Archive for December, 2014

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
Bear
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)
Greenbark

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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Solstice at NIRA

December 27, 2014

‘Twas Advent’s Fourth Sunday, when all through the camp,
Not a creature was stirring not even a scamp.

Kevin wanted to camp at NIRA (something, something Recreation Area) and then run Upper Manzana trail out to the Sisquoc River and back (about 30 miles round trip).

Somehow that changed and we all drove out from SB early in the morning.

For the last decade or so I have tried to watch the sun rise and set on the day of the winter solstice (it’s pretty easy to be up and about for both at this time of year). This year we were driving through Happy Canyon when the sun arose.
SolsticeSunrise

It takes more than an hour to get to NIRA from SB. I’ve only been there once before myself (Cynthia took me this summer but we only hiked about 6 miles in). The road simply ends at a campsite shaded by Live and Valley Oaks.

Manzana CreekWe set off up the trail, which winds above Manzana Creek. There was water in it, more water than this summer but still not much.

It’s interesting that the trees which cluster around our creeks tend to be deciduous (Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows), but those a little further uphill (Bay Laurel, Coast Live Oak) keep their leaves.

I, of course, was interested in seeing if there was any difference to the vegetation this far out in the back country. In the summer I found a few things that I hadn’t seem before. At this time of year there’s not much to be seen. A few tall wire-lettuces still blooming after the summer, and lots of young forbs, too young for me to identify.

Manzana NarrowsI found a Juniper bush (tree?) near the Mazana Narrows. I think it was a Juniper, but maybe it’s a Cypress…

And Kevin pointed out a gooseberry in bloom. I have seen no gooseberries in bloom in the front country yet.
Gooseberry

Then we started to climb out of the canyon up to the ridgeline above. Much drier here.
Canyons

And definitely a Juniper bush. I know I haven’t seen these in the front country.
Juniper

The ridgeline isn’t what I was expecting. I assumed there would be a knife-edge ridge the way there is at Camino Cielo, but there was a wide sort of flat area through which a little stream meandered.
Ridgeline Creek

Then we crossed over and down into the watershed of the Sisquoc.

Kevin pointed out a stick and asked me if I could identify it. He said he called it “Spiny Ceanothus”. Now the genus Ceanothus means spiny, so that’s not much help. In the front country there is Ceanothus spinosus which means the spiny, spiny thing. but this wasn’t that. It looked more like a chaparral pea to me than anything, but it wasn’t that either. I kept my eye open after that and found some sticks with leaves on them. After that I realized it was all over the place. But I’d never noticed it before. It doesn’t seem to grow in the front country. Proper name seems to be Ceanothus leucodermis, or chaparral whitethorn.
Whitethorn

This side also had a calm meandering stream and we followed it down to the Sisquoc.
Reflection

We found several sets of Coyote prints in muddy parts of the trail.

tarweedAnd something that looked like an unhappy clustered tarweed (but it is far too late for that to be blooming now, so maybe it’s a tarweed I’m not familiar with).

When the got to the Sisquoc it looked like a real stream from my childhood. Gently flowing, full of water.Sisquoc

There’s a forest service cabin on the other side of the stream, fully furnished, and apparently open to anyone who hikes that far. We had lunch there, and turned back.

We were coming down the 154 just in time to catch the last of the sunset over Goleta:
Sunset

Indelicate essentials.

December 27, 2014

(An epiphany at Christmastide)

For years I have been bothered by the fact that I get nauseous and am unable to eat after exercising for a long time. The first time I noticed this was about 10 years ago when I did my first 200 mile bike ride. So it’s been a problem as long as I’ve tried to do long distance stuff.

Over the years I have tried various things to calm my stomach. Nothing has worked. No salt. More salt. More water. Different foods. Going slowly. Nothing worked.

Recently I’ve been trying to be systematic about testing. I’ve signed up for a 100 mile run and I won’t be able to complete it if I can’t eat after 6 hours. About a month ago I ran the Red Rock 50 course, but not in a race, just to see if going slowly would help. It didn’t.

But I did notice that after using the pit toilet at red rock trailhead I felt better for a while. Didn’t think much of it then. And when I returned to the toilet I didn’t feel the need to use it so I didn’t.

On Christmas day I was testing to see if taking a 15 minute break every three hours (roughly) would work. I didn’t really expect it would, but couldn’t think of anything else to try.

I had intended to do RR again, but Paradise Road (5N18 or whatever) got so much mud dumped on it and was closed off so early that I didn’t want to subject my road bike to it. And there was no other way to get water out there. So I did some big loops through blue canyon.

I took along an ebook reader and I stopped at Cottam Camp and read for 15 minutes. I stopped again at my car at Romero trailhead. By the time I got back to Cottam I could feel the nausea was building again, and a 15 minute pause didn’t help.

About two miles beyond Cottam is a pit toilet at Forbush and I found I needed to use it (I grabbed two sycamore leaves that hadn’t yet fallen), and after that I felt fine.

So I tend to think that I simply need more room in my innards, and the nausea is relieved if I shit.

Unfortunately a) I usually don’t feel any urge to do so when racing and b) the opportunity is generally not available in a trail race. The first, perhaps, could be solved by drinking more water. The second, well by picking a race with lots of port-a-potties? Born to Run has one every 10 miles, so it is probably a good race for me…

Interesting that even using low fiber foods like gels or blocks I still have this problem. I suppose there’s gunk in me from breakfast. I wonder about enemas. Living off GU for the day before a race? (Ug).


One thing that had concerned me was that after sitting for 15 (chilly) minutes in the middle of a run I’d be too stiff to continue. I did notice a little stiffness, but once I started moving it went away quickly and wasn’t an issue.

The test process worked, the test did not.

December 8, 2014

So what else should I try?

Well Saturday’s run said going slowly doesn’t help me. Next I’ll try pausing with a book at every aid station (and bring a bike when setting up to make sure I get water to the end of the road). Maybe go down Arroyo Burro Rd rather than entering private property.

Chris Orr says that endurance mtn. bikers tend to eat real food now rather than process stuff. He says it’s easier on the system. Hmm. Not sure why that would be, but OK, maybe. He suggested hard-boiled eggs. Um? Aren’t those primarily protein and a little fat? That doesn’t sound like a good choice. Besides I don’t like hard-boiled eggs (and if I don’t like them at the start, I’m really going to hate them after 12 hours…)

Early January? Christmas day?

Red Rock Wannabe

December 7, 2014
  1. I wanted to run Red Rock 50m (but the race was last week)
  2. I wanted to see what it was like to do a 50m run alone
  3. I wanted to test certain ideas I had that might make running 100m possible for me.

I have problems that show up after I’ve run a long time (where “long time” is dependent on effort level, temperature, altitude, water consumption). Unfortunately it is practically impossible to test solutions for this since the “long-time” tends to be much longer than I achieve on any training run.

I noticed last month that if I stashed extra water and ran the marathon at a slower pace then I didn’t have problems even given the extra heat. Well it’s hard to stash water for the Red Rock course, so I thought I’d just try running it at a slower pace. I had also noticed that eating cliff bars seemed better for me than eating GU.

OK. I wasn’t going to race, just try to average 4mph. I’d pause to take pictures of wildflowers to get little breaks (well, not many wildflowers now. Ferns!). I’d carry 12 cliff bars (that proved difficult, but I didn’t want to stash them outside overnight) and no GU.

I posted an event on FaceBook. Even though I wanted to run it alone, I was also a bit nervous of being out there for 12 hours alone. Almost immediately 2 people I’d never heard of said “Maybe” to the event. This disturbed me. You need to plan for a 50 miler, you can’t just show up on the day — at the very least you need to stash water. I tried to make it clear that this would be difficult and either they needed to tell me, or stash their own water. But the night before a third unknown person said “Maybe”. I’d already stashed my water, and there was no way they’d be able to. I was worried.

I stashed some water at Camino Cielo and Cold Spring (mile 6) — Heidi told me there was plenty of water there from last week, but I’ve had water disappear up there and didn’t trust that info (It was there). Then I thought to put a gallon near the end of Paradise Rd (or FS 5N18, or Gibraltar, or whatever it’s called there) at Red Rock (which is about mile 17) and another at the start of Mattias Connector (about mile 19).

Clearly that leaves a long gap between Camino Ciello and Paradise, but there are no other easily accessible points in between.

Unfortunately when I got to Lower Oso there was a large sign ROAD CLOSED.

I should have brought a bike.

There was no way I was going to walk the 6 or 7 miles out to Red Rock (and the same back). Even Mattias was 5 miles or so. I really didn’t want to do this the day before trying to 50 miles. But I could go up Arroyo Burro Rd. and stash some water at mile ~24. Not great. But better than nothing.

So now I had an 18 mile run without a water stop. Not good. I was going to have to carry handheld water bottles as well as my 2liter camelback. I hate handhelds. I never drink enough from them and they make it much harder to stop and take pictures. I wouldn’t need them until after Camino Cielo, so I could run up with them empty…

The next morning I got to San Ysidro trailhead a little early (I was running the race inside out, because San Ysidro is easier to get to than Rancho Oso. Cheaper too). And I decided I would not wait for any “Maybe”s. I didn’t want to encourage people to run 50miles with no preparation.

I set out. My camelback felt light. I realized I had forgotten to fill it with water at home. Great. Just great. I’ve never done that before.

Well it’s only 6 miles (albeit straight up) to Camino Cielo and there was lots of water there. I’d make it.

I started a little before 6 and it was pitch dark.

As I ran up beside San Ysidro creek it chattered noisily, but when the road actually forded it, the roadbed was dry. Our creeks are odd.

On the climb up to Girard trail the sky began to lighten
BeforeDawn
And the full moon set.

I got a little lost at the hot springs in the dark and ran up the wrong trail for a minute…

When I got to Cold Spring the sunrise was nice…
MorningPanorama

There are some great-berry manzanita blooming further up Cold Spring (first I’ve seen this year) and then another on Montecito Peak, and more all along the course.

I did climb up Montecito Peak, even though no one gave me a medal.
MontecitoPeakPanorama

But what I wanted to see up there was a little patch of ferns I had noticed back in October. Back then they were all shriveled up from the summer’s heat or drought, or something. Now where I grew up the only ferns that shriveled and revived were call Resurrection Ferns and were Polypodys so I assumed these were too. But when the rains came I realized that California Polypody doesn’t do that, but Goldback Fern does, so I assumed these were that. But when I went and looked at them they weren’t a bit like either. They are some sort of Lipfern, probably Colville’s
CovillesLipfern

As I trotted on up to Camino Cielo, I realized I hadn’t taken the oath. So I yelled it out to the uninterested sky: “If I get lost, or injured, or dead, it’s my own damn fault!” Perhaps more appropriate today than usual…

The threadleaf ragwort on Camino Cielo still has one bloom. I saw no others alive anywhere else.

Water!

Brrr. It is freezing!

I hadn’t realized how cold the water would be. I can barely force myself to drink, and when I fill my handheld bottles they numb my hands. There’s not much left of my gallon jug after I’ve taken three liters out of it so I decide I’ll carry it down to Forbush and stash it there. That way, on the return journey, it will be two miles closer and that may be important.

There’s a currant blooming on the trail down to Forbush, and the last hummingbird trumpet blooming just after Forbush. The Barberry down near the grotto has buds but isn’t blooming yet.

There is less water in Gibraltar Reservoir than there was in June.
GibRes
Hmm. This is about a quarter of the race (or half way to Rancho Oso).

First glimpse of Red Rock, about 1/3 into the race
Sandstone

Even though there is no (car) access to Red Rock the pit toilet was unlocked. Which was nice.

Then there’s the run along Paradise Rd. with all the fords. After a bit I was convinced I’d missed the trail — but then I remembered the year before I had this same conversation with myself and the lead woman, and we hadn’t missed it. So I kept going.

It’s kind of nice to know there will be no vehicles on the road as you run down it.

Then Mattias Connector climbs straight up for a bit. I walked, and after a mile connects to Mattias Trail.
MattiasPanorama
No matter how many times I run it (in this direction) I always have the same reaction to this trail. Each time I see a ridge in front of me I am convinced that will be the last ridge, once I get there I’ll find the road. Instead I find another dip and another ridge (which surely is the last ridge — but it isn’t either).

Eventually the last ridge takes me by surprise and I run down Arroyo Burro Rd. After a mile or two I finally reach my water bottle, artfully concealed behind a rock (no one cleaned it up! Yay!).
AidStation

And then Arroyo Burro trail, and then the Rancho Oso trail. There is a no trespassing sign, but I ignore it. I want to do the full course. I doubt anyone will care. No one does. I don’t see anyone at all. I run down to the finish line, switch watches and head back.
Rancho Oso

There’s a nice little goldback fern fiddlehead just opening…
GoldbackFernFiddlehead

I get back to my aidstation, fill up again. There’s not much left in the water bottle so I decide to carry it with me, again. Oh, and I might as well take a salt tablet.

Suddenly I’m a lot thirstier and I drink a fair amount of water.

It is hot now. Most of the course has been in the shade, but now it is noon and the sun is high. When I get back home I check and see that the day’s temperature in SB is 9°F higher than it should be for this time of year. I wonder if I’ll ever see (what used to be) normal weather again?

I should be OK, I've been going about 4MPH.

I should be OK, I’ve been going about 4MPH.

When I get back to Red Rock I put all the cliff bar wrappers I’ve generated in the dumpster there. I also pick up about 5 GU packets that someone left outside the pit toilet.

I climb out of Red Rock up the trail and onto the road. I’ve been eating half a cliff bar every half hour, and when the time comes for the next bar I get the dry heaves. Damn. I was hoping that if I went slowly that wouldn’t happen. It took longer to happen (8 hours instead of 6), but it still happened and far too soon for a 100 miler. I was also hoping that cliff bars wouldn’t do that to me, but they do. So the test was a failure. I still don’t know how to run long.

I walk for a bit and am able to finish my half cliff bar.

Actually I walk for about 20 minutes (downhill) in hopes that will settle my stomach, but it doesn’t. So I start running again.

I’m alternately running walking now (and not eating) until I get to the Grotto. I’m still averaging 4 mph.

But from the Grotto up to Camino Cielo we have 3 miles of straight uphill and I’m dead beat. I hate not being able to eat and feeling nauseous. There is no way I can run. So I walk. Slowly.

I reach my stashed water bottle. I simple pour out its contents. I haven’t been drinking much either, and there’s more in 2 miles if I need it then.

CampfireAtForbushSomeone is camping at Forbush and has lit a fire. I smell it as I trudge past.

I have a few blocks. The thought of a cliff bar is revolting, but I try one of the blocks. It goes down easily, so 5 minutes later I try another, and a third.

I begin to feel better (but I keep walking, not running). And I wonder if maybe all I need to do is walk for two hours? (It hasn’t worked in the past, but I ignore that).

I can see the top of the ridge line with the pine trees on Camino Cielo
CaminoCieloRidge
I was hoping I’d get there in time to see the sunset, but my body has rebelled.

Still there is a nice afterglow when I reach the top.
ColdSpringTrailMtnDr

And as I turn the bend there is the whole city spread out below
SBSunsetPanorama

I find I can run downhill again, and I feel much better than I did.

I’m glad I don’t need to climb Montecito Peak in the dark.

CSTreesPanorama
In the half-hour it takes me to get down to the trees, it has become much darker.

I eat a couple more blocks, but my stomach objects to any more. Sigh.

I get to the bottom. About 13 hours. Pleased to have done it, but I wish I knew how to run more than 8 hours… Somehow I need to drink more.