Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Once Around the World - Golden Gate Bridge to San Luis Obispo

My journey run down the California coast, to complete running 24,901 miles was amazing.  Finishing my first trip around the world at my birthplace, with my mother, wife and family members was truly special.  I’ve had a day by day report more or less completed for days but there is one part of the journey that I’ve wrestled with how best to report.  I’ve decided to just get it out of the way first, as honestly as I can and also take the opportunity to speak about “ambassador programs” which I’ve wanted to weigh in on for some time.
Minutes before the start.
My second night, I had planned to stay at the Pigeon Point Hostel.  I specifically wanted to stay in a dorm room rather than a private room to get more of the hostel experience.  In my grand vision, I would be sharing a room with a few guys that were bicycling the coast and/or from another country but spoke English well enough for us to share some of our life experiences.  As I mapped out each day, it became obvious that my only food option prior to getting to the hostel would require a 3 mile detour and would be almost 6 miles before I finished.  That day was already a 38 mile day and that really didn’t feel like a sound option.  My other option was a place that was 2.5 miles passed the hostel, which would be adding 5 miles to my day.  A week before I left, I wrote to Pigeon Point Hostel to see if there were any other food options that I may not be aware of.  Since I did not want to them to only suggest that I travel the 2.5 miles, I took the time to explain what I was doing and how I would arrive there.  I received 2 responses to my email.  The first informed me that my recon had been correct and that those were the only 2 options on Hwy 1 near the hostel.  But, they also informed me that they had some food, canned soups, dry ramen etc available for purchase at the hostel.  So, I had a back up plan.  I also received a very nice email from the Manager of the hostel.  My email had been forwarded to him and he wrote to me, admiring the trip I had planned, notified me that he had comped my stay and asked if I would mention and/or tag them in any social media or blogging that I did.  I had not, in any way, asked for this, though it was very nice of them to offer.  I am aware of how this works.  Many running friends of mine actively pursue sponsorship or, the new catch phrase, “ambassadors”.  They get some free product, and in exchange, they promote the product on social media.  I have mixed emotions about this.  On one hand, I think it’s a fantastic, grassroots way for small businesses to promote themselves without needing a huge advertising budget.  I do, however, question the objectivity of it.  I’ve worn 56 pairs of the same Asics 2000 series shoes, but I would have some ethical issues endorsing the product.  It has worked well for me, but I’ve never worn anything else.  It’s entirely possible that there are dozens of shoes that would be even better for me.  So, having graciously accepted my free night at the hostel, I posted, the day before arriving, how much I was looking forward to it.  I would not have done this without the implied agreement.  I also tagged the hostel upon my arrival.  I probably would have done this anyway.  As I will document later, the decision to stay at the hostel was probably my only bad planning decision.  This decision was only bad planning, because of my circumstances and what I needed at the end of the day.  It is absolutely no reflection on the hostel, but my hesitation on how to fairly and honestly talk about it highlights my feelings about ambassador programs.
Golden Gate Bridge
Day 1, Golden Gate Bridge to Pacifica
I really wanted to get Big Sur, Monterey and Santa Cruz lined up a day apart.  I also wanted to Stay at the Hostel at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, so I either needed to make the Golden Gate Bridge to Pacifica longer than it needed to be, or be ok with a 20 mile first day.  The 20 mile first day ended up being a great plan.  It allowed me to start at noon and ease my way into the journey.  I’ve run over the Golden Gate Bridge 5 or 6 times, but always early in the morning when there was very little pedestrian and bike traffic on the bridge.  Starting at noon, it was crazy crowded!  Lots of people on rental bikes.  You knew they were coming by the brightly colored handlebar bags.  These must be a safety feature for others, because the neon yellow printed handlebar bag almost always meant a swerving bike.  The section from the bridge through The Presidio and Sea Cliff neighborhood was slow going but the houses were wonderful to look at and I had fun guessing how much they must be worth.  Eventually I made my way to Land’s End Trail.  
Lands End Trail
 This was not part of my original route, but several runners from the area strongly suggested it.  It was beautiful.  The view back toward the bridge, which was still shrouded in fog was stunning.  I was a amused and disappointed at the number of people walking with their face glued to the screen of their phone, but I’ll take the blame for that.  Bad planning on my part, scheduling my journey run during the Pokemon Go craze.  
Looking back toward the bridge
 The run along Ocean Beach was, I’m trying to find a good word for it, dirty.  The day was kind of gloomy and overcast.  There was garbage seemingly everywhere, with disposable diapers and alcohol bottles topping the litter list.  I made a wrong “turn” from Skyline Blvd on to John Muir Dr.  It didn’t take me long to figure out I’d gone the wrong way and after digging out my glasses and consulting a map, I figured out I could keep going forward and get back on course.  I decided to retrace my steps instead just to be on the safe side.  The rest of the trip would have been pretty uneventful.  The unique, every house is exactly the same, quality of Daly City made a long uphill climb more fun and then I was coasting in to Pacifica when I fell.  It was near Sharp Park.  I had 2 turns that I needed to make and was trying not to get lost again.  I had the street names and directions in my head.  I looked toward a 7-11, which I didn’t need today, but was thinking about how I might need them on other days and stepping up a curb and wham!  I caught my toe on the curb and went down on the gravel walkway.  So, 18 miles into 250 and I’d already hit the deck once.
Day 2, Pacifica to Pigeon Point
One of the first things I did, when I was starting to plan this trip, was to reach out to local running groups along the way to get route advice.  Ron Little from Pacifica Runners was the first I heard back from.  His advice for altering my route slightly was tremendous and he and 2 other runners, Mor and Alan joined me for the first 15 miles of Day 2.  It’s always fun to run with new people, and they were all very knowledgeable about local history and had great stories to share.  These were easily some of the best miles of the whole trip. I know this might sound weird, but on my next trip to Pacifica, I’m eating at Taco Bell, that’s how well Mor sold it!  This was my first day to figure out mid day eating, without a crew.  The nice part about having crew is that you can schedule everything.  When to eat, where more water will be etc.  When you are running solo, you have to takes things where they are.  This day, I knew I had no food options on the road for the last 19 miles so lunch was at almost the exact halfway point in the day.  In long races, I’ve always had the plan to eat and then walk for a few miles after eating.  This has never really worked very well because once people start passing me, I start running again.  I was curious to see how I would handle the same strategy on a journey run without the worry of my place in a race.  It worked out really well.  I really had no stomach issues at all on the whole trip.  With an exception on day 7, I had the same mid day meal every day….eggs, bacon and bread (or tortilla).  I arrived at the hostel around 4:30, which was pretty close to what I had planned.  I checked in with Michael, a cool hippie guy listening to reggae almost too loud to conduct business.  I got my key, my towel and my bed sheets and directions to my dorm.  Each building seemed to have about 4 to 6 dorm rooms with a kitchen and small living room area.  I was the only person there, so I scouted around a bit, selected a bunk and took a shower.  My normal journey run routine is:  Eat something small, shower, sleep for an hour to an hour and half and then eat as much as I can make myself eat.  I went back to the office to see what small thing I could eat.  I got a can of lentil soup and some apple juice.  Ate that and took my nap.  When I woke up there was another guy in the dorm room so I said, “Hi, my name is Chris”.  He did the best he could to inform me that he spoke zero English.  Seriously, he couldn’t say “I don’t speak English”, in English.  My grand plan had been to meet somebody interesting, with a car, and offer to buy them dinner if they would give us a ride.  As I lay on the bunk deciding how I was going to approach convincing somebody to give me a ride to dinner another guy came in.  Late 20’s early 30’s probably and kissing his female companion goodbye at the door as she went off to a women’s dorm.  This seemed weird to me.  Were they traveling together and kissing at doors comfortable, but not sharing a room comfortable?  Were they just travelling as inexpensively as they possible could?  I suppose these were questions that I could have asked, but I didn’t want to know bad enough to buy both of them dinner.  I decided to wait for a better opportunity.  A few minutes later, another guy came in.  There was no kiss at the door this time but he also said goodbye to a woman, with a young child in her arms.  I really needed to eat, and really didn’t have the required energy to roam the grounds looking for a ride or to hitch hike.  I went back to the office and bought another can of lentil soup and 2 more boxes of apple juice.  I asked Michael what my options for coffee were?
“Yeah, man, totally, we have coffee” he said.
“Fantastic”, I replied, “where”?
“Oh, right here in the office, in the morning dude, it’s a dollar a cup”.
“That seems reasonable to me” I said, “what time is it ready”?
“7:30” and he handed me my change.
As I ate my vegan, low sodium, lentil soup, I added up how many calories short I was for the day.  I thought about how my first opportunity for food, water or coffee the next day would not be until mile 17.  I consoled myself with the hope that I would at least get a good night’s sleep.  I did.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Day 3, Pigeon Point to Aptos
I packed my pack the night before and slept in my running clothes, so that I wouldn’t have to wake anybody up at 5:30.  I drank some hot water, hoping it would have the same effect on my digestive system as coffee does.  I got myself together and was on my way.  My first 17 miles were pure hell. I realized as I struggled, that I was going to end up going 29 hours in between cups of coffee.  Davenport got me an egg and bacon burrito, coffee, orange juice and new water in my bottles.  While I was walking my lunch off I saw 2 grey whales come up for air!  A few miles later I settled into a real good rhythm, and ran really well for the afternoon.  This was the first day that the temps rose to something that could be described as warm.  The water jug that I had filled my bottle from had orange slices in it, which at the time I thought might be a nice addition. I was pretty disappointed to find out that it also had something “herb ish” making it almost impossible to drink. I came in to Santa Cruz a little dehydrated.  As soon as I saw a 7-11 in the distance I gleefully poured out both bottles of hippie water and filled them at the 7-11.  I had 9 miles to go to my hotel and several street turns.  I looked at my map and tried to memorize them, but the part of the brain that can’t do simple arithmetic late in a race, can’t read maps and remember street names and directions very well either.  I made a few wrong turns coming through town.  I didn’t really add too much distance but the constant stopping to dig out my glasses and look at the map again, plus the never ending traffic lights made these last 9 miles take forever.  My plan had been that once I got inside of a mile to go for the day, start looking for someplace to get food.  By food I mean two things.  The first being someplace to find after run food.  This one is easy, usually chocolate milk and a piece of fruit is plenty.   The second is someplace close to the hotel to find dinner later that night without much walking.  I did really well on both counts this day in Aptos.  A grocery store across the street from the hotel and a restaurant next door.  I got in at 4:20 only to find out that my room wasn’t ready yet.  So I sat, with my feet in the pool, drinking chocolate milk (Elliott joke….just burrowing in the sand) waiting for my room to be ready.  I got caught up on calories but was late getting clothes rinsed out and hung up to dry.

I posted this little side story on Facebook during my run.
I have bicycle all seem nice enough. And we've done an admirable job of sharing the road. But if any of you ever say anything like what I'm about to report, you need to check yourself. I stopped at a beachside state park to use the bathroom. As I was putting my pack back on a bicycle dude approached me. He was younger than me, fit ish, but then spandex can deceive....I was in a pretty good mood when the conversation started, but he must have hit a nerve:
Bicycle dude, "are you running on the highway?"
Me, "yep"
BD, "kinda dangerous, don't you think?"
Me, "I don't know, no more dangerous than cycling"
Me (trying to be nicer), "what direction are you heading"
BD, "north, riding Santa Cruz to Pacifica today"
Note....this is 60 ish miles, admirable, but the equivalent of a 15 to 20 mile run....he doesn't know it yet....but we are clearly in very different arenas.
BD, "how bout you, what direction and how far".
Me, "South, pigeon point to Aptos today, you've got some beautiful roads ahead of you".
BD, "today? What's tomorrow?"
Me, "Aptos to Monterey, I'm running from the Golden Gate Bridge to San Luis Obispo".
Note....this next question has been pissing me off for years, especially coming from cyclists.
BD, "are you running the whole time or are you walking any of it?"
Me, "are you pedaling the whole time?
BD, "what?"
Me, "bicycling 10-12 mph is the equivalent of walking...nobody ever asks you if you're ever in your small chain ring. Coasting...that's stopping to rest if you're running, nobody ever asks you if you ever coast. So, yes, to answer your question...sometimes walking"
BD, "sheez, well, have a nice day"
Me, "you too". I should have added..."enjoy that tailwind the whole way".

Day 4, Aptos to Monterey
My Birthday.  I got a late start, due to having to use a hair dryer to get my clothes dry.  The morning was pretty uneventful other than the headwind.  I’d had a headwind the whole trip so far, but the rolling hills along the coast gave me an occasional break from the wind.  Now, as I entered Steinbeck country it was really steady in my face.  My lips were blistered from the day before, and I thought they were chapped and wind burnt, despite the fact that I’d been applying Burt’s Bees lip balm, which I assumed had some sunscreen properties.  I stopped in Moss Landing for lunch, watched sea otters float on their backs cracking shells on rocks and ate a breakfast burrito.  While I had my glasses out, I looked to see what the SPF rating was on the lip balm since my lips hurt so bad it was hard to eat.  Zero. That would be a problem to solve, but I now knew that I had nothing along the road until I got in to Monterey.  I hit a huge low point, after lunch, around mile 21. The wind was relentless, and the fields of artichoke, cauliflower and strawberries seemed to go on forever.  
Strawberry Fields Forever

I was off the highway now and the farm roads were in horrible condition, almost like technical trail running. In the middle of my funk, I called Jeanne. She didn't answer, and I'm not sure what I would have said if she had, but I needed mental help. I spent about 2 miles contemplating hitch hiking.  A motorized vehicle would go by, my direction, every few minutes.  Many of them were pickup trucks, which are the perfect, safer for all, hitchhiker picker upper vehicle.  Each time I would say, turn around and stick your thumb out, but then I wouldn’t.  As I thought about it, I started having a conversation in my head.  “You’ve hitchhiked enough to know how this works, if they stop, there will be the obligatory questions like, which way are you headed and how far are you going”.  I questioned myself on what my replies would be, “Are you really going to ask for a ride all the way to Monterey”?  I knew that wouldn’t happen.  I humored myself with the thought of asking somebody to just drive me to the end of the artichokes, but I put the hitchhiking thought behind me.  Now, I just had the damn strawberry dilemma to deal with. There were miles and miles of strawberry fields.  The outside row, was always about 20 meters away from me.  Each plant, in that outside row had at least a dozen beautiful, red ripe berries on it.  I wasn’t hungry, but I wanted a strawberry BAD!  The further I went, the deeper the obsession with strawberries got.  I ran with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.  “Just get a berry, nobody is around”.  “No, that’s not right, they aren’t there for just anybody to take”.  “It’s one berry out of millions, they won’t even know it’s gone”.  “If everybody that went by, thought the same thing it would be hundreds, maybe thousands of berries, it’s still wrong”.  In the middle of this berry war for my soul, I rounded a corner.  A truck, loaded with boxes of berries must have hit one of the thousands of potholes as it went around the corner. There, on the side of the road, was a pile of strawberries the size of a dining room table.  I stopped, looking at them I said, out loud, “clearly, this would not be stealing”.  These strawberries were officially abandoned and now fair game.  It was hard to tell how long they had been on the side of the road, but there were tire tracks through the pile.  Much of the mound looked more like strawberry jam than a pile of strawberries and they were dirty.  Still, there must be a few good berries in there somewhere, and with that, I was on my hands and knees, digging through the strawberry mash.  I found 2, beautiful, large firm berries.  I stood up, rinsed them off with my water bottle and ate them.  They were, easily, the best strawberries I’ve ever had in my life!  My mood improved greatly after that. I was even happy to get back on Hwy 1, then off it again for the bike bath that I knew would be the last 8 miles.  I was on the bike path when Jeanne called.  I answered saying, “I’m better now”.  She asked what I meant and I quickly explained that I was in a bad spot a while ago, but I’m better now.  I told her I was 8 miles from finishing for the day.  She told me that she had a surprise to tell me about when I finished. As I put my phone away, it occurred to me I should have asked for hints regarding the surprise.  I began to wonder, is she going to meet me mid day tomorrow, coming in to Big Sur instead of the day after as planned?  I was hoping this was true.  Running without crew was getting tougher each day and I knew I had the Big Sur fire zone to deal with tomorrow.  I thought I was about 4 miles from being done when Jeanne called again. I told her I was still 4 miles from being done, but was doing fine.  She told me I was only about a mile from being done, which confused me.  She then told me that she had just seen me from the highway.  She had driven up from Paso Robles for my birthday!  I tried to argue that while it was awesome she was there, she was wrong about the distance.  As I turned off the bike bath into town I could see her walking up the sidewalk toward me.  I did the best sprint legs with 128 miles on them could muster.  A homeless guy was sitting on a retaining wall just in front of me when I yelled, “you are the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in days!” As I hugged her, he laughed, “I thought you were saying that to me, was going to be the nicest thing I’d heard in days”.  As it turns out, there are 2 Econo Lodges on the same street, 2 miles apart. I thought I made reservations at the South one, I did not. Jeanne figured this all out before I got there. Had I been on my own, I would have passed the correct one, ran 2 more miles, only to find out I had to go 2 miles back. Jeanne offered to spend my birthday night with me and then give me one more day alone on the road, if I wanted.  I did not.  I had wanted to experience multiple days on the road, alone.  I wanted to have to figure unexpected problems out without the luxury of a crew with a car.  I wanted to get out of a bad spot on my own.  I did all of that.  Now, I wanted my super crew.  We got sushi for dinner.  Lip balm with sunscreen and real (not hotel room) coffee in the morning.
Jeanne to the rescue
Day 5 Monterey to The Soberanes Fire
As I drank good coffee, I did my usual morning inventory of how my body was doing physically.  I rarely have blister problems and was really doing pretty good this trip too with the exception of the 4th and 5th toes on each foot.  Skin was macerating on the bottom of them and the pinky toe on my right foot had broken open and was starting to look infected.  I had brought tape with me, for my feet should they need it.  I have never taped my feet for blisters before and I knew that there was no going back once I did it.  I knew that from the time I taped them, they would have to stay taped until I was finished.  Afraid that I might make things worse, I decided against taping.  My lips were horrible.  Very swollen and blistered.  I knew, now, that I could keep them from getting any worse and we bought some medication to aid with the healing for the end of the day.  I didn’t even bother to inventory how my legs felt.  At this point, legs are never rested or fresh.  They are either fed or they are not. The night before, Jeanne had shared with me what she saw as she drove up through the fire area and she strongly felt that I should not try to run through it.  Rather than argue about something I had not seen on my own, we looked at a map and figured out how far we could comfortably get before we would need to make a decision.  16 miles into the day became decision time.  While I ran, Jeanne scouted forward and talked to some highway patrol officers.  She explained what we were doing and told me that one of them looked at her after she explained and simply said “please don’t.”  They then told her that all of the emergency personnel in the area were of the opinion that Hwy 1 should be closed to all traffic.Our primary objective for the day was to not get in the way.  Jeanne portaged me through the first fire section. It was pretty sobering to see scorched hills with flames still on them and the effort that was going into containing the fire. We drove through an area where I would have felt like a horribly entitled ass had I decided to run through it.  
Near Big Sur
 Eventually we came to an area that wasn’t burning.  There were no emergency vehicles around.  The shoulder was clear.  So I wanted to run.  I managed to get another 7 miles before we hit another fire area.  The highlight of the day was watching helicopters scoop water from the ocean and then disappear into the smoke on the mountain. The wind had shifted. The good news was I now had a tailwind. The bad news it was pushing the fire south. Our hotel for the night was now under an evacuation watch so we made the decision to cancel the next 2 nights hotel reservations and set up a base camp, well south of the fire, for the next 2 days. By the time we got all of this figured out and got settled in Cambria, I decided that 23 miles for the day was going to have to be good enough. Jeanne's intuition to come out early was a trip saver. This day would have come off the rails without her.
Still smiling ish
Day 6 The Highway 46 Spur
It's amazing how much better I run when I don't have to think. My first full day with rock star quality crewing was amazing. I knew exactly where water and food was going to be, everything was all ready for me, all I had to do was run. After spending a day watching tourist argue with emergency and fire personnel over where they should be able to go or park, we really wanted to stay well clear of the fire area. It was also very important to me, with so many meaningful people in my life coming together for the last 2 days, to get back to the original schedule for those 2 days. So, we made the decision to run inland to make up the miles lost through the fire. 
Looking more like home
 The hills here really started looking and feeling like my childhood home and I got some much warmer temperatures. I had a James Shapiro (author of Meditations From the Breakdown Lane) moment when I realized that my shoes had developed a squeak that sounds like voices behind me. The Eucalyptus trees were such an unexpected treat. They smell amazing in the morning. When my kids were little we used to walk to a park that was lined with eucalyptus. When they would refuse to come home, as it got dark, I would tell them that there were vampires in the trees and they better hurry before it gets dark. They all still refer to eucalyptus as vampire trees. I was now free from the backpack and only needing to carry one bottle at a time.  This ended up being my fastest day of the trip and that included a 1,700 foot, 6 mile climb.  Everything seemed back on track now.  I got in 34 really strong miles.  I finished earlier in the day than on any of the previous days.  
Crew and Coke, the secret to speed
 This really is the overriding “trick” to multi day running.  The more time you spend running the less time you have for eating and sleeping.  Regardless of how fast or slow a runner is, they will come face to face with this simple equation.
Day 7, San Simeon to Cayucos
I headed North out of Cambria, went a few miles passed San Simeon and then turned around.  I was now as close to the original mileage and location as I could possibly get.  (note….as I get ready to publish this, it’s with the knowledge that the fire is now threatening Hearst Castle, near San Simeon and that fire officials do not expect to contain the fire for several more weeks)  Jeanne met me at San Simeon State Beach, filled up my water bottles and then headed to San Luis Obispo to pick up Mom who had arrived by train the day before.  I was eating a sandwich in Cambria when we all met back up.  It was so cool having my Mom as part of the crew.  
Super crew

This was a perfect running day. It was misty in the morning, giving way to bright sunshine in the afternoon. The wind, now out of the North got stronger as the day progressed giving me a really nice push the last 10 miles.  It seems, no matter the distance, the brain knows when it’s almost done. I have no idea how many days in a row I can run like this, but I know on this trip, my body knew when it was almost done.  Later, I remember telling Jeanne that my legs felt like an old pair of underwear that have lost the elastic in the waistband.  We found some really good seafood in Morro Bay, and made 
our plan for the final day. 
Morro Bay
 Day 8, Cayucos to San Luis Obispo
Mom and Jeanne headed back to San Luis Obispo to pick up Jewelia from the airport while I headed South toward the finish.  Mile 9 was where the side roads ran out and I would be back on Hwy 1.  I thought it would be difficult to get to the highway before they got back to me, but that was my goal.  I ran passed a donut shop on my way through Morro Bay that smelled so amazing  I craved an apple fritter for days after.  I had just made it to the highway and was crossing the southbound side when I recognized the grey Subaru heading North.  Jewelia was now with them and she was the one that had seen me crossing the highway.  There were several people planning to be waiting for me at the finish.  I had been pretty conservative with what my arrival time might be but I was pretty amped to get done and it was obvious I was going to get in well ahead of my projection.  I told Jeanne I could slow down a little but if people could get there earlier, I’d really appreciate it.  It all worked out perfect.  There was a big crowd at the finish, everybody made it in time.  As I made the last turn, I wasn’t exactly sure if I was supposed to turn left or right.  I was just about to dig out my map when I saw my Mom and Jewelia running up the street to the left.  I almost caught them.  If I had any small regret on this last day it’s this.  From the time I finished, until much later that day, I had a lot of people around me, all very proud of what I had accomplished.  Usually at the end of journeys like this it’s just me and Jeanne and she knows exactly how to give me some unwind space.  In retrospect, I wish I had sat down on a bus bench, 2 blocks from the finish and let the previous 250 miles properly sink in, before finishing.  
1160 Marsh St. San Luis Obispo, CA
I love how supportive so many people are of my running adventures.  I can think of no better reason to attempt anything than this, I thought I could do it.
Thank you to everybody that has encouraged me, followed me, run with me, listened to every weird idea or even just said nothing and let me go my own way.
Thank you to Lynn, who in 10 years of coaching me has never once, in the middle of a workout, race or difficult run asked me how I feel. I understand now that when you are up against it, there are only two answers to that question, the truth and a lie...and neither are healthy.
Thank you to my wonderful parents for allowing me to fall down, a lot. All those stitches in the head were so worth it.
And most important, thank you to my beautiful wife Jeanne, whose amazing love for me defies common sense.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Chris! .. I'm an ultralist "reader", and, living in the Bay Area, I was looking forward to seeing how your adventure went --> the kind of journey I would love to do one day. You handled it all (the good and the troublesome) so well. Thanks for sharing it.