Santa Cruz Mountains trail running, worth a good bite on the ass
I am one of those kinds of people who fully embraces any opportunity to travel with open arms because of the excitement I get from thinking of all the different possibilities a new or different city holds within its borders. So when my job duties called for a trip to Silicon Valley I wouldn’t say I jumped at the chance since this is my third trip here in the last year, and frankly I don’t relish the idea of missing my family for a week; but since I can’t just quit my job and stay home with them, then I see no reason not to make the most of this trip.
Last year when it was Trex’s turn to make the journey for his job he went begrudgingly so, but luckily Karma overlooked his lack of enthusiasm, and he came back with a new found friend who is a lover of this crazy sport we call Ultra Running. She is not only a lover of the sport she is also a badass while doing it, and has certainly fanned the flames of my (our) interest in increasing my (our) distances, and venturing out to more scenic places to run than on paved city trails. So when the chance came for me to take advantage of a company paid flight to California I booked the earliest flight out of town I could reasonably take to arrive with just enough time to take her up on the offer to play tour guide through her ‘playground’, the Santa Cruz Mountains; and oh what a playground it is, I have the bite marks to prove it!
The text conversation leading up to the trip started out something to the effect of “I want someplace awesome to run that will make Trex greener with envy”– greener because well, he is already a green reptile; which was followed by some evil laughs and scheming to find a trail, elevation gain, and distance that wouldn’t kill me–since I am not quite the badass ultra-runner our friend is, but that would induce a fit of jealousy that might provoke a Trex to overcome his reluctance to travel. So full discloser, this article will contain considerable bias in favor of the latter statement.
It is obvious the second you step outside in San Jose why people pay the astronomical price to live here. First and foremost the weather is freaking perfect. Pleasant, sunny, mild with a light warming or cooling breeze. Just freaking damn perfect. Next would be the views. Flying in you can see the mountains and hills that surround the ‘valley’ and they are most definitely a far cry from our little Urban Wilderness reserve Turkey Mountain. Here you are in proximity to so many outdoor activities and options, coupled with perfect weather that you can truly take to the hills to unwind after a long day and really recharge. And taking to the hills was exactly what we did.
Now, like us, our Rabbit friend (her nickname earned proudly from her exceptional navigation and skill of popping up all over the trails), is currently in training for her next big race, so she had to clear the planned distance for my scheduled run with her coach since we were running on her ‘easy’ day. I of course laughed at this because I knew that my pace would be so much slower than her easy running pace that this would be like walking for her. But none the less time on legs and feet, while ascending close to 2K feet is wear and tear and the last thing we want is for her machine to become injured while she is in pursuit of her next big race, which is not just any race, it is none other than the Finlayson 100K. Look it up, it’s not for the faint of heart. So she, having “maps for brains” found us a good segment that was within my abilities and meet both her and my needs in terms of elevation and distance.
Our fair Rabbit friend picked me up after I arrived in town and took me for a bit of shopping therapy at her favorite local running store The Sports Basement. This is a fun store, think REI meets TJ Maxx. They have all the big brands for all things sports but are generally sold at a discount. Truly a retail haven for the thrifty yet serious runner. We weaved around the store where Rabbit found the items on her shopping list. Myself I restrained from going nuts and limited my purchases to consumables for on the trip. I wish sincerely we had this store in our area. Both eager to hit the hills we crammed a few protein bars in our bellies, that we picked up at the Basement–they have a huge selection, and wound our way up the sharp curvy Big Basin way to Skyline Trail. Once at the top, me a tinge nauseated from the curvy drive, with the usual preparations (water bladders filled, sunscreen and bug spray applied) we were off for our run.
What I noticed first and foremost was the clean fresh smell of the air. Unlike our trails the air was dry and fragrant with natural vibrant plant smells. Nothing reeked of rotting vegetation or stagnant water. It was just fresh and cool. The trails are mostly single track packed dirt with occasional up-cropping of rocks and roots just to keep you on your toes. It is not too rocky or gravely, and a nice mix of a few interesting technical areas with long stretches of rolling trail which is perfect for running. There is a great mixture of sunny areas and shaded areas that wind through the amazing tree canopy created by the mighty Oaks and Sequoya that cover the mountains. The vegetation that lines the trails stands out to me as one of the more memorable and enjoyable aspects. At several points along our route we encountered trees that were hundreds of years old with huge trunks and crocked limbs. There is a plethora of poison oak along the side of the trail that in a few places requires stepping carefully through where it has crept over the path. There were small riveletts and gulley’s and even a waterfall or two. There were very enjoyable sections where climbing rocks and actual stairs were required and rather steep deadly drop offs which fueled our vertigo just a tad and restored a healthy sense of respect for natures boundaries.
But the absolute best part of this run of course were the vistas. Around the bends and through the trees you could come to vast views of the expansive mountains with a birds eye view of the cities far off. I was told by our fair Rabbit friend that the trail we were on runs through to the ocean and at several spots we could see the vast blue sky that touched it below the other side of the range. The feeling that over took my senses was a general sense of my own insignificance. When you stand next to trees so large they feel like buildings or look out to the cities below made microscopic by the height of nature you simply feel microscopic yourself. It is a feeling I rarely encounter in my area of the world, and it is a good reminder to the ole ego to know just how unimportant I am in the grand scheme of the Earth. Now that’s not to say I don’t consider the importance of being a good citizen on this planet, but as a singular person I felt quite negligible.
Along the way we passed several “civilians” as Rabbit likes to call them. Day hikers who carried clunky water bottles and cellphones in hand wearing sandals and street fashion athletic shoes and clothes. At least one needed directions and most had no clue about proper trail etiquette. I am sure most of the experienced trail runners had already come and gone during the cool of the morning, likely positioning themselves to see the sunrise over the valley. That’s what I would do if I had these mountains to play on back home. The temperatures varied quite a bit along the trail. In the direct sun on the rocky sides of the trails it was on the warmer side, but nothing compared to the heat back home, but just about the time I was feeling hot we would slip back into the canopy and the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler in the shade. But in general through the heat of the day the weather was simply perfect. Perfectly warm, perfectly cool, and perfectly sunny. Darn you Californians with your perfect damn weather.
Rabbit and I bounded through the trails at a leisurely pace, walking much of the inclines and clipping down a few of the downhills. We covered approximately 10 miles with 1900ft of elevation gain. That is comparable to the first segment accent we will cover for our 50K, so when I frankly wasn’t really all that sore the next two days it was a relief to know I am in much better shape than I thought I was preparing for our biggest race yet. So except for the times when I nearly fell off the side of the trails whilst being bitten on my ass and neck (and not in a good way) by a few hungry yellow jackets which were attracted to my “fatty meat” smell due to my Keto diet, I would say the run was by far the best trail run I have experienced to date.
I managed to fit my two scheduled training runs in the morning before work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Because of the 30 degree cooler temps, and the clean freshness of the air of the Lower Guadalupe River Trail that I ran on, these were very pleasant and enjoyable morning runs compared to the 104 degree temps I will be returning to for our evening runs.
Now as I write this from the middle seat of a Southwest flight back home and look out my window at the vast land formations, I feel the pull to get out there and give those yellow jackets a piece of my mind, but I miss my family more and am happy to be heading home. I count myself fortunate to have “broken trail” with our fair Rabbit friend and look forward to the next opportunity to hop around the mountains, whenever that may be. And maybe just maybe I can convince Trex to come too. (Not holding my breath though).
Leave a Reply