norcal

tiburon_hills

A quick trip to the San Francisco Bay Area gave me a chance to keep a new year’s resolution: run when I travel. We spent three days up north and went running every day.

Day one: Lake Merritt, Oakland.

merritt_01After a day of driving and a good night’s rest, I woke early and ran two miles through Oakland to reach Lake Merritt. Fortunately, I remembered to pack my gloves. Temperatures were in the low 40s, a good deal cooler than Southern California. I ran a brisk three mile loop around the lake just as the sun rose. My run ended with a two mile climb that took away the morning chill.

merritt_02Day two: Tiburon.

On the other side of the San Francisco Bay, we spent an afternoon in Tiburon. Ruby and I ran the bike path downtown, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I continued on my own and turned back at Blackie’s Pasture, at the edge of Richardson Bay. I headed home with San Francisco’s skyline in the distance.tibuon_blackies

Day three: West Ridge Trail, Oakland Hills.

What started out as a short run on my last day turned into an adventure. From the trail head I entered a redwood forest and ran steadily uphill. When I reached the ridge, the trees cleared and I started to loop back. I soon found myself surrounded by more trees and losing elevation in the wrong direction. Five miles of wrong turns and doubling back later, I reached a road that was still a few miles from home.

What was supposed to be a four mile run turned into ten. Not what I was expecting but a great way to end my trip.

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grouse mountain

At only 2km, my ascent of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC, is the shortest distance I logged this year. But the “Grouse Grind” as the locals call it was one of my toughest workouts in a long time.

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Grouse Mountain sits just north of Vancouver where I spent part of my summer vacation. The Grind rises up through the forest- over 2000 feet of steady climbing- and tops off at a skiing center. The trail is so narrow and so steep that it’s a one way journey and you must ride the gondola back down.

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We joined our Canadian cousins for the hike and started on a trail that wound through dense forest. I wanted to test myself and see what kind of pace I could hold but since this was a family activity I volunteered to bring up the rear. It turned out to be a good strategy because the trail immediately steepened and became increasingly rocky.

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As we started to climb, our path was a combination of boulders and tree roots. Most steps were irregular and I needed to look down constantly to avoid slipping. My son Alex and cousin Glen vanished up the trail and while I wanted to hike with them I hung back and walked with Ruby and Ryan. Despite the shade and cool temperature we were all dripping with sweat and breathing hard. We reached a sign that marked the one-quarter mark and said that this was the last chance to turn around. We all thought we were at least halfway up and it was a discouraging blow to the team’s morale.

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We continued and the Grind became rockier and steeper. Stopping to rest and drink water was a mixed blessing because we were guaranteed to meet some of the largest and hungriest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. When we made the 2/3 mark, Ruby waved me ahead and said we could meet at the top. Not that it mattered; I continued to slog my way up trying not to trip over the roots and boulders.

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The forest canopy held until the last few yards and when the trees cleared I saw the ski lodge ahead of me and realized I’d made it to the top. Fifteen minutes later, Ruby and Ryan emerged from the forest and our party reunited to enjoy the view from atop Grouse Mountain.

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After recovering with some group photos and water, we lined up to take the tram back down the mountain. A panoramic view of Vancouver rewarded us with Victoria island in the distance. While it took an hour to hike up, the ride down was over in minutes.

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Postscript: my calves ached for a week after completing the Grouse Grind. I discovered some new muscles that live somewhere between my calves and ankles. My traversal of so much vertical terrain was paid for in pain but if I ever return to Vancouver I will repeat the grind. I ran into a runner on my hike who was training for the annual race. He wanted to break 25 minutes for a 2k distance. That does not seem too difficult but trust me, it is.