The Zakroff 50k – Palomarin Trailhead

Continued from Part One.

Can you get post awesome-training-run blues? After the Bello 50k we’d done last week I was in a funk. I’m normally pretty keen on coming up with routes but I was drawing a blank. We’d been rotating driving duty on the weekends and Alina had the idea that whoever did the driving might come up with the route. I was game for that. It was Jen’s turn to drive and she suggested heading back to Point Reyes since there was still so much of it to explore. For some reason I hadn’t considered that an option and was excited to go back.

It was nice to let someone else take charge but I was surprised to find it rather confronting as well. I was so used to being in control of these things that I was uncertain what to do with myself now that it was out of my hands. I decided to take my discomfort a positive sign. It would be good for me to embrace the “not knowing” and would provide an opportunity for Jen and Alina to practice some essential skills that I now take for granted. So I found myself heading out for a training run with only the most vague idea of where we were going. It was strange and a relief at the same time.

The Zakroff 50k
The first section we ran shown in blue, the second in orange.
Course profile
Profile, ~5,900 feet of elevation gain.

Jen’s route started in the southern most staging area of Point Reyes at Palomarin trailhead. The first half of the run was gorgeous. It was a double lollipop route along the coast heading north to the southernmost edge of the Bello 50k. We passed several small lakes that formed on the bluffs above the beaches and got to enjoy running through more of the “portals” that can be found throughout the area. This section was quite runnable with only one significant climb north of Wildcat Camp. It was really cool to get to our turnaround point knowing we had stood in the same spot last week only now we were heading in the opposite direction.

Inland lakes
There are several inland lakes along this coastal section. Photo: Jennifer Zakroff
One of the most overt examples of a portal we had the pleasure of running through. Photo Jennifer Zakroff

While we were refueling and resupplying back at the car I heard someone calling my name. At first I thought I might have imagined it but at the far end of the parking lot I saw Emily and David. What timing that we should all run into each other out here at what turned out to be an extremely busy trailhead. They were just back from TransRockies so we heard a few stories and I teased her about her lucky bag of Doritos that I kept seeing in photos strapped to her backpack. We had a trunk full of enough snacks to feed an army or a real 50k so we foisted what we could on them and went on our way. Random run-ins with friends is always fun.

Climbing to the ridge
It’s a stout climb up to the ridge. Photo: Jennifer Zakroff

The second half of the course went back north again this time inland along Ridge Trail to Firtop before heading back south on Lake Ranch. One thing I’ve learned about trail running is that at times it’s not always sunshine and rainbows and beautiful vistas. No, sometimes it’s about wading through thick, stinking, shoe sucking mud; through pool upon pool of black, standing water; through stands of stinging nettle. My legs were covered in the telltale burning dots where their tiny needles had entered my skin. Since the area is used by a lot of horse riders you knew it wasn’t just mud you were slip-sliding around in either. I tried not to think about that too much.

Muddy climb
It’s steep, slippery, and full of plants that want to bite you. Photo: Jennifer Zakroff

I’ve been in purely muddy conditions that were far worse but this was spectacularly awful in a different way. We would have long stretches of mud, then a dry patch, then back to mud. It was an ongoing tease where you’d be lulled into thinking it’s over only it’s not, not even close. I couldn’t comprehend where all this mud was coming from. We were up on the ridge, not in a valley where run off could collect. And what run off anyway? It hasn’t rained in months. It was a clear, beautiful day, and we were tromping through so much mud. Why, why, why? My brain kept trying to figure out what was going on. If I can understand it, I can feel better about it. This was my way of trying to rationalize and control an unpleasant situation. So I kept up this running diatribe in my head except I couldn’t understand it and I didn’t feel better.

So much mud!
You are liable to loose a shoe and your soul to the sucking forces of this mud. Photo: Jennifer Zakroff

At one point we looked at the map to see if there might be another route back to the trailhead to bypass the mud we’d already gone through but it would have made for a much longer run with no guarantees that it wouldn’t be just as muddy. Sometimes trail running is just about sucking it up. At one point my foot sank deep into a watery, muddy hole and I let out a frustrated scream–I’m so done with this! Not helping, I know, but what can you do? I apologized for my outburst to anyone who might have been in screaming earshot and just kept moving. Unhappy but moving. There were plenty of f-bombs thrown around by all of us. While we all knew we’d find this highly amusing when it was over, at the moment, not so much.

Jen was the most mud-phobic person I knew when we first started trail running together. Tiny mud pockets used to stop her in her tracks. Through time the mud-phobia was beaten into submission so now I had to look in awe as I saw her, at the height of when we were all feeling frustrated, say “to hell with it” and march straight down the middle of the sloppy trough of goo we were mired in. It just highlighted for me the surreal and ludicrous turn our trail run had taken since we’d started that morning.

Muddy shoes
Jen’s happy feet. NOT. Photo: Jennifer Zakroff

Eventually the mud ended as we came off the ridge heading southwest toward the coast on Lake Ranch Trail. I was full of pent up energy and ran ahead of Jen and Alina to attack the downhill. I reached the intersection with Coast Trail and took the opportunity while I waited for them to rid my shoes of all the debris I’d picked up. Maybe the mud on my legs or wearing a plaid shirt made me look well travelled and authoritative but for some reason a lot of people asked me for directions or confirmation regarding some point of interest. While we’d hardly seen a soul up on the ridge there was a lot of traffic here despite being so late in the afternoon.

“How far are you running?” asked a hiker named Paul who was the fourth or fifth person to approach me. Clearly I must look well travelled and authoritative.

“About 50k.” I don’t typically throw out numbers like that to a total stranger. It feels like posturing to me but I was too tired and happy that this run was almost over to creatively come up with an innocuous white lie.

“I know a guy that does that. Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon. His name is Matt.”

“I know Matt!” I was shocked. “I’ve done his races. Hey, Jen, he knows Matt.”

“Hey, Jordan,” Paul called out to his wife who had walked further down the trail, “These guys know Matt.”

“I went to high school with Matt. How did you guys even figure that out?” asked Jordan.

How did we? Because I was too tired to carefully control my interaction with a stranger. I let my guard down. There it was again, this time smacking me upside the head. Here we are, five people standing at a trail intersection in California, bonded through a man who lives in Utah, talking about belt buckles and ultras. What a weird and utterly random way to end this day.

And sure enough, as soon as we hit the parking lot we started to find the mud and the events on the ridge highly amusing as we tallied our war wounds and drank ice cold ginger beer.

Continue to Part Three.

The Triplets
Taken during the first loop. Good thing we didn’t know what was ahead of us. Ignorance is bliss. Photo: Whoever had the longest wingspan


2 thoughts on “83 Miles of Point Reyes, Part Two

  1. That is so bizarre about the mud – never would I have expected that issue right now. (I assume that trail must be lined with natural springs that just can't contain themselves. Or there are a LOT of horses with sad bladder control on it. I'm hoping more for the springs though.)

  2. Allen, I think there must be a series of springs up there. Jen said when she was researching the route mud in the area wasn't mentioned at all so she was just as surprised as the rest of us. I think the horses churn up the mud too which makes it even sloppier.

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