I'm excited to be putting on the Sierra Vista Trail runs for a second year. Last year my good friend Dan Carter
and I were able, thanks to the support and volunteered efforts of many great individuals, put on a grassroots local trail running event. We're hoping to build up on last year's race and improve some areas thanks to the feedback of runners last February.
Put this event on your calendar for Saturday, April 20th.
Access to public desert land for recreational use is always a double edged sword, in that it positively provides a backdrop for dynamic and exuberant self adventure and discovery, but also draws in every manner of neglectful behavior imaginable. For some the desert is to spoil, for others to cherish. I'm preaching to the choir here and guilty of neglect of the highest degree.
I recall a few evenings in my youth spent around a gasoline doused couch off in the desert doing my best to make a straight face as I threw back cheap domestic beer in my formative years. Foolish! Or that time when we stacked shipping pallets high enough to require a commercial building permit, only to burn it all down to smoldering ash in a drunken angst filled stupor. For some the desert is a wasteland, no more than a rock and sand strewn rubbish heap devoid of life. For others it is a rich and diverse living organism crying out to it's stewards. "Help!"
I regret the wasteful and apathetic decisions of my youth. Where was my respect for wilderness? My respect for natural life and precious resources? It's never too late to make a change. For years now I have called the Chihuahuan desert that surrounds my community home. This place was once a burden and inconvenience. A means to an end. Harsh. Unforgiving. Biting. Relentless. I loathed the heat and the lack of comfort. Your well will run dry quickly if you hope for such things here. It is a place that you must embrace on it's own terms. It will not bend or waver in our presence. Once you accept those terms- that the sun will not stop pouring down buckets, or that the heat will not waiver, or that the ground will not serve up grace- you will find that it is a truly liberating place of beauty unlike that of any other. I am fortunate to be an inhabitant of the desert. I wish I understood this when I was young.
A few weeks ago I was wrapping up a short solo ride before work. This was a memorable ride not due to anything on my part, but on account of the low lying cloud layer that engulfed the Mesilla Valley in a veil of condensed moisture. Fog in the desert you ask? Yes. It is an ephemeral miracle, that exits as swiftly as it arrives. The conditions have to be just right in the valley. I've become familiar with these conditions and know the atmospheric ingredients necessary for fog to form in the valley. The previous evening I laid out my items, grabbed my camera, and had my bike ready to go for what I knew would be an exceptional morning ride. It was beautiful. I clenched my cold hands as the cold morning air sliced through my gloves. Tears formed quickly at the sides of my eyes as I gained speed along the faster sections of singletrack. I was thankful.
I love riding solo, particularly on mornings such as this one. Where I don't have to wait up for anyone, or have anyone wait on me. There is no air of competition, no room for arrogance, bravado, or self performance. Just me moving along the trail absorbed in that moment. My eyes catch things that I don't typically see when in a group of riders. For whatever reason on this morning I couldn't help but notice the considerable amount of trash at the trailhead.
These are items found within a radius of 50ft. of my vehicle. This is but a small example of the detritus that we encounter before we even access our land. Who shits on the steps of their backdoor? Apparently we do.
I'm making a point this year to be a better steward of the wonderful public land that I have access to. What this will look like is beyond me. It might mean forfeiting a ride or run to clean up a trailhead, or pack out used shotgun shells mid ride if I stumble upon any. I don't know yet. With the 2nd Annual Sierra Vista Trail Race coming up next month and directing duties in full swing, the subject of land stewardship is at the forefront of my mind.
Spring brings with it new life and change. As the weather warms and we get out more, let's all strive to travel lightly on our land this year.
I understand running fast, extending yourself beyond the 'shuffle', setting PR's, building speed, maintaining exercise and sustaining health and vitality, but what I don't understand is why you would want to achieve all of this by pounding the only body you're going to get in this lifetime running endless miles on pavement? Surely we weren't purposed for this as humans, not for any extended duration. I perceive the road as a last resort in regard to my running, it is hardly an option these days. If I'm in the throws of a running binge then maybe I'll hesitantly lace up the kicks, build a playlist to distract myself, and run a few miles on asphalt. Am I a fool to neglect the benefits of running road, particularly speed development as a runner? Yes, perhaps, but I sure as hell don't give a damn these days when my ability to run uphill is all that concerns me as of late. Vegetation on the couch often sounds more appealing to me than lacing up my shoes and running road. My brain and muscular system are in constant communication, they both concur that running is desirable; naturally this makes sense as a runner. So why does running road somehow shut off that communicative synapse between my brain and body? The only thing that I can think of is the absence of beauty and infinite possibility that is inherent with running in a manmade environment. When constrained to the infrastructure of modern city roads we engage in an activity under a certain set of parameters and rules, many of which we have utterly no control over. The concrete landscape dictates much of the act of running. Stop sign? Stop. Car? Watch out. Cyclist? Step aside. Red light? Look both ways. Dog? Run faster. Exhaust? Hold your breath. Of course there is the track workout. But who really wants to go run a 400m session after work? Not me, sounds too much like work.
Today was one of those evenings where I was reminded why running trails is such a wholly satisfying activity. Before heading out to Achenbach Canyon I threw a few gels into my waist pack, checked the batteries in my headlamp, filled up a bottle, laced my shoes, and grabbed my dinky point and shoot in the event I wedged my leg in between a rock and felt like recording my suffering in the vein of Aaron Ralston. Double checking my headlamp I dropped down onto the trail with only the slightest apprehension as I looked back at a sun sulking below a darkening horizon. Sandstone and granite glowed a fiery red and orange as I ascended up the jagged single track trail winding its' way up towards the saddle. I stopped momentarily to absorb the view at the bottom of trail that ascends up to an unknown peak that I've been frequenting the last few weeks. A few hearty birds darted across the sky; a cricket chirped as if it were spring; a stirring wind calmed as the warmth of a late January day vanished with the Sun. There wasn't a road on the face of this planet that could rival the joy I felt just being out for an evening run along one of my favorite sections of trail.
See, these are not sentiments that I carry for the countless roads that surround my neighborhood. If I'm going to sweat it out and put miles under my feet then I'm going to do it in a setting that inspires, challenges, shapes, and engages me fully. For whatever reason I was reminded of this today on my run and felt like sharing this here. This is no revelation for me, and perhaps for you either, 'we' all know it's better when you get out and get dirty.
My brother in law has been in town for the Holiday's with his family. Typically he is the bum I call up when I'm itching to get out for a few bag nights in the Gila Wilderness or the Pecos. Unfortunately for him he's stuck in Missouri which is pretty piss poor country if you're into backpacking, so needless to say he's been hungry for some miles on dry and crusty desert trail. Originally we were going to do an overnight but the wives weren't having that with all the family festivities in store for every waking hour, so we turned our overnight into a day hike up in the Organ Mountains to our east.
I had to hold down the fort at home with the kiddos while my wife recovered from some nagging illness in the morning so didn't get the jump on the trail with the guys. They shot me a text letting me know that they were heading out from the trailhead. I finally made it to the Modoc Mine trailhead over an hour later but planned on running the approach route before the saddle and figured I could catch up with them in short order. Packed 60oz. of water in my Ultimate Direction Wasp, Petzl Tikka xp2, Houdini, arm sleeves, some gels and a Lara Bar and got after it. Warmed up quickly and was glad I only wore short sleeves and my thinner soft shell pants. The climbing was difficult but incredibly enjoyable with the snow lacing much of the trail, plus I hadn't been getting in much running miles the last two weeks. I spotted them heading up to the first saddle a good 800ft. or so above me and I kick stepped up the crusty snow, which made traversing the craggy slope quite easy in comparison to normal dry conditions when cactus and rock dominate footing.
I lost them at some point but was familiar with the route having done the full "Needles" climb two years ago. I converged with them about 1 hour after I left the trailhead and we enjoyed a long sit in the sun about 500' below the second saddle. After a Larabar and some water I threw on my gaiters and windshell and started up the shaded portion of the approach that hugs a long north facing rock face, snow was deep and the footing was spotty in a few sections. Temperatures were only in the low 30's along this short section and the guys weren't up for climbing up to the saddle considering the route was completely blown over and iced and we weren't intending to do anything technical on this occasion. Really they were just looking for an excuse to get to the brewery quicker.
I turned around and ran back down the Modoc Mine trail and scrambled on some erratic boulders in the sun to warm up a bit near the trailhead while I waited for the guys. It was a tremendous pleasure to see the face of my brother in law as he soaked in the beauty of a southern NM afternoon in December. I don't typically do day hikes, usually opt for long trail runs to get in my miles and condition the body, but taking things a bit slower on this day was enjoyable, stopping to relish in the warmth of the sun on a cool December afternoon with my bro in law is pretty hard to beat.