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May. 13, 2013
Running Adventures in Prairie Creek Redwoods: Four Clif Employees Explore California’s Trails

By Aron
And just like that, I am even more in love with California.

When Cristen, Lauren, Caron and I began planning our adventure, we wanted to take advantage of the amazing places in our very own state.  Not only is it easier logistically (drivable!), but California is such a huge state with so many parts that none of us had explored yet.  Cristen threw out the idea of the Lost Coast area and we began brain storming and researching which parks were the best to run in.  Yet again, I stumbled on Leor’s blog post the same day we were figuring out where to go, and we knew right then Prairie Creek Redwood Park was where we were headed.

We continued our research on which trails we wanted to see, how we could connect them all together, and how to cover 30+ miles without retracing any footsteps until finally it clicked.  We had a big heart-ish shaped loop drawn out, starting in Redwood National Forest, going all the way through and around Prairie Creek Redwood Park and circling back. We rented an amazing house on the ocean just south of Trinidad and everything else fell into place.

Friday morning I picked up Cristen then we picked up Lauren and made our final stop at Caron’s before making the 300 mile drive north to Trinidad.  I had never been on Highway 101 past Cloverdale, so I was excited to see so many new parts of California on our way.  We hit up a local co-op in Eureka for groceries and finally made it to the house around 4pm.  The pictures hadn’t done the house justice and we were all walking around in awe.

That night we cooked pasta, watched the sunset and set out all of our things getting ready for the next day.  We were all very excited, but I was able to get a great night of sleep listening to the sound of waves crashing outside the window.

We woke up at 5:15, got dressed, ate breakfast and made sure we had everything we might possibly need.  We made the 30 minute drive north to Orick and found the trailhead off the dirt road where we would be starting.  We were all really excited at this point, full of anticipation of what the day might bring, and then it was time to start running!

We began by running back down the dirt road we had driven up and then ran a mile north on 101 before turning left into the Elk Meadow Day Use Area.  We found our first trail, Davison, easily and were very pleasantly surprised at what we found.  This was the one trail I hadn’t really seen any pictures of or read anything about, so I didn’t have very high expectations.  It turned out to be incredibly beautiful, very runnable, and at this moment I just knew it was going to be a good day.

Just over 5 miles later, we made our way into Prairie Creek Campground.  We did get turned around a little bit here trying to find the next trailhead (thanks to wrong directions from a camper), but we figured it out quickly without adding too much mileage.

We found the trailhead for Prairie Creek Trail and again were all in awe of what surrounded us.  The trees were so tall and wide, and the trails were impeccable.  It was simply trail running heaven.

We wound our way through the redwoods, taking in all the scenery and just enjoying the sounds and our own conversations.  We didn’t see anyone for miles. Just before mile 11 we made a left turn onto Zig Zag #2 Trail for our first climb of the day.  We took it easy and hiked a lot of this portion, continuing to gawk at all the huge redwoods around us. This trail dropped us onto West Ridge Trail which we followed along for another few miles.  The redwoods were endless and the miles were flying by.

We eventually ran into Coastal Trail, which we turned left on. Despite the name, we were still in the middle of endless redwoods for a mile or two. Then suddenly it opened up and we had huge redwoods on our left and grassy fields on our right, with the ocean right on the other side of the grass. We found a waterfall, ran through a lot of really tall grass and admired all the wildflowers growing.

We took this trail all the way to the entrance of Fern Canyon. We stopped and had “lunch” here, checked the map and regrouped before starting the second half of our adventure.

Fern Canyon was incredible – a canyon with walls of ferns and water running through the middle of it. The girls took their time hopping on logs trying to keep their feet dry, while I just ran through the middle of it all. I love getting my feet wet! There were some downed trees to climb over and we were just having fun playing like kids in this canyon.

We made the climb out of the canyon onto James Irvine Trail which we would follow for another few miles. We followed the trails for more endless redwoods and continued to be engulfed in trail running heaven. We split up a little bit over this section, all taking the trails at our own pace and regrouping every couple miles. It was a lot warmer than I had expected, so we were all drinking a lot of water on top of our food and electrolytes.

We then hit Miner’s Ridge Trail, which we turned right on, that would take us back to the coast.  We all stuck together over the next few miles and this is where the stories started getting really good.  Long runs and trail running really have a way of letting your guard down and it’s just so easy to start spilling your soul.  All those stories will definitely be remaining on the trails.

We finally made our way to the end of the trail, desperately looking for water.  Lauren and I both were out and Cristen and Caron were pretty close.  Luckily there was a campground right there with cold, amazing drinking water.  We took a break, ate some more snacks and refilled our packs before heading out on a couple miles on the dirt road before hitting the sandy beach.

In this section, we passed 26.2 miles on my Garmin and I made sure to announce to everyone – it was now their longest run ever! I was so excited to get to share this moment with them.

Around mile 28 we made our way onto the sandy beach of Gold Bluffs Beach. I knew this was going to be a little risky this late in the day – sand is not the easiest thing to maneuver with tired legs. The beach made up for it though. We made our way along this mile section of vast beach without anyone in sight.

We realized that finding our next trail head from the beach might be easier said than done, but thankfully Cristen spotted the sign and we didn’t miss it. We stopped to get the sand out of our shoes, take some photos and began the climb up and over on Coastal Skunk Cabbage Trail – which would be our last trail of the day.

We weren’t exactly sure how many miles we had left, but we knew it would be somewhere between 32 and 34. We found a sign along the way that confirmed it would be 33 miles. The thing about runs like this, is you have to be very adaptable. You can’t be stuck on a specific distance or time, because so much can happen to change that along the way. The girls had the best attitudes about this, and actually were really excited when I told them it would be 33 miles.

We continued to run through the incredibly lush trail, all knowing the “finish line” was near, and soon enough, I could see the signs for the trailhead ahead. We were back to where we had started, 33.1 miles later.

We had cold drinks and snacks waiting in the car as we sat there recapping the day for a few minutes. Sitting there at the car, I couldn’t believe how fast the day went by and how seamlessly everything went.

Once we got back to the house we celebrated with margaritas, Mexican food, another beautiful sunset, and an early bed time – we were all pretty wiped.  It was an incredible day on the most amazing trails with friends who I now feel bonded to more than ever.  I am so happy I was able to share this experience with these women and that I have the opportunity to drive a few hours and experience such amazing scenery.  Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t know it was possible, but I have fallen even harder for this amazing state I am so lucky to call home.

As we made the drive home on Sunday, we continued to laugh, talk and story tell, but my favorite part were all the references to “next time.”  I had warned them when we started the drive on Friday that these adventure runs were addictive, and I am glad to see they didn’t prove me wrong – not that I ever had any doubt in my mind. 

One adventure just sets fire to the need for another… now to figure out what is next.

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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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