It all started with a simple question: How can I run from Home (La Honda) to work (Cupertino) on trails? I knew of the connector between Long Ridge OSP and Portola SP but that took me too far south to be a reasonable route. Rumor had it, from the “horse” people in La Honda, that there was another trail route from La Honda to Skyline. Between piecing together vague directions from assorted people, studying Google maps, and taking a few weeks for exploratory trail runs the La Honda loop was born.
I invited a great group of friends to share the run. The start list read as follows: Ron Little, Mike Weston, Georganna Quarles, and Mark Nassi. We met shortly before 8:30AM at my house in La Honda for a 35 mile loop that shoots up to Skyline, traverses the Bay Area Ridge Trail, then drops down through Portola Redwoods SP on the return trip to La Honda. In route were some of the best trail the Bay Area has to offer, most unknown to the mass of bay area trail runners.
With a “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO” from Eli we were off, eastbound along highway 84. We all went through introductions and caught up with old friends and made new. I was so captivated in hearing about Georganna and Mark’s upcoming UTMB 166 km adventure, I completely missed pointing out Ken Kesey’s old cabin, famous for the antics of the Kool-Aid Acid tests and the birth place of the novel One Flew over the Koo-Koo’s nest. Fortunately the loop passed it twice and I’d get a 2nd chance at playing La Honda crazy person tour guide. We made our way through Cuesta, a small neighborhood in La Honda, comprised of small cabins and newly built wooded getaways from the “over the hill” city life. While running along the duck pond we had to slow for a group of 4 ducks waddling around at the roadside.
Eventually we transitioned from streets onto the secluded trails of the La Honda watershed, built and maintained by a group of La Honda residents. Complete with covered aluminum ladders bridging the banks of a trickling creek, we meandered towards Rapley Ranch road on a series of unmarked and almost invisible trails.
A quick and steep climb up provided our first views of upper Cuesta and, if it weren’t so foggy, the distant ocean. There we were greeted by a interesting landmark – the Stanford astronomer’s personal observatory. The “trail” widened to a fire road which gave us plenty of time to catch up with each other. We shared Miwok, Western States, Cascade Crest, Dick Collins, and Oakland marathon stories.
Cresting into the entry point of Russian Ridge OSP we saw Mike and Connie (Mike’s wife) setup and waiting – thankfully they didn’t leave because we were 30 minutes behind schedule :)
We filled up on water and some boiled potatoes while Mike suited up for his 28 mile version of the run – after all he’s running Skyline to Sea in 8 days so this is suppose to be a taper week for him! I must also mention. Mike was awesome because he was wearing a “Franz’s Inaugural Fat Butt, 28 Mile Division” shirt! That was so cool to see!!!
Off we went skirting the ridge on the Bay Area Ridge trail heading south towards Long Ridge OSP. As most of you know by now, there’s a big spring storming hitting the Bay Area. Well, Saturday was the front portion of the storm. No real rain to speak of but LOTS of wind. Portions of Russian Ridge were corridors, funneling the wind right at us easily gusting to 30+ mph. The irony here is that for most of us this was a Miwok training run. And the weather on the hills was so reminiscent of Miwok 2009 (Bolinas Ridge to Pantoll) it was uncanny – Mother Nature was giving us a sweet reminder of years past!
We eventually descended to mile 12’s Skyline OSP parking lot and our 2nd aid station. Jen and the boys were awesome having been waiting 1 hour before our arrival, they still had a smile on their faces when we arrived and happily helped us fuel up. The spread included potatoes, fresh baked cookies, trail mix, soda, Pringles, and pretzels. It was wonderful. I of course had to see the wonderful bugs that Eli had collected while waiting for us, and Max showed me some large rocks – asking me to lift them up. He also gave me a tour of “The Gross” (aka the pit toilet).
With another countdown from Eli we were off on a 12 mile stretch through Skyline OSP, Long Ridge OSP, and onto Portola Redwoods SP. During a rounding of horseshoe lake we encountered upwards of 50 people mulling about with notepads deep in concentration. Some staring into the lake and others and different plants and even wildlife scat. I stopped and asked a friendly woman, “May I ask what you’re doing?” She responded with a smile that a world renown naturalist was there working with them (most of them docents) on developing outdoor activities for kids. How cool is that?!?! Sorry I don’t remember the Naturalist’s name.
Continuing forward we all settled into a groove eventually finding the course’s major decent into Portola Redwoods SP along Ward road and the beautiful Slate Creek trail. One of the most beautiful and rarely used trails in the redwoods the Slate Creek trail was meandering soft downhill single-track lined with abundant plumes of redwood sorrel and groves of 2nd growth redwoods. A majority of the trail holds Slate Creek to its left offering the wonderful sound of a babbling creek amongst our footstrikes. Leor Pantilat captured the beauty of the trail a mere 7 days before our run in a wonderful post with video and pictures. It’s absolute heaven to run through! We ALL had huge grins during this part of the run!
To our surprise we ran into Gary Gellin out by himself sawing downed trees along the trail. What an awesome act! We all stopped and introduced ourselves and thanked him for the gesture. He went on to tell us about a 50k race him and Leor Pantilat are hosting at Bog’s Mountain on October 31st. Rumor is there may even be beer and the finish line! Although Gary offered a 2nd saw to help with tree removal we had to decline as Jen was waiting 4 miles below at the nearby Portola Redwoods ranger station. I just couldn’t make her wait too long after that 1 hour wait back at Skyline OSP.
The wonderful single track continued and the foreshadowing of Gary cutting down trees was the theme for the remainder of the Slate Creek Trail. One after the next we were bushwhacking and branch-dodging downed trees as we approached mile 23, our next rendezvous with Jen and the boys. Alas we made it, discovering an empty parking lot. After waiting a few minutes I decided to run up the road to check the upper parking lot – there was Jen, just arriving. Perfect timing and with WARM chicken noodle soup. She’s awesome! Our time out was around 6 hours at this point (I think). I reviewed the next 7 mile section with Georganna and Mark and they made the decision to call it a day at the 23 mile distance – hitching a ride back in the aid-mobile. We missed you two!!!
Mike, Ron, and I continued on and were quickly greeted by another downed tree! Forward along the Iverson/Pomponio trails we soon reached the prison with its ominous signs and warnings. This time we caught a glimpse of the actual prison through the redwood cover as the Pomponio trail looped around the compound and up the ridge – kind of eerie and Barkley-esk. The soft redwood lined single-track soon gave way to tan oaks and oaks as we ascended the Bear Ridge and Brook trails, then finally to the lush green fields of the nearby Hiker’s Hut.
We all began smelling the final aid station ahead, mile 31 for Ron and I and mile 24 for Mike, at the Sam McDonald ranger station. We breezed past the Jack Brook horse camp on the Towne Fire road and dropped into the parking lot ahead were Jen was again waiting with again, a wonderful spread.
The boys found a HUGE hollowed redwood stump to crawl in that entertained them to no end – especially the secret escape hole at the bottom.
Four miles left and one last park to traverse! We were off on the twisting and turning, up and down, meandering… almost dizzying Forest Loop trail. Finally we hit the fire road and re-grouped for the final steep ascent to highway 84. After passing park housing nestled along the creek we emerged onto highway 84 and were able to stretch the legs a bit. This time I was able to point out the Ken Kesey cabin to which I learned once had a sign in front that said: “No left turn unstoned”.
We closed out the day with some great chili, again by the wonderful Jen, and some beer and wine.
Thanks EVERYONE for coming out: Mike, Ron, Georganna, and Mark.
Thanks Connie & Mike for pulling together the 1st aid station!
Thanks to Jen for her tremendous help in the preparation and delivery of the run support. You made the experience so enjoyable for us! Thanks so much, Love!
I’m hoping to make this a yearly event so come April next year, expect an email :-)