Tea Fire relocates 33-mile endurance run to Ojai’s backcountry, kindles interest in creating annual event
By Earl Bates
As a result of forest closures due to the recent Tea Fire, a much-loved endurance run, the Santa Barbara Nine Trails, was restaged Saturday in the heart of Ojai’s backcountry.
Christened the Rose Valley 33 Mile Endurance Run, it was the official replacement for the 2008 Santa Barbara Nine Trails, a 35-mile ultramarathon that has been run annually in the hills of the Santa Barbara front country since 1990.
Runners traveled into the Ojai area for the weekend from all over California, from Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Japan. About 100 ultrapeople embarked from the starting line and 87 found the finish at this year’s run.
Mike Swan of Santa Barbara ran the swiftest time, 5 hours, 8 minutes for an average of about 9:20 per mile.
Ultrawoman Krissy Moehl finished first place female and fifth overall in 5 hours, 27 minutes. “I love the Ojai trails,” she said. “It was a beautiful day out there and a fun group to run with.”
Among her many ultrawins in recent years, Moehl is the current women’s record holder on Colorado’s gnarly Hardrock Hundred for her incredible time, third overall, in that 2007 race. Moehl found her way to the Rose Valley run to visit friends and to aim at bettering the woman’s record she set on the Santa Barbara Nine Trails run in 2006.
Concerning the fact that Moehl outruns almost all of the men, “In long distance running it’s not about guys and girls, it is about you and the clock,” she said. “Having others out there in a race setting to push you helps, but ultimately it is about how you feel about your own performance.”
Rose Valley 33 Mile Endurance Run Race director Luis Escobar and a team of stalwart volunteers scrambled to relocate this year’s entire event onto the Ojai Ranger District after Los Padres Forest officials shut down access to the run’s normal Santa Barbara route through the Tea Fire burn area.
“Luis Escobar did an amazing job pulling together the Rose Valley run on very short notice,” said Moehl. “He was up against tough logistics with permits and many organization details and with the help of good friends was able to pull it off.”
Escobar put his energy into restaging and organizing, right up to the 7 a.m. start of the race, then adjusted his bandanna and took to the trail, cruising the course in 6 hours, 24 minutes.
“The event was great,” said David Ambrose, Ojai resident and participating runner. “The aid stations were perfectly separated and well stocked. The volunteers, as in most events, were astounding. Without them, the event could not take place.”
Considered “short” for an ultramarathon, the Santa Barbara Nine Trails has become known as an excellent late-season run, with typically beautiful Mediterranean climate and spectacular vistas from mountains to ocean.
This year’s course began in Ojai’s sister valley to the north, Rose Valley. Runners followed the steep route out of Rose Valley to the Nordhoff Ridge, continued west, ran down Gridley Trail, turned around and ran back up. The route continued west on the ridge to the top of Pratt Trail, then back east on the ridge, down Howard Creek Trail and back up to the ridge for the run northeast down to finish at the starting point in Rose Valley.
“I really enjoyed the multiple out-and-backs the course provided,” said Moehl. “We had the opportunity to cheer each other on multiple times.”
More than a foot race through the forest, this year’s event was a magnetic gathering of kindred trail spirits. These fleet-footed people seem to have gotten in touch with some natural energies that carry them through the trail miles, and it emanates from their presence.
“I truly love being out there and you have to love it to want to be out there for the longer miles and hours,” said Moehl. “You have to love it to get through the times when it doesn’t feel so good. And you have to love it to want to get out and train most days in spite of life, weather or other varying circumstances.”
In the middle of Rose Valley, the site formerly occupied by the Navy’s Seabee Training Center served as the race’s start and finish point and base camp for activities. Friday evening this normally deserted government station began its weekend reincarnation by means of a pre-race barbecue galvanized with a free-range bluegrass mix of spontaneous music.
Ojai resident and “real mountain man” Bill Kee was just getting his steel guitar warmed up when noted ultrarunner Roch Horton walked in from the edge of camp, said hello and sat down with his dobro and joined in chords. Into the evening by the gleam of friends’ little LED headlamps, deep in Ojai’s backcountry, they played. “It’s a long way from here to over yonder, My feet are feeling mighty sore, The course is marked and yet we all still wander, Because our running shoes don’t fit us anymore.” Horton sang lyrics he composed while running the awesome Hardrock Hundred through Colorado’s majestic San Juans.
Horton, a former Ojai resident now living in Salt Lake City, appreciated Saturday’s beautiful weather and an opportunity to run the trails above Ojai. “The trails are cut into steep hillsides, so you don’t want to fall off, but they are hard, runnable, a lot of vertical,” he said. “This ridge has become a little mecca for ultrarunning, you have the view of the Ojai Valley, the ocean. The founding fathers of these trails, whoever they were, need to be commended.”
Ambrose regularly runs a variety of Ojai trails, his favorites include trails of the Ventura River-Rancho El Nido Preserve, Gridley Trail, Foothill Trail and Shelf Road. “Since I’m from Ojai, I have frequently hiked and run on the trails that comprise the course, so I was very familiar with the terrain. The course offers some of the best views as it goes along the ridge.
“I’d like to see the event take hold and become a new annual trail event in Ojai. Perhaps move it to spring so as not to conflict with Santa Barbara Nine Trails.”
The Herculean and friendly Scott Jurek was on hand at the race; he said it felt good to take a little break from running. He seemed to naturally enjoy visiting friends, helping with registration and answering questions from comrade ultrarunners about diet and training.
Jurek is a phenom on feet. He sailed through seven consecutive wins, 1999-2005, at Western States; first place at Badwater, 2005-2006; first place at Hardrock Hundred, 2007; first place at the 152 mile Spartathlon, 2006-2008.
As runners met and hobnobbed during the weekend, common topics in conversation included which ultras will be on their calendars for next year. Considering Jurek’s history, the sense of curiosity was about what might be added in 2009 to his list of major wins.
Jurek said he plans to race a few more years, then retire. “I have a couple more prime years, I’m not going to do any masters runs, I started young and I’ve done a lot of races.” He liked the Rose Valley scene because “it’s low key, it’s friends, everyone has a great time out here.”
For more information of complete race results, go to allwedoisrun.com.