Purisima Creek Redwoods 50K | California | February 7, 2004
There’s Moss in Them Thar Hills
By Gary Dudney
The third running of the Purisima Creek Redwoods 50K landed on yet another perfect day despite the early February race date. Record low temperatures, knee deep snow, and a thick crust of ice may have been plaguing the rest of the country, but in Huddart Park on the California coast near San Francisco about 300 trail runners went cavorting in bright sunshine. The worst we faced was an early morning nip in the air but that quickly gave way to shirt sleeve temperatures. What were all you ultrarunners thinking when you chose to live anywhere else but Northern California?
Much of the race unfolded through a lush redwood forest that seemed to be featuring a moss motif. Moss was everywhere you looked. It covered the tree trunks, the rocks, the canyon walls, the odd stump, and acres of forest floor. I even imagined it growing on the backs of some of the slower runners. If moss were gold, Huddart Park would be South Africa. Where the moss let up, there were rushing streams, madrone, Douglas fir, coffeeberry, tanoak, wild roses, plenty of poison oak, hazelnut, early violets, and of course the soaring redwoods, which are always astonishing no matter how many times you’ve seen them. Only the occasional dark yellow banana slug broke the spell of green and brown.
The far end of the course emerged from the forest into some classic California chaparral where we encountered a killer seven mile loop that dropped us toward the ocean and then took us back up the ridge by way of seemingly endless switchbacks. Embedded in the loop was an out and back section up to an aid station that each runner visited twice. Thus we had two chances to get a read on the rest of the field and say hi to our buddies. We also kept passing a table-shaped rock that I swear looked like the spot where they killed the lion in the Chronicles of Narnia. Very eerie.
The only hint of trouble prior to the race was when co-race director Wendell Doman mentioned that despite the recent rains the trails were in good shape. Huge red flag. Race directors–God bless them–always minimize the challenges. (Leadville has “a little altitude.” Wasatch is “hilly.” Badwater gets “a tad warm.”) So it was no surprise when we began splashing through some pretty extensive mud. But it would take a lot worse conditions to ruin the magic of this course. Even the trail names were compelling: Crystal Springs, Purisima Creek, Soda Gulch, Summit Springs, Whittemore Gulch, Harkins Ridge, Chinquapin, Bay Tree, Chaparral.
The biggest challenge for me was being prepared for a relatively tough 50K course so early in the running season. I resorted to making up demeaning Indian names for my competitors–such as Sleeps with Horned Toad and Dances with Hind End of Lizard–to keep my mind off the punishment I was enduring. I did, though, manage to keep these names to myself. Luckily the Pacific Coast Trail Runs events are billed as “Runs in great places that aren’t really races” so a relaxed pace is encouraged and competing, while not frowned upon, is not the end all and be all. I think that honor is reserved for the chicken soup and chili that gets served after all the running is done and there ain’t nothin’ left but the shoutin’.