Fast Packing Gone Awry!!!

12/28-12/29

Does the temperature rating on a sleeping bag really matter that much???

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Pine Ridge Trail.

 

Three days fast packing the trails of the Central Coast, carrying all my own gear in December… NO PROBLEM!

I’m an ultrarunner. I’ve finished a 100 mile race. How bad can a few days in the Los Padres National Forest really be??? Well, I found out…

For the second year in a row, I’ve successfully been able to peel away from work for nearly two full weeks around the holiday season. With Xmas travels to the bay area and Arbuckle taking up several days, I was fortunately able to calendar Mon-Wed for my first fast packing adventure with Carly in Big Sur.

Sunday was spent at Mountain Air Sports, wondering through the aisles buying too much gear that looked great, but likely wasn’t needed… a blow up LED lantern for only $15 dollars, I’ll take one! I literally spent hours combing the shelves trying to pick out the perfect fire starter, water purifier and liquid carrying bag (liquid carrying bag?), and about 5 minutes deciding on a sleeping bag… weather rated, does that really matter in the Central Coast? After feeling confident in my countless purchases, I began packing up my Ultimate Direction 20 liter fast pack (better to look the part than be the part right) with all my new gear, enough food to survive the winter and my brand new 50 degree sleeping bag.

We spent the remainder of the evening planning a conservative route (Day one 11 miles, day two 25ish miles, and day three 11 miles) and making sure to let Alejandra know exactly where we planned to be each night.

Monday morning came, and after a quick workout and last minute gear check, Carly and I headed out for beautiful Big Sur. Now, if you haven’t driven up Highway 1 past Cambria, Hearst Castle and Ragged Point taking in the beautiful Pacific coastline, you’re truly missing out. Windy roads, belching sea lions and a crisp, salty winter morning… there aren’t many better ways to spend a December Monday!

Road closures and delays happen frequently on Highway 1. Aside from the countless rock slide cleanups, Cal Trans must be tapped into some underground slush fund for the never ending road improvement program occurring on this 30 mile stretch. The extra-large coffee and 1.5 hours of S turns started kicking in as we stopped for the first of two road closures this morning. Just my luck that there were no bushes or trees around to block the view, as I was forced to water the rocks, in all my glory, being passed by car-after-car. FYI… make sure to pee quickly, or the train of vehicles waiting behind you will not be too happy watching you finish up while being stuck behind your weak bladder as the cars ahead drive off.

After two road closures and 2.5hrs of driving, we made it to the Pine Ridge Trailhead. I was surprised to see a metal gate with a “No Parking” sign affixed, blocking the parking lot at the Sykes trailhead. We pulled in anyway, thankfully the lot was actually open, parked, and began prepping for our adventure. Note that most state parks in CA require a daily camping fee, paid in full based on the number of days you plan on staying. Assuming that a lack of payment envelopes at the entrance meant the trail gods were offering a freebie, we got ready to hit the trail. Shouldn’t have assumed…

Before heading out, two young “hikers” came in dragging ass. I asked them about their experience and the trail conditions, and they said it was brutal. Not surprising considering the cigarette that one of the kids fired up after lying supine for about five minutes. We were ready to take off.

Start of our adventure!
  Start of our adventure!
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View from the beginning of the Pine Ridge Trail.

 

Carly and I hit the trail around 12:30pm, passing by a sign at the entrance reading, “Trail washed out 2 miles ahead.” Worst case scenario, we’ll check it out and head back to another trailhead if it’s as bad as the sign reads. The Pine Ridge trail is a beautiful, mostly non-technical single track that runs east from Big Sur into the Los Padres National Forest. Carly and I ran the majority of the 10-11 miles, stopping intermittingly to snap some photos, readjust the pack and knock down the 80lbs of food we brought.

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The washed out trail…
Big Sur 2
Several miles into the Pine Ridge Trail.

 

We had the trail to ourselves for the first couple of hours, until we came up on a hiker approximately 2 miles from our campsite. Descending after a climb, Carly and I were moving at a descent clip. I assumed the hiker had noticed us as he seemed to turn his head (forgot about that beautiful view over our left shoulder), so I didn’t say anything until we came right up on him. Shouldn’t have assumed…

He let out a shriek after we startled him, and I nearly had to grab the guys pack, as I was nervous he would slip off the single track. Fortunately, he remained upright and we both had a quick laugh, chatting briefly about our plans for the next few days.

We pulled into the Sykes campsite around 3:30pm, taking our time to find a good resting place for the night. After stripping down and taking a quick soak in the hot springs, mmmmm…. Sulfur, we headed back to the campsite to set up, start a fire and prep for a comfy night under the stars.

This is the part of the recap that should be uneventful, culminating in a restful night of sleep, waking up feeling refreshed and ready to attack the trails. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those nights…

Big Sur 3
Carly thinking, “why the hell did you take me out here?”

 

Starting a fire

Ask Alejandra about my fire starting prowess, and she’ll tell you about the 13 newspapers it took to light her fireplace on one of our first dates. As much as I’d like to blame the damp kindling and logs, I couldn’t have started a fire that night with a blowtorch and gallon of kerosene! Carly and I were destined to a dark night under the stars. Not thinking much of our lack of external heat and with nothing else to do but twiddle thumbs, we decided to call it an early night.

Choosing the right sleeping bag

Winter nights in the Central Coast are fairly hospitable. We’ll encounter nights at freezing temps, but these are few and far between. Most winter nights are crisp, but not unbearable.

Our first and only night in Big Sur was COLD… really freaking cold!

I’m not one to frequently pitch products, but the hot chili’s top/bottoms and northface thermoball jacket saved my tail. I was bundled up like the little kid in the Christmas Story, shivering throughout the night, with nothing between the ground and me but a 50 degree sleeping bag. With temperatures in the 20’s, we were in for a long night…

Recently joining the Dirtbag Runners Ambassador’s Team, I’ve been thinking of ways to integrate dirtbag running into my first blogpost. There was some definite dirtbaggery involved spending 12 hours huddled up with my dog, that’s spent the entire afternoon trouncing in mud and sulfur springs, both wrapped in a silk thin “sleeping bag” to keep us from freezing to death. I highly overestimated my backpacking skills, and it culminated in my first DNF!

The decision in the morning wasn’t too difficult after not sleeping a wink, and feeling amazing “sleeping” on wet, hard, uneven ground. We packed up camp early, and made our way back to the trailhead. The return trip was uneventful, and we made decent time back to the vehicle. On our arrival, the California State Parks had left me a surprise, a $72 ticket for not paying camp fees. Shouldn’t have assumed…

We made it home a day early, alive and healthy, and went directly to Mountain Air to discuss sleeping bag options.

 

What I learned…

A 50 degree sleeping bag, while great for Phoenix summer sleepovers, will not keep you toasty in 20-30 degree nights

Sleeping pads are functional and protect you from wet, cold nights… or so I’ve been told

Less is more… the blow up LED lantern, magnesium fire starter I couldn’t use, towel and the extra 43 pounds of food could have probably been left in the car

Pay your daily camping fee and find a ranger if there are no envelopes. You will get fined!

Don’t be afraid to DNF/cut short a fast packing trip, especially if you are as underprepared as I was.

 

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