As all of us go through life, we inevitably hit that phase where it get’s “real”. I find myself there this year. It seems I’m not alone either, as many of my friends who love the trails are also in the same general spot. Maybe it’s a “getting older” thing, or maybe it’s because people like us relish in experiences, and look for a deeper meaning in life. I’m really not very concerned how well decorated my house is, or where my couch came from, but I sure as hell am focused on what place or trail can I go explore next, how am I going to get there, and what will it be like?! I also find a strong desire to spend more and more time on the trails, maybe running away from problems out there, maybe doing some healing, probably a bit of both. It’s in light of that, that I wanted to just share a few experiences from over the summer and to be a reminder that all of us struggle with life from time to time, but we can’t forget to look up an appreciate the scenery – because life is beautiful, even when it’s tough.
Run 1 – Tahoe Rim Trail
In early Spring of this year, I organized a few training runs for the Miwok 100k, a popular trail race in Marin County that covers some of the best trails we have to offer. I enjoy these trails regularly, and have run the Miwok a couple of times myself, so I’m happy to take others out for a preview of the course before race day rolls around. During one run I met Juan. He told me that he’d be running the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler later in the year. I needed an excuse to get up in the mountains, so I offered to pace him at TRT100. He accepted, and thus my first jaunt into the mountains for the year was set.
It turned out to be a great event (top notch, totally awesome, best race organization and volunteering I’ve ever experienced!), and of course the trail/course is beautiful. I ran with Juan from miles 50 thru 80 which took us from afternoon to sunset, and well into the night. I had it pretty easy since he’d already run 50 miles in the heat of the day, but I can still attest to the difficulty of that course (in part due to the heat) which demolished several very strong runner friends of mine. They all finished, but wow! I’ve never seen so many capable athletes so wiped out (and salty!) at the end of a race. It was only 100 miles, c’mon guys! Ha! This planted the seed of running 100 miles in my mind, but it also gave me the fear!
Run 2 – Speedgoat
Welp, I was totally unprepared and not at all trained for this one. The Speedgoat “50k”, in actuality is more like 33 miles with about 12,000 ft (~3660 metes) of elevation gain, and tops out at an altitude of 11,000 ft (~3350 meters) in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. Karl Meltzer designs this course to be punishing, beautiful – but punishing. In some cases we’re running on baby-head sized boulders for miles, other times on hands and knees going straight up the mountain with no trail. Type II fun, to be sure!
I went into the race with a stress fracture in my left tibia. My ortho was not excited about this to put it mildly, but I planned to mostly hike and promised not to run the downhills (not too hard anyway). The first climb to 11,000 ft went ok, the subsequent two climbs to 11,000 ft left me gassed! It’s probably a bad idea to come from sea level and do this without training at elevation. I did finish in about nine and a half hours, which honestly was only about one hour slower than I expected to. Not too shabby for a 40 year old guy with a broken leg!
Run 3 – Evolution Basin
This was an abbreviated 36 mile route that I cobbled together from a longer ~55 mile route that I was pondering about a year ago. Starting from South Lake, my buddy JV and I would go up over Bishop Pass, down into Le Conte Canyon, up Muir Pass, into Evolution Basin, then off-trail to Darwin Bench, up and over Lamarck Col, finally scrambling down to North Lake. JV is strong with the berserker spirit, and he had just run the Angeles Crest 100 miler, plus about half of Tushars 100k (before thunder storms and mudslides shut it down) in the weeks leading up to this. His legs were not exactly fresh and I was not exactly in the shape I wanted to be in either, but when life gives you lemons, jump out of the plane and hope your chute is packed properly!
We had a long day. By his own acccount, JV is “not a mountaineer” and was not thrilled about the “bouldering” that we had to do off trail, which in actuality was a lot of boulder hopping and scrambling over large talus to get to Lamarck Col, then up and over that beast. A couple of people camping at the base of it couldn’t believe we had run 30 miles to get there and were now about to climb it just before sunset. Our legs ached, but the spectacular sunset at the top was worth the trouble. A light rain sprinkle caught the late rays of light, looking like diamonds on fire as it came down. A proper end to the day that was pure magic.
With so much snow and several off-trail sections, this was a long day in the mountains, but definitely one of those life experiences you can’t have without blood, sweat, and a few tears. Somehow it ended up being close to 40 miles by the time we finished.
Run 4 – Tuolumne Meadows
I was able to sneak up to Tuolumne Meadows with my pal David for a couple of nights. On each of these trips I had been sleeping soundly in a Warbonnet Blackbird on loan from my friend Ken… hammocking is the lifestyle! So, David and I hung our hammocks in a nearby campground, and I got to do a 30 mile run while he day hiked, meditated, and napped. I started and finished at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, heading out towards Vogelsang High Camp, then turning South towards Merced Lake. I did not go down to the lake but rather looped back around to Vogelsang Pass, making a lollipop shaped route.
The weather was great and I beat the thunderstorms as the first drops of rain started falling just as I finished my run. This was a great loop, and one I would high recommend for anyone wanting to dip their running shoes into the deeper end of the pool. The navigation is straightforward, the trail surfaces are mostly good, the scenery is great, and the effort required is only moderate (relatively speaking).
Don’t Forget to Look Up
When I go out to run trails, it’s to enjoy being there, in that moment, and in that place. It’s to enjoy life and the feeling of being free to run, hike, or explore places however I choose to. Looking at the photos above, I think it’s pretty clear why I’m inspired to be out there. I think I have said the words “wow, whoa, awesome, rad” more times in the last year of running than the rest of my life combined. I am, quite literally, always looking up!
I know most of the people that I share trails with are always looking up too, whether running or hiking. Sometimes it’s difficult, like that low moment in a long race or run when you’re pushing hard with nothing but fumes in the tank and your goals to keep you moving, but even then, being able to look up and reflect on how lucky you are to have the opportunity to run, and enjoy being outside – it’s important. During the hardest times is when we need to remind ourselves to look up for perspective and to be reminded of how beautiful life can be. -JD
“Winter’s done, and April’s in the skies,
Earth, look up with laughter in your eyes!” – Charles G.D. Roberts