I can hardly believe it myself, but there it is. On Friday night, Tom and Joe P. set up this really great sunset/night run at Dove Mountain in the Tortolitas. I almost didn't go because it was such a long drive and I was worried about my sick puppy and I was afraid to set foot on a trail even though I really, really wanted to go. In the end I went anyway. Frieda was just sleeping anyway and didn't need me to watch her do that.
I want to say I don't like Dove Mountain because it is so exclusive and snotty and... perfect, but I can't say that. Instead, as I drove up there and entered into the perfect little Dove Mountain bubble, I was jealous. Of the people that live there. Surrounded by all these beautiful mountains and desert peace and quiet; smooth, wide, eminently bikeable streets; a choice between paved, off-road running paths and some pretty challenging trails; a view-to-die-for of the city down below, the residents of Dove Mountain are some of the luckiest people in Pima County in my opinion.
The run started out heading up a wash, and then became a real Tucson trail pretty quick -- steep, rocky, and difficult. I was gasping for breath right away. But I only had to "run" (i.e., hike fast) for about a mile and a half before we got to a spot where Tom had stashed some liquid refreshments earlier. Everyone settled down to watch the sunset. I was fidgety and impatient because I was worried about Frieda and because I had stupidly left my head lamp at home and knew that when it got dark I was going to be relying on my iPhone flashlight (and I had also stupidly forgotten to charge my iPhone so it only had 60% battery). I wasn't drinking any beer anyway -- didn't want the calories and didn't want it to make me sick on the remaining six miles of the run. So I took off again and so did Steve. We left the other six people there drinking and watching the sunset.
We had another few miles of climbing before we topped out. We were going pretty slow because both me and Steve are lazy and walk everything that has the slightest bit of incline. The sunset light and the temperature were both perfect for running. I swear, Tucson in the springtime is like Paradise. The start of the descent was some of the nicest, most runnable trail I've been on in a long time. It finally got dark enough that Steve turned on his head lamp and I stayed right behind him and managed to stay on my feet by using his light.
We stopped to wait for the others once it was full dark. I used my iPhone to look up a website with recordings of rattlesnakes rattling, and planned to hide next to the trail and press Play as the runners were coming down the hill. But they didn't come. We waited and waited in the dark. The temperature was still perfect. I had an inexplicable desire to be smoking a joint. It's been at least ten years since I did that or even thought about it, so I have no idea what brought it on. Finally I couldn't stand waiting anymore and decided to leave. Steve wanted to wait for the others so I left him there and took off using my iPhone flashlight.
It was actually plenty bright, though it was sort of a pain to hold at the right angle. At first I had some boulder scrambling to do, but then the trail dumped me out into a wash again. I was happy because now I could pick up the pace. But then the trail signs pointed out of the wash and got me back to boulders again. This went on for quite a while before I was returned to the wash. The whole time, my iPhone was flashing warnings about the state of my battery -- 20% left, then 15%, then 10%. I could see the Ritz-Carlton up on the right and could hear the sound of music coming from it. I had thought that the trail was only 8 miles total but my Garmin was up to 8.8, then 8.9, and still no trailhead. Then suddenly my phone shut off -- no more battery. In the moonlight it looked like the trail branched off into lots of different trails. I hadn't been paying attention to what it looked like when we started, so I didn't even know what to be looking for. Finally I cut straight across the wash and bushwhacked up into the Ritz-Carlton parking lot, hoping I wouldn't step on a rattler without my light. I didn't. From there I saw our cars parked about 50 feet away. I didn't wait for the others to get back; I was too anxious to get back to Frieda so I just took off.
The next day I started my project of biking from my house to and up Mt. Lemmon. I plan to add five miles a week until I get to the top. I only got to Babad Do'ag this time (a 45-mile round trip from home, building off the 40 miles I did last week), but I actually felt pretty good riding, and was going at (for me) a good pace. I figured it was a bad idea to do a long ride the day before I did the Ventana loop, but I really had to do it both to burn calories and to get my mind off Frieda being so sick.
When I RSVP'd about the Ventana loop, I had told the run director, Dave, that I didn't know how far I would go but I knew it wouldn't be the whole distance. When I got there this morning, though, I felt like doing the whole thing. It was a loop that linked together two trails I'd never managed to complete -- Esperero, leaving from the Sabino Canyon tram road, and Ventana Canyon, which I had turned back on twice, once because of not enough water in August and once because of an out-of-shape hiking companion. I sort of did want to finish them. So I decided to try it and see what happened. Also, Steve was doing it too and I knew we were about the same pace so I would have someone to run with. And, it was a gorgeous, perfect day weatherwise, cool but not cold in the morning and predicted to be warm in the afternoon.
Esperero is a steep, rocky trail (and includes one brutal section about 3 or 4 miles in called Cardiac Gap, for obvious reasons, and several equally brutal sections later with no names). It climbs, climbs, climbs. There are some runnable sections and even some downhill sections, but it is mostly a long, slow haul up to the top. I was alone for almost the entire thing, although I could always see Renee not far ahead and Steve not far behind. At the top, after climbing something like 4500' in 9 miles, I waited for Steve because the trail seemed to disappear and I had no idea where it was supposed to go. I was worried because I thought I remembered Dave saying something like, "There's really nowhere you can get lost; well, there is ONE place, if you look down and see Oro Valley you might have taken a wrong turn." I had been looking down at Oro Valley for a while but apparently I wasn't in the wrong place because when Steve showed up a few minutes later he pointed out the trail. I realized I had missed it because I expected it to keep going up but actually it went down.
Ventana Canyon is named for this rock formation called The Window that I have always wanted to see up close but never have. There is supposedly a path leading to it off this trail but Steve was far in front of me at this point and I didn't know where it was so I literally passed right by it and didn't get to see it. I am a little bummed out about this, because now I will have to go all the way back up there again. NOTE: I did see one little path leading off the main trail, so I took it but it cliffed out about 20 feet later and I found myself standing on the edge of a sheer drop of thousands of feet that turned my legs to jelly and sent my heart leaping up into my throat. I got out of there as quick as I could and returned to the gnarly descent, which had my least-favorite features of massive step-downs covered with loose scree. In my dead running shoes with practically no tread, this was no small undertaking. I wished for my Hokas which now I will probably not be able to buy because Frieda's vet care is costing me approximately one mortgage payment per day.
Once we started heading down the Ventana Canyon Trail, I was happy to see that most of it was runnable. And a lot of it was delightful, too. It was shady and in very good shape compared to how it's looked the other two times I ran it. Oh, there was still plenty of underbrush and thorny stuff growing across the trail as you can see from the picture of my leg I put on FB, but it was nothing like it used to be. I remember in the past getting hopelessly lost pushing through waist-high weeds looking for the trail after it disappeared, and nearly stepping on a rattlesnake in the process. There was nothing like that today.
The last few miles weren't shady at all. They were totally exposed and it was warm. I don't know how warm it actually got today, probably around 90. I like the heat though so I was comfortable. I'm sorry, Steve; you were right about the hot, rocky part being two miles not one mile. My bad! When I got to the trailhead parking lot at Mile 16, Dave was there with a cooler full of good stuff. I had just finished all my water and Nuun so took a Mountain Dew and a bottle of cold water. I had the option of getting a ride back to Sabino with Dave but decided to run the three miles on the road instead because, amazingly, I still felt good. That shocked me -- when is the last time I've felt good on the last three miles of any trail run? I don't remember. I managed to actually run the last three miles too, which made me feel even better.
So this is now two trail runs that have felt good. Oh, and also my feet haven't hurt on either one. I am pretty sure this is mental, not physical, and is due either to the nice weather, or the absence of pressure since I bailed on the 50-mile race. It's also possible that there's a physical cause, either the 10 lbs that I've lost or else the fact that I'm not running much and my legs are fresh. Either way, I'm happy about it!