Skyline to the Sea Trail Run 50K | California | September 20, 2008
Attack of the Ninja Bees
By Gary Dudney
Pacific Coast Trail Runs hosted another first-class event on the California central coast, a point-to-point romp from Saratoga Gap in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at the Rancho del Oso Nature Center north of Santa Cruz. All the amenities were provided, including early morning buses that allowed runners to leave their cars near the finish, a shuttle service afterwards, well stocked aid stations, attractive long-sleeve technical shirts, a spiffy coaster–a PCTR standard for ultra finishers–and a stunning redwood shaded course.
Ninety first time ultrarunners, nearly half the field, crowded onto the trailhead of the Skyline to the Sea Trail for what turned out to be a surprised-packed adventure. You might imagine a trail named Skyline to the Sea starting in a pretty high place and going largely downhill to a pretty low place. But the first ten miles of the race through Castle Rock State Park proved otherwise as we seemed to be climbing as much as descending. In fact, it felt like being trapped on a roller coaster setting a record for continuous, non-stop rides.
But that was small potatoes compared to the ninja bees. These were insects trained thoroughly in the art of silent, invisible attack. The trail seemed so benign, the deep quiet, the stately redwoods standing guard, the soft mulch underfoot, a cool fog in the air, a train of runners padding along, up and down, up and down. Then without warning you were either getting the hell stung out of you, or preferably, you were staring at several bees attached to the runner in front of you. They were tenacious as bulldogs, clinging to hair, seemingly glued to clothing. After each attack, the line of jazzed up runners would quiet back down, relieved to be past the danger. Then after a few moments the runner in front would yelp and everyone would be slapping at themselves or slapping at each other all over again. I felt lucky coming through with only five stings, but then I may have lost count. And to be fair to the bees, they did liven things up considerably.
The attacks abated for good about three hours into the run as we entered the Big Basin area with its distinctive massive redwoods, ferns, well worn trail repair structures, gnarly highly polished roots underfoot, and gigantic fallen trees often overhanging the trails. The park is California’s oldest state park and the redwood forest there has a wonderful ancient feel to it. The only departure from Skyline to the Sea Trail occurred there on a four mile loop up Gazos Creek Road to fill out the 50 kilometer distance. Serious stumbles and toe stubs were de rigueur in Big Basin, a testament to the ubiquitous roots and sunken rocks that seemed to be everywhere.
The final five or so miles of the course follows Canyon Road along Waddell Creek. The setting is picturesque enough, the forested canyon walls, the creek below, glowing green pools of still water, rocks, sunshine. But the mostly flat jeep road goes on and on, turning just enough to give you glimpses of long stretches of more road, but never promising the end. I kept asking myself how it is your body knows to feel especially beat up just before the end of the race..no matter how long the race is!
In my mind, Canyon Road became synonymous with ultrarunning, a test of determination and stamina with small scale gut checks presented over and over and over again. But then of course that is what makes the end so sweet.
What an adventure! To tour the entire length of the Skyline to the Sea Trail with no clumsy backpack and in a short six hours and change. Great concept, great course, great race even with the ninja bees.