The 2008 Eastside mountain running season was officially kicked off on Sunday, June 1st (although Phil Kiddoo claims it started back in March when he ran to Bishop Pass over a snow pack that firmed up unusually early) with the first in a series of outings led by Sage To Summit employee Jeff Kozak and owner Karen Schwartz.
After meeting at Great Basin Bakery at 7 am to fuel up and supplement packs full of energy gels and electrolyte mix with real food such as pizza bagels and cowgirl cookies we headed up to the Druids trailhead and the start of the day's adventure. Our destination was Bishop Creek Lodge and killer milkshakes (or so I thought), 19 miles and 7000' of climb away via Coyote Ridge.
With the sudden steepness of the ascent everyone settled into their own comfortable paces as we began picking away at the elevation gain awaiting us. Temperatures were already warm down low but cooled quickly as we gained altitude. Despite a beautiful sunny day, above 10,000 feet even the slightest breeze had most of us contemplating the additional warmth of a windbreaker.
The first several miles of the route are sweet single-track that eventually intersects with Coyote Valley Road at about 8,500 feet. Re-grouping in a meadow where the trail crosses Rawson Creek, the conversation was light and full of laughs as water bottles were replenished. Karen's husband, Howie, gave a brief dissertation on the pleasantries of giardia, sending brief spasms of fear through the stomachs of those of us who can't quite be convinced that crystal clear mountain streams could possibly contain natural laxatives. The view across the meadow, with its aspens freshly adorned with vibrant green was spectacular, the White Mountains living up to their name after an unusually prolonged late-spring storm over Memorial Weekend dumped what must have been a few feet of new snow above 12,000 feet.
Continuing upward via the road we crossed our first snowfield at 10,000 feet but, as it turned out, snow was not to be an issue on this day. The recent snowfall had already become a distant memory and, although there was still a significant amount of snow remaining from the winter, the road managed to twist and turn in just the right places avoiding most of it.
Gearing up for the final push to the high point of the route at 11,100 feet, where the road crosses Coyote Ridge just below the summit of Lookout Mountain, we were serenaded by the run's spirit animal, a pack of coyotes howling with the pure joy of being alive (or was that with the primal pangs of hunger?). Speaking of hunger, it was time for us to circle the wagons and form another makeshift aid station. Digging through her pack, Karen commented that she always brings way too much food on these mountain runs. I suggested that maybe she had enough sustenance to do an out-and-back...there was no discernible response.
Cresting over Coyote Ridge we were all stopped dead in our tracks by the view that opened up before us. From Mt Tom to Mt Goode the jagged profile of the Sierra Crest punctuated the skyline like an upside down saw blade. It seemed close enough to reach out and touch, however, instead of attempting this, we all opted for a speedy, two-legged descent down to the lodge, reveling in the fact that our climbing was done for the day. It was on this descent that a very unpleasant 'light bulb moment' transformed the shit-eating grin I had carried around all day into a painful grimace: the milkshakes I had been salivating over and hyping up for hours were, in reality, a tasty item on the Cardinal Village menu...the resort in the next drainage over. A quick check of the BCL menu revealed the ugly truth: no milkshakes to be had. While the others quickly got over this and settled in on satiating substitutes, I pouted (internally of course) over my remaining Shot Bloks, wondering if Clif might ever come out with a vanilla shake-flavored energy chew.
Thanks to those who ventured out on the maiden summer mountain runs voyage. All told it was one of those 'this is why we live on the Eastside' days. When I returned to work at the running store a few days later, Karen relayed to me Howie's assessment of my first experience leading a mountain run: 'It was an awesome day and Jeff did a great job except for his $%@! up on the milkshakes.' I couldn't agree more.