While giving my rebellious foot a rest I have been putting in time at the gym with my sons. I'll tell you though -- gym training does very little to prepare me for trail running. It could perhaps if someone were to periodically shove me as I rode the elliptical. Or, perhaps try to gouge my eyes out or pull my hair as I rode the cycle.
Needless to say, I missed the trails dearly, so I decided to venture out regardless. Saturday we got a good downpour in the middle of July (that is very rare, even more so during a drought). Sunday, the sun shined brightly among big, white puffy clouds, so I took a chance and drove out to Trabuco Canyon. I was hoping that the rain filled our creeks just a tiny bit. But alas, though large puddles were dispersed along the canyon road, the creek beds were still bone dry.
Heading out . . . A little closer
Some off roading . . .
Figuring my foot would bring me down, I parked right at the trail head, as opposed to parking in the Holy Jim lot. This parking place cuts the regular ten mile out-and-back along Holy Jim to 9 miles. I figured I would probably need that. The air was hot and muggy as I headed up the mountain. Within about a mile, I stumbled upon a handful of ladybugs, which turned into stumbling upon hundreds of ladybugs resting in clumps along fallen logs and in the brown grass. A little more up stream, I found even more ladybugs -- thousands upon thousands of them on the tree branches, fallen logs and in again the grass. I could not help but stop and photograph.
I haven’t mentioned yet that my foot ached from the onset. It’s not in the worst condition it’s ever been; in fact I had been experiencing some relief due in part to stretching. But damn the foot. I really didn’t care and was not much bothered by the pain. I popped two ibuprofen after climbing a little over a mile, but unfortunately that did nothing to alleviate the pain. I'll tell you, it felt wonderful to be out in the wilderness again. I came upon several hikers, a couple of mountain bikers. No runners. At about mile three, the clouds began to darken. Shortly after that, I ran up on my first rattler -- she was a baby, an adorable little thing. Within five minutes, I came up on a family of hikers who pointed up my second baby rattler, coiled up right on the trail. I probably would have stepped on her if the group did not point her out.
I arrived intact. The foot hurt pretty badly. The wind was also picking up. I saw two other hikers at The Main Divide, and heard several dirt bikes in the distance. I had popped my last ibuprofen, and since it did absolutely nothing to lessen my foot pain, I decided to take out my pf sock, an overly tight compression sock to wear for the down trip. Time was of the essence at this point -- it was practically dark as night, and I knew I was probably going to get rained on. But maybe, just maybe, I could endure more pain with this sock and make the down trip quickly.
I trotted down Holy Jim averaging about a 14 minute pace -- the sock helped some, but let’s faces it, my foot still ached like hell. Occasionally, I got beneath a 12 minute mile. But as long as the dark skies remained dry, I felt comfortable at the slow trot. After about one and a quarter mile down Holy Jim, I felt a drop of rain fall on my nose. Then suddenly, I noticed a black tarantula on the trail. I took out my camera to snap a photo of the creature, and it was at that moment that the rain began to fall. It did not come slowly either. It fell down in buckets, long drops of cool rain, in every direction, the Earth slurping it up like it was dying of thirst.
Immediately, I buried my electronics deep into my pack (my phone, camera and ipod -- which I had not turned on the entire trip). I dug in and picked up my pace down the mountain focusing on a quicker stride. There was no use trying to keep dry. Instantly, I was soaked through and through. And in my rush I neglected to really see what was happening around me. As I passed from one canyon wall to the other, in an area that looks over a great divide, I took a moment and stopped. Then I really saw what was happening all around me. I could see for miles, and rain pounding down on every inch of it. It sounded like millions of soft tiny claps. The rain drops were long and uneven, but at the same time in perfect symmetry. The site caught me so off-guard with its beauty that I instantly cried. I couldn’t help it. And I didn’t try to help it. I choked on my tears as I took off running again down the mountain. I really never knew how beautiful rain could be. It filled all of my senses. I could see it. I could smell it. I could feel it. And I could hear it. It was ALL rain, and I was this little dot running down the mountain in and among.
Occasionally, I ran under cover beneath some trees which provided protection from the rain. The trail though was becoming a small river, sometimes taking shortcuts down the mountain by flowing off trail into the brush. No real credit to myself, I had chosen waterproof trail shoes for this trip. I didn't choose them because they are waterproof though -- they just happen to be my favorite shoes. This meant that even as I stomped down into this muddy water, my feet remained dry.
After a while cover did not matter, as I was drenched completely. I noticed the Manzanita bark was blood red in the rain, and even though I wanted so badly to capture that in a picture, I did not dare open my pack and expose my electronics to the downpour. My progress was slow, as the rocks and mud beneath my feet grew very slick. It didn’t matter much how fast I travelled – I was happy with just moving forward. More than once I slipped and nearly fell. More than once the rain stopped for about a minute. And during one of those times I raced to get my camera out so that I could snap a picture of the Manzanita in the rain.
At the two mile mark (that is two miles remaining) I could hear voices from up the trail. By now the river flowing down the trail had deepened, and I sometimes submerged my entire foot. Though I continued to hear the voices, I did not see anyone until I was running up on the one mile marker. Up the switchback trail, I waved at a man and woman wearing orange rain ponchos. I chuckled at the fact that I did not even think to pack for the rain. (Doh!).
I felt great relief when I reached that one mile marker. At that point, I ran within a well covered forest, loud with rain falling on its canopy. I heard a branch snap and fall in the distance. It sounded a lot like billiards being played out among some unseen giants.
After hitting that one mile marker, I began counting down in tenths of a mile. The river rolling in the middle of the trail flowed so heavily now, that my feet were completely submerged much of the time. Worried slightly over flash floods or mudslides, I didn’t contemplate these things much; they were just something that crossed my mind. I merely focused on continually moving forward. Fortunately, the rain was not cold. It was comfortingly cool.
I recall calling out "Two-thirds of a mile," then "1/3rd of a mile," then "a quarter mile til I'm at my truck!" At that point, I did not urgently press forward. Instead, I frolicked in the scene, kicking at the river at times, other times noticing how it diverted off the trail fast-tracking toward the creek bed.
And then, finally, I had 1/10th of a mile before I was at my truck. I heard voices up ahead, when suddenly I was standing at a small lake on the trail. On the other side of this “lake” stood two hikers contemplating how to make their way around it. "Hell," I thought, "what does it matter. I am finished." And so I walked directly through the lake, which ended up being more than ankle deep.
Finally back in the truck!
The drive out of the canyon was just as eventful as running down the mountain in the rain – lots of lakes and fast flowing little rivers. I gave two young guys a jump who were stalled in the mud. I drove it so well, that my tires did not spin in the mud once. I am getting better off-road. Back at home, I was sore as heck for two days because well, the gym can never prepare me for the trails.