Back up in Carmel Valley you will find perhaps one of the best parks for trail running in Monterey County. Located 3 miles outside of Carmel Valley Village and roughly 30 minutes from downtown Monterey, Garland Ranch Regional Park is a trail runners dream boasting over 4400 acres of trails and 1800’ of elevation changes. It offers something for everyone: flat wide paths such as the Lupine Loop to more technical and challenging hill climbs on trails like Maple Canyon. No matter what you’re looking for in terms of a trail run, Garland Ranch has it. This was the reason I set out for it on a Friday afternoon in mid-December.
This wasn’t my first encounter with “the Ranch” as I like to call it. We’d met years before the first time I lived in Monterey, and it still held a special place in my heart. Back in 2006 while attending the Naval Postgraduate School, I was fortunate to have a great group of friends who loved running the trails around here as much as I did. Since we didn’t usually have class on Friday, those afternoons became our chance to explore and run the trails. The runs also served as easy runs for many of us who would did ran long distance on Saturday mornings as we trained for marathons such as Big Sur and the Nike Women’s in San Francisco.
These “fun runs” were made even better by one friend who brought her own home brew. We’d knock out a few miles and follow it up with her brew (usually served in Ball Mason jars) at places like Carmel River Beach and Asilomar. They were some of the fondest running memories of my life made even sweeter by the fact that after graduate school most of us deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was a magical time and we made the most of it.
The Ranch also served as the backdrop for one of my strongest race performances while I lived in Monterey before. In late April 2006 I raced the Big Sur Marathon, a very scenic and challenging race along “the edge of the western world.” I took a few weeks off and opted to jump into Pacific Coast Trail Runs Carmel Valley Trail Run 8km race. The next day my girlfriend, now wife, also signed us up for Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to race in what I considered my backyard. It was a beautiful day with temps in the 60s and a partly cloudy. I started off strong staying at the front of the pack. I’d run the route the week before just to check it out. We ran through the lower portion of the Ranch, before heading up into the hills. I felt strong, not really paying attention to wear I stood. As groups peeled off for extended distances, I found myself in an unfamiliar position, with empty trails in front of me.
Fortunately, I knew the route so I held my pace catching glimpses of one more runner in front of me. I slowly closed the gap, but didn’t take it too seriously: this was a “fun” run, why push it? By the time I decided to throw it all into the finish, I began to suspect the runner in front may be the leader. Unfortunately for me it was too late and Adam Blum won it within my sights. Adam wrote a great description of the race in his blog, Course Trained. On that particular day, I was happy with second, and a few hours later was on my way with my girlfriend up to San Francisco for our next weekend adventure.
Back in the present, I started on the valley floor, eventually reaching the base of the hills and started the ascent. Once up in the hills however, my memory failed me and I wandered. At one point I hit a dead end and I tried to traverse my way down a near vertical drop. I chose to double back. It wasn’t worth getting hurt again. I found my way back down to the valley floor and made a big loop around to my starting point: the lone bridge crossing the Carmel River.
In the summer there’s a pedestrian bridge further up the river, however, during the rainy season this passage is removed and you can only get across on the much larger one a hundred meters downstream. The day’s run was nearly flawless and I was satisfied. Now time for that beer! In this part of the county in my mind, there’s only one place to go: the Trailside Café in Carmel Valley Village.
Located three miles up from Garland Ranch, the Trailside Café is a beer aficionado’s dream: with rotating taps, a mug club, and of course a beer garden. Not to mention it’s a quiet interlude to the abundance of wineries found in these parts of Carmel Valley. I found a quiet table in the back, ordered myself a beer, and went to work on capturing this story. The beer I chose followed my recent trend of sampling hefes: New Bohemia Brewery’s Highway to Hefeweizen from Santa Cruz.
The beer was an almost perfect golden color combined with a rich full taste accompanied by hints of fruit, but kept the heaviness of a traditional German hefe. I was sold. And at 5.4% abv I probably could have had another, but why ruin the moment? While I savored my beer, I tried to recreate my run on my computer with limited luck. Oh well, better luck next time, and believe me there with will be a next time at the Ranch. Until then prost and see you on the trails!