Still, it took the momentous event of someone (Miki) to suggest breaking out of the usual Sunday morning excursion with dogs for a "night training run" on June 9th (2012), to formally name this informal band of runners. Asian Ultra Runners of America.
A night training run suited me very well. I had been casually thinking about changing my TRT50M entry to TRT100M, and a night run would be great training run. I have neither the talent nor the training base to be casually considering a 100 mile race, but I do my ultra-running on credit. Run now, pay later. Night running is a lot like that. Doesn't take time out of your day...until the next morning. Miki had no previous experience with night running, but was facing pacing duties for Flora at Western States, so felt like she should get one run in to see what she was getting herself into.
Miki picked out the venue for the run: Henry Coe State Park. I had never been to the park before, and indeed may have missed out on the opportunity forever if it had not recently be saved from closure. Henry Coe is a drive for many of us, but the park is open 24 hours, all year round! The last time I remember a bunch of local ultra-runners had planned a night run, it involved hill repeats up Mission Peak; and the ranger was there threatening to give out trespassing tickets. AURA likes to live within the law. This "clean-living" attitude also meant we were doing this run without our usual canine counterparts (most of us have trail-loving pups), since Henry Coe park does not allow dogs on the trail. Miki also picked out our route; the first night training run of Asian Ultra Runners of America would take us to a place called China Hole.
The drive into the park is long and twisty, and Marissa was driving Theresa's Accord like it was a sports car. The road took us higher and higher, until finally we reached the park headquarters with a gorgeous view of Morgan Hill at dusk. It was clear there was no where to go but down. And that implied an uphill finish.
We numbered seven. Miki, Marissa, Theresa, Todd, Peter, Orie and myself gathered in the parking lot as darkness set in before we even ran a step. The night air was balmy, with just a hint of a breeze.
We ran together down Corral trail, that took us downhill. The terrain was not too challenging, and I decided to see what it would be like to run "fast" in darkness, along Springs trail. The grass was extremely tall, perhaps elbow high, and the trail actually pretty narrow. Running fast with little visibility was cool, but also resulted in the inevitable fall. Stickers all over my shirt, but no damage. But the side of the trail transitioned to a steep dropoff to who knows where, it's dark, so uh...maybe not go that fast. I waited for the rest of the group at the next intersection, and we ran together, passing through the Manzanita Point campground, and then along Madrone Soda Springs trail, and unto Canyon Mile Trail.
Todd stuck with me, as we led the others. We passed the time talking about art, movies, and of course running. At one point we spotted a fox which was the first one I've ever spotted in the wild. And then, a baby skunk who stubbornly stuck to the trail. We followed it for perhaps half a mile, at a safe distance, before it finally pulled off into the bushes. The terrain was challenging, with loose leaves, rocks, roots, and tons of stream crossings. The China Hole hike has a reputation for being a "butt-kicker", and didn't really disappoint. Todd said he was probably going faster following me in the dark than by himself in the daytime, mostly because he couldn't see any of the dangerous spots, if they indeed existed.
At one point, we tried to follow the trail, and ended up climbing an extremely steep hill. Like impossibly steep. It still looked like a trail, but perhaps one made by agile deer. We waited for the others and debated on the legitimacy of the route. I made one more attempt to investigate the viability, but it was much too steep for a mere hiking trail. We turned back, and found the actual trail across the creek.
From there, the group stuck together. It's more fun to get lost with company, anyways. We were far away from the light noise of civilization and enjoying the constellations. We passed by a campsite far from any road, and the campers asked what we were doing. The answer "running!" was perhaps strange.
We reached China Hole, that turned out to be a shallow pond with large round boulders that appeared to be islands throughout. The place was full of frogs that seemed unconcerned by our presence. It was very scenic, even in the darkness, although the stars did their best to light our way. After a short rest to soak up the surroundings, we headed back up.
Our return route was along China Hole trail, which had some seemed a little less technical, but it climbed and climbed up and up. The summit rewarded us with the best view of the milky way yet, that evening. We stuck together for the return trip, and reached the parking lot after midnight. Miki was not imbued with a new sense of confidence for her pacing duty at Western States in a few weeks. I didn't say anything, but something was not feeling right in my legs. Not injured, but they shouldn't feel so fatigued.
We said goodbye in the parking lot, wished each other the best for our next adventures, and I left with Theresa and Marissa. We wound our way out the park, and just as we left the gates, spotted something moving by the side of the road. I thought I spotted a dachshund; Theresa thought it was much larger. Behind us, Miki and Todd pulled over, and we circled back.
Miki came over, to tell us they were chihauhaus, collarless of course. They had hopped into Miki's car into Todd's arms as soon as the door opened. A skunk got 'em. Miki said her dog would eat them, and asked if I could take them home. Of course I could. Just as we were getting back into the cars, we spotted a third. That one took off running as soon as we approached it to be lost in the underbrush. I was relieved, as much as I would have liked to have seen that dog get rescued. For some reason, bringing home three dogs seemed twice as bad as bring home two.
Marissa was a real trooper. She sat the entire way home (maybe an hour and a half drive) with these skunked dogs.
It was after 2 o clock in the morning when I woke my wife up from a deep slumber, standing next to the bed with an armful of dirty, stinky dogs. They were not happy about being thrown into the shower, and black water drained off of their fur. Several cycles of shampoo, rinse and repeat occurred before they were clean enough.
They wolfed down their food, like they were starving, although they weren't exactly emaciated. One of the dogs is quite a bit larger than the first and we had hypothesized that they were mother and pup. The larger dog let the smaller one eat first which bolstered that theory. I locked them in the downstairs bathroom for the night.
The pups, the morning after
The kids were excited to see new puppies, but these are not low maintenance dogs. The next few days revealed some information about them:
The larger dog is male, and the smaller is female
They are not housebroken. At all.
The vet believes that they are litter mates, and estimates their age to be 2 years old.
They are the type of chihauhaus that bark and yelp a lot.
No one on Craigslist will own up to owning them.
We can't quite figure out a scenario that explains their presence in the woods. They are too healthy and well fed to have been foraging in the wilderness for two years. And yet they are too under trained to have been living in someone's home all this time. Of course, we will never know.
My daughter Kayley named the boy "Ares" and the girl "Persephone." These dogs are a real project so far. Four months later, we're still fighting the housebreaking battle. They bark at strangers, and Persephone is particularly interested at barking are asserting her dominance over other dogs. They are unruly on walks, unless I split them up. But they are eager to please, and Ares is a loyal pup; both to his "sister" and certainly to me. And he loves to run.