There are people who go to the mountains, and there are people who come from the mountains. Having been treated to outdoor experiences in the mountains since I was old enough to walk, I find myself identifying with the latter. I recognize that there have been times in my life when my interest in the slower-paced ways of experiencing the outdoors changed, nowadays though the pendulum has swung back the other direction, seeking that natural balance toward the middle. Even a quick day trip can provide a complete recharge in times when it’s most needed.
With the health and safety situations becoming more serious in March, I made a few necessary adjustments to my routines but all in all it’s just been a matter of going with the flow. Path of least resistance. Since then, my kids have become my go-to people for partnering up with on outdoor activities. This was natural as we’d already been expanding our range of interests into things besides running and hiking. Namely, bushcraft, fishing, open water swimming, and biking. COVID just gave us more time to do all of these things. From a physical activity standpoint, the kids are getting much more than when they were in school thanks to me keeping the fires stoked and I’m getting about as much as ever, though I’ve missed the mountains and needed to get back out, if only for a day.
Heading to Truckee to buy a new fork for my bike (aka “Deathtrap”) doesn’t sound like a very Hike It. Like It. kinda thing, so I figured a run and hike would solve the dilemma. I pinged a couple of friends who live in the area and asked what they would recommend. Jack and Helen separately recommended the same loop to me, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do. Both told me that it was the best part of the Castle Rock course. Helen added that she preferred the clockwise direction and that the wildflowers were going off. After getting out there, I would agree with all of the above!
After picking up a new-to-me Rockshox Pike for the bike (yeaaa boy!), I made my way over the to the PCT trailhead near Donner Pass. It was pretty packed. The last time I was here, it was the middle of winter and I was snowshoeing out to the Grubb hut with David, late at night (I need to update my journal with a post about that epic catastrophe of a trip). Though there were a lot of people out, this was a much better experience.
The trail is beautiful. It winds through pines adorned on one side with bright green moss and after a couple of miles the shush of the highway disappears. I chatted with a few day hikers as I ran along. It was my first run at elevation of the year and I could tell, but there was no hurry and things were going swimmingly. As the trail climbs, Castle Peak comes into view. It’s a steep trail to get up there, and at 9,000 feet it’s not exactly a brisk run for a guy coming from sea level.
Eventually, I pulled myself on to the summit, sharing great views with two gals and a doggo. We chopped it up for a few then I ran down and across the ridge to Basin Peak which still held some snow on the North side. The view looking back toward Castle Peak was pretty sweet.
Descending down into the basin was quite a treat! Not only are the vistas really nice heading in that direction, but the wildflowers kept getting more and more intense as I headed further into the lower and damper terrain. Soon I was running through an endless sea of flowers. What a payoff!
Eventually, I had to make the last climb out of there and I was sad to depart from all of the flowers, nor was I feeling much like climbing again, haha. It was a stellar 14 miles of running and hiking though and I was so happy to have snuck it in.
My friend, Megan, said “oh, now you’ll want to sign up for the race (Castle Rock 100k) when they have the next one…” While I can appreciate the desire to compete on beautiful and challenging courses, that’s more her forte than mine. The experience I had was just the one I wanted to have. I was able to get out on what some consider the best part of the course, I didn’t have to pay an entry fee, and I didn’t have to spend a tough day on the trails. If life under the threat of COVID has taught me anything about myself, it’s that I don’t crave the events, comparison to others, or after-parties – and most of all, to appreciate the immediate joys of the trails regardless of the distance. It would have been nice to share this one with a friend, but sitting in a car with someone else for several hours right now probably isn’t the responsible thing to do, so I’m appreciative to have the ability and opportunity to do a little solo outing like this, and I’m happy enough to share it here through my journal. – JD
Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.
– Sigmund Freud