Road runners are seriously missing out.
Yesterday, Shelly, Vanessa, Shacky, and I were led on a trail adventure by Gordy Ainsleigh (the guy that essentially started modern ultrarunning by pioneering the Western States Endurance Run) through some rugged Sierra Nevada mountain trails. We originally planned to run the first 30 miles of the Western States course, but it would have required far too much driving logistics. After much discussion, Gordy suggested we try a run connecting two trails. He had never done this specific run, so it would be a bit of an adventure.
Vanessa and Shacky met us at our campsite in Truckee, dropped off their dog Ginger and our new kitten (Kinky), then we headed to the trailhead. We met Gordy, talked briefly about the run, then headed out.
The early part of the run was uneventful. We lost the main trail in a large rock field, but Gordy guided us in the right direction.
Our first spectacular views came when we reached the lower Loch Leven, a small mountain lake.
That small piece of land was actually a little peninsula. We decided to try getting a group photo. The first attempt was shot from the ground:
We decided to try another shot. There was a large pile of rocks to the right. A sloped edge on the highest boulder seemed like a good vantage point, so I tried taking a shot. Once I clicked the timer, I had to jump off a ledge, climb over the rocks, run through some brush, and jump over to the peninsula.
Gordy offered to try. At first I thought he was joking.
Seeing him fly down that pile of rocks was amazing… that’s the culmination of decades of trail running experience.
Vanessa captured a vid of the “run”: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150906803831922
After this brief stop, we continued on. Since we weren’t exactly sure how to get to our destination, the North Fork of the American River, we asked a husband and wife that were hiking. The guy indicated the river was 18 miles away and would be an incredibly difficult hike. He also insisted we didn’t have enough water for the journey. Gordy insisted we did (each of us had more than enough for the trip) with a “We do this shit all the time” comment (that may be paraphrased).
The hiking dude seemed visibly upset and started arguing. After a brief exchange, we thanked them and started toward the river.
We stopped at one of the other Loch Leven lakes and refilled our water bottles. Gordy had promised to explain how to avoid giardia when drinking from streams. After freely drinking from the lake and several streams, Gordy shared the secret: Get giardia, let the symptoms ride long enough to develop antibodies, then seek treatment.
I may have solved my “getting down to race weight” problem. Stay tuned… I may have an explosive post in about 7-10 days.
The next three miles were spent wandering around through mosquito-infested rugged forest searching for the trail. It was easy to spot in some sections; nearly impossible in others. For me, this was a bit of a highlight. Knowing we were miles and miles from civilization following a little-used trail that may or may not lead us to our destination epitomized the trail running experience.
Eventually we came to a narrow road. It seemed to go in the correct direction, so we followed it. Gordy’s knowledge of the general topography was invaluable. The four of us would have gotten hopelessly lost at this point.
We followed the road for about a mile or two, then came to the Granite Trail. This was the trail that would lead down the canyon to the river. The first mile gently sloped downward as we traversed meadows and forest. As we got closer to the river, the grade increased dramatically. For the next 2 miles or so, the trail followed a steep switchbacked path downward. As we were descending, I couldn’t help but think of the climb back up.
By the time we arrived at the river, we were pretty tired. We took a lengthy break, drank freely, ate a bit, and exchanged some stories. Gordy is a great storyteller. This was easily one of the highlights of my ultrarunning career.
Realizing we were running short on time before dark, we reluctantly packed up our gear, refilled our water, and headed up the canyon. Our only illumination was a tiny LED embedded in Gordy’s hat.
I’m a big fan of hills, so I loved this part. The rest of the crew… not so much. I don’t think they shared my enthusiasm. It was very hot and the trail seemed twice as steep as it did on the way down. This section of the trail took a toll on all of us.
At one point, Gordy and I were ahead of the other three. He talked me into running back down to meet them. As we neared, Vanessa said “What’s up?” Gordy said something about there being a bear on the trail. Their reaction was priceless!
We made it to the top of the Granite trail, then started up the hot, dusty, sun-exposed road. I was walking along and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Immediately I heard the rattle- it was a three foot long rattlesnake! After jumping 10 feet in the air and pooping my pants a little, I desperately tried to get the camera out of my hydration pack. I also had to warn the rest as they approached the snake- it was heading for the trail and they couldn’t see it due to their vantage point. As soon as the others approached, it rattled a few times and slithered off into the brush. Sadly I didn’t get pics.
By the time we reached the hidden trail, both Vanessa and Shacky were feeling the effects of the altitude (7000′) and heat. Shelly and I had the benefit of spending at least six weeks at altitude, so it wasn’t an issue for us. Vanessa puked a few times through this section, and the rest of us were deteriorating. At this point, I was read for the run to end. My Garmin had died, so I had no good measure of the time or distance remaining.
There were a lot of climbs I didn’t remember going down. Lots of rocks. Lots of mosquitoes. after what felt like an eternity, we crested the last hill and the middle Loch Leven came into sight. Our pace was better than expected and only had about three or four miles to the cars, so we had time to kill.
We spent about 30-45 minutes sitting on the shore of the lake enjoying the view and chatting.
The remaining miles alternated between wanting the run to end and wanting to stay out there forever. We slowly crawled over the remaining few miles until the cars came into view.
This was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever experienced. Vanessa and Shacky are always awesome company, and I love sharing experiences like this with Shelly. Meeting Gordy and having him lead us through this adventure was sort of like an ultrarunner fantasy camp… something I’ll cherish forever.