Special Places

The house on Rios wasn’t much of a house at all. It was a brown duplex, a long rectangle built from two squares, and I lived in the back one. It smelled like old, cheap beer and stale cigarette smoke. Most of the smell was from us, but some of it was from the once black now faded and multi-stained futon sofa we picked up on the street. If you walked by the house from 1994 to about 1998, you would most likely hear some 90s Warped Tour pop punk, Biggie, Snoop, or Dre and you would most definitely smell weed.
One of the benefits of this house was that it was across the train tracks from the beach, Pizza Port, pick up basketball at Pillbox, and Mai Tai Mondays at Tidewater. Another benefit was that it was across the street from a group of old apartments, like the one I lived in, but instead of faded brown, they were a faded yellow. A group of Mexican families lived there, and there were always kids running through the dead grass courtyard in front of the group of apartments. On Saturdays, a Mexican baker would come around with a cart full of sweet bread and would yell something in Spanish, and it always seemed too early, but I would still roll out of bed and soak up the hangover with some of the sweet Mexican bread.
By far the greatest benefit of this house is that a half mile down, the asphalt dead ends and a trailhead begins.
When I started running, the trail was always empty. Those first couple of runs, I couldn’t even make it to the trailhead, but as I gained fitness, and as my lungs rid themselves of the cigarette damage, I could venture further and further into the lagoon. The miles were hard and slow, but it helped that the lagoon trails were so beautiful and quiet.
The San Elijo Lagoon trail was narrow with sections canopied by cottonwood and sycamores, sandy in some places, and packed dirt and leaves in others. You can see the ocean from many parts of the trail and trace the sea water path as it transitions to salt marsh and grassland. You can also catch glimpses of the massive underbelly of the traffic-jammed I-5 Freeway. It’s right there, but the lagoon is so perfectly hidden that there are times when you feel like you are hundreds of miles from people and anything that runs by engine.
I would return after I moved, and as I got faster and trained more. I joined a group of triathletes on the other side of the lagoon for their regular 11-mile Sunday run. Pros would show up as they tuned their bodies for the Ironman Championships in Kona, and it would be painful and fun to stand in a group with elite athletes, pre-run stretching and listening to the stories and then starting together, trying to keep up for a mile or two, then watching their backs disappear around the turns as their warm-up pace increased to an easy Sunday run pace. I saw Meb running those trails once. Meb, one of the top American marathoners ever, sharing the same trail with me. I didn’t dare test my speed with his as he glided by on what for him was a recovery pace, but to me seemed superhuman.
I saved important runs for the lagoon, and as the trail became more well-known and crowded, I had to dodge hikers, run as soft as I could past birdwatchers, and smiled at the children catching crawdads along the reedy shore.
When my wife’s parents came from Iran to meet our second child, my infant son for the first time, we took them on a hike through the lagoon. My older daughter picked a daisy and put it behind her small ear, and my wife wrapped my baby boy in a sling and kept him close to her body.
I thought of that hike today as I took my three children, all currently in love with running, to the lagoon. With the popularity of the trail, the local parks department has refurbished the trail, making new signs, opening new trails, and lining the trails with wooden posts and steel cord in case the trail itself was lacking in instruction on where to go. They also officially opened a sandstone slot canyon once known as Mushroom Caves, because that is where the kids go to trip balls and climb through narrow canyons. It now goes by the more marketable name of Annie’s Canyon.

We drove past my old place. The school has a new coat of paint and the duplex is no longer a duplex, but a new condo. The Mexican families are gone, and there are no kids playing in the courtyard of the multi-million dollar condominiums that replaced the old, cheap apartments filled with laughter, and day-drinking, and Saturday morning sweet bread.
We had to park a little further down the road than I used to, but once we all hit the trail, the magic started seeping through our shoes. We ran to the Mushroom Caves, and squeezed between the sand walls, my youngest daughter asked for help a few times, with the wavering voice of fear, maybe claustrophobia, or a first-time experience climbing between steep, narrow, sand walls.
We gathered at the top and looked towards the ocean and Ki’s and talked about the post-run smoothies we would order, then we ran down the back trail, my son running in front because he loves the downhill.
We got to the bottom and he asked if we could do it again. My youngest daughter, who I expected to protest, nodded her head up and down and told me she didn’t want any help this time. We did it again, slower in parts, taking in some of the weirdness of the place.
I ran back to the car with my younger son and daughter, while my older daughter and her friend continued under the freeway to the East side of the lagoon. The little girl who picked a yellow daisy and put it behind her ear is between cross country and track season, and needed a few more miles.
When we got back to the dead-end road there was a family there, and the mom was asking directions to Annie’s Canyon. As I was explaining how to get to the canyon, her daughter walked up to us, she couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, and she asked me how to get to her canyon. I looked at the mom, and the mom told me that her name is Annie and she thinks it’s her canyon.
It’s good they changed the name, it’s good that so many people have discovered this special place, and I’ll trade the empty trails for the kids who now know this trail as their own.
Kids see their feet, their friends, their siblings, their parents, and a few places that are theirs. This special place is shared by everyone who has left a footprint in its sand, or traced the lines of sediment in the steep walls. It’s shared with the birdwatchers, and Instagram hikers, and first daters, and the little girl, Annie, excited to see her canyon, and with my daughter who shared the same excitement fourteen years ago when she picked the daisies, and with me as I make the drive past the nice condos and beautiful cars to the dead-end that marks the beginning of our place.

One Immigrant

This does not have anything to do with running, so if that is the only reason you are here, you may want to check out. There are some things that are just too important to keep quiet about.

I married an immigrant. She came to America when she was 9 years old. In Iran, before her family got out, she colored pictures of bombs falling on an American flag with the title, Death to America, in thick, blocky 9-year-old penmanship.

I fell in love with her smile.

She didn’t know she was leaving. Her parents told her the night before to pack. They didn’t want her to tell her teachers in fear of someone interfering with their plans. Her family was lucky. They received one of a handful of visas to leave the country.

Before she left, she saw televised live executions. She heard the revolutionaries in her neighborhood taking politicians and other wealthy people to prison. Many were never heard from again.

When she started school in America, she couldn’t answer the teacher’s questions because she didn’t speak English. The teacher thought she was mentally ill and belonged in a special education class. Today, she doesn’t have a hint of an accent.

She has this way of caring for people. Not the soft kind of caring, although she can be soft and nurturing when she needs to be, but a simple, and tough pragmatism that improves people’s lives.
Nursing is a perfect calling for her. She works on the trauma floor in a downtown hospital. Her patients are mostly elderly, drug addicts, gang members, or homeless.

She doesn’t tell me every story because I can’t stomach most of them. But she tells me some.
She told me the story of the homeless woman covered in lice. Nobody wanted to touch her. My wife took her into the bathroom and shampooed her hair. She could see the lice dropping on the shower floor.

She told me about the elderly man, shivering in the cold room. His heavy cardigan sweater was on one arm, but the arm with his IV was bare. She disconnected the IV and put his sweater back on for him and reconnected the IV. He smiled and thanked her. She told me it amazed her that nobody thought to do that.

My wife is not a Christian.

When she started her job as a nurse, she worked night shifts, 7 PM to 7 AM with an hour commute each way. She would come home, tired after her shift and sleep for a few hours before the kids came home from school. She would wake up, help them with their homework, or help me with dinner, before returning to another night of work.

This past year she took online courses to add her second bachelor’s degree to her RN degree. She also passed an emergency department certification course. They asked her to come back and teach the course to others. She did all this while working full time, and while helping our family run smooth as only she can.

I don’t write this to brag about my wife, although I cannot contain my pride in what she has accomplished and I cannot hide my love for her. My wife is an immigrant. Our stories make us who we are, and the immigrant story is one of struggle, overcoming, and gratitude.

Our wedding ceremony was a mix of Western and Persian traditions. We licked honey off of each other’s fingers to symbolize the beginning of a sweet life together. We also stood in front of the Justice of the Peace and said I Do. I prefer the Persian tradition.

The story of our country is a story of immigration. A family member told me that the executive branch of our government should not be an international humane organization. While that may be true, our government should strive to preserve and maintain what makes this country great. We can’t save everyone, but if we don’t try to help others who are less fortunate than us, our story becomes a little less caring, a little more bleak, and more economic textbook than soaring poetry.

This is the story of one immigrant. One word of one line in a beautiful story that is the story of our country.

If you liked this, please feel free to share it. If you want to help, The International Rescue Committee is a good place to start. I’d love to hear other immigrant stories in the comments below.

Crossing Paths

We all have a running trajectory. It can start at different times, and it may be a long, slow bell curve, or a steep, sharp climb and then a dramatic fall. Sometimes the curve stops suddenly and then starts again after 10 or 20 years.

My line started as a punishment for a bad wrestling practice or getting my ass kicked in a match, which led to me being a frequent runner and joining the track team. It stopped after high school, then started again about 20 years ago, took a turn up, and now it feels like a long line that is gradually trending downward.

There are dots on those lines. The races, the training runs that brought me to tears, the beauty that I would have missed if I hadn’t picked up running, the long talks, and the bonds that are welded together out on the trail.

My kids are starting their own lines, their own paths that I hope will continue on a long, sustained upward slope, but I’m okay with it if they don’t.

Sometimes our lines cross.

My son came home with these multi-colored Adidas “lifestyle” running shoes and he wanted to test them out. His coach gave him a homework assignment to take a parent on a run over the weekend. Smart coach.

We headed out and ran to the top of a big hill. Reaching the top, we found these huge Yucca plant spears that had been left to dry out in the middle of the trail. They were big and looked heavy, but if you picked them up, they felt like those movie props made out of foam. We launched them like javelins into the knee-high scrub until we couldn’t see them anymore.

We ran again, towards the sun and a winding downhill singletrack. I bombed it, and waited for my son at the bottom, then we ran together.

A mile or so into the run I asked him if he wanted to go home, and he thought it was too short of a run. He suggested we take another trail. We’d done it before, and it’s more of a game trail than a running route and it involves climbing over some rocks and holding onto some tree branches or risk sliding 100 or so feet down a steep hill.

It’s not the type of route that looks good on Strava or if you’re counting miles, or tracking speed, but it’s the type of route that you remember years after you’ve run it.

His fresh out of the box bright and colorful shoes were now dusted light dirt-brown and we compared the blood scratches that crisscrossed over our shins and knees. We heard some rustling down the hill below. We threw small rocks in the general direction to see if the coyote or the mountain lion, or most likely the small rabbit would show itself, but whatever it was didn’t make another sound.

We followed a stream, slowly picking our way through tall reeds, then climbed up a steep drainage ditch.

We finally made it back to a runnable trail at the top of a dead-end and I told him the story of how I was mountain biking when I first moved to the area and was trying to discover new routes when I hit this same dead-end. There was a parked pickup truck and as I was turning my bike around, a guy’s head popped up from the back and then a girl and they didn’t have all their clothes on and they were embarrassed and said hi as I tried to turn my bike around faster and I gave them an awkward wave and said something like “carry on,” but for some reason I said it in a British accent. My son looked at me, puzzled, and then he just laughed.

On the run down the hill he told me how much he loved his new running shoes and I told him that new shoes are magic. They add a small burst of speed for the first couple runs. We hurdled a log and we raced the 100 yards back to the trailhead. I spotted him 3 seconds and we finished close…I may have have edged him out by a fraction and then we walked the block home.

It wasn’t a long run, two miles max. We climbed, stopped, and told stories, but it was the best run I’ve had in awhile.

Soon he will be faster than me and we won’t stop to throw Yucca javelins or follow snake tracks, because he’ll have a mileage goal to hit, and I’ll do my best to keep up, and I’ll remember with a smile that day when our running trajectories lined up at the perfect spot.

Trail Running According to My 9-Year-Old Daughter

The conversation went something like this.

Dad, want to go for a run?

I don’t know, it’s almost dinner and I’m a little tired.

You wrote on your blog that your kids never ask you to run.

Did I? I didn’t know you read that. Umm, there’s probably some stuff there you shouldn’t read. I’ll go get my shoes on.

We set out on a short, but difficult route near the house. It starts out with a steep uphill, and as usual, she took off too fast, and stopped to catch her breath 3/4 of the way up. I waited at the top, and then we ran side by side for awhile, stopping to point out some rattlesnake tracks and some bunnies jumping across the trail.

How do you know so much about running?

I don’t know that much, but I like to read books and articles about running.

You know like everything about trail running. You should write a book.

What should I write about.

Trail running.

Well, I can’t just write a book about trail running, there are too many of those. It needs to be something more original and creative.

You should write about…

And then she proceeded to tell me all the the things that she likes about running.

You should write a book about trail running.

What would I write about?

Everything you just told me to write about. If you write something about trail running, I’ll post it, and then people will read it.

She smiled at the idea, and I thought she would leave it at that.

We got home and she showed off her dirty feet to my wife (look, I have daddy toes), and I told her to go take a shower. I watched some TV, frantically trying to avoid any mention of Donald Trump.

Dad, want to read it?

Read what? Wait, you already wrote something?

Yeah, when are you going to post it?

So, here it is, unedited, bubbly, and pure, just like she is.

Trail Running : — ) 
Go run. 
So, are you running yet? Why not? You should. There are so many reasons why trail running is good for you, and if you don’t know some of them I am here to share some with you. If it’s a really lousy day and you are feeling lazy, just try a little run. Getting ready for a run is my favorite feeling when I feel like I don’t want to do it. It always wakes me up a little. 
Trail running is so worth it while you are running and the feeling after. For instance, it is worth it because it is locked inside your brain that you are having a breathtaking adventure and knowing that you are being active and getting healthier at the same time. There is so much fantastic nature that you can see with your own eyes that you have never seen before. I once saw a beautiful flower bed with over 100 flowers!!!! I have seen so many flower pictures, but seeing that many flowers took my breath away. 
It feels amazing while you run, but it also feels great after you finish your run!!! If you want to know how it feels after your run, I can’t tell you. You have to see for yourself. Now you know that you exercised for today, you can have a relaxing day knowing that you got outside and did something active. The best part is, you can do it whenever and wherever you want!!! 
There are endless trails and possibilities with trail running. I really encourage you to get outside at least 20–30 minutes a day!!! Boom.

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Learning How to Run

I set out to write a Father’s Day post about how I get my kids to run with me, how we head out to the trails and how I impart my endless wisdom through tough lessons learned through struggle, overcoming obstacles, and sometimes even pushing through limits. I had a list of How to Get Your Kids to Love Running in Ten Easy Steps. Those lists are bullshit.

Relationships are complicated. I don’t know how to get my kids to love running as much as I do, just as I don’t know how to get them to love the taste of pickled garlic as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll play them a song that I love. We usually blast some music after dinner, and you know how you have a history with a song, maybe it was the one you played when you drove home from your first real love’s house at 1 AM, heart ready to burst, and lips sore from making out for hours, and the windows rolled down because you wanted everyone to hear how much this song meant to you. You play that song now and all those emotions come back, and at the end of the song you want the people that you are playing it for to share those feelings, that excitement and thrill of young love, and then they look at you and say something like, it was nice, but the lyrics were kind of stupid, I mean did she really just say “I want to hold the hand inside you?”

Running has woven itself through my life, it connects me to my wife, to friends who have helped through some tough emotional times, and it has helped me drop a couple bad habits. My kids don’t run often. I don’t force it on them. They all have their current passions. My youngest is a soccer player and at this point she is probably logging more miles on the pitch than I am on the trails. I love to watch her play. She is small, but she is relentless, and she gets pushed around a lot by bigger girls, but she never ever gives up. I love watching the fight in her.

She just got a pair of light blue shoes from New Balance. Her favorite color. We run an aid station at the San Diego 100 Mile Race, and my kids come and help every year. Our aid station is at mile 43 of the race, after the toughest climb during the hottest part of the day. This year was especially hot, and people came into our aid station looking like they had experienced every level of hell. My youngest was in charge of the ice baths and as the runners stumbled in, heat-drunk, she offered to sponge down their heads and necks with ice water, and she soaked their hats and bandanas into the ice bath. She was tired and muddy after eight hours of being on ice bath duty. Her hands were bright red, and her new baby blue shoes were now brown, and even after a few washes, they are more a lighter shade of brown than blue. I think she likes them that way.

I can’t wait to get new running shoes dirty. The dirt tells stories, and there is nothing as boring, yet full of promise as a new shoe. The stories aren’t all good. There are plenty of bland, boring stories, dirt from the same trail run over and over, the layers stacking on top of each other. But someday, your shoe may be wet and cold after a stream crossing in the French Alps and those stories wash away the layers of local dust.

My son is always moving. I ran a 5K with him last year, and he spent as much time off the route exploring boulders that made perfect launching pads, just the right height to do a 360, than he spent on the trail. People would pass us, kids his age, and I looked for that competitive spirit in him, the feeling that I have, that competitive drive that will not let that person pass me, or that pushes me to catch that guy in front of me with all the expensive gear. I have to do it. My son doesn’t give a shit. Which is good.

His current passion is skateboarding. If you’ve ever spent some time at a skatepark, and if you can filter out the language and the occasional scent of weed in the air, you will see a bunch of kids and adults rooting for each other, supporting each other, looking out for each other, and teaching each other. There is a bond between skateboarders. It’s an outsider sport with a high degree of risk and skill. They fall a lot. They pretend to not be hurt a lot, and they bleed a lot. There is a bond of shared pain, and also knowing how many times it takes to practice a trick before you land it. There isn’t a lot of cheering, but the looks speak volumes, the head nod acknowledging how hard that last one was, or banging the board against the wood a couple times when they are really impressed. My son has been practicing a kickflip for months. He goes through a pair of shoes nearly every month, always worn out in the same spot, the top of the front left shoe right above the pinky toe. That part drags over the velcro and spins the board as the back foot pushes down and launches the tail into the air.

After the last mass shooting, my son and I took our dog for a walk. I felt the darkness around me and I knew that if I turned on the TV or went on social media, I would be crushed by the hatred and speculation and blame and sadness. We got back from our walk and I couldn’t go inside. I asked him if he wanted to play catch, and he grabbed our gloves and we threw the ball back and forth, not saying much, just listening to that perfect sound, the repetitive snap of the ball hitting that spot in the back of the glove. On that day, being outside and together, that was enough.

If relationships are complicated, a father’s relationship with his teen daughter is complicated like walking through a minefield while blindfolded and being chased by a pack of wilds dogs. I have learned that there are things that you just can’t say, and I have also learned that I have no idea what those things are.

I recently read an article about the two types of fun, type one fun and type two fun. Type one fun is intrinsically fun. You are actually having fun when doing the activity. Type two fun is a struggle, it’s painful, and the fun usually comes after the experience when you reminisce with your friends about how you made it through, how you suffered together, and what a great feeling it was to accomplish whatever it was you set out to do. It’s easy dealing with kids when they are young. They are full of love and adventure, and they look up to you and they run to give you a hug when you pick them up from school. Some relationships are more difficult. I’m lucky, my relationship with my daughter is good, but it’s changing from that type one daddy’s little girl relationship. She makes me laugh, she gives me a kiss good morning and she smiles when I drop her off at school, quickly glancing around to make sure nobody is watching before giving me a kiss on the cheek and telling me she loves me. It’s more of a struggle. I get more emotional with her, choking up at the smallest things, like watching her play her clarinet or trombone in her school’s jazz ensemble, or symphony. Hell, I have to hold back tears when I hear her practicing scales in her bedroom.

I love watching her run. She hates to run, or at least that’s what she tells me. It’s my thing, running, but she loves the feeling after she runs. She is her happiest when I pick her up from track. With that post-workout endorphin rush, she is like so many other runners that deal with the pain and suffering just for the feeling they get after they finish, the type two fun. It’s different for me, I love the feel of running, I love the people I run with, and I love the stillness that comes on those rare occasions where everything just flows. But there are days when it sucks. Days when I have pushed too hard and ended up dehydrated, laying on a random road in the mountains while my friend hitchhikes to our car miles away, and drives back to pick me up. Those are the most memorable runs, the runs I never tire of talking about, and the runs that transform a post-run mediocre hamburger and draft beer to the level of Michelin-starred excellence.

New Balance sent shoes to me and my kids, and asked me to try them out. My initial goal was to get the three of them together in their bright new shoes, and hit the trails for a family run, taking pictures along the way, stopping on the hill above my house to enjoy the sun as it dipped into the ocean. I wanted to get it done before Father’s Day. This weekend is Father’s Day and my youngest daughter has soccer practice, my oldest daughter has a Senior Recital (where I’m sure I’ll cry), and my son would rather attempt his 6,834th kickflip. The idyllic family run is not going to happen this weekend, but the shoes are well used. My youngest daughter’s shoes are brown from the mud of the SD 100 trails and the soles are worn from playing soccer in the streets before school, my son has already started wearing a hole in the top of his, and my daughter will wear hers out through the painful heat of summer cross country practice, hating the running, but loving how it makes her feel after, and how it changes her.

Running continues to weave itself through our family, unstructured with that sweet mix of elation and agony, like that old song that I keep playing for my kids until they discover their own.

10 Things I Love About Trail Running

I've been injured for what feels like years, but is more like months, and at the moment, I'm feeling completely sentimental about trail running. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged a run longer than 15 miles, and while I’m working hard to overcome an Achilles injury with PT, yoga, cross-training, and even the occasional 5 mile run, it’s just not the same as packing up the car to head out for a day in the mountains. So, while I’m feeling all romantic about trail running, I thought I’d buy it a nice Pinot Noir, rub its shoulders and slip into a velvety robe while I list the things that I love about it.

Connection with the Land

I love the connection I have with the land when I’m out there. I love looking at a peak miles away, and thinking that’s where I’m headed. I love moving over a difficult trail, picking my way up a steep line, bouncing over rocks, and then throwing myself down a hill without a fucking care in the world, flying by people wearing 10 pound hiking boots and using trekking poles to carefully plant each foot. I like my intimate knowledge of each and every bump in the trails I run regularly, knowing that around this next corner I can push a little harder on the steep uphill because it will level out pretty soon, and the next downhill is the perfect spot to open up on and stretch the legs, not having to think about where the feet are landing because this is the perfect line.

Nothing makes me happier than sharing trails with my kids

The People

It would be hard to find another group of people that doesn’t like other people as much as trail runners don’t like other people. The trail has a way of distilling people to their bodily functions. Men and women blowing snot, farting, burping, pulling off to take a piss or the occasional, nonchalant dump, and I’m seriously not just talking about guys (see Equality below). Have you ever been to a runner party or a pre-race dinner? Most runners can’t come up with more than three words to string together in a social setting (unless it has something to do with running), but get us on the trails and it's like an episode of The View had a 3-way with The Man Show and Oprah.

My running friends say the most inspirational things

The Shower

And the shower beer. This is the best part of my day, especially in the summer, after a hot, dry and dusty run. I’ll just sit there as the dirt brown water swirls down the drain and sip a cold beer, and if I listen hard enough I can hear angels singing.


No, not the liquefied calories partaken during the run, but the post-run feast. I read on Wikipedia that you can eat as much as you want of whatever you want for an hour after you run, especially if you keep your heart rate strictly in Zone 3, so take advantage of that window. There is something special about a post-run burrito, and the only time I can keep a straight face and say “wow, this Arby’s Beef ‘N Cheddar is delicious" is after a long day in the mountains.


You want to see democracy in action, run a trail race. If there is some kind of genetic, sex or age advantage that runners display on the roads, it is severely diminished on the trails, where the main advantage is toughness.

I like to play a game whenever I run an ultra. I look around me, judging the other runners with the cutting eye and bitchiness of Regina from Mean Girls. I pick out who is going to finish well and who is going to drop. Without fail, I'm wrong on close to 100% of my picks (just like last time I went to Vegas). The triathlete that I picked to win, the one with the shaved legs where you can see every vein feeding the massive calves came in limping behind the 63 year old grandma wearing Crocs and a fanny pack. Experience, smarts and grit does a lot to level the playing field on the trails more than any other sport I can think of, which is a good thing because I’m not getting any younger or fitter (and I can wear the shit out of a pair of Crocs).


It doesn’t necessarily relate to trail running; I just like beer.

The Not Running Part

The planning, the hanging out before or after a tough race, the scouring over maps and elevation profiles, watching Salomon running videos, the endless discussions about barefoot vs. minimalist vs. zero drop vs. platform cushioning vs. whatever the next big thing that will force our perfect, favorite pair of trail shoes to be discontinued. All this time spent on what is supposed to be the simplest sport. There must be some kind of special punishment we crave in turning the basic task of putting one foot in front of another into a complex science.

The chemical rubbery smell when you open a new box of running shoes

The Silence

I try to meditate. I try to sit on my meditation pillow, breathe slowly, quiet my mind, but then that picture of Jessica Alba comes to mind, the one where’s she’s wearing a bikini and she’s suntanning, and then I think about how she made a billion dollars selling bad sunscreen, and then about how bad Fantastic Four was, and then about Sin City, and on and on until the Buddha bangs the gong in my meditation app on my iPhone, and the Buddha says "great job today," and I say "thanks Buddha, but how much spiritual growth has actually occurred?" and the Buddha doesn’t answer because it’s just an app on the phone. I also try to reach this stillness when I take yoga, but I'm mostly just concentrating really hard on not farting.

The only times where my mind isn’t turning around on a hamster wheel, and is still enough where time bends, and I can’t remember the last 30 minutes, or 20 miles that just passed have happened while on a run. Something about the rhythmic, deep breaths, and the repeated patting of feet can make the time slip by in stillness. It’s not always like that, and most of the time it isn't. Usually, my thoughts bounce from one thing to the next while running, whether it be a problem, or an idea that needs to be fed a little more, or even the career arc of Jessica Alba, but those moments of stillness are a welcome sliver of quiet in my noisy life.

Free Therapy

The fact that no matter what happens during the day, the stress, the sadness, the anger, the anxiety, nothing is ever worse after spending some time on the trails (except for my Achilles), and most things are a little better.

I can't wait to get back on the trails for some long runs, if for no other reason than to remind me why running hurts so bad, and why so many people hate it, because all this romance is starting to scare me.

Getting High With My Kids

Wellman's Divide

5 Tips on Overnight Backpacking with Kids

If you’re reading this you probably already realize the benefits of being outside. I try to get out on the trails as much as possible, but when I’m gone, it feels like about half the time I’m out there, I’m thinking of my family back home. When I did the High Sierra Trail in August, I made it a goal to start bringing my family along on overnight backpacking trips. One of the first things I did when I returned from that trip was to block out a couple days on the calendar for a trip with my kids. I picked an overnighter in San Jacinto because it’s close, and I know the trails up there pretty well. It’s also a fairly easy summit for someone that is in pretty good shape, and the view from the top is amazing. It received a glowing Yelp! review from none other than John Muir.

The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!
— John Muir

The trip couldn’t have gone any better. The kids had a great time, and I spent half the time choked up at how great it was to be out there with them, and the other half amazed at how well they were getting along with each other. My son is ten and my daughter is eight. They love each other, and are either best friends, or at each others’ throats because of a perceived sigh or eye roll. In the mountains, it was all love, cooperation, and laughter.

Their goal was to summit the 10,834 foot peak, but my goal was just to get them out there in the wilderness, carrying a pack and enjoying a couple of days of unplugged beauty. For me, the summit was secondary.

This was our first overnighter, but we have done plenty of dayhikes and camping trips, and there are a few things that I got right, making this trip one of my favorites.

Involve the kids in the planning process

Even though the trails were well marked, and I have been on the route a number of times, I still bought a topo map and let them trace our route to the summit with their small fingers, adding up the mileage sections and picking a campsite.

The first day would be two miles from the tram to Round Valley campsite. I figured this would be a good, short intro to hiking with a pack. We ordered the packs online, and they helped pick them out. We went with the Gossamer Gear Quiksaks because they are lightweight, big enough to carry their sleeping bags and pajamas, and they would double as a good daypack that I would carry with our food and water for the hike to the summit on the 2nd day.

The next day we would hike 4 miles up to the summit, then another 4 miles back to our campsite where we stored the packs, then another two miles to the tram. This was a long day, but I figured we’d go as far as we could and if it was no longer fun for the kids, we’d turn around.

We made a trip to REI a couple days before the trip. They picked out their meals, choosing a big 3-serving bag of mac and cheese for dinner. The first night, they found a big rock to share and took turns spooning the cheesy goodness out of the foil backpacker’s meal. I stood behind them just watching them take turns digging their spoons in the foil patch, sun setting over the meadow, enjoying the quiet of dusk descending on the mountain.

Have a good story

They always want a story at night, and I’ve told so many that I have run out of good ideas. So, I start telling them the story of a boy named Daniel, a boy who moved from New Jersey to Southern California with his mom and he got bullied because he was the new kid in school. He loved karate, but his karate was no match for the Cobra Kai. Enter a nice, old, Japanese maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi.

“Dad, is this the karate kid?”

“Maybe. Want me to stop?”


So, I spent the next 15 minutes telling the story of Daniel and his crush on Ali and the creative teaching methods of Mr. Miyagi. They loved the story, and my 8-year-old daughter hung on every word. The first thing she did when we got home the next day was to search Netflix for The Karate Kid.

Let them share in the work

It takes me about 5 minutes to set up a tent. It takes me about 30 minutes to set up a tent with help. That 30 minutes is well spent.

I also could have carried everything in my pack, but it was important to them to help with the load, so they each carried their own packs with their sleeping bags, flip flops, pajamas, and a bottle of water. It wasn’t a total of more than five or six pounds, but they were contributing. It made the hike to and from the campsite more difficult for them, but their sense of accomplishment far outweighed the difficulty.

I let the kids find the route. I let them read all the signs and choose which direction to go. There were a couple of mistakes, but they learned quickly. We also took turns setting the pace. I’ve run with people that always have to lead, and it’s annoying as hell. There’s an advantage to leading, all of a sudden you feel a little stronger, and you can also control the pace, slowing down if you’re tired and speeding up if you feel good. It’s important to share that responsibility and advantage with everyone. Kids like to go out fast when they’re in front, but they quickly learn to slow down and keep a consistent, all-day pace.

Teach them how to squat

There are few things as liberating as peeing off the side of a mountain. It’s easy for a guy, but hiking with my daughter is different. I expected it to be some kind of natural thing that she would just know how to squat and pee without soaking her tights, shoes and legs. Once she got it down, it was great. I won’t get into the number two details, but I had to teach them how to dig a hole and bury their poop without getting too dirty. It was more or less successful, or at least I was more successful than they were, but they learned a valuable life skill. Oh yeah, Purell is essential.

There was also a lot of farting talk on the trail. My son loved learning about altitoots, and in that respect it wasn’t much different than the trail talk that I’m used to.

Don’t force your experience on them

Sometimes you want to pass on these experiences, and you want others to have the same experience that you have whether it be a love for the mountains, or even something like a book, a movie, or a restaurant (no matter how hard I try, I can’t get my wife to recognize the genius of Kenny Powers). You can’t have that experience for them, and it makes it worse to push it on them. I lowered my expectations with the kids. After all, twelve miles round trip at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet is pretty tough for anyone, especially coming from sea level, and I have seen grown men in pretty good shape turn around on the route up to San Jacinto. Some friends even joked about bringing my own summit sign and busting it out at Wellman’s Divide (which is only 1 mile up from where we camped, and offers a pretty amazing view). They wouldn’t know the difference. I didn’t make my own summit sign, but turning around there was definitely an option.

My kids had other thoughts. While my goal was to enjoy the journey, the summit was way more important to the kids than it was to me. Towards the top of the climb, there’s this long, hot, exposed section and their spirits were low. I mentioned turning around, and that it had been such a great day and they had both done so well. They both looked at me like I was speaking a different language, and they gave me the look that all men and insane people know. They came to summit.

The Summit Push

We worked over the boulders at the peak, my son leading the way as I helped my daughter over some of the more difficult features. When they got to the top it was pure joy, and fist pumps, and hands raised in the air. We all looked around and I pointed out some of the other peaks, including the only mountain in Southern California that was higher than where we stood, Mt. San Gorgonio. We watched the planes fly below us and the clouds moving at eye level. We were alone up there, so I told them that on the count of 3 we should yell and scream as loud as we could.

“What should I say,” my son asked.

“You can say whatever you want. I’m going to howl like a wolf, because you are my wolf pack and I just feel like howling.”

So, we let loose until our throats cracked. Then we sat and ate the bison and bacon bars that we had been saving for the summit. They were delicious, but everything tastes better above 10,000 feet.

As we were making the long hike back to the tram, my son couldn’t stop smiling and talking about how he had conquered the mountain. He was using the language of a warrior, and I thought it would be a good teaching opportunity. I started lecturing him about how I viewed it as more of a bonding with the mountain, and about how you can never really conquer nature, it will be here longer than us, and the most we can do is respect nature and share it. I stopped short of making him hug the nearest tree when I saw that his smile was fading and his eyes had that look that kids’ eyes get when they are thinking about anything other than what you are currently saying.

“Yeah, bud, you conquered it, good job.”

And the smile came back and he climbed the nearest rock and jumped off. The respect will come, but it will come on his terms, and it’s my job to make sure that they have every opportunity to nurture that love.

On the drive home, my son told me he had a hiking plan for us. Next year, he wants to climb the highest peak in Southern California, San Gorgonio. The following year, Whitney, then the next year, the JMT. I look forward to howling from the tops of many more mountains with them.

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