“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”
— Carlos Castaneda
In a former life, I was a trail runner.
I had the accidental good fortune of landing in Arizona at a time when the ultra movement was at a magical moment. Lots of incredible races, before things got complicated. Amazing, mythical runners. A canyon that was grand.
We raced almost every weekend. Training then was just getting in a few miles during the week, then the race on Saturday.
Races were simple back then. At the Mt. Ord Marathon, the RD left a legal pad on his car. You looked at your watch as you finished and wrote down your time. He drew the starting line in the dirt five minutes before the race began. Exact mileage? Whatever. Go to the top of the mountain, go all the way down, go halfway up again, float home.
The Crown King Scramble was on a little dirt road from Phoenix. 28 miles straight up 6,000 feet, then a screaming 3-mile downhill to a tiny population 6 town at the top, consisting of a couple of houses and a saloon. Best burger and beer you could ever hope for.
Four Peaks, Whiskey Row, Bloody Basin, Mad Dog, Zane Grey, Across the Years. Races were the first things penciled in on the calendar each year. Everything else filled in around them. I lived to run.
Arizona had saguaros and rocks and pines and 8,000 foot mountains. You could leave home in the morning, run up a 7,000-foot singletrack and still make it back for the evening monsoon in the desert. God, I loved the trails there.
And then, life came along. My running partner and I got unmarried (yes, my shoes smell that bad), and she got ultrarunning as part of the settlement. I got a monkey heart and an assurance that trail running would be very, very bad. So I stopped.
I never quit running, but it was just going through the motions. There’s not much joy in a sidewalk.
And then, a funny thing happened. I was out running on a little trail here late last year when I crashed. Hard. And nothing happened. Well, I cracked a rib, but I didn’t bleed to death. Then I ran a trail 10k over the summer and was none the worse. Then I made one loop of Rocky Raccoon, with its infamous man-eating roots. I crashed three times. One of them was really bad. And I’m almost sure I’m still alive.
I think that’s been my problem for a decade or so. There was no point in running. I will never be fast again. So why race? But trail running isn’t a race. It’s an adventure. A party. A hike in the woods. A fast picnic. Slow guys are welcome. A glorious experience of sunrises and sunsets and friends and love. I’m in. If it kills me, that’s OK. It would be a pretty good way to die.
Mo’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but she’s always been a little reluctant about me on the trails. But at Rocky this year, she spent about 15 minutes trying to shove me back out for a second loop. I think she’s ready.
I have the accidental good fortune of landing back in Texas at a time when a guy is putting on an endless series of trail races that make me remember the old days. Texas has prickly pears and rocks and pines and all the dirt you can eat.
So that’s what I’m going to do for the next year. This path has a heart. This path is good.
This is what my heart tells me …