This last weekend I flew down to California with Tony Kocanda for a couple of days of running on the Western States trail. Friday morning we met up at the airport to head out to Sacramento. From there it was on to Tony's friend, Mac's, house. His place is well positioned, only about 20 minutes from Auburn and 45 minutes from Foresthill, the launching point for our runs.
We were at Mac's place fairly early, so we were able to relax while the rest of his crew showed up. Eventually they all trickled in: Dan Williams working on his 20th finish, Jeff Reifers pacing for his friend Jeff Hutson, and Troy Howard of Hardrock fame. It was a pretty casual evening and Sara made us salads and pasta for dinner. We all crashed out before 10 since we had an early wake-up call at 5:15.
Saturday everyone popped up ready for action. Ok, only Tony and I did since it was 7:15 for us. But we all got going, fueled up on oatmeal and headed on up to Foresthill. Now, this was an organized run, but the Diablo crew has a tradition of running from Robinson Flat to Rucky Chucky, about 50 miles, instead of the organized 30 mile distance. Those of us that had signed up for the organized run checked in and got our numbers. This allowed us to use the aid stations along the way. Now the trick here was that Robinson Flat was under six feet of snow, and no one could drive within four miles of it, so the official run would start near Mosquito Brook.
No go, heck no. We went to Robinson anyway. What ended up was a trudge through 11 miles of snow taking about 4 1/2 hours. There was a group ahead of us and when we caught them we merged to make a chain of about forty people. That was really good for the people at the back of the train, but for those of us that broke trail at some point we ended up with cut and chafed shins from kicking through the hard crust coating the snowfield. It was all in good fun and made for a great workout. I mean, who wants to go for a 6 hour run when you can be out there for more than 8. It was beautiful up that high and we could see for many miles at some points, to mountains covered in snow off in the distance. As the hours ticked by some of us started cramming snow in our water bottles to make sure that we stayed hydrated. And there was a general anxiety that we were going to miss the cutoff for the first aid station at Devil's thumb.
At long last the snow eventually petered out and we had solid ground to run on, at which point the group also fractured since the trail was clear and it was hard to get lost (but I still managed). Tony and Troy really kicked it into gear and took off. I managed to hang with Tony on the first downhill, but as soon as it turned uphill he just motored off. I cruised on alone for a while and actually managed to miss the turn into Deadwood Canyon. Fortunately I only went long by about a quarter mile and turned around to get back on track. This was a long decent and I had to put the brakes on since it was steep and technical. This was the only point that my Hoka's caused me grief, jamming my toes into the front of the box. Did I forget to mention the Hoka's, oh my. Best conversation piece ever on the trail.
The decent was something on the order of 1500 feet, and for those not in the know, that's vertical feet, not running distance. You pretty much hit the bottom, cross a bridge and start up the other side, no respite at all. The climb out is about the same height. I have to say it was really fun, and this was the part of the run I came for. On the climb up is where I caught the runners that did the official start. These back of the packers weren't looking good, but they were toughing it out. I'm sure it's a treat for some of these people to get on a trail they will probably never have the opportunity to race. Props for them.
At the Devil's Thumb aid station I met up with Mac and Hudson and ate a ton of food. I'd been saving my goo, so I was behind on my nutrition, but I'm pretty sure I made up for it here. After a few minutes Mac and I headed out to el Dorado Canyon and the long decent, 1800 feet to it's bottom. This wasn't as steep and I just bombed to the bottom, running fast the whole way. Crossing the bridge I started up the other side. This climb took me 48 minutes to get to the top, a pretty good pace, and one I hope I can duplicate in a few weeks. Michigan Bluff awaited us at the top, with more goodies. At this point I saw Gordy Ansleigh, the father of this race, still putting it out there some thirty years later. I spent a few minutes here fueling up, then hit the trail back to Foresthill. This was pretty uneventful, and Hutson caught up to me with about a mile left. This guy is a hoot to talk to, kind of like a 12 year old on crack. We rolled on into Forresthill and kicked back with some good food and a well needed sit.
After a while the other Jeff came in and we headed down to In and Out for a double double and shakes. These guys then dropped me off at Mac's house and they headed home. It wasn't until several hours later that Mac, Troy, Tony, and Dan showed up. Their plan for Sunday was to run the last 20 miles of the course, and I would go do the planned run from Foresthill to Ruckychucky.
I drove up to Foresthill myself on Sunday and got myself ready in the parking lot. At that point I found out I had left my iPod on all night and it was dead. Oh the humanity. I'd have to run without music and talk to people. This run started promptly at 8:30, though a lot of people had taken off early. This was predominantly single track, with short sections of road and mostly overhung with trees. It was a beautiful trail, not as much so as the previous day, but nothing to complain about. It was pretty hard to pass for the first several miles since the trail was so narrow, but eventually everyone got spread out and in their places. This was a fast run since it was downhill for 17 miles with the exception of one significant uphill. Definitely a spot where someone can make up some time if they have the legs. I took my time at the aid stations and gorged on their fare, particularly the strawberries.
After several miles of downhill the trail starts to parallel the river for several more miles. It was raging pretty well from all the runoff, I certainly hope it's tamed down a bit before we have to cross it. At one point along this section to the Ruckychucky crossing I saw my first rattlesnake. It was a safe distance off, so no exciting stories with it, but it was pretty neat to see. Eventually I wound up at the last aid station, just above where the crossing would be. I got fueled up here, then started the three mile climb to the top of the gorge and the waiting bus. It was a hot climb in the sun, but pretty uneventful.
At the top there was a cookout of hotdogs and chili, of which I pounded a couple, and they never tasted so good. Then it was time to hop on the bus with 50 other stinky runners and head back to Foresthill.
A bit over three weeks to go for the main event. It was well worth coming down for this run, not just to see the trail, but to meet a bunch of cool people. A good time had by all.