What started six years ago as a dubious quest between two runners, has now grown to an annual pilgrimage; a 32 mile holiday journey from the edge of the Pacific ocean to the top of Saddleback Mountain, Orange County’s highest point at 5,687 feet. On December 19, 2009, ten of us leaned over and touched the cold, blue water of the Pacific Ocean then turned to make our way to the summit. This year’s Saltwater crew was the largest to date, with six returning runners and four first timers. Also Included in the lineup were two female runners.
Unlike last year, we started under a dry, pristine sky. Darkness hung over us for most of our trek through El Moro canyon and the winding single track below the toll road. Leading the charge was Kevin S, who just a few weeks earlier had announced via email and Facebook that he had scouted and marked the trail along this section. Kevin’s one assignment as a newbie was to see the group safely through this section. However, when I realized Kevin and the group had run right by the turn and were lost, I could only wonder what the little guy had been smoking. The next section usually brings some of the most breathtaking scenery, as the sky fills with yellow, orange and then deep red from the rising sun. We all made our way over the ridge and down to Laguna Canyon. But with runners, of course, nothing is sacred, especially when the moon is rising (and I’m not referring to the celestial moon here). When nature calls folks, what can you say?
We moved easily through the Serrano section of the run, with the normal stops along the way. Thanks to our hardy and ready crew Dawn and Trina, nothing was missed, except for an “embarrassing” moment for Bino when Trina was picking up ice (we’re all winners Bino!). Fast forward to the Skate park, where Al, Dawn, Trina, and Marshall met us around this midway point, a good transition for the more difficult terrain to come. It can be said that life is comprised of the little things, those brief moments we don’t notice at first, that we remember in the end. This year’s Saltwater 5000 didn’t disappoint.
As we climbed up the infamous dreaded hill, the sky seemed to open up before us, and presented some of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my 40 years in the OC. The higher we climbed, the farther we could see. Once on the mountain, every turn seemed to present another unbelievable view. At such an altitude, we stood well above the curvature of the earth, making San Clemente island appear larger than ever. Snow topped peaks of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains stood beside us, lending to a panoramic playground.
I’d like to say congratulations to all the runners this year, especially Laura who worked long and hard to prepare and get through this day. And to Bino, who also trained specifically for this year’s Saltwater. Seeing these two getting to the summit was sweet. Seeing Laura and her dad, two generations, making their way up Modjeska grade trail was a special moment. And we are all honored to have Gerry, our master, who at 68 years young raises the bar every time he steps foot on the mountain. Fellow first timers Kevin, Joe and Sue ran very well, as did third timer Jeff D. Keeping the faith is also a big part of Saltwater, and I was happy to share the trail yet another year with Jeff and Rob.