We May Be Lost, But We’re Making GREAT Time!!
by Mike F

To say that the Saltwater 5000 is an adventure would be an understatement. Each year since 2004 (and twice in 2012), a small group of intrepid runners have stood on a cold beach in the darkness of a pre-dawn December morning, touched the Pacific, snapped a photo and spent the day running, walking, hiking and laughing their way to the top of Saddleback Mountain, 33-ish miles and 5,687 feet of elevation away.

After a record 16 runners completed the run in 2013, the Saltwater Brain Trust pared the 2014 field to 11 – 10 returnees and 1 rookie. Logistics for more than a dozen runners were simply too much.

This year brought both good news and bad news. The good news - there were no support vehicles. Ergo, extra miles. The bad news – there were no support vehicles. Ergo, no beer at the top of Joplin.

Initially, the weather gods didn’t so much as smile at us. They smirked. And chuckled. But then, eventually, they smiled. They threw a huge storm at Orange County in the days prior and gave the trails a good drenching.  

Planning for the extra time, the run started at the stroke of 5 am. Still pitch dark and VERY muddy. The weather gods were entertained by the slipping and sliding that took place. Rookie Lindsay impressed everyone by keeping her footing despite some mighty close calls. Mike F’s mud slide in El Moro left his shorts looking, uh, unsavory. Rob M’s spill rang his bell pretty good, granting him an extra 20 miles to warm up. Thankfully no more serious injuries were reported.

Laguna Canyon to Modjeska was light and easy, and the real spirit of Saltwater was evident in the lively conversations, regular laughter and the flying lemons. Skate Park, Jack-in-the-Box, Whiting: check, check, check. All going according to plan.

Marshall, Trina & John-John were always there with truckloads of refreshments and encouragement. Al C joined for a few miles on his mountain bike. Rumors of a GoPro abound.

It was at Modjeska that we had to start thinking seriously and planning for the extra distance. After 29 miles of running, the climb up Joplin is daunting under the best of circumstances. But knowing it would be another 11 miles back down is something else entirely.

It was clear and beautiful all the way up, but we could see that the peak was mostly obscured by a dark cloud that suggested it would be chilly. Which it was! Good thing pre run instructions had admonished everyone to prepare for cold and dark. 

Our stay at the peak was brief. Indeed, Jeff & Bino, like everyone else, were freezing but, unlike everyone else, were angling to shove off before all the runners had arrived. Which got vetoed. Beer lacking, most runners took a shot (or two) of Fireball or Jack Daniels’ that Mike F pack-muled to the top. Then, with the photo in the book , it was time to start the descent.

The first group out of the gate included Bino, Jeff P, Kevin S, Tommy N and Lindsay. These guys are endurance sport legends with a combined 30 (!) Saltwaters under their belts. But they went the wrong way! And took the only rookie with them. Thinking or not, they decided the best way to get warm was to run FAST. So there they went, hauling ass in the wrong direction.

But who knew? Apparently the “front” runners were in such a hurry none bothered to look around. The runners that followed kept looking ahead, but saw nobody. Phones were called, messages were left. No response. Not seeing them, not hearing from them, they figured the "front" runners must have elected to descend Holy Jim. Concerned about the lost runners, someone uttered at the top of Joplin, “should we head back up the mountain to find them?” To which Cracker responded “I’m not taking a f*#@ing step in that direction.”  

A decision was made. Head down Joplin and dispatch a vehicle to Holy Jim to collect them.

The first trio arrived at the bottom at 4:50, just as the sun was setting. The second at 5:15. Al C was dispatched to the base of Holy Jim. Still nobody was TOO concerned. That changed when Al called and reported that our missing quintet were nowhere to be found.

Damn. They must have turned around and headed back. But how far had they gone before realizing? Concern was rising as fast as the sun was setting.

Now there was nothing to do but worry. Where they hurt? Were they lost? Were they heading toward Blue Jay?

5:30 – Trina now seriously concerned.
5:35 -- To avoid a total meltdown amongst the crew, Will calls 911, reports lost runners.
5:45 – a Headlamp! Then two. A couple of whoops from up and down and we knew it was them.
5:46 – To avoid the $10,000 fee, Will calls off the sheriff’s rescue. No need for a chopper after all.
5:50 – everyone down safe. Celebrating, debriefing and crap-giving commenced in earnest.

Turns out our experienced runners made a simple mistake and didn’t realize it for a mile and a half.


Tom: “Hey Bino, is that Lake Elsinore?”
Bino: “I think so. I didn’t realize you could see it from this side of the mountain. I’m starting to warm up. You?”
Tom: “Getting there. Let’s pick it up.”

Upon realizing their mistake, they reacted like true ultra runners – “cool, we get 3 extra miles!” – which they completed in the joyful spirit of Saltwater, completely unaware of the panic going on down the hill. What me worry? They were well-prepared, had two headlamps and enough water.

At its core, Saltwater is about friends. The trek to the top of the mountain is a wonderful excuse to spend a day with some great people. The group. The day. The drama. Saltwater 2014 had it all.

Keep it real, runners!

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