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July 10, 2008

Alpine Inspiration

"Maybe this is how it's supposed to be ...
Looking forward as we rewind
Looking back is a trap sometimes
Being here is so easy to do - if you want to ..."
- Jack Johnson, "Supposed to Be" (video after post)

I figured it would take something dramatic to snap me out of my Western States blues; fortunately, I didn’t have to wait very long to find it.

Our family spent last week on vacation at our usual stomping ground in the Sierra Nevadas: Lake Alpine, elevation 7300’, population, um … the three dudes who work at the lodge, plus however many folks happen to be at the local campgrounds. It’s our favorite place to escape for a little hakuna matata each summer.

The trip was purposely scheduled immediately following Western States. My original plan was to drink a lot of wine, eat a lot of cookies and burgers, listen to a lot of Jack Johnson music, and take a lot of naps. All this indulgence would be guilt-free, of course, since I had just run 100 miles. It had all the makings of the ultimate post-race recovery program.

Of course, there was one little problem: the 100-mile thing never happened.

Despite the race cancellation, we never thought twice about the vacation plan; the only thing that changed was my demeanor going into the week. Instead of looking forward to unlimited rest & relaxation, all I could think about while packing was, what the heck am I going to do now? Needless to say, I was more than a little bummed out – as you read about in last week’s post.

I had already lost my race, so I was stubbornly determined to not lose my vacation as well. I resolved to kick back and relax just as much on the trip as I had planned on doing all along – sure, it would sabotage my training, but at the time, I didn’t feel like I had anything to train for anyway. It was only as an afterthought that I begrudgingly shoved a pair of trail shoes under my car seat before we headed to the hills.

The first several days went exactly as planned. We spent long hours at the pool or the lake, did some kayaking, and read books while sitting in lounge chairs. Training-wise, I still didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I honestly didn’t care. In fact, one afternoon on the lake, I discovered the perfect way to make my race-induced worries go away:

If you ever feel the need to clear your head from nagging preoccupations, I recommend taking a handful of 20-foot cliff jumps into a mountain lake. There’s nothing like staring down from a high precipice to push all other concerns aside for a while. I found the whole thing quite gratifying.

Finally, on the last day of our trip, I decided to lace up my shoes and take in some sights around the lake. Perhaps I’d find some inspiration to snap me out of my doldrums.

The trails around Lake Alpine are your garden-variety fare for the Sierras: rocky outcroppings, large trees, technical footing in large doses. In fact …

Sometimes, it’s hard to see exactly where the trail goes. But thankfully, whenever a trail fades away into of a mass of boulders, it’s usually easy to pick up again once you figure out a way to scramble up and over to the other side.

Did I say that I was looking for inspiration on this run? This seemed like an appropriate sign to follow.

These trails may offer you inspiration, but they certainly make you work for it. After leaving the tree line in this picture, my “run” essentially became a long hike up the rocky slope, with small bits of jogging thrown in here and there just so I could still call myself a runner.

The final approach to Inspiration Point is a narrow trail along the spine of the rock formation that stands prominently above the lake.

Once you get there, you can look down into the neighboring valley, and some nearby reservoirs that are connected in a hydroelectric network with Lake Alpine via the Stanislaus River.

Lake Alpine, seen from Inspiration Point. After 90 minutes of running (well … mostly running), this is where I finally took a few minutes to rest, take in the view, and enjoy the vast beauty all around me. The 360-degree vista was simply breathtaking - I wish I had better words to describe it. The whole scene was very, uh …. what’s the word I’m looking for? … inspirational.

A self-photo from the top, in case you didn’t believe me about growing the beard. I thought it was fairly impressive for only 5 days of growth. If I ever get selected for Survivor: Lake Alpine, I think I could get pretty shaggy.

This is what the rocky shelf looks like from lake level. I took this picture following the run, after my wife and son claimed they couldn’t see me standing on top from their fishing boat on the water. I mean, I was even waving my arms and everything. Whatever.

After descending from the point, I passed this scene in the forest, which kind of cracked me up:

You might need to enlarge to see it – but the sign on the left says “bearing tree”, and gives the coordinates of a nearby tree that has been identified as one that has been scraped, debarked, or otherwise marked by bears.

So here’s my question: do you really need that itty bitty sign on the left to tell you that the tree straight ahead has been torn apart by some bear? I don’t think it takes any special detective training to figure that one out.

I was laughing to myself after passing the bearing tree, and for the rest of the run, a very simple, very familiar feeling came over me: it was joy. I just felt happy to be among these trees, these rocks, and these trails. It was like the feeling you get when you stumble across something that was previously lost – when you didn’t quite realize that particular thing was missing, but then become very glad that you found it.

What I almost lost was this basic truth: I absolutely love trail running. Whether it’s in preparation for an epic race, or just to find sanctuary from the crazy world for a couple of hours, it’s an opportunity I’m thankful to have every time I lace up my shoes. And by the end of the run, I had found my inspiration again. All I had to do was follow the signs.

Finally, on a related topic: I’m signing up today for the Headlands Hundred on August 9th. Now that I’ve got all this inspiration again, I figured I should find some place to use it.

Jack Johnson, "Supposed to Be" (click to play):


craig 7/9/08, 11:37 PM  

Sheer joy. There's nothing better. Seems like it tends to find us rather than the other way around. Glad you are refocused and will look forward to Headlands.

Makita 7/9/08, 11:50 PM  

Wonderful! I'm so glad you found yourself - nature has a way of helping in that regard. :D

Darrell 7/10/08, 12:04 AM  

Man, I was really beginning to get all melancholy for you. A good romp through the woods seems to be good medicine, for sure. The HH should fit the bill.

We'd all vote you fan favorite on Survivor: Lake Alpine.

Tri to Be Funny 7/10/08, 6:57 AM  

The pics were stunning and your post was equally awe-inspiring. We so often forget that we run for the joy of it, not simply because there's a race at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for sharing!

Deene 7/10/08, 7:30 AM  

it's nature therapy. you share my same feelings about trail running.
glad to hear you are back in the game.

stronger 7/10/08, 7:58 AM  

So glad you found your inspiration...even if it took a sign to point you there. It's not the race you had hoped for, but I suppose the name of the race doesn't really matter in the end.

21stCenturyMom 7/10/08, 9:02 AM  

Yay!!! Donald got his mojo back. 3 Cheers! Thanks for sharing - those are great pictures and the whole post was very... what's the word I'm looking for.... inspriational.

Backofpack 7/10/08, 9:24 AM  

Way to get back on the horse Donald! I'm glad you found your joy again and found a race that works and got to have your fabulous, decadent, beard growing vacation too!

209Mike 7/10/08, 9:52 AM  

I forgot what the original intention of your post was, but now I...(1) want to go to the mountains (2) want to jump off rocks into a lake, (3) want to do some trail running, (4) want to do some more races and (5) want to hear some more Seether. Entertaining as usual. Btw, anytime I attempt to grow a beard and it doesn't look like Cliff Clavin's, it's a winner.

Thomas 7/10/08, 11:07 AM  

I'm very happy to hear that you managed to rediscover your enthusiasm, and that you've signed up for another 100, just as you should.

Annette 7/10/08, 4:50 PM  

It looks like a great place for a vacation and recharging your running batteries!

What is it about guys and not shaving while on vacation? What if the ladies did the same? ;)

As for your next venture. . . good luck! Sounds like a great idea.

triguyjt 7/10/08, 8:26 PM  

that of course was the reason why you still went ahead and had the vacation...

care free...being a kid..jumping into lakes..and taking a carefree run up to inspiration point..

seems like it was part of a bigger plan, if i dont mind saying so...

so...is headlands 100 a real tough course??and will the beard be making the trip too??

Rainmaker 7/10/08, 9:33 PM  

Great photos! And awesome to see you're signed up for a 100-miler race.

Holy crapoli - 17,720' of climbing. Yikes!

But 19 aide stations...so much food potential!

Anne 7/11/08, 5:26 AM  

What an excellent way to get back in the mood...and the game. Beautiful photos; impressive beard start. Fits the rugged scenery perfectly.

robtherunner 7/11/08, 8:22 AM  

Looks like beautiful country up there. Glad to hear that you discovered the inspiration you were looking for and signed up for HH as well.

pilotboywa 7/12/08, 12:28 PM  

It's pretty up in the mountains. I wish I had some close to me. Thanks for the music. I love some good music. Good luck at the Headlands Hundred.

keith 7/12/08, 9:11 PM  

Glad you found a race to put all your hard work into. So great that you got away to find your inspiration. Awesome...Keep on rockin'!

David 7/13/08, 5:19 PM  

...and you almost didn't throw those trail runners under your seat...

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