I have no sense of direction. None. I sometimes still get lost driving around Anchorage, after living there for almost 30 years. So really, I have no business running trails alone. Yet I do this often. Because I love being on the trails, love being alone inside my head and breathing in the sky and desert and trees and mountains. It’s like a meditation, like a prayer.
Today my 5 mile run turned into 11.5 miles after I got lost on the Tucson Mountain Trails. Only a few are marked. The rest simply meander off in this direction or that until it’s impossible to know if you’re on the main trail or if you’ve unconsciously veered off to a side trail.
I ended up in a wash, which veered off until I was in another wash which veered off on another trail which veered off on another trail until I had no idea where I was. I knew the general direction of where I needed to go; I just couldn’t find the right trail to take me back there.
Still, it was a beautiful day for being lost, not too hot and not too cold. My legs felt strong and I had a full pack of water, food and hours until dusk.
So I ran. And when the trail ended or veered toward yet another trail, I hiked up cliffs and tried to get a perspective as to where I was. Soon I was scratched by cactus thorns and yet I was happy. I was in the desert and the mountains were all around and the trail was rocky and hilly, and the cliffs were shaded with the late afternoon sun and everything was so beautiful, the desert lush from a week of rain.
Two hours later, I finally found a trailhead. It wasn’t the right trailhead, but it was less than a half hour from sunset so I ran until I found a road, flagged down a car and asked the way back.
“What trailhead?” the guy asked.
“Umm, I think it’s Richard something.”
“Like Richard Gere but not,” I said. (It was actually Richard Genser.)
He offered to drive me to the main road but I declined and kept running. I ended up at a golf course and stopped two men to ask them where I was.
“The golf course,” they said.
“Yes, yes, I know, but how do I get back to the Richard-something trailhead?”
They stared at me suspiciously. I had been running for two hours, was sweaty and dirty and snot ran down my nose.
“Run through the course, on the cart path,” the guy finally said.
So I ran through the golf course on the paved golf cart path, almost no one around. I saw 12 deer at one of the holes, and I stopped and they stopped and we just stared at each other. It was magical.
And then it wasn’t, because I had to keep on running through the golf course and there were golfers finishing up on the last holes, and they were NOT happy to see me. Not one little bit.
I finally cleared the golf course and ended up on the outskirts of the park, a barbed wire fence separating me from the trails. When I tried to wiggle underneath it, my Nathan hydration vest caught on the barbs and I was trapped like that until a mountain biker whizzed by on the trail.
“Excuse me, do you have a minute?” I yelled.
The next thing I knew a tall biker stood next to me, carefully freeing my pack as I grasped tight to his very nice legs for balance.
It was wild. Minutes later, I was back on the trails and finally headed in the right direction. It was almost dark–I had been running and stumbling around the trails for over three hours. Yet the experience felt mystical. There’s something about being lost that opens you up, peels off your defenses and leaves you both vulnerable and free.
Tuesday: 6.10 miles, 80 laps swim
Wednesday: 82 laps, swim, 10 miles bike
Thursday: 5 miles tempo pace, 10 miles bike
Saturday: 11.5 miles, rugged and hilly trails
Sunday: 7.4 miles, lots ‘o incline
Total: 30 miles run, 162 laps swim