Tag Archives: Alive

Runner’s Lullabye

All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep them on a leash

       Arsonist’s Lullabye, Hozier

2016 is wrapping up and I finally find myself in a frame of mind to write again. This year has been hard, very hard. Actually, the beginning of it was great, but I’m here now, at the end, so I will write about the latter half.

Adjusting to graduate school was difficult and something I wasn’t ready for, but I doubt I ever would have been. Kind of like a race, it’s something you just have to jump in and do. I never handle difficulty with grace, EVER. I would love to handle everything looking like Audrey Hepburn, but instead I am… well… see below….

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Plus, I think it makes people a little teeny bit uncomfortable when they greet you with, “Hey, how are you?” and you answer with, “Shitty.” Sometimes I try to make it a little more palatable with things such as, “Meh”, “It’s rough”, or “I’m hanging in there”, but even those make people kind of chuckle a bit and move on. I dunno, I hate the fake. What can I say?

So I ran.

A beloved family member died suddenly and unexpectedly half way through the semester. I’m not sure I will ever be completely okay from that. I have this big ass brain and can do the science, but I cannot understand how this person is no longer here. Seriously makes no sense to me. Random things remind me of them and I start crying at inappropriate moments (see images above).

So I ran.

These past few months have brought a multitude of other things which I will not go into here. Wrenching things. Things I don’t understand. I am left here alone, fractured, shattered, and yet, I have grown. I am certainly not who I was at the beginning of this year; I have hurt, I have aged, I am changed.

And I run.

This broken heart has found beauty through running; the pain driving me to seek and to move. I have explored innumerable new trails. I have seen new views. I have met incredible new people. I have eaten new foods. I have learned more about my fears. The dark night is my blanket and the dawn my lover. I run with them, I find grace in them, and I am whole.

All I have is my fire
And the place I need to reach
I will never tame my demons
But always keep them on a leash

Kendall Mountain Run – Silverton, CO

Silverton Colorado, my dear one. How can a fairy tale upon which I’ve trespassed only once, and briefly at that, become my heart? How did that happen? It has been two weeks since I visited nirvana, and I must return.

Silverton is a tiny old mining town in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The train from Durango comes in during the summer days bearing loads of tourists who shop in the shops, eat the local food, and take in the local history. At night, after the tourists have left the town is very quiet and you are left with looming mountains and a bright open sky.

THE VACATION PART

We decided on a weeklong family vacation to Silverton, culminating in mom (that would be me) doing the Kendall Mountain 12 Mile Run. This run begins in downtown Silverton at 9,318 feet, goes to the top of Kendall Mountain at 13,066 feet, and then back down into town. I was nervous about the altitude, but figured I’d have an idea of my adaptability in a week.

After a long tiring drive into town, we arrived at the Triangle Motel which was our basecamp for the week. We’d paid for a super basic room with no kitchen or microwave or anything, and they upgraded us to a suite for free! It was clean and comfortable and we loved it. We all crashed hard that night.

On our first day we hiked to Ice Lakes. I have never seen lakes this color of turquoise! The mountains were blanketed in wildflowers. There were streams flowing everywhere. The hike is uphill all the way to the lake, but it was so much fun! While I didn’t struggle with the altitude (amazing since I always do) our son was getting over a pretty bad chest cold and really had a hard time. So by the time we made it up to the lake, the afternoon storms were rolling in and it was time to get off the mountain.

After finishing the hike we drove the Million Dollar Highway into the neighboring town of Ouray where we walked on the main street just a bit. I’m afraid the Ice Lakes hike killed our son though, so exploring Ouray was short and we just ate and went back to the motel. The mining history visible on this road was incredible and all I wanted to do was stop and explore it all.

The next day I went and explored a tiny bit of the Colorado Trail from Little Molas Lake. From this campground, I headed east on the trail, quickly crossing over Highway 550 and entering a meadow where I had views of Molas Lake and all the surrounding mountains. I just wanted a short run on this day, so after getting to an incredible water fall at about 2.5 miles out, I turned around, stopping to watch deer in the meadow on my way. Turning around was difficult with all of that trail stretching out ahead of me!

After getting back and showering, we visited the Silverton Museum located in the old jail. Again with the mining history- it’s amazing. I don’t enjoy history in general; I REALLY don’t care about all the dates of who did what to who. But this was personal. This wasn’t dates. Walking through this old jail I could imagine the people who’d been here before and their lives. Learning about the bar brawls, the hard mining life, and the houses of ill repute, I could see these young men’s lives. In the black and whites on the walls I could see their faces. Their lives, their stories, were real.

I think it was that night that the real personality of Silverton hit home. We went out to the Rum Bar where my friend Erica was working for the summer and where we found out that another friend of mine, Christian, was in town for the race too. We had game night and had a great time meeting people! It’s all about the people, always the people.

The next day (I think) I got up early and ran with Christian up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine and then a little way out the Rainbow Trail which is a part of the Hardrock 100 course. So fun!

Later, my family and I visited the Old Hundred Mine located just outside of Silverton, for a tour. Again, incredible. The kids had fun “panning” for gold while we waited for our tour to begin. It was drippy and cold in the mine. Our tour guide, who’d been a miner himself, made the lives of the miners real to us once again as he described the evolution of hardrock mining. I was seriously wowed by the ingenuity and feats of engineering that go into something like that.

That night (I think? It all begins to run together at some point) we went out to Avalanche Brewing for dinner and to say hi to Kelly (also in town for the summer) and then to the Rum Bar. We again had an incredible time hanging out with Erica and Christian and met a new awesome friend Jesse.

The next day we rented a Jeep and did the Alpine Loop. This 60+ mile, four-wheel-drive loop takes you on a tour of the surrounding mountains, passing ghost towns along the way. We stopped in the ghost town of Animas Forks to wander through the old buildings. On the way up Engineer Pass we saw a huge herd of sheep and numerous tarns (small mountain lakes). We stopped at the top of Engineer and watched the incoming storms, which eventually hit us as I took over driving. I really enjoyed driving the Jeep and it drove home how badly I need a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle! In so many places the road was super narrow with a steep drop off and no barrier, but that just made it more fun! It was wild and beautiful.

THE RACE PART

Race morning came and I felt great. I walked down to the start line which was literally the middle of the main street and no actual line. The gun went off (like an actual gun) and we ran. My entire strategy was just to make it up and back. I wasn’t concerned about my time because I know how much I typically struggle at higher altitudes. So I ran the easy parts and hiked most of the uphill. The lower, easier uphills I ran okay, but that was it.

Very quickly we were in the trees, with breaks looking out over Silverton, which we were very quickly above. Soon I saw the first 11K runners coming back and I of course thought how wonderful it would be to already be on the way down and almost done. But the peak… there was no way I could be this close and not peak it.

Just past the first aid station is where the mountain opened up its glory. There was this expansive, verdant meadow with burbling streams making their way down. I expected to see hobbits and wizards and elves drinking beer and smoking Pipe-weed. I got to watch the front runners come barreling past me- all focus and speed and drive. Runners are amazing people. The best part was getting to see my friends as they made their way back down, all looking strong!

This race runs up a Jeep road, but the last little bit to the top is a loose scramble. That was probably my favorite aspect of the trail. I love scrambling. It was loose and slippery and so fun! I was excited to run back down.

I hit the top and Jubilee was there capturing the looks of “WTH!” on all of our faces, with the Rockies spread out behind us. I touched the giant cairn there at the peak and then bombed back down the scramble. By bombed I mean did a running slide the whole way.

Normally the downhill is my jam, but on this day I got side stitches and instead was managing those the whole way down, but I was okay. I was just… so… happy!

As soon as I hit the flat for the run into town I realized how much gravity had been pulling me down the mountain. My legs were super flat. I rounded a corner and my husband was there taking pictures- he’d volunteered for the race. Our kids were nearby playing in the river. That was so nice! They followed me as I ran into the finish line.

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Kendall Mountain in the Background

Afterwards I hung out talking to everyone about their race. Everybody did so well!

That night there was an after party at the Rum Bar which doubled as a farewell party for Erica since she would be making her way back home. We stayed a little bit late, maybe spent a little bit of money… but what an amazing night.

THE SAPPY PART

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” Henri Frederic Amiel

This quote sums up my “summer camp” in Silverton. My heart was gladdened. I’m going to cheese it up now… ready? From dear old friends from Phoenix to dear new friends made during this dream, you brought light to my journey.

*Muah!

 

 

 

Smelly Armchair Musings: On My Zane Grey 50 and DNF’ing

How do you write about a failure? How do you share it in a way that reflects your true feelings, but that is also palatable to those around you? I don’t know. So I’ll just do like I tell my children and “word vomit”, letting the words fall where they may.

I went into the Zane Grey race with trepidation. I’d injured my calf and I had taken time off to try to let it heal. I had no idea how Zane would go.

The night before I scoped out the start line so I’d know where I was going in the morning. The smell of pines in the air was fresh and wonderful. I walked the first few feet of the trail barefoot and enjoyed the dirt underfoot.

Race morning came and the start was electric. Everyone was excited and talking and there were so many friends there! That was wonderful, but I was very in my head, making it difficult to engage very much.

The race began in the dark, so headlamps bobbed and flashlights weaved. We were tight together on the trail, rubbing elbows, watching out for pine cones. We were an ebbing and flowing stream, slowing and accelerating as one.

My injured calf felt okay until, while still within that first mile I stumbled and caught myself on it. It had felt a little tight but at this point it cramped up and felt rotten, ripped. I tried to keep running and couldn’t, so I moved to the side and started walking. I contemplated going back to the start line. If I couldn’t run, what the hell was I going to do? I tried stretching it. Eventually the raw feeling calmed down and I was able to maintain a light jog.

I recognized the voices of friends up ahead of me on the trail as the quiet grey light of early dawn began to give shape to the forest around us. It was peaceful, incredible, fulfilling, but what was wrong with my body? Calf aside, my body felt sluggish, bonky, and at the slightest incline my heart was racing. In a race filled with uphills, that wasn’t a good sign. What to do? Go back to the start? It was close. Or keep going?

A little back story on DNF’ing. Two years ago I made my first attempt at a 100K at the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It consisted of four loops on the Pemberton Trail, a trail I know well. My first two loops were fine, but my third loop was not. Excruciating IT Band pain hobbled me and I walked the entire third loop. I started out power hiking, but by the end of this loop I’d cried a legion of tears and was unable to bend my knee. 45 miles in and I called it. I didn’t have another loop in me. I DNF’d. But was that my best? Was that everything I had to give? It was evening at the end of that third loop which bolstered the feeling of hopelessness. What if I had slept for a few hours and tried for that last loop? My knee still would have hurt, but could I have made it? I don’t know, and I’ll never know now. That DNF taught me something so cliché, but something I think we each must learn on our own and in our own way; never give up. I was ashamed of this race, ashamed I didn’t finish it, ashamed of the unknown, and so I never really talked about it, and certainly never blogged about it, until now.

And so, as awful as I felt so early in my benchmark race, I would not give up. I resolved to make them pull me off the course. If I was ahead of the cut-offs for each aid station then I would keep going.

I made it into the first aid station at 8 miles doing okay. I think I was thirty minutes ahead of the cut off, so I was doing fine. Plus, a number of my friends were here volunteering. It is such a boost to see familiar faces along the race- I love it!

At some point, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” began making its rounds through my head.

The whole race ran along the base of the Mogollon Rim. It was incredible and I knew I was desperately, head over heels, in love with this trail. I snapped photos with my phone, moving as quickly as I could. At the second aid station I was greeted by more friends. I was still ahead of the cut-off, though not as far.

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Dang it Meghan Trainor. How many times can one line of a song go through one person’s head?

Third aid station- I was definitely slipping but still ahead of the cut off, so I ate quickly and got out of there.

Zane Grey

At Zane Grey 50 Mile Race

The next aid station was where my husband and children would be waiting for me and was at mile 33.5, just 9.5 miles from the third aid station. But I was so slow. So slow. My body was done. My quads were shot. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just sit down and be done, right there on the side of the trail. But how would I get to my family? I had to keep moving: no sitting, no stopping, no quitting, one foot in front of the other. But I was so slow. Nothing was working correctly. I trudged along, thoughts of Javelina flitting through my head, and Meghan Trainor of course. I cried, feeling sorry for myself, starting to give up, then, “No Amber! No quitting! No slowing down on purpose! Keep going!” Then I cried again, listened to the Meghan Trainor song in my head again, thought about Javelina again, the cycle continued. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to know how slowly I was moving. I was POSITIVE I was behind cut off and would be done at Fish Hatchery.

I came upon a section of trail that looked odd- I was pretty sure I was on track, but I was getting all messed up in my head and hadn’t seen any ribbons. Just behind me were two men who said we were good and on trail still. Then one of them said we were still fine, still ahead of cut-off. What??!?!?!? How??!?!?! I was disappointed because I wanted to be done so badly, but I still had a chance and I really did want to finish. We ran into the aid station. And I burst into tears, there was my family and more friends. Everyone had been worried about me- I was hours behind when I normally would have made it to this point. I had to make a decision- keep going or be done? I only had ten minutes to get out of that aid station if I was going to keep going. Everything hurt, I didn’t want to go anymore, and the next section was supposed to be the hardest of the entire trail. I was a hot mess, but I would not repeat Javelina. I grabbed food and water and got out of there. I asked my husband to meet me at the next aid station, See Canyon, because I didn’t know if I’d make it there in time and because if I did, I needed to see him.

I walked out of the aid station, eating as I went. Meghan Trainor kept up her noisy vigil in my head. I crossed streams, I got passed by other runners. I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life I was running in the back of the pack, it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, I certainly wasn’t being competitive, I was just trying to finish.

 

More people passed me. Then, the dreaded event happened- the sweeps caught me. They were very kind. They made sure I was okay and then they hung back and gave me my space. I appreciated that because then I cried a bunch. I’d already climbed the big hills, the rest was relatively easy-ish into See Canyon so damn it but I was going to cover it running. Ha-ha, running! It was a running motion, but it was as fast as I could go.

Meghan Trainor ran with me. Then she walked with me when I couldn’t hold that motion anymore- but I did power hike like a crazy white suburbanite mom in the park on a Tuesday morning. The soothing grey of evening began filtering in through the trees, slowly blurring the edges and making the forest soft again. The breeze brushed against my skin. I could hear the people at the aid station, and then I was there. Again, the rushing torrent of tears erupted out of my face as I hugged my husband with my nasty self. About 46 miles in and just 6.8 miles left of the race, I’d missed the cut off by about 15 minutes. I was pulled.

Sitting in the dirt, I cried in disappointment and relief. So close. However, Meghan Trainor was finally gone, thank goodness.

I’d failed. I DNF’d my race. I was angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. And yet oddly, I was incredibly proud of myself. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’d left every last piece of me out there on that trail. I gave everything that I had and on this day it wasn’t enough. There was peace in that. I’d found a new strength in that which wasn’t there when I began the race that morning. I’d heard many people say that the majority of ultra-running is mental and I’d thought I understood that- I hadn’t. Whenever I get to attempting my first hundred I’m sure I’ll revisit my understanding of the mental capacity required in ultra-running, but for this day I had a new found knowledge.  

So, now you hold my word vomit in your hands, filled, apparently, with a ridiculous amount of tears (what can I say, I’m an emotional person). What will you do with it?

😉

Run on.

Smelly Armchair Musings: On the Beauty of Being Yourself

“Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Oh god, where is the aid station?”

On this day, February 9, 2013, I ran with my friend Dawn at my first ultra, the Pemberton 50K. I’d wanted to “be an ultra-runner” for a while, and on that day I’d set out to try to earn that badge. I was a newb.

Dawn; she is amazing. She’s run numerous races, ultra and not, all over the place. She is kind and always has a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. She loves her family, loves her friends, and loves the trails. This woman exudes calm, acceptance, generosity, kindness, humbleness, and grace. She taught me so much about myself, and all while simply being herself. She probably has no idea of the impact she has had on my life (well, perhaps until now).

Up until the Pemberton 50K, Dawn and I had been on group runs together. Just talking, chatting about whatever. We were friends and I enjoyed her company.

So we ran the Pemberton 50K. This race consists of two loops of Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It’s a good first ultra because it has minimal elevation gain and is relatively smooth running.

For the first loop, being the newb that I was, I ran too fast, I know that now. But at the time, I felt great, the pace felt fun, I was having a good time. Dawn was behind me a little bit. We came into the Start/Finish line aid station and Dawn, being much wiser than me, took a moment to stop and eat. I kept going.

As soon as I started on the second loop I knew I was in trouble. The flat course no longer felt flat. I couldn’t run. Everything hurt and my legs wouldn’t move. Dawn caught up to me while I was walking, and she was still running strong. I don’t remember now all of the words that were exchanged- I remember seriously hating life and hating the “hill”. She was kind and cheerful, as always, but not in an annoying cheerleader way, she was just herself. I ended up following her feet; she pulled me in this manner for miles (5? 6? 7? I don’t remember now.). All I remember of this time is her solid feet, consistently covering trail, and my struggle to keep watching them and not stop. It hurt. Eventually we came to a remote aid station and I just couldn’t run anymore. I told her to go ahead. I still had a bunch of miles (5? 6? Again, I don’t remember) to go to reach the finish line, and I needed to walk for a while.

So I walked. And felt sorry for myself for walking. One person passed me. Then another. I was still walking. Eventually enough people passed me that I decided that was enough of that, I was going to run again. So I did. It was a shuffle, really. Every little bump in the trail felt like I was climbing a giant mountain. My legs wouldn’t lift, but at least I wasn’t walking anymore.

Eventually I made it and I crossed the finish line of my first ultra. And Dawn was there and she congratulated me. I felt awful. I was cold. I remember leaving there and going to Starbucks to get a huge hot chocolate to drink- I was dehydrated, and hadn’t eaten well, and was a mess.

And that’s my experience of my first ultra, but this is about so much more than that. Every time I run any race, at some point the going gets hard and ALWAYS Dawn’s voice is there: “Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other finishes.” On my “Adventure Runs” (My friend Miguel calls these Amber Adventures) that I pursue in the desert, again, Dawn is always with me. This beautiful woman gave me so much more than she will ever know. These words don’t describe the impact she has had on me. I look up to her.

So why write this? Trail running is about community. We need each other, or at least, I do. Dawn never knew the impact she had on my life, she was just herself and she helped me to become the person I am today because of it. Perhaps this is a reminder to me. I don’t know, and will never know, my impact on the lives of those around me. How does my mere presence affect them? What about my words? My actions? I don’t know. But I love my community- I will choose to be there for them, to pour into them, as I have been poured into, because this is who I am. Perhaps there is someone out there who will always hear my voice on their runs, just as I always hear Dawn’s. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is my choice to love those around me while I am here simply because I can.

Thank you Dawn.

A Ramble

“So how does a 50K work?” I was asked this question the other day and it completely confused me; I didn’t understand what was being asked. “Well, I mean, you don’t run it all at once right?” Oooohhhhh. Me: “Well, yes. You do.” I think there was confusion on their face.

It’s mind-boggling to me that there are people who haven’t heard of ultra-marathons; it is what I breathe. All I seem to be able to talk about is either geeky immunology or microbiology (or some other “ology” entirely), or running ultras and the best trails. Everybody I know is the same… well, at least regarding the latter part. I’m always wanting to hit that next trail, it’s constantly on my brain.

Perhaps this is the beauty of the trail running community here in Phoenix. We actually are a community. There are so many people who love the same dirt baths that I love, who aren’t afraid to push their bodies and indulge their curiosity to see how far that trail goes. Every day I see posts on Facebook asking if anyone is free for a run at this trail or that trail, or at a completely new trail. Any time, day or night (more nights as the temperatures begin to climb) people are usually able to find someone who is willing to hop on the trail with them. There are people here who want to be a part of what I love to do, as much as I want to be a part of what they love to do.

There is something incredibly freeing about running long. I know my body now better than I ever have. I know how to fuel it and hydrate it so I can keep going strong. Running long has given me confidence in my physical abilities, and given me reason to believe I am capable of many other things as well. I am seriously incredible. No really, you are too! Look at how our muscles all work together to propel us up a trail. It’s amazing: the brain is firing, the heart is pumping, feet are carefully placed, muscles strain, and sweat flows, all in perfect harmony that feels like agony that is beautiful. Incredible.

As I pursue my dreams and try to encourage others to pursue theirs, I often hear, “Oh no. I’m much too old for that now.” Wha…?????? How is this a thing? I desperately hope that I never, ever find myself in a place where the only reason I won’t pursue a dream is because I believe I’m too old. Too old to climb a mountain? No. Just… no. There is a difference between age and physical capability. If I am unable to climb a mountain because some part of me doesn’t work anymore, or is otherwise not well enough to do so, well then at least I climbed as many mountains as I could while I was able. But to forgo climbing a mountain only because of my age? This is absolutely not acceptable. The same with any other dream- to skip it only because of a strongly held belief that I am too “old”? Again, no. Something I have learned is that our beliefs shape everything about us. They shape our outlook on life, how we view others, how we view ourselves. All of this is simply a belief. When we change our beliefs (No, I’m not too old) our whole world changes.

So this ramble of a blog begins with consternation at the idea of running a 50K, moseys along into my amazing, local trail running community, and culminates at pursuing dreams. How does all of this tie together? Running long is not everyone’s dream, in fact, it’s not most people’s dream (weird, I know). And yet, we all have dreams. Some we have left behind for whatever reason, some we set on a back burner as life rushes by. Running long is how I grow in strength and confidence. It is my foundation for pursuing life. I fully believe I am meant, we all are meant, to pursue life. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s really not, but give me my long run, and I can promise you, I will live this life to its fullest. You should join me.

Superstition Mountains: Massacre Grounds Trail

I enjoy all kinds of trails, but one of my favorite kinds of trails are destination trails, even when (sometimes especially when!) these trails are in my own backyard. So what would make a local trail a “destination” trail? One that has some kind of really cool and unique feature that you look forward to appreciating during your time on the trail. Massacre Grounds Trail is such a trail because it goes out to a bluff and a (seasonal) water fall, and as any of us who live in Arizona know, anything with water is a cool place to go and see!

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

Parking for this trailhead is located at coordinates 33.471412, -111.469378, and is in the same parking lot as the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail. Jacob’s Crosscut leaves the parking lot to the right towards the Siphon Draw trail, and is the route that most people take. This of course gives Massacre Grounds Trail a pretty high solitude factor. Massacre Grounds Trail leaves the parking lot on the left. There is a new, marked opening in the fence allowing easy access to the trail, and it is signed. The trail quickly enters and exits a wash, and then begins steady, though not steep, climbing all the way out the 2.9 miles to the waterfall.

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot - By Me

Superstition Mountain from the Parking Lot
– By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot - By Me

Trailhead Parking Lot
– By Me

When I left the parking lot for this run, mine was the only car there. I headed out into the early gray of dawn, looking forward to the quiet ahead of me.

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise - By Matt

Different day: Massacre Grounds Sunrise
– By Matt

The lower part of the trail is very clear and easy to follow. The plant life through here is interesting and beautiful; different wildflowers, shrubs, and cactus edge the trail. Because the trail climbs immediately, you quickly begin having views out towards the valley behind you (if you stop to look). Most of the climbing on this lower section is at a very easy grade with some small rollers, and the trail is very smooth and clear of debris. There is one micro-hill shortly before the trail pops out at an old parking lot that is no longer in use. Keep right here, sticking close to the fence, and you will see the opening where the trail crosses the fence and continues on.

After the fence crossing, parts of the trail become intermittently rocky. Climbing the hill just past the fence crossing can be somewhat challenging because of this. After reaching the saddle there, though, the trail continues on to cross some tight washes with tall myrtle shading your path. The trail also performs some seriously fun twists that make a run incredibly fun. After climbing out of the wash area you come to a saddle that looks out towards mountains to the north. As I went through here the mountains looked like a painting; they were so regal and calming.

Continuing my climb after the couple of wash crossings, I reflected on how I’d been clearing spider webs from the trail with my face. It’s unpleasant, but it made me happy to know that I was the first one on the trail this morning!

The trail after the wash crossings becomes much rockier and a little steeper. It is here that you will want to ensure you are watching the trail as sometimes it can become a little unclear. However, it is much more clear now than it was in years past, and is well marked with cairns. As long as you look up and watch for them, you really shouldn’t have any issues following the trail. One of my favorite parts of this trail is actually just after this super rocky section- the trail goes up some smooth granite. It’s just an interesting formation that I enjoy running on.

Just after the smooth granite you will have almost reached the end of the trail. The trail forks and you can go left to look out over the bluff, or go right and head up to the waterfall. Both are very close at this point and it is worthwhile to do both if you have the time. The bluff is a great spot to sit and have a snack while looking out over the valley below. I, of course, like to dangle my feet over the edge- but I understand this is not for everyone. The trail up to the waterfall used to be difficult to follow, but it’s quite clear now. When I was there I could hear the water coming down over the rock from down the hill a little ways. Its shining black glimmer stands out against the red-brown rock and makes it very clear from far down the hill where your destination is. The area around the waterfall is fun to climb around in, with lots of boulders and bushes to play on.

Different Day: View from the Waterfall - By Matt

Different Day: View from the Waterfall
– By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry) - By Matt

Different Day: Sitting in the Waterfall (it was dry)
– By Matt

My run back down was, of course, much faster since it was all downhill. I flew along, enjoying the twisting, technicality of the trail and feeling of my body negotiating its intricacies. Upon arrival back at the parking lot, mine was still the only car there. It was a great day for a great run.

Notes:

  • My Garmin gave me not quite 1200 feet of gain over the entire 5.8 miles.
  • This is an excellent trail to take children out on! I have taken mine here and they absolutely love that they are hiking to a waterfall and a cool bluff! My son especially enjoys climbing around on the boulders back by the waterfall.
  • If you want to show people some Arizona desert, this is a great trail to take them on. They will get some great views and will get to see how lush our desert really is.
  • The only amenities at this trailhead are numerous bushes for all of your call of Mother Nature needs. There is no water.

Whether you hike it or run it, this trail is a good time for whatever level you, your friends, or your family are at. Because it’s out and back, if you feel that the distance or climbing is too much, you can simply turn around and save the bluff and waterfall for a different time.
Depending on the weather, this is also a great trail to see wildlife:

Different Day: Tarantula - By Matt

Different Day: Tarantula
– By Matt

Different Day: Millipede - By Matt

Different Day: Millipede
– By Matt

Different Day: Toad - By Matt

Different Day: Toad
– By Matt

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake - By Me

Different Day: Baby Rattlesnake
– By Me

Smelly Armchair Musings: Why Do I Run?

Why do I run?

In normal, daily life it is common for someone to ask how your weekend was and what you did. Answering this question, though, is never easy for me. How do I respond?

“Well, I ran a 25 followed up by an easy 15 the next day. Checked out some sweet single track.”

I’ll have to explain what a 25 followed by a 15 is (25 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday). I’ll have to explain what single track is. And I’ll be met with seriously blank stares followed by incredulous questions, the most common of which is, “Why on earth would you do that?”

Why on earth indeed? Why do I choose to run hours and hours every weekend? Why do I like ultras? Honestly, rather than trying to explain myself, I find it easiest to just laugh and say, “Haha, I know, right? I must be crazy.” Because this drive to run is down at the core of my being- how do you explain something beautiful that is lodged in the depths of your soul, to someone else who does not have that same thing there? You can’t. Not really. But… I thought I’d give it a shot. I know everyone who does run has different reasons as to why, but here is my little story.

I grew up outside, and I’m sure that’s where I gained my love of the outdoors. I spent the entirety of my summers running around barefoot in the woods (or I had my nose buried in a book- I’m a person of extremes). I climbed trees, I swam in cricks, I picked berries, and I played with crayfish and frogs and toads. I explored the wilds around my house and I knew their secrets. This was my world and my soul ran free.

Fast forward however many years it’s been (it’s a number that surprises me!), and out of necessity, I now live in a development; in a city. For many years here, my soul just kind of sat in a hole, bewildered perhaps.

One day, amidst babies and house cleaning and whatever else I did, I realized that I needed something that was all mine; something that I did just for me and only for me. This thing could not be because someone else told me to do it, or because someone else wanted or needed me to do it, it needed to be because I wanted to do it. So I ran.

I started out just running a little around my development, until my friend said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!”  and I said, “Holy crap that’s far, okay!” And really, that’s what started me down this path. She and I didn’t make it to that half marathon together, but I did end up running one. And it was hard. And I had a good time. All of this running was pretty good, until one day, I found it. “It?” you may ask? Oh yes, IT. My niche. I ran a trail.

And then another trail. Then I realized that these trails go off into really wild places, far away from cars and tech. I could have space to breathe. The constant tension in my shoulders could disappear. I could just BE. There was no one to judge me and no one to want anything from me. I didn’t have to try to make sense of social situations. There was no one who would look at me or look at my life and make any decisions about it one way or the other. I just was. And it was good.

Running by myself is great, but running with other people, sharing the glory of the world around me, is even better. I love these people, these trail runners, this community. We run and while we do so, we are relaxed. We can be in the moment and appreciate each other’s presence. We share our lives.

And yet these still are not the entire reason that I run. When I stand on the edge of cliff looking down and out, I see my place in this world, and it’s comfortingly small. As I run, I feel my muscles working, straining, rising to this new challenge as I climb a mountain or run across the rocks. I feel capable and strong. The feats that the human body is able to accomplish are incredible- do you realize that humans can keep moving LONG after most other animals collapse because they literally have no more ATP (the energy source for our muscles) left? It’s amazing that we can do this, if we just get out and start going! We are able to acclimate to almost any environment on the planet, if we get out and go do it. We can scale the highest mountains, cross the hottest deserts, swim the greatest waters. We can see waterfalls, jungles, crazy animals, incredible vistas. What other animal can do that as we can? None. WHY would I want to sit at home when there is so much world to see, and I am uniquely gifted to see it? I know what’s in my home, I don’t know what’s down that trail I have yet to explore. Whether you believe in God or not, this world is an epic gift that I would feel I was squandering if I only ever hung out in my smelly armchair.

So what am I saying, exactly, with all of these thoughts? Why do I run?  Well, the simple version is that it makes me happy. Anyone can understand doing something because it makes them happy, but I believe most people would ask, “Why do you run so much? Why not just run a 5K? A 10K? A half marathon? Or at the most, the occasional marathon? Do you really need to run a marathon pretty much every weekend?”  The answer to the final question, unequivocally is yes. I need to breathe, and the long runs are where I breathe the best. I need to be a part of a community, and these are my peeps. I need to explore my amazing planet, and I can do that best while running. It’s possible that Disney’s Pocahontas actually said it best in “Just Around the Riverbend.” Just because we grow up, does that mean we stop our awe and wonder of the world around us? Do I just stay home and do what’s easiest?

So, there it is. All of that, that’s my reason for running. You may disagree with me. You may think I’m wrong, or selfish, or something else entirely. I’m okay with that. I don’t write for you, but rather for me. I know that most people still will not understand, and I wouldn’t expect them to. This is something you either “get” or you don’t. BUT- I would say that all of us have something that we love. That something may be more socially and culturally acceptable than running long distances and so you may feel that it’s not the same thing, but it is. This sameness is something I have come to realize over the past few years and I hope it’s made me a more accepting person, at least sometimes. Trying to understand another person and see the world through their eyes is extremely hard for me- I think everyone should see things my way! But when I shut my mouth and slow down my race to take offense, I gain an insight into another person and that is priceless.

* On a side note, these are not my thoughts on a balanced life, but rather on my gut-deep passion. Balance is a whole other thing that comes into living the passion, and is best discussed in a different smelly armchair sitting. (See? Balance.) Sometimes I manage balance better than other times, as my exceedingly understanding husband can attest.