Saturday, April 7, 2007

Trail Work at Mt. Diablo - Knowing Ultrarunning Friends and Poison Oaks

I was looking for an 8 hour trail work project to fulfill the service requirement for Wasatch Front 100M. This is the best time since my family are away in Taiwan for two weeks. I desperately check for local parks because I don't want to drive far. In particular, I'd like to see if I can go even without driving.

Finding a Trail Work

I talked with Harry Silcock of East Bay Trail Dogs. They had a trail work this Thursday (4/5) on the Tassajara regional park. I never heard about this park, but finally located it on my map. It is only a few miles north from Dublin/Pleasanton. I guessed I can ride my bike there from Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. However, it's on weekday and I was not sure if I could take that day off since I had been busy at work lately. Also the trail work was only a half day and not a full 8 hours. I probably can not do another one to make it up.

Same with another trail work organized by Quicksilver Runner Club in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park on Saturday (4/7). This was for the Quickcilver 25K/50K/50M event coming in May. It'll be a nice one for Angeles Crest 100M service requirement. I checked with Dorsey Moore. It's only a half day and I found no way to get there with less driving.

Near where I live, there are some East Bay regional parks such as Alameda Creek Trail, Coyote Hills, Quarry Lakes, Mission Peak, and Garin/Dry Creek. I checked the park district but they don't have trail work during these two weeks. There is also a Don Edward Wildlife Refugee. I had no luck either because they mostly had plant rehabitation or Earth Day cleanup. I did not think they would be accepted as trail work.

Finally and fortunately, PCTR has a trail work at Mt. Diablo State Park. I did not consider that earlier because it was a long drive (anything longer my daily 22 mile commute). I checked the map and found out maybe I could take BART and ride my bike. It is an all-purpose family bike with a basket at the front and a child seat at the rear. I once used it in my only one Triathlon event - Tri for Fun. It serves both simple grocery shopping and taking kids for a fun ride. I think my family bike should be able to survive 24 miles round trip. I need this trail work to be done, so I decided to do the trail work at Mt. Diablo State Park.

Getting to Mt. Diablo State Park

I got up at 4:30am and left home at 5:30am in order to ride 6 miles and catch the 5:56 BART from Union City to Concord. It's over 1 hour on the BART to get there. When I get to Concord at 7:01, there should be enough time for me ride 7 miles to Michell Canyon visitor center in Mt. Diablo State Park.

As I arrived at Concord, the ride was along Clayton Rd. This is a beautiful moment in early morning. The street is quiet with very little traffic. All the way is the fragrant smell with lush green along the road. This may cause people with allergies headache, but certainly helps relax me a bit on the slow climb toward the right turn at Michell Canyon Rd. From there, it is a 1.5 mile into the visitor center. The climb becomes obvious and there are actually a few roller coaster hills. I struggle to paddle the bike forward. Around 10 minutes before the designated time 8am, I am there.


There is only one car there. Jim Hildreth and I introduce ourselves. Within next few minutes, we have almost everyone of 20 people or so, including Wendell and Sarah Domain. With legs crippled from Barkley Marathon, Wendell could not go with us, but gave the brief for today's trail work. They are also busy at signing our trail work forms. We have forms for Western States 100M, Wasatch Front 100M , and Angeles Crest 100M. Including myself, there are 3 for Wasatch Front 100M, the most among the races. This is probably because Wasatch Front 100M requires "trail work" only. They don't accept volunteering at aid stations.

Picking our tools, we are organized into two groups. All our three Wasatch participants are in the group on the long way to Mt. Olympia for the full 8 hour work. We have Charles Stevens from Stevens Creek Strider as our leader.

My Group to Mt. Olympia

Let me fast forward a bit to show our group. When we get to the top of Mt. Olympia 2900 ft elevation. There are father and his 8 year old son Josh picnicking there enjoy the panoramic view. We wait for Chris (don't know his last name) until we are ready to leave. Five of us warriors take a picture, showing off our weapons.

From left to right, here is our team,

Jim Hildreth - Wasatch Front 100M after his amazing 26 hour finish in the hottest Western States 100M last year! He tells us a lot of this trail since he finished Diablo 50M last year in twilight. I have little memory of my run two years ago when I ran the Marathon option.

Chihping Fu - Wasatch Front 100M. Myself

Charles Stevens - Will do Western States 100M this year and Wasatch Front 100M two years in row. He is from Stevens Creek Strider and becomes our group leader. He has a few (actually "all three") sub-24 hour Western States 100M under his belt.

John Koester - Has done a lot of PCTR runs - I mean a couple of dozens! Who else has more PCTR runs than John? He will try his first 50 miler at Headlands 50M

Kermit Cuff Jr. - like me, he just finished Ruth Anderson 100K last week. He was fast and got third place overall in 100K. After finishing Javelina Hundred under 20 hours and 5th place overall last year, he'll run Angeles Crest 100M and Headlands Hundred as well. Kermit and I spend a lot time hiking together at this trail work. Both of us are in American River 50M this week have the same 8 hours goal. It should be an easy job as he did it 8 hr 15 min last year. To me, it will be very challenging!

We have Chris in the group. He is a PCTR veteran. He is not in this picture because our pace is a little faster than his. We leave the top and hope to meet him somewhere. Going down, we meet Chris. It's very steep technical trail with loose rocks everywhere. It's very slippery, a good test for our trail shoes. Walking down is difficult. I guess we'd better run it. I don't remember how I ran here when I did the marathon two years ago. I know I'll be here three weeks from now at the Diablo 50M.

We lose Chris behind again. At one left turn, which is not obvious, John made an arrow in case we have to leave and Chris can find the way. Without such a sign, Chris or any one else can just keep going on the wide fire road without making the correct left turn here. We also think about leaving all our tools and gloves to show the trail. Then Chris can carry them for us :-) How about placing a bunch of poison oaks to block the fire road so Chris would know to make a turn?

Anyway, after a while, we can see Chris coming. He and Kermit stay at the arrow for me to take a shot.

It's time to rewind back to the beginning after introducing our group.

Off We Go for the Trail Work

On our way, we meet groups of hikers.

We start with climb. Everyone is happy about the cool weather.

Perhaps being ultrarunners, we are in great shape and move far away from the group of hikers in a few minutes. The background is a mountain ugly chopped for mining aggregates for construction. Sigh!

There are a lot of overgrown Poison Oak along the trail. Here is a big one. All of us are busy cutting it off the trail. We also need to do this very carefully to avoid having any contact with it.

Even if Poison Oak is not friendly to human, I would like think about alternatives. It is said goat love to eat them. How about bringing some goat to eat these poison oaks? This can be delicious to goat but we are destroying them. East Bay park district has used goat and sheep to do park maintenance. I have seen this a few times at Coyote Hills.

There are also full of wild flowers. We were told to cut them as well, but sometimes hesitated to do so. They are simply gorgeous!

But we have to be flower killer once in a while. Sigh!

About mid way, we can see cloud looming on the peaks - Mt. Olympia and North Peak. You need to witness this to be touched by the scene.

We finally get to the top of Mt. Olympia 2900 ft elevation and take a group picture as seen above when I introduce our group.

When we went out in the morning, it was chilly. I even thought that I might feel miserable when I get to the mountain where it can be windy. That's why those cold blood animals would rather stay homes and take cozy sleep. Coming down from the mountain in the afternoon, we can see more visitors walking with family. We see a few snakes around on the trail. We have to poke them to move out of the trail. There are traffic of hikers and bikers and they can be run over. Here is one snake that kids of a family are excited to see and Kermit helps it to go into the bushes.

About Angeles Crest 100M

Kermit and I also see Jonathan Kimura, a young runner from Cupertino, doing his 15 mile training for the coming the marathon distance in Diablo 50M. He was coached by the Angeles Crest 100M record holder Jim O'Brien. We talk a lot about ultrarunning. Jonathan did Angeles Crest 100M back in 2001 and has great experience with it. I introduce Kermit to Jonathan since Kermit will do it this year.

I hear about those interesting things about Angeles Crest 100M and how to face the big hills coming at last few miles, how the mind set plays a lot in running Angeles Crest 100M, and how it is easy to miss a turn and get lost at some section full with boulders and crowded with people . According to Jonathan, Angeles Crest 100M is one of the few "runnable" mountain 100 milers.

Heading Home

I'm about to go home because it will be a long way up to two hours - 30 min to the Concord BART station, 1 hour BART, and 30 min from Union City BART station to my home.

Going back downhill is a very nice reward to my tired body. However, riding on Clayton Rd is now a horrible job. No fragrant smell and the street is neither quiet. There are a lot of traffic. I am eventually forced to ride on the sidewalk, which sometimes has wide pits here and there. I hurry up in fast gear. It becomes stunts until I safely get to Concord BART station.

On the BART train, I am very tired and fall asleep a few times. I wake up quickly for fear of missing the transfer in Oakland and getting to San Francisco.

I am so hungry when I get out of the Union City BART station. I stop by Ranch 99 Asian grocery market and buy a few deli. I am not able to enjoy the longly waited dinner until I take a shower and get a vegetable soup done.

It is 7pm now. What a long day! But I get acquainted with a few great ultrarunning friends and recognize the vicious Poison Oak. I got poison oak twice last year for the first time, but still had no confidence in telling which is poison oak. Now I know it very well!

On the other hand, I never knew trails are such a hard work. I can not imagine how we can have a machine to create a trail and maintain it even in this modern technology age. Doing trail work may not be as intensive as running on a trail, but it requires the same effort in order to do it well. It is such a precious and rewarding activity. From now on, I think I have totally new experience with my feet on the trails - full of appreciation and respect.

With such a trail work experience, I should be able to easily get into the four such volunteer work to be done next year.


Looney said...

Was that you starting up Mission Peak from the Stanford lot at ~4:30PM today?

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Hi Looney,

No. I have not run at MP for months, but I plan to go there tomorrow morning. I need to have some hill running before the hill races coming for the rest of the year.


Looney said...

Sorry, it was someone who looked a bit like your picture and headed off running up the mountain.

anil said...

Very neat experience , would have loved to volunteer here. so looks like you have 1 more voluntary hrs left?

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Anil. Welcome to the trail work. Mt. Diablo is a gem in Bay Area. I think I'll do this again next year.


Peter Lubbers said...

Good job, Chihping. out for rattle snakes!

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Pete. I also wished to spot Tarantula, but did not see any. It looks like the season according to the visitor center.


Rajeev said...

Wonderful post!!

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Rajeev. I guess you had same fun in fulfilling TRT100 service requirement.

Btw, the only way to enjoy the trails we worked on seems to be running Diablo 50M/Marathon. Come join me on 4/29!