The alarm is set for 4:40 a.m. I wake at 4:36. Someone please explain how this works. How does my brain, in sleeping mode, know what time it is and when to wake up, gladly avoiding bothersome iPhone noise? Tell me!
In any event, I greet the day (although it’s dark as night) with the familiar, happy nervousness before any big run. Coffee and my new favorite Muesli bread are quickly consumed. Then Tiger brings me to the trail head of Mount Baldy. It’s so early that the much-despised L.A. traffic is no issue. The road is mine.
My new running friend Andy has convinced me to run up this mountain, although I didn’t really need convincing. I think he senses that I like this stuff. Don’t ask me why. It’s some sort of addiction. Harmless, mostly.
The route is quite simple: 6 miles, straight up, on a narrow trail. We start at 4100 feet (1250 meters) and plan to go to over 10,000 feet (3000 meters). That’s a 1.1 mile elevation gain, somewhat challenging for a guy used to sea level.
Our morning chatter stops, 26 minutes into the run. Frankly, the increasingly rare oxygen can be better used – by breathing. By that time we are on the tricky mix of gravel, sand and rocks that is the single-file trail. Hardcore switchbacks and an ever steeper grade force us to walk often. Quietly we make our way up the unforgiving mountain, stopping only for water and brief chats with hikers. As the sun climbs the temperature rises. But as we, too, are climbing rapidly, it never feels hot. My bald, well-sunblocked noggin is dripping, of course; what else is new?
The top is a sandy plateau, which we have to ourselves. We take in the striking views in every direction. I realize again why these epic runs are best shared; the high-five and shared jubilation on the top are the things that make these adventures real. You share it, before turning around and storming down again.
The downhill feels like a free fall. Like gravity urging us back down. Like a fast-paced game, as Andy says: full focus required. The young fellow takes the lead here. He’s smaller, lighter, and fearless. After the 2:15 uphill battle we make it down in about an hour. I’d say the risks we took were acceptable. (Seriously, mom.)
That’s how I spent the last morning of this spring. Is there a better way to waste a perfectly good June day?