okay, where did i leave off?
oh yeah. sleep.
it was an rv/tent campground, so throughout the night, we’d hear the occasional vehicle coming through the camp. once or twice it sounded like one pulled right up to our campsite. when the alarm went off at 5am, we sluggishly got up and started packing things up. we noticed a new car parked right next to todd’s truck.
after a few minutes, the passenger window rolled down and a voice yelled, "hey zipper!" i started cracking up. it was lambert and he’d brought a couple of the socal trail headz along with him. kristin [fresh back from running tcc in costa rica] and janet had been bullied into joining him at the last minute. they had rolled into the campground at 3am so we decided to move slowly and let them get some more sleep before we headed out.
once packed up, the plan was to head up to the end of titus canyon, drop off a vehicle and then shuttle the group to the start. it was an interesting logistical dilema, seeing as how we had two suv’s and a truck and six runners, a dog and a bike to transport. we opted to leave todd’s truck at the finish and shuttle in the two suv’s to the start. this made for an interesting ride back to the start later in the day, but more on that later.
the setup took a bit, but by 10:15am we were on our way and running. my vision of the route was a long uphill climb through high desert for about 5ish miles and then winding up to a pass at about mile 8, followed by a drop into the canyon for the remainder of the run. for some reason, i thought that about 14+ miles of the run would be tucked down in a slot canyon.
from the start, my observations of the route seemed correct. we could see the mountains off in the distance and the road, straight as an arrow, climbing up the desert floor to a point at which it disappeared into the foothills.
we climbed. and climbed. and climbed. and then, we climbed some more. the grade wasn’t difficult, but it was long. the mountains never seemed to get any closer, but then, before we knew it, we were off the straight section and climbing into the barren foothills. we wound around through the foothills, working our way closer to the pass that would mark our highest point and the end of our climbing.
during the climb, todd and lt kept alternating between dropping back to check on kristin and janet. for todd, i’m sure it was an opportunity to ride a little bit faster than our climbing pace and enjoy the downhill a bit, but for lt, that had to be a haul. that guy is a beast when it comes to trail running.
eventually we topped out at the saddle that marked the pass. we could see the road winding it’s way down into the valley below, but the route wound behind a spur from the mountain range and we couldn’t see exactly where it went or where the canyon started. after a short refueling breaking, we headed out again, excited to be done climbing and moving onto the exciting part of the route.
happily, we wound our way down into the valley. the terrain had changed significantly since topping out at the pass. the rolling foothills had been replaced with a variety of volcanic formations, sandstone cliffs, massive alluvial fans and rock nearly every colour of the rainbow. it was hard to pay attention to foot placement as the eyes wandered over the colourful and varying scenery.
the tight canyon of my imagination had yet to materialize, but i kept scanning the area ahead for any sign of where it might be. as i let my eyes wander over the valley, i spotted what looked like a road carved into a red hillside far ahead and above us. i let my eyes follow it to a saddle high above the valley and then let them scroll back down to it’s origin.
i was shocked to realize that it’s origin was the road we were on. i started to think to myself, "there must be a fork in the road ahead". i couldn’t remember seeing a second climb on the map, so that couldn’t be OUR road. when we bottomed out in the valley, though, the stark realization began to sink in that the road winding up out of the valley to the saddle far overhead WAS our road. my heart sank.
now, don’t get me wrong. i LOVE climbing. but i just wasn’t expecting any more uphill and was very anxious to get down into the claustrophobic canyon. once we started up the climb, though, i settled into a rhythm and let the route have it’s way with me. i let go of the thought of running for a great distance through that tight canyon and just began to enjoy what was being presented to me at that point.
i marveled at the red dirt of the road. i ooh’ed and aah’ed at the fascinating green rock layered between black sandstone. i bathed in the remoteness of the setting. i was working hard climbing, but i was in absolute heaven. before i knew it, i was nearing the saddle.
lt had hammered up the climb and left all of us in the dust [have i said what an animal that guy is?] but i could see him waiting at the top. i rounded the last corner and gave him a roar that would have made kirk proud. i looked back down into the valley and the view humbled me. i was so glad that i’d opted to enjoy what was in front of me rather than obsess on what was to come. i was anxious to see what was on the other side of the saddle, but i opted to wait until the rest of the group caught up.
june were right behind me and a few minutes later, todd climbed his way up out of the valley. regrouped at the top, lt, meghan and i headed down the other side of the saddle and into the valley below. the view we were given as we came down off of the saddle was incredible. again, the colours, layers, formations and textures were almost too much to take in and make sense of. nature, once again, gave us something that not even the most stoned graphic artist could come up with.
i still couldn’t see where titus canyon started, but i was really too distracted by all the scenery and just basking in the moment to really care. the next few miles were just running bliss as sensory overload continued to surround me like a warm bubble of rad.
we dropped down into an old mining town, leadfield. by this point, the valley had transitioned into a true canyon and the walls were slowly beginning to get taller and closer. the geological structures that we’d seen from afar were now being presented to us close up. meghan, with her background as an interpretive instructor for the park service, was a fount of information about what it was that we were seeing. huge bulwarks of sedimentary layers, having been thrust upward by some massive force began to force the road to twist and turn.
before much longer, we approached a sign that said, "entering titus canyon". at last. by this point, the canyon was vacillating between an open view of the canyon ahead and narrow passages with high walls. the further we wove down into this canyon, though, the tighter the route and higher the walls. it truly began to feel somewhat claustrophobic. no longer could we see what lay ahead for miles. now, it was reduced to a couple hundred yards at best.
the miles ticked off and with about four or five miles left of the route, we were swallowed up. the route narrowed to about 15-20′ wide with towering walls of stone climbing hundreds of feet overhead. lt got frisky and started to pick up the pace. i couldn’t help but follow and before long we were just flying through this tight and twisting canyon. he kept ahead of me by about 100 yards, so he’d come in and out of view as we wound our way down. i was feeling quite refreshed with the faster pace and the steeper the walls became, the faster i ran, the more alive i was feeling.
we flew. we twisted. we were like water being channeled during a flash flood. the walls streamed by. each turn presented another twist. and another. and another. as i neared my terminal velocity, i rounded a corner and saw sunlight and heard wild cheering.
a group of 4x4ers that we had been playing leapfrog with for the entire route had staged themselves at the mouth of the canyon. as each one of us rounded the final corner and were birthed by the canyon back into the death valley floor, they gave up a hearty round of applause. it was such a welcome surprise!
one by one, we all finished the route. lt headed back up the canyon and ran kristin and janet in and meghan welcomed them both with cold bottles of ale [making two new best friends in the process]. the run was over, but the adventure wasn’t. as we cooled down and snacked to recover, todd and i started working on the truck to accommodate the crew for the long ride back to the start. remember the total? six, tired, hungry, stinky [i honestly didn't notice] runners, one border collie and a mountain bike. todd, being the engineering genius that he is, pulled off the task with ease.
we all piled into the cab and headed off for a laughter filled ride back to the start. i think we were all a little giddy with excitement and hunger, as the jokes were lame and hilarious. before everyone developed debilitating cramps, though, we were at the start and all into our respective vehicles. the day was done, with an epic route completed.
the route ended up being something completely different than i expected, but the experience something better than i could have hoped for. from the effort required to complete the route, to the emotion the route evoked, to the scenery presented and the amazing company, the day was a complete and total success. i honestly think i will be hard pressed to find a locale and route that will rival the experience of this death valley weekend.
but that won’t stop me from trying.
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