For a few months now I have been in the process of training for my first 100K (62 mile) race. As with most any training plan, the key to success on race day is the long run (or so I’ve been told- I’m going with that). So this past weekend I had a twenty-four miler on the books. Originally I was planning to just go to a local regional park and run a couple of loops, but thankfully Matt talked me into something much more interesting: Picketpost.
If you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I have run Picketpost before, so why am I blogging about it again? Picketpost is part of the Arizona Trail (AZ Trail), which is an 800 mile (approximately) trek across the state. The last time we ran at the Picketpost trailhead, we went south. On this run, we started out going north: new territory for me, hence the new blog.
We began our run at 5:00 am, with the plan of heading out eight miles, then turning around to come back to the car to restock on water, then head out again going south, for the remaining eight miles to get our 24.
As we set out, it was just barely beginning to get light. There had been rain the night before and we still had cloud cover and cool temperatures. Right away, we scared some cows and their babies and they ran off. About ½ – ¾ of a mile from the trailhead we crossed underneath US 60 and continued north. The next four miles or so of this run are… well… boring. It’s all low-lying desert scrub: small cacti, jojoba, chollas, creosote, and other small plants. One interesting spot we passed not long after crossing US 60 was the site of an old homestead. I always find those intriguing as I imagine the people who used to live there.
The first interesting spot we came across was what I called the Hall of Ocotillo’s. We rounded a bend and the entire hillside was covered with them. This would be a pretty spot to visit in the spring when they are in bloom. On this day they were all leafed out and very healthy looking, but no blooms.
The trail ahead led directly into the Superstitions. Upon hitting the “Supe’s” the terrain immediately became much more interesting. We went through a canyon and the rocks started changing colors. The desert became more lush. We also saw quite a bit of wildlife, and signs of wildlife.
When we reached the eight mile point, we decided to go just a little bit further. We had received a few spits of rain, it was still cool, and we could see something shiny up ahead that we were curious about. We decided to run to the shiny thing and then we’d turn around.
The shiny thing was what appeared to be a new windmill, complete with a new looking corral. There was a rough road leading down to it, but at that point we decided we needed head back. We’d gone 8.7 miles out.
The run back was eventful. Running along a wash we scared a big owl out of a tree. As we stopped to look, the owl was attacked by some kind of hawk! The owl took cover in some rocks up on the hillside above us, but the hawk was extremely unhappy about its presence, and continued to circle the area for quite a while, screeching periodically.
At another point, I was running up a little hill and came face to face with a snake in the trail. I screeched and went by before stopping. It took my brain a second to recognize that it was not a venomous snake. It was a really pretty snake: glossy black body, black eyes, and bright greenish-yellow stripes running lengthwise down its body. I looked it up later with the help of a biologist friend of mine and I believe it was a black-necked gartersnake. Although the coloring on the one we saw was much more brilliant, the shape and form of the snake were the same, and she said they can have a wide array of colors.
The final major animal siting of this part of the run came at a weird moment. We were back in the boring part of the trail, and I was just trucking along, looking at the trail ahead of me and not much else. Suddenly I heard, very loudly and very close to my left side, the rattle of a rattlesnake. I think my body paused for half a second as my brain registered the noise- then everything in me said “RUN!” so I did, very fast. The next thing I remember was stopping about 20 feet down the trail, well out of snake range, looking back to make sure Matt was okay, and curling into a squatting ball and crying. Matt had managed to stop in time and back up and was taking pictures of the snake. I couldn’t go back to look at it. In fact, I never even saw it, at all. I could hear it up there still rattling and I couldn’t take it and started walking away. I have severe emotional reactions to rattlesnakes. Last year while running in a local regional park there was a rattlesnake curled up underneath of bush right next to the trail in the shade. I barely had a chance to see it and I ran by, but as I did so, it struck, with no warning whatsoever. Matt was again behind me that day, and he only had enough time to jump over the snake which, because it had struck, was now stretched across the trail. Thankfully that snake missed me, but the fear of them was instilled in me that day. It has only been just recently that I have managed to not freak out at every snake or stick (because they look like a snake) I see. Once he caught back up to me, Matt told me my foot was about six inches from the snake, but that the snake never coiled or struck or anything. Plus, it was a pretty good-sized snake, close to three feet long. Generally that’s actually a good thing. They tend to be more laid back, less prone to striking, and will likely to give less venom or even give a dry bite if they do strike. After the adrenaline in my system calmed down, I started running again, now hyper-aware of the shady spots! If you have never had the pleasure of hearing a Western Diamondback rattle, click on this link. At approximately 10 seconds is the frenzied rattling sound I heard.
The rest of the run back to the car was blissfully uneventful other than that we both ran out of water. But since it was fairly cool and we only had one mile left, we weren’t worried about it. We got back to the car without incident and drank a whole bunch while refilling our packs, then we set off southbound to finish our miles.
Now I have been on this part of the trail before, and new trail always trumps known trail. Not far into the southern run there is a trail that goes left with a big arrow made out of rocks. I stopped, looked at it, and got excited. Matt had told me before that he’d never climbed Picketpost Mountain before. I MAY have had an evil grin on my face as a suggested we should go that way; we should climb the mountain. He gave in and we started climbing! There were lots of cows on the first lower portion of this trail, even a big bull! But they really like to stay away from people, so there was no worry. We climbed, and we climbed. Matt ran part of this, but I conserved. I’m not as strong on the uphills as he is. As we got higher, we had to start following cairns and the occasional spray paint flash. Sometimes the trail went straight up at perhaps a 60 degree angle. We had to scramble over a some boulders. I was having a blast- I love that stuff! We went perhaps ¾ of the way up, and decided we should go back and save the rest for another day. Since we already had about 17.5 miles under our feet and hadn’t planned on climbing a mountain, and we weren’t really sure where the top was, it would be better to come back fresh. The decent was a great way to say, “Good morning!” to my quads!
Once we got back down onto slightly more level ground, Matt took off. We met back up at the car and guzzled delicious cold drinks. We finished our run at about 21 miles, but since we’d climbed about 1,000 feet straight up a mountain within about one mile, we called that close enough.
I have been running local park trails for the past few months, and while I am exceedingly grateful for these parks and the outdoors experience they offer, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed a wild run. Once I arrived home, I could feel the calm elation (yes, those two words go together here) coursing through my body, brought on by this wild run. These runs into the wild, where I run across few, if any people, and just see the animals and the flowers and sights; these runs ground me. I rediscover the joys of my childhood spent outdoors all day long playing with bullfrogs and mud and climbing trees. I may be all grown up now, but the heart of that little girl has never left me, and in fact, still beats wildly, sometimes desperately, inside of me. She’s constantly curious, constantly excited about the creation around her, and can’t wait to feel every sensation on her next run through the wilderness.