By Randy Zuniga
December 13, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) - I had been training off and on throughout the summer for a night trail half-marathon up by Julian in October. I was doing different trail runs throughout the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains to get ready for it.
I found out in September that the half-marathon was cancelled. Keep in mind I was really excited about doing a night run. So, my brother and I put our heads together and decided to do our own nighttime trail run with just our friends over by the Historic Steel Bridge in Jamul. We decided to have a Halloween party at a friend’s house afterwards with lasagna and brew, so we wanted to keep it short, just a fun run.
There is a two mile loop at the Steel Bridge that fit the cause perfectly. During the day it's a very pleasant hike with no major hills, perfect for the person just looking for some outdoor exercise to enjoy nature.
Once you pull into the Steel Bridge parking lot, you walk down the paved road heading toward the water treatment plant. The gate is usually locked, but there are openings on either side of it (yes it's legal and nobody will hassle you). About a half mile down that road you'll reach the water treatment plant. This is where the road turns from pavement to dirt. Keep going and soon you will hit a fork in the road -- go left. If you go right, make sure you have a cell phone on you so you can have someone to pick you up in Bonita (Just kidding!).
After you've gone left at the fork -- at about the mile mark -- you'll come to a small wooden bridge that crosses a creek. Lots of people bring their dogs here to frolic in the water in the Summer time. After you cross the bridge make a left. You'll enjoy a mile of scenic single track all the way back to the Steel Bridge and the parking lot.
After the sun goes down, this trail gets very dark and can be pretty spooky...
When I was training for the Everest Marathon that took place in Nepal -- I was training a lot after work so it was dark. One time, I was running along completely alone, making my way with just a headlamp and I could see this big dark outline running parallel with me just out of sight of my light. I couldn't imagine what it could be and it was the size of a bear. I got a little nervous especially when it was crashing through the brush crossing in front of me onto the trail. We finally met face to face. It was a cow (there is usually no livestock back there). It must've escaped from someone's ranch. It was enough to get my heart rate going and needless to say it didn't take me long to run back to my car.
So this trail can definitely be spooky at night. It was perfect! There were about 15 of us total. We started the run and my brother left a bit earlier than everyone else. He placed glow sticks along the trail to mark the course. We went through 50-60 glow sticks that I had ordered on the internet.
Some people ran it and others just walked it, but we all had an amazing time. The finish line was the stretch coming through the Steel Bridge. You could see the outline of its structure in the dark and it had a very eerie Halloween effect. When I finished, I pulled an ice chest out of my jeep filled with bottled Gatorade and water for everyone. Everyone finished and we all headed back to my friend's house in La Mesa to celebrate!
Randy Zuniga has a passion for hiking, mountaineering and trail running. He’s hiked and run trails across East County from Cowles Mountain to the Laguna Mountains. He has also climbed peaks in the Sierra Nevadas including Mt. Whitney and Mt. Muir. His quest for adventure has taken him to Nepal, where he trekked three weeks through Khumba Valley to the Mt. Everest Base Camp and participated in the Everest Marathon. In addition, he’s backpacked across Alaska, climbing and traversing glaciers, and climbed Orizaba in Mexico—an 18,500 foot high volcano.