I’m chagrined.

Blazing dry December, then…
Bloody January again!

(Obviously stolen from At the Drop of a Hat by Flanders and Swan)

Thirsty Cat

October 25, 2015

When the cat first came to live at my expense, he was under the impression that the best place to drink was the bathroom sink — next best was the kitchen sink (but it’s harder to jump that high). He completely ignored the water dish I put out for him beside his food — I gather that is fairly common behavior but it was new to me.

Over time we came to a compromise solution — the bathtub. Whenever I went into the bathroom that cat would run in with me and get under my feet and try to trip me before leaping into the bathtub and waiting expectantly under the faucet.

Of course I put a water dish under the faucet, but the cat usually ignores this and expects me to turn on the tap.

This works fine when I’m home, but when I go visit my parents my cat-sitter tells me he doesn’t drink enough.

Toilet Water BowlA few months ago a friend in pottery class built himself a small toilet into which he placed a pump and a motion detector. It was a cat water bowl — his cats enjoy drinking from the toilet rather than a bathtub.

Now I don’t have pumps lying around, so I just went out and bought a motion detector and recirculating water bowl.

I filled it up, set it going, brought the cat in to view it — and he ran away.

Well, I’ll give him some time to get used to it.

The Appalachian Trail — in Georgia

October 10, 2015

ome years ago my father announced that he was going to have to give up his goal of hiking all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia (in sections, not a through hike). He felt he was getting too old and his balance was not up to it. He said he only had one 5 mile section left to do, the one at the very start.

Hikers InnThe problem with the start of the Appalachian Trail is that you can’t get there by car. Before you start hiking the AT you must do an 8.3 mile hike just to reach the start. And that 8.3 mile hike was beyond him — to say nothing of the subsequent 5 miles, and somehow returning. He had checked out the Hiker’s Inn which is 4¼ miles from the start (and reachable by a 5 mile hike) but that still left him with a 2*9 mile hike on one day (my father does not like camping).

So he was giving up the idea.

But I (who had not been aware that this was a goal of his) thought that might make a neat goal for me. I intended to run it, of course. I wasn’t 90 yet, and I thought I could make it. It’s only about 75 miles, or 85 if you include the Approach Trail.

So I set out to do it.

No rush, but each time I visited my parents I’d do a section of the trail. Our house is maybe 15 miles from the center of the AT in Georgia, so I sort of worked my way out from the middle. Each section had to be done as an out and back stretch — I didn’t want to discommode anyone else by having a car at each end of a section — so in fact I’ve run all of the AT twice.

The closest highway access to the trail (for us) is at Hogpen/Tessnutee and Unicoi gaps so I ran the sections starting at them first. Then I ventured out to Neel’s Gap and Dick’s Creek Gap. Last Thanksgiving I ran from Dick’s Creek Gap to the NC border (at first being confused because Garmin Connect showed the wrong location for the border and suggested that I had not reached it).

This summer I ran from Woody Gap to Hightower Gap. But there I was stuck, like my father, with the start of the trail yet to do.

The problem is that from Woody Gap to Amicalola Falls (where the approach trail starts) is a ~29 mile stretch with no highway access. Now I could run 29 miles in a day… but that would require getting someone to drive me around and leave a car, and I didn’t want to do that. I had run from Woody Gap to Hightower, which meant that all I needed was to run from Amicalola to Hightower which was ~17 miles. Or 34 miles there and back. I’ve run that far in a day before, but not often and I didn’t want to do it unsupported in strange territory.

Of course there are dirt forest service roads that criss-cross the mountains, most of the mountain gaps have some sort of road crossing through them, but they are often in bad shape and I didn’t really want to drive them in a rental car with city suspension.

But my first cousin had hiked the AT from the start up into NC and he had managed to get up to the AT about a mile from the start at Springer Mountain.

This intrigued my father. He had not felt up to the 8 mile hike up to Springer from Amicalola, but felt he could manage a 1 mile hike to it. He still wouldn’t hike the entire trail, but at least he’d get to the start. But now he was worried about the state of the road (my father likes to worry).

So at the beginning of this visit I had ~17 miles of AT to do, and I wanted to scout out the trail and the road for my father.

I decided that I would make two expotitions. The first would start at Amicalola Falls and go up the Approach Trail to the start at Springer, and then continue on the .9 miles to the forest service road to make sure I would recognize it when I drove up the road.

The second expotition was to drive up the road to that spot, park, and run out to Hightower Gap and return. I know it sounds simple. Just drive up the road. The problem is that the roads are often unmarked (or if they are marked have a different name from what is on the map), and the maps show roads that aren’t there (or aren’t visible) and don’t always show roads that are there (but might actually be someone’s long driveway if I really knew the area).

So you can’t look for road signs, and you can’t count turnings.

I expected to get lost.

And I did, but not very.

The road was in worse shape than I had hoped. So on my return journey I looked at a map posted on a sign at the parking area up there (foolish me, I had not brought a map of my own), and saw a road that claimed to reach Ga. 60, a road I knew. So I set out on it. The map had not said how far it was to 60, and although the road was in good condition, it was also much longer than the route I’d taken up. So I reverted to that first choice when I described it to my father.

Sadly, when the day came, my father was not feeling up to it. So I wasn’t able to take him. And then the next day it was raining.

Perhaps on my next visit…

But in the process of scouting for my father I had managed to complete my goal and I ran the last sections of the AT I needed.

ATstartThe Appalachian Trail used to start at Mt. Oglethorpe, but in the 1958 this start was deemed to commercial, and the official start was moved to Springer Mountain. But 8 miles of the original trail remains and has become the AT Approach Trail. Behind the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center is a gate that informs you it is 2,108.5 miles to Mt Katahoin, Maine.

175 stepsAs the name implies Amicalola Falls State Park is the home to a waterfall, and the Approach trail climbs towards this. After a bit it stops being a conventional “trail” and becomes a set of steps. The sign reminded me of various signs in London Underground stations which warn you that there are “320 stairs to climb and only people in good health should attempt this. Otherwise use the lifts.”

There are no lifts at Amicalola Falls.

Amicalola Amicalola


The falls are spectacular though.

425stepsOnce you reach the base of the falls you are treated to even more steps to take you up to the top.

You can’t see the falls from the top. But there is a nice view of the valley below.Amicalola

And here the trail turns back into a trail. It heads off away from the state park and into the woods.

Back at my parents’ house there isn’t much in the way of fall color yet, but here, at a slightly higher altitude the leaves appear to be turning…

East coast trails are marked with blazes on the trees along the route, usually painted but sometimes nailed on. The Appalachian Trail is marked with a white rectangular blaze, and the various spur trails to it are marked with blue blazes. The trail to the hiker’s inn here is marked with a yellow rectangular blaze. That’s a new one to me, I had previously thought that “yellow blazes” was a euphemism for the highway (the dashed yellow lines that divide the lanes) and have only heard “yellow blazing” as a derogatory term to mean someone who hitch-hiked to skip difficult sections of the trail. A little further along I found the Breton MacKaye Trail which was marked with white diamond blazes.
The approach trail is considered a spur and is marked with blue blazes.

GentianA little further up the trail I find my first gentian. I think this is Sampson’s Snakeroot (Gentiana villosa). I don’t see them often, but today they are quite common — I’m not usually here in October and I guess this is when they bloom. I’ve seen one in September, and my sister used to find them at Thanksgiving some times.

The odd thing about these flowers is they never seem to open, they are always closed buds. But today I watched as bumblebees flew to the flower, pulled the petals apart, wormed its way inside, wiggled around, and then came out again. Sometimes when it came out the flower remained open — perhaps this is a signal to other bees not to try pollinating this flower again.

Gentian-Bee1 Gentian-Bee2
Gentian-Bee3 Gentian-Bee4

Eventually I reach the top of Springer Mtn. There is no fancy gate here, just a plaque embedded into the rock.

Now I proceed along the AT.

After a little while I reach the road and there I find a large parking area and a big sign. So I now have a clear idea of where to deposit my father.

The next day I meander around the nameless dirt roads until I find the sign. And then I run out along the AT to Hightower Gap. I have now completed the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

This section of trail is not terribly interesting, but it does have a very nice waterfall about halfway along it.

One hundred miles of solitude

May 6, 2015

Many years later, I would remember when I dropped out of my first 100 mile race.

I have been reluctant to try really long races because of my tendency to become nauseous, but I’d had 3 good races in a row. Last year I had no problems on the Born to Run 50K, nor in the SB marathon (in spite of high heat), nor in this year’s Nine Trails race.

I thought maybe it was just a hydration issue. I hoped that running in the evening and through the night would make it go away. Perhaps if I’d drunk more I’d have been OK? Who knows. I thought I was drinking enough. Something went wrong on this race, early and badly.

Last year when Luis announced that B2R 100M would start at 6pm so the first bit of it ran through the night, I thought it might be a race I could do. It’s an easy course (for a 100, I mean). It comes back to the start every 10 miles, so it might be boring (but in the dark, who cares?), but it’s easy to provide everything I need. And… if the worst came to the worst I’d be back at my car and could just leave.

I looked at last year’s 50K race and tried to guess what I could do. I was fairly sure I could do a sub-8 hour 50M on that course. Wasn’t sure how to pace a 100M though, but I figured trying to start out at a 16 hour pace (9:36min/mile) and then gradually slowing as I tired seemed reasonable.

It turned out that I couldn’t hold 9:36 even for the first 20 miles (and last year I’d held 8:18 for ~31). I didn’t even feel nauseous then just slow. So something else was going on. I also think I trained badly, trying to do too much about a month before the race, I got really tired and really slow on my training runs, and I don’t think I completely recovered from that either.

Anyway. In the week before the race I tried to adjust my sleep schedule so that I went to bed later and later (in hopes that by Friday I’d be waking up at about 3pm)

“Its habit of getting up late you’ll agree
That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o’clock tea,
And dines on the following day.

I’m not sure that was a good idea either. On the one hand, I just felt tired during the week, but on the other sleepiness was not an issue during the run (at least the bit I did do) so maybe it did work after all. Dunno.

Over the course of the last year I’ve been experimenting with various foods that I thought might reduce nausea. I brought an ice-chest (not to keep things cold, just to keep wild animals from nibbling on my food while I was doing a 10 mile loop). Monica recommended tailwind. Melons and oranges have worked in the past. On Coyote Backbone, a quesadilla was the last thing I could eat. Blocks seemed to work better than gels for me. Cliff bars better than either, up to a point. So I brought 6 pre-peeled oranges, one cut-up honeydew. 12 quesadillas (one per lap plus two spares), more than enough cliff bars and blocks to see me through the race if I were only to subsist on me. Some gels (just in case). A bag of home made cookies. salt tablets. 2 gallons of water and a mug. It seemed like an enormous amount of food, but I hoped that if I had enough choice something would work.

And now I have to deal with all the uneaten food somehow.

I also brought four long-sleeved technical shirts (to put on as the evening got progressively cooler. Gloves (which I seem to have left somewhere on the course. Drat it). Two different caps, just in case. A wind breaker. A spare pair of shoes… Three bike lights (each is supposed to last 6 hours before needing a recharge).

Oh, and I brought a scale too, so I could see if I were losing too much water. I checked it before I started, but never again. Which was silly.

I resolved to visit the port-a-potties at the end of each lap. I did this, but it didn’t help. It wasn’t until about 5 minutes after I gave up that I had any desire to use one. By then it was far too late. Maybe I should stash an enema next time?

Sigh. Tilting at windmills.

The weather looked perfect. It had actually rained the day before (more in SB than Los Olivos though) and this brought the temperatures down, though it did not make the ground any softer. The rain had gone, leaving blustery weather with intermittent cloud cover.

Ken Hughes offered to pace me. I don’t see the point of pacers in an ultra. If I can’t motivate myself, no one is going to change my mind, I’ll just get angry with them. Besides I kind of like running alone.

We lined up. I didn’t pay too much attention to this, there were only 35 of us, but when the gun went off I found the person ahead of me was just walking, a novel concept, but understandable in a 100m race. So I had to dodge to get around her. I seemed to be in second place. The guy Luis said would win the race was ahead, but no one else was near. Then Kevin caught up. And we ran together for a bit. Kevin complained that we were going too fast, 7:30s. I felt, well, why not? we’ve got a nice easy bit of road here for about half a mile, a 7:30 pace for half a mile isn’t going to be a problem, we’ll slow when we get to the hill. Kevin said he planned to walk up the hill (but he didn’t when we eventually got to it).

I wondered where Brian Toro was. He’s faster than both Kevin or I. Kevin said he was being smart and not going out too fast — unlike us. Then someone else joined us (Ben Holmes, I later learned). This was my little clump for the next 15 miles. We kept parting and rejoining. I slowed when we got to the hill, but the others didn’t and soon I was alone.

Oh, the others weren’t far ahead, I could see them most of the time.
Brian Kevin Ben

I had never seen the ranch in the evening light before. A bit different from early morning…
B2R evening

After a bit we came to a closed gate. The others were far enough ahead that I didn’t notice how they navigated it. There was a road off to the right. I couldn’t remember a closed gate. I worrited for a bit, until I realized the gate was decorated with flagging tape. We were supposed to go through it. Still, it meant stopping, opening the gate, stepping through, closing, restarting. I don’t like wasting seconds in a race.

On the other side of the gate were horses. I guess that’s why the gate was closed this year.

I climbed the hill at mile 4 or 5 and half-way up met a couple walking their dog. Normally when I do B2R, the first people I pass are the slow 10M runners, but the only people on the course now were those doing the 200 mile race, who’ve been on it for a day already. It was kind of weird, at the starting line, when chatting with people to say “No, I’m only doing 100 miles, not 200.”

It turned out the dog was a bandit and didn’t have a bib.

At one point the group in front of me started a (small) cattle stampede with the cows running down the hill on the left to hide under the tree on the right. This was over when I reached them.
Cattle Stampeed

Then the course twists me back to the entrance road and the registration tent. Luis is there and asks me if the course is well enough marked, he’s been told it’s a bit sketchy. Seemed fine to me though. Of course I know lap 1 pretty well.

I’m running along the edge of the ranch, next to Figuroa Mtn Rd., then inward again to the second aid station. I don’t need anything so I run through it, and catch up with Kevin, Brian and Ben who are just leaving it. Kevin and I run together for a bit, and then Ben joins us.

Normally there are wildflowers on this race, but this year the only blooms I’ve seen are from purple sage. The drought has hit pretty hard.

Up a last hill, and the long downhill stretch to the start line again.

An 1:24 for the first lap. That’s slower than the first lap last year on the 50K. Might be about right for what I want this year (the first lap is shorter and easier than the second, closer to 9 miles than 10, while the second is closer to 11). Sigh. It’s hard to judge pace in a trail race when you essentially never run at the average pace…

At the start area, first Kevin, then Ben, Brian and finally I, peel off to our various cars and aid stations, but we regroup fairly quickly and start on lap 2.

I do have an ulterior motive for going fast. I want to do as much of lap 2 in the light as I can. Lap 2 is trickier, and I know it less well (the 50K does lap 1 twice and lap 2 once).

Up a hill and down to the second aid-station, and then out along a dry creek bed. There’s some mulefat blooming here, at least something is even though mulefat isn’t very impressive.

Then up another hill. And here I slow and lose Kevin, never to catch up to him again.

At the top of the hill we meet with Lap 1 briefly, and suddenly, behind me I hear footsteps catching up. There’s a 200miler zooming down the hill. He’s gone ~140 miles and I’ve gone ~14. And he’s running faster than I. Impressive.

(It doesn’t last though, he has to slow and I catch up with him again)

Then off the main road and on a smaller route, which eventually dwindles down into single track. There’s a peculiar thing hanging from a tree off to my right and I’m trying to figure out if it is a course marking or not when someone catches me up. It’s Ben. I have no idea how he got behind me, but now he’s ahead of me again. I realize later that the “peculiar thing” was a glow stick attached to a wind chime (why the wind chime you ask? I have no idea). At the moment there is too much light for the glow stick to glow, so it just looked odd. It is a trail marking, but not a turn indication as I had feared.

I’m on the look-out now for a pale-yellow mariposa lily (there was one here last year) but I see none. The trail is marked with yellow flags, and they catch at the corner of my eye and make me think I’m seeing something. For a moment…

The light is going now, but that’s OK, the rest of lap 2 isn’t tricky.
evening light
I turn on my flashlight as I plunge down the precipitous drop at the end of the ridge trail and head to the first aid-station where I ask them to fill my camelback. But the water just trickles out of their container and it seems to take forever, so I just get them to fill it enough to take me back to the main station.

Up dead cow hill. Hard to recognize anything in the dark. The glow sticks are glowing now.

The second lap took 1:48 hours. Well so much for any hope of an 8 hour 50M. The second lap is longer and trickier than the first, but not that much. I didn’t intend to slow that much, but I don’t feel I can go any faster. Things are not going well.

Also, and more worrying: I wasn’t able to finish the cliff bar I started. So this time I’m taking blocks.

Anyway, out on the first lap again. It’s dark. I see the occasional light ahead. My own light is so bright that only the brightest stars are visible. The moon is nearly new and isn’t up yet.

The people at the first aid station are looking bored and seem disappointed when I just run by.

The horses mill about when I run through them. The cattle are invisible.

When I’m at the bottom of the ~4 mile hill I hear a whoop! from above. It sounds like a Kevin whoop, and I whoop back.

At about mile 25 I pass Jon Zaid. He’s already done 125 miles of his 200. So we both have 75 miles to go, but he’s 5/8ths done when I’m only a quarter. And he’ll probably finish.

Somewhere around the second aid station I am once again passed by Ben Holmes. How does he keep getting behind me? And he zooms off into the distance again.

Every now I greet people on the course. I’m not sure what to say. I said “Good morning.” once by mistake. “Good night” isn’t really a greeting. It isn’t evening any more.

Third lap: 1:41. Considerably slower than the first.

I couldn’t finish the quesidilla I started the lap with, and didn’t even try the cliff blocks.

I start out on the fourth lap.

Near the second aid station I am again passed by Ben Holmes who says “I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you this evening.” I hope so, but I’m starting to doubt it. He disappears ahead. Haven’t seen Kevin or Brian in ages.

Someone passes me. I guess I’ve slowed a lot. The odd thing is how few people have passed me so far (except for Ben Holmes whom I’m no longer counting).

As I struggle along the ridgeline trail I know I’m not going to finish. I’d like to run until dawn at least so I can see the 50K start. After a while that seems a bit far-fetched. I’d like to finish 60M so I could at least say I’ve run a longer race than ever before. — Then I’d like to finish 50M… Or I could just stop at 40 when I get back to the start line…

I still don’t see a mariposa lily.

When I get to the first aid station the people there tell me how well I’m doing. I know they are trying to be encouraging, but I find this annoying. I’m not doing well. I’m ready to quit. Just because I’m still ahead of most people doesn’t mean I’ll stay there…

I try a cup of soup. This brings an immediate sense of nausea, but it fades and I feel I have more energy as I plow up dead cow hill, actually running (sometimes it is easier to run up a hill when you can’t see how steep it is). Maybe I can do 50M if I subsist on soup? Soup is not something I’ve experimented with on my training runs, too hard to carry.

Also… if I do one more lap then I can tell Stephanie at the second aid station that I’m dropping out. So at least one of my friends will know…

Fourth Lap: 2:30

I have another cup of soup at the aid station at the start. As I’m eating it two guys come in, they are cheerful and in much better shape than I. I head out before them, but with the nagging feeling that they’ll catch me soon.

It’s dark.

I come to the aid station and get another cup of soup. I tell them they won’t see me again, that I’m giving up after this lap. Then a wave of dizziness hits me, and I decide I’m not going any further. The quickest way back to the start is they way I have come. So I trudge back that way. One of the guys at the station sees me going the wrong way and tries to tell me where I should go. I know where I should go. But I can’t. I’m going back.

I don’t even try to run. It’s pretty cold. My hands are cold. I realize I’ve left my gloves somewhere. At the aid station? Did I take them off to hold the soup? A port-a-potty? I don’t know and they are gone and my hands are cold.

The walk back seems to take forever. I pass several groups. How odd. Other people run in clumps, I don’t. No one seems to notice I’m going the wrong way.

I’m not sure how to DNF. I need to tell someone. But whom? Everyone seemed to be asleep, except for the person running the aid station, and I’m pretty sure she’s not the right person to tell. I decide to pin my bib to the timing tent. But when I (finally) get there I find there is actually someone inside who is sort of awake. She tries to convince me not to give up. Grrrr. If there were any way I could go on I would, but everything has fallen apart.

I load up my car (sans gloves) and drive back to SB.

At least I got to go to the farmers’ market this morning…

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

May 4, 2015

I made the mistake of answering the telephone the other day.

It was my sister and I hadn’t spoken to her in ages. I told her that I was planning to run my first 100 mile race soon. Then she told my mother.

My mother doesn’t like me to run long distances. It worries her. I don’t understand her worry, and she doesn’t understand why I’d want to run. So I prefer to present her with faits accompli rather than let her worry about what might happen.

But I didn’t tell my sister not to talk to my mother… so when I next called my parents my mother let me know she was unhappy.

“You are old,” said my mom, “And your legs are too slight
For any course over an hour;
Yet you’re running a race through the dead of the night—
Can you see why I’m acting so dour?”

And it’s true that in some sense I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish. But that’s why I choose this particular race, one consisting of 10 mile loops, so I’ll be back at the start and able to go home whenever I want… It’s also an easy course…

Perhaps I should have mentioned that to my mother, it might have made a difference, instead I just changed the subject when I could.

The first chunk of the race will be in the dark and cool. I view the cool part as an advantage. My mother might view the dark part as a disadvantage. So I didn’t mention that either.

I don’t know what I’m doing. Last year I did a 50K race on the same loops in 4:12:18 which was an 8:15 pace for 30 miles. How much slower should I go? I don’t know. I’m thinking to try averaging a 9~10 minute place (starting out at 9 and slowing as the race continues).

I don’t know what I’m doing.

But one never does the first time one tries to do something.

Succumbed to a Cell-Phone

April 2, 2015

I have finally succumbed to the blandishments of the modern world and bought a cell-phone.

Not, I hasten to add, because I have any desire to talk to people, gracious no, this device has no service. Simply because I was tired of my point-and-shoot cameras dying after a year or two of use.

As I far as I can tell, the most common point of failure in my point-and-shoots has been the part where the servomotors extend the lens. Either when it is turned on, to focus, or to zoom. But a cell-phone’s camera has no external moving parts that rain or fog can corrode.

So I thought I’d try a cell-phone as a replacement. I did some research, no one seems to take cell-phone cameras very seriously, I couldn’t find any of the data I wanted (like quality of macro pictures). But the Samsung Galaxy S5 seemed to get vaguely good reviews, so I bought a used one — and that, a year after its release, was only slightly more than a good point and shoot.

It doesn’t take as good pictures.

I take pictures for two reasons, 1) to have a picture (this usually needs a good quality macro lens) and 2) to remind myself of what, when and where I saw something. I do a lot more of the second type than the first at the moment, and the cell-phone is adequate for that purpose.

But it is also a small portable computer. And I have ported my wildflower database program to the cell-phone now.

Phone Main View

The main display shows a list of all species I have seen, photographed and identified in SB county (with a little spill over into Ventura, Kern, LA, and SLO). Each species has a picture (which defaults to the flower but can be either plant, leaf or seed as well), a latin and common name, and a blooming period. Underneath the image are little calendars showing when I have seen it blooming in the past.

There are ways to restrict the species displayed. One could ask to see all yellow flowers that bloomed in April on Jesusita trail, for instance.

On the phone it’s rather squinchy, only about one species can be seen. It’s a bit better on a tablet, where there is some context around each species.

Seeing just a list of flowers becomes dull over time. The display is a bit more functional than that. First, and most important I can add a new sighting to the database

In fact I did that this morning in my run up Jesusita. I used my phone to add 93 sightings. It took about 2 hours to get to the top (which is very slow, so I need to speed up the workflow somehow), and crashed 4 times, but it didn’t lose any data. And that’s what is most important.

It can also show you where the plant can be found, either by drawing a map, or by giving you directions on how to get there.
Each of the little blue circles represents a location where the plant was seen. If you put your finger on one of them (or indeed anywhere on the map) you get the following display which will tell you how to get to that location from where you are now.

Once you start moving the big question mark will turn into an arrow showing you the direction you should be moving to get to the desired location.

Would anyone local be interested in having this installed on their android device? (doesn’t work on iPhones, and is still much under development, but it has some basic functionality now).

Nine Trails at last

March 29, 2015

Luis (the race director) moved Nine Trails from August to March because of the heat. And I figured a cool March race was one I could sign up for. So I did.

Forgetting that last year my March race was infernally hot.

Of course we had sundowners and a heat wave this week. Temperatures at my house were 92 two days before the race. I thought about doing another midnight run, but the weather people said the weekend would be cooler.

Not cool, but cooler.

The day before the race I volunteered to help mark trail. Luis gave me a 4.5 mile section to mark. Once I got there I realized that meant hiking 4.5 miles of mountainous trails to do the marking, and then 4.5 miles back to get out. Or a nine mile, strenuous hike the day before a 35 mile strenuous race. That didn’t seem wise, but it was too late to back out. I hiked slowly. As I got to the end I realized I could walk back on the road (rather than trail) which would be easier, and might be shorter. So I ended up only doing an 7.5 mile hike. It took about 3 hours, which meant that I had a late supper and wouldn’t get as much sleep as I wanted. Grump.

I left home around 5am and biked up to Cater to check in.

It was dark.

It seemed a small race. Only about 50 would finish.

Luis told us he was going to start early (and if anyone wasn’t here they could lump it) — this seemed a good idea to me, being frightened of the heat — but by the time he finished giving the course briefing, etc. we started about a minute late.

He also wanted to start at the wrong place, at the top of Cater, rather than the bottom. Oh well. The nine trails route has changed far more over the years due to trail washouts and reroutings, I guess 200ft doesn’t matter much…

When we did start, I glanced at my watch and found I had not reset it from my last effort. So I had to do that, before I started the watch. So my watch was about 10 seconds late.

There was a large pack of runners in front of me, more than I would have liked. Some were running without lights. Which seemed foolish to me. It was dark and would be for another half hour, the moon had long set, and Jesusita is in a tree shaded canyon. It really is dark there.

At one of the stream crossing there was a huge cottonwood down, and in the dark it was kind of hard to see how to get around it.

I bopped along behind some slower runners for a bit, and when the trail widened out I passed a few. And then a few more. And suddenly I realized I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me. Every now and then I’d see a flash of light up the trail, but mostly there was just me and the darkness.

I kind of like running alone in the dark.

Slowly I caught up with the light ahead, and then passed it.

A dim light crept over the world as I climbed up the switchbacks.

And as I popped out onto the fireroad I turned off my light. There is a guy ahead of me whom I don’t know, and then Kevin Cody.

We take the trail over to Inspiration, and then head down toward Tunnel trail. I leap around the guy ahead and zoom downhill. Kevin, however, zooms faster and I lose sight of him again.

I’ve been trying to drink frequently from my camelback, but even so I don’t need to refill with water at the Tunnel aid drop. Then up Tunnel. I see Kevin every now and then, but mostly it’s just me.

About half way up Tunnel I see sunlight shining on the top of some of the taller mountains, but I’m still in shadow.

Near the top of Tunnel someone catches up with me, and we run together for a while. But I know I’ll go slowly down Rattlesnake Connector so I tell him to go ahead, and he does. He’s far faster than I on that downhill.

Up the other side of Rattlesnake, and here I see Charity and Annie who are out doing a little run of their own. I say hi, and zip past. Not long afterward I hear someone else greeting them, so I know there is someone not far behind.

Then barreling down Gibraltar Rd. to the aid station. 1:46. Not bad. On track for a 7 hour run. Ha. I know I’ll slow down later on.

Gibraltar is, I think, the first time I’ve been in the sun.

As I pull out of the aid station the guy behind me pulls in.

I’ve been looking at poppies. On Tunnel trail at about 7am, in the shade the poppies were all furled into buds. But here at the top West Fork in full sun (getting hot) the poppies are in full bloom. Further down the canyon the poppies are only half open.

Poppies at the top of West Fork

Poppies at the top of West Fork

Down by the Cold Spring tunnel there is another downed tree. A large bay laurel. It doesn’t look too bad at first, but there are three separate trunks down (bay laurels do that) and it just gets worse and worse. I exclaim in disgust, but eventually I am through. Then I hear the guy behind me go through the same process.

He catches up and we run together. His name is Glenn, and he is from Atascadero. He ran the race last August, in the heat. Down at the bottom of the trail Nancy is ringing a bell to cheer us on, and then up the other side. Damn it. I shouldn’t be feeling this tired. But I am. I think yesterday’s 7.5 mile hike was a bad idea. As probably was the 10K last weekend which tightened up my calves… Glenn passes me.

Then down the Hot Spring connector and onto the fire road. I’m expecting this to be hot, but it really isn’t bad yet.

Then up the Wall. There are Globe Gilia blooming here. Never seen them here before.

On Buena Vista there is one area where there are about 3 albino figworts. Never seen them anywhere else, but they’ve been here pretty much every year since 2011 (at least, that’s as long as I’ve been checking. I missed them last year, but I think that was simply that I didn’t take Buena Vista trail at the right time)

I’m walking all the uphills now.

As I come up to the fireroad I wonder when I’ll start seeing returning runners. It’s only about 2~3 miles to the turn-around. The first guy is about a mile and a quarter out from the turn, and he is running up a steep uphill. Sigh. Brian isn’t far behind (hadn’t realized he was that fast) and is also running up. The next runner is a woman. I didn’t know there were any women in front of me, and impressed that she’s in third place.

I’m keeping track. I want to know what place I’m in. Once I get to Romero fireroad I’ve only seen 5 runners. Where is everyone? There are lots of people on the fireroad, but they aren’t racers, just obstacles. Most of them are kind obstacles and get out of the way. Finally I see a clump of racers, Kevin and Glenn and some others.

Once I get to the aid station I have counted 9 people ahead, so I’m 10th place. Lisa tries to talk to me, but I’m not coherent. 3:38. If only I could keep that up.

I try to eat up all their cut up oranges.

Then I’m out, and up Romero.

I see Stephanie about half a mile from the aid station. Which means she’s about 15 minutes behind me. (and the leaders were about 40 minutes ahead of me).

After another mile I see Jon and then Karen a bit later. There aren’t very many I know out today.

In this direction it is hot. I realize, this race is mostly in the morning (for me anyway). We start out running west to east, so that on the way out all the uphills are in the shade of the slope. Coming back all the uphills are in the sun. And that makes it hotter. I’m walking the uphills too, so I’m stuck there longer. These fireroads have no shade. And, of course, it is later in the day, so it is hotter.

There are two guys behind me. Chatting. How do they have the energy to chat? I don’t.

I’m continuing to be diligent on drinking water, and it may be helping. I haven’t had any bouts of nausea yet. I also haven’t wanted to use a toilet (and as there are no port-a-potties out, I suppose that is just as well). I guess I won’t see if that makes a difference in a race. However it is becoming more difficult to eat the food I brought. My mouth is getting dry, and that doesn’t help. Today I brought some home-made cookies, cliff bars and cliff shots. The cookies turned out to be too dry. I had one right at the beginning and it was just too difficult to get down. So I switched to cliff bars, now I’m switching to shots. Unfortunately I only brought enough shots for about two hours…

When I get to Buena Vista I see Luis, neat that he can run in his own race.

The two guys are still chatting behind me. Damn it, go away.

Out beyond San Ysidro I see Simone.

As I go along the fireroad I catch occasional glimpses of the guy ahead of me. He’s got a white cap and white shirt so I assume it is Kevin. The Hot Springs Connector brings some welcome shade. As I reach the top I see that the guy in front of me is right there (and isn’t Kevin). I pass him before we get back to the fireroad. So now I’m in ninth place.

It’s quite pleasant running down to the Cold Stream.

After I’ve been running down for a while I find running uphill really hard. Basically I can’t. I have to slow to a walk for a bit, and then after a bit I can start running again (if it isn’t too steep).

Drat. The guy behind me has almost caught up again. His name is Daniel. We are both exhausted. I explain to him why he should pass me, and he explains to me why I should stay in front. An odd kind of race.

Someone has cleared away most of the smaller branches from the fallen bay laurel and it is much easier to get past from this direction.

Then I pull away from him again. And now I start to see Kevin ahead.

When I pull into the Gibraltar aid station I find the lead woman is there (hunh? She was about half an hour ahead at the turn around, what’s she doing here?), Kevin is crashed out in a chair, and some other runner is also there. And Sean is here. Oh, but he’s part of the aid crew and fills up my water for me. They ask me what they can do for me. “Do you have any electrolytes?” “Yes” (pause) “Where are they?” “Oh, right here.”

5:56. Ok, I suppose there is some chance I could still break 8 hours, but I know I’m slowing and I really doubt it. Still we’ll see.

Daniel has come in to the aid station. The lead woman has left. And the runner I don’t recognize. And then I follow. By the time I’m out the lead woman has vanished, while the other runner is clearly visible. At first I assume I can catch him, because he’s walking, but I walk more slowly and he pulls away bit by bit. I never see the lead woman again.

Behind me Kevin and Daniel have also left and are walking up together. We must present a rather odd sight. A race, in which four people are slowly walking up a hill.

Kevin catches up and passes me.

Down Rattlesnake, and ahead of me Kevin pulls up. His adductors are spasming, he says. I almost catch up with him, but they aren’t spasming that badly and he takes off again. I catch up with him again, and he again takes off.

Up the connector. Hottest it has been, I think. Ahead of me I see Kevin stuck behind the nameless runner (who doesn’t seem to be letting him pass, which seems rude), while behind me Daniel is visible. I can’t even walk fast. I’m sure Daniel will catch me. But he doesn’t.

Finally I reach Tunnel (there’s a soapplant blooming here). Some shade and lots of tricky downhill.

I’ve run out of shot blocks, so I start on my dry cookies. I need something. They are hard to get down, so I only take small bites.

I figure that if I can get to the bottom of Tunnel by 7 hours then I have a chance to get to the finish in another hour (normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m tired).

I get to the bottom of Tunnel at 7:09.

There, at the aid station, I see Kevin again. I’m beginning to think this is some subtle form of torture on his part. He keeps letting me think I’m about to catch up… and then doesn’t let me.

Up to Inspiration. 7:29. OK, if I weren’t tired I could get back by 8:09, but 8:20 seems more likely.

I try to run quickly. But I’m really beat. The road goes ever on and on. Pursuing it with weary feet. As with Gloucester the even ground now seems “horrible steep.” It takes forever.

There are lots of obstacles here, but they are pretty good about getting out of the way. Still, when the obstacles are going in my direction I have to warn them, and simply shouting out “Good afternoon” leaves me very tired.

There are some steep little hills right at the end. I try to run up them but end up walking. Pride wants me to run up the last one where people will see me, but I walk up that too. People do see me. Lisa, Stuart. They all want to congratulate me. I just want to finish. Now I can run. 100ft down to the finish line.

8:12:44, 9th place. I never caught Kevin. But then Daniel never caught me.

I arrived at the finish line a happy, healthy man. I crawled away a decrepit wreck. I collapsed in a shady corner and didn’t move for another half hour. I started coughing (there was a lot of trail dust out there) and people got worried. I wasn’t worried. I just needed rest.

Daniel came in, and then Stephanie. But I didn’t move. Eventually, after sitting there for about 45 minutes I went over and congratulated Stephanie — but then I had to go and sit back down again.

Finally I felt recovered enough to roll down the hill to get a shower and some food.

It was faster than the run I did in the dark

Pros Cons
midnight Cool Can’t see well
Lost water bottle
today People to race
Good aid
Can’t get lost
fallen trees

Track work-outs

March 29, 2015

Rusty tells me that I’m not slowing down because I’m getting older, but because I no longer do track work-outs. I suppose not doing track work-outs probably has an effect, but I think aging is the bigger of the two myself.

Rusty thinks I could be a minute faster in the 10K if I just did some speed work, my own guess is more like 10 seconds.

I don’t do track workouts any more because I tend to get shin splints when I do them, but of course for a while I don’t.

Anyway two years ago I was doing workouts (I started around Christmas, as I recall), and I didn’t get injured until after Orchard to Ocean.

And two years ago I was about a minute faster.

But I was also two years younger.

Two years ago I ran at 80.8% and this year at 79.9%. Now at my current age 80.8% corresponds to a 39:35 10K. Or a difference of about 25 seconds. More than I thought. Less than Rusty did.

Getting Older…

March 22, 2015

I don’t seem interested in racing any more. Not the way I used to be. But every two years I do a 10K, so I forced myself to do Orchard to Ocean again.

I had looked at the age-graded tables and at 55 (almost 56) a 40 minute 10K is 80%. Now I’ve always thought that a 10K that took more than 40 minutes meant I wasn’t trying, and such a result just wasn’t respectable. Now I would be hard put to reach that limit. And might not.

No one I had talked to seemed to be running the race, and `that bothered me too. Perhaps I wouldn’t have anyone to run against, perhaps I wouldn’t even know anyone in the race.

But I went.

There were people I knew, Kim, Maggie, Stuart. And then a brace of Tims. But the Tims are too fast for me, and the others too slow.

I warmed up, jogging the 5K course and did some strides. I felt sluggish and stiff. But I always do…

Lief was there! We used to run together. But I never saw him after the start. He didn’t help me this day.

The course had an right-angled bend in it right at the start. Not what you want. But there were some massive road-blocks closing off the normal route. No idea why. Anyway I positioned myself so that the turn was less than it might have been. The Tims seemed to have come to the same conclusion and were beside me.

On the other side was Sue who tapped me on the shoulder and said “If I start beside you then I’ll be able to run as fast as you.” Poor Sue. I was not feeling fast.

A siren wailed and we were off. The turn wasn’t bad. I passed one of the Tims, that should have told me I was going too fast, but I didn’t pay attention. Down the road, across the tracks, and into the State Park. I’m running behind Scott, where’d he come from. That seems like a good place. After about 1/4 mile I glance down and see I’m running at a 6 minute pace. Once I could do that. Not now. I slow a bit.

A number of people pass me. Including two women.

At the one mile mark I see 6:17, which means I’m probably going at the right pace now, somewhere around 6:20~6:25.

As I run, someone yells “Go Shiggy!”. Shiggy is not ahead of me. No one would mistake me for Shiggy. So I presume he’s right behind me. Well, I won’t win my age-group this year.

Shiggy passes me. Oh, well, I knew he would.

There does seem to be a clump right here of people going about my pace there are 3 just in front (and who knows how many close behind). As we run up the hill to the bluffs I pass one guy. Now just Scott and Shiggy close ahead. I pass Shiggy. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

But it doesn’t last and he passes me back in half a mile.

My watch didn’t register the 2 mile mark when I tried to click it. Well, this bit is probably slow, it’s an uphill mile.

The three mile mark says 13:37. So 6:49? I know these two miles are uphill, but that seems really slow. The four mile mark says 6:04. So the three mile was probably in the wrong place. But now I’m confused about my pace.

Now it’s all downhill to the finish. I pass another guy. Shiggy is far out in front, Scott is out of sight. No one to race with any more.

At the 5 mile mark I glance at my watch and I see that the minutes are right for coming in around 40 (somehow my eyes can’t capture the whole time when I’m tired). At the 6 mile mark I’m running within seconds of a 4min/km pace.

I turn the final corner.

I look up to the clock. 39:47.

Can I make it?

Run, run, as hard as I can.



I enter the shoot and the clock reads 39:59. I’ve almost certainly failed to break 40.

40:01. The end of an era.

My best 10Ks by year
Year Time AG %
2007 37:02 80.9%
2009 38:08 79.8%
2011 38:28 80.5%
2013 38:56 80.8%
2015 40:01 79.9%

Blown and buffeted by the wind

December 27, 2014

Now one autumn morning when the wind had blown all the leaves off the trees in the night, and was trying to blow the branches off, Pooh and Piglet were sitting in the Thoughtful Spot and wondering.

The House at Pooh Corner — A. A. Milne

Every Christmas I like to go out for a long run. There tend to be very few people out on Christmas morning. Little traffic to get in the way. It’s a soothing time to run.

In the past I have run along the coast, up to Ellwood and back, but this year I decided to do another of my 50 mile trail run experiments.

I had initially planned to run Red Rock again (for consistency) but there was a mudslide all over Paradise Rd. and, while I could probably run through it now, I couldn’t bike or drive through it to leave water. So I decided to do a variant of the Blue Canyon Loop. I found one that was 25+ miles (so I’d do it twice), and I could leave water at Romero+Camino Cielo, Cold Spring+CC and have some in my car at Romero trailhead.

The days before Christmas had been hot (84°F), which would not make for good running. On Christmas Eve the forecast was for the next day to have a high of 67° (whew) but “winds 30-40mph, gusting up to 65”. Now if you know your Beaufort Scale that means “Gale force winds gusting up to Hurricane”

So that was going to be interesting.

But they were supposed to die down by noon.

The forecast didn’t say what would happen after noon…

I started at 4am. It was dark. And windy. I climbed up Romero Rd. sometimes the wind was in front of me, blowing me back, sometimes behind helping me up. There didn’t seem to be any sense to it. I guess the canyons twisted it around so it could come from any direction. Sometimes I was in wind shadow.

There was no moon (it was waxing crescent and had long since set). City lights down below and out to sea the oil islands lit up like Christmas trees.

“If I get lost, or injured, or blown away, it’s my own damn fault.”

As I reached Romero Saddle the wind became ferocious. I thought of my water jug hidden under a manzanita bush — but it was so cold in that wind, and the wind was so strong and I couldn’t imagine how I’d be able to put water in my pack in the dark with the wind… so I left it there. I hadn’t drunk much anyway.

The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed hours before he got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale among the tree-tops.

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

Piglet was comforted by this, and in a little while…

One nice thing about running in the chaparral is that there are no trees to fall on you.

So I wasn’t worried myself.

The trees are only to be found around the creeks, and I didn’t reach a creek until I was well below the ridge and out of the worst of the gale.

At one point I tried to adjust my camelback, and I needed both hands, and the flashlight got tilted up. And suddenly I found I had run into the cliff face on the side of the road. It was dirt, and I laughed at myself as I bounced off. After that I kept the light pointing in front of me.

It was still pitch black. But I knew I just had to run down until I got to the bridge over Blue Creek and then the trail was maybe 100yds after that. It had been a while since I last used the trailhead, but there is no other bridge on the road…

Eventually I found the bridge and, after a short search, the trail.

I’m not as familiar with the upper part of Blue Canyon trail as I am with the lower, and the dark didn’t help. I made a couple of attempts to run up the walls of the canyon but was never taken in for long.

When I got to the segment of Blue Canyon between Romero and Cottam it was almost light enough to see. I reached Cottam a little before 7 and it was full light (but the sun had yet to rise over the mountains so it was still shaded). I sat down at the picnic table there and got out my book and read for 15 minutes. It was a bit chilly, but I was out of the worst of the wind and still had all my layers on. It was OK.

Cottam Meadow (back on an October morning)

Cottam Meadow (back on an October morning)

I had been a little worried that I might stiffen up, but that didn’t really happen. It took a minute or two to warm up again, but no worse than has happened to me many times when I pause after a tempo run to wait for other people before continuing.

Just on the edge of the meadow I found
a bear print. Just one. Several days old I think (the ground wasn’t soft enough to take my prints today, though other people’s prints were there beside the bear’s). Anyway not worrying.

Cottam is the lowest point in the back country. It’s where Forbush Creek runs into Blue Creek. I’m now climbing up Forbush Canyon and there is water in it, as there was in Blue. I’ll have to go look for the confluence when I return to Cottam.

I catch my first glimpse of the sun.

I pass a sycamore with a few leaves that haven’t fallen yet, so I grab them. I think I will need them when I reach the pit toilet at Forbush.

There are lots and lots of Calochortus basal leaves poking out of the ground here. And all up Cold Spring trail too, when I get to it.

But as I climb up the back side of Cold Spring and out of Forbush I begin to feel the wind again. And it increases the higher I get.

I drain my camelback, and just before the top I replenish it from the water stash there.

As I cross Camino Cielo my cap blows off. I run after it and finally trap it. Luckily it did not blow all the way down to Montecito.

Then down Cold Spring. There’s a current blooming up here, and a silk tassel bush, and a few long-stem buckwheat. But not much. not much.

At one point a gust of wind blows me so strongly that it stops me dead in my tracks. When you walk you always have a foot on the ground so it’s easier to fight the wind, but each running pace contains a jump into the air when the wind can catch you and blow you backward.

A large Greenbark has fallen across the trail here, I guess the wind did it in (I was last up here last Friday, after the rains, and it was fine then)

TheTreesTrees are so rare in the chaparral that the one place they grow here is just known as “The Trees” and everyone understands it. There are two Eucalyptus growing about half-way down the trail. Today the wind is whipping them about and the noise is astonishing.

They don’t fall on me, but for a long time I can still hear the wind in their branches.

Then down to the powerlines and I follow the road all the way back toward Romero.

The wind grabs my cap several more times, but I always manage to recover it. I wonder why I’m losing my cap in this direction when I didn’t in the dark (and thank goodness I didn’t in the dark). Eventually I end up carrying the cap.

The road is littered with snapped branches, some of them quite thick. That oak branch was about 2 inches in diameter, and the laurel sumac one is more than an inch. And how laurel sumac can snap is beyond me. They just bend when I try to snap their branches.

I pause at my car and read my book for another 15 minutes. This time I feel no stiffness at all when I start moving (it is warm in the car, I bet that makes a difference).

I consider what I’ll need for my next loop. How many layers? I ran all the first loop with four, but it is warmer now and the wind is supposed to drop soon. I take off one layer. Gloves? Nah, they can stay. Flashlight? I probably won’t need it, but, eh, might as well carry it, just in case disaster strikes.

I decide to run the next loop in reverse order. Kim had said she might run one loop starting at 6 — so she’s two hours behind me, if she’s there — but if I run backwards I might see her.

I don’t.

I do see other people. There seem to be more people around at 10:30AM than at 4. Odd that.

I think I’ll walk up the fireroad now. It’s steep.

PsammeadJust beyond San Ysidro I see that a strange creature has crawled out of its bed to bask in the sun. I think it must be a Psammead, so I don’t disturb it (they can be bad tempered).

The wind does seem to have dropped a bit. My cap is safe.

Back up Cold Spring to Camino Cielo. I run right past the water stash at first and have to go back. I pretty much drained my water too. That’s good.

MistletoeAs I approach Cottam I remember that I want to look for the confluence, so I go crashing off trail to do so. I discover that the wind has snapped mistletoe out of the sycamores here and I pass several scraps with berries. It’s Christmas. I pause and pick one up. I’ll take it to the contra-dance this evening. I’ve only another 14 miles to go.

ConfluenceI reach the place where the confluence should be, but it isn’t. I go up and down a bit. I’m clearly in the channel of Forbush creek and it is dry as a bone. A quarter mile back it was in full flow, and presumably, it is flowing underneath the sand I’m walking on. But that isn’t obvious up above. Still Blue Creek looks nice here.

Then back to the picnic table at Cottam and another 15 minute break. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to calm my stomach. Oh well.

Then another run up Blue Canyon. Some of the stream crossings in Upper Blue Canyon are quite nice looking.
Blue Creek

Once I’m out of the canyon and onto the road again the wind picks up. Sigh. It did drop around noon, but the forecast didn’t say what would happen after that.

I wish I had my gloves. My fingers are cold.

At Camino Cielo the wind is again ferocious. I take off my cap to keep it safe while I fill up my camelback. And then down the other side. The sun is nearing the horizon but hasn’t set yet. About two miles down the road I start noticing some nice color on the cliffs and I think soon I can take a nice sunset picture. And then it is gone. The sun has set behind me and I missed that chance.

I’m glad I did bring the flashlight.

Romero Sunset Panorama


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