Duo leaves imprint on local trail
Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Register Correspondent

The last time Gillian Robinson and Don Lundell went for a long run, they were sweating their way through Death Valley.

"The official temperature was 126 degrees," said Robinson. Unofficially, the Bay Area duo pegged it at 135 degrees. "We did sauna training for that," Lundell said, with no trace of humor in his voice.

By comparison, temperatures for the 11-day run that brought them to south Napa have been pretty mild.

Robertson and Lundell are ultra runners, people who run distances greater than 26-mile marathons. Beginning last Friday and going until Sept. 1, the pair will cover more than 500 miles to raise awareness about the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The trail is a work in progress that will eventually span nine counties, including more than 75 parks and open space preserves. About 244 miles of trail are already established, and conservation groups and local agencies are working at acquiring and preserving the rest.

Early Tuesday morning, Robinson and Lundell reached the River to Ridge entrance to Skyline Park in Napa. John Tuteur, whose family owns adjacent property, escorted them on horseback along the trail in Skyline Park and through his family's property.

Napa County has four miles of dedicated Ridge Trail completed, all within Skyline Park. Robinson, Lundell and even Tuteur hope publicity about the Ridge Trail plan will spur action throughout the Bay Area to complete the project.

Tuteur laughed about the fact that he had to ride. "Otherwise," he said. "I couldn't keep up with them."

Tuteur believes in the notion of raising awareness about the trail. "The Ridge Trail and Ridge to River are important. Having the runners here brings home the fact that we have the resources to link the (trails), which will eventually circle the bay on ridge tops."

He said he is working out an easement arrangement with the Ridge Trail Council on behalf of his family.

Robinson, 37, a technical writer from Mountain View, said one of the reasons she decided to hit the trail is "the challenge of it -- looking at the greater Bay Area and thinking I can run the whole thing. Another is connecting publicity to the trail and continuing the project."

Lundell, 41, a software engineer from Boulder Creek, said he wants to convey that the Ridge Trail is a resource. "There are many fairly experienced runners and hikers who don't know about the trail," he said.

Do they have any concerns about completing their current run? "We've done a couple of multi-day events before," said Lundell. "But those were four days and nothing on this scale."

So far, the only problems they've had were the heat and Robinson's feet.

"They're swollen," she said. The pair tapes their feet before each run and alternate shoes each day to protect against injuries and blisters.

Lundell said that hydration is a serious concern. "You can get dehydrated in a single day." At the end of the day, he said, "you want to collapse and sleep, but you have to hydrate. We carry as much water as we can."

For the balance of their water, food and sleeping arrangements, the pair turns to volunteers who host them along the route. "The ultra runner community is very supportive," said Lundell. "The Bay Area has the largest community of trail runners. The trails are so different, from the arid East Bay to the lush Marin headlands. You can find it all."

While the pair trains continuously, including weight training, they are unprepared for one of the remaining portions of their 11-day trek -- kayaking across the Carquinez Straits. "We're inexperienced," said Robinson. "The kayak people will meet us and stay with us so nothing bad happens." Her laugh betrayed her nervousness. "It should take about an hour."

Long stretches where there are gaps in the ridge trail are the pair's least favorite part of the run. At those times, they must follow the proposed ridge trail or obtain special permission from property owners to run across private or restricted land. They often end up on concrete or asphalt instead of their preferred earthen trails. "Roads are tougher on the body," Lundell said.

If Lundell and Robinson have their way, future Ridge Trail runners may not have to step on much asphalt at all.

To track the runner's progress, log on to www.zombierunner.com/ridgetrail, which posts daily log updates about the run.