Monday, January 04, 2010

Reflections on an Advenurous Off-Season

My off-season began in early September this year. I've never had an off-season last 3 months before. There were a lot of ups-and-downs but during this time, I had opportunities to try new things I never before had time. Here are some thoughts from these latest adventures:

Xtreme Trail Running with Travis:
Travis is my new favorite running buddy. He's the perfect size and conformation for running so I immediately put him on a training plan to build him up to 6-8 miles (we'll work on speed after we build distance first). Hmmm. Running coaches for future career?

When I run on the trails behind my house (which go on for eons), we go exploring. I never knew there were so many trails where I live! I feel like a little kid again. Growing up in NorCal, I was always hiking in the redwoods, climbing tall trees, wading through full creeks covered in thorny vines, and getting poison oak. Now, Travis shows me new routes to forge, unexplored trails up craggy mountains, the best places to cross creeks, and the holes in fences just big enough to slip through or crawl under.

Our last adventure, we ended up in someone's private property, completely fenced in. I was able to pull up the fence for him to wriggle under but couldn't find a human-size hole to follow suit. I cavalierly decided, "Well if not under, then over," and began to scale the cyclone fence in my clumsy running shoes. Not an entirely horrible decision until my shorts got caught on the top and I proceeded to jump down anyway, shredding as I jumped down. At least it was just shorts and not flesh. My legs are perpetually covered in various scratches from bushwhacking nowadays. I'm proud of my scratches.

Winter Swimming in La Jolla Cove:
I hadn't been in a body of water for at least 2 weeks. That body of water had been a pool. Last time I had been in an open body of water had been...August? And that had been a lake. In other words, it had been awhile since I paid a visit to the Pac Ocean gods. Instead of 70-degree waters I had last enjoyed in August, the temp was now a balmy 57. This is my cutoff for swimming temperature. Below 57, I just don't go in; it's too miserable. I was on the fence. But it had been too long. I complained bitterly to my swimming buddies about how cold and awful this whole experience was going to be, all the while slipping into my wetsuit, booties, latex and neoprene caps until everyone looked at me with raised eyebrows, shaming me to silence.

We marched down the steps onto the sand of the Cove. I took 3 sharp, deep breaths, swung my arms back and forth twice, took one step forward, and dove into the water. I was never cold. The water was freezing. So cold, it burned my face. But I was not cold. I forced myself to keep my head down, focusing on swimming (and swimming quickly), knowing, promosing myself it would all go numb in 30 seconds.

Thirty seconds later, my face didn't hurt anymore. I felt warm, calm, and relaxed. The water was glassy, clear, and calm. It tasted fresher, cleaner, somehow, with less salinity, having had a few months to flush the bird shit, kid piss and sunscreen away. The water and beach was empty, in sharp contrast to the congested, flooded days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The ocean was quiet, peaceful, and serene. Bright fluorescent orange Garibaldi flitted in and out between the green seaweed below, amongst a myriad of other fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Towards the horizon, the cresting fins of dolphins rhythmically broke the surface of the ocean as a pod fished for breakfast. Why on earth had I waited so long to swim in the ocean?
Postscript: The next day, I climbed Mt. Baldy. From ocean to mountains in 24 hours. 0 feet to 10,083 feet. Incredible.

Quixotic Mt. Laguna Hike:
Then, there was the incredible 7-mile hike around Mt. Laguna. I've never taken the time to hike as opposed to run before. Going more slowly, I learned and noticed things I've never appreciated before, thanks to my extremely knowledgeable trail guide. I saw shards of pottery and grinding holes used by Native Americans, acorn woodpeckers and their "silos" in trees, decorated with millions of tiny holes, each filled with a single acorn. Very shy ducks. Caves hidden beneath giant boulders. I stopped to listen, something I rarely do. Birds singing. In the distance, coyotes yipping. I heard the wind weaving through the tops of the pines. I thought the ocean was just on the other sound of the mountain, or perhaps an enormous river. The pines were speaking. I had to pinch myself; the ocean was at least 40 miles away.

Random rock arrangements formed faces and animals, reminding me of how I used to lay on my back and stare at the shapes and patterns of clouds meandering overhead, relaxed in timeless reverie. I heard a rhythmic pulse overhead like a softly purring engine and gazed up at the sky, surprised when instead of a plane, a pair of birds flew overhead, so far away, all I could see was their black silhouettes against the blue backdrop of the sky. The oscillating beating of their wings synchronized with the melodic whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. This was the most incredible noise I've ever heard. If only I'd stop to listen more.

I heard other hikers and mountain bikers. I've never realized how loud people are before (and I'm loud, even for a human). Whenever I stopped my incessant chattering, (which required an inordinate amount of personal effort, by the way) an eerie silence fell over the forest, and the birds stopped chirping. Why was it so quiet? Was there a nearby mountain lion or coyote? Oh, wait. It was me. I wonder if the forest creatures are more comfortable with careless human chatter than a silent, attentive human.

I just want to give special thanks to my trail guide for showing me how amazing things can be when I slow down, quietly observe, and just listen sometimes.


Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete said...

Isn't that weird how much more you can notice when you walk instead of run? I run on the trails by my house all the time, and I had to walk some of them last week since the hubby was having knee trouble. I noticed things that had been there for 2 years that I had never seen before. Crazy!!

Wes said...

It's not the burning sensation of the water I mind so much as not being able to catch my breath... Brrrrr.

Katie said...

Rachel - you'd probably enjoy a challenge that my husband and I did with a friend of ours - we called it "Beach to Baldy". We started at Huntington Beach, and rode our bikes east on the river trail 58 miles to the base of Mt Baldy (an elevation gain of 6000 ft). Then we hiked on foot up Baldy (8 miles round trip, 4000 ft gain/loss). It's not an official event, but a fun "homemade" one! We did it in early October, and doing it even earlier in the year (late summer?) would probably be better (more daylight). Your turnover from ocean swim to Baldy summit reminded me of this. :)