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July 25, 2006

Vacation Report (Part 1)

Did I forget to turn off the oven when I left? Because it’s ungodly hot around here. It feels like we somehow took a wrong turn on the way home and ended up in Arizona.

I’m somewhat later than I expected in providing this post. It’s a classic case of needing a rest day from the vacation: after a long, busy, exhausting week, I was slow to jump right back into the swing of things. Plus, I had eight hours of Tour de France coverage on TiVo to catch up with, not to mention five episodes of PTI and week 1 of the World Series of Darts (what – you thought I’d stop being a sports geek?) But better late than never, so here’s the vacation report.

Here is the tent cabin where we slept at Lake Alpine:

Given my frequent exaltation of the great outdoors, I have a confession to make: I hate roughing it. I love spending day after day in the wilderness, but at night I always yearn for a comfortable bed, shelter from the bugs, a hot shower, and high-speed Internet access. I’m basically a tough-on-the-exterior guy with a soft chewy center – you know, kind of like a Tootsie Pop.

So the tent cabins were a nice compromise. It was rugged enough to convince the kids that we were really camping, but gave us some elevation off the ground, with an overhead light and mattresses for our sleeping bags (and my ergonomically contoured pillow – have I mentioned I don’t like roughing it?). It also provided nice shelter during the electrical storm that tore across the lake one evening.

The first place I ran was on the Lakeshore Trail around Lake Alpine. It’s paved for about ¾ of a mile, and single track for the remainder. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a trail map to be found, so I didn’t have much idea where I was going, other than knowing the trail would eventually circumnavigate the lake.

So when I came across a sign inscribed with the words “Inspiration Point” and an arrow pointing perpendicular to my path, I was faced with a decision: remain on the path where I knew I could stay oriented, or diverge onto the unknown path.

You know what I decided. Really - with that kind of name, who could resist?

The path to Inspiration Point was probably less than two miles, but it was very rugged and rocky, with difficult footing and steep uphill slopes (more on this later). I needed a couple of walking breaks to get there, but it was worth the effort. Here is the rock I eventually stood atop:

And here is the view of the lake from Inspiration Point:

Given that the elevation of the lake is 7400’, I would estimate that Inspiration Point is close to 8000’ – but remember, I’m not a GPS guy, and half the time I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. So let’s just say it was noticeably higher than 7400’.

On my return to the Lakeshore Trail, I still had to walk many of the downhill sections because of the tricky footing. As I continued around the trail, I remembered something which periodically slips my mind: that locations like this are where real trail running takes place.

Monterey County has many miles of beautiful trails – and I’ve written quite a bit about them. We have plenty of hills and oak forests and stream crossings and a fair amount of wildlife to keep things interesting. But compared to the trails at high elevations, the area where I live is like Double-A minor league baseball, with the mountains representing the major leagues.

In order to complete my loop of the lake, I constantly had to traverse loose, rocky terrain, climb over and under massive fallen trees, scramble up the faces of enormous granite formations, and dance across boulders at river crossings. I also got unnerved by a couple of signs warning me that I was in bear country, and by seeing several trees that bears had “debarked” to mark their territory.

It seemed like there was never a moment when I could diminish my focus on the footing or the peripheral surroundings. In some places it was a challenge to simply stay upright. Throw in the fact that all of this exertion is taking place with the oxygen flow meter turned down by about 25%, and suddenly I felt like I had been called up to the big leagues, taking my first at-bat against Roger Clemens.

I’ve run in the mountains of Colorado and California enough times to be familiar with the feeling, but it never ceases to be awe-inspiring. So to Stronger, Deene, or any other mountain runners out there: I hope you realize how fortunate you are to train where you do. Those mountain pathways are the big-league ballparks of trail running. Whenever I'm running there, I never want to stop - I just want to run forever.

Eventually I made it around the lake and back to camp, and my high-altitude adventure quickly took a back seat to the rest of the family activities.

My son and older daughter both went fishing on the lake with Mom and Grandpa (and not with Dad. I’ve never liked fishing – but that’s a whole separate post). Last summer, my son caught a 4.5-lb trout in this lake. He had his picture taken at the lodge, and it was still hanging there for us to see last week. So this year he goes out and somehow manages to land a 5.5-lb trout – the thing was nearly two feet long, and he could barely haul it in the boat. They took his picture at the lodge again, and put it on the same wall as last year’s photo. The kid’s becoming a minor celebrity up there. Someday he could probably become a sportfishing guide on Lake Alpine.

Here’s the strange part: his great-grandfather fished on this lake for 30 years, and never caught anything larger than 4 pounds. His grandfather has fished there nearly as long, and never caught anything that big. But the kid has gone up there two straight years and managed to land a monster, once-in-a-lifetime fish each time. And he has no idea how unlikely events like that are. He’s like the Forrest Gump of trout fishing.

His younger sister wasn’t to be outdone, however, and managed to take in the largest haul of fish one afternoon in the boat. So they both had something to brag about afterwards.

We also took kayaks out to the rocky island in the middle of the lake to do some exploring, and spent a lot of time splashing on the shore. In the evenings we did the whole campfire thing with burgers and s’mores, and taught the kids how to play Dominoes. The family spent a lot of time in close proximity, and nobody drove anyone else crazy. In other words, it was about all we could ask for.

Later in the week, I ran in another beautifully memorable setting - but this is a long enough post for today, and I don't want to fall any further behind on my TiVo. I’ll continue the story in a future post.


olga 7/25/06, 12:23 PM  

You are back! I am also a softy when it comes to night sleep - tents been forgotten a couple of years ago. I am getting old:)
Mountains, aww...gotta love this place! Lucky you, and yours, to vacation there!

stronger 7/25/06, 12:27 PM  

I second the roughin' it/tent sleeping. I only need to do it once every 5yrs to remind myself how much I dislike sleeping in a tent. Next trip- pack the crew and head to CO. I'll volunteer my mom as a Bed & Breakfast- she loves that kinda thing.

backofpack 7/25/06, 12:32 PM  

Welcome back Donald! Sounds like a wonderful vacation and a beautiful location. Tent campings okay - but I'd definitely prefer your tent cabin. We stayed in a yurt once in Oregon - that was fun too!

Cliff 7/25/06, 12:55 PM  

Roughing it is the fun part.

I am glad u have a blast with your family. Your son caught a really big fish.

Dart is not a sport :)

Darrell 7/25/06, 1:17 PM  

Tivo'ing the TDF, I totally get that, but darts, surely you jest.

I actually like tent camping. Of course an air mattress is always nice, but your tent cabin option looks very inviting.

I'm also right there with you on the fishing thing. There are only so many 3 to 6 inches bluegills to be caught before its BORING! Now if I had caught the fish your son got, it may be a whole different story. Good for him.

Welcome back and thanks for sharing the pictures. I'm sure it was beautiful.

Thanks to for the literay lesson. I've always heard that saying about the albatross and now I know where it come from.

Susan 7/25/06, 1:57 PM  

If it weren't for the spelling b thing, I'd totally think you were joshing on the darts. Welcome home and thanks for sharing your vacation with us.

Robb 7/25/06, 2:54 PM  

Sounds like this break away has recharged you Donald. Nice to have you back and thanks for sharing the highlights. That's a beautiful place.

Anne 7/25/06, 5:43 PM  

Welcome back, Donald. It does sound like an ideal family vacation, for you and the Fish Whisperer.

angie's pink fuzzy 7/25/06, 8:32 PM  

mmm sounds nice.

mountain running, that's what it's all about!

Thomas 7/26/06, 3:25 AM  

Welocme back, looks like you had fun. I know what you mean about roughing it, I'm 20 years too old for that kind of thing nowadays.

The picture from Inspiration Point reminds me of the view over Caragh Lake from the Devil's elbow - but that's only three miles from my house, lucky me.

robtherunner 7/26/06, 6:59 AM  

What a beautiful looking lake, and you're right, that definitely looks like the major leagues of trail running. The last half of the CCC 100 miler is similar to that with a lot of trails with great views of alpine lakes just like that one.

Welcome back!

Deene 7/26/06, 9:46 AM  

welcome back! you ran in some beautiful territory, there's no place like the mountains. Congrats to your son on the big fishes. I took my niece out fishing and she caught her first two fishes ever - totally awesome to watch.

TriSaraTops 7/26/06, 7:47 PM  

Sounds wonderful--and the pics are beautiful, too! I'm with ya--my hubby and I love backpacking, but I think about 3 days without some kind of a shower is all I can take before going nutty....and boy is that first night back in a real bed sooooo nice! :)

matt 7/27/06, 12:45 AM  

donald, you must have been pulling your hair out all week just wondering what was happening in the WS of Darts. i mean, how did you manage to stay focused on the family? i love that you are such a sports geek.

i love the fishing stories. it sounds like you had the kind of memories that will keep you going when you are older. glad to hear it and glad to have you back.

matt 7/27/06, 9:07 AM  

okay, donald...i heard some excerpts from the WC of Darts on the radio this morning.

how do i get TiVo?

is it true that there is a "bad boy" dart player that taunts his opponents while they toss their darts? that is just too funny!

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