Sequoia Trail Run 50K | California | July 19, 2008
Making No Mark
By Gary Dudney
The Sequoia Trail Run 50K unfolds in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, California, and the adjacent Redwood Regional Park. The park is home to one of the few urban redwood groves in the country, a shady green world of ferns, soaring trees, and quiet solitude.
The race course follows a loop twice through Joaquin Miller with a long out and back into the Redwood Regional Park as part of the first loop. The trip out to the turnaround at the Canyon Meadow aid station includes several miles along French Trail through the heart of the redwoods. French Trail is decidedly uh-la-la, a real roller coaster. The first time along this trail, flying down the hills and laboring back up the other sides, there are trains of excited runners babbling along. The runners from the shorter distances, 20K and 30K, are mixed in with the 50K crowd. Everyone uhs and ahs at the big trees and the steep ascents.
The second loop on this trail is the prize. The 50K group has spread out over miles and the shorter distance runners are having soup at the finish. You are all alone and the forest is indeed dark and deep even in the late morning sun. It is deathly quiet and still. You pad along barely hearing your own muffled footsteps. You climb to the back of a steep canyon and cross a small wooden bridge over a dry stream bed that is a jumble of rocks and fallen logs. You continue up the other side until you are about to turn down into another canyon and you look back at where you have been. The transition from over there to here seems unreal, like you didn’t do it, and if you did, the forest has swallowed your passage and forgotten it even before you have left. Very spooky.
When you eventually emerge out of the forest onto the wide flat West Ridge Road in bright sunshine, it is like returning to the real world after a journey through some netherland. The road goes on and on until eventually the Chabot Space & Science Center looms out of the trees. A shiny, new, appropriately space-age looking building, the center has a pedigree linking it to the original downtown Oakland Observatory of 1883. Not far past the observatory is the Moongate aid station which plays heavily in the run as it ushers runners out to the long passage on the French Trail and welcomes them back from the two long loops of the course with the news that only a mile and a half remain to the finish.
That last mile and a half of the run, however, includes the disarmingly named Cinderella Trail, which is in fact a nasty, dusty piece of mountain bike descent that could only be loved by rabid bikers hankering after big air and busted collarbones. For runners on beat up legs, the descent is tricky, steep, technical and potentially disastrous. The runner in front of me was kicking up so much dust my contact lenses turned on me like two tiny little badgers clawing at my eyes. On Cinderella Trail, having your fairy godmother along to look out for you is probably a good idea.
The start/finish in Lower Meadow comes into view after a short trip down a jeep road next to a forest stream. The meadow is idyllic, an expanse of grass surrounded by giant trees with the finish banner in the middle, always a welcome sight. I joined other runners lounging in the picnic area enjoying the food and drink, but only after my usual collapse on my back in the grass to recover from the effort. But even after changing, getting into the car and driving off, I was trying to shake the feeling that I was still passing through the tall silent trees of the redwood forest, unnoticed and making no mark.