Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running on the Sunshine Coast Trail

You know those runs where you feel like you are flying? Your heart rate is barely pushing 100bpm, you dance around roots and rocks in a way that would make goats envious, the weather is perfect, the views stunning, the company and conversation hilarious...Well, my run on the Sunshine Coast Trail this past weekend resembled nothing of this trail running harmony. Let's just say that Mother Nature kicked my arse in a very un-maternal way.

The plan was to run the last section (section #5) from Saltery Bay to a campground at the west end of Lois Lake. This would be approximately 42km, and I estimated it would take me about 6 hours given the uphill climbing and terrain. I had camped overnight with my girlfriend, Jenni Chancey, who dropped me off at 6am at the trailhead. Plenty of time, or so I thought. I had such high hopes. The guidebook had promised stunning views and big elevation gain and loss - Just what I needed for a good training run so close to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

The view of the Strait of Georgia from the campsite at Saltery Bay at 6am:

Getting ready, take note of the down puffy jacket I have to wear mid-summer in Canada!

At the trailhead, right next to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay:

Saltery Bay:

After about 3km I knew that this run was going to be one of those runs! Lots of the climbing was a decent mix between scrambling and trail pointed straight uphill, not gentle switch backs easing you up the slope. I had my new Black Diamond Z-Series ultra distance trekking poles to train with and get accustomed to, so the hiking was well suited for that purpose. Much of the trail at this stage was through open forest, with occasional glimpses of the sun on the glass-like water of the Georgia Straight. At reasonable intervals there was signposting marking the S.C.T, making the job of navigation easier for a first-timer like myself.

After the forested, coastal section above, I came out on the Saltery Bay FSR. Here I should've taken a left (Hindsight a couple of days later, while sitting on the couch with a beer is a wonderful thing!) I took a right instead as there was no immediate signage. I ran down the FSR and eventually came to a sign that said S.C.T North, the trail that I needed. About halfway up this trail I realised I had already come this way, and that I had looped back on myself. I had to run back to the FSR and up the road to the original intersection. By this stage I was starting to question whether I really needed to run the whole damn 42km, or whether I could call my friend for an early pick-up (yes, I was considering bailing). I was back on the original trail now, and about to start the climb up the the 1300m Mt Trubridge summit.

The sign pointing the way to Mt. Trubrudge:

The day was warming, the humidity rising, and spring was in full swing. All around me insects were busy in a frenzied orgy of mating and sucking nectar from the blossoming salmon berry bushes. The air was vibrating. I started to notice that every time I stopped, I would pick up a swarm of mosquitoes and horseflies. I'm not sure if it was my sweat, or whether they could sense my rising irritation. I looked like a mad-woman flailing my trekking poles around my head to stop the horse-flies from diving down to bite me in the face. All I could think about were the good, old Aussie hats with the dangling corks.

Up the mountain I climbed with my swarm of flies. Any photos I took became a risk. "Is this photo really worth a bite from an angry fly?" I had to ask myself.

The view from the summit of Mt Trubridge: the Salish Sea and Nelson Island:

Not wanting to linger on the summit with my hungry companions, I started to descend on the north side, only to find that winter was still lingering even here on the Sunshine Coast in mid-summer. The snow made navigation tricky as much of the trail was covered. I wasted a lot of time searching for trail markers and flagging, and was grateful every time I located another piece of pink tape hanging off a branch. The snow didn't deter the flies whatsoever, so I made use of the downhill to try and outrun them.

I passed through a swampy section where the snow had melted and formed large pools. Keeping my feet dry was impossible as I squelched through, still moving from marker to marker. The trail turned onto a narrow, rocky chute that looked like a small creek-bed as it had melt water running down it, heading for either Elephant Lake or Lois Lake at the bottom of the mountain.
By this stage I had given up on out-smarting the insects. They had proven themselves the superior species, both in endurance and in intelligence. See below the photos, taken while descending from Mt Trubridge and note the mosquitoes trying to strike at me:

Finally I hit some open trail that seemed to be part of a mountain biking system and I could pick up pace and get into a rhythm. By this stage I had been on the trails 6 hours. I was anxious to finish within 8 hours, but super happy I had not bailed earlier despite the natural disasters that had befallen me. Scratched up, nursing several insect "wounds," feet wet in unavoidably stinky shoes, I arrived at the Highway-FSR intersection where I would meet Jenni for a well deserved pick-up. Although I can reflect on this adventure and laugh now, at the time the frustration I felt at not running the run I had expected was mentally defeating. As trail runners though, this is what we live for and what makes us so strong. We deal with crappy weather, run in knee-deep snow and fight through tear inducing winds. Nothing on the trails is ever monotonous or predictable. That said, I killed a few of those flies and felt pure satisfaction.

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