What a doozy of a year, huh? I had every intention to sit down during my break in the last week of December and write the customary Year in Review post, summarizing my big runs of the year and focusing on goals for the next. And then my buddy and running partner Lucas went missing on Christmas Eve and our trail-running world was thrown into a tailspin for what felt like an eternity. As we searched for our lost comrade and scoured the coast and trails of the entire Bay area we also built new connections and friendships among the hundreds of runners and friends involved. Even though we all dreaded the task of looking for our favorite quirky scientist and adventure enthusiast, there was also healing that occurred during that search as we gathered and explored the beautiful spaces around us. In January his body was recovered in the Bay and we realized that we had lost him from this plane of existence for good. In a year where I mostly escaped the huge amounts of loss and grieving that many in the world were experiencing, it did finally catch up to me at the end.
The past few years I have done a thorough review and recap of my running adventures, highlighting my most memorable runs and looking forward to the future. Since I am so late to the game already for 2020, I have decided to switch up the format a little bit and instead write about a few memorable projects and experiences that I didn’t have a chance to reflect on while they were actually happening. And so I present to you my first big project of 2020 – the Shelter In Place Door2Door 50k’s.
The SIP Door2Door 50k’s – Volume 1, 2, and 3
The pandemic and subsequent Shelter In Place rocked my running world like it did everyone else of course. My races were canceled, race ideas for the fall scratched off the list, and running with other people was out of the question. Back in May I didn’t feel comfortable being around people at all, even outdoors, and so I focused inward with my training and returned to my roots as a solo trail runner. Yes, I had been loving on my community and hundreds of trail running friends lately, but I also knew how to go it alone, and as an only child I knew it was important for me to make sure that I got enough quality time with myself as well. The wheels starting turning in my brain around May, after I had enough base fitness to consider doing something big – what could I do that would keep my mind, body, and soul occupied for next couple of months until summer?
I needed a gimmick for this project, and we were still technically under Shelter In Place orders which meant that we were not supposed to drive anywhere to recreate. So I devised a “Shelter In Place Door to Door 50k” route that would take me from my house and up through Wildcat and Tilden Regional Parks. It would be a “Greatest Hits” route of all my favorites, and while I had done the Bay Area Ridge Trail section from Wildcat heading south before, I had never run to it from my home. And so on May 9 I took off, heading up steep Marin Avenue (this would become a theme) and hopping onto the familiar trails in Tilden for a wonderful day in the hills. The northern end of the trail was cold and fogged in, but as soon as I got back into Tilden the sun broke through and it turned into an absolutely gorgeous day.
As I wound up and down my local trails, trying not to backtrack but also hitting all of my favorite spots, I reflected a lot on the deletion of races from the calendar and the incredible amount of people outside in the parks, enjoying nature and their new found freedom. Many folks had a hard time at the beginning of the pandemic, but I welcomed the additional space in our schedules and the relative safety of the outside world around us. Yes, it was hard to push on past the 20 mile mark without aid stations or volunteers to cheer me on, but I kept going and eventually rambled all the way back to my home via Side-O and Julia’s Line. I ended up with just a touch over 31 miles on the watch, and even stopped to text Lucas at mile 22 for a bit for virtual cheer leading (He willingly obliged of course)! The first volume of my project was a resounding success.
My creativity was sparked immediately after finishing Volume 1 trying to figure out what an appropriate and worthy route for Volume 2 would be. I wanted to use the same restraints – door to door from my house, and on my first trip I accessed Tilden by heading up Marin Avenue, so that seemed like a good place to start. I looked South for this route, aiming for three of my other favorite parks; Redwood, Huckleberry, and Sibley. For years I had been running through Huckleberry on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, looking wistfully to the east across the canyon at a long exposed ridge that descended out of the back of Redwood Regional Park. I had always wondered if you could make a connection and get to that ridge, but a bit of research put it out of my mind once I realized that it was looked like some sort of land closed to the public. I eventually confided in the one and only Lucas “Gate Hoppin'” Horan when I was thinking about this route, and of course he encouraged me to go for it, saying “Yeah you’ve got to hop a couple of fences, but it’s open space after that!” He sent me a .gpx to help with the fence navigation and off I went, jumping my first gate behind Round Top in what was a series of much more than “a couple” of fences. It worked, the ridge was epic, the connection to Canyon Road was “sketchy but doable” just as Lucas had promised, and soon enough I was on the return trip back along French trail and back to my house.
As I reached the comfort of the redwoods on French trail I decided to really take my time and soak in the beauty of the day and the run. I paused at points to just stand there and look up at the massive tress, just wanting to rest a minute in their sacred presence. Nature and open spaces have been so healing to me during the pandemic and I think a large part of that is that these organisms are largely unaffected by the respiratory virus that is proving so destructive to humans. These redwoods have seen it before, and they will see it again – their biggest concern is actually us. When will we be cutting them down next, burning their bark, intruding on their land and groves? The redwoods managed to soothe my soul a bit and sent me on my way, back through Huckleberry, down Side-O and Julia’s Line, and all the way back to my front door.
Dammit Lucas, I wanted to do that loop with you somebody buddy. Thanks for making me go.
I was having a blast with the project so far, and so on the morning of my 40th birthday on June 5th in the middle of a raging pandemic across the country, I headed out for Volume 3. I started the same way as the first two, by heading up Marin Ave and straight into Tilden, and then I ran across to Inspiration Point and took the EBMUD Inspiration Trail down to San Pablo Dam road and across to the large East Bay Reservoirs on the other side. I had never circumnavigated Briones Reservoir before, and had only run there a couple of times, so the idea for this route was to head out, run a lap around the artificial lake, and work my way back across the ridge.
My head and heart were somewhat heavy on this day, as birthdays are always more of a moment of reflection for me than celebration, and I also realized that Breonna Taylor and I share the same date of entry into this world. The Black Lives Matter protest and movement was in full swing at this time and I spent much of my trail miles in deep thought about our place in the world, modern society, and how we could revisualize and creatively solve some of the systemic racism that is just too prevalent to simply ignore. The run itself was challenging as it was hot and dry in the “east” East Bay, but the back side of the reservoir was also quite peaceful, silent, and full of wildlife and birds. I connected the route to De La Veaga for the return trip home before descending Side-O and Julia’s Line for the final time on this project.
And so the SIP Door2Door 50k project was over – three 50k’s, all ran from my door, within a span of four weeks. My body felt strong and my mind felt clear, my soul definitely cleaner than it had when I started. Through this project I realized that I didn’t need people to run with (although I certainly enjoyed them) and I didn’t need the motivation of an organized race on the calendar to get me out running. I had trails and I had shoes, which is all you really need. More importantly these miles gave me valuable time alone to think and contemplate during a time of chaos and despair in our world. I felt refreshed and renewed after each run, and these efforts were integral to sustaining what was otherwise a hectic and unpredictable Spring.