The run started at my hotel, which sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It was blustery, reminding me of Winnie the Pooh (as the word blustery always does). My amply layered body was warm enough not to immediately turn back, but not warm enough that I’d be peeling off layers later.
I began to descend down the hill toward the ocean, greeted with ever more sweeping views. The road took me past gorgeous homes that I knew I could never own, but appreciated their existence and beauty none the less. Within minutes I had arrived at the entrance to Mendocino Headlands State Park. After a short jog down the paved road, I got on the main trail which hugs the cliff line.
The trail zigged and zagged, approaching and retreating from the jagged cliffs. Due to the windy conditions, the thought of being blown away mid-stride definitely crossed my mind (especially when the wind actually caused me to lose my footing). Intentionally sticking to paths just a bit inland of the cliffs’ edges, served me well and did not disappoint with the views!
Looking to the East I saw expansive grassland with paths carved into the earth; evidence of prior runners and walkers. As you might imagine, my pace was slowed and running time lengthened by all the stopping to soak in the surroundings!
On the last leg of the headland trail I ran, I noticed and appreciated the grass beneath my feet. The ground was soft and forgiving from recent rain (a rare event in California these days). At one point I actually thought the trail had ended, however it was only that grass had sprouted so quickly, that the trail was covered. No humans had come along yet to trample it (until me).
My route dropped me off at the back of a church. I’m not much for religion, but the building was lovely. A right up the road, past a real estate office and garden store, a right on Route One, and a left on Big River Rd, and I was onto the next leg.
The road curved down to the Big River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area. I’m more out of breath from typing that name, then I was from running! Anyway, the gravel road runs parallel to the Big River, and turns into pedestrian only Big River Trail after a few minutes. This trail has hardly any elevation change, but the change in scenery surely makes up for it. At the start I had clear views of the river, but as I went further, the river views disappeared and I was surrounded by trees. It was like the river had completely disappeared. The occasional view reminded you it was still there.
The river was blue-green in the most beautiful way, not in the algae bloom kind of way, but in the “this is what the world would look like if humans hadn’t messed with it” kind of way.
I saw a several groups of runners along the trail, even a few solo joggers. This did not do enough to hamper my growing mountain lion fear. The odds of me encountering one were slim at best, however all the mountain lion signs had my paranoia on overdrive. I hadn’t seen anyone in a mile or so, there were growing rustling sounds, and a tree stump that looked strikingly like a lion. This was sufficient to turn me around running back to civilization. I’m sure that was my fastest mile. 😉
Since one way to avoid encountering a mountain lion is to run with another person, so they hear you coming via. your voices, I disconnected my headphones and turned my podcast up to full volume. And voila, I had someone with me!
The final leg of my run was the hardest on the lungs, requiring two steep hill climbs. It was magical to feel my lungs so alive, and good preparation for my upcoming race in two weeks. My last mile was spent meandering through the town of Mendocino, partially to explore possible breakfast and shopping options for later, and partially to get another mile in.
The five hour drive from Santa Cruz was well worth it for this run alone.
Headed to Mendocino and looking for a 10-ish mile run? See my actual route below…and run with a buddy. 🙂