Monday, October 15, 2007

The Smell of California

Is that a strange title, maybe a little. There are some smells I can't stand and wish would go away as quickly as possible. The smell of old/stale/brewed too long ago coffee, is enough to turn my stomach. It sits as such a running joke in my house that Shan gave Paul a special heating cup for coffee, so he could drink it without me smelling it. His friend (boyfriend) Jim, oftentimes brews it at his house for Paul pre-race. Clea just thinks I am strange...ok, Paul, Shan, and Doug don't tend to disagree on this matter. Then there is the smell of freshly baked donuts that I can smell from the track on Wednesday mornings. Oh my, what it can do to your stomach when you are running hard. In case I wanted a donut anytime soon, the thought associated with that smell is enough to turn me away. And, I guess, I should mention the smell my camelback can hold occassionally if I don't hurry to wash it. I can't blame all bad smells on other things.

But there is a smell that I got to take home with me, and as I told Paul, "it is my favorite smell in the world." The smell of the woods in California. There is something magical in the air that keeps me coming back for more. Fortunately, this trip, the smell got into my shoes and I got to bring it home to Paul. I couldn't wait to take them out of the bag for him to take a deep breath, which he did. Honestly, I can close my eyes and still take it in...

I arrived in Oakland to 50 degrees and drizzle. on Friday After I picked up my rental, it turned to rain. I had printed off the directions to a local movie theater and thought I would go see Into the Wild. Well between the terrible roads, the rain, and the fear of death...it didn't happen. I ended up driving around what felt like aimlessly. I figured at that point I would just pick up dinner and head to the hotel. It was only 4pm. I got there and was hungry and exhausted, so tired my eyes were burning. Was it the rain, the travel, or just my recent life? I ate and took a short nap.

At about 6, I thought I would go check out the race finish, where we would be taking a shuttle to the start in the morning. To my amazement the rain had let up, I would later see on the news that over an inch had fallen, and the sun was working its way out. I even saw a rainbow. I headed over to the finish, a 5 minute drive, and for the first time since I had arrived I got excited. It was just beautiful! I could smell the rain moving away, and see hope in the day to come.

I went back to the room, got my stuff ready, and got ready for bed. The race didn't start until 9, but we had to catch the shuttle at 7:15...still I would be totally sleeping in. That is if I were actually on cali time. I was up 3:30, 4, 4:30...still on Texas time. I was worried this would bite me later.

I headed to the shuttle, and sat with the nicest guy on the bus. He was going to be a fast one, but after we chatted about the race a bit conversation turned to our families (his wife and their baby and, of course, Paul) Anyway, we got to the race start and it was about 45 degrees; I could smell the crispness in the cold for the first time this year.


It was very cool to arrive at the start and be greeted by none other than Ann Trason. She was everything I had hoped she would be...down to earth and super friendly. She got us all set, and we had 30 minutes to kill. I didn't want to peel off my layers until the last minute.

We got to the start line and Carl gave us our final instructions. He said that the first section was going to be very nasty from the rain, but the rest of the course should dry nicely. He said not to expect a PR with a laugh...yikes, what have I gotten myself into. And off we went.

This is where things go terrible. We take off about 200 yds and start to climb. There is one girl and a stack of guys that take-off, see-ya, and then I am in the second pack. For a moment I am fine there and then realize that my legs feel like they weigh a ton. I have so much mud on the bottom of my shoes and it won't get loose. I stop and stomp my feet, but noone else seems to need to stop. They just plug along...what is wrong with me I think. I verbalize the trouble I am having to the next pack that passes me. I just keep telling myself to suck it up, but boy am I having a hard time with it. FINALLY, this nice man slows up a bit and mentions that once we hit a road at the top it should be much better. I hope he knows what he is talking about. He kind of lingers near me. I wasn't sure what for...to be nice or for my rotten mood company. At one point he says this is what the whole course is like, climbing, climbing, a short downhill, and then more climbing. I almost hit him when he says this. Seriously, I have NEVER had this bad of a start to a race, training run, or anything like it.

Sure enough, we cross the road and the terrain improves. The man is still with me, but I am not moving as well as I would like. Granted the climb is about 4 miles, but it is fairly gentle and felt I should be running it. I let the man who has run it a few times set the pace as we continue to climb. Then finally we flatten for a moment and head downward. I hop in front and he hangs on for the ride. Still my legs feel pretty heavy. From here we have some good downhill and I take advantage. Even if my legs are tired I want to test the push...in case I have to walk it in. Tim, I learn his name this section, stays with me and we chat about so much but mostly he tells me about the East Bay area. He points out the sights as we come to them, reminding me to take a look around. I need to hear what he tells me. It is also during this time that we pass the 50-milers, their course is an out-and-back. It helps me to see them. There are a few people I know, and I am thrilled to see Mike on the trail. He ran my training run in WS with me; and we ran together at TRT...we have documentary proof of that time together!! (Thanks John F. for the footage; Mike and I went on and on about how cool it was to have it!)

After the next aid station, I put one ear of my headphones in and keep cruising along. Tim and I continue to chat, but I need the background music to keep my legs moving. I am cursing myself for not tapering for this race. It could be so much more enjoyable than I am letting it be. In this section, Tim tells me that this one and the next are his favorites. He is right...they are beautiful. It was like being in an enchanted forest and because it had rained, it felt like an enchanted rain forest. We come up to the aid station before we head into the redwoods, and low and behold Graham Cooper is there to fill my water bottle. I want to stay and chat, but as we come in Tim tells me to hurry so that I don't get stuck in a group on the upcoming single track. I follow him, but his getting me moving flustered me and I need a moment. I back off and catch my breath. It is here that I get in a bit of a fight with myself. I tell myself that I didn't come all this way to be out here and walk or move slow. I ate something, and started to push. Tim was right that it was his favorite section because I never caught up to him. It is a constant climb with a small amount of downhill and some decent switchback flats. It is all moist, so I am fairly careful. I come out toward the next aid station and catch up to another guy. I was happy to be seeing people. I fill my water, and they tell me basically one good climb and then it is all downhill, kind off. I start the next climb with force. I catch another guy who tells me that when I hit a certain fork I have peaked and then should push hard from there. The sun is out and finally I am feeling good. Did it really just take me over 15 miles to warm-up?? I could feel my stride open up for the first time all day, and I realized that there might be some hope for me afterall...

Finally I wasn't having to force the good time. I was actually enjoying more than just the scenery. After the last aid station, you head down and the you open up to Lake Chabot . I wasn't expecting it, and just loved it. The race has it's last 1.75 miles on a road around the lake, but of course there were 4 climbs on this road...a very cruel joke. But, I put my head down and continued moving. In the end, I cruised in feeling better than I had all day, and thrilled that things turned around. Tim was waiting for me at the finish line...he finished 2 minutes ahead of me. And, then I come to find out he is 60 years old!!



Once I finished, chatted with Tim, and we grabbed our goodies it was time for me to get back to the hotel to shower and change....they were nice enough to offer me a late checkout. In my mad rush to get my things together, I was hit with something wonderful. My shoes still had the smell from the trail. I took a deep breath in and quickly sealed them in a bag so that I could take my cherished odor home.



Before I headed to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner and gift buying, I went back to the finish to take pictures, thank my new-found friends, and await the finish of some of my 50-miler friends. I got to see Matt, and congratulate him and his new fiance!!. I got to see Steve, great race and good luck at Javalina! And just as I was starting to give up hope to see Mike finish he came in all smiles. I was so thrilled to be there for him after all the support he had given me this summer. It was fun to do the "mini" race and then cheer for others!!



After Mike and I walked out I went to San Fran to Fisherman's Wharf, where the smells of the ocean, the city, and the fresh bread were alive. I bought a fresh loaf of Sourdough bread for Paul, and had dinner at the Pier. Upon landing back in Austin Sunday morning, after 3 hours of terrible sleep on the plane, I made Sourdough French Toast. It was a great treat for both Paul and I!!


After breakfast, I opened my suitcase and once again...even if only for a brief moment, the smell of the California trails came alive. Until the next adventure, the smell will have to remain in my thoughts. mer












2 comments:

a.k.a.Moogy said...

What a wonderful adventure and story. Thanx for sharing. During Cascade Crest in the morning when it was a bit drizzly and foggy, that *damp* forest smell was pleasantly unreal. I don't get that much and it was special.
Oh yeah...congrats on your SUPER run!! 8)

Eudemus said...

Mer, it was a nice surprise seeing you out there at the race. We keep crossing paths (literally) at these races. I think that is the third time I have seen you on an out-and-back since we ran together at Miwok! It sounds like you had a great time and enjoy the smell :-)