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Posts Tagged ‘Bay Area Ridge Trail’

As I was perusing the Bay Area Ridge Trail website a couple weeks ago, thinking of all the trails we had run this year, one in the list jumped out at me. It was the Dias Ridge Trail, listed in the North Bay region. I’m not sure why it caught my eye, but I hadn’t seen it before. Surely we ran this section as part of the Ridge to Bridge benefit and it was just lumped in with all of the other seven sections we ran that day. But on closer inspection we realized that we hadn’t run it at all. It is a spur off of the Miwok Trail that leads down to Muir Beach. We cursed, and then we started making plans. There were only a few days left in 2012 so we had to squeeze this section in between traveling to Nebraska to visit family and hosting a holiday gathering.

So on Saturday, December 29th, we awoke early and raced to Marin County to finish the Ridge Trail. We parked on Highway 1, just after the split with Panorama Drive along the Miwok Trail. A short spur connected us to the Dias Ridge Fire Road. We ran in a stream of water up the hill. Though it wasn’t raining today it had been for the previous several days. This left the trail soupy and slick. After a short out and back to Highway 1, to be damn sure we finished every step of this section, we retraced our steps to the Dias Ridge Trail. The trail rose at first, giving us views of Mt. Tam and the surrounding Marin Headlands, before following the water downhill towards Muir Beach. We slipped and slided our way down and before we knew it we could see Muir Beach in the distance. The trail takes its time descending along several long switchbacks, giving us great views of the little community. There was lots of coastal scrub restoration happening, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area had most of the trail roped to discourage trespassers. As is true with most of the headlands, it was all very well signed. We popped out into Muir Beach at Golden Gate Dairy Stables and the Pelican Inn. On another day I will definitely revisit the Pelican Inn for a frosty brew during a hike. We took in the sights a little but were quick to return to our car to get on with our day.

To spice it up a little we returned via the Redwood Creek Trail. It stayed low for about a mile and hugged Highway 1. This section was a muddy mess. As much fun as it was it was a lot of work to stay upright. Corina took one tumble when she misplaced her foot on the side of the trail, trying to avoid a puddle. We worked our way back up to the Miwok Trail and eventually back to the car. A quick 6 miles to finish all of the publicly accessible sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in exactly 364 days. Whew! What a wild ride!

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If you look back in the archives you’ll find our post describing our first attempt at this section. We made it about half way on a day when the winds were howling, the icy rain was falling, and the temperatures dropped quickly into the low 40′s. Fearing hypothermia, as we were ill prepared, we turned around. Today we were back to finish it up. We drove straight to the the middle of the section, parking at the end of Gold Hill Drive in Castro Valley. After a brief conversation with a older Chinese woman, who was out for her morning walk and didn’t speak a lick of English, we stepped through the gate and into the hills. Based on the scenery I think she was mentioning how beautiful the hills and the trails are, and we couldn’t agree with her more. It was a cold but sunny day – the exact opposite of the last time we were here.

We started off on the Newt Pond Trail and went through a gate into North Garin Regional Park after about 0.3 mile. This section is an easy run through the rolling hills of the East Bay on the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail. Due to the recent rains, the hills were green and because the cold temperatures, there was no reason to be worried about snakes. As we headed down into the canyon the light faded and the temperature dropped. There was a herd of cows milling around on the muddy trail near the bottom of the canyon. As we headed uphill, so did they. Normally cows will move along and eventually head off the trail as we approach. Since there was a steep drop off to the creek below on one side of the trail and a steep wooded hill on the other side they stuck to the trail. We slowed to a walk and herded them along. We thought this would pass after a little while, but it didn’t. The cows  stayed in front of us for more than a mile. The trail was a mess. Muddy, with puddles of cow poop all over the place. We tried not to fall and eventually reached the top where the cows could move off the trail into the pasture. They scolded us with moos as we slipped by out onto the ridge. The trail skirted the edge of a large valley that had a pond, and on this day, three coyotes hunting ground squirrels. We rounded the valley and found the end the section and the end of the Chabot-to-Garin regional trail, a wonderful trail that connects to the great parks and open spaces of the East Bay. This is the southernmost section of the trail. From here there is about a six mile gap to the next section of Ridge Trail in Mission Peak.

We tagged the post, snapped a picture, and headed back. We passed by the cows again on the way back. They were still in the pasture and we marveled at their calfs. Apparently they didn’t care for our remarks because one charged Corina. It didn’t make contact but it was enough to scare us down the trail. It was more treacherous on the way back down. Slick and wicked. We made it back down and up and hit the car about an hour and a half later. It felt good to conquer this section of the trail that had once forced us to turn around. Another great day in the East Bay Hills.

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The Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail is an example of why the East Bay has one of the best trail networks in the country. Today’s trek took us through regional parks, public watershed lands, private lands, and through the edges of town to connect Chabot Regional Park to Castro Valley. We parked at the Chabot Staging Area off of Redwood Road. It was a cold morning, but there was no rain, for a change. The Rampage Peak Trail skirts the edge of a Christmas Tree farm, buzzing in the holiday season. We climbed our way up through East Bay Municipal Utility District lands onto Dinosaur Ridge Road. The wet creek bed gave way to sunny chaparral and 360 degree views of the Bay. We exited EBMUD lands onto a private trail easement. These regional trails are what make the East Bay great. They allow for regional connections between protected areas and allow trail users to interface with working lands. Today we were greeted by a couple of friendly horses as we entered private land. They were curious and let us pet them. The Bay Area Ridge Trail promised a pasture full of llamas, but the fence around the llama pasture was in pretty rough shape and there were no llamas in sight. So the horses saved the day. The trail through this portion leveled out and we had about a mile of flat running through scrubby oaks. We exited through a gate into what looked like someone’s backyard. On the way back this same gate was blocked by the same three horses, now a little more stubborn, and possibly hungry, forcing us to wiggle under a barbed wire fence. At this point we were a little confused – we felt uncomfortable just running through someone’s back yard! With a little searching, we saw a sign for the Garin Regional Trail headed downslope. The nice thing about these regional trails is that they meander through the already inhabited areas, so you might find yourself rambling through a backyard before diving back into open space. I believe these were the house at the end of Columbia Drive, shown on the Bay Area Ridge Trail map.

We were quickly back into the lush forest and now in the Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area. This is a little known (at least to us) regional park that is gorgeous. We crossed a creek a few times and worked our way up and down some challenging terrain. We saw one birdwatcher along the way and talked to him about Varied Thrushes. We also heard some Brown Creepers, a rarity outside of the redwoods. Eventually we made it to a more developed part of the park where there were bathrooms, picnic areas, and a swim lagoon. We heard an interesting duck call only to find out that it was an actual a duck call commandeered by a young kid on the edge of the lagoon.

We took a small wrong turn as we followed Cull Canyon Road straight down to Crow Canyon Road, rather than turning east and running through Canyon Middle School, home of the condors. We would pick that up on the way back. The final section leaves Crow Canyon Road and travels along a neighborhood trail to Independent School. The next section picks up there and continues on to Garin Regional Park. We retraced our steps on the way back except for the occasional reroute to climb to the top of some high peaks for better views or to run through the creek as it runs through a large culvert under the road in Cull Canyon Park. Couldn’t resist. Our legs were pretty tired by the time we reached the EBMUD lands and the steep downhills were slow going. Originally we had planned to run another short section today but decided to save it for tomorrow. After 15.5 miles of hills, our legs could use the rest.

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Third time’s a charm!

The first time we set out to complete this section, we were too wet, cold, and hungry after running at Redwood and Chabot to actually do it. The second time we tried (and we use the term “we” loosely because Corina had the map), we took a wrong turn and only completed 2 miles of the trail. Today we set out to finally finish it. Although it was pouring in Campbell, we grabbed our rain gear and drove north. Since we’d already completed the EBMUD section, we drove straight to Inspiration Point to hit the other end of the section. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t raining when we arrived. We started out at the big Nimitz Way gate and ran along the paved trail past several groves of young redwoods. The trail was flat and easy – definitely in contrast with the run we did through Wildcat Canyon a couple weeks ago when we took a wrong turn! At around 2.5 miles, we made it to the EBMUD boundary, took a picture, and turned back. Along the way we explored the Rotary Club Peace Grove, admiring the names of the honored, and climbed up the muddy trail to the top of Wildcat Peak. Though I’m sure the view from the peak is beautiful, all we saw was white on this foggy day.

Back at the parking lot, we decided to extend our run southeast through Tilden Regional Park – a section of the Ridge Trail that we enjoyed last spring. We hiked up the hill, a little disappointed that the fog was hanging around and obscuring our view. Eventually we turned around, shuffled back down the hill, and actually reran the Nimitz Way section of the trail to reach our goal of running 16 miles as part of our first “long” run in our training plan for our 50 miler in April. So even though it took us three tries to complete this section we did it twice just to be sure. This was the final segment of a about 50 miles that stretches from Kennedy Grove Regional Park south to Garin Regional Park. The folks in the East Bay are spoiled to have these great trails in their backyard.

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Feeling Guilty If you look back a couple months to our Lynch Canyon post, you’ll notice me stating that I was okay with skipping about a mile and a half of trail along McGary Road outside of Lynch Canyon Regional Open Space. Well, our conscience got the better of us, and we decided to go back and finish it up. We were headed up to Napa for the weekend anyway, so it was pretty much on our way. There’s not really much to say about this section – it’s on the shoulder of the road parallel to the freeway, and it was cold. Luckily there’s not much traffic on McGary Road, otherwise it’d be dangerous. The section from the north end of the segment to Lynch Canyon ended up being about 1.7 miles (3.4 miles round trip), making the entire McGary Rd segment about 3.2 miles (the distance isn’t published anywhere).

Rockville Hills Regional Park After a short drive across town, we arrived at the start of our next segment through the City of Fairfield’s Rockville Hills Regional Park. We parked in a nice neighborhood and started off running on a paved path under some huge power lines. Within half a mile, the path reached the base of a fairly steep hill. We zigzagged up the hill, now on a dirt path, but still under the power lines. We caught glimpses of town as we headed up, and made room for several bikers who were also out on the trails. Once at the top of the hill, the single track widened out onto a dirt road as we made our way to a large pond in the middle of the park. If only you could block out the power lines, it’d be a perfect scene – still water, ducks, geese, and herons, nice weather…. We continued on past the pond and up a small hill to an old, paved service road. This took us down the hill to the north edge of the park to complete this segment. At the turn around, we decided to take a different route back. We headed up the Cave Trail, eventually finding ourselves at a small cave at the top of some slick rock. We checked it out and then wandered around, trying to find the trail back to the pond in the middle of the park. Eventually we found it (the power lines came in handy!), and ran along a single-track trail toward the north side of the pond. Here a boardwalk had recently been built that connected whatever trail we were on with the Green Valley Trail, which would bring us back to our car. After pausing to take a Christmas picture under some mistletoe, we headed back to the car. We took a wrong turn into a neighborhood, but those power lines came in handy again, and eventually we found our way back to the trail we’d come in on. We ended up having a great time running 5.5 miles through this park. The weather was perfect (even though it was a little cold), the trails were in good shape, and the terrain and scenery were interesting. We highly recommend this park if you are ever in the Fairfield area.

Yountville Crossing in Two Parts Part 1 It rained. It was cold. It was on the shoulder of a road. We couldn’t find the cross street marking the end of the trail so ended up running an extra mile. ‘Nuff said. After parking at our hotel for the night (Napa Valley Lodge), we headed south along the ridge trail to tackle 5 miles (10 miles round trip) of the Yountville Crossing section of trail. The run through Yountville was pleasant, surrounded by Thomas Keller restaurants. Once we got past town, the run turned rather monotonous, along the shoulder of a road paralleling the freeway and railroad tracks. This is one of those ridge trail copouts (like McGary Road, above) where the Ridge Trail Council just designates the shoulder of a roadway as part of the trail. Sometime there isn’t even a shoulder, so beware if the trail on the maps looks a little too straight. It probably means you will be running along a road. The cold rain made it less than pleasant! We passed the bike rest stop, which was pretty cool, and kept running. Every 20 minutes or so a bus came along… how I wished I had my $5 in my running pack so we could take the bus back! We used it a few weeks ago to get burritos in Mill Valley and unfortunately, I hadn’t restocked. We couldn’t find the end point for this segment, so we ran as far as we could stand until finally turning around near Trower Avenue. Heading back north, we were both chilled to the bone. The Napa Valley Wine Train looked delightful, but they didn’t stop for us. Once back in town, we admired Ad Hoc and The French Laundry’s gardens and chicken coop. I was very relieved to end right at our hotel where we were greeted with hot coffee, cookies, and hot toddies. Even though we’re not quite done with the trail, we decided to celebrate anyway as planned, and cracked open some Iron Horse champagne and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Farmstead in St. Helena.

Part 2 We got up early the next morning to finish up this section of trail (2.5 miles – 5 round trip) before eating breakfast at the hotel. Expecting more rain, we were pleasantly surprised when we headed out on our run without rain pelting our faces. We took a little loop through town (I might have directed us in the wrong direction!) before heading east along Yountville Crossing. Thanks to the older gentleman who pointed us in the right direction. The clouds broke up a little, and we got a tiny glimpse of the sun beyond acres and acres of dormant vineyards. Although we were still just running on the shoulder of a road, we enjoyed ourselves on this section of trail. We ran over the Napa River and then made it to the Silverado Trail, a road we know well from running the Napa Valley Marathon five times. My stomach growled as we ran back to our hotel, and our hot breakfast on arrival was well deserved.

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Lynch Canyon Open Space Preserve

Even the best-laid plan sometimes has its faults. When the State Parks were on the chopping block, we made sure to complete all of our runs within the “listed” parks before July 1st. We scheduled our docent-led tour at Crystal Springs. We paid our $10 for an East Bay MUD permit. And, we planned out our last couple of months so that we’d complete all segments by December 31st. So imagine my surprise when we sat down to print our maps Saturday night and noticed the statement, “Lynch Canyon is closed during the fall and winter months (except for Solano Land Trust docent-led events).” Okay… we could change our schedule by running somewhere different on Sunday and doing a docent-led tour through Lynch Canyon; however, when we checked the schedule of events, we noted not a single event at Lynch Canyon for the rest of the year. What were we to do? Not finish the ridge trail this year and wait until March? Try to pull some strings and get permission to enter the park? Neither of these seemed like very good ideas. Shouldn’t Lynch Canyon Open Space Park be open? Now, you must know that I’m a rule follower. Sure, I drive a couple miles an hour over the speed limit on occasion and I sometimes take liberty in my interpretation of “professional dress” at work, but that’s where the rebel in me ends. In this case, though, the best option seemed to be to run in the park (some might call this trespassing…). Run we did.

We’d planned to do this section at the end of the day, but we moved it to the beginning of our day, just to reduce the chances of a ranger being in the park. We parked by the start of the Hiddenbrooke segment, and ran along McGary road (1.6 miles) to the entrance of Lynch Canyon. Though neither the Ridge Trail book, the website, or the Ridge Trail Trail Tracker cite the mileage for this segment, it is on our big wall map, so we figured we should check it out. This mystery segment along McGary road was uninspiring, and, in fact, and bit terrifying as we ran right next to freeway traffic, with only a small 3-wire fence separating us from 65+ mph traffic.

Once at the entrance to Lynch Canyon, we stealthily climbed the locked gate, past the closed signs, and headed in. I ran quite a bit faster than normal to get past the entrance of the park, which was in clear view from the freeway. I’m sure the sheriffs have more important things to do than bust some runners trespassing in a park, but I was still paranoid! We ran into the canyon, out of view of the freeway, and up to the top of the ridge. We held on to our hats as the wind tried to blow them off, and kept up a quick pace to keep ourselves warm.

We wound our way around the ridge and up to a rocky outcrop where the trail turned to single track. We followed it through the grass along the southwestern edge of the park, back in view of the freeway. Following our map, we turned around shortly after the junction with the Kestrel Trail, though the trail did continue on a ways. I’d had enough with my nerves, and I was ready to head back. Although we appreciated the hills the Ridge Trail segment had to offer (we’re currently training for the Quad Dipsea), we were ready for a little shelter from the cold wind. We returned to the entrance of the park via the Kestrel and Middle Valley Trails. This route was much warmer! On the way back we heard some hunters and saw some fresh footprints. Needless to say, I ran a little faster yet and was certainly relieved when we hopped back over the fence and out of the park!

Though the trail on McGary Road continues north for what looks like 1.5 miles or so, we decided not to run this segment. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and it’s really not fun. So… I guess we’ll be about 1.5 miles short of actually completing the Ridge Trail, but we’re okay with that.

Hiddenbrooke Open Space

We headed back towards the car and continued on to Hiddenbrooke Open Space. Though it’s a short section, it was fun and challenging. The trail started off on the sidewalk adjacent to Hiddenbrooke Parkway, which leads into a golf course-centered neighborhood. Soon, it veers right and continues up the hill. There were several trails that veered off from the main trail, but all were closed to the public. It appears that this open space isn’t really all that “open” either. We saw a tall peak in front of us, but the trail brought us around it and to the backside where the trail ended. We turned around and found the trail up to the peak. We were feeling good, so we decided to make the little climb. We wandered around the rocky ridge at the top of the hill and decided to take a short cut on the way back down. Instead of heading back on the trail, we thought we could continue north and hit the trail on the other side of the peak. This turned out a little trickier than expected. The grass was tall, and the ground was rocky. We eventually scrambled our way back down the hill and found our trail again. The run out of the park was an easy down hill back through the grassy pasture to our car.

Benecia-Vallejo Buffer

We hopped in the car and headed to Blue Rock Springs Park for the second half of our run. After parking, we headed out on the northeast extension. We were greeted by a peacock at the base of the trail, and then ran up a steep little hill with warning signs for rattlesnakes all over. It was cold enough that we didn’t need to worry about snakes. We zigzagged up the hill and eventually headed west. I took a hard fall into a bunch of star thistle along the way. After picking the spines out of my shorts, we continued on; however, we soon realized that this trail was much longer than what the map led us to believe it should be. We finally turned around and realized we’d actually taken the wrong trail (for about half a mile). We found a little offshoot of the main trail up a little peak, which seems to be where the extension ends. Hopping over broken beer bottles (damn kids), we circled the little peak, and ran back down the hill, admiring the 2 or 3 additional peacocks at the base of the trail.

We then headed south along the sidewalk and began the main trail along the Vallejo-Benicia buffer. After a couple miles of pavement, we finally entered the buffer and enjoyed the single-track trail. We headed up and up past some sort of a mine until we reached the Doris Klein bench. Still windy, we didn’t spend much time admiring the view. The buffer trail continued south, winding up and down the hills. We saw a few lone souls along the trail, but mostly had it to ourselves. When we finally saw the freeway peeking out in front of us, we knew it was almost time to turn around. The trail finally dead-ended at a Kindercare. If you cross under the freeway it connects with Benecia State Park. We ate some gels and headed back into the buffer, up and down the hills. The wind died down, so we enjoyed the view from the bench for a couple minutes longer before heading all the way down the hill and back to the pavement. We picked up the pace for the last mile or so, and celebrated another three sections completed by eating at our now favorite spot in Benicia, Aroma Indian Cuisine.

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Typically when we head to Napa we are either drinking wine or running the Napa Valley Marathon.  When visiting for both of those reasons we never get the chance to venture off the beaten path to run some trails. That would change today as we made our way just east of the town of Napa to Skyline Wilderness Park. This was the first of a two day stint on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the second being a long run at Annadel State Park in Sonoma County. Since this was the first half of the double header we decided to take it easy. It was five bucks to park for the day and when we arrived the parking lot was pretty empty except for a couple of horse trailers pulling in for a morning ride.

It was chilly as we headed up the rocky Skyline Trail across the dam of Lake Louise. Due to the fog, it had a mystic feel. We got an early surprise when we noticed a few wood ducks perched on the dead logs on the down stream side of the dam and several friendly deer along the trail. There was about a mile climb to start which got our blood pumping. Once the trail entered the trees it leveled out and made for a fairly pleasant run. Before long we saw Lake Marie and a remnant chimney from one of the original structures by the lake. As we left the lake the trail dropped down to Marie Creek and stuck to the creek for the next few miles. This was a great technical single-track trail.

As we left Skyline Park and entered the Tuteur Family Trust lands we had a choice to make, left or right, clockwise or counter-clockwise. These are such big decisions so early in the morning. We chose right and headed out on a loop along the Napa Solano Ridge Trail that played touch and go with the creek. A fellow runner warned us of some cows on the trail ahead, but we never saw them. As we crossed the creek and rose into some open grasslands we hop scotched over a decent sized gopher snake. That was the most exciting thing that happened all day. We headed back the way we came, climbing away from the creek and then making our way back towards the parking lot. When we returned, some serious fun was happening at Camp Coombs on the shores of Lake Louise. We decided not to crash the party and instead headed for the car and an early lunch.

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We have spent quite a bit of time in Castro Valley running the miles and miles of Bay Area Ridge Trail that connect into the Berkeley Hills. During all of that we left one segment untouched. Today we turned out to run a short 3-mile section of trail in Redwood Regional Park and Lake Chabot Regional Park. We woke up to rain and it rained the whole way from San Jose to to the park. We peered out of the car windows at the MacDonald Gate in Redwood Regional Park and tried to wish the rain away. We rationalized by saying things like, “at least it’s not cold and windy, just rainy.” We talked about how hard core we were as we fogged up the windows. Finally we emerged into the puddles. Running in the rain actually isn’t that big of a deal – but beginning a run in the rain might be one of the hardest things in the world to do.

Off we went and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It was a steady warm rain and it was accompanied by a steady, steep climb. We were headed from MacDonald Gate to Bort Meadows. I was on this section of trail about one month prior with some friends that were running the Firetrails 50 miler. It looked and felt much different today. For one thing we were fresh. During Firetrails they had logged 41 miles by this point and were approaching the final internal race cutoff station before the final push to the end. I recounted the events of that day to Corina and we were able to relive them in real time. I was pacing Ilya Shafir and Mike Zensius was pacing Janine Waits-Penney. We were really pushing the envelop on time and as we approached the MacDonald Gate aid station Janine said she had a thorn in her shoe and needed to fix it at the aid station. I was trying to get them in and out of the aid station quickly so we didn’t miss the cutoff at the Bort Meadows aid station. Janine’s foot was a wreck. Full of blisters. We exchanged a few stern words (mostly from her) as I sanitized and dressed her foot. With that we were back on the trail.

Corina and I were now climbing the same hill that they faced during the race. It is a steady two mile hill. Though Corina and I happily splashed through the puddles up the hill, during the race we were forced to power hike. At the time this was Ilya’s strong suit and Janine was struggling. For the first time in nearly 10 miles we separated. Ilya and I left Mike and Janine to fend for themselves. Ilya was making quick work of the climb and I kept one eye on the clock. I was pretty sure we would make the cutoff but I was growing concerned for Janine. As we crested the hill we spoke about Janine for the first time. Ilya said he hoped her foot was better and I agreed. I thought there was no way that she would make the cutoff but never said a word about it to Ilya. I don’t know if he knew how close it was going to be. The downhill felt good as we crossed through a cattle gate and approached another. The aid station was just on the other side of the gate and as we approached Janine and Mike came barreling down the hill after us. I have no idea how Janine mustered the strength to comeback like that. I think it will always be one of the happiest memories that I will ever have on a trail. We made the cutoff by 4 minutes and Ilya and Janine went on to finish the 50 miler as darkness fell (okay darkness had fallen for awhile but it was still epic).

There was no drama like that on the trail for Corina and I we reached the Bort Meadows turnaround and for the first time saw another hiker walking his dogs. The return was fast and slippery. The rain let up a little but we couldn’t see the normally stunning views of the Bay. We passed by the car and headed up on the Golden Spike Trail into Redwood Park. The trail map was a little suspicious. They weren’t to scale and didn’t really match the terrain we were seeing. We made it to the Fish Camp picnic area and lost the trail for good. We scrambled around the hills a little looking for a trail that was supposed to take us back to the car but settled for running back on Redwood Road. A rough end to an otherwise good run.

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While it’s always nice to let the rising sun wake you up while camping, we knew the forecast was for more warm weather. We woke up to the sound of our alarm, strapped on our head lamps, and got ready for the day. We heated up our bagels on the camp stove (although we forgot our spray butter!), made some oatmeal and coffee, tore down our tent, and packed our car. By the time we got to the south entrance of Annadel State Park, the sun was up, and the parking lot was half full. There was another group assembling to do a 14-mile run. Some others in their group had left earlier for a 20-miler. We were mentally prepared for 17 miles, though we packed for longer in case the “published” mileage was wrong (as it often is).

We headed out, immediately starting up a rocky hill through an oak woodland. Eventually the oaks gave way to redwoods as we reached the top of our several-mile climb. We were surprised by a large marsh, which had an almost alpine feel, surrounded by meadow and dwarf evergreen trees. Running around the marsh on a dirt road was a nice break from the rocky hill we’d just summited, and I thoroughly enjoyed the views. I was feeling pretty good, but Troy was in need of a bathroom. Remembering glancing at the state park map the previous day, I was pretty sure we’d find a bathroom if we took a short detour to Lake Ilsanjo. We figured we’d get there around the 5-mile mark, but mile 5 passed, and no lake. In fact, we didn’t get to the turn off for the lake until about mile 8 – supposedly half a mile from the turnaround! Clearly the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council has underestimated the length of this segment if you follow the published Bay Area Ridge Trail route.

After a quick trip to the woods (long before we made it to the lake trail), Troy was ready to go again, and we made good time as we gradually lost some elevation through the center of the park along the Ridge Trail, which brought us back to the Marsh Trail. We were greeted by several very polite mountain bikers, but few other hikers or runners. That all changed, though, as we got closer to the north entrance to the park. We popped out of the trees and headed down a rocky road, steep at times, to the boundary of the park. By the time we got to a small dam, both the bike and pedestrian traffic picked up. We weaved our way through the people until we finally made it to the Oak Knolls picnic area, after asking for directions at the bridge crossing Spring Creek. Since I’d only taken the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council map with me, we were lacking some important details to easily navigate the trail in areas where our favorite little blue signs were missing.

I welcomed the sight of a real bathroom with flush toilets, and was also surprised to see running water here. I might have planned to carry less water and refill at this point had I known. Next time, I guess! Since 12 miles had passed by this point, we mentally recalibrated our expectations for the run, and headed back toward the car. We originally were going to run back on some of the other trails that go around the east side of Lake Ilsanjo, but after having a little trouble navigating with our map, we decided it would be safer to go back the way we knew. Plus, I didn’t really want to add on any extra mileage. I was motivated to get back to the car and eat some awesome vegan buffet, so I took off pretty quickly, back up the steep, rocky road. We saved ourselves a little bit of mileage by taking the short way around the marsh on the Marsh Trail back to the Lawndale Trail where we headed back down the hill to our car. This side of the park had heated up significantly, so we were happy to be done. As we were cleaning up and changing our clothes in the car, we jealously watched some runners in the parking lot enjoying water from a big jug that they’d frozen the night before. I was ready to offer them cash for some of that water, but Troy suggested I eat a car-warmed apple instead. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as I imagine the water would have been, but it kept me happy enough until we made it to our new favorite eatery in Santa Rosa – Gaia’s Garden

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To fuel up for the third day we made a better dining choice and hit Punjab Burrito in Fairfax. That’s right an Indian burrito place. It was delicious. One lesson we learned from Day 2 was that we needed to get an earlier start. The heat was brutal after about 11:00. So we stopped by a local grocery and picked up some breakfast food. We couldn’t wait for the breakfast buffet to open at 7:00.

Again we dropped a car at the midway point, somewhere in west Novato, and then made our way to the Mt. Burdell Open Space Preserve in San Marin. The original plan was to start in Olompali State Park. The description of this park sounds great and we will find time to visit it one day. Apparently it is only open for a couple of hours on the weekends and this was a holiday Monday. Give me a break. We headed out on the Dwarf Oak Trail before the sun had even risen. It was in the low 50’s and much more pleasant than the heat from the day before. We were excited for the day not really knowing what was in store. Up to now we had 35 miles on our legs over the last two days. Amazingly we felt refreshed and really good as we made the gentle climb. There were some little aches and twinges and some general tired muscles, but once we loosened up it was a brand new day. This park is known for its rock quarries during the gold rush era. This was evident as we hit the Cobblestone Fire Road. Things got pretty rocky and we were slowed to a walk from time to time. You can still see the ruts from the wagons and carriages that were once used to run the rocks down the hillside destine for the streets of San Francisco. Once at the top we walked through the gate to Olompali State Park (technically trespassing at this early hour) to see if we could see over the hill for a view of the Bay. There is an old rock wall that marks the border between the two properties. These walls, mostly built by Chinese laborers during the gold rush era are one of the most common sightings on our runs along the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Satisfied that we made the first climb of the day we descend with a little more reckless abandon. Due to some mismarked trails we actually returned on the Middle Burdell Trail, cutting about a mile out of our run. Since we were on this three day quest we didn’t complain too much.

We passed our car and headed through a sliver of trail that runs between some houses and onto the road near San Marin School. The trail hugs the edge of the city streets for a bit before heading back into the woods in O’Hair Park. O’Hair Park is a city park where the trail runs along Novato Creek. We then switched back into Little Mountain Open Space Preserve. This area is quintessential Bay Area where there are house surrounding this little open space. I’m sure it is a great local resource and I can see the signs and bumper stickers from years ago – “Save Little Mountain!”. Okay I made that up, but it sounds quaint. The Doe Hill Fire Road, which is actually more of single track was one of the best parts of the day. It gave way to one of the worst, which is a barren and extremely warm service road in the Indian Valley Golf Club. It offered views of Stafford Lake but not much else. We crested a steep hill and started working the switchbacks down towards the Indian Hill Open Space Preserve. We exited the Verissimo Hills Trail onto Vineyard Drive where we had dropped a car earlier in the day. This was a welcome sight because we knew we only have about six miles left.

As we have noted in several other entries there are some hidden gems along the trail that we never would have found without this little project. The Indian Tree Open Space Preserve definitely falls in that category. The trail was dusty and had a lot of horse traffic from the many stables in the area. It was also in the shade and the perfect incline. The first part was no accident. The night before Corina had the brilliant idea to run this section last because it looked shady on the air photos. This turned out to be critical because it was now midday and it was warming up. We chased a woman on horseback up the big switchbacks, though we eventually lost sight of her after about five minutes. We locked in a steady pace and cruised up the hill. There is no way that either of us would have predicted that we would feel this good at miles 45-51 in day three of this trip. Though it was shady it was also pretty muggy. We reached the top dripping and ready for the descent. The one thing the preserve lacks is a view. The top was a welcome sight but the turnaround was an unceremonious fence line. The trip back down was more enjoyable than we could have imagined. The trail was so dusty from the horse traffic that our legs were nearly black with mud. At one point we passed a party of three women on horses heading up. What a great local spot. We arrived at the car having accomplished one of our biggest running feats of our short running careers. There were no photo finishes or finish lines or medals but this was one of the most rewarding weekends ever!

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