Monthly Archives: January 2016

Ask the old couple

One of the treasures of being old is pausing. The run, walk, camera-trip, whatever today’s trip to the trails was called, was over. We were sitting on the picnic table watching water go by; listening to the bell on the buoy; analyzing the snow on the shoulders of the Olympic Mountains across the strait and, as always, hoping for whales.

A couple walked up from the parking lot, paused, looked here and there, then walked over to the small information sign. I know it as being too faded to be of any real use. They looked at it, glanced here and there, the taller of the two women pointed at us and said to her companion, “Ask the old couple?” Intentionally, or not, it was said loudly enough we could hear. I wondered why it sounded like a question. They came over.

Hello. Hello. Hi. Hello.
Do you know anything about what we are seeing?
Yes, we do.

The never-quite-the-same interactive interpretive talk took place. The Strait of Juan de Fuca; Vancouver Island–yes, that is Canada; the Olympic Mountains; it was a World War II coastal artillery installation; trails–yes, about thirty miles of them; the yellow flowers are Scotch Broom…

Eagle! Kathy pointed and all eyes followed.
Is there a campground? Yes, but it is closed for the winter. Bits and pieces, scraps and fragments of descriptions and questions about trees, trails, a bird or two, and even a conveniently appearing ship were meted out to these two inquisitive women. Is there a short walk we could do… an hourish? A description was given. They got up to leave. The gift of a conversation of exchange was ending. I asked, “And the ‘Ask the old couple?’, where did that come from?”

They both smiled. The tall one said, “At Chiricahua we were thanking a ranger for all the information; telling him our winter trips make information sources scarce.” He told told us if we don’t see a ranger, look for an old couple. If they are local, they will have the time to tell you of “their” park. The short one smiled again, “It hasn’t failed us yet.”

———-Run gently out there———-

Friends and Strangers

—–Friends and Strangers—–

Little things will keep you inside. “Injured” has so many names; damaged, impaired, hurt, harmed, wounded, ruined, and none are conducive to getting you out the door. I’m not injured. I kept telling myself it is just one of those nagging little aches that intrudes into consciousness just enough to worry and distract.

That settled, I headed down the trail–walking and waiting for the first twinge. A quarter mile passed, walk turned to shuffle and off onto Humpty Dumpty, down into the kettles again. Friends and strangers are always in the kettles and the gradual drop to the old cedar is an easy warm-up. Two spotted towhees burst out of the undergrowth, looking like robins in plaid coats, still partly covered with the down that marks them as babies; they spot me and disappear back into their leaf-strewn world.Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.
Just as I make the turn to the big cedar Woody Woodpecker laughter fills the woods. It only takes a few seconds to spot the two pileated woodpeckers, crow-sized, easily the largest of the woodpeckers, their red, white, and black heads bobbing back and forth as they chisel a hole into an aging cedar. On around and down into the hole left by the big ice cube some ten or twelve thousand years ago.

Sometimes speed calls for agility, sometimes a hundred yards of six-foot tall nettles calls for agility…or do I yield to the occasional sadistic pleasure of brushing nettles to wake up tired legs. I look at the old cedar, hidden down here in the bottom. We have guessed it to be six-hundred years old. It is the only old tree down here, alders and ocean spray off to one side, a field of thimbleberries on another, a scattering of wings as this year’s generation of bushtits learn their acrobatics–the ever-still, never-still forest draws me in again.

The distraction of the birds and the rolling zigzags of High Traverse are interrupted by the awakening thought–no pain, no discomfort, no twitchies–of relaxed running. Suddenly aware of everything seeming to function as intended, I change directions and head away from the trailhead, going, instead, to Lake Pondilla. There were two ospreys there last week, not full-time residents, but frequent visitors. And the trail goes through the biggest wild blackberry thicket of the area.

The whole run falls apart as I pull-test a blackberry. If they come off easily, they are (usually) ripe. It practically falls into my hand. The newest aid station of the forest is open. I sacrifice speed for calories–gotta be able to get back to the car, doncha know. A handful or two later and I continue on to Lake Pondilla, where I find school is in session for a family of belted kingfishers. I sit on a stump in the shade and watch as mom, then dad, hovers, dives, gets a fish, goes to perch–then drops the fish back in the lake as if to say, “Now you try it.” The two newest strangers to the lake leave the branch and the Kingfisher Comedy Hour begins. They hover okay. They dive fairly well. They fail to get a fish and appear panic stricken about getting out of the water. The rattling click-click-click from mom and dad scolds and instructs. Eventually a lesson is learned and one of the kids returns to the branch with a meal.

I walk for a few hundred yards up from the lake, the warmth of the afternoon sun feels good as I go from walk to shuffle to run to…well, almost to this-feels-good-and-I-could-run-forever. The waters of Admiralty Passage are touched with whites and blues as the wind from the Straits of Juan de Fuca play with the tidal currents. A freighter with a gazillion tons of resource depletion is outbound. Two kayaks hug the shore, riding the tide back into Puget Sound. The bluff trail is wide and smooth enough to run without worrying about footing–water and mountains pull at the mind as legs and shoulders relax.

The switch-backs and shadows of Cedar Grove wake me up. Roots and turns, vines pulling at sleeves, the climb to the old men is a transition into quiet. The floor is covered with who knows how many hundreds of years of cedar needles. There are a dozen or so trees showing their age, deeply drooping branches, burls and woodpecker holes, trunks twisted and turned from centuries of seeking the sun, and always a raven to scold me for intruding, again. I mutter, “Sorry,” and turn to leave.

The trail finally straightens, then widens. Two hikers at a junction are looking at a map, each pointing in different directions. I pause. Where? Here. Where to? There. Down there, right at the first fork, left at the … at least they had a map. Gravel crunching now, the narrow gravel road has no quiet spots, but it is free of roots and I want to open the stride again, just to check–just to push a bit. It’s effort, not pace, that we want to be comfortable with when on trails. Birds and berries, waves and wind have been acknowledged, now I want to put my mind to running. It is a mile to the car. Old friends and strangers are left behind again as breathing becomes rhythmical and the running on memory returns.

———-Run gently out there———-


Tall enough or bushy enough? I was far enough gone to have started rapidly lowering my standards. When the urge was first noticed, I thought of the campground restrooms. A few minutes or a brief eternity later, I accepted the fact that I was not going to get to the campground. Well, okay, I could get to the campground, but the last two- or three-hundred yards to the yellow building with the gender-specific doors was not something I wanted to do in public view.
So it was back to a portabush or portatree, close relatives of those portapotties we are all familiar with. As with most calls of nature, the logistics of selection come into play as time and locale vary. Today is Tuesday. The park I am running in is not at all crowded on Tuesdays. I think it is unlikely that either trail to the campground will have any wandering nature lovers from the big city who might scream in shock at suddenly seeing a full moon in the middle of an otherwise serene afternoon. I choose left, thinking of the thickets of rhodies and salal in that direction. Wouldn’t you know, here comes Mollie Traipsezlitely with Harold Rootsjumpoutatme and two ankle-biters trailing behind. Don’t they know they are in the middle of—oh great, they are pausing to do the “My, ain’t it beautiful out here?”
I estimated the pucker factor to still be below five and paused to smile and mumble in agreement, “Yes, it is a gorgeous day,” and turned to continue awkwardly up the trail when Harold asked if I knew much about the plants along the trail. Okay, he only asked if I knew much. He didn’t ask about anything specific, but… if I say yes, I know he is going to ask something more and all I want is to be around the next bend in the trail. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly and all internal shutdown systems went on Grade Two Alert as Harold’s lips pursed to … ha! Mollie pointed at a clump of salal and asked, “What are these?” “Salal. A very common plant. It will have berries on it in a few weeks,” I offered, hoping that was enough. “See, I told you,” was tossed at Harold by Mollie as she paused to scream because one of the small people had discovered a not-great-big-huge, but still pretty-big, slug. They all looked at the slug. Having seen slugs before, I turned and was gone on down the trail while those just-asked-about salal thickets separated me from them.
Over there.
Salal thickets are good thickets for hiding things in or for hiding in. I did both. I don’t suppose it would be appropriate to discuss the various stages of flexibility of decaying salal or rhododendron leaves or how appropriately placed some of the many forms of moss in the Pacific Northwest were that afternoon in this particular portabush. Suffice it to say that my recently changed conditions meant I turned away from the campground and paid little attention to left, right, or people on the trails for a while.
Salal, rhodies, and Dougs along the trail.
One small window in my mind thought about the Falls to Gasworks 75k and a question about just how tall is the grass alongside the ten-foot wide Sammamish River Trail. That question was answered when I saw an errant throw of a dog’s ball go into the grasses. The dog, one of those medium-large blond friendly kinds, disappeared as it leapt into the grass. Hmmm, a little over head high if a person was, uh, squatting? Crouching sounds better. Discretion being what it is when you are on an urban trail, I did do a quick look around before disappearing into the savannah of the Sammamish on that long ago Saturday. Falls to Gasworks being a self-supported run, I had a fanny pack with everything needed so that I was both discreet and environmentally correct in all my actions, even to the extent of exiting my grass-lined loo with no one in sight as I stepped back on the trail and continued to run.
We’ve all experienced solitude out there on the trails, but the loneliness of the long-distance runner does not always present itself at the needed time. You would think in an ultramarathon where the distance sometimes puts a person running alone for miles and miles that there would be plenty of points of privacy to ponder the days unwinding. Some days are just not like that when you need them to be like that. It seemed just as the person in front of me disappeared around the next curve, a runner from behind would appear. A few minutes of adjusting pace to force the runner behind me to pass only duplicated the previous scenario. I would get rid of one unwanted witness only to have another pop up just coming around the bend. I finally satisfied modesty’s constraints, noticed no one behind me and dove into a clearing in the Manzanita bushes. Manzanita? Good grief! Who planned this course? Says right here on page 23 of the NAPBD&SRM (North American PortaBush Design and Stereo Repair Manual) that you don’t line a portabush with poison ivy, poison oak, Manzanita, Oregon grape, or Nootka roses. I suppose I should just be glad there was no saw grass or palmetto fronds in the area… or cows.
And then there were cows. Somewhere north of Outlook, Washington, the original landscapers of the those foothills above the Yakima River ran out of sagebrush, bunchgrass, mesquite, and other landscaping plants we think of as plentiful when driving through the drier prairie region of the Pacific Northwest. As much as I love running in the open region, there is something disconcerting about needing to pause when there are no bushes to hide behind for as far as you can see. It didn’t seem quite right to go over there behind one of the water troughs that are scattered all over the foothills. Why does it seem like time becomes the determining factor in such a decision. I dropped off into a gully joking to myself about the probability of a helicopter from Google Earth showing up in the next few moments. That led to thinking about ‘if I can see as much detail on Google as I do, what can they really see from up there?’ That led to speeding up the process only to pause because I was hearing something out here in the previously very quiet nowheresville. Did you know that cows don’t really go “moo.” What they do is somewhere between “moo” and “uemoohm” and “mmahhnnmoo”—some moos probably being contractions of the other moos or maybe some are structured and some are freestyle. Along the same line of reasoning is the idea that for something to startle you, that something needs to appear suddenly. A cow does not moo suddenly. First it has to decide on which moo to use (I did not list all the choices or dialects), then shift the mouthful of grass to one side or the other, inhale, and, finally, moo. The cow that mooed had probably been enjoying chewing its cud and wandering along in the shade of the bottom of the same gully I was using to contemplate Google Earth. She was not up for anymore conversation, so I left.
We have been back in there rock hunting
I continued up that hillside, sidestepping many patties, both cow and bull, thinking about their thoughtlessness and of the detours I have taken over the years seeking out a portabush here or a portarock there, just so other runners would not have any runnerpatties to worry about.

———–Run Gently Out There———-

Wind and Wind Chill

Wind, but no wind chill. I used that phrase before. I could find where I used it, but it really doesn’t matter. It is just the first thought I had about this morning’s run. There are two phrases from the scientific world that, consciously, or not, are part of our running world. The first, as mentioned, is wind.  The second, wind chill, is the more difficult of the two to know about in our immediate running environment, i.e., what is the wind chill where I will be running today.

The Internet has given us immediate access to trail maps, conditions, lengths, and enough other tidbits that our information expands to become a blob of useless data. Valuable time is spent sorting through maps picking out the “right” one. Yes, I rely on a map, a printed map, cut to size, folded just so and covered with transparent tape to render it absolutely waterproof. I don’t use a GPS unit. A simple watch is on my wrist. I will have an idea of distance and elevation by consulting the map. I could easily write another article about my mysterious lack of desire for gadgets electronic. I might do that soon — it will probably be titled, “Old School”. Oh, well–for now, suffice it to say, I have my map.
a_topoMy map tells me nothing about the wind. The information of importance starts with a check of the thermometer on the back porch; the one in the shade. The mercury sits at 42° Fahrenheit. The tops of the two Western Redcedars, well over one-hundred feet above me are dancing–the music they dance to is barely felt here at ground level. My first guess at today’s wind speed is about 25 mph. My two layers of a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt suddenly seem one-layer shy of warm. My educated guess is that the wind chill make that 42° feel closer to 30°. I have no intention of running into the cold and making adjustments from there. Adjustments made late in wind chill can be too late; not too late in a fatal sort of way, just too late for a run to be enjoyable.
I studied the tops of the trees again. The dancing seems the same. I watch long enough to make a guess at the wind’s place of origin. It is coming out of the southeast. Wind from the southeast tends to mean warmer than if it were coming out of the northwest. The Aleutian Low brings the cold. The Pacific (or Hawaiian) High brings relative warmth. They are the two main contributors to our weather in the Pacific Northwest and were studied early as I learned, often the hard way, what I needed to know to make running trails enjoyable. Anabatic (winds climbing mountain slopes), katabatic (winds going down the mountains), land breezes and sea breezes and that one simple important idea–winds always blow from cooler temperature regions to warmer temperature regions. Perhaps the simplest lesson was learning which direction to look to judge the day’s weather and what the sky will tell about the next few hours. There was one other thing to learn and commit to memory. Reading about the wind as told by the forest and prairie.

The Beaufort Wind Scale is a series of thirteen wind descriptors with Force 0 being calm and Force 12 being hurricane conditions.
a_beaufortOur (runners) concerns are nature’s signs that tell us when the winds are about Force 3 (8-12 mph) up to Force 6 (25-31 mph). A Force 3 wind causes leave and twigs to blow about, small flags are held out from their staff. Wind at Force 4 (11-16 mph) moves small branches, blows pieces of paper about, causes tall grasses to bend. At Force 5 (17-21 mph) small leafy trees begin to sway — the trees are dancing. When Force 6 (22-27) comes a calling, large branches are swaying and there is a whistling in the wires. You don’t need to carry an anemometer around with you to measure wind speeds. Simply remember those keys for what moves at Beaufort Wind Scale Force 3 – 6. Forces 3 through 5 will give you clues as to how many layers to add. If you think you see indicators for Force 6, you might want to give consideration to getting out of the woods.

Recognizing, through reading the grasses, limbs, or trash moving about, the winds below Force 6 will give a person a head start in dressing for the wind chill factor, i.e., dressing for how cold you might feel, regardless of what the thermometer shows.

Weather is a constant companion when we are on the trails. Make friends with it, or, at the least, learn to recognize it as winter unfolds.

———-Run gently out there———