Saturday, April 21, 2018


The Dipsea is one of the oldest trail races in the country. Crazy people started running it, from Mill Valley through Muir Woods, up the mountain, and across to Stinson Beach, but they wouldn't let women race. So in April 1918, a group of renegade women declared the first Women's Dipsea "Hike" and today was the 100th anniversary of it. 

Participants were encouraged to come in costume. The best costume I saw was a woman dressed as a Native American. This is Miwok land. I'm not sure if she raced 8 miles in moccasins.

People come from all over to race in the Dipsea; they have an old-fashioned lottery system. Chris has raced it twice with Adam, and told me about this special event, so I signed up. Because, you know, I like to train for things.

This is Dipsea the dog. As they approached, her person said to her: This is your trail.

The race begins with three long steep sets of steps. 
Enough to discourage all but the most serious hikers and runners.

The whole race isn't that far. At 7.6 miles it's considerably less than the Kaiser half marathon that I've walked twice, or Peak 2 Peak, or the Overnight walk for Suicide Prevention. It's roughly the same distance as the longest day I did in Yosemite High Sierra Camp, from May Lake to Glen Aulin. But it is really steep, and I am not usually good with heights.

As we learned at the luncheon, women were not allowed to participate in runs like Bay to Breakers until the 60s either; they were told it would hard their reproductive organs. The excuses men make...

After the Dipsea steps, the trail gently winds down into Muir Woods National Park and then climbs steeply up out of it. I didn't take any pictures till it leveled out again.

So I trained. And trained. Up the steepest stairs to Diamond Heights and Twin Peaks and across to Glen Canyon, where the red-tailed hawks are nesting. Up and down Bernal Hill. Up to the ridge in the Marin Headlands with Theo. Out to Tennessee Valley beach on a sunny day. It all paid off. I may have been slow (I've always been a slow hiker), but I didn't have much difficulty till after mile 6.

After you climb Cardiac hill, you are afforded fantastic views in every direction, including south to San Francisco.

The Steep Ravine trail to Stinson Beach was much easier than I expected, mostly a gentle descent along the hillside, some of it shaded.

These steps are kind of torturous on the way down. They just keep going and going. They are pretty even though.

And then suddenly, you can see the ocean! And even though it's another mile or so, you can almost hear Eye of the Tiger. My knee was achy, so I resisted the impulse to run.

Although this wasn't a race, it was obvious by their quick sprint straight uphill that most of the participants had done the Dipsea race before and were runners. Some of them never stopped talking: I heard discussions of divorces and romances, boy moms, million dollar real estate, and most tantalizingly, sushi. Typical Mill Valley.

This left a handful of us at the back of the pack after the daunting trio of Dipsea steps. That was fine with me.

Matt was on sweep duty, and thoughtfully stayed just far enough back that he wasn't on my tail (listening, he said, to Bill Maher podcasts) but close enough that if I got lost or stuck or curious how far we had left to go, I could ask. When I did the Kaiser half marathon, SFPD followed me in a squad car around the panhandle, which I did not appreciate.

The first women's race winner completed the Dipsea in 1:18. I have no idea how she did that. The shuttle bus took 45 minutes going back. It took me about 2 hours for the first 4 miles and then I slowed down on the last long set of stairs as my knee began to hurt. (I'm icing it now and getting a massage and a scrub tomorrow. And enjoying all the avocados I can eat.)
Tennessee Valley beach, from an easy training hike

On the shuttle on the drive back to our cars, the women behind me were discussing double Dipseas and quadruple Dipseas. Where you run all the way back. I won't be doing those either. Some of these women were my mom's age. We all agreed how lucky we are to live here, surrounded by nature and hiking trails.

Useful things I've learned from past events and friends: take Advil as you hike (thanks, Jeanette). Shot blocks are a great alternative to Gatorade (thanks, Jill). Rain makes everything green.
Training hike in Tilden near Lake Anza

I considered writing a work-related blog post about training and deadlines, but thought better of it. Declan asked me why I was doing this (me: for the bragging rights? because Chris told me about it?) and then reminded me, because I like hiking.

And once I'd taken the pressure off to finish in less than 3 hours, it was a really spectacular day. Not sure I'd ever go up the Dipsea steps again if I didn't have to. But I do love going for a walk in the woods.

The full course

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

land of the giants

Some people are theists. I'm a treeist.

I should warn you, if you don't love trees, you should go do something fun, like finish your taxes.

But really, you should take a walk in the park. These are from Prairie Creek Redwoods, and the long, growing strip of Redwood National and State Parks.

Redwood forests are humid and filled with ferns. The air is cooler.
 Look up.
But also look down.

 Breathe deep. Enjoy the soft redwood chips on the trail under your feet.

This is the Lady Bird Johnson grove. Dedicated by Tricky Dick.

 Blue sky peeking through the fog, just over the hills at the beach.

Fallen trees support the growth of ferns and new redwoods. The cycle of life in the forest.

 This illuminated tree was magical.

The Corkscrew tree did not disappoint.

It's massive.

You can barely see the tops of coastal redwoods.

The bridge is uneven, but protects the marsh and your boots. Keep wandering, far from the sounds of civilization.

Although California has protected these groves of old growth redwoods, they represent a fraction of the millions of acres of trees that were once here and formed the basis of the timber industry.

You can see why redwood was valuable. Even 20 years ago, you saw a lot more redwood decks and furniture.

 Compared to giants, you may feel small. But never insignificant.

After all, they show their age in their bark.

The trees in the Lady Bird grove have been on this planet a long long time.

Future giant, staking out a claim.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

redwood empire

I've been up in Ashland, visiting my old friends John and Jill Williams and enjoying the usual jam-packed mix of plays, wineries, chocolate, and hikes.

It's always hard to leave Ashland, Oregon's finest Shangri-La, but I loaded up my car with newly acquired vintage clothes, Rogue River Blue, Tempranillo, and marionberry jam and headed south along the coast.

Goodbye, manzanita. Hello, coastal redwoods, the tallest trees in the world.

Over Grants' Pass to California and onto Jedediah Smith State Park, along the Smith River, also named after him.

The weather was drizzly, as it often is, but that's why it's so green. Fallen redwoods provide a fertile base for the forest.

Moss-covered trees, like gloved fingers

Next stop, Battery Point, one of a series of lighthouses along the coast in Crescent City.

It was closed until spring, but the views were spectacular, and the sun came out for a minute.

Crescent City has suffered earthquake and tsunami damage, so the Army Corp of Engineers installed this ugly but functional concrete barrier. Doloes and tetrapods, indeed.

 Heading south, I ran across a herd of Roosevelt elk. There were at least 50, some with huge antlers.

They looked at me with curiosity. They must not be endangered: there were elk burgers on the hotel's dinner menu. (I had a juicy bison burger instead.)

Not all the attractions along the Redwood Highway are natural. Trees of Mystery is an old school roadside attraction. They have a fine collection of Native American crafts in a museum hidden in the gift shop.

Tomorrow: more hiking among the giants, including the Hyperion tree, which stands 380 feet. But only a few people know where it is.

Taking the slow road back to town. Don't forget to breathe.