March 18-20, 2011. Happy birthday to me.
You don’t by chance have your ski goggles in the trunk, do you?
You don’t by chance have your ski goggles in the trunk, do you?
Are you serious?
Yes. Yes I am.
And with that, I give you my tale of two moons, or in my case, half of one…
Moon One: Thacher Field
The things that initially drew me to Coyote Two Moon were the following:
1. I didn’t get into Miwok.
2. It fit in my schedule
3. It was on my birthday
4. The amount of climbing was absurd (19k for the 100k; 27k for the 100mi) and therefore would be perfect prep for AC
And most importantly:
5. It was an ultra that removed the pressure of a “race” environment, and left you with the pure, raw fun of taking on an insanely hard challenge.
(Also notable, there was beer and whisky at the aid stations).
Facts stated, the thought of running with a bunch of people who were only out there to simply make the most of the time spent between and under moons excited and motivated me greatly. And as I rolled into Ventura Thursday night for the bowling tournament, I could see that I would not soon be disappointed. There were beers. There were costumes. There was laughter that echoed down the lanes. And there was no talk of who set what record on what course or what the competition looked like for the weekend’s proceedings. I, myself, enjoyed a delicious Sierra Nevada as team Keyhole Moonshine dominated alley three. And by “dominated” I mean… well… let’s just say, I hope our running skills would prove far superior to those in any way related to the sport of bowling.
I used to play softball. (pic by H'ard)
Team Keyhole Moonshine salutes an epic display of bowling excellence. (pic unapologetically stolen from Andy K)
The fun continued the next morning, as friends Catra, Andy (and Rocky) took me for a birthday coffee before the briefing/lunch in Ojai. I hadn’t told anyone it was my anniversary of being born, mainly because I didn’t really think it was important, but as Catra reminded me: “Every birthday is a big one. It’s another day you’re alive.” Yet another reason why I love these races – there’s not any other place with any other people I’d rather be on my 28th big one.
At the briefing, I enjoyed a delicious spread of food from Boccali’s and some high-quality entertainment from the Buffoon, RD Chris Scott, and the musically inclined Pata-poochies. It was a terribly beautiful day, which made it entirely impossible for my mind to comprehend the severe weather warnings that were in effect for the rest of the weekend. And so I chose not to comprehend and continue believing that all the gear I had packed as a result of said warnings was going to be total overkill. Even still, I grabbed one more layer when I drove back to LA to pick up Dom. One bout of hypothermia might not teach you a lesson, but a second that results in a DNF certainly will. As a result, I don’t F around when there are snowflakes on my iPhone.
We got back to Thacher just as the 9pm group was leaving to begin their adventure and got to work setting up our tent. Here’s one of the other awesome things about Coyote Two Moon: they stagger the start based on your relative ability to complete the course, making it so that everyone finishes around the same time Sunday morning, and in essence, everyone has to fight the cutoffs. Plus, given the design of the course, no one would really ever be out there “alone,” so to speak. The course climbs up to “the ridge” (of the Nordhoff variety) and the remainder of the adventure is spent navigating out-and-backs on the trails that spider off the spine. This keeps you crossing paths with other runners for the duration of your experience, which is particularly great, considering that high-fives, smiles and coyote calls are my favorite. As we climbed into the tent, I was beginning to get very excited for the next day’s proceedings, but knew that I needed to get an excellent night’s rest if I were to fight the sleepies through the second moon. In an act of impeccable timing, the rain began to fall just as we snuggled in.
Our beautiful weekend getaway, pre-flooding.
I slept like a rock on the grassy field, and was awoken only by the start of the other groups about every 3 hours. The rain had stopped and though overcast, the day was nice. We hit up the grocery store and then enjoyed a relaxing morning of cheering for the other groups, playing a one-on-one game of soccer and then even taking a little nap. Before getting to work, we headed back to town to hit up a little Vegan Café for lunch, as my tummy can’t process any sort of complex food items before a big run. As such, I enjoyed the most delicious brown rice I have ever had, which I mixed with some avocado and a little hummus. As soon as I sunk my teeth in, the rain began to fall once again. I was really hoping not to have to start in the rain, but oh well, so it would be.
At 3 pm, I lined up on the field with 11 other Olympic hopefuls and began the serious process of warming up. i.e. standing around talking and laughing. Chris eventually sent us on our way, and we began by kicking a soccer ball around the field before hitting the trail. I was liking this already.
The look on my face is what they call, "foreshadowing."
The 3pm start group makes a mad dash off the starting line - vying for placement up Horn Canyon
Now, I had looked at the elevation of this course and despite the resounding spirit of general revelry, was fully prepared to have it hurt. The climbs seemed similar in nature to the work I had been doing out in the San Gabriels, and so I figured I would be able to run pretty well at the beginning – and then things might get a little hairy around 40 miles or so. Due both to the time of night and the fact that I’d never climbed 19,000 feet in one set. However, this was not the case. Within an hour, I was heavy and hurting and reduced to a hike. I shuffled where I could, but it was a struggle, and I became very, very scared that today was going to be a hell of a lot more than I bargained for. Oh well.
And such, that became the theme of the run.
I put my head down and powered through the 4 mile, 3,000 foot climb, and before I knew it I had reached the ridge. I was greeted by my first round of amazing volunteers at Ridge Junction, where I refilled, ate some chips and was instructed to draw a card. Some really f'd up game of poker? I can get behind that. Wondering what I would be contending with for the next 7 miles and only understanding that I had climbed to the top of something, I casually struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers, who all seem to know the course because they’ve run it themselves:
I’ve got 7 until the next aid – it’s pretty much all downhill right?
Well yeah – it’s pretty flat. You just climb about 1,000 feet – you know, just rollers though. And then you drop like 2,000 in 2.
These people know how to party.
I continued climbing up the ridge, catching up to a few other dudes from my start group and enjoying a little chat before moving on. Though we rolled along, the climbs were much less steep and my body had finally relaxed into the task at hand. Mind you, it was freaking freezing and sleeting up there, but I was really happy to be running smoothly, so I accepted the cold. Of course, not without noting that it was only 4 something in the afternoon and that business was going to get a great deal messier when the sun went down. Oh well. I’d deal with that then.
Cruising right along. Still resolved that this was all going to blow over.
Yeah. It's cold. But how can you complain?!
The descent into Rose Valley was steep, but insanely beautiful. I dropped out of the clouds and was treated to an absolutely amazing vista that certainly kept me enjoying the late afternoon rather than foolishly hammering a downhill at mile 10. The lower I dropped, the warmer and less windy it became, which was also extremely nice. Before long, I rolled into the campsite and set about refilling my pockets with the help of Dom and Peter's friend that I stole, Henry. I also grabbed a Buff so the air wouldn’t continue the shivving of my bronchi on the ridge. Henry told me the climb should take me about an hour and to get ready for a hike.
Somewhere around Rose Valley
The incentive for running fast today was not to win. It was to get the hell off the ridge.
On the road again...
I did, but a funny thing happened: it only took me 40 minutes. My legs had somehow understood that what we would be doing today was climbing mountains. And my legs really hate to walk. Accordingly, I surprised myself by running most of the 1,000 ft per mile climb (albeit, at a rate I was still passed by a power hiking Jeff Browning) and then began the process of turning into a popsicle on the ridge once again. Fortunately, the turnoff to Howard Creek came quickly and I began diving down to lower elevations and more fun. As I descended, the sleet turned into snow, which only seemed to get heavier as the minutes clicked by. I ran strong and made my last attempts at keeping my feet dry through the deep mud puddles forming on the single track. Given the state of things, I have no idea why I was actually attempting to do this, but I guess I had to try. I waited until the last possible minute and clicked on my headlamp about a mile out of the aid station.
By the time I reached Howard Creek, the snow went from a little flurry to a legit situation. Big flakes were dropping and sticking, and I had already made up my mind to put on a few more layers. I changed into windstopper gloves, piled on Moeben UV 50 fleece tights, and at Dom’s suggestion, threw on my brand new official C2M Patagonia PrimaLoft liner* under my NorthFace Goretex Circadian Paclite shell. Word was coming in from the ridge that it was getting seriously nasty up there, and Dom was convinced that he was not going to see me get hypothermia for a third time. Accordingly, I agreed to fill my pockets with more solid food as well, all the while enjoying a nice disco dance party hosted by the exceedingly groovy volunteers. Suited up and armed for battle, I headed out into the night.
*Thank-you George! I love!
Here is where things got interesting. At first, I thought I was getting sleepy and downed a caffeinated gel. Now this was exceedingly troublesome considering it was only 8:30 pm and I was running pretty hard. Why in the hell was I getting tired already? Probably because I wasn’t tired. I was dizzy. The combination of a dark night and a narrow column of light eminating from my head, only illuminating the fuzzy madness of a blinding snowstorm was basically hypnotizing me. Like for real. My only resolve was to stop about every 10 minutes, switch off my headlamp and do that thing you do when you’re either drunk or think you might have a concussion, where you follow your fingers from your temples until they meet together in front of you. In retrospect, I’m kind of disturbed by how much fun I was still having.
I quickly rolled into Gridley Top where I found a bunch of barnyard animals who convinced me to sit and eat some warm soup before heading down to Cozy Dell, aka Cozy Hell… whatever that means. Needing to break out of my legitimate hypnotic trance, Gretchen treated me to some Peep Coffee which basically turned my life around. I went from being like, “wow. This is kind of weird.” To “F YOU BLIZZARD! I’M GOING TO OWN YOU AND THE WHITE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” And with that, I bolted out of my chair and back into the serious situation waiting for me outside of the tent. But not without trying to miss the turn back onto the ridge. The last thing I heard was the Buffoon say:
This isn’t going to be good.
The next few miles are what I consider the worst possible conditions I have ever run in or hope to ever run in again. The half snow/half ice was stinging the hell out of my face, thanks to 40mph gusts and I couldn’t even really open my eyes. I was resorted to run hugging the left side of the trail so as not to miss the Pratt Trail connector – which I had no idea where it was located. I ran up, I ran down, the snow was accumulating by the minute. And I was euphoric. For the next two hours I sang the only song stuck in my head as I danced along the frozen trail – which was interesting since I only knew about ¼ of the words. Peep Coffee = Catchy pop music. Now recognizing the irony of singing about being a Hollywood diva who is “cooler than you,” all the while soaked through with rain and mud and running through a blizzard, only makes me wish I had brought a video camera.
Eventually, I spotted the Pratt connector and began the long decent down to Cozy Dell. Those I passed on their way back up looked entirely wrecked and many asked me if Chris was letting people continue. I thought that was weird, and my only response was, “yeah, it’s pretty nasty up there, but it’s not that bad.” After a few miles, I hit a couple slippery, muddy patches and thought to myself, “oh, that must be the mud they were talking about. It’s not that bad either.”
Hahaha. Hahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAA. HAHA. Hahahahahahaaa. Haha. Ha. Ha.
What happened next was full on ridiculous. For the last two miles, the mud was so slick and so nasty that I basically just slid and prayed. And that was my legitimate plan for not ending up with a broken ankle or broken face. I put my handhelds on my wrists like bracelets and grabbed trees and grass and rocks where I could to steady myself. It was still snowing like the dickens and I couldn’t run very much in the given situation, but I wasn’t concerned at all. In fact, I was pretty darned pleased with the fact that I was not cold at all and my legs felt amazing. Downright spritely, in fact. At some point however, I began to realize that while I was doing an excellent job of getting myself safely down the mudslides, going back up was going to be an entirely different affair. And I had to go back up. Oh well, I thought. I’d signed up for a challenge – and challenge after challenge was exactly what I was getting. About a half mile from the aid station, the two Patagonia guys who had passed me on the way down gave warning that Dom was really mad at me because I was taking too long to get down Pratt. Though I knew they were joking, I did start to feel bad, as history precedes me and Dom had every right to worry about me out there running through a blizzard all alone. I pressed on and rolled into Cozy Dell, now fully understood as Cozy Hell, and was greeted by a mustached man who was very glad to see me. Smiling nonetheless.
I was ushered under the collapsing and leaking tent and the volunteers set about getting me some hot soup and coffee. The first thing Dom asked me was if I was okay. The second thing was if I really wanted to go back out there. The conditions were really, really bad and worsening by the minute and at this point it was a call on my safety rather than my will. He told me that many had dropped here and that what I had already gone through was impressive enough. My response was to ask him to find his ski goggles in the trunk. I was going to need them to find my way on that ridge once I got back up there.
I was overwhelmed with the response I was given there. Sada and Kathy made sure I had enough calories, Dom checked my gear and another girl out there crewing her boyfriend offered me her rain shell in the event mine had soaked through. She assured me it would be there at Gridley Bottom for me, as Dom had offered the same to her boyfriend. What I was about to do was a little crazy, yet I had the full support of the volunteers and crew who were out there suffering right along with me. And for what? TO HELP ME ACHIEVE MY GOALS. I would have thought them crazy, would I not have done the very same thing. And enjoyed the hell out of it.
As I prepared to step back out into the storm, a dark figure approached the tent. His words were stern:
No one is going back up that mountain.
And with that, the ordeal was over. There was no arguing. There was no negotiating. I had gone a bit over 30 miles and that would be all. Considering that my legitimate plan for getting back out of Cozy Dell was two sticks, my hands and knees and a pair of ski goggles, I think it may have been a good call.
NAF: Not Allowed to Finish
Only the “ordeal” was not over at all.
Dom and I quickly gathered our things and headed back to Thacher to check if our tent was still holding up. Amazingly, the inside was dry and so we piled in, stripped off the layers of wetness and mowed through some chips and hummus. Our plan was to get a little rest, waiting out the storm before driving back to LA and before long, I was sound asleep. But somewhere around 4:30 am I realized that I was wet again. That was probably because the field was flooding and we were now sleeping in a puddle. Apparently, Dom had already been dealing with this for an hour, as he was blocking the wind for me and also pad-less, as he’d given his to me. Since it was still quite dark and we didn’t want to lose any of our gear, we decided to try and wait it out until 6:30/7ish when there was enough light in the sky to get the hell out of there. It was impossible to sleep at this point, so we did the only thing we could: sat there and laughed. Oh well.
At the first spark of light, we began the mad dash of packing up and running to the car. It was still pouring and everything we owned was entirely soaked through, not to mention the start/finish area tent was completely collapsed. To make matters awesome, I was running around half naked. As we finally hit the road and began thawing out, I was a little sad that we’d had to leave on these terms and that over competitive bitch Mother Nature had won. But I guess that by sheer statistics related to the amount of time I spend racing her, it was bound to happen. And I had actually had a lot of fun and learned a lot of valuable lessons in my attempt to give her a run for her money.
Before hitting the showers, we decided to put our soaked through jackets back on and run out to San Vicente to cheer on our friends running the LA marathon in the downpour. Even though I’d had to come home earlier than I wanted, at least I got to be a part of so many PRs on another epic day. At the end of the weekend, I ended up with the general feeling not of achievement but of connectedness – and for that I believe the 2011 running of the Coyote Two Moon was a huge and raving success.
Enjoying the beautiful LA weather
- I got to run 30ish miles and climb about 8k', so that was cool.
- This was the most fun I've ever had in the worst conditions I've ever run.
- Thank-you to the volunteers who had it even worse than the runners out there, some having to abandon the stations and hike down. I can't wait to help every one of you at a race someday as well.
- Thank-you to Dom for spending my birthday weekend taking care of me, and making what should have been a miserable situation one of the most fun adventures ever.