El Niño?

December 15, 2015

Where is it?

Or rather, where is the rain it is supposed to bring us?

This rain year (Sept-Aug) has been the 22th driest in the 1 Sept-15 Dec period (out of 146 years recorded), and of those 21 only 3 had above average rainfall. But one of those 3, 1977-1978, had 42.34 inches.

So it’s not unprecedented that we’ll still have a wet year, just unlikely.

A fortnight ago the Independent ran an article claiming that in the big El Niño year of 1997-1998 rainfall in SB was delayed from its usual pattern and the big storms didn’t start until January. That was consoling. But then Weather Underground provided data from all the big El Niño years for SF and LA (but not SB) which said exactly the opposite.

So I grabbed the rainfall data provided by the county from their recording station downtown, and extracted the relevant points.

SB Rainfall Data at County Building
(in inches)
Year Sept Oct Nov 1-15 Dec 1 Sep-15 Dec
1957 0.00 1.41 0.51 2.95 4.87
1965 0.09 0.00 7.86 0.53 8.48
1972 0.00 0.04 5.69 0.73 6.46
1982 2.07 0.63 5.18 0.22 8.10
1997 0.05 0.15 4.30 5.78 10.28
2015 0.10 0.26 0.13 0.19 0.68
0.27 0.69 1.52 1.24 3.72

So the data I can find contradicts the Independent’s claim. In all prior “Big” El Niño years there was rainfall above the long term average at this point of the year at downtown SB.

The general consensus is that we will get a lot of rain this year — eventually.

But I worry.

The current definition of a big El Niño was not one that could be detected until (relatively) recently, thus we only have records for 6 big El Niño events. That’s not a big sample size…

This is supposed to be a bigger El Niño than any recorded, maybe we don’t get rain with exceptionally big El Niños. This is a warmer year than ever before, maybe that means something too… Weather is always random, maybe this year we’re just unlucky.

Paris — COP 21

December 12, 2015

So we have a new climate agreement out of Paris today.

Is it adequate? No.
Can it become adequate? Perhaps. We must hope so. It contains mechanisms within it to ratchet up the commitments as time goes on. Will people? Probably. Will it be enough?
Will people enact it? It is said to be “a legal instrument” which, I think, means the US Senate must approve it as a treaty. Which seems unlikely. So I doubt the US will agree to it. But perhaps there is some wiggle room I am not seeing.
Ah. Only some parts are legally-binding (the emissions commitments are not), and those parts which are binding are technically extensions to an existing treaty and, as such, do not require Senate approval. Tricky. [WeatherUnderground]
Will people live up to it? Let’s hope so.
However on the day after signing India reaffirmed that it intended to double its coal output (India is currently the 4th largest emitter. [Guardian]

What is adequate?

We really have no idea.

Back in the 1990s the best science suggested that a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would probably not lead to ecological catastrophe. And this has been the stated goal since then.

This year the average global surface temperature is expected to breach the 1°C mark and we are already seeming effects that 25 years ago were predicted for 2°C. In other words it is no longer possible to avoid catastrophic climate change. We are already too late. [Kevin Anderson]

For instance parts of the antarctic ice sheet have already passed a tipping point and entered a period of irreversible melting. The irreversible loss of the Amundsen ice sheet alone will raise sea-level by 1 meter in the next two centuries. [Guardian] The arctic ice cap is melting faster than expected, destroying ecosystems and the lives of humans dependent on those ecosystems. The incidence of “extreme” weather events is higher than expected.

To some extent this has been recognized at COP21 and the text now includes the aspiration to hold the level of warming to 1.5°C. However this has not resulted in anyone making a further commitment to reduce their emissions.

The commitments on the table are estimated to produce an increase somewhere between 2.7°C and 4°C, depending on whose climate models one looks at.

Some basic science

The earth has a large thermal mass. This means that it heats up slowly. Even if we were to stop producing any CO₂ (from non-ecosystem sources) the earth’s temperature would continue to increase for many decades.

We have a carbon budget. There is a limit to how much we can pump into the air before, eventually, the world will heat up by 2°C. The problem is that we can easily overshot that limit long before the temperature reaches 2°C.

Unfortunately no one knows what the carbon budget should be. We do know that about half of all carbon emitted gets quickly reabsorbed by plants, but the rest hangs around for centuries. Estimates suggest we can emit a range somewhere between another 100-400 gigatons of carbon. That’s a fairly wide uncertainty. [Yale] We are currently emitting approximately 35gigatons of CO₂ a year, and each year we emit more than we did the year before (though that increase is slowing). [Wikipedia, 2013 data] So at this rate we have anywhere from another 6 to 22 years before we would have locked in 2°C of warming. Unfortunately this dataset only includes CO₂ emissions. It does not include methane (which has a greater effect but is released in much smaller quantities), or water vapor, or other gasses. So worst case is we have about 5 years more of business as usual before for we guarantee 2°C warming eventually.

2°C is a global average

Some parts of the world are warming much more quickly than others. The oceans warm more slowly than the land. But there is a about twice as much ocean than there is land, and if the ocean takes longer to get to 2°C then the land will get there faster, and by the time the global temperature has averaged a 2°C increase the land temperature will be much higher.

The arctic heats up faster than the tropics, but the tropics have traditionally had a much narrower range of temperatures so in spite of that fact they will see exceptional conditions become normal much more rapidly. In both cases the ecosystems will not be able to adapt. In the arctic because there are large swings in temperature, polar ice caps disappear. In the tropics because the temperature is simply beyond what plants and animals can handle.

What about carbon capture?

Essentially all of the IPCC models which project that we will limit warming to 2°C require that we will have negative carbon emissions after about 2050. [Kevin Anderson] Not zero emissions, but negative. And this presupposes a technology we do not currently have.

We might develop it.

But as far as I know the funding for research into this area has been drastically cut in recent years. [Guardian]

In other words the paths the IPCC sees that might restrict warming to 2°C all depend on technology which does not exist and isn’t being developed. This is disturbing.

Positive Feedback

There are many areas of potential positive feedback which are not addressed by the IPCC, because we do not yet know enough to quantify them. And they are ignored in our climate models.

Melting permafrost will release a lot of methane into the atmosphere, a more potent heat-trapping gas than CO₂. This in term will lead to higher surface temperatures which will lead to more methane being released. We can see this happening but can’t quantify it. [Katia Moskvitch]

Warming ocean floors will release methane from methane hydrates with a similar feedback effect. [SWERUS-C3]

Warming tropics lead to droughts over the Amazon which leads to the death of rainforest trees which releases more CO₂ which leads to more warming and even fewer trees.

Ice and snow reflect more light and heat than oceans or land. As glaciers and ice caps melt the earth will absorb more heat meaning that more ice and snow will be lost.

This means that our current best guess are probably too conservative.

Sea level rise

With the ice caps and glaciers melting, and the ocean water warming and expanding, sea level is rising.

So far the global average is about half a foot higher now than it was 100 years ago. However the oceans aren’t rising at the same rate and on the east coast of the US the rise has been closer to a foot.

A paper posted on the next by [HansenDiscussion] suggests that the sea level may rise 10ft in the next 50 years and 15ft by 2100. This may be a worst case scenario, but past experience with climate predictions suggests that worst case scenarios have happened more frequently than best case ones. And we are very ignorant here.

Some context: Hurricane Sandy had a storm surge of about 13ft in New York. Hugo had a maximum surge of 20ft near Charleston. Katrina’s surge was about 27ft.

So by the end of the century New York might be constantly under more water than it was at the worst of Hurricane Sandy.

This would wipe out many coastal cities. It would destroy much farmland. Many island nations would no longer exist.

How fast can a marsh adapt? If the sea level rises by 15ft and the shoreline moves inward by many miles then marshes, which are very productive ecosystems will be wiped out.

But I thought climate changed stopped after 1998

This is a lie.

I have had the above statement questioned. So, a brief recap. I pulled down this dataset. I applied a linear regression least squares fit to the following year ranges of the global mean temperature:

1880-2014 T=.0068*(year-1998) + 14.36°C
1960-1984 T=.0118*(year-1998) + 14.35°C
1990-1998 T=.0230*(year-1998) + 14.49°C
1998-2014 T=.0108*(year-1998) + 14.52°C

The important thing to note here is the change/year which was .0068°C/year over the historical record; it was .0230°C/year in the 90s, and .0108°C/year in the period of the hiatus. So not only has the global temperature increased since 1998, but it has increased faster than the historical rate and about the same rate as during the 70s. It did slow down dramatically from the 90s, but that can be explained by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation [Nature].

However surface temperature is not a good indicator of heat transferred to the earth. And since 1998 more heat has gone into the deep ocean than happened before. With this year’s El Niño less heat is going into the ocean deeps and the surface temperature is again increasing quickly.

Remember in the last decade we have seen 8 of the hottest years on record, and the top 13 hottest years have all been since 1997. There is about 1 chance in 3.7 million of this happening if the climate were not warming. [Climate Central] And unless something amazing happens in the next 3 weeks, 2015 will be even hotter.

But isn’t extra CO₂ good for plants? Won’t warmer weather make ecosystems more productive?

There is some evidence that more CO₂ will make plants happier, but the effect is slight.

Basically ecosystems have adapted to current conditions. Changing those conditions will, in almost all cases be a change for the worse.

European grain productivity has already been reduced. [Frances Moore] The current drought exacerbated (and possibly caused) by climate change has reduced California’s agricultural productivity. Global grain productivity is expected to fall at about 1.5% per decade [David Lobell] Grains produce less protein in hot weather.

We don’t have any good metrics for measuring wild ecosystems, except long term extinction rates, but there is certainly evidence that the climate is changing faster than plants and animals can move to keep up. [Union of Concerned Scientists]

The woods I love to hike in will be very different when my niece’s children try them.

But the oceans will be the worst hit. The increase in CO₂ has led to an ongoing acidification of the water which prevents many animals from forming shells. The increase in heat has lead to bleaching coral reeves and the death of many.

More subtle changes happen too. Different species respond differently to climate change, some start breeding sooner than they would normally, others do not. Thus old ecological synchronizations are lost. A predator many start to breed in the spring before its prey does, resulting in starvation of the predator and over-population in the prey.

The oceans’ food chains are being disrupted and they are becoming less productive.

In other words, species are dying off. Humans are losing their food supplies.


The Guardian says it very well: “By comparison to what it [COP21] could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The world will be less beautiful in the future.
And there will be less for humans to eat.
And there will be more humans.

Red Rock … Something

November 29, 2015

I wanted to rerun the same course that I had done two years ago, start at San Ysidro and run over to Rancho Oso. But last year the marathon (which that course was) got switched to an out and back format, so it would be 13 miles out from Rancho Oso, and then 13 back — it wouldn’t even get me to the Grotto and would miss the nicest part of the run.

So I decided to do my own thing. I’d sign up for the marathon, but run with the 50 milers and just stop at the turn around.

And then the Gibraltar Fire happened, and they had to change the route. So when I signed up I didn’t even bother to check the course because I knew it would change. If I had, I might have noticed that the race started at Red Rock this year (rather than Oso) and the marathon actually climbed up to Camino Cielo and would cover most of what I wanted to see.

Then at the pre race chat Luis announced a 50K which would run out to Rancho Oso and then back and up to Camino Cielo, and that was almost exactly what I wanted to do. But then, 2 minutes before race start, it was far too late to change my registration to the longer run, and far too late to call Nichol who was to pick me up at San Ysidro.

A new meaning of Red Rock — Rocks on Cold Spring covered with flame retardant

A new meaning of Red Rock — Rocks on Cold Spring covered with flame retardant from the Gibraltar Fire.

I bribed my friend Joe to drive me to the start (he was racing the 50) by offering to lend him my Adventure Pass so he could park legally. Not much of a bribe really, but he graciously agreed.

When I picked up my bib I told them I was not coming back, they should just mark me DNF at the start. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was lost in the back country; I didn’t want anyone looking for me when I wasn’t findable.

When the gun went off I deliberately ran around the chip mat so that it wouldn’t think I had started either. When I came to each aid station I told them I was dropping out and not to count me, nor expect me to come back.

I thought that if I knew I wasn’t racing then I might take it easy and just run for fun. It didn’t work that way. I knew I wasn’t racing, so I didn’t bother the think about pacing or running advisedly. I went out too fast.

I had speculated that when I got to the bottom of San Ysidro I might run over to Romero and back (Romero being the new turn around for the 50M). I had even thought I might trot on down the 9 Trails route and so just run home. But when I got to the bottom my legs were dead, and I had no desire to go further. So those fancies vanished.

It was cold when we got to Red Rock camping area. Joe’s car thermometer read 38°F. Cold and dark. It was about 5am and the sun wouldn’t be up until 6:45 (down in the valley, we wouldn’t see the sun until later), so it was going to stay cold for a while.

I found the porta-potties and the place to pick up my bib and then waited. As we approached race start at 6am I realized it would still too dark to run and got out my flashlight. As time passed and nothing happened I realized it was now light enough to run and put away my flashlight. The start was only 12 minutes late, but that was enough to make the difference. So I’m actually glad for the delay, even though it was cold.

We were off along Paradise Rd. I placed myself near the rear in my attempt to avoid the chip mat. I wasn’t interested in my time. But… Once I saw people ahead of me… People running slowly… Well I ran faster. Most of the runners (the half-marathoners and true marathoners) had a short out and back section to do, the 50milers (and me) had a 5.5 mile out (and 5.5 mile back) to do. So after about half a mile most people turned back.

The 50 milers went up a steep hill, on single track. There was a woman who had passed me on the road, but slowed down more than I wanted on the hill. So I passed her. And some other people. After half an hour or so I noticed sunlight on the tops of the hills. But my phone was off and my hands were in gloves and by the time I had dealt with all that we’d have turned a corner and lost the view.

Um. Remember, I wasn’t racing? I could have stopped.

I didn’t.

When we got to Arroyo Burro someone pulled up beside me but didn’t try to pass. She was Michelle from San Luis Obisbo and didn’t want to get lost. It turned out that she was signed up for the marathon, so I realized that she was lost. She should have turned back ages ago, I suggested to her that she run the 50K instead since she had just added an extra 10 miles to her marathon (the marathon isn’t exactly 26.2miles, and the 50K isn’t exactly 31.2miles. Luis doesn’t care why should we?) so now she was on track for the 50K.

Brian Toro passed us, running up hill. The first 50 miler to turn around. Then someone else did whom I didn’t recognize. Then… er… we were at the turn around. There was no way I should be in 3rd place. Clearly I’d gone out too fast. At the very least Joe should be ahead of me. (Michelle seemed pretty fast)

We turned round and ran back up Arroyo Burro. A bit more slowly than we had run down. It was now quite light and a bit warmer so I took off my gloves and turned on the phone.
Arroyo Burro morning
Not quite as nice as it would have been earlier, but not bad. I find it surprising how sere the mountains are on the other side of the valley. There’s a fair amount of vegetation on our side (though without leaves in late november), but lots of bare cliffs across the way.

Michelle noticed other marathon bibs as we ran up the hill (I wasn’t paying attention). She said she was misdirected by the volunteers at the marathon turn-around. That’s unfortunate. I guess it happened to me on my first trail race…

Not much blooming. A few weird buckwheats and some local chicories.

Michelle seems to be running about 20 feet behind me. She doesn’t seem to get much closer or much further away. I’m not aware of having said anything offensive…

Maybe she doesn’t like the idea of running 50+K or something.

Eventually we get back to Paradise Road and run along it out to its end. I don’t like running on Paradise out here, there are lots of fords and each ford is paved with concrete rather than asphalt. Concrete is not kind to my Achilles tendons, and as each ford consists of a steep down section followed by a steep up section, I end up running “fast” which is even worse for them.

But eventually we come to the end and head up the dirt road there. I glance behind to make sure that Michelle isn’t lost. She’s not. She’s about 20ft back. She runs quietly, and I can’t tell that she’s there.

Hunh. Another route change. We don’t take the little short-cut trail here, but follow the road.

Starting to see half-marathoners returning. Dan Rudd flies down the hill.
White Cliffs

I realize I’ve run about 12 miles in the last 2 hours. That’s fast or me on the trails. But then this is the section with lots of roads so maybe that explains it.

Up over the ridgeline here, and then down, down, down into the valley with the Gibraltar dam. We’re seeing lots of half marathoners.

Then up out of that valley, Michelle still twenty feet behind me.

As we approach the first aid station I unstrap my camelback to get it ready to refill. I forget that my gloves are looped over the strap. They fall to the ground. I’m unaware of this.

I fill up my pack. Michelle asks the people at the aid station what she should do to recover from her going too far the wrong way. What can they say? Luis is really the only person who could make that decision… She decides she’ll run out far enough so that she’ll have done 26.2 when she returns. (This seems wrong to me, the extra 10 miles we ran in the valley are bumpy, but they are nothing like the mountain the other marathoners will have climbed to get to Camino Cielo. And it’s not as if this marathon is 26.2 anyway. Oh well, not my decision).

We set off.

I’ve failed to seal my camelback properly. I realize my gloves are missing. I turn back.

Someone, very kindly, picked up my gloves and put them at the aid-station. I also left my phone there. I’m a klutz. I get the camelback properly sealed. I set off again.

But by now several people have passed me and Michelle is out of sight.

I’m running more slowly now. Someone catches up with me. It turns out he’s the guy who rescued my gloves. He also recognizes me “Didn’t you pace the SB marathon last year? 3:30 or 3:25?” And I realize who he is. He is the guy who had done a 100K race the week before SB, then ran SB. He started with the 3:30 pace group, decided they were too slow, caught up with me and ran with me to the bottom of the hill, then decided I was too slow, and zoomed up the hill. I couldn’t have done that a week after a 100K.

He passes me.

Of course.

Gibraltar Reservoir from my favorite viewpoint (near Mercury Mine) I can't see any water. I think that's a first.

Gibraltar Reservoir from my favorite viewpoint (near Mercury Mine) I can’t see any water. I think that’s a first.

At mile 17 Joe passes me. OK, things are getting back to normal.

Someone else comes up behind me.

Then Tyler Hansen, the first marathoner comes zooming by. I jump off the trail into a clump of (dead) star thistle to let him by. I set out again, but there is star thistle caught in my sock and I stop to get it out. The guy behind me passes me.

Shortly after than Michelle comes running back. She’s in second place for the marathon if they accept what she’s done. She’s fast, but I don’t think she’s that fast… I would be much further behind Tyler if I had run what he ran…

Now there is just me, alone in the landscape.

GrottoThe sun has not reached down into the valley of the Grotto. All the Dunn’s Lobelia which covered it are dead now, and most of the leaves of the trees have fallen, but it still has water.

It’s very steep here and I’m walking.

I’ve forgotten to eat for a couple of hours (another sign I’m not paying attention because I’m not racing)! No wonder I’m feeling tired! I eat some blocks and fairly soon I’m running again (it’s not quite so steep now, that helps too).

Lots of marathoners are returning now. The trail is narrow. Gets a bit tricky.

Last time I was here, less than 2 weeks ago, I saw some liverworts starting to grow. I see none now. Is it because I’m racing and not noticing, or have they died in the drought?

I realize I’ve now run 22 miles in about 4 hours. So first two hours were at 6mph pace, then next 2 at 5mph.

At Forbush I see the person ahead of me running off route (presumably to use the pit-toilet there). Yay! I passed someone.

A little beyond that I find two marathoners stopped on the trail. I ask if they are OK. “Just taking a rest.” I’ve run 22.5 miles, they’ve run about half that…

Finally I get to Camino Cielo. It has taken me half an hour to do the last two miles (admittedly steep miles). So now I’m down to 4mph.

I make sure Karen and Stephanie at the aid-station here know I’m not continuing. Someone runs behind me and zips through the aid station. I remind myself I’m not racing. I climb up to the watertank to look for a plant that was blooming there two weeks ago (It has a single, sad bloom today).

Then back on course along CC to San Ysidro. And downhill again. The top section is nicely runnable, and for a bit I’m doing 5~6mph again. I pass 26.2 at 4:55 or so (not my best marathon time!).

The "waterfall" on San Ysidro. A few drops if you get up close

The “waterfall” on San Ysidro. A few drops if you get up close

I pause to look at the so-called waterfall and then the trail gets tricky and I slow. The hikers all seem to know there is a race going on and happily get out of my way, which is kind of them. They ask me how far I’ve gone, and what place I’m in — I don’t know, but seems like there are an awful lot of people ahead of me.

When I get to Nancy’s aid-station I learn I’m in 5th place (or would be if I were racing). I think some of the people who passed me decided to run the 50K and turned back (and I assumed they were marathoners).

I chat a bit and watch 3 people go through the aid-station. Then I go down the final .8 miles to the road. 5:34 for ~29 miles by my watch, 5.2mph.

Nichol drives up. She wants to go see Nancy, which is fine with me, so we go back up. Um. I move very slowly. It takes forever to get there.

I see Joe on his return journey and Nash on his outward journey.

As a race I planned and executed it poorly. But I had fun.

Another Song of the Weather

November 24, 2015

January brings the drought
Dries the little forbs right out.

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

Welcome desiccating March
Come to help the garden parch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blazing dry December, then…
Bloody January again!

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

Thirsty Cat

October 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Appalachian Trail — in Georgia

October 10, 2015

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

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

So he was giving up the idea.

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

So I set out to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I expected to get lost.

And I did, but not very.

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

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

Perhaps on my next visit…

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

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

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

There are no lifts at Amicalola Falls.

Amicalola Amicalola


The falls are spectacular though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I proceed along the AT.

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

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

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

One hundred miles of solitude

May 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh. Tilting at windmills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I start out on the fourth lap.

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

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

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

I still don’t see a mariposa lily.

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

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

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

Fourth Lap: 2:30

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

It’s dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

May 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know what I’m doing.

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

Succumbed to a Cell-Phone

April 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t take as good pictures.

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

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

Phone Main View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Trails at last

March 29, 2015

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

Forgetting that last year my March race was infernally hot.

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

Not cool, but cooler.

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

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

It was dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kind of like running alone in the dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poppies at the top of West Fork

Poppies at the top of West Fork

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

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

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

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

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

I’m walking all the uphills now.

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

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

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

I try to eat up all their cut up oranges.

Then I’m out, and up Romero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out beyond San Ysidro I see Simone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin catches up and passes me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was faster than the run I did in the dark

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