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Running, Backpacking and Tarantulas

Right, then…

I’ve decided it’s time to post an update as there’s work that I’m avoiding right now.

Pacific Coast Trail Runs – Woodside 10K – December 3, 2011

So the past couple of weeks have been active for MIMW2.  First, I did a 10K trail run.  Before this, the only organized trail run I’ve done is the Race Through the Redwoods which – while there are some hills – is fairly benign.

This, of course, led to a false sense of ability.

Woodside, on the other hand, seemed to be about 40 to 50% climbing, which sort of makes sense as it is on the side of a hill.  My initial plan was to run the entire loop; my thought being that I could gut it out on the hills.  About 2/3 through the climbing I finally gave up and started walking the uphills and running the flats.  Things picked up nicely once I reached the downhill part, though.

Other than reality smacking me in the face, it was an uneventful run – no trips, no falls, no twisted ankles or torn whathaveyous – which is important:  The point is to avoid destroying yourself, so you can run another day.

In the end, I did it in1:12, which is pretty good for me considering the terrain (my road 10K times are typically1:02or so – I’m not a fast runner).  Overall, I enjoyed it and am looking to do some more in 2012. 

This, mind you, depends on how I’m doing physically.  I ran again on the Monday after and felt fine during the run.  Then, while Christmas shopping later that afternoon, I started getting sharp pains in my right knee.  Not good – especially since I was in the mall and was trying to hide the fact that walking hurt so bad it was bringing tears to my eyes (didn’t want to be seen crying in front of Santa).  Fortunately I was able to…I don’t know – make and adjustment or pop something back in to alignment…that allowed me to continue my trip pain free.  However, when I attempted to run again on Wednesday night, I started feeling soreness, so that was cut short after ¼ mile.  Because of this, I’m switching back to the bike for a while. 

But that does not mean that hiking is out.

Backpacking – Sunol and Ohlone Regional Wilderness – December 9 and 10

I monitored my knee the rest of the week as I had a two night backpacking trip planned.  As mentioned in an earlier post, this was designed to test my mettle.  This was my first solo backpacking trip, two nights, in sub optimal (read:  Ye gods, it’s cold!) conditions.

I arrived at Sunol and got on the trail at about1:15or so.  I toyed with taking one of the hiking trails (e.g. Canyonview) to the campsite, like I did on the recon visit a few weeks prior, but decided to go on the Ohlone Camp Trail.  OCT is mainly a fire road with a gentle rise.  The Backpack trail shoots off of OCT and ultimately leads to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail and the campsites.  As this included more climbing, it took a bit longer – I guess about twice as long to cover half the distance.  Overall, this leg was ~3.05 mi from where I parked the truck.

I did encounter a couple of awful “Is this the right trail?” moments.  Not so much as I thought that I was lost, but that I did not want to have to descend, then re-ascend a different trail. 

One thing I did not mention before:  On the aforementioned recon trip, I happened upon a Tarantula.  The challenge there was to not frighten it into attacking me, while I’m jumping and stomping and trying not to scream like a little girl…

So, let’s talk about that for a sec.  I don’t like spiders.  I’m even willing to say that I’m afraid of them; mainly, because they’re ugly.  Yes – this is lookist, I know, and I’m very comfortable with that.  If spiders looked like butterflies, I’d be much cooler with them.  So not only are Tarantulas spiders, they are big, hairy nasty motherfuckers.  To make things worse, the ones in these areas aren’t even black like the normal ones; they’re brown, which somehow makes it worse.

Trying to take a scientific approach, I thought I should do some research – mainly to determine whether they are poisonous.  I’m happy to report that they are, but not to humans.  However, they do bite, though I’m told that the bite doesn’t feel much worse than a bee sting. For that matter, I think the bite would create more emotional damage than actual physical or physiological damage.

There’s little comfort in that fact, folks. 

Also, here’s a fun fact:  You can’t do research on Tarantulas without being shown pictures of the sonsabitches.  All I want is the data – I know what the evil bastards look like.  But no, every website is:  “Here’s info on these terrifyingly large spiders…and here’s some pictures of them as well, lest you were going to have a goods night sleep, tonight.  Try not to think about them the next time you imagine something crawling on you, Douche-Face.”

…and of course, the imaginary creepy crawlies kick right in. 

Fortunately, I do not have any confirmed sightings on this trip.  I did see some smallish dark objects scuttle under some bushes at a couple of points.  While these were not confirmed sightings, I will say that they did not make any noise as they were traveling over the grass and leaves, which again makes it that much worse. 

But enough about that.  Sky Camp (my site) was on the side of a hill that overlooked the valley.  Even though it was hazy, it was still an enjoyable sight.  I do wish, however, that there were more deciduous trees to enhance the view (OK, disclosure:  I had to Google deciduous to make sure it was the word to describe trees that change color and lose leaves in the Autumn.  Dammit, Jim!  I’m a Proctologist, not a Botanist!).  The site itself was at the end of an offshoot of the main trail.  While there was no one in my area this time, I can see this being a valued feature as there would be no one walking through camp to get to their sites.  One downside is that you have to walk 3 to 4 minutes to the next lower site (Eagles Ayrie) to get water, and beyond that to get to the pit toilet – something best done with daylight as the trail between Eagles Ayrie and Sky Camp is singletrack and is little more than worn down grass.  I wonder if they have to re-clear that piece of trail every year, so it doesn’t get lost. 

A side note:  The ground there is quite hard, so I was not able to stake the tent down.  As it was not too windy (a little breezy, but that’s it) I was OK. 

I started dinner at 4:30or so; much earlier than I normally eat.  The reason for this was that this was the first time that I’d be cooking with a backpacking stove (MSR Whisperlite, borrowed from a friend) and that also, even with the head light, there was going to be limited illumination.  So I figured I’d eat and get it done with.  Dinner was freeze-dried chicken and pasta – not bad.  It was dark by the time I was done (5:15or so).  I cleaned up my bowl and spoon, hung my food bag, and went to the tent…as I turned around, there was “God’s yellow moon shinin’ down on the cool, clear evenin’”[1].

As it happened, I planned my first solo backpacking trip during a full moon.  (I’m also told that there was an eclipse, but I did not know about that until after the fact.)  So, I watched the moon rise and watched the shadows disappear in the valley for a bit.  After a while I noted that it was getting colder and colder.

So – up to this point, all of my camping has been car camping.  This means that, regardless of weight, size or need, multiple lights, blankets and other whathaveyou are brought along, so long as it fits in the truck.  Also, the sites that I’ve stayed in had fire rings – this provided both light and heat, so sitting around the campfire was somewhat comfortable.

There was none of that, here.  Yes, I had a headlamp and a small backpacking lantern, they did not provide much ambient light.  Also, my insulating layers (base layers, mid layers, jacket) are more designed to keep one warm whilst in motion.  So, unlike car camping, sitting around the campsite was a cold and dark experience.

So, at5:45, I went to bed and read.  I chuckle at the contrast – 10 years ago, I’d be out on a Friday or Saturday night, ten sheets to the wind.  Now, at 40, I’m in bed before6pm, sober and reading.  Had my iPod been charged, I might have been listening to an NPR podcast, as well.  My, how we change.

I slept fairly well – was a little cold but that was because I was not fully zipped into my mummy bag.  Also, as the tent was not staked down, there was some flapping of the tent fly due to the breeze (the sound of which I thought was an animal).  I did realize too late that I was on a slight slope, so I had to keep getting back up on the sleeping pad a few times during the night.

By 9:20the next morning, I was up, breakfasted, packed and on the trail.  For this leg, I took the Ohlone Wilderness Trail from the campsite, down to the entry of the park, across Calaveras Rdthrough San Francisco Water District land, then on to the Ohlone Wilderness Region.  While there was some climbing, it was not horribly treacherous.  I did encounter a couple of nav-errors, due to signs and the trail map not fully agreeing.  There was also a point where I veered when I should have vamoosed.[2]  The Ohlone Wilderness Trail, in this part, consists of the McCorckle Trail – there was a part where I should have hooked a right on to the Canyonview Trail to make it down to the valley floor, then back on to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail.  By going straight, I had to walk on the park road for a short bit – nothing major, just a silly mistake. 

A lot of the trail went through cow pasture and as such, I encountered cows and calves.  Normally when this has happened, the calves barely pay attention to me; here, they were a bit spooked and hid behind their mothers.  Fair enough, I coolly cruised through and made a point to not be threatening in any manner (though I was ready to wonk a charging cow with my trekking pole, if needed). 

I made it to my camp site at exactly2:00pm.   This leg of the trip was 8.49 miles.

Eagle Spring (the name of the campground, I had site #1) is in the shadow ofMissionPeak.  It was sort of interesting in that during the summer, I had hiked upMissionPeakseveral times, in preparation for hiking Half Dome.  While I knew this site was here, I never took the time to walk down.

Compared to Sunol backpack camp, these sites were much closer together – maybe 40 to 60 feet apart.  This could have been an issue earlier in the year if there were other [potentially rude] backpackers, but this time of year it was fine. 

Despite proximity of the individual camp sites, I liked this location.  The pit toilet and water supply were 10 seconds from the site, and the sites had grass.  Not only just nicer to look at, but easier to drive stakes in.  I got camp set up and made some coffee – as the location is behind Mission Peak, it was in the shade and somewhat cold and getting colder as the afternoon wore on. 

The way this route shook out, I passed the truck on my way from Sunol to Ohlone.  Knowing this, I had stashed some extra food in case I was running short.  After I had gone past the truck, I was concerned about how much (or little) food I had with me, so I did an inventory after I set up camp.  I had enough for dinner, breakfast and a trail snack – no extras, no dessert, no comfort eating.  I figured I’d be fine, even if I wound up being a little hungry.  This sorted, I did some reading and relaxed.

During this time, a couple of folks (two trail runners and a mountain biker) came by and took it upon themselves to chat.  Now – they were nice folks, but this is where I remind the studio audience that I’m an introvert.  I do things like solo backpacking in order to get away from people…and now, here they are in my temporary living room.  So I amuse them as much as I could so as to not be rude, though it was somewhat grating.  My though on the topic is this:  Look at the scene.  Solo guy, backpacking late in the year when there’s rarely anyone around – are these signs that he’s wanting for company?  Fortunately, they left before my editing sequence shut off.

Dinner and everything went about the same, though there were more birds flying around.  It turns out that a bird sanctuary borders the campsite – I found this to be pleasant.  Back in bed before the old folks finish the early bird special, though for some reason it’s really cold.  I mean colder than the night before.  So cold that I don’t even try to read; I just zip up in the mummy bag and try to sleep.  There was a point that I even put on my base layer bottoms underneath my pants – still was cold.  I realized at some point that, unlike the night before, I was able to properly stake the tent and fly.  This meant that air was able to flow in to the tent through the screen as there was a gap between the tent wall and the fly; the night before, the fly covered the screen, effectively closing it off.  So I pulled those stakes out and did some jumping jacks while I was out to warm up.  I put on a third layer of socks, completely zipped up the mummy bag (only part of my face was exposed now) and did some situps.  Finally the cold started to subside, and I was able to get some sleep.

As mentioned above, something else I learned is that there’s a difference between layers you wear while moving around and layers you wear while lying around.  Also, even though I normally sleep warm, the 30F sleeping bag has its limits (meaning, if I ever intend on doing any snow camping, I’ll need to rent a 0F bag).

By8:00the next day I was back on the trail. It was a bit foggy/overcast, but that was fine.  The cows were somewhat more vocal that morning – something must have been bothering them

By the looks of the trail, I don’t think it was constipation.

4.76 miles later, I was back at the truck.  In the end, I hiked 16.3 miles in 7 hours 55 minutes.  The final lesson I learned was in regards to food – I had just enough (one bag of trail mix was left), but I would have been in trouble had I gotten stranded, so more food should be packed next time.  As for everything else, I think I about nailed it.  The entire pack weighed 42 lbs with water and fuel.  The only things I did not use were the emergency equipment (space blanket, poncho, first aid kit, etc…) everything else was utilized.  I reckon if I were to save weight, I could get a lighter tent, sleeping pad and pack, lose the lantern (only use the headlamp) and use a lighter water filter.  Even then, with the extra food that I’d need, I’d probably save 5 lbs or so.  That said, I’m sure there are some light and ultra light backpackers that would pare down my rig to 15 lbs by leaving the stove and fuel, using a lighter backpack, and not sleeping in a tent…

…but then they’d be exposed to those goddamn Tarantulas.


[1] Credit:  Lord Richard Buckley and Jimmy Buffett.  This line is from a spoke-word piece titled “God’s Own Drunk”

[2] Credit: Berkeley Breathed

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Post-Thanksgiving

Right, then.

So, I’m not “The Most Prolific Man in the World”, just the Second-Most Interesting.

Much to my surprise, I, too, fall victim to The Inexorable March of Time.  Case in point, the last post was written on October 2; it’s now November 25, nearly two months later.  I’ve done things, but I haven’t written about them until now.

So, I previously made reference to a “Big Hike” that I had planned in October.  That hike was to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.  While I did set out to complete the hike, a combination of unfortunate weather, discretion and self-preservation kept me from making it all the way to the top. 

I set out for the trail at 5:30 on October 9 and made it to the base of Sub-Dome by 11:45-ish or so (may have been a little later – all I remember is that it took longer than I had originally thought).  Upon reaching Sub-Dome, I encountered a Ranger standing next to this sign:

You'd Turn Around, Too

The Ranger – a nice guy in his own right – explained that slippery and icy going up hill was frustrating and dangerous.  Contrarily, slippery and icy combined with gravity and a 600-foot drop going downhill, is deadly.  He also stated that while he could not legally stop me, he would need me to provide the following information, should I continue:

  1. Name and contact information for next of kin, in the event that I fall and die;
  2. My height and weight for when the chopper pilot has to move my remains out of the area.

He then proceeded to regale me with tales of the last two deaths of hikers that slipped off of Half-Dome (he did not count the Austrian climber that fell off the face two weeks prior, as that was due to his climbing rope getting cut by the granite). 

I told him that all that was unnecessary as they had me at the sign.   I had him take a picture (which I will not post as I had sweat through the crotch in my pants and it looks like I’m wearing pee-pee undies), shook his hand and headed back down the hill. 

I count myself as lucky as I do not let my ego drive me, especially when it comes to things like this.  As a function of that, I’ll get a chance to try this again next year.  Next time, there’s a high-probability shot that we’ll be backpacking in from Tenaya Lake, so that will be a whole ‘nother groove.

One month later, I turned 40. 

The big four-oh.  The Pirate Looks at Forty.  It’s not as bad as it used to be, I think.  I remember when 40 was really old.  My parents were effectively dead at 40; I’m still picking up steam.  I do notice things, though:  I’m injured, so it hurts more when I run (or after I’m done running); I have steadily increasing gray hair (though I do rock a mean salt and pepper beard, now).  Most importantly, I’m happy; happier than I was earlier in life, due to numerous factors.  True, things can always be better, but I realize that on the large, life is pretty damn good.  So I got that going for me…which is nice.

We celebrated with a trip to Moab, UT.  We arrived with a general list of things to do, but no major schedule as a) weather could trump us at any time, and b) you never know what you’ll find when you get there.  In the end, we hit Arches National Park a couple of times, Canyonlands National Park, and did a longish bike ride in a canyon along the Colorado River.  While it was a bit cold, we geared up nicely so it wasn’t that bad. 

One majorly-cool thing was the NPS-led tour through the Fiery Furnace section of Arches NP, which required scrambling over rocks and through tight spaces and such.  Through the entire tour, I was giggling to myself:  “Goddamnit shit, this is so fucking cool!” and thinking “Dig me! I’m the guy in the REI ads!”

Like Him

What was most impressive was how mind-flatteningly beautiful it is out there.  While I was there, I was plotting how soon I could make it back. 

There was one small disappointment:  I had been scheduled to go skydiving on my birthday.  However, the day before, the skydiving company called and stated that their plane was broken and would not be fixed until the end of the week (after I had returned home).  Now – I’m no skydiving expert, but I know in a vague, abstract sort of way that aircraft (specifically, functioning aircraft) is a necessity for skydiving.  So – I didn’t go.  All that means is that I’ll need to find a place at home during the next year that can take me.

That was the beginning of November.  Now, it’s down to normal day to day stuff.  Naturally, we just cleared Thanksgiving, so we’re in holiday mode now.  I ran a 10K turkey trot, yesterday.  In a couple of weeks, I have a 10K trail run in Woodside and the week after that, I’m solo backpacking for a couple of days in Sunol Regional Wilderness. 

The backpacking trip is sort of a test-fire.  I want to see how I do a) backpacking solo, and b) backpacking in sub-optimal weather.  Mind you, this is not a major stress test:  It’s Sunol, for fuck’s sake.  The weather doesn’t get all that bad, and I’m not all that far away from real life.  I just want to see how I do and how well I like it – if I enjoy it, I can get in some decent non-crowded backpacking during the wintry months. 

After all that, then, it’s Christmas in Fresno (with a snowboarding trip thrown in, since I’m there) and New Years (XC skiing and/or snowshoeing and/or snowboarding) and lather, rinse, repeat for the next 12 months.  It will be interesting to see where life will lead me in 2012.  I’ve been spending more time on the motorcycle, so there could be a road trip or two in the works.

OK, enough of this…