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.
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.
Trees 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 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.
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.
As 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.
I 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.
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.