The More Things Change

My favorite running route used to be a narrow, rutted, and rocky dirt path that led past a hidden pond on the way to winding singletrack that led up to a summit overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the west, the San Bernardino mountains to the north, and the Cuyamacas and Tijuana Plateau to the south. At the top of the peak is an American flag. It used to be weathered and wind-torn but has since been replaced with a new flag complete with a solar-powered light that illuminates the flag at night.

The first No Trespassing signs starting popping up years ago as our little piece of the North County San Diego suburbs started to grow. Narrow trails I had run in high school became access roads, and later 2- and 3-lane roads leading into and out of our expanding neighborhood.

We searched for new trails back then, combining animal-made singletrack with adventurous hiking and mountain biking trails, and firelines. Many of my exploratory runs ended in dead-ends and bloody, sliced-up shins and thighs, but we managed to put some fun routes together. The crowning glory was a 26-mile all-trail loop marathon, which was quite a creative task given the roads, and the private property that we did our best to avoid.

As the neighborhood was built out, more people started to use the trails. I wrote an article for our monthly neighborhood newspaper about the local trails and gave turn-by-turn directions to some of the easier ones. I was doing one of my regular runs on a horse trail when I passed a girl who had stopped and was looking, puzzled, at a newspaper clipping. She looked pissed, so I didn’t stop. The hills in our area were a surprise for people who were used to running along the flat coastline, but I ate them up.

As the town grew, the access shrunk. Park rangers informed us that we couldn’t access the reserve near our neighborhood from the west side, and property owners who noticed new trails put up signs and fencing on the lands we didn’t know were private. There were still miles and miles of trails to run, but as the town grew, and the barriers multiplied, we became less exploratory and more quotidian with our routes.

It’s still a beautiful area to run and live in, but a lot of the beauty has been shut down. I’m not going to get into the morals and ethics of trespassing and land rights. I respect the landowners here and do my best to obey the law, but it does make me extremely envious of the right to roam laws in other countries.

My favorite trail leading up to the flag is still there, it’s still a beautiful run, but the access trail leading up to it is now a black, paved road. It’s the kind of soft asphalt paving that is going to leave footprints in the hot summer. There is also a ten-foot-tall grey iron gate with NO TRESPASSING welded into the industrial design along the newly paved road. The gate has not closed yet, but it will.

There’s a scene from The Simpsons that shows a newspaper clipping of the Grandpa yelling at a cloud in the sky, and the headline reads, “Old Man Yells at Cloud.” I laugh every time I think about the headline. Things always change, and it’s mostly useless to get mad about the changes, but sometimes it feels good to yell at the clouds.

My favorite run of the week starts and ends at a local brewery in our town square. On any given Thursday night, between 10 and 20 (mostly) guys will gather at 5:30. Some are already sweaty and warmed up from a pre-run, and some look nervously at the ground, and at the group of runners because it’s their first time, and they don’t know what to expect of the group’s pace. Looking at some of the regulars, the new runners have a right to be concerned. There are a few marathon winners in the group. There are also many ultra-marathon podiums shared among the faster members. The new, maybe inexperienced members have nothing to worry about.

It’s a short loop, 4–5 miles depending on the finishing options. We re-group at about every mile so nobody gets left behind or lost, and it’s a social group. We talk about families, work, and mostly just running. We talk past races, future races, weekly mileage, and injuries. We also talk local trails.

For some of these new runners, this is the first time on these trails that have been flattened and widened by hundreds of thousands of footfalls and knobby tires. A lot of the runners are younger and newer to the area. They are starting to connect the local trails to make new loops, connections that I hadn’t even considered.

The chatter becomes less and less as we approach the end of the loop. Some of the faster guys break away for the last quarter of a mile or so. It is a Strava segment after all, and you don’t age out of competitiveness.

The conversation starts up again at the brewery as we rehydrate. They talk about weekly mileage and plans for a long weekend run, and I talk about my injuries, and why I can’t run longer than five or six miles. They talk about new routes, and I talk about the new gates and no trespassing signs. I find myself slipping into the old-timey, curmudgeonly, Andy Rooney role, but hold back because nothing can dampen these new runner’s excitement for races, weekly mileage goals, and miles and miles of undiscovered trails.

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