Bertha, That Bitch

    I’m sitting on a piece of flat granite in a silent morning forest.  This granite rock is the perfect shape for my butt and my butt needs a break. I’m going to run 13.1 miles today. I’m going to run a half marathon distance for the first time in my life. I’m at mile four right now, it is barely eight A.M and I am not tired in the least bit.

    All around me I can hear the sound of house finches calling to each other. That is all I can hear. The national forest is a silent place on this late April morning. It’s just me and five hundred Red Breasted Nut Hatches (A real bird, I’m not just throwing dirty sounding words out there!)  I relax back into the white rocks and ponder a question; if I run 13.1 can I finally put that damn sticker on my car?
     The 13.1 sticker that you might see on the backs of so many Subaru’s means completing a half marathon, thirteen miles. There is a fifteen mile trail race I’m dying to do in June. It’s actually this section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I’m running today. The only problem is I have to work on the afternoon of June 10th. I don’t think I’ll have time to complete the course. Instead I registered for the 10 K that is run on some of the same course. Today is just a practice run on the course that starts up Cougar Crest Trail. I was planning to put in a few miles past manzanita plants and twisted Western Juniper trees. I hate Juniper Bushes (They always smell like cat pee!) But I love these knarled red barked hairy mountain trees. They grow in the higher altitudes and often they are covered in a bright green moss.  This trail crests about one thousand feet above where you started and then winds around to the North and the back side of the mountain. Back here the Cougar Crest Trail ends at the Pacific Crest Trail and you can head north towards Canada or South towards Mexico.

    Yes, the Pacific Crest Trail covers all 2,638 miles of this journey. When I was younger I thought it would be so awesome to hike the whole thing. Last week I began starting reading a book about one woman’s trip between Mojave California and Canada and it really put the journey in perspective. The trail winds through dry desert areas where you don’t find fresh water to pump for days so you have to carry gallons of water, tent, clothes, and dehydrated food, everything on your back. The way one gets supplies is your mail yourself care packages to little towns slightly off the trail to be picked up every few weeks and then hitch hike into random towns to pick them up, then hitch hike back to the trail. Did I mention hitch hiking after not showering for five days? Most PCT hikers look like homeless people, look for the tents on their backs, the Kelty packs and the hope and desire in their eyes. I can’t do that. I don’t mind camp food for a few days but four months of dehydrated meals is not something I will do.
      I’m resting on a section of trail that sits on a thin rocky ledge overlooking Holcomb Valley. There is a thick forest of Jeffrey Pines between me and the valley floor. In the distance a Boron Mine shines white and bright like fresh snow on the side a hillside. If tourists made it this far on their hikes, they would probably think its snow. No one expects to see a working mine out here in the middle of nowhere. Below me the forest is completely empty. It is so hard to imagine that a town of 10,000 people once sat in that empty valley now nothing but wildflowers, grass and a little seasonal pond. It blows me away every time I see this view and it dawns on me that so very few people have actually feasted their eyes on this same sight. If you ask anyone in California if they have even heard of Holcomb Valley, I guarantee maybe one in one hundred will say yes.
    The 10 K next month is the Holcomb Valley Trail Run. It is the sister races to the Run 2 the Top, the Mt Baldy run I’m planning Labor Day weekend. This year, I know for sure, I will have a super fun spring and summer. It’s also going to be a summer full of training for some of the hardest physical days of my life. Today I ran more miles than I ever have before.
    At first as I sat on that rock in springs warming sunshine, I thought I would try and knock out seven miles. Then I realized I had already done four and I was not tired in the least bit. Okay maybe I’ll do ten. I started thinking about it and thought, shit, if I can do ten I can do thirteen right?

    These thoughts filled my head as I arose from my butt shaped rock and started running. I soon came to realize two things. One although I’d been warm in the suns morning rays, my ass was frozen. Did I have a wedgie? I don’t know, can’t feel my ass! The other thing I realized was it might have been a tad too early to have stripped down to my tank and yoga shorts. It was fucking cold on the desert side of the mountain. In the shade it had to be maybe 35 and windy. I ran fast up the hills, trying to warm myself up as best as I could.
       As I drove the winding back roads of Big Bear this morning, the sun rising over a glassy lake, I  wanted to start my run on every dirt road I passed. I guess that is the hazard of living my life in such a gorgeous landscape. Every dirt road that flew by on the left went to either Holcomb or the PCT. All these dirt roads intersect like dusty cob webs.
   I chose to take a break in the glorious mountain sunshine as not to freeze. A mile ago I had stripped down almost naked, took off my sweatpants and sweat shirt, hung them in the chaparral and put on my running shorts. There is no one around any where I thought as I surveyed the empty forest, silent except for a plane flying high above me.
     Then I remembered a good male friend of mine is taking pilot lessons and he loves to fly to Big Bear. Shit, please tell me Macy didn’t see me naked today.  Sadly, this would not be the most embarrassing thing to happen to me today.

      As I continued up the well cared for path of the Pacific Crest Trail I remembered scraping the frost from my wind shield that very morning and how it had been thirty one degrees when I left my house this morning. It had been cold enough to snow and now I was running in shorts and a tank top! I love the mountains!

    I left the sunshiny ledge I was running on that hugged the shores of the lake down below me and reentered the Jeffrey Pine forest. Oh hello winter old friend, why did I take my sweat pants off so soon?
    I had no time to reflect on being cold for long. In the distance I saw a long distance hiker coming towards me and it dawned on me, had I met my first long distance hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail? Although I have not been running long I have been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for years and have never run into some one to personally have the balls to do this ridicules trail themselves. I talked to the man briefly, he said he was on day twenty one and I wished him luck. Some people volunteer as Trail Angels and help out the hikers as they make their way through their towns that sit just off the trail. Some day, I want to do this. It’s on my bucket list. I need to find a man, partner to help me in this endeavor though before I start offering rides to PCT hitch hikers and offering up my shower and laundry services. It really is something that I feel compelled to one day do for these strangers as a nature lover who would never make it all the way through.
    Meeting that brave man was the highlight of my morning. Seeing someone who is actually out hiking over 2,000 miles makes me feel like I could do anything. After I witnessed that I knew I would run 13.1 today. He was hiking 2,638 miles. I could do thirteen.

   I continued up the well maintained trail, following it all the way to Van Dusen Canyon Road before turning around. On the way back not only did I see fresh beer scat, but I saw Bob cat scat as well. At least I hope it was bob cat and not cougar. What is crazy is that both of these had not been on the trail when I had run by thirty minutes before. I may say I’m in an empty forest but I know the animals are out there and I’m sure they see me.

    On the way back I made a detour up a road I have never noticed before. A sign pointed the way to Bertha Peak. One thing I know after this morning; that Bertha is a real bitch! Bertha tops out at about 8,201 feet, and I could feel every step of that in my calves and ham strings as I ran up the steep, steep hill. I told myself on the way down I could have my Cliff Bar, my reward.
    I was hoping to complete 13.1 today. Adding in the extra little trip up Big Bertha I think I completed about fifteen miles total! My cell phone did die so I don’t know for sure, mileage wise but I was at eight miles before I started up Bertha. My total elevation gain was over 1,476.
    And of course my day would not be complete without embarrassing myself in public.
    After my run I was starving. I ran into Stater Brothers real quick to grab some crab salad from the deli. Before I ran in, I threw my sweater back on. It’s kind of a long sweater. As I walked around the grocery store, I noticed people starring at me funny. Was it because I had all my teeth in and was not wearing a cowboy hat? No, it was because my long sweater covered up my yoga shorts and it looked like I was not wearing pants. So if you were in the Big Bear area this morning and you saw the sweaty pants less girl… That was I.