Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Trail

In running I would almost say there are no wrong turns it is all karma or Zen or destiny. As they say there is no good weather and bad weather it is just weather. On Wednesday morning my plan was to record my loop time for a newly plotted route on my local trail. Where I live there is a finite amount of trails within running distance. In fact I could probably name them all in one short list. The names have some significance and I'm not sure where they came from but you can tell from area why they came to be.

I live in Mission and as you can guess there is a mission or more correctly a monastery in the middle of town. It sits perched on the side of a hill or mountain, Mount Mary Ann. So in the shadow of this beautiful monastery is a small network of trails. The longest trails are probably only a mile end to end but they run in different directions so you can link them together.

My loop was found by accident. I start by the trailhead off Prentis Avenue across from the Four Square Church. From here you run along Salamander Trail. After about 500' you come to a small rise and a triple fork. The left is Jacob's Ladder which goes up to the monastery. The center is College which meanders up and joins Jacob's Ladder and come back down to join Salamander. And that leaves the right fork, the Salamander Trail which continues on to see where College joins again and then where another fork you'll see where they put a drain pipe to cross D'Herbomez Creek. But you stay left on the trail that parallels the boundary of the OMI aka St Mary's. Follow this to the very end and you'll end up at the end of Jasper Street but I take the very last turn left. How do I know it's the last turn? Experience or Zen or Karma.

Up the hill I go. This section is called Hail Mary. It's maybe a quarter to a half mile long but it is steep. You can’t run it. You can hike fast with your hands on your knees. I love this section.

Near the top if you are too focused on your turnover you'll miss the left turn which takes a final steep push to the Sanctuary. If you miss it you'll soon find yourself on the Gondola with some pretty steep slopes on your right and spectacular views of the valley below. The Gondola is not as steep as the left turn you missed but it was well worth it. It eventually switches back and you find yourself in the Sanctuary. This in the junction for five trails: Hail Mary, The Gondola, Blaspheme, The Monastery, and Jacob's Ladder. There are signs posted for which is which but vandals have removed the one for Gondola and Blaspheme. Total elevation gain is about 1000' at a 20% grade.

Going down Jacob's Ladder is less steep probably 5% at times 15% at others. Going down Jacob's Ladder is always less confusing then going up. Just remember to stay right if given the choice. The choice is possibly hooking up with Glen's Loop (twice) or College trail. Even if you do make a wrong turn they all join Salamander at some point so it's all good.

So after reading this did you figure out where I made a wrong turn? I've been running these trails for years and all my 'wrong turns' have been an evolution into the perfect trail route.

Like I said before there are no wrong turns it was meant to be!


Do you believe in signs? Omens? I have been a runner for over twenty years. In the previous nineteen I've seen lots of rabbits, the occasional fox, one skunk, and one bear. That bear was 15 years ago in what was then Seymour Demonstration Forest. So really I’ve had 15 years bear free.

This year alone I have come across three bears on three separate occasions. The first was in my home town. I was on a road run coming out of the local sports park, going up Nelson Street

which is fairly wooded a typical bear habitat in spite of the nearby houses. As I turned the corner there it was. It saw me and lumbered back to the woods. As I ran by the spot where he entered the woods I saw it sitting there watching me run by. Good bye bear!

The second sighting was on our family vacation in Whistler. I was on a meandering 8 miler on Valley Trail which encircles Whistler Village. As you get closer to the village the trail branches and forks into a network near Lost Lake. I stopped to get my directions straight and I looked up at this signpost. The Upper Village was a sharp right from where I stood so I turned in that direction. Right in front of me about 6 feet away was a black bear probably a couple of years old. If I didn't know better I would swear the bear was getting his bearings straight too (pun intended). I jumped back and said 'Ooh' and the bear jumped back too. And then for some reason I apologized like I was sorry I scared the bear. The bear shuffled off into the woods. He went one way and I went mine. Good bye bear!

The third sighting was the other week in Kelowna. I travel to the interior for my job once a month and seek new trails at the end of the business day. This visit I wasn’t feeling all that adventurous. I decided on the Mission Creek Regional Park. It’s a nice park but not too exciting because it follows the Mission Creek right through town and drains into Lake Okanagan. It’s flatter than a pancake but it is very pretty because on the running stream, the occasional berry bush and it has a fish ladder because they are trying to enhance the local fish population. Hmm, water, berries, and fish a perfect environment for raising bears.

On the Eastside of the creek the trail is more single track and actually weaves in and out and up and down knolls. I chose to runs the knolls. I glanced at the Bear Warning signs and continued on. It’s not that I’m stupid but I know from experience that once these signs go up they never come down even though the last bear sighting could have been years ago. So like many I become complacent in the warnings and tend to ignore them.

I passed a guy who was on a stroll with a mentally challenged adult. I said my hello’s and still continued on. About a quarter mile later I see something in the creek. My first thought was it was pretty cold to be swimming. Still I ran towards the shape that became more defined as I approached. We made eye contact and I stopped. We must have been about 200 feet apart but it was close enough to tell it was a full grown black bear. This bear didn’t look skittish, in fact he kind of looked pissed that I was in his fishing grounds. He slowly lumbered his way out of the creek and back to the trail I was on and I slowly backed along the trail keeping and trying to gain some more distance.

As soon as I lost eye contact at the first little bend I turned and hauled my tail out of there. Less than a quarter mile later I came across the guy and his adult charge. I told him about the bear and he turned around with me. I continued on by crossing the bridge to the Westside. I ran for another 4 miles and didn’t see any signs of any other bears. Good bye bear!

Do I believe in Omens or signs? Not really but to this point I feel really fortunate with my encounters of bears. Will I be complacent about warning signs anymore? Hell no! Will it stop me from running trails? Hell no! You hear a lot of stories about bear encounters and some of them don’t end happily. I love the trails and will always run the trails but I know the bears were there first. I’ve made a point of educating myself about bears and what to do should I encounter another. If you are a trail runner use the web as a tool a read about bears. Trail Runner magazine had a great article about bears in the September Issue. Read it!