Ironman and the Yoga Queen

“Hi,” I said to the ranger inside the booth at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. “We’re doing the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.”

“You know it’s already past 3 p.m.?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes, we know.”

I’d masterminded the ultimate adventure—a “strenuous” hike followed by dinner at Laili, a Mediterranean-Afghan restaurant in Santa Cruz—and no ‘noid ranger was gonna stop me.

Who did this guy think he was dealing with anyway? Jimmy is an Ironman and they don’t call me the chaduranga queen in yoga for nothing.

“We can hike 12 miles in 2 & 1/2 hours easy,” I bragged.

“Thirteen. It’s actually 13 miles,” said Mr. By-the-Book, who insisted we leave a note on our dash for his night relief.

“Dearest Ranger,” I wrote,We pre-parked a car at the finish near Waddell Beach. Please don’t worry if we don’t return for our Prius until after 9 p.m. See you soon!

Then, map in hand, Jimmy and I were off. “What’s his problem?” I scoffed. “There’s plenty of light.”

We trekked through stunning old-growth redwoods and fern-lined canyons, and in no time passed Mile Marker 1. “Only 12 more miles to go!” I exclaimed.

Forty-five minutes later we came upon Berry Creek Falls, the crown jewel of Big Basin. The 60-foot waterfall was so tropical it felt like Hawaii…

Berry Creek Falls

…except darkness was closing in and we still had 10 miles left, so back onto the trail we hustled.

Moments after leaving the Falls the trail suddenly dead ended. Through the dusk, I spied another path — on the opposite side. The only way across was atop a wobbly gutter MacGyvered across the deep, gushing creek.

One slip and down we’d plunge into the icy water.

We crossed unscathed, but a rained out, mucky Slip ‘N’ Slide of a path awaited.

Ironman took the lead, mud skating over the puddles, his neon orange Nikes beacons guiding us through the ever darkening forest.

Thirty minutes later we found ourselves enveloped in blackness.

dark & snowy night

We clicked on our iPhone flashlight apps, a sorry light source for the dark, creepy forest. Just then a mountain biker coming from the Falls zoomed past, his headlight momentarily illuminating the woods.

“Hello!” I cried. “How much longer to Waddell Beach?”

I expected him to say three, maybe four miles MAX.

“About eight miles,” he said.

“Nooooo!” I wailed.

Having depleted our almonds ages ago, all I could think of was the roasted pumpkin borani we planned to devour at Laili later–that was if a hungry mountain lion didn’t devour us first.

“I’m scared, Jimmy. What if we wind up like that couple in the ‘8os who got stranded in a blizzard for five days. They made a TV movie of the week starring Neil Patrick Harris, remember?”

snowbound-the-jim-and-jennifer-stolpa-story-4

“If they make a movie about us who would should play you—Rob Lowe?”

“No way,” sniffed Jimmy. “Rob has man boobs. I need someone like Marky Mark, only more yoked.”

Time passed–An hour? Five hours? Time drags when you’re so cold you’re dreading losing your toes to frostbite.  “How many days do you think Tanner and Saxon will keep playing Minecraft before they notice we’re missing?” I asked Jimmy.

“Dunno. At least a week.”

Just when I could not take one more step there it was: Mile Marker 13!

We hugged, then looked around.

Maybe my fuzzy vision was distorted from staring at the tiny pinhole of light for so long, but our car was nowhere to be found. All we saw was an unlit paved road leading into the dark unknown.

Little did we know the additional three miles out to coast where we’d parked ratcheted our hike to 16 miles.

Shivering, hungry, clutching our phones with swollen sausage fingers we soldiered on, until…

…finally, off in the distance…wait, could it be? Yes, high beams of cars whizzing down Highway 1 beckoned us like a lighthouse.

We dragged ourselves the remainder, then collapsed in the car.

Ironman and the Yoga Queen ate some serious humble pie that day.

Then, after thawing out, we hit Laili and feasted on pumpkin borani.

“We made it!” we said, clinking frosty mugs of Belgium pale ale.

“You didn’t have to amputate our toes in the middle of the forest!” I exclaimed.

“And Rob & his moobies didn’t have to star in my life story!” Jimmy added.

Rob & Jimmy

If you’re craving adventure, this is a great one. Just take our advice~park at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, hike the Berry Creek Falls loop (7 miles roundtrip), then head straight for Laili for roasted pumpkin borani. Cheers!

Oh, and Jennifer? If I don't make it out alive next time, are you available?
Oh, and Jennifer? If I don’t make it out alive next time, are you available?

 

Hot to Trot

On Thanksgiving morning we rousted early and headed to downtown San Jose for the 5K Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. The race benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank. Racers bring canned goods to donate and some people even show up in costumes–seriously, how can you not love Mayflower pilgrims and Butterball turkeys cranking out six-minute miles?

We’ve participated ever since our boys were little. For as long as I can remember the guys have rolled out of bed protesting. “Why can’t we sleep in on our vacation?” “Nobody else’s parents make them get up and run on holidays!”

Saxon, in particular, detests running. Here’s our M.O. in years past—Jimmy Jam deserts us within the first few blocks. Tanner, Sax and I trudge along at a tortoise pace for maybe all of a block, then Saxon grimaces, clutches his side and stops.

I break my stride and walk beside him, pumping him up, “You can do this, buddy!” “Pace yourself!”

Meanwhile his little red face fills with vitriolic rage while he screams, “I haaaaate running! This SUCKS!“

Suddenly, he rockets ahead, legs a Wile E. Coyote blur for oh, 60 seconds, before he cramps up again.

SPRINT. STOP. RAGE. REPEAT.

This lovely pattern persists for the next 2 & 3/4 miles. Every freakin’ year.

I never, ever get a workout.

Call us masochists but for some reason, Jimmy and I keep dragging the boys back to the Trot.

This year, the 8th (give or take a year or two when we slammed too many martinis the night before), something strange happened. We woke the teens up and they complied with nary a protest. They were even cheery.

We actually made it into line before the race started—a first.

As we muscled our way into the crowd, I nicknamed Jimmy and Saxon “TEAM CREAM” because they were sporting matching Creamsicle orange Nikes.

It was nice because we actually had time to goof around for a few minutes before the race. Mostly we did Tom Cruise imitations. Have you ever noticed how Tom runs in every movie he’s ever made? And when he runs, he karate chops the air.

Soon the announcer began the countdown and we were off! Saxon and Jimmy started together. The course is flat, fast and flows through neighborhoods and business areas.

Before long I noticed Saxon starting to run in that strained telltale fashion. Uh-oh.
But for once he didn’t stop and melt down. He kept going.
Tanner lagged behind and I ran alone. The air was crisp. I felt alive and appreciative to start a holiday centered around gratefulness in such a healthy way. Downtown shined up like a new penny in the bright morning sun, albeit a faintly urine-scented new penny. The restaurant windows glittered, Japantown sat tidily with with its tofu factory and markets, sushi bars and noodle houses.

Saxon and Jimmy fell into an easy, rhythmic pace, their Day-Glo kicks shining brightly, scorching the corneas of nearby runners like a total eclipse of the sun.

Feet pounding in time to the Taiko drums lining the course, I followed Team Cream until they dusted me around mile 2. When we all reunited near the finish line, Jimmy told me on that Thanksgiving morn, a miracle had occurred. Not on the scale of the birth of baby Jesus, but a miracle nonetheless. Saxon made it to the end without stopping once. And he even finished with a smile.

Ears to you, Saxon.

As we walked to the car I realized maybe it’s good to make our kids do stuff they hate once in a while.

They may not come around for years—or ever—but how will they ever know if they like something unless we encourage them to try?

From our pack to yours, happy holidays!