Blue Ridge Weekend

Mount Islip

Mount Islip

Blue Ridge Campground, 7:15pm. Quiet. There’s still a little sun left, but I’m in the shade. It’s been a cool week.

The sky over Baden Powell was an unusually deep blue for the middle of summer. There were brilliant clouds, too.

22 miles, up Baden Powell from Vincent Gap, along the ridge and over to Windy Gap, past Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak, and Mt. Hawkins, up to the peak of Mt. Islip, down to Little Jimmy Springs to refill my water bottles, and then back.

Trivia: Mt. Hawkins was named after Nellie Hawkins, a popular waitress at the Squirrel Inn, a long gone tavern on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River. In Out West Magazine Charles Loomis Fletcher writes “There is a club of twenty or thirty men, fairly well-to-do in this world’s goods, called the “Squirrel Inn Club.” This club owns about one hundred and twenty acres of virgin timber land in the San Bernardino range, overlooking the upper portion of the San Gabriel Valley, and here, every summer, members and their families assemble in the delightful freedom of camping-out intercourse, for two or three months’ vacation and recreation. The old Squirrel Inn gives them a common hall for dancing and other pleasures, while there is a large kitchen and dining room. Each family has its own cottage or log-cabin, and these are built around in picturesque and soul-satisfying confusion.” Loomis goes on to describe the cabin of painter John Bond Francisco, whose paintings depict many of the places I now run, but in a time when they were mostly untouched by the city, like this of Cherry Canyon.

Mount Islip Fire Lookout

Mount Islip Fire Lookout

Mt. Islip (and the trails leading up there) is a favorite spot. On top are the concrete footings of an old fire lookout, and a stone cabin shell. Those date back to 1927, but were abandoned by the Forest Service when it built a fire lookout on South Mt. Hawkins in 1937. (That fire lookout burned down in the 2002 Curve Fire). The first time I saw the cabin remnants I was in the middle of a breakup and looking for a new place to live. I stood inside and tried to imagine it whole. Could I live there? It was small, but it felt like it would be wonderful. In Desolation Angels, however, Jack Kerouak describes life alone in a fire lookout as almost insufferably bleak. Maybe I’d need a little more connection with humanity than a fire lookout on a mountain top would provide.

Kerouac writes “Yes, for I’d thought ‘When I get to the top of Desolation Peak and everyone leaves on mules and I’m alone I will come face to face with God or Tathagata and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence and going to and fro in vain’ but instead I’d come face to face with myself, no liquor, no drugs, no chance of faking it but face to face with old Hateful Duluoz me, and many’s the time I thought I’d die, suspire of boredom, or jump of the mountain, but the days, nay the hours dragged and I had no guts for such a leap…”

As always on my run I came upon people I knew: Kista, training with her friend Mia for a trip up Mt. Whitney, and then, at Little Jimmy Springs, AC100 alumni and friends Diana Triester and Andy Kumeda, who were running the first 30 miles of the course.

This weekend was Hardrock 100, which is the hardest 100 mile race out there…if being the slowest is an accurate measure of difficulty. Hardrock has 34,000 feet of climbing (and the same amount of downhill) – 67,984 feet of elevation change – over 8 peaks ranging between 12,000 and 14,000 feet – most of the race above the tree line, at an average elevation of 11,000 feet. To give you an idea of how much climbing is involved in 34,000 feet of elevation gain: Mt Everest has only 29,000 feet, so if you started at sea level and climbed to the top of Mt. Everest, you’d still be nearly a mile of vertical up short of your destination.

This year’s winner was Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau, with a course record time of 24:25:50. He won the race easily, after being in front the entire run.

For the first 50 or so miles, he ran alongside favorite Joe Grant. Joe speaks French, and explained the country and the wildlife to Chaigneau. Joe was also suffering from kidney problems, and started slowing down. Instead of leaving him behind, Chaigneau would wait at stations instead of running ahead.

I often hear these stories about European runners, and I find them amazing and more than a little touching, especially in contrast to the American Win! Win! Crush the Competition! race (and life) mentality that can get so tiresome. I know a few strong runners who are wonderfully sweet people until they toe the starting line, at which point they become ruthless, cutthroat, viciously competitive, and more than willing to cheat to gain an advantage.

For 50 miles, Seb Chaigneau and Joe Grant enjoyed each other’s company. Chaigneau learned what to do when you come upon a moose, which they did, and how to appreciate the magnificence of the wildlife. Grant was pulled along by a fellow runner, and perhaps had his mind taken off his pain for a number of miles, until he was unable to continue. Even with the waiting, Chaigneau’s time was probably better for it. 100 miles is a long distance. 24 hours is a long time to be moving up and down mountains, 33,000 feet of climbing (and the same in downhill) all above 10,000 feet of elevation. It doesn’t matter how great a runner you are – the time will pass more quickly and gently if you run with a companion. At some point – maybe not until 90 miles – a race will inevitably break out. Until that point, the camaraderie can help push each runner to a new level.

Dinner at Blueridge

Dinner at Blueridge

My race strategy for AC100 is a simple one: to finish. My mileage this year has been lower than last year. I missed all of May due to illness. I’ve been dealing with plantars fasciitis, and, perhaps as a result of compensating for the inner heel and arch pain by supinating, I also have a sharp outer ankle pain that I will self diagnose as peroneal tendonitis. My runs have not been that great. However, all these not-so-great runs have been on the course, and I am camped again on the course tonight. The coals in the firepit look ready. Nothing fancy for dinner – just sausage and beans. I’ll be asleep soon after dark. It’s a wonderful life.

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