In Which Your Hiking Writer Finally Discovers Trail Running Is Kind Of Just Fast Hiking
Plus - noise in National Parks; how California got its state flower; a new site to help you book sold-out campsites; off-trail adventures; trails to beat June Gloom and MORE!
Note: Just in case you didn’t see it, last week’s Plant Selfie Tour of the Santa Monica Mountains was unlocked for all subscribers after being a paid-exclusive. Enjoy!
Two weeks ago, I flew to Las Vegas and then drove just east of Zion National Park for my very first Ragnar trail relay.
For those that don’t know, a Ragnar consists of a team (in this case eight people, or four if you are insane), who then each run three legs of a course over 24 hours. In case you were wondering, when I said “yes” to doing this Ragnar, I did not fully understand this setup, and was primarily just trying to say “yes” to more things. The last time my brain was in this mode, I ended up taking a personality test in the headquarters of a very litigious religion/cult/tax scam where someone sat behind a desk with a weird line graph that said I was depressed and critical.
ANYWAY, back to Ragnar.
I do run—primarily so that I can feel better about enjoying things like beer and baked goods—but this relay (they take pains to not call it a race) would be the longest individual distance I had ever run before (the Red Loop at around 8 miles) as well as the most consecutive miles I would have run in a 24-hour period (about 16 miles). In addition to these distance milestones, this would also be the first time I’d really done proper trail running and the first time I’d run at night with a headlamp. Also, certainly the first time I would have ever gone for a run at 2 in the morning. So yeah, a lot of firsts, and a lot of opportunities to be a little nervous about it.
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My cycle of runs started out with the toughest, longest loop and then went in descending difficulty down to the easiest, and this was a great way to do it. The first few miles of that Red Loop were absolutely brutal—a jeep track that basically went straight up steep hills before dropping all the way back down into muddy gullies before doing it all again. So, on these sections, I didn’t run. I hiked.
I was not alone.
But when I finally got to the summit of that route, I locked back into my rhythm and basically cruised my way down the rest of the trail. And you know what? For as many miles as I’ve done on roads and through neighborhoods, I think on this section of trail I finally got close to feeling that “runner’s high” that runners have been telling me about for probably 20 years.
Having to watch the eroded trail for footing while keeping speed and still looking up to enjoy the breathtaking scenery at sunset did give my brain a lot more to do than just wonder why the heck I was doing this. I did, of course, find time to ID and rub great basin sagebrush as I was running past it, though. Because I’m still me and if there’s a sage or sagebrush around I’m going to smell it.
So, all things considered—and all knee joints in slow but steady recovery, I’ll remember this as the trip that I learned that I might actually enjoy proper trail running, which really probably shouldn’t have taken me this long to figure out.
The Big Story
Something to talk about
Colorado River Deal One Step Closer
If you’ve been reading the newsletter for a while, you know about the big ol’ cluster that is the Colorado River water-sharing deal. Earlier this week, the “Lower Basin” states of California, Arizona, and Nevada reached a tentative framework for an agreement with the Biden administration that will have them voluntarily reducing their use of the river water by about 13% in exchange for some sweet, sweet federal funds.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and this new agreement does not change the fact that the region is still in a megadrought and will likely have to make some very tough decisions about agriculture and sprawl in the near future, but it does avert a more drastic federal solution that was being threatened.
This quote from Arizona’s commissioner to the talks wraps up the tenuousness of this milestone in a truly wonderful bureaucratic way:
“It is important to note that this is not an agreement, this is an agreement to submit a proposal and an agreement to the terms of that proposal to be analyzed by the federal government … That is a really critical point for everyone to understand.”
via Washington Post.
Good stuff from the Modern Hiker site
May Gray to June Gloom
If you’re living in Southern California, this is the time of the year known as “May Gray,” “June Gloom,” and in certain years where it stretches out later into the summer, “No Sky July” and “Fogust” (my personal favorite). For those who are used to soaking up the sun most of the rest of the year, waking up to a thick layer of low clouds can be an instant motivation-killer—especially if you’re new to the area.
BUT—hikers know a secret: this layer of gray is usually a very low layer of clouds, and you can still find that early morning sun if you head a bit further inland OR climb up in elevation. On the site I’ve got 5 great hikes you can take to get above the gray, if that’s your thing. Alternately, just enjoy the cloud cover, too! It’s keeping those super sweaty days away (for now) …
Pick Mount Pickens
Sometimes when you’re looking for a new trail to hike, you want to go old school. And by that I mean just rolling out a map, looking around, and asking yourself, “hey I wonder if there’s a trail there.” In this case, our writer Andrew Shults did that (albeit with a digital map) and found himself bushwhacking to a San Gabriels summit he had all to himself.
I had a chance to chat with the fine folks at HowStuffWorks recently about the Hollywood Sign’s 100th birthday (it doesn’t look a day over 45 to me). It was a very fun conversation, and I wove in some deep thoughts about the Sign as well as some interesting history and some good places to see the landmark without irritating the folks who live nearby. You can read the full story on HowStuffWorks!
Related: 16 Ways to See the Hollywood Sign
Hey, you know I wrote some books, right?
You can pick up any one of my three books on Amazon or find them at a local bookstore via Bookshop … but you can also buy two of the books directly from me AND get them signed and personalized!
I just got a new shipment of ‘Day Hiking Los Angeles’ and ‘Discovering Griffith Park,’ and they are ready to be written on and popped in the mail:
Keep Haleakala Quiet
Look, I get it. You probably don’t want to spend your free time translating government PDFs with tiny fonts into normal human English, but that’s what I’m here for. Because if you want to stay on top of policy changes for parks and national forests, you’ve got to be willing to navigate this stuff … and you’ve got to be willing to spend a few minutes of your day to leave some public comments when you can.
Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park is currently accepting public comment for a new policy about aircraft tours over the park—and before you jump to conclusions, the changes in the policy are actually good.
Surprise, surprise, they found that people REALLY DON’T LIKE HEARING HELICOPTERS buzzing by when they’re hiking, so the new aircraft policy limits the hours helicopters can fly, limits the areas they can fly in (none in the crater!), prioritizes Native Hawaiian ceremonies with the ability to ban all flights on certain days, reduces the number of tours and operating hours, and requires all aircraft to upgrade their equipment with further sound reducing technologies.
Head to the NPS site to leave a comment in favor of this new policy from now through June 20, 2023. And if you also want to read all the ATMP and EA and other acronymic documents, you can do that there, too.
Gadgets, Technology, and Hype
Sometimes one of the most stressful parts of planning a camping trip is finding the actual campsite you want to stay in—especially if you’re hopeful itinerary takes you to anywhere that anyone else has ever heard of before. The new site CampScanner aims to take some of that work off your plate, by scanning over 12,000 campgrounds and letting you put in some hoped-for dates. If a cancellation comes up, you’ll be notified and can book. This service does require an annual subscription, which comes in different tiers and allows you to create more alerts.
Small But Mighty
Although the superbloom coverage in the southwest tended to focus on the photogenic coverage of hills covered in poppies and lupines and goldfields … but the extra water the West Coast got this year also allowed tons of other, more rare plants to pop back into the consciousness. Case in point—the Santa Ynez groundstar, which was recently rediscovered on the Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County. This restricted area also happens to be the only place on earth this plant grows.
These tiny flowers—smaller than the size of a penny—were found growing on an area 500 feet by 500 feet. In announcing the rediscovery, scientists noted that the groundstar was one of the roughly 34% of plants in the United States that are at risk of extinction due to habitat destruction, climate change, or invasive species.
Via Los Angeles Times.
One More Thing
Oh yeah, before I go …
If you’re like me, then you may navigate to Wikipedia to click on a link, then look up at the clock to see that a full day has passed and you are now deep into an article on the Hapsburg Monarchists without really understanding how all that happened. What I’m saying is, if you love meandering down pathways of useless knowledge minutia, you will enjoy this primer on how the California poppy became California’s state flower. The tale involves different interest groups, lots of petitions, watercolor paintings, and a pen with a bald eagle feather quill.
Until next time,
I’ve enjoyed getting to know your newsletter and sharing it with my daughter who lives and hikes in LA. If you want to get into trail running, I hope you will check out my book, The Trail Runner’s Companion. Now I live in high-altitude Colorado, and “running“ always involves a lot of hiking!