Coyote Trail

I have all of these romantic notions of why I love to run...the connection to nature, hanging out with friends, working through the stuff that's in my head, the routine, the effects on my mental and physical health. And while running is all of these things, sometimes it's just about the hurt.

It's primal, I guess, this need to put myself through pain. A more evolved me would shy from it and hide in the safe, comfortable bubble of self-preservation, but sometimes I need to feel the physical pain. And I'm not talking about the great feeling after the struggle, the overcoming of pain, but just the pain itself.

Cameron and I set off on a short run on some local trails around the neighborhood. It's a familiar route, up the steep hill behind the old dump to the La Costa Preserve, down the switchbacks of the Horned Lizard Trail, to the Copper Creek connector trail, across a couple of small streams and hand-built bridges, through a tunnel of trees, then out, and instead of continuing up to the water tower, Cameron pointed to a narrow single track, "wonder where that one leads?" It doesn't take much to convince me, so I turned onto the trail that led up a steep, rocky hill. "Let's find out," I said as we were already pushing up the hill.

What started as a single-track trail quickly turned into one of the hundreds of coyote trails that snake through the local hills. You can tell a coyote trail from a running trail because the brush quickly closes in at chest level. That, and it's really hard to follow. We worked our way up the hill as the branches tore at my shirt, my shorts, and tore at me, marking their path in blood up and down my legs. I half-expected to turn around and see a witch brandishing a big, red apple, and I quickly glanced around for the little people who would rescue me.

We slowly pushed forward as the trail disappeared and each step brought thicker, sharper bushes. We were close to the top, and had covered too much ground to turn around and put ourselves through the pain of a retreat over the same ground that we had painfully won. We stopped, surrounded by overgrown bushes and trees, and with no trail to guide us, we just pushed towards the top of the hill. With every step towards the top, and with every new cut, there was this release, this screw you to comfort, to safety, and to sitting behind a computer all day.

After what seemed like a very long time, we reached a familiar trail near the water tower. I took my shoes off and dumped out the accumulated dirt, picked the nettles out of my clothes and skin, and we compared the bloody cuts that crisscrossed our legs.

I talked to Cameron on the way back about feeling down, about lacking motivation, about not wanting to be tied to future races and adventures in order to be able to motivate myself right now, and he offered some good advice, but the best medicine of the day came deep in the bushes, on a trail that was no longer a trail.

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