Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Stupider Fortnight

December 31, 2016

On the Wednesday before Christmas I ran with the dog out to More Mesa. The dog likes More Mesa. She bounds through the tall grass finding scents of I-don’t-know-what. Once she found the scent of a skunk there and, to my surprise, was really pleased by that too. She’s like an eccentric comet, traveling long distances away from me but always returning to check in.

She gets intrigued when I stop to look at a flower, she will come over and stand on top of it trying to figure out what’s interesting. If I stop too long she’ll get bored and start jumping on me to encourage me to move on. (It works)

This Wednesday there were puddles
Water Dog

While the dog bounded with joy, I plodded at a more sluggish pace, and I started to think about the runs I had done so far that week. Sunday I’d gone 24 miles, Tuesday 34 and today about 10. Friday I intended another 20 miles and then Saturday about 12.

Hunh. That added up to 100 miles in a week. I don’t often (only once before I think) get in 100 miles in a week. I was pleased.

When I got home I noticed that Monica had posted a “stupid week” challenge on Facebook, trying to get people to do 100 miles in a week.

Now I know that 100 miles a week isn’t a challenge for some people, it’s normal training for elite runners. And many of my friends have even run 100 miles in a day. But I am not an elite runner, nor have I ever finished a 100 mile race, so 100 miles in a week is challenge enough.

I mentioned this to Rusty and he was unimpressed. I’d done 100 miles in a week before. He said if I really wanted a challenge I should do two consecutive 100 mile weeks. Mmmm … OK.

First week
Date Route Mileage Tot
Sun 18 Dec Cold Spring and Gibraltar trails beyond Mercury Mine 24.5 M 24
Tue 20 Dec Camuesa Canyon Rd. to Mono (via Little Caliente) 34.3 M 58
Wed 21 Dec Home to More Mesa 10 M 68
Fri 23 Dec Romero to Blue Canyon (via Big Caliente) 32.6 M 100
Sat 24 Dec Home to More Mesa 11 M 111

On Sunday I ran out to Gibraltar Reservoir (starting on Mountain Dr. and taking Cold Spring trail out to Gibraltar Trail). Now in recent years this has meant running out to the Mercury Mine, but this year no water was visible at the mine
Dry Reservoir
and I had to run another mile and a quarter before I could see any water in the reservoir. So I went a little longer than I intended. This took about 7:15 hours.

On Tuesday I decided to take advantage of the recently reopened Rey Fire burn area. There’s a road which goes from Lower Oso to Romero. I’ve run bits of it but never the whole thing. The whole road is too long to do as an out and back (50~60 miles round trip), but I could add another section. So I started at Lower Oso and ran out to Mono (at the end of Cold Spring trail). Only I couldn’t start at Lower Oso because the ford at First Crossing is currently flooded. So I started at First Crossing and ran to Lower Oso and then ran Mono. And, of course, if you’re going to Mono you might as well detour to Little Caliente Spring, it only adds about two miles to the route…

Camuesa Valley after the Rey Fire

Camuesa Valley after the Rey Fire

I seemed to be running faster than I expected, so as I got closer to the end I ran faster and faster. I ran the last mile and a half at a 7 minute pace (which is pretty good at the end of a 34 mile run. Good for me anyway). This took 5:35 hours.

On Wednesdays I take the dog out to More Mesa. The run is anywhere from 10~12 miles depending on where I go (the dog probably goes twice as far).

On the 17th I had intended to drive out to Cachuma Saddle and run to McKinnley Peak — but I flew back from my aunt’s 100th birthday on the 16th and got stuck in Chicago for 8 hours and got in too late, so I postponed that adventure until Friday. Only on Friday it was supposed to rain more than an inch. And somehow I did not relish being on a 6000ft peak in a pouring rain (or snow) storm. So, I once again postponed that route.

Instead I decided to do the rest of Camuesa road. I started at Romero trailhead and ran up the old fire road to the top, then down the fire road to the Santa Ynez river, across the river and out to Pendola. Once I got to Pendola I decided to detour out to Big Caliente Spring (I’d never been there before, it only added 5 miles) and then ran from Pendola to where Blue Canyon trail hit the road, then up Blue Canyon trail (across the Santa Ynez) to Romero trail, up the trail and down till I hit the fireroad, and then down that. This would complete the road as I had already run the section of road from Blue Canyon to Mono.

There was water in the river where the road forded it…
Ford
The rain was supposed to start heavily around 12 and I wanted to be across the Santa Ynez (at Blue Canyon) before then — just in case. I felt a few sprinkles around 10 out at Big Caliente, so I hurried, but they stopped. When I got to Blue Canyon trail the “River” looked as dry as it ever does.
Dry Riverbed
There was no water in any of the “stream” crossings along Blue Canyon either. When I got to the top of Romero I was starting to worry that the rain was a hoax, but as I came down the trail it started raining, and then rained hard.

This route took me 6:20 hours.

Camuesa Runs

Camuesa Runs (click to see enlarged map)

On Saturdays I usually take the dog up to Inspiration, but after Friday’s rain I figured Jesusita would be too muddy. So she (the dog) got to go out to More Mesa again. I think she prefers More Mesa (though I don’t). There were even more puddles this time!

Second week
Date Route Mileage Tot
Sun 25 Dec Romero to Divide Peak 35.7 M 35
Tue 27 Dec First Crossing to Santa Cruz Station 38.3 M 73
Wed 28 Dec Home to Inspiration 12.2 M 85
Thu 29 Dec Cold Spring to Santa Ynez River 16.5 M 101
Sat 31 Dec Home to More Mesa 10 M 111
Sat 31 Dec New Year’s Eve sunset beach run 6 M 117

For many years I have done a long run on Christmas Day. It’s a great time to run, there’s no one else out. The weather tends to allow for long runs, and there aren’t many flowers to slow me down. I had intended to run out to Little Pine (by fireroad, the front of Santa Cruz trail is a mess that only Ken Hughes dares to run), and see what the back side of the trail is like — since the fire didn’t burn much on the back side I hoped that section would be passable. But when it rained a lot Friday I didn’t want to deal with muddy landslides (dry landslides might be OK). So… I decided to run out to Divide Peak instead.

I’ve never been all the way to Divide Peak (which is approximately at the Ventura/SB county line and is at the (effective) end of Camino Cielo). The furthest I’ve gone is the top of Franklin Trail.

I ran up Romero Rd again (It took me 3 minutes longer to get to the top than it had on Friday; my legs were getting tired). There was snow visible from the saddle!
snow
Then down the backside to the intersection with Divide Peak road, and out that. Passed Island View trail, passed Franklin Trail… and then the road got really bad… another 3~4 miles took me to Divide Peak.

Divide Peak with Lake Casitas visible in the distance (right) and snow (left)

Divide Peak with Lake Casitas visible in the distance (right)

This route took 8:35 hours, I was tired, and the road was poor.

On Tuesday I finally ran down to Santa Cruz Station. Now I knew that the front side of Santa Cruz trail had been trashed by the Rey fire, but there were large stretches of it that were fine, so I hoped that the back side (where there was less fire) would be fine. I was wrong.

Last week at First Crossing it was possible to avoid getting my feet wet by taking the River trail to Oso. After the rain on Friday the channel had shifted and the River trail was either under water or mud. So I went across the ford.

There was frost on the ground. That water was cold. My feet felt frozen for the next two miles.

I took Camuesa to Buckhorn to Little Pine Rd. to Happy Hollow. Happy Hollow did not look happy.
happy hollow
Nor did the top of Little Pine
little pine summit
The Zaca fire tore through here 9 years ago, and the Rey fire came through in August. Nine years is not long enough to recover. There are poppy forbs growing in the ground, and the grass is returning, but the trees…

At Alexander Saddle there used to be a stand of white-flowered currants (most of our currants are pink, this was the only stand of the white species I knew of). Just sticks are left.
White Flowered Currants

Going down Santa Cruz trail wasn’t bad at first and I got hopeful that it would all be clear … but after a tenth of a mile I came upon the landslide. It was almost unbroken for half a mile. No sign of trail anywhere. Not as bad as the front side — I did not feel I would fall to my death, but I did slip frequently. I needed both hands and feet to clamber across.
Santa Cruz Trail, back side of Little Pine

But after that half mile things were fine. The trail emerged from the burn area and wasn’t much worse than usual (no one’s been on it for 3 months so it’s a bit more overgrown). Little Pine Spring appeared unaffected.

I filled up with water at Santa Cruz creek, and forded it. Wet feet again, but at least the day was warmer now.

I took the fire road out of the Station (I didn’t want to deal with the trail again), FS 6N14. I’ve never taken the road before. I’m not sure I ever will again. It’s four miles straight up. It’s not runable. Not by me after 20 miles anyway. It was also surprisingly hot. It took forever.

Eventually it reached Buckhorn Rd. I ran the next (last) 12 miles in under 2 hours.

I took my shoes off at first crossing, and drove home barefoot.

Total time 8:43 hours.

On Wednesday I took the dog for her run.

I conduct a small experiment before each run… I leave a carrot on my front steps. The dog likes carrots. Normally the dog is so excited by the idea of a run that she will ignore the carrot until we return. She’s not unaware of it (she usually runs over it) and she goes directly to it at the end, but running is just more important (at the start).

Today for the first time, she picked up the carrot. She didn’t eat it, but she carried it around the yard as she ran in excited circles. Finally she dropped it at the front gate and let me put her leash on. As always she went right to it when we got back.

Thursday I ran Cold Spring trail out to the Santa Ynez river. The river isn’t a river here yet. There was some frost heave underfoot, but no puddles of water visible.
Santa Ynez River

Friday Cynthia took me hiking up to see the Gaviota Wind Caves, and on beyond. Or that was the plan. Actually it started raining just as we reached the first cave, so we stopped there and waited it out. Squalls had blown in and out earlier and we assumed this one would pass quickly, but we waited almost an hour.

I quoted Pooh: “It rained, and it rained, and it rained”, and went on to describe how the Wild Woozles who lived at the East Pole took the fur off Pooh’s legs to make their nests…
Wind Cave

Eventually it let up and we proceeded. We passed another set of caves, and just beyond them found (what I believe to be) a Purissima Manzanita.
Purissima Manzanita
This has a CNPS ranking of 1.B1 which is as endangered as you can get without being presumed extinct.

But here it started to rain again, and we decided to call it a day. We’d only hiked a mile in, and it wasn’t a run, so it doesn’t really add to my mileage for the week (but it was neat).

On Saturday I took the dog out to More Mesa again. As usual the dog ignored her carrot at the start, and we took off at a gallop.

It started raining.

This did not deter the dog, it just meant she got muddy. Come to that it didn’t deter me either, though it did make the mesa muddy and that was a bit of an issue.

On the way home the dog found a bone. A rib bone. She was very interested in the bone. Eventually I persuaded her that she could run and carry the bone at the same time. It was only about 2 miles at this point. But sometimes she’d try to chew rather than carry and the bone would slip and we’d have to stop to pick it up again. We came home a bit more slowly that usual. About half a mile from home she spit out the bone and ignored it. Perhaps she was thinking of the carrot waiting for her…

Saturday evening we had our annual New Year’s Eve beach run. And that ended my fortnight.
Daniel & Stephanie

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Take care of the sounds…

September 8, 2016

Louis Carroll’s advice for writing poetry was “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.” (An adaption of an earlier phase: “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves).

But sometimes I have no sense to take care of.

I was out running the other day and noticed that although it was pleasantly cool in the shade it was rather hot in the sun. And a little rhyme popped into my head: “The sun is hot, the air is not.”

I posted this of FB and my brother asked for the rest of the poem.

Of course there was none.

But I went on another run to figure it out. Cot, dot, got, jot, lot… and then Aeroflot popped into my mind.

The sun is hot,
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

So that was the first verse of the rest of the poem. Bit like some styles of improv. Take care of the sounds and the nonsense will take care of itself!

But at this point a little sense had to creep in too.

Fly to where the sun is cool,

Um… boules, fool, ghoul, joule, moules, mule! rule, stool

Fly to where the sun is cool,
There I’ll buy a lovely mule.
Hop it up upon a stool,
Bind its legs to make it drool.

Then the question was what to do with the mule or the drool, or even the stool. Well, I could catch the drool in a pail and see where that lead.

Catch the drool within a pail
Add the gris of one big whale
With a little bit of ale
Bind with mucus from a snail
Stir it with an iron nail.

Ale might cause it to ferment into… well into cheese.

Hang it high within the trees
Churn it up to make some cheese
Then I will be at my ease
Won’t you join me, if you please?

But you can’t just ask someone over for cheese, you’d want at least crackers too. What kind of cheese sort of drools?

Crackers now for droolly brie

Probably a drink too. “Tea”. Of course.

When it’s steeped I’ll serve mule tea

I suspect these substances won’t smell too good. Best keep them downwind.

Set them down well to the lee,
Then a toast to you and me!

But the tea had to come from somewhere… I need a new verse. I guess half the drool goes to make tea, and half to make brie. I can’t put it in a pail, but I could use a hat. Suess has a cat in a hat. Carroll has a “grin without a cat”. Macbeth’s witches use “something of bat.” Slices of lemon traditionally go with tea. And tea needs to steep…

Some for this and some for that
Half the drool goes in a hat.
Pinch of tea and grin of cat.
Lemon slice and what of bat.
Let it steep upon a mat.

The name of the poem was going to be “Mule Drool Cheese”, but at this point it seemed more appropriate to call it “Mule Drool Tea” (in the sense of a meal that could include both tea and brie). But perhaps I should call the name Whale Ale Tale

Let’s see…
When the run was over I put it all together and saw it needed some revision. (Well, I’d been revising all along, but it was easier to see what needed it now with it all spread out in one place (I don’t know how Homer managed)). I needed to look up Macbeth to find what of bat went into the cauldron…

Mule Drool Tea

The sun is hot
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

Fly to where the sun is cool,
There I’ll buy a lovely mule.
Hop it up upon a stool,
Bind its legs to make it drool.

Drool for this and drool for that
Half the drool goes in a hat.
Pinch of tea and grin of cat.
Lemon slice and wool of bat.
Let it steep upon a mat.

Rest goes in a nice big pail
Add a little bit of ale
Bind with mucus from a snail
Stir it with an iron nail.

Set it out to catch a breeze
Churn it up to make some cheese
Soon you’ll find me at my ease
Won’t you join me, if you please?

Now all’s done I’ll serve mule tea
Crackers too, for droolly brie.
Set them down well to the lee,
Then a toast to you and me!

Anyone for tea?


On my next run, a few days later…

The sun is hot
The air is not.
I seem to think that quite a lot
I should fly on Aeroflot.

Far away where sun’s in fog,
Shall I find a droolly dog?
Just to take him on a jog.
Bet he’ll leap right in a bog.

Then to chase a spotted skunk
Doesn’t care that he’s been stunk
But it sends me in a funk
Back to bog for a new dunk?

Muddy paws and skunky trace,
Dog leaps up to lick my face.
Dog thinks this is heaven’s grace,
I react with some distaste.

Hydrogen per oxygen
Soda and then detergen
Wash the dog within his den
Dry him out and smell him then
Skunky smell is there again.

Next time shall I bring a leash?
Make frogs safe within their niche.

Christmas Run

December 25, 2015

Every year I plan to do a run on Christmas Day. Or a bike ride. It’s a peaceful time to be out.

I was thinking I would run from my door to Upper Oso via Arroyo Burro trail, not Hwy 154. I thought it would be considerably shorter than the highway (though a good deal slower than driving).

About a week in advance the weather forecast showed a big rain on Christmas day, so I started thinking I might go out Christmas Eve instead. Then the forecast wiggled around and Christmas Eve was also supposed to be rainy. So I decided I’d do my long run on the 22nd.

rainbowOf course when the morning of the 22nd dawned there was suddenly a 20% chance of rain starting at 9:15. Well, 20% didn’t seem likely. I set out a little after 7, I saw a rainbow and then it started to drizzle.

So much for the forecast.

With the drought there is almost nothing blooming now, so I had my eye out for lichens. Lichens react quickly to the rain and often change color — the outer fungal layer draws back revealing the more colorful algal layer underneath.

I was also looking for fern fiddleheads and liverwort thalli. Last year they were all over the place by now, but this year I’ve just seen a few starts which have since died back.

When I got to the Jesusita mudbank, the mud had reached the point of being slippery, but not yet of being sticky. So it didn’t stick to my shoes, but did make the climb difficult. Still, it wasn’t really cold and the rain was barely noticeable, so after a bit I thought about taking off a layer, but I waited a little longer.

Drizzle
Once I got out of the canyon containing San Roque Creek I felt the wind, which was quite strong and suddenly chilly. I decided I’d keep all my layers on.

I found a wild cucumber vine in bloom, the first I’ve seen this year (and about a month later than I usually see the first). That was an encouraging start, but it was the only winter bloom I saw that day.

Arroyo Burro trail is quite overgrown for about a mile after the 420 rock, but after that there’s a little valley with a nice stream (which had no water in it) and the climb becomes more scenic. This is also the boundary of the Jesusita burn and the vegetation becomes older (probably unburnt since the Coyote Fire in the 60s). Anyway I start to see lichens now.

BigpodLichenThe rain has brought out the yellow in the goldspeck lichen (¿Candelariella rosulans?) which covers the trunks of the shrubs, here on bigpod Ceanothus.

As I climbed up to the pass with Camino Cielo the wind picked up. It is usually more intense on the ridgeline and when it is blustery below it is very windy above… And the wind made the rain seem worse. Or maybe it was worse. Anyway I was soaked and cold.

And my glasses fogged up. I was in a cloud here, so it was naturally foggy too. I couldn’t see where I was going and ended up on a side trail I’d never known was there. I didn’t realize it until I came to the water tank that I also didn’t know about.

So I scrubbed off my glasses, but that didn’t help I still couldn’t see. Eventually I realized that the road had to be downhill of where I was, so down I went. And got across.

The shooting range is still closed because of fire danger. This is a comfort when you run past a range in dense fog.

And down the other side, and out of the wind and fog. I took out a cliff bar, and had to use my mouth to tear it open.

ThalliThe backside of the mountains must have had more rain than the front, I found lots of Polypody fiddleheads, and some Asterella thalli. Neither of these have I seen in the front country this year, though I have seen both on other back country trails.

But there wasn’t anything blooming here.

Further down the trail there are Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), a species not seen in the front country and I was interested if they had a similar lichen load to the Coast Live Oak of the front country. The problem is that lichens prefer branches in oaks (rather than trunks) and Valley Oaks tend to be tall. Much taller than Coast Live Oaks. Generally too tall for me to see their branches.

But one nice thing about high winds is that you get broken branches lying on the ground
Branch
And here on this one small bit of Oak branch I’ve got at least four different lichens. In the upper right the bushy whitish thing is Oakmoss Lichen (Evernia prunastri), in the middle left the bushy orange thing with the weird circles is Orange Bush Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans), the small yellow areas are probably some kind of Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella sp.), and the grey flaky patches are probably Common Ruffled Lichen (Parmotrema perlatum). This one little stub of a stick has just about everything I was hoping to see.

FordAt the bottom of Arroyo Burro the mud had turned sticky as well as slippery and I had to run off the trail if I wanted to stay upright. The rain was slackening now, and when I got to the river there wasn’t even a puddle visible in the ford.

It is 12 miles from my house to Paradise Rd. 13.5 miles to Lower Oso, and 14.2 to Upper Oso. At least according to my watch.

When it was time for a bite to eat I found my fingers too cold to open the package. They were too weak even to pull against the grip of my mouth. I pressed my fingers against my thighs in an attempt to warm them, and after about 5 minutes I was able to eat.

On the way back I avoided the worst of the mud but taking an alternate route, but even when I couldn’t avoid it, it seemed much less of a bother going up than coming down.

As I neared the top I felt the wind picking up again, occasional drizzles of rain and my glasses were fogging, so, although it wasn’t time to eat yet, I tore open a packet in case my hands numbed out again.

At the top, I was running with the wind (so warmer) and the fog wasn’t as bad as it had been, though hardly clear. But my hands were warm enough that I could have opened my food package.
Foggy Camino Cielo

A half an hour later I had ducked under the cloud cover and weak sunlight was peaking through, and when I got to the overgrown section it was almost sunny.
Clouds

When I reached the trail bottom and looked back…
NoFog
it’s quite a different view from what I saw 5 hours earlier.

Although I spent about three hours in continuous rain, with a second light drizzle when I got back to the ridgeline, the county’s downtown rain gauge reported no precipitation at all. Looking at how the rainfall went across the county, it looks as if the storm was stronger farther north but petered out when it got to the mountains. So the downtown forecast was somewhat accurate, rain was unlikely there, I had just assumed that meant rain would also be unlikely 5 miles away, but that was not the case.

And, of course, when Christmas did roll around there was absolutely no chance of rain — bright sunny skies, high winds, no clouds. So I biked out to Refugio and then up Refugio Rd.

I always forget just how steep Refugio Road is, and how much steeper it seems when it follows a ~20 mile ride just to get to the base. And the wind came blowing down the canyon too.

I wanted to see if the refugio manzanitas were in bloom. This is a rare species that only grows between Refugio and Gaviota. I met it for the first time last January, but I suspected it would be blooming earlier than that, so I went for a look.

There are a few spots on Refugio Rd. where it grows, and more on Camino Ciello. I didn’t want to have to climb all the way up to the top, so at the first patch I stopped and looked hard at the plants. Two were in bloom, so I didn’t have to go any further.

One had old flowers dropped underneath it so it had clearly been blooming for a while. Next year I’ll need to check even earlier.

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.
Phone-Tablet

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
Phone-SightingDlg

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.
Phone-MapView
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.

Phone-FindView
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).

Methane

August 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on the Western Toad.

August 4, 2014

It rained today, long but not hard, and that rain brought out the toads.

It doesn’t often rain significantly in August, and I had never wandered down the trail to Mono in a rainstorm before. I’ve never seen toads there before. But today they were all over that river bed.

The western toad Bufo boreas halophilus

The western toad
Bufo boreas halophilus

After a couple of hours of running in the rain my glasses tend to fog over, so at first all I saw was something small moving away from me. I stopped, removed my glasses and peered closely at the whatever-it-was as it moved away.

Toad2It was a toad. The first toad I have seen here after living in Santa Barbara for 20+ years. I soon realized it was not the only toad, there were lots of them — once I knew what to look for. They would sit quietly, until I approached, and then would hop off. Once they moved they were easy to see and follow.

This is not the breeding season, and the toads were not breeding. Normally, at this time of year here, these toads would be nocturnal. Today they appeared to be out enjoying the unusual rain, as I was.

I do not mean to imply that the only way to enjoy the rain is to watch toads. I was not intending to watch toads today, that was pure happenstance. MariposaI intended to find out if there were any Late-Blooming Mariposas still blooming (yes), if Biglow’s Monkeyflowers were blooming (monkeyfloweryes) and if the Scalebroom were blooming here or only in the White Fire area (only in the White Fire area).

But it is often the things I do not expect that are the most interesting. When I take to the trail I try to see what is there, rather than only what I expect.

The rain itself was what fascinated me at first. After twenty minutes of running (and maybe half an hour of raining) I realized that the ground was still not wet. Oh, I could see where the raindrops had fallen — but that was just it, I could see the wet splotches in the trail; surely by now the dirt should be completely damp? Well maybe:

  1. There really had not been enough rain to cover the ground
  2. The rain evaporated almost as fast as it hit.
  3. The rain was somehow absorbed into the lower dirt while redrying the superficial layer.

A little higher up I found some rocks scattered in the dirt, and the rocks were all slick with rain. So there had been enough rain to coat the surface. And, assuming the rocks and dirt were the same temperature, the water was not evaporating…

Eventually the soil became completely wet.
CloudsAndForbushCanyon

I walked my transects in the Cold Fire. Two weeks ago there were 13 species blooming, now there are 10; most of them represented by a single plant. Two months ago the whole area was covered with blooming morning glories, now there is one.

On the other hand the Tall Stephanomeria is enjoying the rain. Even though it only blooms during the driest time of the year, today it is putting out more blooms than usual. The Elegant Madia that covers Forbush is also producing more flowers today than it did two weeks ago.

A Whiptail Lizard lies in the trail. It is not enjoying the cool rain and its movements are more more sluggish than I expect.

The little Lobelia (I used to think Tolkien had made that name up, but it really is a type of flower) that covers the creek down by the Grotto is happy.

Today was an uncommon day which I was lucky enough to seize. Yet a grey, rainy day does not leap out as one that might be fascinating.

Cold Spring Trail is here, every day; as is the national forest through which it runs.

Every day has its sunset or sunrise. The Pelicans soar over the waves, every day. Dolphins leap, every day. Whales breach. Grunions run. Egrets search for food in Atascadero Creek, every day. On Coal Oil Point a rare fiddleneck blooms. The wonders of nature are always there.

I like to look at them.

WSolstice2006PelicansBeforeSunrise

Advice to new trail racers

July 8, 2014

The new 9 trails race approaches and I realize that many people running it have never done a trail race before. These are some things that I have learned over the years. Some things learned are just what the problems are (without good solutions), while others are more useful. Not everything will apply to everyone. So these are more things to consider than precepts set in stone.

Things marked with a * are things my coach, Mike, has told me (and therefore should carry more weight than things I’ve learned myself).

There is a different vibe in a trail race than a road race. The pace is much slower, and this seems to make people take it less seriously. But to me it is still a race. I may be running more slowly, but I’m just as focused on winning my age-group (at my age winning the race is out of the question) as I am in a road race. These notes assume that you want to do your best, but if all you want is to have a good time, then you can ignore some of them.

  • Dehydration — This is my biggest unsolved problem. It seems to be a common problem, though it doesn’t happen at the same time to everyone. Somewhere around 4 hours I will notice that my heart rate starts to climb. Somewhere around 5 hours the thought of more food because nausea-inducing. Somewhere around 9 hours the nausea becomes incapacitating. This problem is made worse by heat and altitude (and effort level).
  • Heartrate — Mike tells me that I should keep my heart-rate below 80% during the race.* The longer the race, the more important this is. For a 50K (which is over in ~5 hours) I’ll hold to that for the first half of the race and then allow it to climb, for a 50 miler (8+ hours) I don’t have that luxury. 9T is somewhere between the two, but closer to most 50milers.
  • Water — 1 liter/hour (1 quart/hour)*
  • Salt — 100mg sodium/hour* There are two common salt tablets in running stores. For “S-Caps” this corresponds to 1 tablet/hour, while for Endurolytes it’s about 2.5 tablets/hour. Salt is supposed to help you retain water, so the taking of these tablets should reduce dehydration. In my case it doesn’t seem to make a piece of difference — but I usually do it anyway once it starts to get hot.
  • Food — 200g carbs/hour.* Or a GU every half hour. (That’s in a long race, when doing a 5 hour training run I’m more likely to take a GU every 45 minutes). Gels are easy to deal with, and are light and can be carried in pockets (so I don’t need to stop at aid-stations for them) but after 3~4 hours I find the sight of a GU makes me nauseous and I switch to chewy blocks. After ~5 hours blocks make me nauseous too so I’ll try to eat whatever is at aid stations. I like orange slices, bananas, potatoes. Sometimes quesadillas. Whatever I can stomach. At that point my mouth tends to be too dry for peanut butter. A bit longer I find I can’t eat anything. Other people tend to start out eating from aid stations and then switch to GUs later in the race. See what your body does.
  • Nausea — I start feeling nauseous after about 5~6 hours. More time if it is cool and at low elevation, sooner if it is hot or at altitude. Different people respond differently. A few are lucky and don’t seem to get nauseous. Others will have it happen sooner (I have sometimes become nauseous at the end of a marathon, but there the higher effort level makes me dehydrate faster). I frequently vomit about 20 minutes after I have finished a 50 miler (which doesn’t make sense to me). Mike has told me that if I start to feel nauseous then I should try walking with my HR below 60% for 20 minutes. Sadly, once I’m feeling nauseous, I can’t seem to get my HR that low. Maybe I could on a cool day, in the shade going downhill, but I’ve never had a chance to test that. Something I mean to try someday is to take a ~15 minute break sitting in the shade at an aid-station, perhaps pouring water on my head to cool down. I think it might also help bring along a book (e-book?) to read to take my mind off the race and get my HR down.
  • Aid Stations — You can waste a lot of time in aid-stations. There is a presumption in a trail race: “If I’m going to take 8 hours to run then why worry about 2 extra minutes in an aid station?” — well because there might be 10 aid-stations in your 50 mile race and wasting 2 minutes in each comes to 20 minutes total, or more. Now part of your racing plan might be that you need a rest to prevent nausea, and an aid-station often provides a nice shady cool(ish) place to rest — that’s not a waste, but all too often I see people just hanging out. If possible I try to come into an aid-station alone. There is often only one water jug, so if you enter with a group of people, someone has to wait to refill their water. I usually carry a 2liter pack, and at the start of the race I can often skip an aid-station because I don’t need to refill yet. This can save a lot of time.
  • Passing — There’s an etiquette here. If you hear someone coming up behind you, it’s polite to offer to let them pass you when running on single track. If the race is an out and back race (9T) and you are still going out, then it is polite to give way to the person coming back. Now there are exceptions. I have failed to offer to let someone pass me when I knew the downhill which sped them was ending in just 200 yards and after that I’d be faster. But mostly I’ll offer to let someone behind pass. (Often they won’t pass, they may think the pace is close enough to theirs that it isn’t worth worrying about, at least not until the trail opens up again, and they may like the company. But if you offer, you look good :-).
  • Hills — Don’t be afraid to walk up hills. But equally if you find a non-technical downhill then try to push the pace. But then again on some races you may wear out your quads… Races tend to be won by the person who can run downhill fastest at the end. Some people can go sub-6 at the end of a 50 miler… (I tend to go about 8min/mile myself on a downhill dirt road at the end, and even with that I pass people). For 9T this means pushing hard from Inspiration (if the technical nature of Tunnel doesn’t bother you then starting from the top of the Connector is even better).
  • Training — Mike has often said that in trail running what matters is time on your feet rather than distance.* He often gives me things like 40 minutes at 85% HR uphill (or go up Cold Spring or San Ysidro for ~20 minutes to warm up and then push hard the rest of the way to Camino Cielo). At some point it is a good idea to try to drink/consume/eat water/salt/food at the same rate you intend to do it in the race. Salt and GU you can carry with you, but water you need to stash (don’t try to carry 4liters!). If you do ½ 9T as a training run then placing an additional 2 liters at the Gibraltar hairpin is about right (and is relatively easy).
  • Tapering — I find that trail running isn’t as hard on my body as road running, so I tend to do my longest run 2~1 weeks out rather than the 3 weeks that marathon training suggests.
  • Gaiters — Often on the trails small stones, (and at this time of year) fox-tails, burrs, etc. will creep into your shoes or socks. These can be painful, forcing you to stop and shake out your shoe (or pull nasty needles out of your socks). Gaiters are a solution to this. Dirty Girl makes gaiters designed for trail racers.
  • Camera — I usually take a light-weight camera with me. I can take a picture of a nice view without slowing down, and it may be a view I’ll never see again. (Now a flower is another matter. I need to be still to photograph something close, so I rarely do that).

Ex[oe]rcising demons

March 12, 2014

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire – the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes, and your cat tries demurely to sunder you;

Iolanthe — W. S. Gilbert

I didn’t sleep well last night, or the night before. I was too busy worrying.

When I signed up for a 68 (or is it 65?) mile race I thought “Well, that’s a 50 miler with a third more distance.” So… even my slowest 50 miler was under 10 hours, so I should be done somewhere around 13 hours, probably a bit faster.

Then I looked at last year’s results (too late to change my mind) and Mike Swan finished in 13:15. Now Mike is considerably faster, and a much better trail runner than I. Thirteen hours no longer looked feasible for me. 15? 16? I have no idea… Worrying.

They told me last week I was to start at 9am. So I’ll finish ¿around midnight? Sun sets a little after 7, civil twilight ends around 7:30. Four or five hours of running in the dark. How well are the trails marked? Will I be able to find my way? I don’t know these trails. The one section I have run is the second quarter of the race, which I’ll do in the light…

Even when I race in the light there are usually questionable intersections where the trail marker failed to notice a small side trail…

Ah. The moon will be a day before full that night. That’s some consolation. Not sure how much difference it makes, but it will make some.

Actually, as long as I don’t get lost the thought of running in the moonlight is kind of cool.

But the real worry is the heat of the day. The rain of a few weeks ago cooled things down, but only briefly. It’s hot again. The odd kind of heat which is pleasant in the shade but extreme when the sun beats down. The current forecast has the temperature well up in the 80s in the hills. That is not good running weather.

I think I’m looking forward to the night now.

Drawing with tables

March 3, 2014

WordPress (which runs this blog) is very useful, but it does have its limitations. It would be really nice to be able to specify real styles sheets and scripts. Well, they let you do that if you pay them, which I’m not willing to do, so I shouldn’t complain. But the WordPress system doesn’t allow me to update an image. This is something I want to do frequently — perhaps I’ve found a better shot, or perhaps I have a graph of something that changes with time.

If I upload an image with the same name as a previous image then WordPress appends a “2” (“3”, “4”, etc.) to the internal filename. WordPress does this even if I delete the old version of the file first. So If I have an image that is shared by several pages and I want to update it I must change each and every page to reference the new version.

I haven’t figured out a way to get around that.

I have lots of graphs that change with time. When flowers bloom, when it rains, etc. Potentially every day adds a new datapoint. Often I’ll have one page with many such graphs, such as my record of all the blooms I’ve seen in Santa Barbara where I have a set of graphs for each species. What I want is to embed an image into the page. But WordPress removes embedded <svg> elements, so that doesn’t work.

But I realized I could draw my little calendar graphs with HTML table elements. I could make one image with a yearly calendar showing the months in a linear fashion, use that as a background image for a table, and then divide the year up into table cells representing time when a) the flower was blooming, b) it wasn’t, c) transition between.

2013
<table>
 <tr>
  <td>2013</td>
  <td>
   <table style="background-image:url('http://sbwildflowers.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/cal115-116x19.png');border-spacing:0;padding:0;width:116px;">
    <colgroup> <col style="width: 18px;"> <col style="width: 5px;"> <col style="width: 15px;"> <col style="width: 5px;"> <col style="width: 1px;"> <col style="width: 2px;"> <col style="width: 1px;"> <col style="width: 69px;"> </colgroup>
    <tr style="height:12px;">
     <td></td>
     <td style="background-image:linear-gradient(to right,rgba(0,0,0,0.0),rgba(255,0,0,0.5));"></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);"></td>
     <td></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
     <td></td>
     <td style="background-color:rgba(255,0,0,0.5);padding:0;"></td>
     <td></td>
    </tr>
    <tr style="height:7px;">
     <td colspan="8"></td>
    </tr>
   </table>
  </td>
 </tr>
</table>
</table>

But I was surprised to discover, fairly quickly, that it didn’t work. The reason being that the default padding for table cells is 1 pixel (in most browsers anyway, though not in the CSS spec). This means that you can’t have a table cell with a width (or height) of 1 pixel; there’s a padding component on each side of the cell, so 2 pixels is the minimum width. So I must set style="padding 0;" on each table cell.

Even that didn’t work. Ah, careful reading of the CSS table spec reveals that there’s something called border-spacing which is placed around cells even if you’ve already said you don’t want borders. OK, so I must set that to 0 too (on the <table> element).

That doesn’t work either. It turns out that the browser doesn’t always use the widths I specify on table cells. I must use <col> as well.

But if I do all those non-obvious things then FireFox displays my little graph the way I want it to be.

Then I wanted to draw a more complicated graph: the total number of species living and blooming on any given day in the recovery zone of a fire.

Number of taxa identifiably alive or blooming
2013

2014
Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
<table style="text-align:center;">
<caption>Number of taxa identifiably alive or blooming</caption>
<tr>
 <td>2013<br />-<br />2014</td>
 <td>
  <table style="border:none;border-spacing:0;width:365px;">
   <col span="365" style="width:1px;"/>
   <tr style="height: 13px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style=""></td></tr>
   <tr style="height: 5px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #66f;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style=""></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style=""></td></tr>
   <tr style="height: 1px; padding: 0px;"><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=17 style="padding: 0; "></td><td colspan=4 style="padding: 0; background-color: #0f0;"></td><td colspan=9 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=27 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #66f;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=30 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=29 style="padding: 0; "></td><td style="padding: 0;background-color: #888;"></td><td colspan=31 style="padding: 0; "></td></tr>
   ...
  </table>
  </td>
 </tr>
</table>

This works in Firefox, but Safari still makes some table rows have a width of 2 pixels. I think it’s just wrong. (I have only tested in Firefox and Safari).

Of course, once you see that each table cell can be a pixel then you can output any image. It takes about 50 bytes to specify a pixels (instead of 3~4 for an uncompressed binary format, and far fewer for jpeg), but some savings can be made with run length encoding (using colspan when adjacent cells share the same color).

So it should be possible to use this method to draw a full color image

Lilium humboltii flower
Normal image
8K png
Table image
392K text

So here is a little routine which takes an array of pixels and produces a table image. It works in Firefox 🙂

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

typedef unsigned int	guint;
typedef unsigned char	guint8;

/* This file is in the format produced by gimp for C RGB output */
/* It contains one variable, gimp_image, which is a structure */
/* containing width, height, and pixel_data fields. Pixel_data are */
/* stored as a sequence of bytes, 3 per pixel, the first being the */
/* red value of the first pixel, the second the green value, ... */
#include "Lilium-humboltii-flower2.c"

static char *PixelColor(const guint8 *pixel, char *space) {

    if ( memcmp(pixel,"\ff\ff\ff",3)==0 )
return( "" );
    else if ( memcmp(pixel,"\ff00",3)==0 )
return( "background-color: red;" );

    if ( (pixel[0]&0xf)==((pixel[0]>>4)&0xf) &&
	 (pixel[1]&0xf)==((pixel[1]>>4)&0xf) &&
	 (pixel[2]&0xf)==((pixel[2]>>4)&0xf) )
	sprintf( space, "background-color: #%x%x%x;", pixel[0]&0xf, pixel[1]&0xf, pixel[2]&0xf );
    else
	sprintf( space, "background-color: #%02x%02x%02x;", pixel[0], pixel[1], pixel[2] );
return( space );
}

static void ImageToTable(FILE *file) {
    int r,c, rspan, cspan;
    int byte_width = 3*gimp_image.width;
    const guint8 *rbase;
    char buffer[40], *color;

    fprintf( file, "<table style=\"border: none; border-spacing:0;width: %dpx;\">\n", gimp_image.width );
    fprintf( file,  " <colgroup><col span=%d style=\"width: 1px ! important;\"/></colgroup>\n", gimp_image.width );
    for ( r=0; r<gimp_image.height; r += rspan ) {
	rbase = gimp_image.pixel_data + r*byte_width;
	for ( rspan=1; r+rspan<gimp_image.height; ++rspan ) {
	    if ( memcmp(rbase,
			rbase+rspan*byte_width,
			byte_width)!=0 )
	break;
	}
	fprintf( file, " <tr style=\"height: %dpx;\">\n", rspan );
	for ( c=0; c<gimp_image.width; c+=cspan ) {
	    for ( cspan=0; c+cspan<gimp_image.width; ++cspan ) {
		if ( memcmp(rbase+c*3,
			    rbase+(c+cspan)*3,
			    3)!=0 )
	    break;
	    }
	    color = PixelColor(rbase+c*3,buffer);
	    if ( cspan==1 )
		fprintf( file, "  <td style=\"padding: 0px;%s\"></td>\n", color );
	    else if ( rspan!=1 && *color=='' )
		fprintf( file, "  <td colspan=%d></td>\n", cspan );
	    else
		fprintf( file, "  <td colspan=%d style=\"%s%s\"></td>\n",
			cspan, color, rspan==1? "padding: 0px;": "" );
	}
	fprintf( file, " </tr>\n" );
    }
    fprintf( file, "</table>\n" );
}

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
    ImageToTable(stdout);
return 0;
}

Chasing orcs up Mt. Whitney

February 28, 2014

I am rereading “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time since I became an ultra-runner, and was struck by a passage in the “Two Towers” where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli chase Orcs down from the Emyn Muil to the borders of Fangorn. Éomir says:
“This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five have you measured ere the fourth day is ended!”

Tolkien’s leagues are 3 miles, so that’s 135 miles in four days. But the 135 mile Badwater course (and a far more challenging route) has been run in under a day. Taking 4 days doesn’t sound very impressive…

The real runners, in Tolkien’s tale, are the Orcs who do the same route in only 2½ days (and carrying hobbits too); but somehow they don’t get mentioned. (“Legolas, it is thrice twelve hours, I guess, since the Orcs stood where we stand now.”)

Badwater has an elevation gain of 8,600ft, while Aragorn climbs down from the Emyn Muil. We aren’t told how tall they are, but definitely he has a net drop to contend with.

Aragorn and his friends carry lembas. Now one cake of lembas can feed “one of the tall men of Minas Tirith for a day of hard labor”, but I need to eat a GU every half hour or so. Lembas wins.

Nor does Aragorn have to face the fearsome heat (and cold) of the desert.

On the other hand Aragorn is unsupported. He must carry all his food (but that appears to be easy as they don’t need many cakes of lembas) and must carry or find all the water he needs. However, this does not seem to be as much of an issue as I think it should be and isn’t really mentioned.

Aragorn and friends are armed. He has a sword, Legolas a bow (and arrows), and Gimli an ax and chain mail.

Aragorn is tracking, though this doesn’t seem to slow them much.

Finally the will of Saruman pushes them back; I’m not sure what that entails, but there is nothing like it at Badwater.

Chasing Orcs Badwater
135 miles 135 miles
8,600feet net elevation gain net drop
lembas GU
Good running condtions Extreme heat and cold
Carry or find water Water provided
Weapons Special anti-heat suits
Route not clearly marked Route supposed to be clearly marked
Will of Saruman ?
4 days 1 day

Another thing that bugs me: on the run Legolas says he can see: “It is a great company on foot, but I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be. They are many leagues away: twelve, I would guess; but the flatness of the plane makes it hard to measure.”

Now for a person of normal height, standing on level ground, the horizon is about 3 miles (or one league) away. Legolas was standing on an escarpment, but to get a sight distance of 12 leagues the escarpment would need to be almost 1000 feet high which seems unlikely considering how quickly they descend from it. Maybe the radius of Middle Earth is considerably bigger than that of our own world.