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Monday, November 21, 2011

Brunch Run unpopular

The first Brunch Run was unpopular. Total attendance was: one. At least it’s an easy record to break. Or maybe not so easy. Based on the moderate success the Brunch Ride has brought to Sunday mornings over the past several months, I figured to duplicate it on Saturday mornings with a Brunch Run. I didn’t promote it with that name. Even reading it now just makes me want to heave but the brunch aspect of it would certainly be lighter and after any of the running. I did invite several people though. And not just random people – obviously that would be a mistake. But people I’ve run with in the past already, some of them on a semi-regular basis, and the response was, well, lackluster. I heard back from about half of them. I’ll take the non-responses as, “I don’t even want to dignify that with a response.” Those that did respond were upbeat but cautious, not wanting to get in over their heads. I understand this. Running, I know, is a very personal thing and maybe doesn’t lend itself very well to regular social engagements. And maybe I chose the wrong venue for the run – up a steep mountain trail, The Mount Wilson Trail Race route. And, as it turned out, the day was cold and gloomy and threatening rain – none of which helped to bolster the number of runners. In fact, I think the weather was the real factor in scaring away the one other runner from the start – he called in “sick” ten minutes before.

The morning started out rather cool (in the 50’s) and stayed pretty much that way all the way through. I spent probably half an hour just figuring out what to wear, trying on various combinations of layering and figuring out how to carry it all up and down on the trail. Luckily, I’d gone through this whole process before I got the last minute cancellation because otherwise I might have dumped the whole thing, too, but as it was, I was all ready for liftoff so I figured I might as well stick with the plan.

Arriving in Sierra Madre (the town at the foot of the mountain trail) with Mindful Mule was a little different than what I’m accustomed to on Race day. On Mt. Wilson race day (still six months off) there is an excitement in the air, sponsor tents set up and a guy talking on a loudspeaker and runners, runners, runners. I remember the first time I ran that race. The first runner I chanced to see as I arrived was a guy probably about 50 years old with the most incredible jackrabbit legs I’ve ever seen. At that moment, I thought, Oh, these guys are real mountain runners. But on this day the crowd was much different, including mostly the sidewalk coffee drinkers and of course the local million-dollar-cycling peloton that makes a stop there every weekend morning. For a moment some of the cyclists looked my way thinking they were seeing one of their own, maybe even a new rider whom they could better, finally, and foster in their development and choices of gear. I’m a confusing thing. I guy pulls up to their ride area wearing a cycling cap and musette bag, semi-tights, fingerless gloves, yellow-tinted sport lenses and, from a distance, for a moment, it looks like I might just fit in, might be one of their crowd. But then, always, confusion sets in and their hope is shattered as they see the mid-nineties rigid mtb complete with full basket and… what’s that? a wool flannel shirt and old trail running shoes and… (gasp!) those fingerless gloves aren’t Pearl Izumi, they’re not even fingerless gloves, they’re gloves whose fingers have been worn through! Retreat!

And with that welcome, I ran off up the street to the trailhead. The trail, as usual, was perfect. It’s one of the nicest trails in the area – very well maintained. Actually the first two people I encountered were coming off the mountain with a McLeod and a few other trail-work-specific tools. Thanks for your efforts, guys. There had been some rain earlier or over night as the trail was damp. The good kind of damp. Not wet. Just perfect for super traction with no mud or dust. There were a lot of hikers up there. I was a bit surprised. I know it’s a very popular trail and it was Saturday, but I figured the weather would turn away some walkers as it had turned away some runners. Many of the hikers were well geared out with backpacks and walking sticks and boots and such as if on expedition. Fine by me, you know, Be Prepared really is a good motto. I’m glad to have them up there sharing the trail with me. Another runner I know seems a bit peeved by this style of hiker, calling them the “Everest Assault Team.” He complains that they’re always taking up too much of the trail and getting in his way as he’s time-trialing the mountain. Luckily, he’d been sick that morning.

It never did rain up there that morning. The last minute layering system seemed to work fairly well. The mussete bag wasn’t ideal for carrying the extra goodies but it worked, it did its job – I think I’ll try some other style of bag next time. As a trail run it was a huge success. I know that because I’m still having flashbacks from the mountain surroundings – visions, some might say. As a training run it was also a success. I know that because my legs are finally really sore. As an experimental run it was a success because I got to try out new outfits, reconfirm that bike commuting to a trail run on a Saturday morning is awesome fun and should be repeated endlessly. The solo aspect of it was fine – mountain runners will be by themselves a lot, even when starting with a group – and besides, I had some very deep thinking to do that day. As a Brunch Run it was… it was a start… inconclusive, let’s say.

Forecast for next Saturday, November 26: Sunny, 78 degrees…

Monday, November 14, 2011

the post we’ve been waiting for!

You can go home again. That’s what I realized today as, for the first time in 26 months, I rode the Upper Brown Mountain Road/trail all the way to the top. This trail ride had become an almost weekly pilgrimage for me until the Station Fire ripped over the mountains in late summer of 2009. I ended up riding the trail twice after the fire and before the area had been closed. The last time I rode it was September of 2009. It’s been closed ever since. Several months ago they, the Forest Service, did reopen lower sections of the trail which was great but it really didn’t fulfill my need, my desire. The Upper Brown Mtn trail (and it really is a trail now, there’s no way to drive a truck up this anymore) takes you much deeper into the soul of the mountains and it was great to reestablish connection. If I sound less than overwhelmingly ecstatic it’s only because I think I’m in shock and/or dreaming.

I left the house this morning with no clear destination in mind. Mainly I was just going out to complete some errands. I had a slight inkling that I could ride up the Arroyo to the trailhead just to say hello. But I was also kind of tired as I’ve sort of been crushing the running mileage lately. Plus there was that little Brunch Ride yesterday up into the depths of Sierra Madre – Mary’s Market. But it was a nice day and I had some time so why not go for a nice little bike ride on Mindful Mule?

Errands completed, I continued up to the trailhead where I was rather pissed off by the Forest Service’s decision to cap the drinking fountain! Yes, I know it’s been a little leaky lately, but if you’re going to take the time to cap it you might as well fix it. What are thirsty hikers supposed to drink out there!? Well, yes, there’s the stream, and it’s probably clean(?!), but not even I have taken that option (yet – although, I’m contemplating it. I bet it’s fine. I just don’t know how much giardia I’m willing to gamble with.) So there I was at the trailhead with Mindful Mule and about 5 ounces of water left in my bottle. Oh well, I thought, it’s not a very hot day. I’ll just ride up a little way and turn around when I’m out of water. Then I can easily refill down at the Rose Bowl. I knew I’d only go up about three miles from that point anyway because everything above that was closed as it had been for the last two years.

Of course, once you point Mindful Mule up that trail it’s a rare chance you’ll be able to get him to turn around, dehydrated rider be damned. I knew that and I was fine with that. This is a recurring theme with us. So up we went! As we approached the Saddle (the 3-way intersection with Upper Brown Mtn trail and the route over to Millard Campground) I started thinking, “You know, it’s Monday morning, there’s almost no one up here, why not just ride to the top? Fuck the closure! It’s been closed long enough. I’m not going to be hurting anything. I know I won’t be the first one to pass the closed sign.” But at that point I only had a couple sips of water left, so, while I liked my line of thinking, I realized that I could not go to the top until I came back with water and probably Humble Horse, anyway.

But I got to the Saddle and lo and behold there was no sign. The route to the top was open at long last! Well, open in a relative sense. It was open in the sense that the unawares bicycle rider had no reason, without prior knowledge, to suspect that any part of this trail was closed. So there I was, already with premeditated federal offense lingering on my handlebars, and no indication of any kind of closure to stop me from proceeding up to the top of the Brown Mtn trail, and well, what kind of goody-goody am I, presented with a chance like this, after over two years of mis-f.-management of the trail system… I was going – fuck dehydration! And, thank God for that genius hiker (we’ll call her a hiker rather than a mountain biker here because we don’t want to spread any more ill-feelings about bikes on trails even though it was undoubtedly a male mountain biker of some kind) who pulled the posted “trail closed for forest restoration” sign out of the middle of the trail and tossed it over the side of the mountain. Thank you! Why did that take so long!? At least, that’s how I imagine it all went down.

As soon as I rolled, unbelievingly, onto that trail I was home. “It feels so good to be home,” I literally said.

The condition of the trail was surprisingly good. Not much different than it had been right after the fires. A few more slides here and there but still mostly rideable. Changed, for sure, but still worth every pedal stroke to get back there. I kiss-waved and high-fived Oak Tree on the way up and then kiss-waved the peak of Brown Mountain rising high above the trail-top. Even standing at the top of the trail I couldn’t really believe this was all happening. I couldn’t absorb it. It’s not a place you can absorb in one pass. But, hopefully, that closed sign will stay good-and-lost and I’ll get another chance to absorb a little more real soon and then again and again and again and pretty soon my soul-bowl will be refilled with Brown magic for me and Mindful Mule to bring back down the mountain because that’s what you do “when you get to the top of the mountain,” as that saying goes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

currently reading

A Piano in The Pyrenees
by Tony Hawks, 2006


The Basque Country
by Paddy Woodworth, 2008


Wend Magazine
Volume 6, Issue 3, 2011