Sunday, February 03, 2013

Trail Running?

So, for the one person who checks in here every once in a while, you've probably noticed a huge lack of posts. This blog in particular (versus my regular life blog) definitely goes in ebbs and flows and, since moving to Arizona, I haven't really felt inspired to post here. Why? For lack of a more eloquent explanation, it just isn't California, and nature-wise, that's been hard for me.  I also am still struggling with not only the nerve pain in my leg (going strong for 5+ years) but the nerve pain in both feet that I've had for almost a year now. I'm working on finding a new neurologist, but it's been hard. 

But we have done some trails in the last 7 months, so I've decided to just use this as a cathartic opportunity and share all the trails we've done since we've moved - the good, bad, and ugly (experiences).

Gilbert Riparian Preserve:
At first, it was the weather. When you wake up and you're already in the 90s, and it's still over 100 when you go to bed, it's hard to be inspired to be active outside. Plus, I was beyond scared of the crazy number of active rattlesnakes that were "out there." In my defense, they were even on the news, as the anchors warned the public of how active they were. 

The only real "hike" we did while it was still definitely summer was at the riparian preserve, which was actually really nice, but not really what one would consider real trails. It's just an isolated set of manmade (I'm pretty positive) ponds that provide water and habitat to lots of desert animal. 

Don't let the clouds fool you - it was "cool" in the 90s here. 

It is a very pretty park, with lots of nice landscaping, and we just took our time walking around and getting the lay of the land on the very nice pavement and crushed gravel pathways. 

We even got to see our first Arizona snake - which just reminded me that we had to be careful. 

This is our version of the Los Gatos trail, the trail from back in California that we were on all the time. The stretch right by us is exactly like this, except no water, no trees, and a bad smell. So, yeah, not so fun to run there. 

Back in the reserve, though, it really does have pretty, green stretches that make you appreciate being out in nature. 

And, of course, being in the desert, huge amounts of water are always nice. 

McDowell Preserve:

Ed was much better at being adventurous than me, and got himself out exploring. Finally, in August, I decided to try my first real trail. From the beginning, it was a bit of a disaster. We'd started going to Squaw Peak, but about 20 minutes out, what Ed had told me about the trail (he didn't even run the whole way, super rocky, etc) finally sunk in and I told him I wouldn't be able to handle it. So, we turned around and headed here instead - what he promised was a much more gradual, easy to handle trail. 

And? I basically started crying as we were hiking because it was hot, I was tired, and it was all just so...foreign. I think part of it is I just don't handle change well. California trails are all I know, where I learned to trail run, and you really can't get more different than this. Sections not full of ankle twisting rocks are few and far between, and falling here is a much more painful proposition. I've taking my fair share of tumbles on bay area trails, but falling on a cushy redwood path is really not too bad. I remember falling the day after our wedding, on our first married run, and I was so tired that I tripped over a root and just lay sprawled on the path. I remember thinking that I was so tired, maybe I'd just stay there and rest for a little bit - it was that comfy. 

Here? you fall either onto sharp rocks or spiny plants. Both pretty bad options. 

So, (and I know I shared this "run" before) we only made it about 2 miles total, and I finished feeling totally deflated, frustrated, and let down. 

South Mountain Preserve:

So far, this has been the only real desert trails I've attempted that I haven't felt like crying over.  It isn't that technical, and starts with a mild firetrail. Ed feels like it's also the least pretty of all the trails, but honestly, the all sort of seem the same to me. This one at least has a view at the end of Phoenix, which is pretty. 

We even actually took my parents to this trail when they were visiting, but I can't say that I'm super inspired to go back, pretty sunrises notwithstanding.

This was our first experience of trails in Arizona that felt a little more familiar. Being in the snowy mountains was great. It was odd that everything was so flat, as we're used to the Sierras, not being on a plateau. 

We broke in our trail legs by hiking along a pathway that took us to a museum (from the Bed and Breakfast we were staying at). It was spectacularly beautiful and made us much more excited about living in this state. 

It was at this point that, in my view, we had a lapse in judgement and decided to visit this exhibit:

Yes, that would be an exhibit about mountain lions. Now, we all know that I am pretty severely petrified of them (more specifically being attacked by them). So, going to an exhibit with life-sized murals showing their jumping prowness, buttons that made the varying sounds of a mountain lion in various states of threat, pictures of a mountain lion in different postures, from relaxed to about to attack, and stuffed mountain lions around the room, just for good measure. This was not what I needed to remind me of something else to fear out there, even on the pretty trails. 

Let's just say that our hike back was somewhat less peaceful for me. No mountain lions to be seen though. 

Later, we decided to actually run some trails. I was still a bit freaked out, and almost bailed, but Ed promised an easy run, so I decided to give it a try. He really picked the perfect "training wheels" run for me. Flat, easy, open. 

And the scenery? Not to be beat. It was spectacular, and it reminded me that I do love trails and being in nature. 

It was exactly what we needed - a cool (okay, freezing!), run in the mountains, with nary a cactus in sight. 

After our trail success in Flagstaff, we decided to try to go 2 for 2 and hit up the Sedona trails on our way home. While definitively more of a desert than Flagstaff, it was in the cool 60s and has some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable.

We decided to run/hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse rock, a 4ish mile route that promised to be not too tricky and very pretty. The first half was amazing. We were running on a beautiful singletrack through a meadowy area, in the shadow of these red rock giants, and loving life. 

About halfway through, though, the trail got a bit more technical, with more rocks and bushes, and I started working that there was a mountain lion around every turn (because I'm awesome like that). I did pretty well hiding it from Ed though, and we still enjoyed the amazing vistas. 

I've mentioned this before, but so much of Arizona has this "alien" quality to it - like being on another planet. 

At the same time, though, it's so familiar from stories and shows about the Old West. This is truly that wild west from hundreds of years ago, and it feels pretty special to be there among it all. 

After we finished the loop, Ed wanted to climb up Bell Rock a bit. 

I played along for a while, but soon it went beyond my comfort zone, so I gave Ed my blessing and stayed behind. Now, seeing him ascend this rock definitely scared me a bit, especially once I couldn't see him any more, but I trusted him, and my trust was (pretty) well founded. And, he got to enjoy views like these:


While I'd enjoyed my little perch, I'd eventually headed down a little ways to an area with a few more people, and just sat and reflected on the perfection of this weekend, and of this day. This spot on Bell Rock was definitely one that I could see myself returning to often, just to soak up this view. 

Ed eventually returned and, together, we sat for just a bit longer. Feeling thankful for a weekend that was just a little like the ones we used to have. Full of dirt and sweat and good conversations. 

Of all the trail experiences since we've moved. This one has been the best. 

Piestewa Peak:

And, after I high like that, it surely follows that there will be a low. A soul crushing, demoralizing low. This hike was that for me. This was the one I wisely turned down in August, but after such a good last trail experience, and with the weather now on our side, I decided I could handle it. 

Ends up? I was completely wrong. The truth of the matter is, I suck on technical trails. So when an entire trail is entirely technical, I spend the whole thing in a state of stress and frustration. Going up wasn't so bad, but coming down was a nightmare. It didn't help that the trail was very, very full of people who we passed going up, but who now were flying by me as we headed back down. 

I think what was really the sticking point was that, after all the work and struggle getting up there, the view was, well brown desert. Not a surprise, really, but it so didn't feel worth it, especially knowing what was coming on our descent. 

So, this was another hike where our conversation dwindled to nothing, as I spent all of my mental energy carefully trying not to slip on the rocks and feeling totally incompetent. What Ed and I love about trails together, is it usually seems to spark these conversations that we never have otherwise, like it taps into some level of our consciousness that we normally keep quiet. It is one of our favorite things. But with a trail like this, it seems to go the other way. Where we can't talk about anything. It was another run where things ended in tears (me) and frustration (him). 

Sedona in Winter:
To end on a positive, our last real trail experience was pretty wonderful. Our friend Bill and Jenny came to visit, and we took them up to Sedona, which was having it's first snow. 

While cold, it was pretty magical. 

We did the Bell Rock hike again, but this time up and around it, instead of during the full loop. 

While it was cold, it was just beautiful, and a wonderful, wonderful experience. 

So, in a nutshell, that is what has been going on with me in the trail running world. I'm trying to work past my fear for this big unknown, these desert trails, and not let myself get too scared by the many creatures and tricky terrain that has been blocking my efforts. But, I'm also trying not to be too hard on myself, either. I know I still love trails. It will just be hard to ever forget the trails of California and not compare Arizona to what I used to know. 

Have you ever had to move someplace or visited somewhere outside of your trail comfort zone? Did you love it or hate it?

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