Tag Archives: peace

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

Secret Solo Run: Icehouse Trail #198

To celebrate the end of a freaking kickass semester (straight A’s with two classes over 100%- and I wonder why I never have any free time), I went on a secret solo run. I researched different trails- I wanted something with a bunch of climbing, clear trails but not sanitized, and high solitude. I found an amazing place.

I stopped at Starbucks for a large breakfast (nom nom nom) and I headed up to Globe. A little over an hour outside of Phoenix, Globe is normally a place I just drive through on my way northeast to Show Low. There doesn’t really appear to be very much of anything here. But, just a couple of miles off of the main highway are the Pinal Mountains.

Breakfast from Bux

Breakfast from Bux

Travelling through some residential area, I eventually came to the end of the paved road. Half a mile beyond that, on the left, was a picnic area, which is also the parking lot and trailhead. I pulled in, and other than the campground host, there was no one else there. From the parking lot there are two trails; Six Shooter Trail and Telephone Trail. I read online that Telephone Trail to Icehouse Trail had the most climbing, so I chose that way.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Straight out of the parking lot, the trail went uphill. I began in dense, low-lying mountain desert type scrub, but compared to the Sonoran desert scrub that I’m used to, it was nice. Telephone trail crossed the road, and after a bit met up with the lower half of Icehouse. From everything I’d read, staying on Telephone to the second Icehouse intersection was way more interesting, so I did that. Immediately, the views were beautiful.

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Telephone Trail 192 to Icehouse Trail 198

Panoramic

Panoramic

I popped out on a service road. In the absence of any signage telling me which way to go, I assumed that up was correct, so I went left up the road. It was STEEP. I have no idea how vehicles are able to drive on this road, but I saw tire marks. I saw a gate just slightly up and on the right side of the road, but I went a little further up the road because it was so freaking steep! That was fun. Then back down to the gate.

STEEP ROAD!

STEEP ROAD!

Gate #1

Gate #1

I stopped frequently to enjoy the view in between the thickening manzanitas. The foliage was fairly dense around the trails. I was extremely grateful that it was a chilly day so I wasn’t too worried about snakes. In warmer weather, though, I would have a hard time with my little “venomous snake fear issue” on this trail.

Coming upon another gate, I stopped for some selfie-shenanigans.

Goofing at the Gate

Goofing at the Gate

Gate #2

Gate #2

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani's "Smell the Fart" acting

More Goofing at the Gate: Channeling Joey Tribbiani’s “Smell the Fart” acting

Crossing the gate put me on another road, where again there was a complete lack of signage. Assuming again that up was good, I climbed. Once again, the next gate was just a little up the road.

Gate #3 plus the "trail marker"

Gate #3 plus the “trail marker”

Very quickly through the third gate the manzanitas got taller and made a kind of hall to run through, then began giving way to pines. *Sigh* breathing deep the smell of the pine needles under my feet made my heart happy. Eventually the trail finally went downhill for a short bit until it met up with the lower section of Icehouse Trail at Doghouse Spring. From here, there was a choice to head left, staying on Telephone to head towards Six Shooter and do a loop, or keep right and continue the climb up Icehouse, which is what I did. Not too far after the intersection there was a spot where there appeared to be an old logging road heading off to the right. I stayed left following some old water lines up the hill. This ended up being correct.

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I was in dense forest and now there were leaves underfoot and the dense, earthy, clean smell of fall filled my nose. My feet rustled through them and I felt like a little kid. Occasionally there was a red one mixed in with the brown, making me want to come back in the fall. The leaves obscured the trail the whole rest of the climb, and it was a good climb. I hiked most of the way up, running when I could, which wasn’t often. I had to stop now and then to allow the pounding in my chest to slow down to a dull gallop. And then, there were aspens- in Globe!

LOLz Tree

LOLz Tree

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Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Goofing, showing the trail behind me

Aspens in Globe!

Aspens in Globe!

Not too long after the aspens, I popped out on a service road and could see towers in two different directions. A glance at my Garmin showed that I was almost at 5 miles, so I decided to run up the road a little bit just to hit 5 and see what was up there. I’m so glad I did because about a quarter of a mile up the road is where the most incredible view of the day was! I looked out over the glorious wilderness, with the wind blowing up the side of the mountain, chilling me, making me thankful for my arm sleeves.  Every view is unique and amazing and always worth the effort that goes into finding it.

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

Top Icehouse Trail Entrance

At the Top

At the Top

The road and towers

The road and towers

View from the Top

View from the Top

From here I ran just a little further up towards the towers, but then decided I was too cold and headed back down to the trail.

The run back was fast. I was careful because the leaves were hiding the trip-me-ups in the trail and I really didn’t want a twisted ankle, or a fall, but fast nonetheless. At one point I heard a loud sound in the woods off to my left. Stopping to look there were maybe three white-tailed deer making their way up the hillside and away from me. I’d spooked them and they were probably the wildest deer I’ve seen on my runs since they actually ran away from me.

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

White Tail Deer, circle in red, center

I flew down the same way I came up and it was pretty uneventful after the deer, except for where I overshot the trail turn-off on the super steep road. I figured it really quickly though, and had only missed it by about 200 feet.

Shadow pic showing the steep road

Shadow pic showing the steep road

 

Arriving back at the parking lot with about 10 miles and 3500 feet of climbing under my feet, mine was still the only car in the parking lot. Other than a truck I’d encountered on the service road at the top of the mountain, I’d seen no one, spoken to no one.  This was an epic day of playtime in the woods! I took one last look out over the valley below and headed home.

For directions, maps, and cool historical info on this area click here or here or here. This run took me about 3 hours, with lots of stopping for pictures. It’s rated as “Most Difficult”, but I really didn’t think it was; medium perhaps.

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.

Arizona Trail: North to Superstitions + Picketpost Mountain

For a few months now I have been in the process of training for my first 100K (62 mile) race. As with most any training plan, the key to success on race day is the long run (or so I’ve been told- I’m going with that). So this past weekend I had a twenty-four miler on the books. Originally I was planning to just go to a local regional park and run a couple of loops, but thankfully Matt talked me into something much more interesting: Picketpost.

If you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I have run Picketpost before, so why am I blogging about it again? Picketpost is part of the Arizona Trail (AZ Trail), which is an 800 mile (approximately) trek across the state. The last time we ran at the Picketpost trailhead, we went south. On this run, we started out going north: new territory for me, hence the new blog.

We began our run at 5:00 am, with the plan of heading out eight miles, then turning around to come back to the car to restock on water, then head out again going south, for the remaining eight miles to get our 24.

As we set out, it was just barely beginning to get light. There had been rain the night before and we still had cloud cover and cool temperatures. Right away, we scared some cows and their babies and they ran off. About ½ – ¾ of a mile from the trailhead we crossed underneath US 60 and continued north. The next four miles or so of this run are… well… boring. It’s all low-lying desert scrub: small cacti, jojoba, chollas, creosote, and other small plants. One interesting spot we passed not long after crossing US 60 was the site of an old homestead. I always find those intriguing as I imagine the people who used to live there.

At the US 60 Underpass

At the US 60 Underpass

The first interesting spot we came across was what I called the Hall of Ocotillo’s. We rounded a bend and the entire hillside was covered with them. This would be a pretty spot to visit in the spring when they are in bloom. On this day they were all leafed out and very healthy looking, but no blooms.

Matt running the Hall of Ocotillos

Matt running the Hall of Ocotillos

The trail ahead led directly into the Superstitions. Upon hitting the “Supe’s” the terrain immediately became much more interesting. We went through a canyon and the rocks started changing colors. The desert became more lush. We also saw quite a bit of wildlife, and signs of wildlife.

Giant Mesquite Bugs

Giant Mesquite Bugs

Tiny Footprints

Tiny Footprints

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

pp03 Butterfly pp02

When we reached the eight mile point, we decided to go just a little bit further. We had received a few spits of rain, it was still cool, and we could see something shiny up ahead that we were curious about. We decided to run to the shiny thing and then we’d turn around.

The shiny thing was what appeared to be a new windmill, complete with a new looking corral. There was a rough road leading down to it, but at that point we decided we needed head back. We’d gone 8.7 miles out.

The run back was eventful. Running along a wash we scared a big owl out of a tree. As we stopped to look, the owl was attacked by some kind of hawk! The owl took cover in some rocks up on the hillside above us, but the hawk was extremely unhappy about its presence, and continued to circle the area for quite a while, screeching periodically.

At another point, I was running up a little hill and came face to face with a snake in the trail. I screeched and went by before stopping. It took my brain a second to recognize that it was not a venomous snake. It was a really pretty snake: glossy black body, black eyes, and bright greenish-yellow stripes running lengthwise down its body. I looked it up later with the help of a biologist friend of mine and I believe it was a black-necked gartersnake. Although the coloring on the one we saw was much more brilliant, the shape and form of the snake were the same, and she said they can have a wide array of colors.

The final major animal siting of this part of the run came at a weird moment. We were back in the boring part of the trail, and I was just trucking along, looking at the trail ahead of me and not much else. Suddenly I heard, very loudly and very close to my left side, the rattle of a rattlesnake. I think my body paused for half a second as my brain registered the noise- then everything in me said “RUN!” so I did, very fast. The next thing I remember was stopping about 20 feet down the trail, well out of snake range, looking back to make sure Matt was okay, and curling into a squatting ball and crying. Matt had managed to stop in time and back up and was taking pictures of the snake. I couldn’t go back to look at it. In fact, I never even saw it, at all. I could hear it up there still rattling and I couldn’t take it and started walking away. I have severe emotional reactions to rattlesnakes. Last year while running in a local regional park there was a rattlesnake curled up underneath of bush right next to the trail in the shade. I barely had a chance to see it and I ran by, but as I did so, it struck, with no warning whatsoever. Matt was again behind me that day, and he only had enough time to jump over the snake which, because it had struck, was now stretched across the trail. Thankfully that snake missed me, but the fear of them was instilled in me that day. It has only been just recently that I have managed to not freak out at every snake or stick (because they look like a snake) I see. Once he caught back up to me, Matt told me my foot was about six inches from the snake, but that the snake never coiled or struck or anything. Plus, it was a pretty good-sized snake, close to three feet long. Generally that’s actually a good thing. They tend to be more laid back, less prone to striking, and will likely to give less venom or even give a dry bite if they do strike. After the adrenaline in my system calmed down, I started running again, now hyper-aware of the shady spots! If you have never had the pleasure of hearing a Western Diamondback rattle, click on this link. At approximately 10 seconds is the frenzied rattling sound I heard.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

The rest of the run back to the car was blissfully uneventful other than that we both ran out of water. But since it was fairly cool and we only had one mile left, we weren’t worried about it. We got back to the car without incident and drank a whole bunch while refilling our packs, then we set off southbound to finish our miles.

Now I have been on this part of the trail before, and new trail always trumps known trail. Not far into the southern run there is a trail that goes left with a big arrow made out of rocks. I stopped, looked at it, and got excited. Matt had told me before that he’d never climbed Picketpost Mountain before. I MAY have had an evil grin on my face as a suggested we should go that way; we should climb the mountain. He gave in and we started climbing! There were lots of cows on the first lower portion of this trail, even a big bull! But they really like to stay away from people, so there was no worry. We climbed, and we climbed. Matt ran part of this, but I conserved. I’m not as strong on the uphills as he is. As we got higher, we had to start following cairns and the occasional spray paint flash. Sometimes the trail went straight up at perhaps a 60 degree angle. We had to scramble over a some boulders. I was having a blast- I love that stuff! We went perhaps ¾ of the way up, and decided we should go back and save the rest for another day. Since we already had about 17.5 miles under our feet and hadn’t planned on climbing a mountain, and we weren’t really sure where the top was, it would be better to come back fresh. The decent was a great way to say, “Good morning!” to my quads!

View from halfway up Picketpost Mountain

View from halfway up Picketpost Mountain

The trail goes up the draw

The trail goes up the draw

Once we got back down onto slightly more level ground, Matt took off. We met back up at the car and guzzled delicious cold drinks. We finished our run at about 21 miles, but since we’d climbed about 1,000 feet straight up a mountain within about one mile, we called that close enough.

I have been running local park trails for the past few months, and while I am exceedingly grateful for these parks and the outdoors experience they offer, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed a wild run. Once I arrived home, I could feel the calm elation (yes, those two words go together here) coursing through my body, brought on by this wild run. These runs into the wild, where I run across few, if any people, and just see the animals and the flowers and sights; these runs ground me. I rediscover the joys of my childhood spent outdoors all day long playing with bullfrogs and mud and climbing trees. I may be all grown up now, but the heart of that little girl has never left me, and in fact, still beats wildly, sometimes desperately, inside of me. She’s constantly curious, constantly excited about the creation around her, and can’t wait to feel every sensation on her next run through the wilderness.