Cactus to Aspen

The Southwest is great in the fact that one can change climate and environment just by a change in elevation. Too hot in the desert, head up to the mountains. Cold in the winter, back down to the desert. This time of year brings monsoonal rains and the vegetation is thriving for a change. Morning runs usually entail dripping wet plants brushing against the legs and soaking shoes and shorts only to be quickly dried off from the dry heat of the day.    Wildflowers are blooming, mycelium are pushing up mushrooms and getting caught in an afternoon storm is always a possibility.

The Sandia Crest trail is one of the best running routes I’ve done. It is such a perfect, natural line along the Sandia Mountains from Tijeras to Placitas, just outside of Albuquerque. Although distracting, the tram and restaurant half way through the run provide a good spot fill up on water, catch a good view and even grad a meal and beer if you wanted. I was glad Eugene could come up from Las Cruces and make this run again. He’d done it at the organized run in October with a horrible case of muscle cramps and wanted redemption.  We got a very late start at noon but the day was surprisingly cool and we’d gain elevation and tree cover quickly to help mitigate the heat. The climb out of Tijeras is long, 14 miles, but all very runnable and the trail gets better as one climbs into a meadow bordered by aspens. One then runs through scrub oak and on high into the ponderosas and up to the tram water/bathroom spot. The break at the top was needed as I was having a headache and my stomach wasn’t too happy. Re-hydration and food seemed to hit the spot. We opted out of the restaurant stop as storm clouds were building around us.

The stomach issues switched on the second half and the super buttery pastry Eugene ate for lunch wasn’t sitting well on the second half but he motored through and fortunately no cramps. The second half is a quad busting 13 mile down hill! The first part is soft forest trail that is at a runnable grade and then the rocky trail starts. I don’t know how many times we tripped on rocks, only to yell at ourselves for still not being able to pick up our feet. All in good fun but the trail made finding a rhythm difficult. With site of the truck, we picked through the rocks and caught a second wind for the last two miles to run in strong just in time to for a big thunderstorm with lightning and heavy rain. 27 miles. 5:30 moving time and 6:30 total time out with stops.

When we arrived, I saw a police vehicle parked in the lot. I thought he was investigating my truck but turns out he was stranded with a flat tire. I had my reservation flat tire kit so I plugged and aired up his tire as the rain fell and lightning cracked nearby. Hard to believe that he wouldn’t have a proper tire kit patrolling out on gravel roads. We shuttled back to Tijeras in the dark and enjoyed great pizza and beer at IL Vicino’s in Nob Hill, highly recommended.

In the same week, I got in another great long run. I knew another long run would be pushing the mileage volume up way past where I’d been and my knee was acting a little funny. However, Gregory was up near Durango at Vallecito Lake and was planning to do the Emerald Lake run that we’d been talking about all summer. So, I had to hope for the best and join him.

We started from his family ranch of Vallecito Lake. This place is beyond amazing. Hard to believe someone could live on such a piece of land. His grandparents had bought this place back in the 1950’s when I’m sure mountain vacation living in Colorado wasn’t nearly as popular or expensive as it is today. I was grateful that Gregory invited me into the ranch, where we started our run in the morning out the door.

After a couple miles of running on a gravel road we hit the Weiminuche Wilderness boundary, yeah the ranch is that close. From here on out it was single track up through the woods until we hit Emerald Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in Colorado. All the vegetation as still moist and mushrooms were popping up everywhere. I kept scanning the trail sides for any appealing varieties. Mushroom hunting is another odd hobby I’m trying to pick up and monsoon season is prime hunting time. This kept my mind off of any physical discomfort I might be experiencing but despite the high mileage week and Greg’s fast pace, I didn’t feel any discomfort. I didn’t find any tasty shrooms, mostly Slippery Jacks, which are edible but considered pretty horrible.

Emerald Lake is spectacular and fish were jumping all over. A dip was tempting but the elevation kept the temperature too cool for a swim. After a water fill up at the upper end, we bombed back down, navigating over roots and rocks and splashing through mud and streams. We passed a few hikers, spooked dogs and a couple on horseback. The land of many uses! As we snuck out of the wilderness onto the private road, a neighbor drove by. We quickly took his offer of a ride down to the ranch house to have a recovery ritual, chocolate milk and jumping off the bridge into the cold Pine River. Nothing like a cold soak to relieve the aching muscles. Thanks for a great run Greg. 23 miles in about 3.5 hours.

All in all a great week of running. 65 miles, I think my highest mileage week ever and the body felt good.


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