STINSON BEACH Calif. — The night before a race, any competition can be fraught with thought, and here overlooking the Pacific I rest in almost pacific calm knowing that it is Aspen, not California, that one, at least this one, can never, ever leave, rock anthems to the contrary.
Aspen in early June may be the best of the best, the heart of the season for which we came to stay, as is said, after visiting Aspen to ski a winter. The weather is often perfected by the knowledge that early June weather can banish thoughts that winter is coming to Westeros or Aspen or anywhere. The mornings are cool and clear but still warm enough to run, bike, hike or otherwise hang out hanging outdoors, not with the aim of getting “in shape” for ski season — that’s a fall thing — but fit for fun, for feeling the wind in an unhostile form rushing by, for relating to ancestors and athletes past who ran because running is human and needs no pretext, no pass and little equipment.
Gone and nearly forgotten are the dark, long, snowy and wet training days of the winter past. Good riddance. We running and biking bums are for once ascendant, cruising by you people on bicycles in our despised, envied spandex and heading uphill almost gear-free in T-shirt, shoes and shorts, in nature as a fish is in water, unencumbered by dreams of a 200-day ski pin or tolerable snow at the top.
Stinson Beach is the terminus of the Dipsea cross-country race, the nation’s oldest trail run and second historically only to Boston in seniority. The trail leads up 672 steps and 800 vertical feet to a false summit above Muir Woods, down through an ancient redwood forest and back up an 1,100-foot climb to the aptly named Cardiac Summit, from which a few runners have been evacuated for the eponymous condition. Think: Smuggler to the deck, back down and then, fully recovered aerobically, back up the meadow before finishing down through the redwoods, more stairs down (137) and in view of the ocean for the last mile-and-a-half.
To be in Stinson Beach, where summer is in full flower/butterfly bloom under warm blue skies, is to feel at home in so many ways. There is no parking, there aren’t many resident locals (incipient population decline from 751 in 2000 to 632 in 2010), and the midday traffic today required a uniformed officer to keep the queue moving through the only stop sign in town.
The VRBOs at $200 per day are akin to our own 2,000-plus such units in price and use, and second homes have sent the population down the shore to B town, not Basalt but Bolinas. The grocery store is priced to make our very own Clark’s Market seem like Trader Joe’s by comparison. Yes, paper straws are a thing here, and the ice-cream spot is crowded.
The race begins in Mill Valley, where Jack Kerouac was a writing bum at the time I was creeping and crawling toward my own starting lines as a runner bum, reader and writer. Giant redwoods in so many backyards, a zillion pizza and burger joints, a cosmopolitan local population and history of its own, though without the drama of boom, bust and 10th Mountain Division revival that Aspen never lets one forget as its central claim to being a “real” town.
In a few hours, the 7.4-mile race begins. Wife Jane is a bit faster so the age group handicap — I get a five-minute head start — means we may finish together, in about twice the time it took local professional runner Ricky Gates to establish the second best time ever when he took time out from running across the country (just to do it), every mile of every street in San Francisco — ditto — and plan other adventures that make the Power of Four look like a fun run.
By the time you read this, I will know what 50 runs up and down Smuggler and 14 park runs add up to in performance as certainly as I know the fun factor is already at podium level. Have a nice weekend on the slopes, my friends, we’ll be back for surely summer is coming at last.