My week in California flew by. It was about closing out five years worth of work and saying good bye to what had been my second family. Honestly, I didn’t really want to think about it. If anything, I wanted to focus on the road ahead and my adventure the following week. This was like saying good bye without really saying good bye. While I would be changing command, I would see less than a dozen of the 130 Soldiers I led. On top of that, I needed to get serious about the trail runs that lay ahead of me. While I’d run some trails in Tennessee, they were nothing like what awaited me out west. It was clearly time to cram. I had to make this time matter and do the things I enjoyed most in California one more time.
It really was a weird feeling being back in Cali again, but then again in late September 2020 everything about California had a weird vibe too it. Nothing stood out more to me than Bay Area traffic and the air quality. For the first few days of the week I commuted back and forth to Dublin from Santa Clara. Normally this commute ranged anywhere from 50-60+ minutes, but with traffic being nonexistent, I made it in 35-40 minutes. I don’t ever recall a time when traffic had been this light. It was odd not seeing the miles of brake lights on the many roads in the area. It was part of the new normal. Then there was the air quality. California, in addition to the pandemic, had several severe fires break out in September and the air quality was horrific. I lived in California in 2018 when the fires and air quality were bad. Then 2020 came along and said, “Hold my beer.” The first few days I was there, the air quality was so bad, I couldn’t run. By the following Wednesday, however, it dropped back down into the tolerable range. Now it really was cramming time. After work and on lunch breaks, I prepared for my upcoming cross country tour: I ran a lot of uphills, taking advantage of the many ascending trails throughout the area to get some last minute training in. Coming from flat western Tennessee, the hills of the Bay area were eye opening. This time became three days of three paths, pilsners, and pinots. It was everything I enjoyed of California rolled into a few short days. Here’s the lowdown:
With the air quality back down to the reasonable level, I started my tight training schedule the Wednesday after my arrival. I chose for my first trail Bushy Peak Park which I first discovered in January 2017 and told myself that I’d come back to explore it soon. Three and a half years passed and well, better late than never. I needed to get my legs accustomed to running elevation again, setting my sites on the “rolling” hills of the park. I say that in jest—it was pretty much straight up the hill for the first couple of miles before meandering around and back down. In the end, it was hot. I didn’t have enough water. My Camelbak leaked all over the place. I got a blister on the back of my heel. It was all part of training and builds character, right?
But enough with these negative waves– it was 4.6 miles of pristine trails! I loved it and even better– I DID NOT MELT! Besides there was cold beer in my uncle’s kegerator to rehydrate with. For years my uncle has been brewing his own beers. That night’s choice: a Belgian-style quad, full of flavor and strong…it was his effort at recreating some of the Belgian abby style beers I’d brought him over the years. It totally hit the mark, robust and rich, going down way too smoothly. I may have overindulged just a tad, but it was worth it!
Training run #1 was complete!
A new day and I had a new path to explore. Despite being a little sore from the hills of Bushy Peak, I set out the next day for more…probably because I’m a glutton for punishment. This time I chose the Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, just outside of Dublin & Pleasanton.
But this time I was ready…
Or so I thought.
The air was better, but the heat was on. I even managed some funny looks from the locals as I ran by. Not to mention it was pretty much up for the first three miles. I would say straight up, but my Strava map shows the various switchbacks I took getting on top of the ridge and back down. It was tough but definitely worth the views!
My reward: a nice (small) bottle of a Klinker Brick Zinfandel and some In & Out Burger (I am in California after all). It hit the spot.
The trails were tough but I honestly enjoyed the great leg workouts! I was getting there. I could feel my legs coming alive again as I plodded my way up and down the hills. It was that good kind of pain that you almost seem to enjoy going through it. I had one more day of trails before the change of command.
Third time is a charm, right? Ok, so I finally learned my lesson. Well kind of. This time I got up early to take on the Martin Canyon Trail in Dublin, California and try and beat the heat. I didn’t know what to expect, which was good because in my short training week, I’d saved the best for last. All I could say was “wow!” Great challenging trails combined with exquisite views and lush vegetation made these 5.5 morning miles simply amazing. It was well worth the ascent for sure! By far this was my favorite run of the trio I did. Something about the morning breeze, the fog burning off, and the sun shining down combined with those trails, made this trail nearly borderline epic.
That night I picked up some good old California street tacos from a local taqueria and enjoyed a can of Fluent in Sarcasm from Devils Canyon. I was in sheer bliss.
Then Saturday came and with it, my change of command. For me it was a sad way to say good bye to an organization that was like family to me. I had been blessed to lead the 303d for 49 months, serve in it for 64 months. In comparison, I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy for 47 months. I served in Iraq for only 26 months. Not to mention, I said my good byes virtually, to a cell phone camera…which didn’t help. But this was a sign of the times and I was very fortunate to be able to come out to California at all. We held the ceremony on Saturday morning, I relinquished the unit colors, packed my things up, and made my peace. Now it was time to go.
Before commencing my road trip, however, I had one more night at my Uncle’s. We made it matter once again. In what I can only describe as an all too Silicon Valley type event, we went to his neighbor’s house for socially distanced tequila tasting on his self-built cantina-style back porch. Now we’re not talking your liquor store tequilas here. My uncle’s friend collected tequilas from trips to Mexico for years, storing dozens in the private tequila/wine cellar of his home. We ordered take out barbecue and just sampled good smooth tequila. Of course my fear was a dreaded hangover the next day, but apparently when you don’t drink tequila out of a plastic bottle or mix it with sweet syrups, that doesn’t happen as much. Who knew?!
The tequila tasting and barbecue were a fitting end to a week in the Bay area. I slept well that night, and in the morning we packed the car up, said our good byes, and like I headed south for one more rendezvous with Monterey. The adventure home had begun!