The Trail Animals



I usually try to conserve my energy before a group run. I’ll sit on the ground, tie and re-tie my shoes, and pretend to stretch. But this run was different, this was the first meeting of the Dirty Running Trail Animals, and this group would not abide the conservation of energy.

I started the group for my kids, because I can talk all day about how they need to put down the iPhones, turn off the TV and video games, and get out in nature, but I feel that it is somewhat my responsibility to provide the means. I invited some friends with kids the same age and let them know that we were going to get out, run a couple trail miles, climb a few hills, and catch the sunset at the top of the mountain. Double Peak isn’t really a mountain, but for the kids at the bottom of the hill, looking up to the top, it must have looked like one.

I wasn’t stretching on the side of the road when most of the kids started showing up, I was climbing up a random trail because my son wanted to see where it went. It wasn’t really even a trail, although I’m sure coyotes used it as one. We quickly climbed above the cars, and when I told him that it was time to turn, he did so begrudgingly.

The kids started rolling in, and by 4:00, there were over 20 of them itching to start. I gathered the kids together as the parents stood off to the side and told them the two rules: help each other out, and have fun. I gave them a short course overview…run up the hill, take a left on the Secret Trail, then a right on the Super Secret Trail, then up an even steeper trail where they would have to scale some rocks, then to the top where they could play on the playground and watch the sunset. After the sunset, we would run down the dirt path back to the cars.

Life balance sounds good on paper, all clean and seperate with equal percentages for work, play, family, and hobbies. I’ve never been one for balance, so I’m throwing in the towel on that. There is no life balance, just life, and I’m going to share it with family and friends whether they like it or not, and they don’t always like it. As we were leaving, I had to practically drag my teenage daughter out the door, threatening to confiscate her phone for the week if she didn’t join. It would have been much easier to let her stay at home and just take my younger kids who were dying to run, but as she stood at the top, arm around her younger sister’s waist as the setting sun painted the feathered clouds in red and orange…at that moment, I knew that we were all exactly where we needed to be.



As we ran down the wide and steep dirt path next to the road, I watched the kids, leaning forward into the downhill, still running on their toes without fear of falling, and the adults, yelling after them to slow, to be careful, leaning back on our heels because we know what happens when we trip or turn an ankle on the smallest bump in the trail. I could have kept yelling, but they weren’t going to stop or slow down. They had gravity on their side, wind rushing by their ears, and fearless hearts, running like animals to the night.


Thanks for reading.

The Difficult Route


My youngest recently asked my wife where dreams come from and my wife told her that dreams are all the thoughts and feelings that we push down in our minds and when we dream, we get rid of these thoughts, kind of like taking out the trash. This conversation replayed in my head as I raced against the New Year’s Eve sunset in the uncharacteristic biting cold, struggling with sharp, short breaths in the frosty air, and wiping the tears that had suddenly welled up in my eyes. I forced myself to stop at a quiet point at the top of a climb and take in the ocean view, attempting to process the sadness of the last few months.

Writing usually helps, but I haven’t been doing much of that. The specifics are too personal to share, at least for now, but if I don’t get something out, If I don’t process these emotions, I’m worried that they will slowly build up, that they will somehow win.

I prefer the trail to the road, I prefer hills to flats, and I prefer dirty to clean. My favorite routes are winding, hilly, difficult, covered in rocks and branches that scrape and tear at my legs. These routes are challenging, but these are the ones I choose, over and over again, and I prefer them to the straight paths, the flat and boring routes.

One of my favorites is this offshoot trail near my house. It drops about a mile from the main trail on a steep downhill — a narrow, seldom used path covered with ankle-breaking rocks, roots and branches. It’s another mile uphill. It’s steep, but not steep enough to walk. And after all of this effort, all of these twists and turns, you rejoin the main trail about 30 yards from where you left it in the first place. You wind up in nearly the same spot, but dirtier, more tired, and sometimes a little bloodier than where you left in the first place.

One of the best books I've read in the last couple of years is Wild. I just went to the movie with my wife, and the part that struck me when watching the movie was a piece of advice from Cheryl Strayed’s mother about putting yourself in the way of beauty.

My New Year’s Eve run included what so many of my runs do, a stop at the top of Double Peak. It was actually the second time I’d been up there that day. The first was to see the rare snow flurries in North County. The last time I saw snow here was in 1990, and I wanted my kids to see it, even if it wasn’t sticking on the ground, so we headed to the highest point in the area. I found myself there again on that busy New Year’s Eve, surrounded by people with the same idea, people who wanted to put themselves in the way of beauty, to experience the last sunset of the year. The sweat and cold were working against me, but I tried to wait, and I was mad at myself for not bringing my phone, because it was the last sunset of the year, and all I wanted to do was watch it with my family. I set off for home while the sun hovered above the Pacific Ocean.

The sun was 10 minutes from the horizon and I was 12 minutes from my house, so I pushed, tempoing the mile and a half home, navigating the darkening trails, and sprinting the last quarter mile, but by the time I opened the door and felt the comfort of the heated house, dinner on the stove and kids under blankets watching TV, the sun had fallen and the dark blue was turning black.

Every year for the last seven, I have organized a New Year’s Day hike slash run, and the run has grown in popularity over the years, so popular that I received a call from the ranger telling me that I would not be able to hold the run anymore. This was kind of a relief, because I really don’t like organizing these runs. They add stress to my life, and the anxiety always builds a few days out from the run and doesn’t let up until I have ordered a post-run beer at stone. I love seeing everyone, and I love sharing the trails with friends and family, but the ranger was right, the run had become too big for the trail. I canceled the run, but let people know that I would still be there at 10 am on New Year’s Day and nothing was stopping them from joining.

It was a magical day for me. I hiked with my family and some close friends to the top, then ran with my two youngest kids who insisted on running down the steep hill as I trailed them, trying hard to push the thoughts of twisted ankles, face plants, and scraped knees out of my head. They ran with joy, jumping off rocks, smiling, breathing hard, and laughing. This is what I wanted on New Year’s Eve, this is what made me sprint home, racing the sun in the hopes of sharing this moment with my family.

I told my kids about the scene from the movie, about putting yourself in the way of beauty, and that this year we are going to try to get out more, to camp, to see more sunsets, to surf, hike, play in the dirt, and to take the trail that doesn’t lead anywhere.

This is what I want running to be for me this year — no race goals, distance goals, or time goals. I want, no, I need to take those trails, the pointless, winding trails that will take me up and down steep hills, force me to resort to hands-on-knees hiking over rocks, through bushes, and bounding down hills with tears in my eyes, and child’s laughter in my heart because I know the trail is long, the way will be difficult, but it always leads me home.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

And If You Close Your Eyes


I’m feeling my age today. Maybe it’s because my baby girl turned 13. Maybe it’s because I took her to her first concert last night, and we had to be there two hours early so she and a friend could reserve their spot against the stage, front and center, as I looked on from the far less crowded parent’s section off to the side. Maybe it’s because I thought her cut-up shirt that showed her belly button was too short, or maybe it’s because I thought she was wearing too much make-up. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t in bed by my normal 9:00 PM, but instead hung out by the guarded tour bus parking lot, waiting in vain for the band to shake hands and take pictures with their fans, waiting until midnight when I finally convinced the girls that they’re just not coming. Or, maybe it’s because the music just wasn’t as good, the energy and the poetry weren’t quite as strong as they were when I was her age.

It doesn’t help that I’m slipping into live music-induced nostalgia, to a time when my life’s meaning depended on the next thing that came out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth. I remember showing up to the show two hours early to secure a spot crushed against the stage in a run-down club in Tijuana, seeing this underground band with a headache-inducing superfuzz sound and a promising name, Nirvana. This was before they were polished, this was when the Marshal stacks blared, the guitars wailed, and Cobain, screaming himself hoarse into the microphone, spoke to us with pure, raw emotion. We climbed onto the stage and dove into the pimply and angst-ridden crowd, riding the manic energy of our tribe.

I walked into the restroom last night and there were a couple of security guards briefing a paramedic who was about my age on the status of the 19-year-old in the stall. All I could see were khaki pants and blue vans kneeling on the piss-covered tile floor. I couldn’t see him draped over the toilet, but judging from the stench, I could only imagine that it wasn’t a pretty sight. “Stay with me, don’t pass out, we’re getting you a wheelchair, and we’re going to get you to an ambulance.” It sounded bad, and I wasn’t in the mood to see some 19-year-old kid have a heart attack and die because of the latest new lavender bath salts that kids are bathing in, or eating, or snorting, or whatever they do with spa products these days. The security guards looked alarmed as they told the paramedic that the boy had half a cup of vodka and some marijuana in his system, and that he was in bad shape. The paramedic looked at me and said “half a cup of vodka and some weed? They sure don’t make them like they used to.”

I occasionally caught glimpses of my daughter, hands raised, watery eyes with too much makeup fixed on Danny, or Billy, or Kevin as they looked into the audience, into the bright lights. In her mind, they were singing to her, and after the show she told me about all the times she made eye contact with Kevin, I think it was Kevin, and how it was the greatest night of her life, and how it touched her, and that I just wouldn’t understand how deep the connection was, I mean, eye contact, EYE CONTACT.

I stood with the other parents for most of the night, necks straining, trying to watch over our kids, to make sure they weren’t crushed, and to walk that fine line between hovering just enough to keep them safe, but still let them feel the independence. Not that I’m ready to let her drive to Tijuana with a friend, walk over the border, take an unmarked taxi to a smoke-filled club to see a couple of punk bands, but there are only so many first concerts, and I wanted her to remember this one, and not remember me standing behind her, glaring at the college boys who were walking around, trying to find a free spot next to a cute girl, and me whispering in the boy’s ear, “she’s 13, and I can break you.”

I moved towards the crowd for the encore, nodding my head to the one song that I knew, mouthing the profound chorus, “eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh,” and jumping with the crowd’s energy, singing along as Kenny or Dan or Kevin held the mic to the audience and sang “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you've been here before?” And I could have sworn, at that moment, he was singing it only to me.

Used



My Jeep is a gas-guzzling, earth-f%$#ing beast, and if there’s not going to be a zombie apocalypse anytime soon, I should probably prep it for craigslist and trade it in for something more sensible, but I just can’t bring myself to wash the layers of dirt off and bring the military-brown paint to a shine.

It’s not that I have a special place in my heart for poorly designed, American-made cars, but there are just too many memories in the cramped second and third row of seats, kids piling in, pushing against each other and against their own boredom on the way to Zion, falling asleep on each others’ shoulders and then waking up, seeing the ground covered in snow. The Jeep is scarred with small dents and scratches and melted surf wax on the roof, and the sour smell of old sweat, maybe from Joshua Tree a few years ago when we talked music and running after a long, hot day in the beautiful desert.

My shoes are old, too. They have covered hundreds of miles of trail, have holes on the tops and sides, and their permeating dirt makes every sock a slight shade of brown. The padding is worn out, and I’m starting to feel it in my knees and my hips, but these things tell stories, and it’s difficult to trade those stories for something clean, shiny, and perfect. New shoes and new cars will be bought (13 miles per gallon is just not sustainable) and new stories will be written, but it’s that first wear, or that first drive that brings to mind a posed family picture on the beach where everyone is wearing matching outfits and all the smiles are forced.

I remember when I tore the top of my shoes. It was an early morning run, and it was on a steep section of a rocky trail, and the side of my right foot connected with a sharp rock, and it hurt a little, but it was a long steep hill and I had momentum, and the rocks on the trail were the kind of rocks that had to be climbed or jumped on, and if I slowed, it would be a hobbled pace, so I just kept the feet moving, and I knew that in about ten minutes, I would see the view, the sunrise. It had to be earned, and if I stopped, I’d feel that at the end, and the colors wouldn't be as bright, and the lungs and the legs wouldn't feel as good without the struggle, the fire.

I’ll take the worn out shoes, the used, busted up and broken gear, the old car, and the ripped hat because that is where the stories are. It’s in the scars, the bruises, the scratches on my car, and the holes in my shoes. Those are honest. Those are real.

One Epic Summer

A year ago, this week, I hiked and ran through the Sierras on the John Muir Trail, and I'm sure that I used the word epic more than once. It felt like every time I took my camera out, that I was taking a picture of something epic, and each night when I wrote in my journal, I wrote about something that I considered epic. That word has become overused, and has lost a lot of its meaning. When I think about the John Muir Trail now, and what I was doing a year ago, it was really just a lot of slow walking and some light jogging through some amazing scenery. There were some difficult passes at high elevation, but the same bells and alarms start going off in my head when I describe it as epic as when I read about someone's epic 5K or epic morning run, or an epic sunset. The word has lost its meaning.

This summer has been a welcome vacation from long distance running. I have been sleeping in, sometimes joining a friend, or occasionally two on a 5 or 6 mile jog around the neighborhood trails, pausing often to talk (I think we've solved the crisis in the Middle East multiple times over), to catch our breath or to wait for my friend's dog to do its business.

This has freed up my mornings for other things, mainly spending time with my kids and rekindling my love of the ocean. I wore one pair of shorts this summer, and my goal was to wear them out. They are faded, blue Patagonia board shorts, and they smell like the ocean with a hint of the sweet, tropical smell of warm water surf wax. Most mornings I would wear those shorts to the beach, surf in them, swim in them, and then I would sit in them as the kids and I downed Mexican food. By the time I finished my plate of ceviche, they would almost be dry, but still damp around the waistband and near the single zippered pocket. In the evening, I would jump in the shower, rinse the dried salt and the few remaining grains of sand from the shorts, then hang them to dry. By morning, they would almost be dry, almost, but then I would throw them on, strap the boards to the top of the Jeep, grab the kids and a couple towels, and head back to the beach for another day, another few hours of free, pure joy. I don't think those shorts ever had a chance to become completely dry.

This was the summer that my son learned to surf. This was the summer I pushed him into his first real wave, past the breakers, on a clean, smooth face, and this was the summer he popped up, without going to his knees, slid down the face of the wave on his 5’6" red surfboard, turned at the bottom, his back to the wave, pumping the board just like he'd seen in the movies, and riding it ahead of the whitewash, all the way to the shore, falling forward as the three small, plastic fins, dug into the sand. He looked back at me and I can't adequately describe the look on his face, but I knew it, I remember it.



I've been surfing off and on for about 25 years. Way, way more off than on. My friend Ian and I would catch the 305 bus from Village Park in Encinitas, transfer to the 301 south to Cardiff, turning a 10 mile ride into about 45 minutes. We sat on the wide back seat of the bus, holding our surfboards. I remember the first real wave I caught. It was at Pipes in Cardiff, no wind and the swell was 2-3 feet, smooth and glassy. I remember the sound of the wave crashing behind me, the cliffs reflecting on the clear face of the wave and those few seconds that felt like minutes and that smile that didn't leave my face, still smiling as I devoured the post-surf maple bars at VG’s Doughnuts.

I was in Salt Lake City last week at a business conference and I heard from some of the best in the business at getting people motivated. I sat (and stood and jumped around) a few feet away from Tony Robbins as he worked the crowd into a frenzy, close enough to see the sweat pouring off his forehead and the spit flying from his mouth as he created this energy from the thousands of people in the arena, pushing them to celebrate, then to take it up, then to take it up yet again, until the room was shaking from the noise. I tried to play along, but really all I could think of was that morning's adventure.

Jess picked me up at 5:30 AM and we were at the Mt. Olympus trail-head a half hour before sunrise, for what I assumed would be a couple hours of some hiking, scrambling and maybe even a little running. Jess assured me that the slabs were no big deal. It wasn't technical climbing and shouldn't take us more than about 3 hours.

As the morning’s first light spread over the Salt Lake valley, our trail turned into a scramble, climbing over small rocks, then larger ones, and then we hit the 500 foot wall known as the slabs.

I started apprehensively, and was doing okay finding foot and hand holds. I'm not a climber. I've done some gym climbing with my wife, but nothing crazy, maybe some 5.7s and 5.8s, but only after a few weeks of building up hand and arm strength. This wasn't as technical as that, and it wasn't straight up, but it felt like it as I climbed, watching Jess easily navigate the slabs. I felt okay, working up what felt like 100 feet of the 500 foot climb, but was probably much less.

Photo by Jess

Our family would take summer trips to Lake Powell when I was a kid, filling a houseboat and puttering around the lake, finding a vacant alcove to dock the boat each night. After we docked, my brother and I would go explore the canyons. I remember how easy it was to climb the sloped, sandstone walls, and how great it felt to be up so high, but when it was time to descend back to the boat. I remember sitting there, frozen on a ledge, looking down and unable to see a path to get from where I was, shaking on the wall, to the safety of the boat a couple thousand feet below, or so it seemed. It was probably only 100 feet. I can't remember how I got down, only the fear of being there, stuck on the wall, looking down and thinking I could die.

That same feeling came back as I froze on the slabs, looking down to where I would get seriously hurt if I slipped, and up, to what, to me, seemed like an impossible climb. I told Jess I was done, and we climbed a little further to a bailout point, a dirt and rock path along the side of the slabs that still meant a scramble to the top, but did not mean serious injury with a misstep.

For Jess, that climb was basic, something he could do without thinking, something that he may not even call climbing, but for me, that climb was fucking epic. It was a climb I was not prepared for, and a task that elicited enough fear that I had to bail out. As we scrambled along the easier route and did some more nontechnical climbing near the summit, and as I took in the panoramic view of the Salt Lake valley from the summit, all I could think about was how great that feeling was, that excitement, adrenaline, and even the fear.

So, now I'm trying to quiet the alarm in my head when I hear or read the word "epic." For a lot of people, it's the struggle to get out of bed and interact with the world, for others, it's free soloing a climb where the slightest misstep could mean death, and it's really not for me to judge what is epic for them.

In the quest to keep our kids' brains working over the summer, we had them write in daily journals. I read my son's entry the day after that first, magical wave. He wrote about the day, catching the wave and how it felt like he was surfing Mavericks. We watched Chasing Mavericks a few times this summer as it was on HBO’s maximum rotation, catching 20 to 30 minutes at a time until we had seen the whole thing a couple times over. In his 9-year old mind, he had surfed a 30 foot wave on that 2-3 foot day, and that feeling he had, that stoke, and everything that beamed out of that smile was absolutely, undeniably epic.

Lazy Parenting

I want to preface this by saying I’m not the best dad. I’m not the worst dad, either (that honor belongs to this guy), and I feel that I do get it right occasionally, but I’m not looking to show off about what a great dad I am. In fact, I already messed up pretty bad today.

My wife took the Jeep in to get the oil changed (which ended up being a $500 trip for changing all the fluids and an engine tune-up…I’m sure glad they sent us that $24 oil change coupon). So, she’s asking for a loaner car from the dealership and she texts me, but I didn’t know that my 12-year old daughter was also in the group text, and it went something like this:

Wife: Got a loaner for the day…
Me: Sweet. I got a boner for the day…
12-year-old: that’s disgusting.
Me: Sorry. Didn’t know this was a group msg.
12-year-old: sigh
Wife: lolz

The main lesson here is don’t say or text any word that rhymes with “boner” around me.

Now that I think about it, that probably wasn’t even the worst parenting fail that I made this week. But, like I said, sometimes I get it right.

A couple of weeks ago, Saturday, my kids were going after each other, arguing, and snapping at each other, which happened as we were trying to figure out our plans for that Saturday. They quickly responded with movies, Legoland, and Disneyland. None of those sounded great to me, so they threw out some other options, mostly arguing, but some wrestling, too, and an inadvertent elbow was thrown followed by an extremely advertent punch. There’s this trail that I run on quite a bit. We call it Andy’s trail because Andy is the one that first gave us the tour of the single-track that runs along Escondido Creek, crossing it a couple of times, and through the welcome cover of trees. As I watched one of my kids throw a punch at the other, and the crying that followed, all I wanted to do was to get out of the house and head to that trail.

I’ve been wanting to take the kids down there since I first ran it a few years ago, but for some reason it hasn’t happened. That Saturday morning seemed like a perfect time, plus it would save me the hundreds of dollars that would be spent mingling with sweaty tourists in cramped spaces and buying overpriced food. Of course the kids thought this was the worst idea ever, and my oldest daughter announced she wasn’t going. I once read in some parenting blog or maybe it was a book written by a PhD that you should give your kids the freedom to offer a logical explanation for the reasons that they do things, so recalling this information I shouted, “put your damn shoes on and get in the Jeep in the next 10 minutes, or your phone is mine for the next week.” She may have rolled her eyes, but it worked. The Jeep was packed with kids, water and snacks and we were at the trail within 15 minutes.


As we took the first few steps on the trail, all the tension, the stress of the morning, the fighting, and the yelling disappeared. The kids walked, ran, climbed trees, crossed rivers, sometimes holding hands, helping each other over the steep and more technical areas, and within a few minutes of our hike, my oldest daughter exclaimed, “this is the most beautiful trail I have ever seen.”

My daughter and I walked hand in hand behind the rest of the family and we talked. It was about something important, but I don’t remember what it was. All I can remember is that we walked along the trail holding hands, and that hardly happens at all anymore as we navigate the awkward father daughter relationship as she grows into a woman, trying to find her place, and manage hormones, boys, mean girls, and friends, and we’re both new to this, so being out on the trail and talking while she held my hand was just exactly what we both needed.

I sometimes feel like a lazy parent, letting my kids play computer games or watch TV rather than pushing them to go outside and play. But man, there’s really something to be said for getting the kids out to nature. It’s the lazy parents dream. It’s hard getting all the camping shit together and setting up tents, but once you’re out there, it’s cake.

Last weekend, I captained an aid station for the San Diego 100. My wife was working medical for the race, so we decided to make it a family affair. I went up Friday morning and set up a nice site right on Lake Cuyamaca, I sipped a couple of beers and by the time the kids got there, I was content and relaxed. When my wife pulled up with the kids, they immediately ran to the lake and started gathering sticks and feathers. They hooked up with some other kids and played around the lake, out-of-sight, and it was all I could do to not check up on them. Anything can happen out there, but I’m learning to hold back and let nature teach them.

It doesn’t hurt that one of her responsibilities involved sponging off an Italian male model
They helped at the aid station. My oldest had the job of sponging off the hot, tired runners with ice cold water. She did the same thing last year, and she likes the work. It’s great to see the looks on the runners’ faces as the ice water rolls off the back of their necks and down their backs. My two younger kids helped fill up cups with water and coke, and then they helped keep track of the runners’ numbers as they ran into the checkpoint. The kids were out there in the heat for about six hours, and they didn’t complain. No iPads, no TVs, just helping out a lot of tired runners who had the goal of completing 100 miles by foot. These are the people that I want my kids to be around.

That night, as the runners were still out on the course, my wife took the girls to help set up the finish line bags and cots where runners would collapse after their work was done.

My son and I stayed at the campsite where I had promised to break out the fishing rod. I recently bought a Tenkara fly fishing rod, which is basically just a long bamboo stick with line tied to the top, and a fly at the end. It’s a very simple set-up, no reels, just a stick and a line, which works for me, because the fewer moving parts, the better. I taught him how to cast, and how to mimic a bug landing on the lake, hopping lightly on the surface. He caught on pretty quickly, and within an hour, he had pulled out 3 small bass. I showed him how to remove the hook, and we threw the fish back in the lake. By the time we threw the last fish back, it was dark, but he wanted to keep going. It was late, but he wanted to tell his mom about his first fish. I still remember the tug of the line at a small lake in Big Sky, Montana, fishing with my grandpa, my brother and my sister. I remember pulling it in, and the slippery skin. I was surprised that my mom knew how to clean the fish, and I remember the taste of fresh trout fried in butter.


I don’t set out to teach lessons or create these memories. I just love to be in the mountains or on the trails, and I love to share those things with my family, letting nature do the parenting, waking up to the sounds of hungry geese and going to sleep with dirt under their fingers, smelling of fish and fire, and eyes full of beauty and pride. Nature is a good parent.

Scorched Earth

We moved to San Elijo Hills in 2005. At the time, I was training for triathlons and just starting to get into trail running. One of the things that drew me to the area was the extensive trail network. I started with the wide, manicured paths that led to the schools and grocery store, then as the distances grew, I became more adventurous, covering more trail miles and discovering an amazing network of beautiful trails surrounding our dense suburban neighborhood. The wilderness was outside my door, and it became my playground.

Early fires on Double Peak
It has been a particularly dry year in Southern California, so when the fires started, the trails really didn’t stand a chance. When I saw the flames on top of Double Peak, my heart broke. One of the nice things about keeping a blog like this is that it preserves so many good memories. I did a quick search on Double Peak in these pages, and so many good things popped out, Mother’s Day hikes, early morning runs with friends, a run in remembrance of a departed dog, countless sunrises and sunsets, Fourth of July hikes with my oldest daughter for the best vantage point in the county, the start and finish line of our underground trail marathon, and hill repeats that made me throw up. I have an intimate relationship with that hill, and to see it on fire floored me.

At the start of the Inaugural San Elijo Trail Marathon

I didn't want to run up there today. I wanted to ignore it, to wait and experience it with the friends that I have shared so many miles with, but as I sat in my office in the shadow of the Peak, I felt like my heart was being squeezed with cables, and I knew that I had to go see it.

It was what I imagined it to be, skeletons of trees and black earth everywhere, tracks from fire trucks and bulldozers, small patches still smoldering and the smell of burnt wood, but the trail was still there.

I have run in some amazing places, but these trails are home to me. They have made me a better runner, and I have left hundreds of thousands of footprints in their brown dirt, discovering new routes, linking together old ones, and being absolutely crushed by the sun and the steepness, and while the trails may seem insignificant, and rightly so when compared to peoples’ lives and houses, they have a special meaning to me as they fuel my passion and have made me the runner that I am today.

I went solo today, because those have always been my hardest runs, the runs that build fitness, the runs that turn into walks, and eventually incoherent stumbles with not enough water and not enough strength. I have been burned out there to the ground, but those are the runs that make the good ones possible.

During the last race I ran, the Leona Divide 50K, I thought about one of those runs. It was a 28 miler where I started with a couple friends who pulled off one by one, leaving me alone at the end to climb up the back side of Double Peak. I thought of that run whenever I was feeling down in the race, and I remembered how awful that run was, and how it took me to a place that hurt, and I remembered the top of the climb, sitting on a park bench near the telescope on Double Peak, avoiding eye contact with the few other people up there as I sat with my head between my legs, spitting, drooling, and trying to hold it together. I knew that if I could get through a run like that, I could finish the race. Those are the runs that build strength, the runs that burn you to the ground, to your base, and allow you to grow into something better.

The base trails are still out there, and as I made the steep climb, I saw a ribbon tied on a branch. It was probably placed there by a firefighter, an all clear sign, or a line of defense, but to me and to anyone who has ever run a trail race, it’s a trail marker, a sign that everything is going to be okay, and that you are on the right track.


There is something stark and beautiful about the trails now, a fertile ground ready for rebirth. I’ll be out there looking for the change, and the new growth in the hills, and I look forward to being cut down to the base, covering the trails with footprints and sweat, and growing with the trails that are my home.



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