Day 23: Redwood National Park, CA + Mendocino, CA by Wookie Kim

My first stop today, after leaving Ed and Elsie's place just north of Crescent City, was Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (the previous night, I'd run in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, a different state park unit co-managed by the NPS). Prairie Creek was 90 minutes further south along the coast. I was running in another redwood forest because I wanted to see how they differed, if at all, in different locations. I also wanted to give running in the forests in daylight a shot.

But I had plenty to marvel at even before I got to Prairie Creek. From Crescent City, I took US 101, which in this part of the state is called the Redwood Highway. Very quickly, it took me out to the coast and to my first view of the Pacific Ocean on this trip. I immediately decided to stop.

As I continued driving, I made additional stops to take in the views of the coast. I also got to sea level and beneath the fog/clouds.

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After about 90 minutes of driving, I'd made it to Prairie Creek. I spoke to a park ranger about possible easy trails. I'd been feeling a little tired from my double-run day yesterday (summitting Mount Scott in Crater Lake and running the Boy Scout Tree Trail in Jedediah Smith), and wanted something relatively easy. The ranger suggested the eponymous Prairie Creek Trail, with the Western Ridge Trail as a higher-altitude add-on. I wasn't about to disagree.

Running in redwood forests is a soothing experience. You just feel very secure amidst these tall, wise, and powerful trees. Prairie Creek was unique because it had some of the tallest redwoods around. Redwoods are all up and down the coast, but the ones in this grove were particularly massive. This is the first extra large redwood I saw.

I made easy progress through the forest. The trail was soft and wide--perfect for an easy recovery day. I loved running between the big trees.

Just to show a sense of the scale, here I am standing in front of one of the massive trees I came across. My arm span doesn't even get close to the width of the tree.

The forest was surprisingly cool on a surprisingly hot day. But it was incredibly humid inside. I began sweating much sooner than I'd expected. As I was running, I kept looking up and cramping my neck a bit. There was just so much to see, and most of it was above eye-level. Heck, the exposed root system of a fallen tree was nearly double my height!

I particularly enjoyed seeing areas of the forest where sunlight shone in to create contrasts of light and dark.

I also continued playing while running between the trees. Here, I'm jumping off a little ledge between two trees.

I made it to the first intersection and proceeded up Zig Zag 1 to the West Ridge. It was a relatively steep ascent off of the forest floor. And I could finally now see the redwoods more at "eye level".

Running the ridgeline was a treat. I was a couple hundred feet above the creek, and it really felt cool to run high up and see redwoods in all directions. Again, the forest was just so impressive to see.

I made it off the trail at 2 p.m. I was starving. Back at the visitor center, I asked a ranger if there was food nearby. She mentioned that the first town I'd come across on the way south had a roadside burger shack that was delicious. I stopped for lunch at the Snack Shack, sat by the roadside, and ate a burger, just like she'd suggested.

I was still 4+ hours away from where I wanted to camp that night. I was basically still half a day behind, and hadn't made up the time. It didn't help that I drove slowly along the coast, stopping every now and then to take in the coast line.

As I continued driving south towards Fort Bragg and Mendocino, the sun finally set. It looked a bit like an atomic bomb blowing up on the horizon.

Given that it was a Saturday night on a weekend with nice weather, I should've planned ahead with lodging. I didn't. I ended up reaching the state park (Van Damme State Park) in which I'd planned to camp only to find out that all the sites had been taken. I frantically scrambled around the area, looking not only for other state park campsites, but also simply any inn, motel, or hotel that had availability. There were no rooms. Finally, at the entrance to one state park, a ranger gave me a sheet with a list of all the private campgrounds in the area. It was already dark, and I still didn't know where I was sleeping (was I about to sleep in my car for the first time?), so I dialed up each place with gusto. I eventually found an RV park that had tent sites available. I was the only tent in the entire campground. Let's just say I felt a bit out of place as a result.

I set up my tent, and then decided I'd head into Fort Bragg for dinner. I'd passed North Coast Brewing on the way down, and figured beers would cool me off after another great day on the trails. It was a delicious meal, and a delicious flight of beers. I returned to my tent, and nodded off almost immediately. 

It was another great day on the California coast.

Day 22: Redwood National Park, CA by Wookie Kim

The park police was waiting for me when I finished my run in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (a park that is co-managed by the NPS). I'd squeezed this run into my already very long day, and I guess the officer wasn't happy about it. It was past 8 p.m., and it was pitch black deep in the redwood forest.

I'd spent the first half of the day making the rounds in Crater Lake. It had taken far longer than I'd expected to make it to California.

I didn't arrive at my Airbnb (this is my 3rd time using it this trip) until almost 6 p.m. Although the day was basically over, I wasn't about to let it end without a run in the woods. Redwood National Park is scattered and huge. But I wanted to see a little bit of each unit, so it made sense to run in one of the units tonight. Ed, my host, had mentioned that the Boy Scout Tree Trail was nearby. My national parks guidebook had also mentioned this trail as a must-do. I set out to run it.

I arrived at the trailhead right as two groups were getting off the trail. One group had turned around early because the sun was beginning to set, and they were worried it was getting dark. The other group had just finished. I asked them what the trail conditions were like. They said it was fine, but that the trail felt very long, and that it would get dark soon. I nodded. I realized that there were only two cars at the trailhead. They were the last of the day's hikers. I would be the only person on the trail.

I feared that I might be starting too late, that the forest would become dark while I was still running in it. This was a place with absolutely no cell service--deep in an old-growth forest. If I got lost in the dark, it would be a long, cold night of wandering.

I decided to chance it. I figured I could cover the 5.6-mile trail in about an hour so that I'd be back at my car at roughly 8 p.m. Knowing that sunset was around 7:30, I assumed that I'd have ample light until the last couple miles. I wasted no time. I was off chasing Fern Falls, the end of the trail.

I moved quickly, with fast leg turnover on the cushy dirt trail. I was determined to minimize the amount of time I spent running in the dark. It was a race against time. This also meant my photos were blurry.

I tried to make the most of my brief forest foray by looking around as I scrambled across the forest floor. These trees were incredibly beautiful--and huge!

I made it to Fern Falls in just under 30 minutes. I'd moved at a solid pace, given the undulating hills, and the root-laden trail I'd followed. I saw a massive fallen redwood that seemed like a continuation of the trail. I decided to see where it led. While tiptoeing across it, I looked down to the side and realized that, if I fell, I'd be stuck in a little ravine. The tree was so big that it was not resting directly on the forest floor. It was at this moment that I decided to turn around.

I booked it back to the car. But not before it got dark. It was already past official sunset, and I could sense it. There were portions of the trail where the trees were less dense. Between strides, I could look up and see the dark blue sky--it was not yet completely dark. But, pretty soon, I was in a part of the forest that was so dense that I looked up and saw nothing but black. I'd underestimated the thickness of the forest cover, and how that would prevent the already dwindling ambient light from hitting the forest floor.

Thankfully, I had my headlamp on me for the very purpose of providing lighting when the natural light went out. I used it to scan 10-15 yards ahead for obstacles, mainly roots, but sometimes also stumps. It continued to get darker. And the return leg seemed without end. As things became ever so slightly less well-lit, I started to make ever so slightly more errors. I began stubbing my toes on roots, and occasionally caught myself from twisting my ankle. I had quite the adrenaline rush come over me as I zigzagged back to the trailhead.

For the last mile, I ran in almost complete darkness. My headlamp lit the forest floor before me. It was so dark that I decided to also hold my iPhone and use the flashlight function to light the trail right in front of me. Despite the darkness, I moved at an even brisker pace. I was determined to get out.

I finally made it out. It had taken just over 27 minutes. Waiting by my car, however, was a park police officer. He had hiis heavy maglite out, and was walking around my car. When I arrived back at the trailhead, sweating buckets, and breathing somewhat hard, he asked me what I'd been doing. I told him I'd been running on the Boy Scout Tree Trail. He told me that people couldn't be on the trails after dark. I told him I was sorry, and that I was done for the evening. He said I was lucky--he was just about to give me a ticket when I'd arrived back at the trailhead. And then he left.

I changed out of my sopping wet running clothes, and took a moment to listen to the forest. It was extremely quiet, and I had the entire forest to myself. I hopped back into my car and drove slowly back to the highway.

Despite the literal and figurative stumbling blocks, tonight's was a good run. I'd tested my limits by running in near darkness. And I had no regrets.