Saturday, December 31, 2011

How To Make Ten Miles Take 2.5 Hours, Or, I Hate Westside Trails For The Millionth Time

This was supposed to be a nice run to say goodbye to 2011, which has been, all in all, a not-too-bad year. I slept in, got enough sleep for once; it was a new-to-me trail, which meant I was excited to explore it; weather was spectacular -- temps in the 60's, sunny, the smells and sounds of springtime in the air... and yet, somehow, even with all those good things, it still went wrong! Terribly wrong!

The Yetman Trail, on the trail map for Tucson Mountain Park trails, looks easy to follow. If you start from the Camino de Oeste trailhead, for the first few miles, every time you come to a trail junction you bear right. According to the map, there are no other trails leading off to the right. Trusting this map was a mistake, as I have also known this same map to fail to disclose the true number of trails branching off of the 36th Street and Starr Pass trails by my house. But I believed it anyway. I decided to carry my iPhone with me, as in really carry it, in my hand, both so I could listen to music or Savage Love if I got bored, and so I could consult the trail map online if I got lost. 

It was not good, not really, from the start. One of the first things I noticed was that this trail was rocky. I am a baby about stepping on rocks -- they hurt, and I don't like it. Come to think of it, I have been wearing these trail shoes since, oh, May or June, and they are probably just about dead. My feet were complaining from the first quarter-mile or so. Nothing specific hurts, they just feel bruised and aggravated from my unadvisedly steep increase in mileage (from about 25 a week to nearly 50 -- I'm not so good at math; does that violate the 10% rule?).

I was also cranky because I was carrying a bottle in one hand and my iPhone in the other. It was supposed to be a short run of only ten miles, five out and then the same five back, so I figured I didn't need my pack and could stash the bottle three miles in and pick it up on the way out. But both the bottle and the iPhone seemed twice as heavy as they usually were. I was gasping for breath and taking walk breaks by Mile, oh, about 1.5. (Of course, neither the bottle nor the iPhone has miraculously doubled in weight; it is much more likely to be my extra Christmas fat slowing me down.) I decided to stash the bottle at Mile 2 instead. I should be able to run 6 miles without fluids, right? 

The trail was all right up to Mile 2. I didn't really like it; it had many of my pet peeve trail qualities: the aforementioned rocks in the trail; the very annoying little meandering horseshoe curves; the cholla hanging into the trail on so many of those tight little turns; the stretches through washes where sand crept into my shoes -- but it was easy to follow and I was making progress. Then I got to a place where I was confused. It was a Y-intersection where it looked like the main trail went off to the left. I called up the trail map on my iPhone -- nope, trail goes to the right at every trail junction. So I took the right fork. It deteriorated pretty quickly, but was always a real trail. It climbed, climbed, climbed. Running was nearly impossible because of the rocks. Even walking I felt like I could turn an ankle at any moment. And talk about steep! This was, like, Blacketts steep, nothing like the trail description. I was getting a bad feeling but kept going. Then I came to another trail junction. Again, the left fork looked more promising but I took the right fork, still thinking I was following the map. This climbed a little more, got increasingly rocky, and then just stopped. There was a cairn in front of me, but no, absolutely no trail and no walkable path through the jagged rocks and boulders. 

OK, I quit on that part. I slid back down to the trail and went back to the fork and took the other one. This was a real trail. So much for the map, I thought sourly. This trail climbed up to a really beautiful vista of the resort at Starr Pass and Cat Mountain to the south. But then it disappeared again, like it had been a trail just up to this vista point. By scanning the horizon, I spotted another cairn way off across a jumbled boulder field. I picked my way through that and got back on a trail again. This trail ran along the top of this mountain for a while and then started to descend and then hit a sheer drop and stopped. I had simply run out of mountain and there was no way down. Maddeningly, there was another cairn right just before the trail stopped. Who would have put that there and why? I resisted the urge to kick it over. I decided to just go back to that first place where I turned right and the main trail looked to go to the left. Maybe I was still on the Yetman Trail and I was just missing something, but at this point I didn't care. Between rock-hopping and route-finding, this last mile took me 23 minutes. Shame, shame. The trail was just as hard to follow back to that junction, but at least it was downhill. Not that I could run most of it, I was too afraid of falling. 

I was sweating buckets. It was mid-60's but full sun. I was glad to see my Nuun bottle again at Mile 2, now Mile 4. I drank half of it and realized I would have been pretty dehydrated and low on electrolytes if I had really gone 6 miles without drinking. I'll pack extra for Wasson Peak tomorrow for sure. I took that "wrong" left fork and, surprise, surprise, it turned out to be the correct fork. At the bottom of a half-mile hill was a giant sign pointing south. It said "Yetman Trail" with an arrow, and beneath it, "Starr Pass Trail 1.5 miles". I was in that hot, cranky, tired state of mind where I wanted to cry and argue, "But the map said to always turn right at every junction," but there was no one there to listen or care and that wouldn't have made the miles go by any faster. So I just decided to run to Starr Pass, get my miles, turn around, go back to the car.

Again, on the map it looks straightforward but there are dozens of unmarked trails that aren't shown on the map. Lots of mountain bike trails. My strategy was to just go straight at every junction without even trying to guess whether I was still on the Yetman Trail. I'm pretty sure I was not. I had no idea where I was by the time I hit Mile 6 and was ready to turn around -- on skinny mountain bike singletrack with heavy cactus on both sides. My feet were hurting, I was hot and thirsty, I was heaving for breath even on flat land, and I was just done. I was craving salt so badly I wanted to start licking rocks to see if they were salty. I jogged downhills and real flats but walked everything else until I got back up to Mile 8, where my Nuun bottle was. That was the best-tasting drink I have ever had, I swear. I wished I had two more bottles exactly like it, that's how thirsty I was. 

With the help of the Savage Love podcast, I managed to jog most of the remaining two miles back to my car. But I felt awful -- horribly sore feet, hot, nauseous, fat, unable to breathe comfortably. And yes it did take me nearly two and a half hours to "run" that ten miles. Ugh. 

So that was the end of running year 2011 -- I ran 1,214 miles and biked 3,426 miles. I'm proud of finishing Pikes Peak and of doing my two back-to-back marathons, although my times for both of them sucked. Other than that, this was nothing special as far as running years go. I hope 2012 will be better!

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