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March 31, 2011 / elodie kaye

Romero Canyon Road

Imagine a convoy of trucks carrying potatoes spills one load every hundred meters or so, down a fire road in the Montecito mountains.  Potatoes with corners.  Made out of shale.  That was Romero Road a couple of days ago.  It’s normally a wide, degraded dirt road, relatively tame and not too steep, meaning it’s largely runnable for me.  Santa Barbara has received so much rain this winter and spring that the upper part of the road is interrupted by a rock slide every few hundred meters, and in between, an eruption of grasses and scrub oak narrows it to a single track.  One impressive pile-up was crowned by a boulder about the size of an 18-wheeler cab.  I had to turn back about 800ft. short of the crest, but all the slides up to that point were passable with some scrambling.

There are new water crossings in places where I never even heard flow before, and the creek is running so strongly, its music followed me most of the way.  The wind whistled a counterpoint, joined by the low hum of… swarms of killer bees?  I could hear them from the other side of the ridge.  We heard some a couple of weeks ago in Rattlesnake Canyon, too.  I don’t know what they were so angry about, but I didn’t stick around to verify my supposition that they were precisely killer bees.

It was to be a modest test of my rib.  I wanted fairly simple footing so I’d be able to focus on the form I need to cushion the break.  In my impatience to get back into the hills, I might have been wilfully delusional.  Trail conditions at this time of year are impossible to predict, and really all the slopes in the Santa Ynez mountains are a challenge to run at full lung capacity.  Romero road was more technical than I or my shoes could handle at running speeds.  It turns out that the corners of shale potatoes penetrate the rock plate of my Mountain Masochist trail shoes rather easily.  I also left a little more skin behind.  Honestly, I don’t know if I can afford to replenish my running wardrobe with this sudden fascination for gravity experiments.  This time however, I tucked in my shoulder and offered only the skin off my left elbow.

My rib stayed well protected.  For the most part, I feel hopeful about learning to accommodate it.  Going downhill turns out to be limited by my skill; if I concentrate, my legs can absorb the shock better than they do on asphalt.  Going uphill is limited by the supply of oxygen which isn’t quite what it used to be, but I can work with it for now.

I was surprised to discover how much of a difference my new hydration pack makes.  I’m using a Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab pack and the snug vest gives my rib a little extra compression which helps with errant footfalls.  With a full reservoir, the pack weighs perhaps 5 lbs. which I dismissed as insignificant.  On my flat, long run last week it was negligible.  I suppose I knew that it would take more energy to lift a pack 2800 feet than to tote it across 18 miles, but I didn’t expect to feel it so emphatically in my calves, quads, hamstrings, hips — more or less everywhere.  They were unanimously sluggish.  I thought this was my cross to bear with a cracked rib, until I noticed my legs felt better after climbing a couple of thousand feet.  By then I’d drained about half of the reservoir.  Now I’m toying with the idea of weighting the pack with a brick and running like that every day.  Hmm, well maybe I’d better heal the rib first…

At the university, it was a little cloudy and damp before I started out, so I didn’t expect much from the views.  From 1800 feet, I could see Santa Barbara and Montecito, misty and distant, the ocean not quite as glittering as it usually is.  Around a canyon and a few hundred feet higher, I saw a marine layer was forming, bubbling up mystically over the water.  Another 20 minutes of climbing, and it had thickened.  There were undulating waves of fog where the sea should be.  The Channel Islands rose up in this snowy ocean, and soft fingers of mist seduced the shore like the tentative caresses of a new lover.

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