Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ultra-date Land: Sonoma County thrills

Austin State Creek Recreation Area

(Gilliam Creek Trail-East Austin Creek Fire Road- Park Road)
(~8.o miles)

Ok, all you running peeps. I think I have figured out the best plan for an ultra-fabulous date.

You must enter the park through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. (They're two different parks but they use the same entrance.) Park outside in the free parking lot if you get there early enough, or you will have to park 3 miles up the road, as I did. If you start from the parking lot outside the Ranger station, you could probably get in a good 16 miles, and at least a bit of it would be running through the very, very tall redwood grove that, while smaller than the groves in Yosemite, for example, are quite stunning on their own.

I missed the free parking though, so I drove up a tiny one-lane road to the Gilliam Creek Trailhead. From there I took the Gilliam Creek trail for almost 4 miles. The trail starts out on the ridge and you get many sweeping views before the trail drops steeply down to Gilliam Creek. Once the trail hits Gilliam Creek, it has to get my vote for one of the best "secret" trails I've been on. I saw only two hikers on the trail the whole time I ran, and I can't for the life of me figure out why more people weren't on the trail, except for the significant climbing in and out of the creek's canyon. Seriously though-- the trail hops over the creek several times, keeping the trail much cooler than the ridge above.

There was even a beautifully perfect swimming hole along the trail-- I was tempted but had a barbecue that I was already going to be late for, so I kept running. For variety's sake, I decided to take the East Austin Creek Fire Road back. This led up to Bullfrog Pond Campground, and I had heard that this was a great vista spot. I was not disappointed! It was!

It should also be noted that the East Austin Creek Fire Road was hot, exposed and very steep. It is a good moment to practice hills and, in the summer, heat training. I was not sure if variety was the spice of life I should have been looking for. I should have perhaps looked for a shadier option.

Anyway, I was highly impressed with this hitherto unknown trail area. It's not a vast network of trails like Marin, but one could easily run a 20 miler without repeating any trails at all. Plus, (here's why it's an ultra-date suggestion) this is right up the road from Guerneville and the Russian River. I was rather perturbed that I had scheduled a barbecue in Sebastopol and had to hurry to avoid being late. It would be entirely possible (and indeed, suggested) to take a long run, then a long swim (with picnic supplies gathered somewhere in Guerneville) and then some wine tasting, because this is smack dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley Wine Country, which means it is FAR less touristed than the famous Sonoma County wineries.

Honestly, could you have a better day?

(No pups on this run, however...)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Getting back on the runnin' horse...

Friday: Shaver Grade/Yolanda
Saturday: Mezue Trail
Sunday: Volunteering at Pacifica

Ok peeps. I think I'm back in the saddle. It took a minute, but I'm feeling the strength build up around my knees from all the exercises/elliptical work I've been doing, and it's starting to show on my runs. This weekend in particular was a great one for running/running related activities, and I'm looking forward to the rest of July and August.

Friday morning we had a Trail Tart run of power, as I introduced Suz to one of my favorite sections of Marin--all the trails out of Phoenix Lake. Well, we didn't do ALL the trails out of Phoenix Lake-- we just did this one. It was rather a crazy run, as both of us thought we were trying to run hard to not slow the other one down, so we charged up Shaver Grade and then barreled down Yolanda. However, it was a gorgeous day for running and prepped us perfectly for a Marin Brew Co lunch.

Saturday morning was rather cold and dreary, as see in the above photograph, but I did a quick 6 on the Mezue Loop with Neko before prepping myself for a day of BBQing and salsa-- one of the best days EVER!

Sunday found me volunteering at PCTR's Pacifica run. I started the day somewhat envious of the people running-- the weather was perfect for running, and the Pacifica course is quite lovely. However, I was volunteering with some other fabulously fun runners (Leigh, Kathy, Andy and Lori), and the day was looking pretty good.

When runners started coming back complaining of stings, I quickly changed my tune, and I became quite happy that I was not running. Last year's Skyline to the Sea left me totally nonplussed by days with multiple stings. There was one runner who won the "Friendly to All Experience" award, though. (Well, he won it in my head, even if I didn't tell him.) He came in and said, "Man, that was awesome! It made the run so exciting to spend the rest of the time wondering if those wasps would be around each corner!" Talk about embracing your experience! He truly wins the award for Most Positive Runner Ever, in my book. I know now that no matter how much I try to look on the bright side, there will always be something to aim for.

The other highlight of my day was finally meeting someone who I "met" through my blog, but finally met in person! Luciano has been reading and commenting on my blog for quite some time, but I had never actually met him until yesterday! He and his wife come to California for the summers, and he brought me a gift of Nutella! I am currently trying to ration it out and not eat it all in 24 hours. So far it looks like we'll at least make it to 48, but Nutella is soooooooooo delicious!!!

Ok. Expect to hear some more running stories in the next couple of months. This blog has been sadly neglected for the past couple of months. Time to remedy the situation!