I have no idea how March has already come and gone – it’s been a whirlwind 2019 so far with lots of work activity, an upcoming move and massive career shift, and of course, ultra season is in full swing!
All of this is also a long-winded way of saying that I am woefully late in posting my first race report of the season, from the Marin Ultra Challenge 50K, held on March 9 in the gorgeous and iconic Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco.
The Marin Headlands is part of a larger system of protected land that comprise the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which was established by Congress in 1972 with the progressive and forward-thinking aim of offering an urban population the opportunity to experience and enjoy diverse protected plant and animal life normally found only in larger national parks. (It is fairly normal, for instance, to see coyotes like the one featured above casually sauntering along the roadways in the headlands, uncaring of the passing traffic or excited pointing and exclamations of visitors. It is, after all, their territory). All-in-all, the headlands is a gorgeous area characterized by rolling foothills and mountains with sweeping vistas of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Pacific. Not surprisingly, its miles of undulating trails are also incredibly popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.
For runners, the trails are as tough as they are beautiful, all steep ups and downs, with virtually no flat sections.
Lining up at the start, thinking about all the steep terrain, I knew this was going to be a tough race.
They counted us down, and blew the horn to send us off.
It started to pour.
Not surprisingly, we started off with a climb – about 2 miles straight uphill. I started off alongside the inspiring rockstar Katie Arnold, a professional ultrarunner and author who won the competitive and tough Leadville 100 miler in Colorado last year.
We stayed together for only a little while before Katie took off – I didn’t see her the rest of the race.
From miles 2 -10-ish, I remember little except a series of up-up-ouch-up followed by steepfastdownhills. Because of the rain and cold, I wasn’t sweating that much, and so I opted to not stop at the first aid station, waiting until the next aid station at Tennessee Valley before grabbing a gel and some sports drink. From there, we got a bit of respite from the climbs as we headed to Muir Beach, before hitting another wall straight up at mile 14. Here, we did a quick out and back, before returning back to Muir Beach around mile 20.
At this point I made the mistake of taking a quick nature break at the aid station.
Apparently at this time 2 women passed me (unbeknownst to me at the time).
I spent less then 2 minutes at the aid station before heading back out – and up! – another steep climb. I was admittedly getting tired by this point – my hands and legs were numb, and I was feeling like I was on the verge of bonking (i.e., running completely out of energy). At this point, Ashley Hall – a badass runner from Reno, NV – caught up with me on the climb. We chatted for a bit, and it was nice to share some miles with a friendly face. Nevertheless, as the climbs continued, I could feel myself starting to fade. I waved her on.
From mile 24 on, it was just a slow grind, with me trying to gut it out as much as possible and maintain my position. There was one last, final climb before the finish that was the steepest of the day and just mean. Remarkably, I caught one woman who had passed me, and I continued on; when I got to the top, I saw that I was gaining on another woman! I let it out on the downhill mile into the finish, trying to make up as much ground as I could. I was closing on her, but simply ran out of room…
I ended up finishing 4th in 5:00:55, less than 20 seconds behind 3rd.
In spite of missing out on the podium, I could not be disappointed with the results: on what has been my hilliest 50K by far, I managed to PR by 20 minutes.
Plus, Roger was there with me, cheering me in, and even took me out to a massive, greasy diner breakfast at a local dive afterwards.
After an *amazing* experience at the Kodiak 50 miler in August, I was definitely eager to try my hand at another 50 mile race – and maybe, just maybe rack up a few more UTMB points in the process. With that said, the rest of the year was already shaping up to be travel-heavy for my work, and so I needed to find a race that was (relatively) local and not require any cross-country flights.
After scouring UltraSignup for possibilities, I found one that seemed to fit the bill: The Run the Rock 50 miler on November 10 at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. It looked like a beautiful course of two x 25 mile loops through the park, and was a perfect excuse for Roger and I to visit the Pacific Northwest – something we’ve been wanting to do since moving out to California 3+ years ago! I was feeling strong coming off Kodiak, and looking forward to this next fun event.
The weeks leading up to the race were, naturally, hectic for work, and read like tour dates for an overly ambitious pop star: from October 26-28 I was in N.J.; from October 31 – Nov 2 I was in L.A.; from Nov 5 – 7 I was in Philly. I did my best to get in taper runs around 4am on hotel treadmills ahead of 14+ hour research days during my time on the road. On November 7, I flew back from Philly to San Francisco. The next day, Roger and I packed up and began the 9 hour drive up to Oregon.
On the way, we passed by the now-infamous Camp Fire that was raging just north of Sacramento. Being on I-5, we were several miles east of it, but could still see the hillsides burning – an incredibly eerie and sinister sight at night, underscored by our knowledge of devastating impact of the fire. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have been affected, and our immense gratitude goes out to the firefighters who have been battling these blazes day and night. If anything, the fire – the severity of which many government officials and scientists have linked to climate change – has also brought home the importance of the work that our family does on behalf of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR) to plant trees and curtail the effects of climate change (for those who may not know, AIR is this blog’s namesake and the organization that we are proud to represent in our races).
We arrived in Oregon safe and sound, and after picking up my number we turned in for the night to get as much rest as possible ahead of what was sure to be a long day.
The morning of Saturday, November 10 – race day – was freezing. Literally. The temperature gauge on our Prius read 19 degrees as we drove to the start line. We knew it would be cold, and had packed the requisite cold weather gear, but I was still nervous: I had not been training in these types of conditions, and knew that in the cold, the body often requires significantly more energy just to keep itself warm – in addition, of course, to the energy required to run 50 miles in the mountains.
With that said, I did my best to get in a good ‘warm up’ (in the loosest sense of the term), and toed the line. I knew it would be a fast, competitive race as there were a few pros in the mix. The announcer counted down and sent us off! I put my head down and committed to running strong, having fun, and enjoying the experience.
The first 4 miles took us down from the rim of a canyon to a riverbed that skirted the edge of the picturesque and eponymous rock for which the park is named. This first section was relatively flat and fast, and I just focused on finding a comfortable pace and enjoying the sunrise hitting the rock, turning it varying shades of gold, pink, and rose.
The next 6 miles were a long, steady climb up said rock – back and forth across SO MANY switchbacks that afforded us unobstructed views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, which were stunning in the early morning light. On this section, I focused again on keeping a steady effort, and ended up passing the super strong Rachel Entrekin on the switchbacks, at this point running in second.
After the climb, the next few miles offered a fun run along the ridgeline before a fast descent down a fire road, and then a turn onto undulating trails that twisted and turned through canyons before taking a turn back up to the ridgeline and aid station, around mile 21. Just before the aid station, I was joined by La Sportiva athlete Maria Dalzot and Corinne Saylor, and we ran together for the rest of the first lap.
After a fast and steep descent, we arrived back at the start/finish line more or less together at around 4 hours – much faster than my previous 50 miler (although to be fair, the Kodiak 50 miler was at altitude and had about 2,000 more feet of elevation gain).
At this point in the race, with the mid-morning sun overhead I was warm enough to take off my jacket and pass it off to Roger – who was a total champ in crewing for me on such a cold day!
Maria and Corinne, who ran in with me, ended up leaving the start/finish seconds before I did – so I left out of there in 4th, on my own. This ended up being a drawback, as literally hundred of meters after leaving I got turned around by ‘detour’ signs on the trail. These signs were printed in similar font as the race signs, and so I followed them for a ways before realizing that something was off. I turned back to retrace my steps and found the race route, but this detour ended up costing me a few minutes. At the time, I did not realize how much this would affect my race, but 2nd – 6th woman all ended up finishing within 9 minutes of each other – which is very close and rare for a 50 mile race!
The second lap was definitely tough. I was wondering if I had been overly optimistic in getting rid of my jacket, because there were many sections where we were running in the shadows and I was definitely getting cold in them. I also think my body was requiring a bit more fuel to stay warm, and around mile 30 I was starting to experience some early signs of bonking, so I made sure to fuel up well at the next aid station.
Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting passed by Danielle Snyder and Kelsey Allen – they were incredibly strong and I cheered for them as they went by. It is such a privilege to run with such strong competition, and seriously every one out there was such an inspiration!
By the time I got to the last steep descent my legs were definitely feeling it, and my entire body was tired from shivering and trying to stay warm. At mile 49, I was running along the river bed, and silently dreading the steep climb back up the canyon to the finish. At that point, though, I heard Roger cheering for me, which was like a straight injection of double-caffeinated espresso. I perked right up, rallied up the final climb, and ended up in 6th place, finishing around 9 hours – minutes behind the other top women. Check out the race file here! I had no idea we were all so close until I looked at the results, and I likely won’t see another race that close in my career.
A huge thanks to the race director, Janessa, and Alpine Running for a great event. And of course a huge thanks to all the amazing volunteers – including the local high school XC team! – who braved the cold temps and came out with warm smiles to cheer us on when we needed it. Thanks as well to Smith Rock State Park and everyone who supports the Oregon State Parks and the thousands of acres of public spaces they protect for both wildlife and human enjoyment.
Interested in visiting Smith Rock? Check out the park website here for information on things to do, along with relevant permit information.
Fee? Yes – $5 day use fee. Dogs? Yes – on marked trails.
Finally, as a reminder: We run to support the Alliance for International Reforestation, our family’s organization which invests in global conservation efforts through community-based reforestation programs. Please take a moment to check out the website here, and consider a donation to support their work in fighting global climate change.
Thanks as always for following, and here’s to our next adventure 🙂
I looked at the project timelines laid out on my computer screen, and silently sweared.
It was just over a month until my next big race, the Kodiak 50 miler in Big Bear Lake, CA. The race would be on August 18, a Saturday – and, looking at my project timelines, just after a marathon (pun intended) round of back-to-back cross-country work travel. Specifically, I needed to be in Chicago from August 8 – 14 (yes, over the weekend), and then fly to NYC for work from August 14 – 17, and then fly from NYC to L.A. on Friday, August 17 – the day before the race.
Considering the schedule, I was wondering if I should just scrap the race; as every athlete and coach will tell you, flying cross-country the day before a big race – and after a round of long work days – is notan ideal strategy to optimize performance. Nevertheless, I had been looking forward to the race, my training had been going really well, I wanted to represent the Alliance for International Reforestation, and I knew in my heart that with the support of my superstar husband, Roger, and my awesome coach, that I could do it.
So I decided to do it. While I’ll write about the demands of juggling a high volume training schedule with a demanding career as a healthcare consultant elsewhere, suffice to say that the travel was intense, the work days long (often 16+ hours when on the road), the taper runs early (I was usually on the treadmill at 4am), and I missed not being able to go home for a couple of weekends in a row. To add to the mix, I’d also had minimal opportunities for altitude training – something that was definitely an X factor for the Kodiak 50 Miler – a race that started at 7,000 feet elevation – and went up from there.
All of this was on my mind when I flew in from NYC to L.A. the Friday before the race. Roger met me at the airport – after he himself had driven down from the Bay Area. After what was already a long leg of travel, we drove another 3 hours to Big Bear Lake, a small, beautiful town in the San Bernardino mountains in southern California.
After packet pickup and an early dinner, Roger and I headed to bed, to try to get as much rest as we could before the 4am start…
…which wasn’t much rest, as we had to be up at 2am to have breakfast, coffee, and get ready to head over to the start line.
It was a surprisingly brisk morning for summer in southern California. I was still tired from the travel and minimal sleep, but tried to focus at the start line on the race director’s instructions, which included calling out aid stations and water stops (I think he said the top of Sugarloaf Mountain?). Before I knew it, the countdown started and we were off!
The first ~7 miles took us on an out-and back route up a climb in the dark, to the timing mat at a turnaround point, and back down where we crossed the start line, before taking a sharp left onto the Pacific Crest Trail. I remember thinking that it seemed like we were going out a bit fast on that initial climb. As this was at altitude, with really no altitude training under my belt I wanted to focus on being conservative. I backed off my pace, and came into the first aid station at mile 7 a little over an hour into the race. Roger met me there, and said that I was the first woman through – which was a bit surprising. I tried not to make too much of it at that point; after all, this was a long race, and anything could have happened over the next ~43 miles.
The next 12 miles were rolling, with some ups and downs – but nothing too steep or challenging. I focused on maintaining a steady pace, and fueling with gels and sports drink. Around 6am, the sun started to come over the hills, and I enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise as the landscape began to change from muted blues and purples to bright pinks and yellows.
Through these miles, I also focused on being conservative with my pace, as one of the hardest parts of the race – the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain (yeah – that big bump you see in the course profile above) was coming up.
I met Roger again at the aid station just before Sugarloaf at mile 19, and he shared that I was still in the lead – although I had no idea by how much. I wanted to push on the climb, but also not blow up – as I was still less than halfway through the race.
The climb to the top was about 6.4 miles, with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain to top out just above 10,000 feet. In other words, it was steep. It was also very rocky. With some (read: A CRAP TON) of shale thrown in for fun. As the sun was rising higher, it was also starting to get hot – already close to 90 degrees by mid-morning.
Heading up the climb, the combination of the steep gradient, technical terrain, and altitude meant that many of the front runners were opting for a combination of slow running and power hiking. I was grateful for the chance to power hike, as it allowed me to appreciate the scenery and views just a bit more – which were stunning as we neared the summit.
About 2 miles from the summit, we passed a water drop – not an official aid station, per se, but a drop of over 100 gallons of water that was essentially self-serve. I didn’t know how much of a lead I had, and I thought I’d remembered hearing there was water at the top (?) so figured I’d refill there.
Once we finally neared the summit, I saw the frontrunners for the men’s field coming down, and cheered them on. As I got to the turnaround, however, I was dismayed – I was nearly out of water, but saw no water – I had misheard the directions at the start of the race, and missed the only water drop on the mountain nearly 2 miles back.
At this point, I was concerned – I knew being dehydrated this early in the race could be disastrous for race performance. I tried not to let this get the best of me and stay calm, but I knew I needed to get back down the mountain to the water drop as soon as possible.
This thought helped to spur my pace on down the mountain, but it wasn’t long before I again felt a mild sense of panic arise – as I saw two women wearing similar colored numbers not far behind me! about 10 minutes later, they both caught me, and I was shocked – I thought I’d had more of a lead?!
I made it down to the water drop, quickly refilled my bottles, and continued down to the aid station at the base of the mountain, where I again met Roger. I was so disheartened. “I think I lost the lead,” I lamented, out of breath.
Roger shook his head. “No,” he assured me. “No. You still have a solid lead. Those were the 50K runners – they started way after you, from a different point on course.”
I sighed in relief and nodded. But I also didn’t want to get too comfortable. This was a race, after all. I packed some extra gels and ice (it was near 100 degrees by that point), and left the aid station quickly to tackle the final 20 miles.
After Sugarloaf, the course was (wonderfully) flattish for the next 5 miles or so, until we turned and climbed about 4 miles up to Skyline, before making a long, near 6 mile descent on Radford Road to the valley below. At each aid station, I got tentative assessments on my lead – at one point it was 15 minutes, at another point 30 minutes. I just focused on staying steady.
By the time we reached the descent into the valley, it was high noon, and the sun was beating down on the exposed fireroad as we made our way down into the valley. This was probably the toughest part of the race, as our legs were already tired, the descent was long and steep, and I knew that the final climb of the day was going to be one of the toughest.
And it was. Tough. So tough. What took us 6 miles to descend would only take us 2 miles to go back up, meaning that it was steep. Extra steep – over 30% in some places. It was also exposed. And sandy. I had to laugh climbing up in some places – what a brutal trick to play on racers in the final miles!
On the way up, I ended up passing some of the men who had passed me earlier. The climb was getting the best of a lot of strong runners. I did my best to voice my encouragement to them, returning the cheers they had shared with me when I’d seen them earlier on the course.
At long last, I got to the top. The aid station volunteers welcomed me in – really, allthe volunteers were wonderful! – and after downing a can of Mountain Dew, I set off for the final few miles.
The run into town was a bit of a blur. All I remember thinking (or feeling, rather), as overly sentimental as it sounds, was gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to do this race. For feeling healthy. For my amazing husband. And for the great trail running community who comes together to celebrate and host amazing events like this, that allow us to appreciate our sport, each other, and enjoy and share our appreciation of nature and the great outdoors at the same time.
The announcer called me in as the 50 mile champ as I crossed the finish line. There was a huge crowd of people there, with Roger front and center. I of course gave him a huge, sweaty hug (he didn’t seem to mind). The full route is posted here (yes it ended up being slightly longer than 50 miles..!).
It was, all in all, an unforgettable experience for my first 50 miler. A huge thanks to the Race Director and organizers, and of course the volunteers and city of Big Bear Lake, for hosting such an amazing event. And huge thanks to my coach David Roche, who, like me, just laughed when I told him about my travel schedule and supported me through it all. Most of all, thanks to my amazing husband, Roger Montes, who is my hero and with whom I share all the best adventures. We both run for the Alliance for International Reforestation, and all our race performances are dedicated to them and the work they do to protect nature and the outdoors for the enjoyment and appreciation of all.
The morning of Saturday, April 7 in Folsom, California was a dismal, cold, and sloppy mess. Unrelenting rain for the past 12 hours had turned the roads and trails in the area into mini-rivers. The start line for the famed American River 50 Mile Endurance Run had to be moved; its original location was completely flooded.
Notwithstanding these less-than-ideal conditions (understatement of the year), nearly 500 hardy souls toed the line at 6am for one of the oldest ultras in the U.S., bravely ready to tackle the course and elements.
Roger Montes was one of the starters, and excited to represent the Alliance for International Reforestation at his first 50 mile attempt. After just over 8 hours battling the rain and cold, he crossed the finish line in 6th place – a remarkable result given not just the weather but highly competitive field. We sat down with him afterwards for a re-cap of the day.
Q: So this was your first 50 miler. Overall, how did it play out for you?
A: The weather was tough, to be sure – and the biggest wildcard of the race. But once you’re at the start line, you just have to focus on what’s ahead; everyone has to deal with the same conditions, so it’s just how you manage through them. The first 25 miles were pretty flat and smooth, so I just focused on holding a steady pace through them. I was running in 5th throughout, and feeling good overall although I noticed a dull ache in my right knee after mile 20. When I got to the Beal’s Point aid station at mile 25, my wife Rachel was there. I told her I’d been having a bit of knee pain, but she helped me to put it into perspective and we agreed that she would meet me at the next aid station, and if it was still bothering me I’d drop – no sense in risking long-term injury. Shortly after Beal’s Point, the course transitioned to an unpaved trail, and the softer terrain helped my knee. I saw Rachel again at mile 31, and told her I was fine to continue. After that, it was just about maintaining a steady pace and saving enough energy for the last few miles to tackle the last big climb. I was able to do this, and passed another runner in front of me, although two more passed me just before the climb. It was a pretty strong field – huge congrats to Zach , Coree , and all the runners for great performances!
Q: Wow, so in spite of the conditions it sounds like a great race nevertheless. What was the most challenging part of it for you?
A: Honestly, it was the super slippery trails – and I didn’t bring the right shoes for the job. I was thinking that because so much of the route was on paved bike paths, that I could get away with a shoe tailored more towards the road than the trails. That was a huge mistake! The rain turned the trails into a slippery mess, and without the proper shoes I was sliding all over the place. This not only slowed me down a bit, but could have led to injury – I fell a couple of times out there!
Q: What, if anything, would you do differently next time? What were the biggest lessons learned?
A: Next time, for a race I’ve never done I will definitely invest time in scouting the course beforehand. [Editor’s Note: We did this for the Sean O’Brien 100K, and it made a world of difference on race day – barring an unforeseen injury, it helped tremendously!] It’s important to familiarize yourself not just with the race route, but also the types of terrain you’ll be running. If I had done this beforehand, I would have seen that the trails were the type of clay that can turn really nasty in the rain – and I would have prepared better with bringing the right shoes! All in all, though, it was a great experience – the race directors and volunteers put on an amazing race in terrible conditions. Huge thanks to them for being out in the rain for hours! And if anyone is considering this for their first 50 miler, I’d absolutely recommend it.
On February 3, just a short time ago, I lined up at 5am with hundreds of other lost, shivering souls to take on the infamous Sean O’Brien 100k – a trail race that traverses the rugged Santa Monica mountains of Southern California. With over 13,000 ft of elevation over a mix of rocky singletrack and long fire roads, I knew it was going to be a tough first attempt at a race of this distance. Moreover, this year’s event was going to be especially competitive – as the SOB 100k is only one of five Golden Ticket races for a coveted Western States entry. At the start line, counting down the seconds before the horn blared, I did my best to remind myself to stay calm, enjoy the experience, and find some semblance of comfort in the knowledge that I’d put in a solid block of training to build up to this.
Everything after the start was a bit of a blur, with a few standout moments (both epically beautiful and epically catastrophic). I’ll do my best to recount:
Miles 0 – 6: A steep uphill climb in the pitch black. For over an hour, my world was reduced to the tiny illuminated patch of trail lit by my headlamp. Then, an amazing moment shortly after cresting the top of the climb, when the sun also rose above the mountains and lit the entire world pink. The view was amazing, and I ran along in stunned silence, scarcely believing I was fortunate enough to be doing this. At this point, I was running around 12th place in the women’s field.
Miles 7 – 17: A rocky singletrack rollercoaster along the Backbone trail. Lots of steep ups and downs, with lots of technical footwork. Another epic moment on a fun downhill section when Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ came over my playlist, and everything was perfect. I passed a couple of women, and was running around 10th place.
Miles 18 – 22: Loooooong fire road downhill, from the mountains to the beach. Had fun settling into my stride, and enjoying ocean views the entire way. Continued to pass some people on the downhill, and tried to ignore the nagging thought in the back of my mind that I soon was going to have to come alllllllllll the way back up this mountain.
Miles 23 – 31. OUCH. The uphill, back from the beach to the top of the mountain. This was up very steep singletrack that wound its way through Zuma Canyon. At this point of the day, it was mid-morning and the sun was starting to beat down. There were lots of cramping, dehydrated, overheated runners that I passed along the way.
Mile 31: The catastrophic moment. Just after cresting the climb, I settled in for what I was (hoping) would be a nice downhill reprieve. I was feeling good, and again started passing people on the downhill. On one section of off-camber trail, I made a move to pass someone and hopped to the left side of the trail – and felt my left knee give a little. I tried to shrug it off, but in the back of my mind I knew that it didn’t feel right.
Mile 31 – 40: Spent the next 10 miles trying to shake off the knee pain, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to run. The downhills were especially excruciating. By mile 38, I was reduced to walking. One by one, I counted all the people I had passed earlier pass me again. By mile 40, I noticed swelling in my left knee. I made the heartbreaking decision to drop.
Mile 40 – 42: This was a struggle to make my way to the next aid station, where my family would be able to meet me. Upon arriving, I met with the medic who checked out my knee and informed me that unless I wanted to do long-term damage, I should go ahead and stop. My race was done.
While I ultimately failed to achieve my race goal, in many ways I consider this first 100k attempt a success. I felt great throughout – strong and steady on the climbs, and smooth on the downhills – testament to the training and long miles that built up to the race. The heat was another wild card, but this was something that Roger and I had prepared for: we packed a cooling towel, sun sleeves, and we had planned that I’d fill my cap with ice at every aid station. It worked: while the heat was getting the best of many people, I felt good throughout. Apart from my knee, if you had asked me at mile 42 if I could run the last 20 miles, the answer would have been an enthusiastic and whole-hearted YES.
With that said, injuries are a part of this beautiful, fun, and challenging sport. So is the need to make tough decisions with your long-term health in mind. While it was heartbreaking to drop from a race where I had been running in the top-10 for most of it, I also knew it was the right decision to make. Now, just a couple of short weeks after, I’m happy to report feeling well-recovered, and ready to tackle the next adventure.
One final note: Being able to do these events would be impossible without the amazing support of a crew and the volunteers who make these events happen. So first off, a HUGE THANKS to my amazing husband for his endless support and encouragement – from the time I told him I made the crazy decision to register, through to picking me up at mile 42, his support was unwavering. Thanks, too, to my dad and his wife who came out to cheer me on along the course! 8 hours is a looooong time to spectate and cheer – whew! – but their smiles were infectious and kept me going strong. Of course, a huge shoutout to the volunteers, who were also out there all day, attending to – and anticipating – all runners’ needs, even when we were unaware of them. You guys are amazing. Finally, a huge THANK YOU to the Alliance for International Reforestation – our sister organization – who Roger and I are representing this year in our races. We received a lot of interest about AIR on the race course, and really – being able to raise awareness of the incredible work this organization does – is the important thing. Thanks for reading.
Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon. The majority of the lake’s watershed is protected land, with several state parks including Sand Harbor; Sugar Pine Point; Spooner Lake; and of course the eponymous Lake Tahoe State Park.
The area is popular year-round – offering a myriad of lakeside activities in the summer, and skiing or snowboarding in the winter. Apart from being an Instagram-perfect vacation destination, though, Lake Tahoe also provides important ecological benefits as a watershed. Additionally, it’s home to numerous protected or endangered species, including the bald eagle and kokanee salmon, as well as rare plant species like the Lake Tahoe watercress.
On our visit, we took advantage of the beautiful blue-sky July weather to explore the region by bike and by foot. Our first venture took us on a 70+ mile bike ride around the entire lake, which included 4,000+ feet of climbing over a mix of long, gradual mountain inclines and gentle rollers.
Throughout the ride, we were afforded panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains, which were surprisingly still snow-capped in late July owing to the record snowfall the region received this past winter. The views were only somewhat marred by the seemingly endless traffic in both directions (FYI, if you’re not already aware, you could say that Lake Tahoe is *somewhat* of a popular tourist destination. On the weekend we were there, it seemed like everyone within a 2,000 mile radius also had the same idea to visit. It was crowded). However, even with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, cars were generally respectful, and gave us plenty of room to pass.
The next day, we opted to avoid dealing with traffic and ventured out for a run along the trails of Spooner Lake State Park. This Nevada park is about 8 miles to the east of Lake Tahoe, and is home to two equally picturesque lakes of its own: Spooner and Marlette. Our run took us point-to-point from one lake to the other, and back along the Marlette Lake Trail. The route climbed over 1,600 feet through rustling alpine groves and high mountain meadows – with epic mountain views the entire way.
Interested in going? Be advised that Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas are popular year-round, and can be particularly crowded on weekends and holidays. Plan in advance and make your reservations early. If you’re looking to do a hike or trip to the beach, you should also arrive early in the morning, as parking fills up quickly. (On our bike ride, we observed no less than 4 rather heated arguments over parking. Don’t be one of those guys – plan in advance.)
As for the state parks in the area: they will likely require a fee of $6 – $10. Most are dog and mountain-bike friendly, but be sure to check signs beforehand.
Finally, it’s important to note that despite being a beloved travel destination, Lake Tahoe is under threat due to development and associated pollution. Studies estimate that the clarity of the lake has decreased substantially due to pollution from stormwater runoff associated with construction. Pollution of the lake in turn affects species that depend upon it for survival, including those found in the Truckee River fed by the lake. That said, efforts by local environmental groups like Keep Tahoe Blue have made substantial gains in protecting and restoring the lake and surrounding areas.
Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then check out the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, here!
Welcome back from the holidays, and Happy 2017, y’all!
We here at AIR Adventures hope you spent plenty of quality time with family, friends, and – of course – exploring the great outdoors.
For our part, we did all of the above. Our travels took us from the west coast back to the Deep South of the east (beast?) coast – specifically Georgia and Florida. We spent our first few days exploring the trails of North Georgia, in the beautiful Smithgall Woods, and later on to the swamps and sugar sand trails of North and Central Florida.
Some of our Florida favorites included:
Tom Brown Park,a 255 acre park on the east side of Tallahassee. The park boasts several recreational areas – including a frisbee golf course, BMX track, and miles of trails. Perhaps most notable of the park’s offerings is the plethora of native plants, birds, and other wildlife that it protects. It borders Lake Lafayette, where one can expect to see a wide variety of wading birds – including the iconic great blue heron – as well as plenty of gators, of course. Interested in exploring Tom Brown? Consider a trail running or mountain biking adventure: Like us, you can start on the Cadillac Trail – so named because of the old, rusted out 1960s model plopped conspicuously on one hairpin turn of the trail – and continue across the railroad tracks to the colloquially named ‘Bill’s Trail’ in Lafayette Trail Heritage Park. From here, you’ll catch glimpses of Lake Lafayette through the scrub oaks, as you head into the neighboring J.R. Alford Greenway. Check out our mapped trail run here! Fee? No. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – in some areas.
Seminole State Forest, which includes 1,725 acres of protected sand pine scrub around the Wekiva River Basin. This park provides important habitat for several rare and threatened species, including the Florida black bear and indigo jay. It also offers over 21 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of designated horseback trails, and 25 miles of designated MTB trails. Horseback and MTB use are restricted to designated trails. Interested in exploring Seminole State Forest? We definitely recommend this for trail running and MTB alike – the trails are well-maintained, and the famous Florida sugar sand will definitely challenge you! We parked at the trailhead just off SR 46, and took the orange trail to the white trail for a 10+ mile loop. Check out our mapped run here! Fee? Yes – check website for details. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – on designated trails/ Check signs!
Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,000 acre protected area in Central Florida. The refuge provides a haven for numerous native plants and animals, including several threatened or endangered species like the bald eagle, whooping crane, manatee, and gopher tortoise. Gators are also abundant here – and can be seen sunning themselves on the banks. There are several miles of constructed trails that are open to hiking, trail running, and MTB. This area is truly a hidden gem in central FL. We recommend visiting in late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the marshland to varying shades of pink and gold. Fee? No. Dogs? No. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
Overall, our holiday break not only reminded us of the importance of quality family time – but also of the beauty and diversity of the natural habitats in the Deep South. We encourage you to visit these and other parks in the near future, and learn more about the important work they do to protect these priceless natural resources.