I go, I go; look how I go,
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow.
Luis organized a training run for the Red Rock race at 7am going from Red Rock (day use area) to Camino Cielo and back.
But a week ago the temperature on the coast was about 100°F (and the trails were worse) and I didn’t want to do a 20+ mile run in that sort of heat. So I decided to start at 4am, thinking I’d be back about 9 before the day’s heat really kicked in. And I thought it would be fun to go for a long run in the dark… And that would get me to the top of Camino Cielo about the right time to watch the sunrise.
Yesterday I drove up to Camino Cielo with the intent of placing some water at the turn around point — only to be stopped about a mile from it. There was a skateboard race going on, and I had to wait for the current heat to finish. About 5 minutes. So I waited. Then they let me though. The finish line was where I had intended to stop and it was full of vehicles, so I drove on another quarter mile to the next pull out. Then walked back, hid my water on the trail, returned to the car, and had to wait once more for the next heat.
I didn’t even know we had skateboard races…
I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get to the end of Paradise Rd. but I figured if I left home at 3am that would get me there in good time. As it happened I got off a little early.
When I got to Lower Oso I found that there was a gate across the road there with no passage (for cars) allowed beyond. Damn it. There was a sign near the gate claiming “Gate closed Sunset to Sunrise” — clearly I’d never bothered to read it before. I grumbled quietly to myself as I parked the car. Let’s see… it’s about 5 miles from Lower Oso to Red Rock so… Mmph. That’s almost an extra hour or so each way. I don’t have enough food with me for that. I’m going to have to turn around before Camino Cielo, which means I won’t get to my water. Grrrr. I’ll miss the sunrise over the ocean too.
There were certain sections of trail that I really wanted to run on (sections I rarely do because they take so long to reach if I start from the front country). Turning back at the Grotto sounds about right. It’s probably ~3 miles from there to Camino Cielo, so it’s still going to be a bit longer than I intended but not by much.
All the bathrooms at Lower Oso appeared to be locked or out of order.
Nothing seemed to be going right.
But then I started out and everything was all right again. The stars were very bright. When I ran Nine Trails last month I was mostly running within the reach of city lights — even if the cities were small cities — and there was a (nearly) full moon, so the stars were dimmed. Tonight there was no moon, the night was clear and all cities were hidden by mountains. It was dark. The stars were bright. Orion’s Belt was dead ahead.
I trotted on into the darkness with the insects singing all around me.
After about 2 miles the road fords a channel of the Santa Ynez river. Or rather it would ford the river if there were any water in it. As it is there is just a dip that is covered with concrete (rather than asphalt) and then a rise on the other side. There are several of these crossings. All are dry.
After about 45 minutes I reach the end of the paved road. Red Rock trailhead. A dirt road takes off to the left (behind yet another gate) and that is my route.
Almost immediately I scare up a nightjar. There’s a great whirring of wings as the bird rises from the trail in front of me. — I think it’s a nightjar (or nighthawk, or whatever they call them here), it’s a little hard to be sure in the dark.
After a quarter of a mile or so a bit of single track takes off on the right. That’s the race route, but… I’m kind of interested in seeing were the road goes. I know the trail is just a short cut (also I’m not familiar with it and am a tiny bit worried about following unfamiliar single track in the dark — I’ve only run it once, and there was a steep drop off beside it). Anyway I take the road.
The road goes into darkness. But I do see a goldenbush beside it.
And then I pass the places where you can get good views of the dam (for Gibraltar Reservoir) but I have views of nothing but night at the moment.
And then down into the canyon below the dam, and up the other side.
I get a little lost here. There’s a junction, and one road is the main road, and the other is the driveway to the where the caretakers of the dam live. I end up running around their houses by mistake and waking up a rooster, and then a dog, and then a voice comes out of the darkness asking me where I’m going.
(Anyway that was the gist of the question)
Oops. I apologize. Find the real road again and continue.
It’s not far now to the turn-off for the Mercury Mine. And now we are getting into a section that is actually familiar and becomes more so as I go further toward the Grotto.
After about a mile I see some Matchweed, a plant I have previously only seen growing on the edge Cottam Meadow (of course it is pitch black still, but I recheck it on the way back — in the light — and that is what it is).
I, um, get a little lost at the Mercury Mine too, and I end up running down the road to mine itself, rather than taking the high road that skirts it. But when the road dead ends my mistake becomes apparent, and I run back up the hill a little way and find the junction which I missed before.
It has taken me two hours (and some seconds) to get here and I’ve gone almost 11 miles. It’s about 5:30 and it’s still pitch black.
A little before 6 I see a crescent moon rising over the hills ahead of me. My eye can see the hills underneath, and a bright crescent against a dimly lit (earth-light lit) rest of the moon. The camera has different ideas…
I’m currently running high above the riverbed/floodplain of the Santa Ynez river, so I have a good view of the moonrise and the coming dawn.
Ten minutes later I try again. This time with better effect. The hills are visible (as is my flashlight) and the moon is a crescent.
Now I head down into the canyon of the nameless stream the flows out of the Grotto, and the moon is lost to sight. I turn up Cold Spring trail and run the quarter mile to the Grotto. Last time I was here there were still a few Indian Paintbrush blooming at the waterfall, the last few of Castilleja minor for this year. Two are still here, and I peer at them in the dim light of pre-dawn. Yes, there’s a tiny bit of color left, and the top is still in bloom.
Time to turn around.
But a little further down Cold Spring there’s a Bricklebush that I’ve only recently identified. Not our common Bricklebush, but Nevin’s Bricklebush. I only know of three plants, so whenever I get close to one I like to check it’s status. So I go a tenth of a mile out of my way (this time down the canyon), and there it is. Still blooming.
It is now light enough that I can see the trail, and I turn off my flashlight.
Then back to the trail to the mine, and out of the canyon.
While I’ve been down there a fog has come out of nowhere and is covering up the dawn. In the next hour or two the fog will become more pronounced, and lower, until I’m running through it by the time I’m back at the mine.
I can now see all the blooms I missed on the way out. I’m seeing a fair number of flacid senecios (rather an unfortunate name, I feel). I was down this way about two weeks ago and didn’t notice any, but today they seem fairly common.
I trot along past the various landslides and wonder how on earth I got past these in the dark? More to the point there are some bike tracks here on the trail. How did they do it?
A bit further on I spy some Calochortus seeds. I’ve actually gone looking for these lilies on this trail a couple of times over the summer and never seen them. But I’ve always turned back to the Grotto before I got this far and so have been disappointed. I’m guessing these are C. fimgriatus (though there are a couple other species with this seedpod shape, still the plant size and habitat are right for C. f.). That’s good to see. There are only about 7 plants here now. I’ll have to return here next July (I hope it’s cool then…)
Five minutes later I find a very large patch of C. clavatus seedpods. This is a much bigger surprise; I really hadn’t expected to find that species anywhere near here. I’ll have to come back in May… And 10 minutes after that I find another (but smaller) patch of them. I guess they are more common than I had imagined.
I start calculating how long it will take before I see Luis’s party. Somewhere around the dam I guess… They started at 7, but didn’t have to run from Lower Oso (at least I hope they didn’t).
There’s a outlook point here, right above the Mercury Mine, and whenever I pass it I stop and look at Gibraltar Reservoir — the upper reaches anyway. It’s shrouded in mist, but even so it is clear that no water is visible at all. The lake floor is covered with shrubs. It’s been dry a long time here.
Ten minutes down the road I finally do see some water.
Then I hear voices, and turning a corner find Karen, Heidi and Andreas. But no Luis. Ah. They started at 6 (and the gate was open for them, lucky people). I tell them where I stashed my water (in case they go there). I realize that I seem to have plenty of water still. It’s a cool day, and now it’s misty. Less need for liquid. I’ve completely forgotten to worry about it.
We say our good-byes and go our separate ways.
I slowly climb out of the reservoir basin, and then back down toward the dam. I hear voices again, but I can’t see anyone. Oh well.
About 5 minutes later, down in the canyon below the dam I meet the first of Luis’s party, and then Luis himself. He wants to know if anyone else started early, so I tell him about the others.
A large group is running with Luis, but there are some stragglers. I pass Simone and some others (my glasses are fogged up and it’s hard to recognize people). I turn back to chat, and as I do I see the dam. I couldn’t see it in the darkness on the way down. It’s impressive. When I reach the top of the saddle there is an even better view, looking down from above you can see there is water behind the dam. Still. Some.
Now I need to find the turn-off for the trail (now that it is light, I’d like to run down it). I didn’t notice this end of it on the way out… Anyway as long as I can see the tracks of Luis’s party I know that I haven’t passed it. And here there are footprints spread all across the road. New prints too, the sand is speckled with mizzle and the footprints have disturbed it.
Eventually I find the trail, and plunge downhill to Red Rock and Paradise Rd.
Lots of cars here now, but not mine. I’ve got another 4.5 miles to run.
On I go.
After about two miles I can see a bit of blue sky. I’m still under clouds, but the mountains across the way are in sun. It’s nice to see the sky, but I fear that means it will heat up soon…
A couple of trails hit the road along here. I knew about the Mattias Connector, but now I also see where the Camuesa Connector comes in. A bit later, at the final stream crossing, a trail takes off to the left and heads down through the river bed. Lucky it’s dry. I’m pretty sure this is more of the Camuesa Connector and that it will take me back to Lower Oso. So I head out into the unknown. There are only two more miles or so…
The sun is out now, and it is getting hot.
The trail is a bit difficult to run on. It is alternately sandy and rocky. But it’s kind of fun to see what is growing inside the riverbed.
There isn’t just one trail here, as I had thought, there seems to be a maze of twisty little trails all alike. Still I guess that if I keep picking one going downstream I’ll be OK.
I cross Arroyo Burro Rd. now. Only about 3/4 mile to go now. Google Maps gets this trail wrong. They claim it stops here (among other problems). But it doesn’t stop it keeps going.
I pass a family out horseback riding.
Mmm. Maybe the maze of twisty little trails isn’t quite as easy to get out of as I hoped. I’m on the wrong side (south side) of the river now and climbing the bank away from it. Oh dear. As I recall the hint was “Don’t go west”, and I’m going west.
So I head north at the next intersection. And north again. And eventually I cross the river, and climb up the north bank, and am 50 feet from my car.
¹If mid-summer’s day is on the summer solstice, then surely mid-autumn’s day is on the autumnal equinox.