Nine Trails Of Vert


Best way to recognition and applause in ultras is to finish last. All the people who weren’t there at the beginning will be thrilled to see you—because you didn’t wander off the course while jabbering into your smartphone and so on. But I get ahead of myself.


Take note of the following numbers. 9 + (5 + 3) x 2. Not written totally correctly? Too bad.

Santa Barbara Nine Trails; thirty-five miles of asskicking vert. Luis Escobar, RD, now hosts this classic race, the gold standard in ass-kicking since 1990. Anybody who sneeringly references “California Carpet Trails” is welcome to try this race on for size. It climbs and plunges in the mountains above Santa Barbara. Technical out the ass; in both sunny and shady varieties. The smooth sections are on the various sections of Edison roads. They pitch up and down too. No character-debilitating shade here either; its photon-fury at its best. Wear that black t-shirt and be prepared to enjoy yourself. When you get to Romero Cyn at 17mi, turn around and run the whole mess in reverse. You’ll get your money’s worth.


Its a long way to the top, and shit. Baroque trail-duck on the Jesusita.
I’ll skip over the preliminaries, because happy races are all alike; every unhappy race is unhappy in its own way. Suffice to say that after the bracing send off of “If you fuck up, you’re never coming back and we’ll tell all other race-directors, etc”; the herd tore off up Jesusita Trail. 

Very quickly I was alone with my own dark thoughts. I’m taking injury-inventory. I’d sprained the fuck out of my left shoulder two weeks earlier while photographing at AC100. Was it going to spasm if I came down on it? I could barely lift it equal to my shoulder. Since no bone stuck out of flesh, no need to go to ER. I also had my choice of two forward speeds: uphill walk and downhill jog. It was going to be a swell day.

Fog burned off in about an hour. The cumulative we are climbing up a series of ascending canyons and ridges. Vistas of upended strata remind you of how insignificant your problems are. I’m sure trilobites and such had a few bad days now and then in that steamy geologic era.

9 Miles: GIBRALTAR, and the FIRST AID

The glittering portals of the Gibraltar aid station beckon in the morning sun following an asphalt downhill on Camino Cielo. No, its not Middle Earth magic, but rather the detritus of thousands of broken beer bottles sparkling like jewels in the morning sun.

And here I was asked about my special bib number. 69. 

“Did you choose that number?”
"No, it chose me. Because I’m a practicing vajitarian.

Dead silence. Everyone is meditating on the what lies at the bottom of their beer cans. But, they’re smiling.

“In my religious practice, I’ve discovered that it puts two smiles on my face”.

This was going to come in handy later.

I’ll just say there wasn’t a dry seat in the house. I looted some peaches, all the fluids I could haul away, and departed into the rising heat. Eight miles to Romero Cyn, then I could turn this fucker around and get it done.

I was touched by how many people knew my by name. I’m embarrassed by how many of them I didn’t remember their names. Oh, hi...and thanks. Jesus.

Ridge-line followed canyon crawl. Repeat, and vice-versa. My angst was in continual foot-placement. I’d found out how easily I’d broken my wrist in March. No time for fuckups here. This is where creeper gear is handy. Kilian Jornet I’m definitely not. My SKT endorsement is hanging by a little-white string here.

The short-stop water aid-station is 3 miles from Romero. I’ve already seen more than a few of Santa Barbara’s finest heading back to the SB9T Barn, lucky fuckers. Some lifetime far in the future, I’ll discover what its like to have running talent. In the meantime I’ll make do with dumbass perseverance. And down to Romero I went.


I lurched into Romero at about 5:45. Precision guesswork suggested I’d finish in 13+ hours. Meantime Caity McCardell and her lissome friends were suggesting I should put my feet up, take a load off, and generally be a lotus-eater. Standing while ramming calories and ignoring the badinage was easy. I only had three functioning brain cells, and they were in their separate trailers. Caity’s Satanic familiar Kevin Cody was the Lou Reed voice in this scrum, but I cared not, and shit. Still like the dude, though. 

Eventually, I was over under sideways done, and commenced the schlong and winding chode up and out. I left behind an unhappy soon-to-be DNF, who was later text-jabbering about wandering around in Montecito as an unclaimed, filthy ultra-homeless guy looking for a ride somewhere. Whatever.

I hit the short-stop aid station 3 mi back out from Romero. Here I fully exercised my DFL stature and looted as much water as possible. I’d run dry going into Romero, now I had 5 miles of corn-holing uphill heat dust and dreams ahead of me. Sat and left a greasy stain on the stone bench, thanked the lovely volunteer, and left.

Up and out. One ridge, after another. Another drop. Desperately trying to remember  what the fuck and how many canyons with pipes in them were there. One? Two? Its always over the next ridge. Look down.
Don’t fuck it up. DFL is OK. And being alone out there is OK. Just hit the cutoffs. Katy Perry has never set foot here. 

I can feel the ghosts of bandits and hideaways back here. Shit is steep, deep and final. I’m hitting the water, salt-caps every 40min, and when I start sweating its all in my eyes. I wipe my my burning eyes with my canvas hat, keep moving, and make sure my feet are where they’re supposed to be.

As far as I knew, I had 3 people behind me.


A mile below Gibraltar, I see Tyler Tomasello running towards me with 2 gallon jugs.

“We brought this down for you”

Me. What the fuck. Hell yeah.

“Who’s behind you?” 

I’m stuck for an answer. I’m guessing 3-4. Hell if I know. I’ve  been lovingly focused on my own suffering. He took off. I envy his talent, and lack of sweat.

I make the final climb to Gibraltar. Flop in the aid-station.

“You look pretty good”

This must be code and Creole for “you ain’t dead, and still moving” Evidently people have been dropping all day. Me, I’m in slow-suffer mode. My legs are OK, I’m not winded, but hey! I’ve been in talent-challenged mosey-mode all day now. I’m an hour ahead of cutoff, I’ve got 2+hrs of daylight left. Fuck it.


Jesusita in reverse is revelatory. There’s tons of shit I’ve forgotten since the morning. Like it has at least four sections, each is way too long, and each section gets longer by the mile. Top section has a continuing series of technical challenges. That 18” step-down is something to be thought through, not scampered over. Stakes are high, I’m long in the tooth, and do not need to be jacked up for nothing.


I pass 3 people here, feeling like a larcenous bald man who’s just stolen a comb. Sorry, Jorge-Luis Borges. Guy and gal are sprawled by half-empty gallon jugs, dazedly mentioning that the water was 100º from being out in the sun. Too bad for them. I fill up and stagger on.

Another section. The finish line recedes into the gathering evening twilight. Oh yeah, the olive trees. The horse barns. The trail sections and the mowed hillsides.

A gym-rat and his yoga-boobed Pilates Betty hear me coming. They turn around, all clean and nice in their leisure wear. I remind myself not to lip off because he could be some Gigantor tech-weenie who hit it big and took an early Montecito retirement.

SHE: “Your almost there!” Brightly, trying to connect with my dirt-up-to-my-ass fucked-up self, bib number pinned to shorts, smelling of howling ass.

“Miss, those are dangerous words…”

HE: “You’re getting it done!”


Its all I had. Talking hurts. Now, where the fuck is the finish line?


Finally. The best form of the day is in the last 200 yards. I have no explanation why my stride opened up so it looked like I knew what I was doing. People were applauding that I wasn’t lost.



Luis asked me how many remained out there. I said may be five. Hell if I knew. I certainly didn’t know their names either, which was disappointing for their nearest.

Winner Tyler Hansen (33) 6:40:08, Final finisher crossed at 14:31. I was lucky, finishing in 13:01, I’m pleased to now that my UltraSignUp metric was 69.6. Some days, you just can’t buy that.

Full results and x-rays here.


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