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March 16, 2011 / elodie kaye

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail

I ran Rattlesnake last weekend with Greg and Scarlet who were visiting from Minnesota, and LA, respectively.  This trail is interesting in that it starts out very green with hops back and forth across Mission Creek, then climbs into dry, loose rock and chaparral, quite exposed to the sun, then goes back into a well-watered, wooded section with a waterfall, virtually all of it climbing up.  It comes to a rugged conclusion at a road with a spectacular view of Santa Barbara’s harbour, the wide blue ocean, and the channel islands offshore.  You earn the view with sweat by coming up the trail, or take a roundabout drive up Gibraltar Rd.

Very little of this trail is runnable for me, but the upper part is especially steep and rocky; it would be tough even for an elite.  Near the top, Scarlet and I looked at each other as we stepped aside for a woman hiking at a brisk clip.  She had a smooth blonde bob, a smart, red hoodie, tailored black bermuda shorts, and a handbag slung over her shoulder.  Amid the multitude of subtly varied shades of green, muted yellow and orange, her red lipstick was startling and vivid, painfully precise.  I thought she might have walked down a short way from the road to take in a little of the trail and was returning to her car at the top.

We took our time scrambling up, savoured our accomplishment at the overlook and began our descent.  Red Lipstick Lady passed us again!  This time we noticed her hiking boots, and serious calves.  Scarlet and I exchanged significant glances; this Lady Who Lunches is a regular on these trails.

About halfway down we were able to run the smoother sections, thrilling in exhilarating speed after hiking for most of the day.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve solidified the habit of taking short, quick strides and leaning slightly forward when going down.  The steepest slopes still intimidate me, but I’m learning.  What I haven’t quite mastered is the technique of smoothly throttling my speed, so I don’t lose too much momentum when I go around or over obstacles.  This requires adjusting both stride rate and length, while choosing the best path to accommodate those adjustments, and of course scanning ahead to plan for what’s coming.  My puny brain has barely enough computational capacity for all this.  We were cruising down a series of switchbacks with just enough rocks to make it fun, without being a complete death trap, when I used a small round stone to pivot and it rolled out of its slot.  Boom!

I went down headlong onto another cluster of rocks farther down.  So much for smooth momentum.  I couldn’t quite get my left shoulder turned fast enough — jammed a volleyball-sized stone into my left pectoral muscle, and my left palm.  I also whacked my left leg on a smaller rock just below the knee at the top of the shin.  I had scrapes from knees to shoulder.  The innocuous one on my palm was particularly annoying.  The damn thing dripped blood on my shorts the rest of the way down.

That was pretty much the extent of it*, there were no stones at my knees or my face.  After walking for a while, I decided the banged up leg was going to get an impressive bruise and nothing more.  I sort of wanted to run again, to get past the face plant but I think my friends worried that inviting more adventure would involve carrying me back to the trailhead.

Our journey wasn’t quite concluded without one more encounter though.  Another blonde came up the trail: shoulder-length locks like cotton candy, this time on a man about the same age as Red Lipstick Lady, perhaps in their fifties.  He wore a black, pinstriped, dress shirt, open at the collar, and black trousers with a gold-buckled belt.  Behind him his companion carried a timid dachshund in her arms like an infant.  We attributed the LA personalities to Scarlet.

*Upon medical examination two days after the crash, it turns out I was right about the shin, but I also fractured a rib, and my left wrist.  Neither of these is critical for running however; I consider the whole excursion a win.



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  1. gpetitto / Mar 17 2011 11:18 am

    My puny brain has barely enough computational capacity for all this.

    HARDLY! More like your brain is close to figuring out a way to quantum tunnel directly through the mountain and is feeling betrayed by your pedestrian attempts to cruise the surface.

    Your fall was shockingly quick, yet graceful. One second you were running and in the next you were curled around a bunch of rocks! I am grateful you weren’t more seriously injured. Surely I would have carried you down and to a hospital if it had come to that. Either that or I would’ve sprinted down at breakneck speeds to find the paramedics and chase them back up the trail. So, you have a fractured wrist too? This is news to me!

    All in all it was a wonderful outing. It was great fun to share the adventure with you along with the others from previous days.

    • elodie kaye / Mar 17 2011 11:45 am

      The whole weekend was tremendous fun, wasn’t it? When are you coming back? And bring Sarah this time!

      I probably forgot about the wrist earlier because I don’t need it to run. Seriously though, it looks like cycling or swimming will be just as painful, so I may as well run.

      • gpetitto / Mar 17 2011 1:22 pm

        The whole weekend was tremendous fun! Next time I’ll bring Sarah, even if I have to sedate her and put her in a suitcase. 😉

        Two cracked bones from one fall, wow, you really got your money’s worth with that one!

  2. Geoff Cordner / Mar 18 2011 10:11 pm

    Ouch. You banged it up pretty good. Cracked ribs and fractured wrist?! This looks like a beautiful trail, though. Is there really all that water the pictures you’ve linked to show? I’m so used to desert; water does not compute.

    How long do you reckon before you’re sufficiently healed? I’m ready for a nice SB back country run.

    • elodie kaye / Mar 18 2011 11:03 pm

      I know what you mean about the dryness, I think I appreciate SB more for having spent some time in other parts of SoCal. The time lapse in those photos exaggerates the water somewhat but the still pics are accurate. Right now, Mission Creek is running pretty heavily. Lots of pools and decent-sized waterfalls. Greg showered in a waterfall, and the pool under it was up to his waist!

      The wrist is nothing. The rib will take 6-8 weeks to heal fully, but it’s more a matter of pain management like any other running injury. Mainly, it’s slowing me down because it hurts to expand my lungs fully. You should just come on up whenever, there are lots of options for extensions and added loops for you to run on your own while you give me a lead. You have to promise not to make me laugh as much as last time, though!

  3. Anne / Mar 19 2011 9:49 pm

    Ouch ouch ouch. I did that trail in September and remember two Westmont students running down it … in flip flops. Hope the ribs heal quickly.

    • elodie kaye / Mar 20 2011 2:43 pm

      Aha! It was you! I was trying to remember whom I’d had a conversation with about these trails. Now I remember; I’d already left and we didn’t have a chance to connect.

      Ah, SoCali… I never get such diverse encounters on trails at home. It seems like in the northeast and midwest, the only people on trails are sturdy outdoors-men and -women.

      Thanks for the good wishes Anne, I think the pain will subside before the rib is fully healed. It’s much easier to deal with than most running injuries I’ve had — no major changes to my gait, and no PT!


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