Mud, Toads, and a Grub: A Canyon Lake Run

Quiet.

Stillness.

Peace.

These things permeate the landscape in the calm before a storm, yet when I awoke at 5:40 on Saturday morning I thought of none of them. I always wake up grouchy, (assuming I’m not waking up late, as you may already know), and this was no exception. I don’t think any actual thoughts crossed my mind; I simply rolled out of bed in order to efficiently extricate myself from the seductive siren call of its warm sheets. I pulled on the clothes I’d set out the night before (don’t want to show up for a run sans pants, it could happen), and stumbled down the stairs to await my incredible sister in law. Incredible might just be an understatement. Seriously, how many people do you know are willing to get out of their bed at such a crazy hour (or crazier!) in order to come over to your house to care for your children, giving you a chance to go run? I only know the one!

Later, driving down the road, I was still grouchy with the early hour. I was headed to Starbucks to meet up with my pals and in the dark of those lonely, exceedingly irascible moments, I saw my first adventure sight of the day: lightning striking in the dark over the mountains where I would soon be running.

Good Friends

The adventure crew for the days’ run would consist of Matt, Becky, Laurie, and me. Pulling into Starbucks, I was about ten minutes early, yet somehow my friends had all beat me there. I zombied  into the store and ordered my usual pre-run breakfast: venti non-fat vanilla latte with half the pumps of syrup, and a bacon & gouda breakfast sandwich (mmm… so healthy, right???). I joined the table where my friends were sitting and attempted to look sociable. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my friends know me too well and didn’t buy my happy act. Instead, I was heartily made fun of. There we go, that’s what good friends are for! After downing my sandwich and starting in on my foo-foo drink, I actually was sociable and began talking, and then it was time to go hit the trails.

Afghani Dog

When we pulled into the parking lot of First Water Trailhead, Matt recognized the dog of guy he knows, and he leapt out of the car before it even stopped moving. The fact that Matt saw the dog of a guy he knows sounds like a fairly bland statement, so let me back up a bit. When I wrote Operation Red Tanks I mentioned we saw some hikers at a critical point in the trail where we didn’t know for sure if we were ever going to finish. Well, our first sign of those hikers was actually a beautiful, tall, pure white dog (of indeterminate breed) missing his ears; as in the ears are cut off. The dog is extremely distinctive because of the missing ears. The owner of this dog is a man who served in Afghanistan. He found the dog and brought him home to the States. He now spends lots of time out in the wilds, and his dog greets people out in front of him on the trail. Matt has spoken to this man many times and this is how I know the previous information. I have only ever talked to the dog, who is an amazing conversationalist.

Laurie’s Rain Coat

By this time, the rain had begun to come down in truck-fulls. We all knew that it was supposed to rain, which for me at least, was a huge part of the draw of this particular run. However, I freeze easily and didn’t want to end up with hypothermia (a real possibility for me), so the night before, I’d actually purchased a rain jacket. Becky and Matt both had rain-resistant jackets. Laurie had the ultimate, badass, true-blooded Arizonan rain jacket: a plastic bag she found in Becky’s car. Honestly, how often does it rain here? And of those times, how often do we get to run in it? You rock Laurie!

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Goofing around pre-run

Goofing around pre-run

Pre-run

Pre-run

First Water Trail

Our run for the day would be brand new to Becky and Laurie. The second half of it was new to me, and the middle section was new to Matt. We began our run down the trail and set off into the gray. The rain made pitting sounds against my rain hood, and caused a general hush all around us. The desert looks completely different in the rain. All of the lichen and moss fill with water and turn amazing colors. The greens of the usually dry, desert trees and shrubs become more brilliant. The contrasts between rock and cactus, mud and tree are intense and distinct. And the smells! I have run in the rain quite a few times- both on vacation in Washington State, in California, and during monsoons just around my neighborhood. Runs like those will not prepare you for the smells that leap into your nose in the middle of a wild desert rainstorm. I’m not even sure I can accurately describe the smells. I know how the dry desert trails smell- I’ve run them a million times and generally I don’t think too much about them. But these smells seem to catapult out of the ground, off of the cactus, and spring up into the air. They frisk about just waiting for your nose to draw them in, shooting signals of LIFE into your brain. The smells may be good or bad, but they are all vibrant and alive. Each has its own pocket on the trail, and as I run I am in each for a couple of seconds and then it’s gone.

The rocks are almost gone because of all the lichen

The rocks are almost gone because of all the lichen

Lichen

Lichen

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First Water Trail is fast, easy, and fun. I’ve run it a few times before. It has a few nice little climbs, some wash crossings, and beautiful sights (as do all Superstition trails!). In fact, it was on this trail that I cut open my very first prickly pear last summer!

Second Water Trail

First Water Trail quickly comes to a junction with Second Water and Dutchman. Keeping left at this junction, we continued onto Second Water. The first part of this trail brings about a change in scenery. You run through what looks like a mesquite grove. With the downpour, the dirt through here was squishy and slippery underfoot, sticking to our shoes and making our feet heavy. Heading down our first major hill we found our first toad and decided his name should be Jebadiah (we found two other toads during the days adventures). Second Water T’s at a major wash with Boulder Canyon Trail. This was as far as I had gone on a previous trip. On that other trip, Matt and I went down into the wash where there were pools of water and scared frogs (not toads) into leaping to their safety.

Frog from an earlier run

Frog from an earlier run

Cattails from an earlier run

Cattails from an earlier run

Jebadiah trying to hide

Jebadiah trying to hide

JEB JEB the toad

We took the trail junction as an opportunity to make some re-adjustments to clothing and packs. I also had to get a shot of the mud splashed up onto Becky and Laurie! Once our gear was fine-tuned, we continued on into what was new territory for me.

Laurie and Becky

Laurie and Becky

Boulder Canyon Trail

Running along, chatting about whatever it is we chat about on long runs, we rounded a corner and saw some red rocks stacked in what appeared to be an orderly fashion. Upon closer inspection we discovered it was the Indian Paint Mine (I did not know this then, it was discovered later with much Googling). This link has a brief description of the mine (super brief) and some good, more technical/practical descriptions of our trail overall. Of course we had to stop to climb around on the rocks!

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Indian Paint Mine foundation

Indian Paint Mine foundation

At the Paint Mine

At the Paint Mine

Matt broke the chair

Matt broke the chair

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I don't think I was ready

I don’t think I was ready

After leaving the mine, we ran through some heavily lichen covered rock, crossed another wash, and then began ascending. This was a steady, intense climb. For me, the thing with climbing hills in the wilderness is that I need to see what’s at the top. I like to get up as high as I possibly can.  As I was making my way up this mountain, I looked way up and saw the cliffs above me and thought, “I’d really like to get up there. I bet there’s a great view from there.” Little did I know that I would indeed be going up there!

Laurie and Becky

Laurie and Becky

I was breathing hard when I reached the top, but the views were astounding. The clouds were hanging on the cliffs all around us. Of course, I needed to get to the edge of the cliff to look out and down. I’m not sure what it is about these heights that calls to me, and yet I must always find the highest mountain and stand on the edge of it, looking out over the creation below (much to my running partners’ chagrin). My heart soars in elation and I feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be; alive and free.

Edge of the cliff

Edge of the cliff

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I pulled myself away from the glory of the heights and continued on towards Canyon Lake. While the trail was not all downhill from here, it was a little easier. Eventually we did get to our last peak and descended into the valley. When we reached the marina at the lake, I discovered I had, once again, severely underestimated my run time. I told my sister in law I would be home by noon and it was then… I don’t remember what time. The point is, there was no way I would make the time I’d said. Thankfully, Becky had her phone on her, it had reception, and I have a weird knack for remembering phone numbers. I was able to call and let her know I was going to be late. From now on, I need to always pad my adventure run times by at least two hours beyond what the longest is I would expect. That way, if I manage to “ooh and ahh” a little more quickly it’s all the better that I’m home early.

First glimpse of the lake!

First glimpse of the lake!

Matt

After we’d called or otherwise notified any potentially worried loved ones, we ate the lemon Honey Stinger waffles I’d managed to shove in my pack. Lemon is my absolute FAVORITE of these. If you haven’t tried them, do so. Yum!

On a completely different note, while using the bathroom at the marina at Canyon Lake, I had the following thought: “It’s amazing how wonderful a real toilet is.” Have you ever stopped and thought about this? Normally I just take a toilet at seat value. It’s a place to sit for a bit and take care of business, and that’s about it. After running through the wilderness however, I realize how amazing it is to relax while peeing (or pooping, whatever). A hole in the ground will work and dump toilets are acceptable, but how much nicer is it to sit above (relatively) clean water? To not have air and bugs from the unknown below blowing up your ass? To not have to worry if you might have missed a rattlesnake in that bush that is shielding you from the trail? And then to walk out of that toilet stall and get to wash your hands? With clean running water and real soap? Absolute bliss.

Okay, so yeah, I notice toilets. Anyway…

The Way Back

Since this was an out and back trail, we put the cameras away and got a move on. Matt took us straight up the side of the mountain out of Canyon Lake (as opposed to the switchback way down we’d taken in). At the top the entire back of my legs was burning. Nice. Run on.

The main thing I remember about the run back to the First Water Trailhead was running down the big hill in the middle. I ran fast, and it’s a long descent. I was so happy, I couldn’t stop smiling. I could hear Matt behind me trying to catch up, so of course I ran just a wee bit faster.

Another time Becky and Laurie called out that they’d found a critter. So of course I had to see it. It was a grub! I don’t know what the adult version of this thing is (if you do, please feel free to share!) but it was amazing to me to watch it move its internal juices about its body in order to affect movement. It was a tiny bit of my biology training in action!

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Mmmm... protein

Mmmm… protein

I have this weird thing where I tend to feel lazy and kind of crappy for the first part of a run, and then, pretty far into it, I’ll get this weird second wind and be ready to go. After climbing what I knew was the last major hill, I was tired but overall felt pretty good. The thing I really like about out and back runs, especially on a trail I haven’t already run a million times, is that I am somewhat familiar with it because I just ran it. I know the sights and I know what’s around the corner, so I have an idea of how hard to push. I’m able to gauge how I’m feeling with what I know is up ahead of me.  So at the intersection with First Water, I took a quick break and then ran it in to the trailhead. I knew that there was nothing major in between me and the end, I just wanted to run.

Parking Lot

By the time we all made it back to the parking lot, the rain had pretty well stopped. I went to change because, while I wasn’t wet from the rain, I was wet with sweat and was already starting to get cold (I always bring a change of dry clothes for this reason). I forgot to bring dry pants though, so that was fun.

When I came back to the car, halfway dry, everyone was chowing down and drinking. Matt brought the requisite coke (a-cola), as well as chocolate milk, portables, and applesauce. Now, this may sound kind of weird, but bear with me. I have a weird stomach, as many runners do. Natural, simple foods sit very well in my stomach. Processed things generally don’t, or they tend to gross me out. This is not an across the board thing, I have exceptions (obviously since I love coke after a run!) this is just a general rule. Matt makes delicious applesauce concoctions containing strawberries and a bit of orange juice. These things have powered me through many a run! The rejuvenation I feel after ingesting some simple fruit is wonderful. Also, if you haven’t heard of portables, I suggest giving them a try. Again, simple foods (rice and fruit) that sit well in the stomach and give a huge boost of energy. Unfortunately, Laurie had not brought her delicious turd bars. I’m sorry I don’t know what’s in them, but they are another simple, easy food, that just happens to look like turds (fun!). She promised to bring them on our next run and I plan to hold her to it!

The four of us finished our adventure feeling tired. Sometimes when I run I feel kind of like a failure because the run feels harder than I think it should. I think, “I should be farther along than this, I shouldn’t need to walk right now.” As I do this ultra-thing (not that this particular run was ultra, just training and fun) more though, I’m realizing that a run should never be measured on how it feels. Feelings lie. Runs just are. I can enjoy them or not, but in the end, I got out there and did it. Inevitably along the way I see something cool or perhaps I connect with friends. Even on a boring trail I still feel the surge of joy at the ability of my body to move. There is always something good in every run. On this run, I felt like I’d put in a ton of effort and wasn’t sure it should have felt as hard as it did (though of course I enjoyed myself). Matt informed us later that we had completed about 3000 vertical feet in around 16.5 miles. Aha! No wonder it felt so hard! Badassery accomplished!

Back to ‘Bux

Sometimes after a run we are quiet and reflective on what we have just accomplished or the sights we have seen. Other times there is laughter. Whatever the case, we head back to our meet-up spot enjoying the last little bit of our time together.

Thanks guys! I can’t wait for the next one!

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Another one of the toads

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