Branches, Mt. Williamson

Branches, Mt. Williamson

We started at Islip Saddle at about 5:30am, after having stashed water at stops along the way.

The run began with a nearly 2 mile climb up Mt. Williamson. It was a beautiful run as the sun was rising. I took the lead, which was probably not a good idea since I chronically get lost, but made sure that I never got more than 50 feet ahead of the next runner.

Near the top, I turned and looked back frequently. The last time I looked back, there was nobody behind me. I ran a bit back down. Still no one. I hollered. No reply. Down further, looking for the turn I’d evidently missed, but I couldn’t see it.

It was too early and too beautiful to get annoyed or worried. I decided to run back down the way we’d come, and then run the 2 highway down to the point where we’d cross the highway and pick up the trail on the other side.

I didn’t remember the length of the run down Mt. Williamson, and wasn’t sure whether or not Anibal and Jose would be ahead of me or behind me. I waited at the highway crossing for a few minutes but couldn’t spot anyone descending Williamson. I turned and ran the trail up the Scenic Mound.

After a point, the trail spills the runners out onto the 2 again, and there we run along the shoulder for 2 miles or so, bypassing a stretch of canyon that is the protected home of a nearly extinct frog. Still no sign of the boys. I decided to skip the descent into Cooper Canyon, in part because I was not sure I could remember the way out, and in part because I figured I’d get ahead of the boys by doing this, and wait for them at Cloudburst.

From Cloudburst begins the most runnable stretch of the race, a mostly gentle downhill 5 mile stretch that parallels the 2, bringing us into Three Points.

The week before had been a busy one. I’d skipped a few meals along the way. I also hadn’t slept much the night before. My tank was pretty much on empty. This combined with the altitude and, perhaps, with a little tension from having lost my fellow runners for a few hours so early in the day, and suddenly my heart rate ramped up high.

This pounding and erratic heartbeat has happened once or twice before, and the solution has always been to stop, rest for a bit, and let it drop back down to normal. I dialed my running back to slow, and took a little longer when we stopped for water. I was still revving high, but things felt stable.

We descended down towards Sulpher Springs and ran into race director Hal Winton, who was out with a friend and a chainsaw, clearing trees that were downed on the trail. We stopped and talked for a while. Hal was wearing his Western States belt buckle. Jose buckled at WS in 2010, and commented on how much different his buckle was from Hal’s 1989 (or was it 1986) buckle.

I never was able to get it back after the break. My heart beat was ragged, and I was gassed. We ran a few miles of road and then came the climb up Mt. Hillyer and through the Fred Flintstones Scenic Wonderland. I should have been paying more attention to the course, but all I could think about was making my way down to Chilao.

At Chilao I decided to take the road back to Shortcut rather than run the trail. There were two reasons for this. The first was that I wanted to avoid anything that was going to get my heart pumping, like the short, steep climb up to Shortcut. Unsaid was that I wanted to avoid the poodle dog bush I expected to be quite overgrown in that stretch.

The run along the road took longer than I expected. During it, I spent a lot of time in my head, pretty much convincing myself I needed to drop from the race because clearly I did not have the fitness to finish it if I couldn’t even knock out a simple 36 miler without trouble. I wasn’t considering the extraordinary circumstances – something had clearly gone wrong, probably due to no sleep and poor nutrition and my body was not in shape to run. I stopped to ask a pair of CHP officers if they knew how much further I had to go to Shortcut. They looked my up and down, considering whether or not I needed to be searched and arrested – I think this is the way cops tend to view all civilians – and then told me they had no idea what I was talking about but that there was a Shortcut Station down on Tujunga about 10 miles away. I stopped and asked a guy on a motorcycle. He wasn;t from the area and had no idea what I was talking about. I asked a cyclist. He didn’t know either. It occured to me that there were a lot of people up in the mountains that day who had no idea where they were, and only knew where they were going.

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