My Week in Los Altos -- Some great trails and my first mountain lion sighting

Tuesday’s run was at Palo Alto Foothills Park. The sign said it was for residents of Palo Alto only, and that you would have to prove residency to use the park. We’re not really residents here. My sister is temporarily living in Los Altos, a ten minute drive from Stanford, waiting on a healthy set of lungs and a heart. I came up for the week to help her get moved in. To be honest, I would have helped her move wherever she had to go, but when I pulled up the Google map to check out Los Altos, my eyes lit up, and it became a very easy decision to head up the coast and help.

Lots of open space
I wanted to see where my sister was going to live, and they are in a prime spot, right near the small downtown area of Los Altos in a quiet, peaceful cottage. There are trees everywhere, and it's a short drive to some of the most beautiful trails I have ever run.

So, we decided not to heed the warning of “residents only” -- those poor welfare kings and queens of Palo Alto have spent too long living off the government subsidized open space, and like the libertarian warrior that I am, I blazed through the park gates and hit the trails.

These were some lung-busting hills, ups and downs and perfect for the day’s prescribed hill fartlek workout. Lucho told me to push the hills to the top and recover on the flats and the downhills. I started on the Toyon trail and connected to the Los Trancos trail. It was a rolling, single-track trail with some of the hills lasting a mile or more, and the downhills were long and steep, leaf-covered trails shaded by tree canopies, beautiful twisting trails that my eyes took in ten feet at a time. I was pretty emotional on this run, thinking about Sharlie resting back at her temporary home, strapped to an oxygen machine and waiting for the call that would take her to the hospital and change her life forever. They told her it could come at anytime, but she may have to wait for months. I pictured her on the trails, walking slowly with her son to the lake, feeding the ducks and speaking in whispers as the fawn ate grass just below the trail. I also pictured her recovering here, with new lungs and a new heart, I pictured her running, and sharing the trail with me. I don't do much praying, but if I could will that to happen through prayer, meditation, or focused thought, Tuesday’s run may have helped push that dream a little closer to reality.

If you can judge a place by its trails, Sharlie is in the right place. There is an energy out here, once out of the shiny, busy noise of the Silicone Valley bubble, a healing and quiet energy of open space.

Foothills Park

There is a wildness there, too. Wednesday we drove up further into the foothills to a new trail-head with a sign warning us of rattlers, ticks, and mountain lions. My brother in law and I ran together on the narrow trail, going from sunny and dry brush just over the fog layer to covered green and mossy forest. I saw the first deer a couple of minutes into the run, then Ryan saw 3 or 4 that crossed the trail in front of us and headed up the hill. We jogged easy and stopped often to point out deer, twisted trees, and deep gorges. Not too long after we saw the deer, I pointed down the trail to a large cat, jogging away, not much faster than us, but looking kind of pissed that it had waited all this time stalking the deer and we came on with heavy footfalls, ruining the hunt. It was about four feet long with a black-tipped tail, not a huge mountain lion, but not a small one, either. I was way more stoked than I should have been as we followed it, now out of site, down the trail. I'm sure I would have been much more cautious if I were solo, but I channeled the confidence of my inner drunken frat boy, and ran down the trail in search of the large cat. We didn't see it again, but I'm pretty sure it was watching us. I hope I never see one alone or face to face, but if I do, I'll remember the lessons of Ricky Bobby and face my fears head on.

Be large?

This hawk took off just as I was approaching and it let out this awesome squeal, just like in the movies.

Driving back down to Los Altos

I wrote this next part on the plane ride home. It's a little personal, but you've read this far, and we're all friends here.

It was hard to leave. Los Altos is nice, the trails are beautiful, and it was reassuring being close to Shar, walking over oxygen tubes, setting up computers, making salads for dinner, doing dishes, moving the treadmill with the Run Dirty sticker on it. I didn't feel like I helped all that much, but it was good just being there, being around her and her strength. I don't know of anyone who has accomplished more with less (well, maybe William Hung), and she is a constant reminder of how to live a full life.

It's hard to put my feelings into words. The last couple of days have involved a lot of sitting around, some beautiful runs, and breathless laughter over dinner. When I was there, there was an illusion of control, but now, heading home, there is worry, excitement, anticipation and dread. Our family knows the risks, having lost a sister to a double lung transplant over 15 years ago, but I am hopeful that this procedure will buy Sharlie some desperately needed time.

We gathered together as a family before the trip to Stanford and we were all able to tell Sharlie how much we loved her, and there were some amazing words said by Ryan, Shar, Zak, Kelli, Ric, Mom, and Sanam. All I could manage was an “I love you, and you are going to do great.” Not very articulate, I know, but it is hard for me to put all these emotions into words.

Sharlie wanted us to know that she is aware of the risks, and while she believes and has tremendous faith that everything will go well, she wanted us to know that she has lived such a full life. She has. She has touched thousands with her kindness and she is the type of person that inspires everyone around her. She makes me want to be a better brother, a better husband, a better father, and a better person. She has lived a full life, but I think her best years are yet to come.

Thanks for reading.


  1. What an amazing read. Thank yo so much for sharing, and your sister is now in my daily prayers. much love. xoxo

  2. >Ricky Bobby

    LOL. Very funny flick.

    That certainly makes for a memorable trail run. Honestly that's one animal I'd just rather never see. Because 1) I dont' want an encounter and 2) even if it's far away, if it's bold enough to be visible and out in the open, it's probably not going to be as afraid of me.

    I saw the back/hind end of a lion slinking across a trail west of Boulder trying to get away from me (I think it didn't hear me due to rushing water sound). I silently ran the other way before I could see me or determine what I was doing. lol. Finally found a couple running down to tag along with and completed the run.

  3. You are such a blessing in my life. Thank you for starting this journey out with us and filling this home with peace and love and laughter from the get go. I miss you already (and your salads!) I can't wait to run these beautiful trails with you. I visualize it and it gives me butterflies in my stomach. Love you.

  4. This is great Dax. I found it through Shar's facebook post. We love her and are praying for her. Your words about her ability through her quiet serenity to motivate all of us to be better are too true. Thanks.

  5. What a great read Dax...I feel like going for a run now.
    Shar makes me want to be a better person too, she always has. I can picture her healing in that serene environment too.

  6. My best wishes to you all, I hope the wait's not too long. I can't wait to read your posts Dax and it's ones like this that keep me coming back for more :) Thank you.

  7. Wow Dax! You made my belly hurt from laughing and gave me watery eyes... all in one post! Keep doing what you're doing and that positive energy will find it's way to Sharlie.

    Sharlie, hang in there ... we're all pulling for you!

  8. Wow, never met you Dax, but what beautiful words for a beautiful person. Our prayers are with all of you during this time and Sharlie is a shining example to all of us. We will continue to pray for her and for your whole family. With Love, Marisa, Alex and Parker Cain

  9. I want to thank everyone for the kind and on Facebook. I hesitate to write and share this personal stuff, but I figure the more people Sharlie has pulling for her, the better.

  10. You have painted in words a glorious picture of life! It is full of breathless hills, downhill glides, gut wrenching obstacles and the embrace of humanity. I bow to the courage of your family! Thank you.

  11. Please don't EVER hesitate to share these feelings again, Dax. Your sweet sister is not the only one with a gift. You are such an inspiring writer in my book. The deeper you go, the more people you help, reach, touch as well. Your inspiration only looks different than Shar's. Thanks for sharing. When you share, we all grow a little more. Especially the tears in my eyes. ;) We are praying and sending good, loving, healing thoughts always. -Dana

  12. p.s. Shar is so blessed to have "all y'all" (I live in the south after all), but there is nothing in this world for a girl, that can replace a fantastic big brother.


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