Monday, June 9, 2008

Today's Weather: Sunny and Gray

This past week we took a business trip to California. We visited the in-laws while we were there, and oh, yeah we left the kids with them for three days to go to Santa Barbara for a GI pathology conference (and lots of good, quality sleep). It was the first time we both spent the night away from both our kids. Don't worry, Mac and I handled it just fine!

When we stepped off the plane, we were struck by the grayness of California: roads and buildings everywhere you look, and a smoggy gray sky. Even the plants are a drought resistant gray-green: eucalyptus and laurel and buckwheat and live oaks. What little color there is seems to be washed out in the overly bright sun. Heck, even the former governor was Grey (haha!).

The one redemption in Southern California, to me, is the mountains. Yes, the beaches get all the talk, but they are overbuilt and overpopulated and really no more beautiful than the beaches anywhere else (I would say less so even). But California is mountainous in a way entirely different from Oregon.

Only recently have people thought to build in the mountains, with their houses balanced precariously on metal stilts. And so much of the mountain land remained unspoiled and much of it even got preserved. Despite the beauty and low population density around Salem there are essentially no true local trails, no where where you could be lost in the wilderness for a ten mile stretch. As I am currently craving some trail to run on, the proximity of all the California mountain trails seemed glorious.

Sunday, I thought about nearby places to run: Chantry flats, Bailey canyon, the JPL trails - all just a short drive from Mac's parents house. But instead Mac's family informed me I could reach a trail just a couple of miles away and so I set off from his house, without needing to drive at all. I ran to the top of his street and then made a jog onto Mountain Trail Road - it certainly sounded promising. Mac's mom told me there was a park at the top of the road with access to the trails, but when I got there, the whole place was torn up and surrounded in chain link fence, with no trail access to be found (I later learned they were redoing the reservoir), but a few steps farther on I saw a tiny little street: Mount Wilson Trail Road and a couple hundred yards later I was on the Mount Wilson Trail.

I don't know why I was so surprised to find this here; we hiked this trail quite a bit when I was growing up, precisely because it was so close, but still we had always driven to the trail head and so I never realized it was just over two miles from Mac's house (plus it was more like five miles from my childhood home). Starting the trail was so familiar even though I hadn't been there in a decade or so. In high school my best friend Anne and I pooped out at First Water, shocked that we had only gone a mile and a half. Mac and I backpacked up to the top and spent the night. I don't think many people have done this as the 14.2 mile round trip is doable in a day and for those who really want to camp at the top, you can drive up the backside, so no need to haul all your gear up the steep and dusty trail. My mom, Sister, Mac and I all hiked up to orchard camp one time to have lunch. And sometime in the 90's I actually ran the Mt. Wilson Trail Race on Memorial Day weekend.

No sooner had I stepped on to the trail, then I spotted a deer. I can't recall ever seeing a deer in Southern California.

The Mt. Wilson trail isn't exactly a kind a gentle trail; it doesn't ease you in with a nice slow warm-up. No -from the get go, it is UP UP UP! It is amazing how fast that uphill will knock you out - after five minutes I was ready for my first walking break! More uphill and more walking breaks (aka power hiking!). At the next big bend I could hear the water down below and I tried to recall if there was a downhill section to get to First Water, but a quick glance at the trail assured me there would be no rest for the weary, for going up the mountain was a series of five switch backs. Then more up, and finally, a tiny little down to First Water, but not enough to rest before it was UP, UP, UP again. At this point I was past all the fire zone so there were actually plants around, and after First Water there are quite a bit of trees and shade. It is actually a very pleasant stretch of trail, if you aren't trying to run up it!

I was surprised how many people were on the trail in these early hours, I easily saw at least 30 people on the trail and most of them were on their way down -all before 9 am. A not so fit looking jogger and his dogs, a group of power walking women, a couple out for a stroll, a trio of middle-aged Asian ladies, two very serious looking women trail runners followed closely by a not as serious looking trail runner, a family with two pre-teen kids, a couple more Asian groups, a man flying down the hill, two back-packers (I guess other people do back pack the Mt. W trail!). Right as I was starting to think about turning around a solo woman runner passed me coming down.

I wanted to make it to Orchard Camp, but I knew I couldn't do it and get back in under two hours, so at 1:16, I finally turned around. As I made the turn, a little part of me was thinking, "that last runner is only five minutes ahead." (ok, a big part of me).

Off down the trail, passing several more groups on their way up...The downhill is funny, because your breathing is no longer labored, but then the muscles in your legs quiver and let you know that this is still quite taxing. At every bend I looked ahead for my lead rabbit but I never saw her. When I reached the five minute rest point from the way up, I had all but given up, but then as I looked across the last C-bend of the trail I saw her at the other side. I made a mad dash down the hill, past the deer site, and onto the road. I hit made it to the stop sign just as she was crossing the street to her car. I didn't actually pass her (she got in and zoomed off), but I was happy nonetheless. I plodded the rest of the road's back to the Smiths and got to their door in 2:06 for the 11 or so miles. (How sad was I that my new Garmin with GPS was sitting in a Salem post-office just waiting for me!).

Monday I paid for my downhill pursuit. Man were my quads sore! but it gave me something to do when I got bored during the lectures - I sat there and flexed and poked them all day long to feel the pain!

Mac and I spent Sunday night to Wednesday afternoon alone in Santa Barbara. We dined on great food (on the company tab!), visited with Mac's high school best friend (and best man) and his wife, and strolled by the sea. And I didn't run a step! Wednesday afternoon, Mac took the train back to Pasadena to relieve his Mom of childcare duties. that afternoon, I went for another hilly run up to the Mission, through mission park, along the ridge and back down again (1:16). This time I wasn't quite as sore the next day.

Friday morning, I packed it up and headed back to Motherhood once again, joining Mac and the kiddos to spend the rest of the weekend at his parents.

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