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Elephant Head


Due to weather threats and a general lack of funds, my friend Mo and I decide to forgo Flagstaff and Humphreys. Instead, we choose to stick closer to home:

Elephant Head in the afternoon
Elephant Head.

So I don't have a topo map for the area, nor have I ever been there. I don't have a hiking book for it, and all I can find are two brief descriptions online that tell me how to access it. Mo and I go for it anyway.

Nutrition at the start

We grab our morning fortification from Xoom Juice, then head out. The directions to the trailhead seem pretty detailed: travel south to Green Valley, get off the highway and go to Elephant Head road, then go 3.6 miles on this road, 1.7 on the next (slightly rougher) dirt road, 2.2 on the (slightly more rougher) dirt road, .4 down the next (even more rougher dirt road) and then 1.2 (almost impassible) dirt road to the trail head.

Elephant Head in the morning

We can't make the last 1.2, even in Mo's high-clearance four-wheel-drive truck, Betty. Betty does her best, but she just can't make it. Okay, so we add 2.4 miles to the (roughly) 8-mile round-trip, for a total of 10ish miles. Hmm, can I do that on my barely rehabbed knee?

Let's find out.

I realize as we start the hike in that we are two females all alone hiking back into a remote area of national forest that has been seeing increased levels of human smuggling from Mexico and no one knows exactly where we are or when we are due back. This worries me.

I also see large animal prints along the dirt road that I can't identify. This worries me.

I spot small humid clouds starting to form over the mountains already, and I know there are thunderstorm forecasts for the day. This worries me.

Farther along, I start to see spent shell casings littering the dirt road. This really worries me.

Within two miles, we come to a fork in the road that the brief trail description does not identify. We don't know which way to go. We see vehicle and bike tracks on the right fork disappear into a wash that seems to lead away from Elephant Head and then taper out. So we take the left fork. This dead-ends at a creek within a quarter-mile. I play with my Garmin, pressing random buttons to try and figure out where we are and where we need to go.

Elephant Head

Okay, back we go. We make marks in the dirt to tell us we already went way and it sucked, then point an arrow down the right fork and off we go into the wash and seemingly tapering off dirt road. But it doesn't taper off and we continue moving farther away from Elephant Head.

While the online description gave detailed instructions on finding the trailhead, it gives precious little insight for the trail itself. The first landmarks it gives are a mill site and a hill with radio towers, neither of which we can find and we continue moving farther away from our destination.

Part of the valley we hiked up

Three-ish miles in, we find the mill site. Whew. We are on the right track. Shortly thereafter, we find the radio towers. A trail branches to the right, up the hill with two big cairns, but I don't think this is where we are supposed to go. I mess with my Garmin again as Mo finds her compass. The printed directions tell us to go easterly, which is away from the trail. So we continue easterly.

We hiked up the slope in the foreground

This is finally bringing us around towards Elephant Head. But the dirt road is becoming smaller and smaller and the bushes are encroaching. First, it's flowery bushes leaving yellow residue on my legs. Then the acacia cat-claw starts reaching out and tearing at my lower legs. I knew I should have worn pants. I suspected this would be the case. Dang it!

Thar she blows!

Finally we top out and see Elephant Head....across a major drainage. By major, I mean major. Deep. I can hear the water but I can't see it. And the directions we have tell us to fling ourselves off the road and down the gravelly slope some who-knows-how-many vertical feet down to cross the drainage, and then back up the higher side. And that will only get us to the ridge to get us to the base of the summit!

Elephant Head from near our turnaround

We head down part way before I realize we've already gone over 5 miles. And if I keep up the hiking on this steep stuff, I could definitely re-injure my knee. And the clouds are getting darker, although we haven't heard any thunder yet. A tough decision needs to be made.

Shortly before we stopped

We choose to be prudent and turn around to head back, when we hear the shots. Someone down-canyon is shooting a shotgun. Crap. I sure hope they are gone by the time we reach them. I really don't feel like stumbling upon a) a group of illegal immigrants spending the day shooting shotguns until it's nighttime and they can go on the move again or b) JimBob and his friends shooting up a sign, cans or random women who have the stupidity to walk into their firing range.

Danger!! Mine!!

We head down the road again, through the thorns and flowers. This really hurts - it's re-scratching the scratches I already have! We play alphabet games and talk about things we've never done that we want to. We keep up a good pace and it gets hot. My Garmin starts beeping at me to tell me that a turn is approaching each time we approach a turn. I'm puzzled. How does it know? It's never done this to me before.

We traversed the slope in the foreground

I realize I must have pushed a "mark route" button or something when I fooled around with the buttons early on. This is fun - it is telling me we are on track, and tells me how many miles to go and how much time that will take.

I am hot and fried and glad that we haven't run into JimBob or anyone else. Finally, we make it to the car, 4.5 hours after we started. Whew!

Angie & Elephant Head at the end

I decide that even though it was tough, scary, scratchy and maybe planned out in too much of a haphazard way, I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the hike. We manage to get ourselves lost on our drive out, but quickly get back on track and back to Tucson.

Our legs after the adventure

Bonus: I am reassured that I still have my cardiovascular base level from earlier this year. Even though my knee twinged a bit, I didn't have a problem with this hike. Yay!

Update: 10.2 miles and 3000 ft of climbing. My knee is sore but not hurting today. My glutes are the most sore, and my arm from a wipeout I had coming down (landed on my right hip/arm).

Photos from Mt Lemmon


(But first - I did an impromptu run on Monday night, and ending up running faster than I have in months. It was great! And Ash is finally back home, how awesome.)

Click on the photos to view larger sizes...


regrowing after the burn

butterfly on a thistle

butterfly up close

Sucks to be me


Now if that just isn't the most self-pitying, self-absorbed title, I don't know what is. But that is exactly how I felt at about 10:30 yesterday morning, as I walked two miles back to my car, having cut short an already cut-short long run. Men, if womanly topics make you uncomfortable, you won't want to read any further.

Let's start at the beginning: the sinus infection. I got antibiotics to treat it. I saw, but didn't really think about, the warnings on my birth control pill that state antibiotics may interfere with the medication. I wasn't worried, due to the timing in my cycle that I was taking the antibiotics. I knew I wouldn't be getting pregnant. However, I didn't realize that I was on the brink of PMS onset.

I realized last Thursday that I was very cranky. Way more than normal. So cranky, I turned Thursday's lunch run into a speed session, and followed that up with an intense evening spinning session. And by Friday, I wanted to bury myself in a mountain of pinto beans and cheese (my usual cravings, but stronger than normal), and there was no way in hell I wanted to move my body. Friday night was fun at a Christmas party. I awoke Saturday morning to discover a major hurdle to my 10-mile scheduled long run: heavy downpours outside. After checking the weather and discovering that Sunday morning would be cold but had no rain forecasted, I decided to spend all day Saturday with Chris, exhausting myself by watching a basketball game, doing Christmas shopping and watching the Bourne Ultimatum.

Sunday morning, I was ready for my long run. A little worried about running in weather, as it's been awhile, but I thought I was mentally ready. First, I couldn't find my clothes. Then, I couldn't find my gaiters - panic attack! After tearing the house apart, I found them in my duffel bag. Next up, my water bottles were all dirty. I did NOT feel like washing dishes! I tore the house apart some more, looking for my camelback, and realized I must have left it in the car. I threw on my fleece, and braved the cold in short shorts and flip-flops to get the camelback. Once inside, I realized the bladder was missing. F$#&. I went back out to the car and got the bladder. Everything else was going along fine, until I couldn't find my trail running shoes. Again, tear the house apart as I almost start crying. It's not supposed to BE this hard! I found my shoes after looking on the floor of my closet three times. Duh, right in front of my nose.

I head out of the house and stop by Ike's to pick up coffee and a scone. The coffee is delicious as usual, but after I get in my car and start driving away, I reach into the bag and instead of pulling out a chocolate-frosted chocolate espresso scone, I pull out an unfrosted cinnamon scone. Ooooh, disappointment cuts through me like a knife. When you are cranky, tired, scared of a looming long run that you have no energy for, have already panicked three or four times in one morning and are experiencing REALLY STRONG CRAMPS even though you aren't supposed to start for two days, you really do NOT want a cinnamon scone, even if you normally like cinnaman scones.

But I didn't cry. Not yet. I made it to Sabino, and pulled out my phone to put in my pack when I realized I had a message. It was Chris, informing me that a soccer teammate had been out to Sabino already this morning, and the creek made all the trails impassable. F*&$. F*&$. F*&$. I called Chris back to get details and then whined and whined and whined about my morning and about how I didn't know what the hell I was going to do. He suggested Esperero Canyon. I called a friend who knows the area very well and agreed that Esperero would be a good choice: a few side streams to cross, but nothing major. Of course, that meant my 10-miler would become an 8-miler, but oh well. At least I was still going to get my long run in.

I tried to ignore the freaking out feelings I was struggling with: I hate that trail. I'm scared of mountain lions. And being out there alone. I tried to hike it once and I just didn't like it. I tried to ignore the mental block against this trail that I have.

I ran to the restroom quickly before I left, only to realize that the reason I was feeling so crampy and so cranky: I started my period. Two days early. F*&$. Damn antibiotics. I had supplies, and soon I was ready to go on my way.

The first .75 mile was okay. By 1.3, I started heading up up up a big, steep hill. A few folks were out, but not many. My garmin made a strange sound, and I looked down to realize that apparently, I was going so slow up the steep hill, it auto-paused itself. It wasn't counting any of the time or distance as I trudged wearily up up up. What a blow. I have it set to auto-pause WHEN I STOP. When I STOP. Not when I get below a 2-mile-per-hour pace. When I STOP. I guess I was going so slow up this hill, it couldn't register my pace.

I was so depressed. What was the point of trudging up the hill if my efforts didn't get recognized on my device? (Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was thinking I shouldn't really attach so much significance to an electronic device, but my emotions were too strong for that to come forward.)

I topped out and headed down, tripping and cursing and then stopping abruptly when I heard something in the bushes. (Something that turned out to be the cymbals kicking off the next song on my iPod.) I was really feeling cranky by now, and when I made it to Bird Canyon's creek, I just did NOT feel like jumping over it and heading up into the mesquite bosque on the other side. With my luck, I'd fall in. And the trail ahead just looked scary. (I told you I was a scaredy-cat.)

So I turned around at 2 miles in, and walked out. Didn't run a single step. I hate running with a camelback and did not want to feel it bouncing around on me. I was cramping more. I felt like a petulant child - I just wanted to throw a fit and be done with it. I felt like a failure. Like there was no way I could be an ultrarunner. What kind of ultrarunner lets a few disappointments, fear of mountain lions and her monthly cycle get in the way of training?

Once I arrived back at my car, I called Chris in tears. Poor guy did really well just listening to me whine and moan. After I got home and showered, we went to my favorite restaurant for brunch and comfort food, before heading home to play scrabble and watch football. We eventually fell asleep on the couch, but woke up in time for Chris to head home and Ash to come over.

Ash and I had a great evening, and I also managed to clean the house and get started on the last custom art order for Christmas (unless anyone else wants to order some! hint, hint :) ).

I'm feeling better today, although somewhat ashamed by my feelings/behavior yesterday. I know why I did what I did, and I know I'll be okay. I also know I have two to three weeks of lowered training coming up to get through the holidaze before I really begin my training in earnest in January. So it'll be okay. Right? Right.

So so so much much much!


C2U folks, scroll to the bottom to get this week's info...

My totally cool new earrings
New Earrings
New Earrings

Oy vey.

*deep breath*

I am tired, exhausted, worn out, used up, scared, stressed, worried, fretful. But I made another sale! Sacred Heart Vision...

And I've made good progress on Lisa's running art (go congratulate her, she just finished her first tri!).

And Ash and I had a fanTAStic hike on Mt. Lemmon today. It's true: the boy doesn't know how to "hike". He thinks the trails are for running :) Watching his nimble body leap from rock to stump and over roots was beautiful. At points, I was nervous that he was about to fall off the trail, but each time I was about to open my mouth to caution him, he'd deftly manuever to a safer spot. He fell a couple times, on the trail, but was amazing to watch.
FallHike2007 073
Ash being a zombie
FallHike2007 070
Making the fall colors fly
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Having fun at lunch
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Catching himself on a rare fall
His little four-year-old legs did good on the approximately 1.4 mile roundtrip hike on top of Mt. Lemmon.

We've had an interesting weekend. Ash is tired and exhausted and missing his dad - he spend two nights with his grandmother and now three nights with me, and no time in between with his dad. He's been cranky and pushing all my buttons. It's been rough. But we're doing ok. I'm overwhelmed, though.

And work. Oh boy, work. I know I've been this stressed before, but this time, I feel like there's more pressure, more riding on the upcoming events that I'm coordinating. It's my favorite part of my job: event planning. I get a rush from planning every little detail and having the entire thing come off without a hitch (knock on wood). Well, I've got one on Saturday - which is when I'm in Phoenix for JJ100. This'll be my first that I've managed, planned and organized that I won't be present for. I'm a little nervous about that. Ok, more than a little nervous. I'm a wreck over it. But I just have to trust that it'll all unfold smoothly even without me there. Have enough trust in myself to know that it'll all be ok. And then I have another one in just a few weeks that's turning into an even bigger deal, and the invite is due to the printer on Wednesday and to my client for approval tomorrow -- and my art dept hasn't even begun the layout yet (waiting on images). AAAHHHHHHHHH (Did I mention this is a relatively new client?! Don't want to lose their business!) Not to mention a few award submittals due asap, internal team politics, a couple projects headed into construction, which means weekly meetings and alerts due out, and looming public meetings.

*deep breath*

Then there's the socializing. A friend is back in town for a few days before leaving for Germany, which means Thursday night is happy hour (I'm hosting this time). Friday morning I'm heading up to Phoenix to pick up Jess and spend the weekend playing at JJ100, and hopefully meeting up with a few friends and fellow bloggers (Steve and Hippo among them). The following Monday night is book club night (yay Kiera for reinstating it!). Between my friends and Ash, I have only two open nights in the next two-and-a-half weeks for Chris :( Sigh.

Oh yeah, and running too - I've discovered a new running partner! Someone who doesn't mind dark, cold, early morning winter runs, woo hoo! We're running on Tuesday morning. Yay!!! I didn't get much running in last week, but that meant I got lots of Ash time. I run every morning I don't have him - every other week, I'll get high mileage - which means every other week, extraordinarily low mileage (rest weeks, I suppose).

C2U - I haven't forgotten you. This week, if you haven't already been running this much, I want you to aim for 10 miles for the week. The biggest challenge? Get 4 of those miles on one day - either Saturday or Sunday - as your 'long run'. Preferably on trails to start training for ZG, but this week, it's ok to not do trails. So, your schedule is three 2-mile runs during the week (you can choose two 3-milers if you want), and one 4-miler on the weekend. GO!

Blackett's Ridge


(Update: Photos!)

After a fun Friday night with a soccer game, followed by eating at a new English pub in town (yummy!), Chris (aka "C") and I headed out to Sabino Canyon yesterday morning to go for a hike. I decided I need to start training on steep trails to simulate race day conditions at Zane Grey. It's well known about Tucson that the best steep-ass trail would be Blackett's Ridge. I haven't been on the trail for over nine years, but I remember its relentless grade. I wanted a companion with me the first time I headed up it while I got a feel for the trail that will become my best friend this winter. Chris is not a runner, so trail running isn't something I can share with him; however, he likes to hike. If I'm 'running' something steep, I'm not actually running - I'm hiking. Which is what Chris likes to do. So it's perfect!
BlackettsRidge 019
The weather was slightly warm, but just about perfect. It felt strange to not be running the first flat mile or so. It also felt strange to be in 'hiking' shorts (with cotton underwear), as opposed to 'running' shorts (with a built-in wicking liner). It also felt strange not to carry my camelback (Chris convinced me that he'd carry everything, that I didn't need to carry my camelback).
BlackettsRidge 016
Not comfortable with walking, I set a quick pace for the first 1.4 miles to the Blackett's Ridge turnoff. Then, as we started climbing, and climbing, and climbing (and climbing), my pace gradually lessened, to the point where I actually had to stop for a breather (I didn't want to!). Chris pointed out his parent's house and high school, among other nearby landmarks. It was a good stop, but I knew there was more to go. This hike was a good sort-of base test, the baseline to guage my progress this winter against. And I was much more out of shape than I was hoping!
BlackettsRidge 015
I channeled Olga as I headed up some steep slabs: swinging my arms and power-hiking my way up, up, up. Relentless Forward Motion. Finally, we hit the top of the ridge, and I was ready to stop. The trail continues, but it doesn't really have an 'end'. This was good enough for me. We hung out on some rocks enjoying the expansive views and taking some photos before heading back down.
BlackettsRidge 010
Chris took the lead on the way down, which was fine (I could do snot-rockets without him seeing me - really, what girl wants her boyfriend observing her blow snot-rockets?!), until we hit some prime running trail, at which point, I pushed him out of the way and let loose, flying over the trail, down, down, down, such sweet sweet release to open my hips and let my legs stretch out and fly free. Wheeeeee!!!!
BlackettsRidge 011
This trail being as nasty as it is, that didn't last long. The rest of the way down, I'd run when I could, then wait for Chris to catch up as I took my time picking my way through the steep rocks, which was totally fine with him (yay!) The last 1.4 back to the car, I walked with him, even though I could have ran. It felt good just to amble along, knowing the goal of this was not to run run run, but to enjoy a Saturday morning with my boyfriend. I was quite glad he had convinced me to give up the camelback; It was nice to not have to carry anything! We estimated that we hiked about 5.5 miles with 2300 vt ft elevation gain.
BlackettsRidge 014
After filling ourselves up with soup and sandwhiches at a favorite restaurant, we headed to my house, where he fell asleep and I got started on Sarah's custom running art (should be done this week, woo hoo!!!). The rest of the day finished out with Scrabble, a favorite Mexican restaurant and watching Howard's End (I hadn't seen it before).

This morning, I held myself to my goal of heading out for a recovery run. I spent a leisurely morning in bed (oh, so nice to relax and not worry about having to get up to run - the weather has cooled off enough that I can run later!). I wasn't too sore getting out of bed, although my right glute was complaining a little bit. I am actually surprised that I'm not more sore. I headed out for 1.3 s l o o o o o w miles around the neighborhood, then stretched a little. Now I've got laundry on, a cinnamon nut bread in the oven, an artisan potluck to go to this afternoon and Ash (yayayay!) tonight.

All in all, it's been a fantastic weekend.

Better than Coke or PB&J


First, CONGRATULATIONS to Mike for winning his 5k this morning. Rock on!

I did a nice four-mile hike this morning with a friend. It was perfect - cloudy, beautiful, peaceful. Dreamy, even :)

I received a phone call this afternoon asking me if I was still available to volunteer at OP 50 next month. You bet, I said! I will be at the 33-mile aid station; I'm so excited! When I told Jeff, he said, "Nothing like a little package of enthusiasm at mile 33. Better than coke or pb&j!" *grin*

Further planning reveals that I don't need to run Monday or Wednesday next week. To up my miles smartly, I need to run 12ish miles next week:
Monday: basic hatha in the evening
Tuesday: 5.5 flat on the river path in the am, hatha flow in the evening
Wednesday: total rest
Thursday: basic hatha in evening
Friday: 2 to 3 Friday at lunch
Saturday: 5 with Kiera before Ash and I leave for Mesa (for my mom's birthday)
Sunday: total rest

Adventure on Rincon Peak


Wow, what an incredible day yesterday!

A view out the backside of the Rincon Mountains

I was supposed to meet my friend Jon at 7 am for a hike up Rincon Peak, the second highest peak in the Rincon Mountains (where I have not done much hiking/running), a hike of 16.2 miles and over 4200 vertical feet of elevation change. I showed up at his house and he hadn't even gotten out of bed yet. Once he woke up, I was hungry, so he made a scrambled egg breakfast, then he had to pack, then I realized my camelback was leaking horrendously, then we finally packed up his old Saab and headed out of town.

38 miles later, we found the 16 mile long dirt road to the trailhead. Only one spot was a little worrisome - a pond in the middle of the road. After testing it to see how deep it was, we headed through. The car only bottomed out once, over a rock. It was fun to watch the peak as we got closer and closer.

Jon testing the water

Finally, at 11:27 a.m. (late start!!!), we headed up into the mountains.

A gorgeous seed pod we found along the route

The views were gorgeous, the trail was rocky but awesome. Up, up, up we climbed. From grasslands to oaks to junipers to pines and more. The terrain kept changing, the views got more and more spectacular, and I got more and more tired. We made it to Happy Valley Saddle, and checked the time. We were pretty sure we'd end in the dark, but decided to keep going to the peak. We were there; we had to bag the peak! Along the way, we found a working headlamp that someone had left behind. The trail register at the beginning had shown that no one was climbing the mountain today, so we decided "finders keepers". I had not brought my head lamp for the trip, so we decided it was an omen - we had to keep going, since now we both had head lamps to finish with!

I loved this forest

The trail got steeper and steeper. We laughed at how the trail was turning into a New England trail - straight up the mountain! It was getting colder and colder. I stopped to put on a long-sleeve shirt, and Jon kept my pack for the last stretch (he claimed it kept him warmer; who am I to complain!). We scrambled up over the rocks and finally summitted, 3 hours and 49 minutes after we started.

The cairn on the top of the peak

We hung out on top for about 45 minutes, taking tons of pictures, making art with rocks, eating and getting really really cold. Finally, we decided we needed to head down.

I made it!

ClimbingJon2Jon climbing along a fun wall on the peak

Rock art

Me trying to keep warm out of the wind

My knee had been hurting since the Thanksgiving race (and after the race, when I was in the shower and somehow tweaked it), and I wore my ITB strap on the way up. It didn't seem to help much. We headed down the steep stuff, and my knee started hurting pretty badly. I had to go pretty slow, which bummed me out. I still thought we could beat the dark! But not with how my knee was hurting.

So, down, down, down we went. Flatter or more gradual inclines were much faster and felt better on my knee. I even got a little bit of running in. Jon's legs were just about shot as we reached the saddle and began the 4.4 mile descent to the car. Somewhere in this section of a granite garden, I landed wrong on my knee, and incredible pain just shot through my leg. I had to stop. I was almost in tears, but told myself, "I will not cry!" I kept going gingerly, and mostly did okay. The flatter it got, the better, but all I had to do was land off just a little, and the intense pain would come back. I've had knee issues for awhile, and I'm used to dull pain, but this was different - this was intense and stopped me in my tracks. I'm a little worried about it, so I'm not running at all this week.


Sure enough, dark descended before we reached the car, so the head lamps came in handy. Much to Jon's chagrin, we did not run into any bears or mountain lions (although we did see coatimundi, and I almost stepped on a tarantula).

Jon playing with the tarantula

It was a beautiful, peaceful night, and I really enjoyed hiking along the flat creek bottom with the stars overhead and crickets chirping. It was rejuvenating (especially since my knee wasn't hurting so much). 3 hours after we left the peak, we were back at the car. The drive out was much quicker, and we picked up pizza for dinner (mmm, nothing like a good pizza following a wicked hike!). What a great fall day!

Me at the summit, woo hoo!

update: drum roll please....this is my 200th post!


angie's explored by trail running (and mixed-media art)

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