Winter Run - February 16

A truck drives down flooded road near town

Lance Armstrong and two inches of rain hit the central coast in the past 24 hours... both welcome events. The creeks needed the rain and the local business owners from Sausalito to Santa Cruz needed the pro cyclists. The bikes came down the Pacific Coast Highway mid-morning along with sheets of rain. The event marked the second stage of the Tour of California. The riders passed over ten or so coastal creeks along the way to Santa Cruz. Each creek running fast and chocolate brown. The course would have two considerable hill-climbs thrown in.

Their route took a left-turn off the PCH and onto Turnitas Creek Road. The tour would take these world-class riders into a prime coastal steelhead watershed. Just to the north of Turnitas Creek is a terrfic network of trials and roads where I learned to mountain bike and had many of my best rides. To the south lies the watershed which is the prime focus of the Winter Run chronicles.

Butano Creek swells beyond its channel into surrounding farm land

With towering, stands of California redwoods lining the narrow road, I wonder if these guys knew steelhead were working equally as hard to gain elevation in these hills? And doing it without a ten thousand dollar bike, and a support team driving in a car in the back - in case you need to replace that ten thousand bike with another one just like it.

The "Tour of California" for these fish is a very different race. It's a tour which begins with the first stage in the Pacific Ocean and ultimately finishes back at sea. Oh, the middle stages can be tricky. Honing in on the mouth of a stream less than ten feet wide along thousands of miles of coastline, avoiding a whole cast of predators, hoping for enough water to make the trip upstream, and finding love along the way - all make a bike race seem silly and trivial.

A coastal creek reclaims its flood plain after 4 days of rain in February

So, where are the fearless, finned racers in the middle stages of their tour of California? It's hard to say given the visibility of the coastal creeks. The creeks are running high and muddy. Beyond all the sediment in the water, I encountered another road-block (literally). The road I drive to reach the middle and upper sections of the creek was closed. The road passes over another creek that empties into the marsh from the south. The small bridge near flooding, and the road above the bridge was under three feet of water (see photographs). The road to town leveled across the creek's ancient floodplain was filling up with water. The tidy crop-rows of surrounding farmland slowly being reclaimed. I'm not a hydrologist, but I would venture the sediment-load of this creek just went up -- by alot.

All the loose top-soil now being swept downstream toward the marsh. Did the race director mention heavy sediment in this stage of the run?

Stay tuned for updates as these steelhead tend to move on the big flows, motoring up through the turbulent, coffee-colored water to spawn.