Bay Area Fun Running: Unfinished Business

Last weekend I flew to visit my sister and her boyfriend in San Francisco.

The south Cascades are gorgeous, too!

The south Cascades are gorgeous, too!

Flights down south are pretty cheap if you buy early, but I accidentally found myself at SFO about fifteen hours earlier than expected. Happily, I found a great deal on a little hotel in North Beach which set the stage for some good beer and a fun morning run. The latter was such a damn good time I thought I’d share.

A little backstory seems appropriate at this point. After leaving Seattle for Texas in the late summer of 2007, I attempted to hike into Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve never been much for bucket lists, but it was the singular thing I wanted to do on my first trip to San Francisco. It was cold and foggy and I got lost in the Presidio. I always get lost in the Presidio. Always. Failure.

But that was a long time ago. Since then I’ve taken up a running. One beautiful thing about this sport is the distances involved. This time, there was room for error.

I took off from Noth Beach with a fist full of gels and 1.5L of water. I kept out of that damn Presidio by staying near Crissy Field and found my way by keeping the thing in sight.

Almost there!

Almost there!

This made the approach only slightly melodramatic.


A view of the City from the bridge.

My adrenal system was very aware that I had finally made it to the bridge. I picked up speed, my hands were shaking and I was smiling ear to ear. Down below I could see surfers, kayakers and even swimmers (Alcatraz Tri Clinic?)!

The bridge is well over a mile long. Aside from the sobering persistence of suicide prevention courtesy phones, it ran pretty quick.

Made it!

Made it!

There’s a scenic overlook / beauty spot with a large parking lot and (thankfully) public restrooms. Much to my amusement, it was chock full of runners.

I had planned to goof off in the headlands and catch the bus back to the city. Before trying to find my way to the trails, I poked around to look for the bus stop. The stop in question was marked by black lettering “BUS STOP 76” over yellow paint on the square metal post of a street sign. Given that I was looking for bus 70, I ran back towards the overlook to weigh my options.

It was a balm 55F and the air was supersaturated with water. The warm wind and fog gave a false impression of cold; the moisture under my jacket was almost certainly pure sweat. Together with the screaming traffic all around me, it was difficult to assess how comfortable I was with moving forward.

What else is new?

Ducking under the 101 via a pedestrian bridge replete with wooden steps, I headed towards a small turnout. Low and behold! A trail appeared. There’s always a trail. So I ran up, jacket in hand, figuring the climb would keep me warm. It did.

I followed the switchbacks up  and up the steep meadow-like terrain. I couldn’t see more than 100 meters in any direction; I had no clue where the trail went. I was getting nervous. My run clock hit two hours and suddenly a long-haired silhouette bounded out of the mist towards me.

Where am I going?

Where am I going?

Seeing the first runner on a new trail always induces a huge sigh of relief.  I kept moving until I rounded big corner and was running out of sight from the road. All was peaceful until the next runner bounded into view. Then thought struck me like a rock to the head.

I had to run the whole way back.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Looking down the trail, I could start to see the fog lifting slightly, under which was a long train of hikers. I crammed down a gel and tightened my shoelaces. Looks like I have a new project to come back for.

Snoqualmie Valley Circus

A few weeks back I arranged a challenge for myself. I wanted something that was far enough outside of my experience and comfort zone that I wouldn’t be able to predict if it would go down or not.

Sixteen miles seemed hard. Lots of vertical seemed harder. There is also something exciting about trying to do “linkups”. So I figured for my first foray into this sort of challenge I’d try to “link” Rattlesnake Ledge, Little Si and Big Si as three trail runs.

Given than Rattlesnake is something like six miles away from Little Si, I figured it would be best to drive between them. I’ve done each of these a number of times as individual hikes, so the logistics would be straight forward. It was purely a question of endurance.

I rented a car and ruminated on this idea for almost a week before the fateful Sunday came on March 22nd.

The first leg was an easy bit of warm up. I’ve only done this trail once, about seven years ago. It as a little out of the way, but this part of Rattlesnake Mountain borders the cedar river watershed, and so is mostly off limits to recreational humans. In other words, it’s beautiful. A quick two mile / 1050′ of vert took me to the the top of a rocky outcropping on the east end of the mountain.


The trail was soft and well packed, if slightly cambered. To my surprise, I quickly stripped down to a t-shirt and gloves. It was like 44F! Lesson learned. The “summit” in this case was just a rocky outcropping. The mountain is long and the true summit, replete with cellphone towers, is a few miles off. I elected to skip that bit.

Si from Rattlesnake Ledge. Rattlesnake lake below.

Si from Rattlesnake Ledge. Rattlesnake lake below.

The ledge was crawling with families and people gingerly scrambling around the rocks. One particularly tough looking fellow in a hoodie and basketball shoes frowned at a two foot gap in the rocks.

“Man…” he said “I jump off of buildings into pools, and I’m scared of this shit? That’s stupid.”

He then jumped across. Point taken. When you’re up high, even on a “civilized” trail, you feel exposed in the mountains. This is something that only experience can temper. I’m still working on the cold temps.

The downhill was a ton of fun. I caught up with another trail runner who managed to clear a path through the lines of day hikers. He had one tough dog.

Four miles in about fifty minutes. Not a bad warm up.

I dove into the Jeep, ripped open a gel and started driving back towards North Bend Way. Little Si was next. I was a bit worried about parking. There are two parking lots for the trail. Climbers I’ve met have sworn off this area because of all the “hikers” that descend on the area. Parking is impossible. There are even street signs that ask you to consider a different hike.

Of course, you could be really lucky, like I was.

Sweet parking.

Sweet parking.

I haven’t done this trail in a few years, and certainly have never tried to run the whole thing. I hadn’t realized how technical it was. “Rhinolite” shards were everywhere. When there was a bit of buffed out trail, it was probably best to avoid it.

Little Si trail is well groomed...

Parts of the Little Si trail are certainly well groomed.

I had HOKAs on, so I didn’t pay much attention to the rocks. Besides, once you swing around the climbing area by Doug Hansen’s bench, the trail leaves the rock fall zone and becomes much easier. The summit was fun. Some guy even cheered me on. “Looking good! Nice job!”.

North Bend

North Bend.

And then there was one.

And then there was one.

The summit was blanketed in a cloud of cigarette smoke from a youthful posse of scramblers who was reveling in their weekend adventure.

I took their advice and scrambled up, down and around the summit. Ultimately, it started to rain, so I chose to run back the way I came. Not counting the tweet minutes of goofing around at the summit, it was another 4 miles with 550’+ of vert in just under 50 minutes. I was happy with that. I was also very tired as I approached the parking lot.

I wasn’t sure if the big beastie, Big Si, would go. I drove back out to North Bend Way to the little drive-thru coffee stand for a mocha (mixed with a salt packet) and contemplated the last leg of this adventure. I figured I could drive to the Si parking lot, park and reason it out. So I did.

I sat in the Jeep for almost twenty minutes and contemplated my situation. The rain was definitely here. I was already exhausted, and had accomplished a reasonable 8 miles with 1500+ feet of vert. Did I have anything left to prove?


Mt. Si was first described to me as the Disneyland of Seattle hiking. It rarely fails to live up to that reputation. There was a horde of hikers scattered around the mountain. I wouldn’t be in any real danger. Still, I took a study rain jacket and food in a backpack and pack vowed to at least try for a PR.

I’ve never attempted Si as a run, so I figured that beating a two hour ascent would be easy even with walking.

Well. I started grinding up the early part of the trail, definitely feeling the previous 8 miles. I power hiked (read: walked) almost all of it, running only to get past long chains of chatty hikers in brilliantly colored outfits. The second mile started with extreme fatigue and mild nausea. I’ve learnt my lesson about keeping up with nutrition, but I kept chanting “eat at Snag Flats”, a mild clearing induced by a wildfire over a century ago.

Hunched over, cold, nauseated and prepared to turn around, I sat down on a massive log near the trail and opened my pack. A GU, two bits of salami, a lot of water and ten minutes of sitting (with the clock running, of course!) had me feeling much better. I looked up at the long slog of switchbacks and tried to evaluate my situation. Turning back would still make for a great set of runs.

Then I watched as a woman ran slowly, methodically, past the puncheon at the Flats and up the switch bags. She almost seemed frightened when I cheered her on, but smiled and moved on. Five minutes later I was inspired enough to keep moving.

I can’t say it was easy. But it was easier. The final half mile gets a bit steeper, and I picked up the pace a little bit. Moderately delirious I chanted to myself “wow, I can’t believe it!” over and over again. All the vertical. All those miles. I was actually going to pull this exceedingly arbitrary but personally difficult set of tasks off!

“Yeah man, you’re almost there.” a fellow in a white T-shirt chimed in as I pushed past him. I smiled, and immediately began contemplating the descent.

Made it. I love Snoqualmie Valley.

Made it. I love Snoqualmie Valley.

It was wet, and I was bonking a bit. Better to leave the Haystack be today.

It was wet, and I was bonking a bit. Better to leave the Haystack be today.

The summit rocks were cold and cloudy.

I was up in 97 minutes – beat my PR by over twenty minutes!

Despite all the hikers I encountered going in both directions, almost nobody was at the summit. That one tough trail runner was there. I told her she was my hero. She looked confused for a moment before breaking out into a huge smile; she walked away without saying a word.

To finish things off properly, I walked up the stone stairs towards the shoulder below the Haystack. Rather than take the trail as I should have, I found myself stumbling around the rock piles taking photos of the valley below. For a moment, a small cluster of Europeans appeared to take photos. They vanished, and I realized two things. One, I was alone at the summit and two, I was (mildly) bonking. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t seen the trail, or how I was supposed to get back to the tree line. It took me a while to convince myself that I wasn’t hypothemeric, and I slowly retraced the route back to the relative safety of the lower summit rocks. I was lucky, walking back was entirely unconscious. If I guess that’s a lesson learned. Don’t push too hard in the mountains unless you are really familiar with the area. I guess I choose the right peak.

I crammed in water, a stinger waffle, raisins, dried figs and another bit of salami. I put on my buff around my neck and rinsed my face. Almost immediately I was alert and warm again. At that moment, I saw another runner in HOKAs summit and turn around without a word. Seattle runners. Feeling good again, I tighten my laces and went after him.

The descent took 57 minutes, another record for me! It was wet and there were a lot of people still coming up. I love running downhill and I love running through crowds.

When I started the trip, I had every intention of driving south to IKEA to buy actual furniture for my apartment before turning around. The car was due back at 7pm. I opted for a beer at NBBG instead. That was two weeks ago. I still think it was worth it.

Breathing Room

This is my first “down” Saturday in over a month, and it happened by accident.

I was supposed to be out with an outdoorsman mentor of mine – whom I haven’t seen in years – but I think we both forgot this was Easter weekend. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems game for climbing on Sunday either.

Waking up well after the sun was a sorely needed luxury. My back-to-back runs on Thursday seemed to take more out of me than I had expected. It’s so hard to keep slow when it’s so nice out.

So much has happened since the opening of trail season at Larrabee. Marin, SF and the bay. A Snoqualmie Valley Circus. Portland. A big cat print in the mud on one of many Factoria/Issaquah fun runs. Tristan passed. I haven’t had any time to digest all of this, much less write about it. And next week is Sprague and then back to SF. Then summer!

It’s difficult to remember that meditation is also training. Especially since entering a flow state is so easy: just bomb a technical downhill or accelerate through crowded city sidewalks. But preferring action to the stillness leaves you wildly unbalanced. Just look at the state of my apartment.

Still, wild fluctuations is what makes a balanced life enjoyable.


This past week was frigid. Having spent most of the dawns running around the creeks near Factoria, I was ready for some sun. Forecasts were calling for a brilliant weekend, and urbanity has not been to kindly to me of late. So I did the heroic thing and ran away; I rented a car and headed up north to Whatcom County.

Having grown up on an island with a 45 mph speed limit, flying down the freeway at 80 was an adventure in itself. Fortunately, highway 11 slowed me down and brought me through the somewhat familiar territory of cattle ranches and wide open fields. I had been hearing rumors for weeks that there was seaside bouldering near Bellingham, but even Mountain Project was cagey about the details. Not being one for detailed planning anyway, I set out and hoped for the best.

And boy was it.

The best…


One of the first features we ran into. Almost every outcropping of rock looks like this. The top out is a bit freaky fragile highball to burly bushwhacking, so we spared ourselves that bit on our first trip.

… thing I’d seen in months! Unreal holds in an unreal landscape. It appeared reminiscent of Hueco Tanks. The holds were solid too, but they were just completely covered in sand. Climbing on chuckanut sandstone, it turns out, is a bit like crawling on a shuffleboard table.

Another feature, as seen from below.

Another feature, as seen from below.

Who cares it was beautiful. And there was rock for miles, literally.

A new friend of mine joined at the last possible minute, and I was happy to have him. Together we pushed for a while down the shore, climbing on whatever we could find.


River and the Sound.

The closest thing we had to a guidebook was a WWU student who said the cave problem we were trying was a V7. Sadly it was more of a V0 kind of day.


At the mouth of the cave was this huge dino-chickenhead feature. The start was way in the back. Apparently a V7, probably assuming the holds are brushed clean.

Scrambling around the shore was fun in any case. We caught these rocks at low tide, but as the tide came in we moved up into the hills above the Sound.

At about 1800 ft, the Rock Trail is a brand spanking new trail that starts from the ridge and descends past some enormous rock. I heard rumors that some bouldering might go down up there, so off we went. The rock was pretty epic, but mostly wet, mossy slabs that were probably unprotectable and certainly too high to be called boulders. But there were a lot of tempting Huecos.


Giant, echoing huecos made for goofy layback traversing. They were filled with crumbly dirt and spiders though.


A blank face near the trail. Pictures just can’t do this place justice. We were expecting short little walls, we got intergalactic slabs.

There were massive slabs in the forest below that must have tumbled down eons ago. Most of these had not been cleaned (probably for good reason).

A few of the boulders had been worked on. Regrettably, we had only a toothbrush, Stinger Waffles and a setting sun. So we climbed on whatever looked reasonable. Yes, footholds did break. But unlike the beach, the landings here were really causal.

Despite the mess, the moss wasn’t too bad. Still, one highball-y problem was meticulously cleaned, and were were grateful to the soul(s?) that scrubbed it so. It’s like a couple of V0 moves to a scramble, but it’s always fun to top out.

Pulling the first of two V0 moves.

Me after pulling the first of the two moves on the problem.

River topping out.

River topping out.

After another hour or so of climbing around, we got back to the ridgeline and proceeded to stare dumbfounded into Mt Baker for a solid ten minutes.

We drove back down to the beach and bounced amongst the rocks until sunset. Kids were panicking in Honnold Half Dome formation on little micro ledges with parents looking on trying not to laugh. Nearby some teens were blasting country music and top roping barefoot on a huge slab above the water. Perfect. I got a bunch of ridiculous sunset photos of the north Sound.


Gratuitous sunset photo.

With the sun down, we scrambled southwards down the beach. The tide was still high, but thanks to the outrageous holds and good weather, it was easy to stay above the water. The only technical bit was an eight foot scrunchy traverse using a little, sandy horizontal finger crack. No big deal.

Beer and dinner ensued. It was a good night. A good night to be in a bivy sack starring up at the trees. A good night to spring forward. (And, apparently, for owl watching. I was woken up by a chorus (okay, maybe two or three) of owls some time after 3am)

The next day we woke up early and ran back up to the ridge where we meet up with the rock trail again. It didn’t seem so steep at the time, I just figured I was out of shape, but that first 1.4 mile gains about 1100 feet. It was vicious, especially the downhill. So vicious and so fun that I neglected to take too many pictures, although here’s one of Fragrance Lake (about halfway down from the ridge).

And finally, here’s my happy Hokas glad to be out of the Issaquah Alps for a bit.

Happy feet.

Happy feet.

TL;DR: Get out to Larrabee! It’s worth the 90 minute drive.

Towards a Theory of Individual Inertia

I took the vast majority of 2014 off from climbing. I’ve been putting in hours on plastic this winter in hopes of an aggressive season out here in Seattle. I put feelers out all winter, trying to find climbing partners. My selling point was something akin to “I will go out whenever. I just want to be outside.”

On Thursday the universe called me out on my bullshit.

I met a new climbing partner on Wednesday, we made vague plans to go out on a beautiful weekend. On Thursday I got a text at lunch.

“Turns out I’m off Friday”.

I was not; I’d have to call off at the last minute. It was cold. It was wet and had been wet for days. Rapping on wet ropes can be perilous! I agonized over the decision for hours.

We shared Exit 38 with precisely one trail runner and precisely one cyclist. The only walls not dripping with early morning runoff were easy slabs with clean topouts. It was a great introduction to Seattle-area climbing, a perfect start to a season, and a great way to reboot my own climbing career.

All this thanks to an accidental glance and an old sticker. It was given to me years ago by the mysterious but friendly Lee of FILGO. This beautiful outcome from a severely delayed causal relationship piqued my interest. After a tortuous morning of self reflection and writing, I came to a model of human behavior. Or, perhaps more accurately, a proposal for how to live well (and a first attempt to rationalize the spirit of what I want this blog to be!) . The main thrust is a

Proposition: Actions should be taken to maximize the set of possibilities

Here is a loose attempt to model this with logic. Let’s build said model with axioms (A).

A1: Actions beget possibilities

A2: Possibilities can be known or unknown

A3: Unknown possibilities emerge from Actions taken with incomplete information

A4: Risk involves known possibilities

A5: Planning and setting goals are used to assess the actions/known possibility relationship

A6: Actions can be intentional or not

We can then study this model with propositions (P):

P1: Actions should be taken to maximize the set of possibilities

P2: Habitual action always yields unknown possibilities unless it is rationally trained

P3: Rational action is better suited to maximize the set of possibilities

P4: Style is composed of actions taken, and can be observed in choices exposed to risk and incomplete information as well as planning.

I’ll spare you the analysis of these propositions for now. Like me — and hopefully you — It’s a work in progress.

Taking Refuge

I take refuge in the abstraction of a trail runner. Despite my urging, my stomach appeared unconvinced that it was, in fact, empty. We’d emptied it three times so far last night, and this time I didn’t even try to sneak in any water. Still, the sudden onset of salivation sent me grudingly back to the bathroom. Finally, convinced we had done enough abdominal exercises, the nausea subsided. I managed to rollout my sleeping mat and close my eyes. My final waking thoughts involved the universality of nausea. It feels the same whether you have food poisoning, the stomach flu, an awful breakup, a wicked hangover or low blood sugar/electrolytes. When this feeling hits, you just want to curl up and forget you’re alive. How tough ultrarunners must be! This happens 50 miles into a race… and they run through it! They’re expected to. Crazy, no?!

I take refuge in the knowledge and the practices which are needed to go the distace. My run today represented a new approach to training: leverage the amazing Seattle public transit system. I ran from Chinatown to and throughout Seward Park, a cozy thumb of old growth forest sitting in Lake Washington. Running up and over the Seattle landmass was fun, and turned into a beautiful lakeside trail. A good chunck of that was single track, just at the water’s edge! The whole time you’re watching Seward Park get closer and closer, until finally you’re I the thick of it. Old growth trails entirely within the city. Gorgeous. It really was an excellent run. Too bad I made series of catastrophic mistakes. I took my first gel at 45 minutes, as per usual. When the time to down the second one came, I was already in the forest, and almost done with my run. I punted it. Stupid. Worse, it was sunny and I was pushing a fast pace the whole way. I ended the run with a Banana Blueberry almond butter Pocket Fuel. I was trying to suck the last bits out when the bus I was supposed to catch zoomed by… across the street. Oops. +45 mintutes to the wait. I couldn’t really be sad about being delayed somewhere so beautiful… so I wandered around and took more photos. But as time ticked by, a storm was brewing in my body. Another thirty minutes found me at my apartment. I made the ludicrious mistake of thinking that, since I missed my 30 minute intake window, there was no reason to rush out for food. Instead, I elected to do the Myrtl routine and some core exercises. Stupid. I don’t know why my stomach blew up, but I have a reasonable hypothesis: Lots of effort, lots of sun, but almost no intake. In any case, my stomach exploded shortly after the last leg swing. It was a miserable night. I couldn’t put down any water until I woke up around 3am. My body was running a little hot. I put a pinch of salt in some VitaCoco, took a sip and could feel the chill down my insides. Lesson learned. Follow the rules. Err on the side of replacement. Bring some serious post-run calories on exploratory runs! Respect the distance. Even if it’s only 10 miles.

I take refuge in the trail running community. Years ago, I was lucky to have been mentored through my first Marathon by a girlfriend. She patiently explained the logic behind her own trainning plan and taught me the art of consuming GU on the run. My parents — having run their own marathons in years past — had graciously upgraded my running shoes. More friends gave me more advice: speed workouts on the track, fartleks and amphipod bottles. That help was enough to get me through years of road running with no puking, no blisters, no bloody toenails, nothing. Having such a good education, I thought I knew what I was doing! So much, in fact, that I neglected the logistics and got slammed for it. While I groaned into consciousness this morning, I put on a bunch of old TRN podcasts regarding running nutrition, in particular those with Karl King and Sunny Blende. No words are good enough at this point. Body dysfunctions like nausea can be awful, but in racing it is apparently commonplace! That’s a horrible thought. To think that all that pain and suffering could be overcome while on the trail fills me with awe and a severe sense of respect. And hope.

Epilogue: When I first envisioned this blog, GI distress was not intended as a theme. The realization that this week’s event was caused by running primed me for an emotional experience. It’s one thing to visualize doing a 100 mile race, its another thing to realize, while you’re groaning in the fetal position on the floor with your violently ill stomach, that you could be feeling this exact same thing in the middle of the woods! It sounds ridiculous, but I consider last night’s episode as something of a baptism or induction, which hopefully explains the slant buddhist references in the piece above. Whatever the case, my perspective has changed sharply in the past twenty-four hours, and I’m excited about it.

New Digs / New Engrams

I’m on a bus from Magnolia to downtown Seattle. I’m concentrating really hard on keeping my stomach together. My stomach’s sidewise momentum as the bus creaks into those silly downhill stop signs have me worried. At least the headache is gone. Greg (nomnerd), one of my oldest friends, is sitting next to me. We spent the night celebrating how we’re both finally in the same timezone. Finally! Seattle. There are so many opportunities for adventure! The Mountains. The Sound. Last night all I could think of were the trails, the climbing, the Ferries and the Cascadian Volcanos!

The air is crisp as we alight. It’s a beautiful Seattle winter morning; the sky is neon grey. We part on Pine as I walk towards the Market. I’m a bit hunched over and my torso is bloated, but I’m moving forward. I’m still concentrating on my gut. It’s surprising how the urge to yak comes in waves. Really surprising. It’s all I can think about. Just like running through mile 21 in 80F., I force myself to stand tall and my smile grows wide; it just hurts. This realization yields mixed emotions. Late morning downtown streets are no place to reset your stomach.

I’m now at the park near the Market drinking a cup of ginger beer (RGB).  A runner ambles by and couple nearby exchange surprise at how a person could be so motivated to run “this early”. I really want to intervene, but my gut urges me to keep quiet. The debate my brain is having with my gut is more commonly had between my friends and I: are people really that lazy?

No way. This is America. Lots of people work really hard.  Yet “I wish I could…” is such a common refrain it’s practically the national anthem. I wish I could summit Rainier. I wish I could travel to South America. I wish I could climb 5.13. I wish I could get up earlier to go running. I wish I was better at Math. These kinds of things.

Here’s my claim: Inertia comes from a type of ignorance that is really insidious: inexperience with inexperience. I’m pretty sure that the more you experience inexperience the more comfortable you are with being uncomfortable. I’d like this to be the central theme of this little journal of mine. We’ll see what happens.

Lost in my thoughts I stumble in and out of my apartment and keep walking south. The ginger beer was nice, but the only effective hangover cure I know is climbing.

Inertia is such a funny thing.