Overcast skies limit the view. A month ago, Catalina Island beckoned me from this same vantage point, but not today. “June Gloom” has set in along the coast of Southern California. A few days prior, the resulting drizzle made seeing through my glasses difficult; there are no such problems on this, the last full day of spring.
Most people I know would like a ‘do-over’ for 2020. For me, I wouldn’t mind a do-over of the past ten months. Still, the year started well enough. My recovery from December’s surgery went better than anyone could have hoped for. The surgeon’s only recommendation at my last follow-up was to take things slowly – he was worried that I might try to push myself too hard, too fast. Maybe he heard the mountain’s siren song calling out to me.
Some people bemoan “June Gloom.” I’m rather fond of it. All one has to do to escape it is travel to the local mountains and climb above it. Many a time I’ve hiked under clear blue skies while the cities below were covered in gray, happily hidden from view. Now I was near the coast, in Crystal Cove State Park’s backcountry, and the mild temperatures were ideal for running.
By mid-March, I was feeling strong for the first time in over seven months. I thought little of putting in fourteen miles days with four thousand feet of gain. The Mission Trails Regional Park Five Peaks Challenge was done in a day and was soon followed by completing the Coast-to-Crest Challenge. Things were looking up, but a dark cloud from across the ocean soon hit our shores, and the world came to a halt.
“On your left,” I said as I approached several hikers spread out across the dirt road. Why people feel the need to walk three, four, or five abreast and take up the entire path is beyond me, especially in a place that gets as much use as this park. “On your left,” I said again, this time much louder. The man appeared startled that someone could have come up on him so quickly. I was just a runner, mountain bikes also share these trails, and they travel much more swiftly than me. As I passed them, I wish I would have said, “Old guy on your left,” since I was quite more advanced in years than anyone in their group.
COVID-19. Coronavirus. Words that are now part of everyone’s lexicon. Within a couple of weeks, everything changed. What started in China impacted the entire world. Priorities changed. Almost every type of live event and group gathering was canceled. Too many lives cut short.
My wife began working from home, and I added IT support and catering to my daily tasks. And adventure? It made little sense to me to write about it. I had the freedom to get out and play, and I did, but to write about it seemed self-indulgent and tone-deaf; besides, there were a lot of other folks waxing philosophical on the topic. Instead, I used the time to get caught up on a few things and to try to learn new skills.
Running on the dirt road was okay, but the real fun began when I hit the single-track section. The human body’s ability to run on uneven terrain is nothing short of miraculous. Stop and think about everything involved in the process. Yes, the Atlas robot can mimic some of these actions, but even the Atlas isn’t ready to enter a fell running competition anytime soon.
Almost three years had passed since my last trail race. I’m not planning on training for trail races or getting on Strava, at least not yet. Trail running for me is about the joy of moving quickly through terrain, to be childlike in the enjoyment of pure movement. I caught the trail running bug again after listening to Alastair Humphreys interview with Boff Whalley, author of ‘Run Wild’* on Alastair’s podcast ‘Living Adventurously.’ In addition to being an author, Boff is best known for being a member of the band Chumbawamba. Chumbawamba’s hit song, ‘Tubthumping,’ contains the (extremely) repetitive phrase ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again; You are never gonna keep me down’; which is somehow fitting for a fell runner. [*Note: Boff isn’t a fan of road running and big races, which may turn some people off to his book. If you can get past that, the parts about trail and fell running might make you at least give it a try.]
The steeper sections of trail, both uphill and downhill, slow me down. On the steep downhill bits, I move cautiously, not wanting to fall, and the uphills? Let’s just say I don’t fly up them like I used to (and I never did). There is an argument that power-walking steep uphills can be more efficient than running. (See: Mountain Running, the eternal dilemma; is it better to run or walk uphill?) This being said, the uphill gradient referred to in the article is much greater than the slopes that slow me to what could be generously called a fast walk.
With an expected spike in coronavirus cases due to easing of the lockdown and racial unrest, I’m not sure if this is a good time to post about adventure, but several people have reached out to me wondering if everything is all right. One of my epic fails over the span of the pandemic is not keeping in touch with people. I’m an introvert; social-distancing comes naturally. With the lockdown, I quickly went into ‘hermit’ mode. Even though we dumped cable TV in April, the number of virtual events and online opportunities meant we never lacked for entertainment, which only exacerbated my being a recluse.
A scenic section of trail is directly ahead: a path through the chaparral heading into the sky. My pace quickens to see what’s over the rise.
Over the crest, I continue forward. I know the route ahead, but my mind wanders to a recent cartoon by Boots McFarland on ‘The Problem With Trail Running.’
Last month was our 25th anniversary. So many plans: most of them dashed. Compared to what many people are going through, it was a bump in the road; but it was an important bump to us. Still, we were blessed to be able to go on a hike together, to take a walk on the beach, to get take-out from a favorite restaurant. Not what we had planned, but it was enough.
The single-track section ended, and I continued the mile of dirt road back to the car. I felt tired but happy. One of the knocks against trail running is you don’t take time to smell the roses. This may be true, but I knew the names of most of the plants along the way and made an effort to identify them as I ran by. I saw plenty of rabbits and quail also, but, thankfully, didn’t encounter another person on the narrow single-track portion on the run.
Does this mean I’m giving up hiking for running? No. There are times when I will want to hike. There are times I will want to run. There are times I will want to cycle, and kayak, and climb, and backpack; hopefully, you get the idea. Adventure comes in many forms, and the more activities you can do, the more opportunities for outdoor fun await you.