Big Sur: An adventure of a lifetime – Part 2

The conclusion to an adventure on the ragged coast of the western world.

Thursday, April 28th: San Francisco, Ca
The wheels of the Airbus A320 touched down in sunny San Francisco softly and with little fanfare. No one waiting at the gate, no press or video cameras, although my growing anticipation and slight nervousness beckoned for some form of recognition, I received none. Martin’s plane from BOS had been delayed and so I had the day to claim my rental car and explore the city.  The blue, compact Nissan seemed little more than a lawnmower without blades. First stop on my tour was AT&T Park, home of the 2010 World Series Champions. I floated around the area stopping in a local eatery for a bite of pasta and my last beer, a fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, before race day. Feeling refreshed, I drove back to the hotel and soaked in the hot tub. Martin’s arrival into SFO was slightly more eventful than mine as it was I who was waiting for him, like a chauffeur without a name-board. We made our way to the local In’n’Out Burger and crushed some singles, no cheese, and fries – saving the good stuff for the post-race. (Annie had already come through SFO with her lovely mother and began their journey south that evening. She would meet us the following evening.)

Friday, April 29th: San Francisco, Ca – Carmel by the Sea, Ca
A pristine morning – cool breeze, sunny, 65 degrees F, not a cloud in the sky. We started our sightseeing early as Shannon’s flight was landing around 2:30pm PST. Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and breakfast at Boudin. We ate the southwest scramble. Three eggs scrambled with veggies and gratuitously dumped into a sourdough bread bowl. Damn. A bit of digesting and some coffee brought us to the threshold of the Golden Gate Bridge where we would do a little, 4 mile-ish shake out run. Golden Gate loomed high above our heads and refracted the late morning sun, creating a warm orange glow off its painted steel beams and massive cables. With a feeling of inspiration form the scenery, we headed to the airport to not only pick up Shannon, but trade in our measly compact vehicle for one with a bit more headroom – the Chrysler Sebring convertible. The drive south was littered with scenic forests and ocean vistas. We relished in our car swap decision. Arriving in Carmel, we dropped our bags at the Carmel Resort Inn, stay here if you’re ever in the area – BBQ pit and free wine by the fire at dusk can’t be beat. Dinner with Annie and her mom was simple and enhanced with warm conversation. The room at the Rio Grill was also filled with anticipatory runners stuffing their faces and packing in some extra calories as they prepped for race day.

Saturday, April 30th: Carmel, Ca – Big Sur, Ca
Although we were disappointed that the race had been altered to an out and back course, we were lucky enough to make the trip to Big Sur State Park and frolic among the redwoods, golden eagles and waterfalls. Along the way, we were scouting the new course, packed full of cambered hills climbing from the Carmel Highlands and spewing out to the coastal highway, seated at the doorway to the Pacific. We felt a bit of nervousness as we soon realized that this was not going to be easy. At Big Sur, we met with Annie and her mother and hiked some of the great trails and hugged some 1,500 year old Sequoia Redwoods. As the sun began to sneak off into the day, we grabbed a late lunch and headed back to base camp. Sushi was the pre-race meal of choice (what’s your favorite pre-race meal?), salmon rolls, miso soup, and steamed, veggie shumai. All our gear was laid and ready for the early morning wake up so we did one final soak in the hot tub and rubbed our eyes to sleep.

Sunday, May 1st: Race Day
The 4:45am wake-up could’ve been worse if we hadn’t mentally prepared for the ungodly hour. But the coffee was brewing and oatmeal was warm and made for a pleasant 45min before me, Martin, and Shannon began our 2 mile downhill warm-up walk to the race village. We arrived at 6am sharp as the dark navy sky began to slowly brighten. Thousands of race participants milled around, looking for something to do, tying and untying their shoes, lining up for the port’o’potties, eating bananas and GU. Joining in on the pre-race rituals, I planned my GU intake for the race, tried to get in touch with Annie – unsuccessfully – ate a banana and did some mild stretching. Martin and Shannon were busy doing whatever rituals they like to do before races. Sitting on the cold stoop in the CVS parking lot, I noticed that the crowds were thinning. Last trip to the “John,” emerging, no Martin, no Shannon, no people at all. Had I missed the start? Martin flew around the corner ahead of me and hurriedly waved to me to hurry up. We jogged up into the corrals and decided to start way at the back of the last group so that we could look for Annie as we ran. That’s when time stopped for me and the realization of what was about to take place sank in for the first time in 6 months, my legs felt like jello.

Bart Yasso’s comedic mc’ing eased the tension as the race coordinators unleashed coral after corral of runners. As our corral neared the starting line, a palpable excitement made the cool morning air seem thick and hard to breath. “Ready….Set….GO!” The crowd inched forward slowly at first, gaining momentum and pouring onto the streets of the Carmel Highlands, releasing any nerves that had built up over the past 10 minutes. We were off.

Slowly dodging in and around runners, Martin and I kept our eyes peeled for Annie. Right around the ½ mile mark, we spotted her bright yellow top and efficient running style. We had a brief conversation, wished each other good luck and continued on our way, climbing and descending the cambered hills – 5 miles to the ocean.

Emerging from the pine forest, the Pacific lay ahead of us to our right as the sun began to peek up from behind the mountains to our left, sending warm, morning light down to the craggy inlets and crashing waves below. The next 7ish miles seemed to blur into one long episode of climbing and descending almost-mile long hills to the turn-around at 12.5m. We were lucky enough to get a quick glimpse at of would be winner, Jesus Campos, at mile 10 as he blazed past us with two other leaders. The miles began to slowly appear and disappear when at about mile 16 Martin began to pull ahead. I kept my pace and around mile 17 met back up with him – this is when a California condor swooped above the runners heads and disappeared back behind the hillside. He had been fighting a strained calf muscle and began the run walk method. I patted him on the back and kept my pace. Banana pieces and orange slices were a pleasant boost at 18 and I could hear Bohemian Rhapsody played on the grand piano at 19.5m. A hand-full of strawberries at 21m gave me just enough energy to get up the final hill at mile 25. I could feel the closeness of the finish line fast approaching as a woman behind me was yelling, “kick, kick. Come on! You can do it!” I felt strange that at this moment I was running my hardest and someone running behind me was routing me on. However, I realized that this woman was actually a race volunteer on a bicycle as she rode past me, encouraging runners as they finished. Before me was the inflated finish line, raising my hands to the sky, the culmination of 6 months of training in the 28th year of my life was validated. Martin, Annie, and Shannon finished in stride. Almost as swiftly as it had begun, Big Sur 2011 was over. Relief, sadness, companionship, longing, and pride were a few of the lingering emotions. One final trip to In’n’Out would seal the adventure appropriately shut with Animal Style french fries. 

Closing Thought 
The journey could have been no better without the great companionship that was brought by Annie, (her mom), Martin, and Shannon. Traveling with friends can sometimes be a challenge, but the laid back nature of this trip, the kind people of Carmel and the surrounding areas, and the general atmosphere created by the incredible race staff made this a truly memorable experience. If you ask me would I do this again? My answer would most certainly be yes, and next year. The experience recounted in this blog may paint a certain picture, but can do no justice to the adventure we had On the Ragged Edge of the Western World.