Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jay Cooke State Park

I have long had the goal of running every trail in Jay Cooke. The DNR claims that their are 50 miles of hiking trails, 32 miles of cross-country ski trails and 12 miles of snowmobile trails in the park. Lots of overlap there, by the way.

I originally set this goal about 7 years ago when my daughter Sarah was volunteering at a therapeutic horseback riding organization in the area. I would drop her off and head to Jay Cooke with Porter to occupy myself during her 3+ hour shift. Back then I wasn't running as many miles and avoided running when it was hot (which Porter greatly appreciated), which meant I did not get very far into the park on these jaunts. I did a lot of exploring on the trails away from the headquarters though. There are numerous trail loops that can be accessed from back roads or Hwy 210. The Half Voyageur and Voyageur Ultra use some of these trails on their course.

Anyway, on to yesterday's run. While most of Duluth was focused on Grandma's Marathon and the Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon (either participating in it in some way or trying to get away from it) I headed south to Jay Cooke. My plan was to run 22 miles - the last really long run before the Half Voyageur. I had plotted out a course south of the swinging bridge that worked out to be 26K/16 miles. It allowed me to run almost every trail on that side of the park without duplicating too much. Then I was planning on heading across Hwy 210 and running trails over there to get the next 6 miles in. Part of the beauty of this plan was that I needed to be self-supported and could use the car as my "aid station" as I have learned that I can only carry enough water for about 18 miles or so (at least with the equipment I currently have).

The weather since Friday has been a bit unsettled with thunderstorms popping up in the afternoon. I really do not like running when there is lightening about. I have been close to a strike before and don't care to experience that again.

I headed across the swinging bridge and out the Summer Trail. Within a mile or so of leaving the headquarters I got to the part of the park that few people use - evidenced by the extreme lack of trail maintenance. Parts of the Summer Trail are also a snowmobile trail in the winter. The grass was pretty long here. Not too bad to run through though as it was probably only calf high or so and there were areas that others had been in, so the grass was at least knocked down a bit. The long grass continued for almost all of my run, at least until I got back within a mile or so of headquarters. Guess we know where most park users are concentrated!

So, yesterday's route was: Summer Trail to Bear Chase Trails (long way around) to Lost Lake Trail to Lower Lake Trail to Upper Lake Trail to Spruce Trail, back to Upper Lake Trail, Lower Lake Trail, Lost Lake Trail and then onto an unlabeled trail on the map, but was called Summer Trail on the posts, to the Ridge Trails (near the river) and back to the bridge and park headquarters. If you have a map in front of you, I generally took right turns at all intersections, choosing the long way around if there were shortcuts. A lot of these trails are loops, so it worked out that I only ran the same trail one time - the Lost Lake Trail - and that was because it is the connector between the two trail systems on that side of the park.

The further I got from park headquarters the taller the grass and ferns in the trail got. It was obvious that very few people get out this way as the vegetation was almost untouched in places (Spruce Trail for example). I saw only a handful of people, surprising a backpacking group as a matter of fact. Also surprised a few deer, wood frogs, toads and one - soon to be really pissed off - momma ruffed grouse. I am sorry, but mad ruffed grouse are very scary - especially when they are chasing you. So much for low heart rate training!

The trails on this end of the park have some killer hills. If you have ever run the NMTC Bull Run you will know what I mean. That race uses portions of the Spruce Trail and the Lake Trails (still not totally sure which parts). These are ski trails and I am waaay too chicken to ski them because of the steep hills. But I will run them. I just kept thinking "powerlines" as I walked up the hills or ran down them.

This is also where the grass and bracken ferns got thigh high or taller. Okay - no comments about my height! It is tough running through this stuff. And at times it was a bit tough finding the trail. The woods are making their best attempt to reclaim the trails back there. Often the only difference between trail and not-trail was a lack of trees.

A few trees were down across the trails, not too many and mostly easy to get around or over. The worst part of the course for me was hitting the corduroy on the Lost Lake Trail. I couldn't see it due to the long grass, it was there for a reason (very wet) and on the way back I hit it wrong and heard a loud 'crack' from my right ankle. Good thing the backpacking youth were long gone as it hurt, I was unhappy, and I let it be known. No damage done, was back running after a few feet of walking to ensure nothing was truly injured.

Took every walking opportunity to scan my legs for ticks and dispose of them before they got too attached to me ;-> Grand total for the run was only 10 - not too bad considering what I was running though most of the time. The tick issue did make finding a 'good' bathroom spot a priority - no vegetation allowed. Lack of other humans in the area made privacy a non-issue. The deer flies are out and about, so it was a good decision to wear a hat. I really dislike the sensation of them buzzing about my head, the hat helps.

Was heading back to the swinging bridge when the sky started to darken. I had timed things well. Got to the car, shed the camelback, started to refill my water bottle and empty my waist pack of garbage when I heard the crack of thunder. Tossed stuff to the front of the car, climbed in, and the heavens opened up.

26k in 3:36. Not too bad for me. As I sat there waiting for the skies to clear a bit (remember - I do not like running in thunderstorms) I kept busy tossing ticks out the door (they seem to hide in my shoes till I stop moving), snacking on a few pretzels, making a couple of calls (checking in with Jon and Ed while waiting out the storm), and plotting out the next part of my run. I settled on running the White Pine Trail to the CCC trail and then onto the Thompson Trail and back to the car - only about 5k, so short of my original goal of 22 miles. As soon as I saw bluish skies I decided I might as well finish up the planned run.

I made it a couple of hundred feet. My excuses: heels/achilles tendons hurt bilaterally; I was cold (why yes it had been in the mid-70's all day); and it was getting dark again. Yup, I bailed out. Maybe if I had been with other people I would have kept going, hard to say. I had been cycling through thoughts of cutting the run short from pretty early. Dangers of running by yourself and having an out - it is easy to quit.

Overall though I am pretty satisfied with the run. It was quite hilly and my pace was not too bad considering the trail conditions. It was good to run it alone, after all that is how I run most of my races. I did learn not to sit around too long at aid stations :->

Throughout most of the run I kept seeing these tall pale purple flowers that looked dimly familiar. I made a point of trying to get a good look at the leaves and the shape of their growth as I ran by so I could look them up when I got home. Virginia waterleaf. I did not see much else blooming - lots of bunchberry, some canada mayflower. No ladyslippers on the trails I was on.

Not much happening with my knitting of late. Back to the same two projects that require lots of attention to work on, which means they don't get worked on. My thoughts are roaming to new sock yarn so that I can have a portable project, though if I would just finish up the band for the bobble-cable hat I would have a simple, portable project!

Planning the drive to Montana to bring Sarah to college. By late August we will be "empty-nesters". Amazing! We are the youngest of the group of parents that we know, and the first to have all the kids in college. There is something to be said for starting your family early I guess. It will be interesting to explore this new life!


Chris said...

Wow - you are such a hardcore runner! :) And dang, that's a heckuva lot of ticks...

Empty nesters - wow!

Lisa said...

Not all that hardcore.... you should read Steve's blog!

10 ticks was a light load. Last year during a 4 mile run out there I came out with 25 ticks! Way over my "ick" limit.

Yeah, what a concept. No children in the house! We had a two week trial in February and it was interesting - and relaxing.

SteveQ said...

All the trails in Jay Cooke! That's fantastic. I wish I could do that.