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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Run in the Desert

We spent Thanksgiving with family in Nevada. With a long run (17 miles) scheduled for this weekend, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get in a run with some new scenery.

I scoped out my terrain on Friday via 4 wheeler guided by my wife's cousin's husband David. We stuck to the road I was planning to run until it began to bore him. Suddenly, to my great pleasure he abandoned the road and led us out across the desert. "Through", "over", and "among", were the adjectives which preceded our route as opposed to more docile adjectives like "around" and "between" as I was erroneously expecting. More than once I commented to him that I had no idea a 4 wheeler could possibly handle what now had wheel ruts traced across it. The scrub brush and tumble weeds had to be pretty big before he would bother to avoid them. More than once I watched him ride away, emerging from what I had just been looking for a way around. I gamely followed.

The down side to our foray was that it really didn't scope out my route. There was no way I was going to run the baffling matrix of canyons, gullies and salt flats we had explored on 4 wheels.

So I stuck to the original plan and on Saturday morning, headed out on Power Line Rd. straight into the heart of the desert. I had literally planned to run nearly 9 miles due west following (you guessed it) an endless stretch of power poles to a reservoir at the base of the distant mountains, then turn around and follow the same path in reverse.

Running west the sun rose behind me, and after several dim miles, well beyond the last house or fence, I noticed the first tenuous rays of sun light reflecting off the mountains 10 miles away. With eager anticipation of its warmth, I monitored the line of yellow light as it charged down the mountains and then raced across the desert toward me. We collided somewhere around mile 4 and with pleasure I felt the penetration of the radiant rays through the back of my tights and balaclava. The crackling dry air was well below freezing and had long since caused my Camelbak water valve and supply hose to freeze solid. The balaclava I had thrown into my backpack "just in case" had been hastily thrown over my frozen ears before even 2 miles had ticked past and now began to absorb some warmth into the dark fabric. I slung my Camelbak hose stiffly out to the side and held the valve in my hand hoping it would also absorb some heat and melt the cylinder of ice blocking my hydration. It would be 10 more miles before I could extract enough of a trickle to wet my lips.

Warmth made room for thoughts less related to survival and more along the lines of form and focus. The sections of loose sand plus the elevation (4,000') were taking a toll on my pace and I knew it. I checked in on my pace between miles 3 and 4. No land speed records were in jeopardy. My only objective was to keep running until I found the reservoir, then turn around and do it again, in reverse, with the sun in my eyes. At around 5.5 miles I realized the plan wouldn't happen just like that.

At a right angle to the triple strands of power line I had been following, lay a wire fence across my path. A cattle grate lay across the road with a fence post sporting a "No Trespassing" sign. "In the middle of the desert?" I thought. As if this were not enough, a large black dog emerged 1/8 mile down the road atop a small hill. He disappeared and then reappeared one hill closer at full volume. A detour was becoming likely. As the dog continued to approach and call for reinforcements, I beat a hasty retreat with glances over my shoulder every few hundred feet. The pursuit ended long before I ceased looking for it, and every groan or pop of my backpack spun me 180 degrees prepared for battle.

I was now forced to calculate with difficulty some simple sums in spite of acute oxygen deprivation. If I had turned back at 5.5 miles (I had), then I was going to lack 6 miles. Taking one of the side paths in the desert seemed about as wise as getting off the highway in San Francisco without a GPS, so I considered my options as I retraced the last few miles. The best I could come up with was to follow a road I had crossed near mile 2 which followed a small creek still flowing with several inches of water. I had jumped the icy water at a narrow point and wondered at the fact that Power Line road seemed to approach both sides of the creek, but had no crossing. In time, I jumped back across and began to follow a new road north. By my advanced mathematical calculations, I needed to cover 3 more miles before I turned back to again retrace my steps.

I followed this creek as prescribed, noting a layer of ice spanning the entire width in wider slower sections. But, I misjudged my distance and turned back short of 3 miles. Because it was "out and back" my error cost me double.

I finished in just over 2 and a 1/4 hours but fell just shy of 17 miles. I was ready to be done running by the time I jogged into the gravel drive way, and the sight of my family sitting at breakfast sealed the deal.

3 cups of coffee, an ice bath, and a monstrous breakfast put the finishing touches on a splendid run.

1 comment:

  1. If I were about 15 years younger and without my now limitations......
    Brought back memories of running through the neighborhood, starting out just before sunrise and retracing my path with the sun pushing up into the sky. Would have loved a run in the desert, (I hated running a track--just going in circles. Major boring!) however, I think I could have done only 2, maybe three miles. Those runs are now only distant memories, but sweet ones. And the dog on my runs, was sweet,loyal Shadow. She stayed right by my side with no leash. Bless her heart, ran even when she was sick, which when I realized that, did not let her run. I know it must have broke her heart. I was trying to spare her, but maybe she would have rather given her all to the end. I best quit writing about Shadow, for I am beginning to not be able to see the screen of my computer.(interesting to contemplate---am I as dedicated to my Master?)
    So, run on, my son, enjoy the health and ability God has given you and store up memories. And I will enjoy hearing of your adventures and recalling my memories.