Running Muir Woods Trails

Dipsea → Sun Trail → Redwood Trail → Panoramic Trail → Ocean View Trail → Matt Davis Trail → Old Mine Trail → Coastal Trail → Redwood Creek Trail → Ben Johnson Trail → Hillside Trail → Dipsea

18 November 2015 — Woke up around 5AM yesterday anxious to get on the trail. After some morning prep I walked outside to my car and immediately felt the cold air. Almost nine years of Northern California has decimated my resolve towards cold temperatures and there’s only one way to warm up this morning!

The short drive to Mill Valley is one of my favorites. The Golden Gate Bridge will forever symbolize adventure to me. Anything I’ve ever done up north has felt like an escape with the Bridge as my welcoming party.

Arriving at the trailhead a little early meant I could grab an espresso at Equator. A couple old men sat inside nursing coffee in the comfort of the morning’s newspaper. I was hoping the cafe would be warm, a last minute reprieve from the cold, but they had the doors and windows wide open signaling, “get on the trail, Nathan!”

With a small pack and gloves I tied on a green bandana and took off for the Dipsea stairs. The roughly 700 foot climb is just the warm up I needed although a bit dizzying at times. Sun Trail was a nice reprieve with golden views of the western valley as the sun rose. Little birds hang out in the bushes along this trail, as I passed they’d shuffle around nervously.

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Sun Trail turns into Redwood Trail pretty quickly as I darted through some damper paths with trees holding the sun at bay. Poison oak was everywhere which always makes me a little cautious. Panoramic and Ocean View Trails lived up to their names as the steady climb continued. Through all my excitement I kept having to remind myself to slow down, this wasn’t a typical 10K run today.

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Matt Davis Trail was the first stretch where I could forget about the map and relax a little. After cutting across Panoramic Highway I enjoyed some much earned downhill. The Old Mine Trail felt like a luxury with its plentiful paths, a nice reward for the 1,500 foot climb.

The absence of fog created some breathtaking views from the Coastal Trail. At first I was a little put off seeing the city skyline I was attempting to escape, but the overwhelming layers of nature’s skyline helped make the city look less significant.

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The switchbacks of Heather Cutoff created a zen-like descent into the valley. Wind was blocked by warm sunbathed hills, all I could hear were birds chirping and careful footsteps. Each sharp turn marked by piles of big rocks forced me to slow down and focus on the movement.

Redwood Creek Trail was all smells and chilly. I tried to enjoy every bit knowing I was about to make a steep 1,000 foot climb. The Dipsea and Deer Park Fire Road weave back and forth to create a confusing path. At times I’d realize I was on one when my map said I should be on the other but it didn’t matter. The climb was mentally challenging so I tried to distract myself with some calories and a methodical water routine. Reaching my whits end I saw a little grove of redwoods reminding me why I love this area so much. Those towering works of nature distracted me from the exhaustion and set me up for an invigorating turn onto the Ben Johnson Trail.

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The descent into Muir Woods engaged all senses and eliminated any doubt about completing this journey. It was hard not to greet each sleepy eyed tourist with enthusiasm along Hillside Trail. I had already completed my three hour goal for the day and the rest was a bonus ride. Exiting the park put me face-to-face with yet another Dipsea climb, the last before reuniting with the stairs. The struggle up to Panoramic Highway took every last bit of energy. Approaching the stairs down to Mill Valley signaled the completion of one of the best mornings I’ve had in California.

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I was able to run 18 miles over the course of three and a half hours, exceeding my goal for the day and setting a personal record of distance and time. I’ve got a little over a month to work up to six hours and hopefully 30 miles before the New Year’s run. This journey reminds me of a William James quote that Scott Jurek likes to preach:

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.”