Sunday mornings haven't been easy like, well, you know, lately but they sure have been adventurous and fun. The concept of run'n'bag now has a new dimension: run'n'hug'n'bag, at least when trees are involved (I've never tried to wrap my arms around a peak's summit rock and give it a big squeeze, but maybe...and if I could just meet some mountain mama hottie there would definitely be some huggin' in high places). Old trees, like people, deserve a big hug just by virtue of ignoring life's swan song for so damn long and the Bristlecone Pine National Forest is full of exceptionally old trees.
Last Sunday The Redman (Brannon Forrester) and Tumbleweed (me) spent the morning rising in bipedal fashion off the Owens Valley floor to pay respects to the Patriarch, the largest known Bristlecone Pine, only to spend the first half of the afternoon retracing our steps in a quad-busting descent back to where we had started. We had so much fun (pain and pleasure really can go hand in hand) that we decided to do it all over again yesterday, but with another tree in mind: the Methuselah, the oldest known Bristlecone.
Once again sunrise alpenglow on the Sierra crest found us standing in shadow at 6:15 am where the pavement ends and the fun begins on Silver Canyon Rd above Laws. This time however there was no lolligagging casual start with frequent walking breaks on the climb up to White Mtn Rd as the Redman announced that he was "gonna go for it."
"Awww hell," I thought to myself. I had run 22 hilly miles the day before and was planning to "tak'er easy." Before I could find my rhythm The Redman was practically out of sight and I spent the next 10 miles trying desperately to keep him in sight. Two and a half hours later I was standing at 10,400' at the road junction, having arrived a few minutes after the Redman, in complete surprise; thirty minutes faster than last week and feeling good. You just never know when you're gonna wake up and feel the power.
Three miles later, heading south this time along White Mtn Rd, we hit the pavement at Shulman Grove. The last time I visited this grove was over 20 years ago and my memory of the interpretive trail did not include it being a 4.25 mile loop...because it wasn't built yet. The Methuselah Marathon as I had envisioned the day's mileage being was about to become the Methuselah 50K; a name with not quite the same roll-off-your-tongue-ring to it, but who's gonna pass up 4 miles of incredible singletrack through some of the most amazingly gnarled and wind-sculpted trees on the planet backdropped by sweet views into Deep Springs Valley and Nevada points further east? Not us. Besides we still had to search for the elusive, unmarked Methuselah. Why unmarked you ask? Because certain representatives of the universe-revolves-around-me human species whose members live to be, with a little luck, a whopping 100 years would definitely feel the self-important need to carve their intials in several thousand year old wood.
The 4+ mile loop took us a solid 1 1/2 hours. It is nearly impossible to move fast amongst such ancient beauty. Being early in the season and with a fair amount of snow still lurking in shaded areas we had the loop to ourselves making the experience that much more special. If we are receptive to learning anything from these trees it's that time IS on our side if we can simply let go and go with the flow of ageing and experience, allowing these two forces to shape us as they please, like wind, water, sun and aridity acting on wood to create beautiful Bristlecone art. As John Lennon sang, there's "nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be" and "nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time." It's easy. All you need is love...and for us trail runners an adventurous run now and again.
Whether our eyes actually cast upon the oldest of the old we will never know. Nor does it really matter. We humans love to categorize, compartmentalize, analyze, rank and just generally transform the chaotic variables of our world into neat, right-angled and numbered order. To the mysterious forces of the universe it makes no difference. A Bristlecone by any other age is just as beautiful.