Saturday, June 7, 2008

Night Running in Bandera

We had a great trip to Bandera. We got down there about 5pm Friday and pitched our tent. Gavin was really excited to be camping and wanted so badly to help put up the tent but ended up hindering more than helping. He was really cute though. After we set the tent up, we went for a hike and spotted a dung beetle hard at work. Gavin was fascinated with it and we must have stood there for 20 minutes watching it. The highlight of his trip was watching all the fireflies (they call them "lightning bugs" over here) at dusk (see picture above).

I'd anticipated going down to get a look at the terrain and to have a good time with Gavin while Nancy ran, but Joe invited me to join him and Joyce on a night run. That was an unexpected bonus and needless to say I jumped at the chance. Every person I've met since I started trail running has been super nice, and Joe and Joyce are out of the top drawer. They are both very genuine and generous. They run a number of local trail races from their Tejas Trails website, and Austin and the Texas trail community are lucky to have them. This run worked perfectly for me because Nancy and Gavin would be asleep and I could get a good workout in and still be able to look after him in the morning. We took a quick trip into town to pick up a pizza so I could get back to the campground and get ready to run.

We hit the trail around 9pm and were joined by TJ Thompson and John Sharp. I didn't know TJ but I'd met John at Rocky Raccoon when we finished less than a minute apart, a trick we repeated at the Austin marathon a few weeks later. He's just a real nice guy and it's always a pleasure to run into him. He's getting ready to run his first 100 miler at Bighorn later this month and it was good to catch up. We talked about all kinds of things and he was running smooth and steady. He looked ready for his big race.

We ran over a myriad of trails, including Boyles and Cairn's climb. At one point John and myself got lost and added in a few bonus miles. I didn't care - I was enjoying the run and the conversation. We eventually found the others (they were sitting on one of the trails waiting for us - said they could hear us yakking from the next mountain).

We stopped at Boyle's house about 2.5 hours into the run to refill our water. There was a wonderfully refreshing breeze blowing and we all turned off our lights and enjoyed the star mosaic of the night sky. It was awe inspring - a golden moment - and everyone agreed that the weekend was a success just on the basis of this night run. We carried on running and eventually got back to the road and Joe's truck. It was just around midnight and we'd been going for about 3 hours. John was done and Joe and Joyce were ready to turn in too. TJ said he wouldn't mind doing a bit more but didn't want to run by himself. I was up for it so we refilled our water, said goodnight to the others and headed back onto the trail. The plan was to do another few hours, including "Ice Cream" hill and the "Three Sisters" before heading back to the campsite. We settled into good conversation as we ran the flats. TJ has a 4 month old at home, and we swapped stories of being new dads. He's a real strong runner, both physically and mentally and is training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler in July. A few weeks earlier he'd come out to Bandera by himself and run a 6 mile loop (including Ice Cream and the Three Sisters) eight times. We clicked immediately and conversation was real easy.

The climb up Ice Cream felt good, but I'm not very strong on the downhills, especially on loose rock. TJ was and would pull ahead on those sections. At one point I realized something was tracking me in the woods to my left. I could hear it moving along parallel to me, but when I'd stop and shine my headlamp into the brush it would stop too. Then it would start moving again along with me. I was more curious than anything, but I never did find out what it was.

Then on one of the flat sections before the "Three Sisters" we came across a skunk - a real big fat skunk waddling up the trail. We weren't taking any chances so we trailed it at a safe distance until it wandered off the trail and then we hightailed it past.

The rest of the run was uneventful. We settled into a laid back pace and conversation and eventually headed on back to the campsite. We finished right on 20 miles - around 4 hours and 45 minutes. One of the best runs I've ever had.

Breakfast this morning was cold pizza which Gavin insisted on carrying from the car. He was so funny - he walked into the campsite and announced to everyone "I've got pizza". While Nancy went off for her group run we got to play. We also got to visit with Joe and Joyce, John and his dog Lacey (Gavin's new friend) and Mindy - a friend of one of the runners in Nancy's group.

We had to leave as soon as Nancy finished her run so she could get back to Austin in time to rack her bike for the Danskin triathlon tomorrow. On the way home we stopped off at the "Deutsch Bakery" in Blanco for some apple cake muffins and coffee - yum yum (and I needed the coffee).

In case you didn't get it from my description, I loved running here. I did notice the sotol cactus which you can't avoid brushing against in many places. You don't notice it at first, but it begins to burn as you keep hitting it. Nothing major though. I need to be careful on the downhills - I turned my ankle pretty good on one of the Sisters, though I was able to run it off. That was a good sign - my ankles are much stronger now than when I started running trail. All in all, a super trip and I'm looking forward to pacing the night section for my buddy at Cactus Rose.

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