Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The "Free Wheelin'" Tour WEEK ONE

Snow, Bugs, Snakes and Gapers.

While spending our first week on the road trying to avoid all these pesky little things, we were led to some purely awesome places in Northern California.  We allotted ourselves just over a week to get from the Lake Tahoe area to Quincy, California, where we currently find ourselves gearing up to head into the High Sierra Music Festival early Thursday morning.

After I finished the race I met back up with Kali and her Mom, who was visiting from Ohio.  Thankful for a shower and a bed to recover in, I spent the night in a hotel with them on the North side of Lake Tahoe.  The next day we moved into Mama and found a nice spot to park her on top of Brockway Summit, overlooking Lake Tahoe.  From here we had access to some of the best trails and road biking I'm aware of.  We spent the day doing just that.  Kali running trails and me road biking, trying desperately to stretch my legs and get loose from the punishing previous day.

Because most of the forest service access roads were still gated, due to snow, we found it hard to escape the onslaught of people gaping at the wonderful big blue lake.  Yes, people, it is beautiful, but you still have to follow the rules of the road and look both ways before crossing the street.  Jesus.  Anyway, we decided to hike into the woods to get away from the crowds.

real estate with a lake view

We hopped on the Tahoe Rim Trail heading north from Brockway summit.  We were only able to get five or six miles in before losing the trail to snow.  No worries, however.  We picked out a beautiful spot overlooking Lake Tahoe and spent a nice peaceful evening with it all to ourselves.  Lovely.  We returned to our car and the crowds in the morning and decided to head for lower grounds so we could go on longer hikes without the snow.

After stopping in one of my old homes of Truckee, California and passing by another (Rainbow Lodge), we headed towards Nevada City.  After spending the night on a forest service road, we headed into town the next day, did our errands, ran in the colorful Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley, then made our way down the South Yuba River Canyon.

sweet view of a bend in the South Yuba River from the trail

The next day we set out on the Upper South Yuba trail that left from the campground.  I was just not feeling it on this run.  It wasn't working for me.  We were only planning on a short out and back totaling seven scenic miles.  I decided to just keep walking out as to not abandon Kali in mountain lion country.  After she made the turn around and found me I tried to keep up with her until we got to the viewpoint the above picture was taken at.  We paused here to take some pictures and suck in the awesome sights.  I turned around to see what the sound I heard was and saw the biggest, most bad-ass snake I have ever seen.  Anyone who knows me, knows my relationship with snakes (I can hardly write about it).  I took off running and screaming the most deathly high-pitched scream you have ever heard.  After that I had no trouble running and ran the fastest lightest three miles I have done in months.  Ehhhhhh.  

After that incident I wanted to flee, so we scrapped our plans of backpacking down into the canyon on the same trail the next day and left the next morning.  After a few more errands we started heading north on 49, a new route for both of us.  We found a sweet little secluded pull-off among the many gapered-out campgrounds along the North Yuba River.  One problem...mosquitos.  Not kidding, they were unbearable.  Despite the heat and the beautiful spot, we had to confine ourselves to the van with the windows up for the evening.  They were eating us alive.  We quickly left there the next morning, heading back for higher ground, deciding we'd trade the snow back for the bugs. 

As it was the weekend, we couldn't escape Gape-City, so we made the best of it, picnicking among them, before finally finding a coveted free campground, where the crowds were already gone for the week.  It was nice and high (6,600ft) and on a lake.  The bugs were bad, but much more manageable.  We planned a trail run for next day and went to bed early after a nice swim in the lake.

the Sierra Buttes

We rode our bikes a couple miles to the start of our planned lollipop loop.  The photocopied map we got from a visitors bureau didn't have the distances but we were planning on a ten-ish mile day.  We quickly hit snow, but were able to keep on the trail.  We met up with the Pacific Crest Trail, just as we got high enough to see the greatness of the area we were in.  High alpine lakes, giant redwood trees and Sierra Buttes were our entertainment for the day...that and me taking crazy falls on the snow (my shoes just don't seem to work on snow).

 pure niceness...Upper Salmon Lake

It took us quite a long time to go a few miles through the snow.  After much poking around, we were able to follow it all the way around and hook up with the Deer Lake Trail to complete the loop.  That trail was clear of snow and runnable.  We skiied down the stick of our lollipop and made it back to our bikes and was back at our campsite a few up-hill miles later, quite happy with the stunning landscape we were lucky enough to be in all day.

After another lovely evening at the same campground, we headed into Quincy, giving ourselves two days to check-off a list of errands, before the madness of our festival run begins early Thursday morning.  As I finish this post, we have somehow managed to do everything in one day, leaving us all day tomorrow to find some adventure in the hills surrounding Quincy.  WOO HOO!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The "Free Wheelin'" Tour Commences

First Stop:  Kicking My Own Ass

After leaving the Stanford Camp and spring behind on Friday, my mindset quickly moved from the live/work drama and the busyness of moving to preparing for the race I was registered for on Sunday.  I spent two nights in the van in Tahoe City before showing up to start line of the Burton Creek Trail Marathon early Sunday morning.  The race was part of the Big Blue Adventure Race Series that takes place in various places around Lake Tahoe throughout the summer.

The race started and finished at the Tahoe City's Highlands Community Center, home to the cross-country ski area and an awesome system of mountain biking trails.  Two laps on a 13.1 mile loop through Burton Creek State Park was the course for the marathon.  The loop consisted of a combination of gently rolling double-track and singletrack with 900 feet of elevation gain each loop.

I arrived shortly before the 9:00am start after sleeping in my van nearby in National Forest.  After some brief stretching and hula hooping to warm up the race began.  I felt great from the beginning.  I started out slow as could reminding myself that most of the others were running the shorter races...not the marathon.  Settling into a good good pace, I realized that course was as flat as the description suggested.  While some might be stoked about this, it is not to my advantage.  I believe I could compete better on steep technical climbs and especially descents.  Technical is definitely not how I would describe this course.  It was smooth as could be.

As is turns out all that early spring road running down Fallen Leaf Lake Road paid off.  I really had to motivate to get out on the road, especially in the snowy, cold weather, but I was thankful for it during the race.  It was all running.  And I felt great.

Nearing the end of the first loop I counted three people in front of me, one woman.  I grabbed a sandwich I had stashed at the turn-around and downed it while walking up the the slight hill to start the second lap.  I could not believe how good I felt as I started to run again.  Slowly, my muscles began to feel a little tired, but I think I kept a pretty steady pace.  I didn't carry a watch or know any milage along the way except for the 13.1 mile turnaround.  I tried to focus on my form and enjoy the beauty of the course.  The trial meandered through forest and open meadows full of blooming wild flowers.  The weather was perfect; not too hot and a slight breeze.

After the turn around I didn't see any other runners on the course until about five miles from the finish.  On the only steep climb of the course I caught sight of a guy about a quarter mile ahead of me.  I passed him soon after and cruised the slight downhill of the rest of the course.  I finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes putting me 6th overall, 2nd woman.  Quite happy with myself, I inhaled a burger and chicken sausage and a couple of beverages.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mud Season Distractions

Fallen Leaf Lake in front of Lake Tahoe

The time known as spring in most places in the Northern Hemisphere, is not so affectionately referred to as "mud season" in the mountains.  It is the messy in-between time, when the snow is too spotty to play on, but is still covering the trails.  Muddy trails will gradually be exposed, depending on the elevation, but the ones in the highest country (where I want to be most) will unlikely see the light of day until July.  Aside from heading down to lower elevations, there is surely still fun to be had if one is willing to brave the cold, wet weather, post-hole through snow and/or play on the pavement.  My need to be in the higher elevations allows me to tolerate and even embrace this time of year, but I realized a few years ago bumming around in my car makes it difficult to utilize this swing season.  I decided a warm place to live, a hot shower and even a job (since the weather is crappy most of the time) would allow me to take mud season for all its worth.  Alas, I have found all these things, and then some, at the Stanford Sierra Camp.

Mt. Tallac towering over Fallen Leaf Lake

The Stanford Sierra Camp and Conference Center is located ten miles outside of the city of South Lake Tahoe, California, five miles from the southern shore of the impressive Lake Tahoe.  It is perfectly tucked under the southeast towers of Mount Tallac and on the southwest shores of Fallen Leaf Lake at the end of a five-mile, single-lane road, which dead-ends at the camp.  Granite boulders, huge trees and gushing creeks dominate the landscape.  Perfection, if you ask me.  

View from camp

The Stanford-owned facility functions as a resort in the summer and a conference center in the spring and fall.  A separate staff works the conference season and the summer season.   Most of the single season jobs are as an "all purpose" staffer.  A typical schedule will include 2-5 different shifts a day.  Jobs include housekeeping, washing dishes,  working in the dining room,  cleaning, shoveling snow,  leading hikes, set-up and break down of events and doing maintenance projects.  The are 40-50 employees.   Most live on-site.  Room and board are part of the deal.  Employees also have access to everything the place has to offer, which is about everything.  They have a shitload of watercraft, a basketball court, tennis courts, sand volleyball, a beach, books, games and any equipment you could need.  And that is just the stuff to do on-site.  The mountain-tops that run straight up from the back of my cabin offer endless entertainment.  

View from my front porch

True to the its elevation, the High Sierras disappointed most this spring.  It consistently snowed every week into June.  But true to it's California reputation, it was sunny and beautiful in-between.  As planned, I was able to take full advantage despite the rather foul weather.  I started the season by exploring the area on several different snowshoe outings.  As the snow became spottier and I was constantly falling through I spent most of the time road running and road biking.  Towards the end of May I was able to get on some east-facing and low-lying trails.   And through June I was primarily running on trails and road biking.  My cross-training consisted of large doses of hula-hooping and short runs in the Vibram Five Fingers.

After one of a dozen spring storms

As I suspected, structure provided by a work schedule, a home and a hot shower make for the most advantageous situation for me this time of year.  I am pleased with the training I got in during my stint here.  I feel like I'm prepared for the trail marathon I'm doing a couple days after finishing work.  The work itself was average (but necessary and now allows me to not work for a few months).  After not working for five months before this, it started out actually being fun, but then turned to the regular grind after a few weeks.  Then a few weeks later...it is over.  I love seasonal work.  Impermanent, just like everything else.  The perfect distraction for surviving mud season.