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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Top of Mt. Wanda - We found out near the top that Chevron's refinery was on fire.
Made for  a sunset reminiscent of Tolkien's Mordor.

Life in my little universe has been crowded and somewhat erratic.  The orbits of planets Work, Family, Church, and Sleep have been so volatile that planets Cycling and Running have sat cautiously in high orbit awaiting an invitation into the melee. Not that they don't get sucked into the mix on occasion; as a matter of fact I've had some of my better adventures in those brief close encounters.  So fortunately, where consistency has lacked - random excitement has filled in.

Running picture of cow silhouetted by rising sun in Carquinez Highlands.

3 weeks ago I arbitrarily decided to revisit one of my 50k training runs.  The route starts in downtown Martinez at the Rankin Park Pool and immediately climbs to the top of the ridge overlooking the Carquinez Strait. Starting at 5:00 am, it was a slightly spooky twisting climb through the trees.  Summiting onto the ridge, I flashlighted a skunk, and chose to catch my breath as he hopped and trotted across my trail. Back on task, I crossed the highlands and descended to cross under Hwy 4, and then climb and descend Mt. Wanda, Mott Peak, Briones peak, and then return back up over the Carquinez highlands.  A few unexpected detours (Got lost on familiar trails) lengthened the route by almost 2 miles.  I ended up with a 24 mile run and over 4,000' of climbing - in better form and faster pace than the previous trek.  I was stoked.

Most of my recent bike rides have either been a quick 50 mile loop with HOP (House of Pain) Medium, or a 5am Sunday morning ride with Matt up into the Moraga / Berkely hills.  My latest HOP ride was unique.  I bolted out of bed at 8:00am having overslept my alarm by an hour.  Bec kindly rolled into action flipping the switch on the coffee maker and starting toast, as I scrambled around pulling gear together and putting the bike on the back of the Pilot.  25 minutes later I was racing down the highway to meet the group before they left at 8:55.

In my rush to get on the bike I forgot to start my GPS.  When I finally remembered, I was going 20 mph shoulder to shoulder in a double pace line and decided to skip it.  The roads were generously littered with ubiquitous gravel and debris due to... well we couldn't quite tell.  I flatted 5 miles into the ride - and watched the pack diminish toward the horizon.  I wouldn't be seeing them again till next weekend.

I patched my tube and was just getting back on the road 10 minutes later when a gal rolled up and asked which way to Livermore.  Turns out she missed the HOP Light and HOP Medium start and was trying remember the route from a previous excursion with them.  I had been considering waiting for House of Pain (the last and fastest group), but they are frankly out of my league, so I told her to follow me, and we rode the next 45 miles together.  The psychological boost was good, and I did get a few minutes break drafting periodically, but for the most part I worked hard trying to stay ahead of the racers while towing her around Livermore and back.  19 mph average speed without the help of a peleton was satisfying though exhausting.

Her boyfriend and the rest of House of Pain finally did catch us as we were leaving Livermore, but we only rode with them a half mile, then skipped the customary water stop and got a head start up Collier Canyon.  Having now been caught once, my objective was to ride ahead of that freight train at least to the top of the last climb into Danville.  Success.  More than success, we never saw them again.  We got back to Peets Coffee without a glimpse of the train on our tail.  I left her there filling water bottles and thanked her for the help.

The excitement hasn't been limited to running and cycling though.  Tuesday Bec and I took the girls up to Briones Peak to watch the sun set.  I managed to get 2 of the three of them car sick on the winding drive up to the parking area, and thus our pace for the 2 mile climb was a bit relaxed.  We topped out with only 2 or 3 minutes to spare.

And then on the way back down we encountered 2 rattlesnakes.  One was hiding in the grass along the side of the trail.  He rattled as we walked by giving us quite a start.  Piqued, we were on full alert as we walked 4 more steps where we found a second, looking frighteningly like a large branch lying in the trail.  Ella spied him first and pulled up short causing a brief train wreck as the rest of us, each occupied investigating the grassy shoulders of the trail, slid to a stop.  Upon seeing us, the reptile began his warning.  But instead of slithering off to safety, he decided to stand his ground coiled up in the center of the trail.

You have got to be kidding me...  Not trusting the grassy meadow, and not able to pass on the trail outside of his strike range, we contemplated the most dangerous threat in the east bay parks through the diminishing light.  A hand-full of gravel was all I could garner, and the direct hits I managed to score brought nothing more than determined threats.  With the light fading fast and our nemesis apparently content to hold vigil all night, I resigned to jog back up the trail for some heavier ammunition.  I'm no pitcher, but I did finally convinced him of my intentions to bury him alive, and after some animated and vicious protestations, he skated up into the rocks.

You can imagine the completion of our hike down the hill in ever deepening shadows.  I guess there is still some mischievous little boy in me, since I couldn't resist covertly tossing a rock down the hill beside our little company.  Yes, scaring your daughter and wife is about as fun as doing the same to your sisters...  But it was Bec that brought up the lion movie - not me.

And the randomness continues.  A couple mountain bike rides here and there, a 5am half marathon, and another quick Sunday morning ride before church, pretty much brings me up to date.  No substantive change appears to be on the horizon, but that's ok.  Even though it's not the most efficient training method, I think I enjoy the variety more.