Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Backpacking with John

John and I have been training to climb mountains.  Seems like a good goal this year since he is rehabbing the hip after resurfacing surgery last fall.  His progression has been really good, working up to climbing over 2000 ft, walking up to 7 miles at a time, all while carrying a pack with 20+ pounds in it (now up to 30 pounds).  It has helped me too, as I've never been very strong with weight on my back.

We did a couple fun backpack adventures recently, so I figured it would be fun to report on those.

The first was at Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  Longtime readers may remember that we enjoy all things volcano-related (we really should be in Hawaii right now).  Sibley shows evidence of much older activity than Hawaii's Big Island.  But California is part of the Ring of Fire after all, making me wonder why there aren't more eruption-type events around here.  Seismic activity is probably plenty enough, I suppose!

There is a small but excellent display at the main staging area of the park.  You can see samples of the types of rock formed in different ways (thrown in the air, ripped from ancient rocks, cemented, spattered, ground itself up, and lithified) - various basalt, some sandstone, tuff, and conglomerate:

We normally lightly peruse the signboards, but this one caught our eye with the first sentence: "Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve is not a brand of celebrity hot pepper jelly."  Whoever wrote this one, kudos because it's not your normal dry description.  Slamming, elbowing, plundering... and we thought volcanoes were exciting, this isn't even talking about those:

The volcanoes are quite ancient, active 10 million years ago.  Since it's California, things tend to move along fault lines over time.  Erosion and quarrying also changed the landscape.  The result is that it doesn't much look like a volcano anymore.

We headed for the numbered markers to get a closer look - this one is behind the water tank:

It's a dark basalt dike, originally inside the crater:

Sort of a view on a cloudy day:

Someone created interesting maze-like shapes that kind of remind me of Westworld:

There's another one, inside a pit where they used to quarry basalt.  Interestingly, this basalt flow was tilted nearly vertical later and is similar to the basalt pillars of Devil's Postpile (another great place to visit), just not as obvious:

This large lava chunk cooled and hardened while it was still moving, then eventually fell from a nearby cliff.  Thunk, here you go, have some lava:

A view of highway 24 as it goes into a tunnel under the ridge (I crossed over that tunnel on the East Bay Skyline Trail in February):

More recent geological excitement, and a bit of road surfing:

Another large basalt quarry pit (and another maze), where Round Top volcano once erupted and then eventually buried itself in basalt flows.  It's a good thing there are descriptions of the action around here, or we'd be wondering where the volcano was.

Antenna towers at the high point of the park:

We hiked many of the trails and had fun exploring and reading everything.  Thank you Sibley, for an excellent training morning!

The next adventure was an overnight hike in Big Basin.  I'm not usually all that motivated to go camping, unless it's part of a training plan and bigger goals, in which case let's do it!

Checking out the cross-section of a large redwood tree marked with historic events, with dates going all the way back to 500-600 AD, I believe:

The little museum has a wonderful "topo map" of the park:

Starting off through the redwoods:

Yes, another set of photos in the trees :) at least this time there's someone else to take pictures of:

Banana slugs - cuddling?

John couldn't resist walking across at least one large trunk (and almost losing his sunglasses to the overhead branches in the process):

Such a beautiful forest:

A bit of perspective:

We took the trail up past Berry Falls - for as many times as I've seen the falls from the Skyline to the Sea Trail, this is the first time I've made it this close.  Aloha!

The trail follows the creek up past several wonderful drops:

Excellent stairs:

Our site at Sunset Camp and a lovely place to hang out for the night:

We walked up the road a bit further to look for views and happened to notice these odd pine cones attached to the tree trunk (and I didn't take any pictures of the views, nor did we get a sunset because of clouds to the west):

Back at camp, John tended to the stove while I celebrated finding a "Trail Beer" (that's the actual name, quite fitting) in our food storage box.  Thank you to whoever left this here!

Hiking back the next morning on the Sunset Trail, with John getting in a little extra workout (reminds me of Deadpool for some reason):

One of many nice benches:

Pondering a redwood that fell down the side of the hill, wondering how many times a falling tree takes out other trees:

John noticed that part of that tree is still standing, on the other side of the trail:

More curious tree questions:

Admiring the construction of the amphitheater benches:

Redwoods, the amazing Sequoia sempervirens (ever-living trees).  They live up to 2000 years, have bark up to 1 foot thick, catch moisture from fog in their leaves (useful around here), and are almost fireproof:

That was fun, thank you John for the wonderful backpacking company!  Looking forward to some bigger mountain climbing adventures.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

New FKT - Ocean to the Bay

My brother Kip provided inspiration for the concept of a fastest known time (FKT) from the Pacific Ocean to the bay when he ran from the ocean back to the house in north San Jose last year.  I also recently heard of another runner going from Mountain View to the ocean on a reverse track similar to the route I eventually landed on.  It seemed like a fun idea.

It's not one single trail, instead stringing together the Skyline to the Sea Trail, open space preserves, a couple streets, and finishing with Stevens Creek Trail.  The goal was to avoid roads as much as possible and connect several trail systems.  So it's a bit complicated to explain.  I've included a lot of photos to hopefully help that process.  Or many just overwhelm, who knows.

As an aside, this might be a record for # of photos in one of my blog posts.  Blogger hasn't told me "too many!" so far.

The page for this FKT:

The GPS track from Kip's watch that I carried during the FKT run (actual distance is probably more like 48.5 miles with 6000 ft climb/descent):

I ran in unsupported mode, carrying everything with me except water (I refilled at fountains along the way).  I did have help with transport to the start and from the finish.

Thank you so much John for the early morning drive around to Waddell Beach!  You're the best.

Prepping the watch as the official timer:

We walked down to the ocean, which was rather far away, so I guess it was low tide.  The waves were light, making it easy to touch the water without getting my shoes wet... and... go!

John followed me across the road to take one more photo of my adventure's starting point before he went back to doing more normal things for the day:

First trail sign, and no, I don't believe Saratoga Gap is 29.5 miles away unless you make a significant detour:

I stopped at the Horse Camp bathroom because the ones at the beach were locked for once (??) and a pit stop was required before going much further.  A couple minutes of extra time taken, but worth it.

A not-quite-all-yellow gate:

Right after the gate is the trailhead for the Skyline to the Sea trail.  The route takes the hikers only bypass trail.  Someday I'll check out the horse/bike road.  But not today.

One of several "nature hike" markers:

I happily moved along in the darkness, appreciating the cool air and quiet morning.

Next trail intersection:

I was less happy about the amount of poison oak encroaching the path, but at least I knew about from previous passes through this section.  Hence the orienteering pants.  I was also testing some pre-exposure IvyX.  And I carried IvyX wipes to use after getting through this section.  We'll see if it worked (by the time I finish this report I should know) (update - one week later and no itching, yay!).

I was way more happy about this bridge!  The map was right, they DO install a temporary bridge across the creek for the summer.  We saw it for the first time at the Big Basin race the previous weekend, and I was just as excited to see it again this morning:

That seems worth an extra photo (no wet feet this morning, yay!):

Approaching the longest day of the year and an early sunrise - not quite light yet but starting to think about it:

The little trail to the right that brings you up to the bridge over the side creek:

And the bridge (another ford that can be skipped):

Probably should have kept the camera flash turned on a bit longer:

That's better.  This is maybe about the halfway point up to Big Basin HQ?

Let's go that-a-way --->

Sometimes I notice things that I hadn't paid attention to before.  Like this giant boulder that seems sort of out of place, hmm:

The start of the hikers-only section:

Interesting creek crossing:

Berry Creek Falls, always worth a quick selfie:

Pretty flower:


Love the tall trees:

I can always find interesting shapes along this trail:

The start of the closed section of the Skyline to the Sea Trail, and it doesn't look like they have begun clearing out any of the deadfall yet:

Argh, a set of confusing signs.  The Sunset Trail (previous detour route for the S2S Trail) is now also closed from here forward.  There's a detour for that trail too.  I stopped to ponder the signs for a minute here.

In the end, I went with what I had read on the Big Basin park website the previous week.  The Skyline to the Sea detour is listed as Middle Ridge Road (written here from the perspective of traveling in the opposite direction):

So in conclusion, check the park websites for trail closures/detours before you start!  I'd go with whatever the official detour describes, as I'm sure things will continue to change.

The Big Basin website (and it's probably good to check the open space preserves too, just in case):

At the other end of the Skyline to the Sea Trail closure:

Beautiful run down from the ridge, ah, what a lovely morning:

I can't seem to get enough of the trees, maybe that's why I've been up here multiple times recently:

Oh look, wildlife!  I hadn't noticed much beyond a few small birds so far this morning.  The one banana slug I saw that day:

Lovely walking bridge:

It's impossible to describe the scale of the giant redwoods, so magnificent:

More interesting shapes:

I passed up the turn to park HQ in favor of a closer bathroom/water fountain that I recently discovered.  Here's the turn-off at the bottom of Gazos Road that takes you over to it:

My split to this water fountain = 3:01:41 (about 10.6 miles)

No matter how I try to be methodical and efficient, it still takes me over 10 minutes sometimes to use the bathroom, fill bottles, fill and drink Spiz, and reorganize the gear a little.  The first stop always seems to be the longest - I got better at this later in the day.

Anyway, thank you nice bathroom!

Back on the trail, little ups and downs and over a few roots.  This section always goes faster in this direction.  Probably because I just had a little break and I'm not looking ahead to the next pause yet.

Yay big trees!

The MB/JB benches:

There's almost a shortcut across the creek over there, if you're sure footed like John Beard:

Easier ways across creeks:

The big climb went well, I was listening to a good This American Life podcast and kind of didn't really notice the effort or steepness.  Good sign that my training is going well.  And a side note that This American Life is putting out some excellent episodes this year.

Partway up the hill - Thank you to our loving parents!

The first view of the morning:

Pretty flowers:

Some of the big rock slabs in this section:

And fun little stairs:

The approach to China Grade Road:

I crossed China Grade Road in 4:27:54.  Time for a little bit of downhill.

I liked the interesting shape here - also note the pink flagging tape still up from the race last weekend:

I started thinking I should have pulled the flagging tape down.  A while later I came across another piece so I untied it from the branch.  Then there was another, and another.  I started grabbing and pulling them off, but eventually it became too much of a time suck when I really needed to keep moving.

While I was pulling off a ribbon, a couple asked me about it so I explained about the race.  In parting, he mentioned that he likes Waffle House too  :)  Yep, I was still sporting my favorite arm warmers.

The "trench" down to one of the road crossings:

Sometimes I really like a particular picture that I've taken; the challenging part is that it's almost never obvious until I see it at home later:

I hadn't noticed this marker before:

Aw, someone left someone else some roses (thank you John?):

The name of this side trail always makes me giggle, picturing a toll booth and wondering how much they charge and do they take FasTrak?

Next stop = Waterman Gap Trail Camp (19.0 miles) at 5:38:08.

Another bathroom break, water and Spiz refill, and I still didn't remember to take a picture of the bathroom or water spigot.  At least I caught myself before leaving the area - here's the camp from up on the trail:

It seemed like a good time to put in some work and try to "make good time" to Saratoga Gap.  There's a lot of uphill getting there, but not all at once.  Lots of winding through the trees, trying to guess how far to go, climb a bit, wind a bit.

One of several off-road vehicles:

Climb some more:

Such an excellent trail through the trees:

The perfect bench to sit for a few seconds, finish some Spiz, and admire the view:

Quite a lovely day it was, just before crossing the road at the overlook:

Hey, someone propped this trail marker back up, very nice:

Starting to see a sunnier section here and there:

Ack!!  Here's the poison oak vine that hit me in the FACE last weekend during the race.  Runners were all in a line going down the trail and I was doing my poison oak dance to try to avoid any that were leaning over the path.  Someone pushed this one out of the way and it came back down just as I followed behind.  We were moving pretty quickly so I wasn't certain that it really was poison oak.  Well, apparently I wasn't being paranoid.

Happily, my post-race washing up and Tecnu treatment were effective last week.  No rash on my face, just a couple little bumps on my shin.  Stupid P.O.

After ducking successfully under that vine this time, it was a smooth run up a sunlight-dappled trail:

An excellent sign = Saratoga Gap at 7:28:30.  It's the approximate halfway point, but also 2600 feet high so the 2nd half has a net downhill plus some flat pavement.  I had estimated a 15 hour finish time, looking good for that if I can keep moving well.

That was the end of the Skyline to the Sea Trail (thank you trail!).  The next part involves several turns and different trails, so I'll detail those here for reference.

At the Saratoga Gap parking lot, it appears that the easiest way to get to the Saratoga Gap Trail going west is to step over this rail:

Cross the road to reach the trailhead.  Hey, I'm on the BART again (the Trail, not the Transit), cool!

About a mile down, there's an option to exit the trail to get water at the Saratoga Summit fire station.  It's the first left turn and easy to find if you're looking for it:

Follow the road about 0.2 miles to the fire station (25.8 mi into the route):

The fire station has set up this excellent pit stop (at the far end of the station, right by the road), complete with water spigot, picnic table, and porta-potty.  Thank you!

I met a couple of road cyclists here, and she asked me where I was running.  When I told her I was going from the ocean to the bay, she guessed that was maybe 50 miles?  Good guess!  Her husband said he had hiked something similar, from the ocean to their house.  Sounds like this is not a new concept.

After filling up with water, I returned back down the road to the same trail entrance.  The total detour is 0.4 miles, optional if you prefer to skip it and not refill water there.

Back on the Saratoga Gap Trail:

Next up is Charcoal Road, pretty easy to spot.  The "wrong way" signs are for bikers:

It's a rather steep drop (hence the one-way edict for bikes) but nothing too crazy.  Still plenty of tree cover most of the way down:

Quick view of part of the Bay Area to the east:

I was still happy, moving methodically, ready to explore some new trails.  I had scouted down to Table Mountain previously but the rest of Stevens Creek Canyon would be a first for me.

Mountain bikers coming toward me, at the split for the Table Mountain fire road loop (take the left fork):

Around the corner, stay right at the merge with Table Mountain Trail:

Soon there's a well-signed split where Table Mountain Trail heads down to the left:

It was a popular day for bikers; happily they were all polite and I found non-poison oak-infested spots to step out of their way:

Back into the shade, quite lovely:

Wonderful little bridge near the bottom:

I crossed Stevens Creek (for the first time that day) in 8:46:53.  I wasn't sure how to estimate travel times through these sections, so it was nice to beat my estimate from Saratoga Gap to this spot by a few minutes.

There's a short trail leading up to the left to reach the main Canyon Trail.  That short trail has strands of poison oak encroachment - here's where it's good to have PO ID'ing skills so I know when to duck and weave.  I think I managed to avoid most of it.  No rash so far as I continue to write this report...

I love this road sign - kind of out of place, and funny that someone thought to post it here:

A trail right out of a story book:

The intersection with Grizzly Flat.  Stay on the Canyon Trail for another 2 miles:

Mile markers and a surprisingly well-maintained trail through the valley:

The trail moved gradually uphill and I was able to run and speedwalk, happy for the last bits of shade.  I was also happy that the weather was on the cooler side, especially knowing what was coming up.  Legs, feet, stomach, all doing well.  More cyclists, hello there!

The turn up on Indian Creek Trail toward Black Mountain - OK, here goes one last big climb:

Pretty flowers:

It's a wide open road, with the positive spin being that the views are quite nice.  Looking across the canyon to the Skyline road (I could hear the cars again, sure didn't miss that noise):

There was some sweating involved, sure, let's take another little break for a photo:

Near the top, with a sign to assist in finding the backpack camp to the left (if water/bathroom are needed).  I wonder if this sign disappears under taller grass:

And the short trail over to the camp under the trees:

Black Mountain Backpack Camp (0.1 mi out-and-back detour) at 33.6 miles; I hit it at 10:00:28.

There's a pit toilet and a spigot with non-potable water.  I had planned to treat water here, but arrived with enough still in my bottles that I didn't need to get more.  It was nice to rinse my hands and then sit in the shade for a minute and finish a Spiz baggie before moving on.

Back to the Indian Creek Trail to finish the last little bit, with a view of the antenna towers on Black Mountain just over yonder:

Oooo, a nice view to the west:

Merging onto Monte Bello Road and circling around toward the towers:

This is a pretty obvious target, and I believe the high point of this route at around 2800 ft:

I turned left, went just past the towers, and found Black Mountain Trail to the left - last little bit of uphill before starting the big drop!

OK, there's a downhill and then another bit of uphill.  THEN there's the big drop... with great views of the destination at the bay - wonderful!

It was something to smile about:

Just over a mile down there's the Quarry Trail to the right.  Not hard to find, but it helps to be on the lookout for it:

Quarry is quite the trail.  It starts innocently, tunneling through the bushes and providing a completely different look from the earlier redwood forest:

Then... some steep drops.  Some views, including the namesake quarry, I assume:

More steep drops.  There's a lot of elevation lost in this one mile.  My legs were still working well, but that doesn't mean I covered this ground very quickly.

Finally that trail was over, hitting the intersection with Upper High Meadow and the PG&E Trail right at the powerline pole:

The next bit involves following various "Meadow Trails" down through Rancho San Antonio preserve.  Here's where Upper Rogue Valley Trail merges in (from the left), with the sign pointing straight ahead for the High Meadow Trail:

Then... I've been debating what to do with this next short section.  I decided to follow the "Trail" sign and take the singletrack to left.  The road straight ahead would also work, I don't think it really matters:

Those two options merge after 0.2 miles at a large intersection where the Wildcat Trail crosses the ridge.  High Meadow Trail crosses Wildcat, then veers left to bypass Vista Point (a nice place to check out if you're not in a hurry):

Rancho San Antonio is popular on a Sunday, at least it was only about a mile of passing people on the High Meadow Trail.  I was excited that my downhill legs were still spunky, cruising on down toward the bottom.

After taking a sharp left turn at another major intersection, it was time to run toward Deer Hollow Farm:

Another pit toilet, the last free (non-convenience store) pit stop option on this route:

But not the last water fountain!  One thing that makes this run so doable in unsupported mode is all the water refill locations, very handy.

Deer Farm at Rancho San Antonio, 38.9 miles:

Some animal diversions at the farm - including adorable goats!

It takes a bit of focus in this next part to follow the Lower Meadow Trail as it parallels the road, with people walking every which way.  Just past a bridge, the trail goes to the left - and I like the spotted shadows in this picture:

Another animal diversion - a buck trotting toward me - huh??  It seemed to be following alongside a runner over on the road.  Then it saw me and stopped.  I almost got a photo at that moment, but like many wild animals it was spooked by the camera and ran up the hill:

Pay attention at the next little intersection to stay on Lower Meadow Trail (between the road and Mora Trail):

Yet another animal diversion - a hawk swooped over my head (close enough to hear it swooping) and landed on a limb above me:

This caused a crow (as far as I can tell it was a crow and not a raven) to go nuts and start harassing the hawk.  They took off and flew circles above me.  Surprisingly, I got a photo.  Pretty cool!

Well, that's it for animal diversions.  Time to get back to the business of running.  Finishing up the Lower Meadow Trail:

Thank you Rancho San Antonio, that was fun!

And now -- a transition to pavement.  I wasn't sure how that would go after almost 40 miles on trails.  But my legs seemed to handle it OK.  In fact, the next several miles with the slightly downhill grade and a straight road went by unexpectedly quickly.

The wide bridge leading the way north out of the park:

A veer to the right to exit to the street (the road straight hits a dead end):

Crossing under I-280 at 11 hours 40 minutes into the endeavor:

Following St Joseph Avenue as it makes a couple turns, first to the right:

Then to the left:

And the end of St. Joseph, where I crossed the Foothill Expressway onto Grant Road:

I motored along, finding sidewalks and wide shoulders and a relatively comfortable pace that I could sustain.  I started to feel the effects of the miles, but nothing significant or any cause for walking or slowing down.

A fire station along Grant, one of my lower-quality pictures but I didn't think to take many along here so I don't have much to choose from:

Hey, is that El Camino Real already?  Cool!  I crossed it in 12:22:47.  Next up is the Stevens Creek bike path, getting closer and closer to the bay.

Quick photo at a car dealership along Yuba Drive:

And - there's Kip!  He had graciously agreed to pick me up after I finished, and also decided to come snap photos during my last several miles.  No pacing or support, he just took pictures and then drove and ran ahead to another location for another set.

Hi Kip!  Yep, I never did take off those orienteering pants, I guess I was never too hot or too concerned about being seen wearing red pants:

A quick peek at Stevens Creek, hmm, it has seen wetter times:

Approaching the end of Yuba Drive, 43.8 mi:

I was briefly distracted by this as a couple questions ran through my mind, without answers:

There's a nice water fountain here, at the start of the Stevens Creek Trail part of this route:

Doing good, I think I'm gonna make it!

Going north on the trail, I think the route is pretty obvious (although I have been through here a few times so I might not be noticing any questionable spots).  I do know that going south there is at least one intersection that isn't clear.  I've ended up in a side park before and had to backtrack.  Something to look at if someone were considering doing this route in the opposite direction.

Whatever is up with this grimace, I have no idea!  I wouldn't have included this photo except it's a good picture of the set of stairs that take the most direct path to the overpass (the bike trail goes around and joins back up):

The overpass above the train tracks:

Hey a Google bike!  I wasn't tempted.  Not even a little...

The underpass under highway 85, I believe:

An excellent artistic shot by Kip:

Just a note that it was an interesting challenge to interleave these pictures together in the right order, with the timestamps on our respective cameras not quite exactly synchronized.  I should go fix that on my camera... I'm sure Kip's phone marked the right time.

There's a nice water fountain near La Avenida Street at 46.0 mi; I refilled my bottle but I didn't get a photo of the fountain.

Past highway 101, making progress but slowing down a bit.  I think the slight downhill part is well over by now.

Giant construction cranes on the newer part of the Google campus, and another nice picture by Kip:

When the Stevens Creek Trail reaches the Bay Trail, start following Bay Trail signs toward the bridge that crosses the creek:

Kip runs fast - took me a while to get back in the picture:

Although it looks like I'm running fast!  I'm totally not...

There he goes again!

Following the Bay Trail along the east side of Stevens Creek:

When the landscape gets wide open and empty, it's almost - but not quite - the end of the line:

Running alongside the sloughs, while taking quite an onslaught from a strong afternoon north wind:

The hat is cinched down tight to keep from losing it.  Up ahead, the Bay Trail goes to the right, while this route continues forward, north to the very end of Stevens Creek:

Kip captured yet another nice image, me running into the wind with the ridge that I recently crossed in the background:

The last long empty road:

Slight distraction - possibly a raven this time? - pecking at some kind of supper:

More wildlife, pelicans feeding in the slough:

There's a big smile!  Maybe I was laughing at the absurdity of the strong wind right at the very end after the rest of the day had been so pleasant:

Finally, I caught up to Kip one last time:

And - a run to the finish line fence - with a video from Kip:


Final time = 13:29:18

The totals are approximately mapped at 48.5 mi, with an elevation gain/loss at maybe 6000 ft.
(Then it's another ~1.5 mi back to the closest parking lot, something to keep in mind!)

Checking out the bay, looks like something between low and high tide.  Mudflats but still a decent amount of water in the creek channel:

We debated whether I should try to go touch the water just because, so I went to attempt it.  Well, it's not easy (and it may get easier or harder depending on the tide level), so I say just touch the fence for the official time.  I got one foot pretty muddy trying this, and still didn't manage to put a finger in the water.

The FKT board post with my run this day:

Thank you Kip for the ride home and all the great photos and video!  Very cool.

That was fun, a route I can highly recommend!