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Mohave Desert
Mohave Desert

There’s too much noise in LA.

I’ve been back in LA for 2 days, after a 2 week accidental vacation in New Mexico when the car died the day before Mt. Taylor 50K.

Mt. Taylor is a wonderful race, run by runners for runners, on a gorgeous course that takes you to the top of one of the four sacred mountains to the Navajo people. It was rough for me. I got stuck near a runner who had DNF’ed at Fatdog 120 earlier in the year, and wanted everyone to know all about it. Somehow he’d managed to wheedle a buckle out of the race director even though he finished hours after the race had ended, and he wore this buckle with ostentatious pride.

I’d had enough of people, especially loud mouthed, self centered braggarts – after all, I live in LA – I go to the mountains to escape these people, not to hang around with them – and ended up dropping from the race at the midway point because I couldn’t stand the noise. Fortunately, the aid station was just as loud and all sorts of folks tried to engage me in conversation, so an hour after dropping I decided the only safe place was back on the trail, and finished the race, my slowest 50K ever.

Wedding.

It’s Saturday at dark in LA. A pair of friends are getting married but after yesterday in the office I can’t deal with people, even with close friends – so I am not at the wedding. There are sirens blaring and helicopters overhead. I work for a man whose business is falling apart because he hates dealing with things and now he has a decades worth of crises all coming to a head. One of the things he needs to deal with is me.

We went for a run today except that it was more of a hike; I haven’t felt much like running these past few months. The Dawn Mine trail has just reopened after being closed almost 7 years because of the 2009 Station Fire. It’s a narrow, rocky trail Millard Canyon that leads to an old gold mine. The trail isn’t always easy to find, and with that in mind some clever soul has spray painted arrows on rocks, because cairns just aren’t permanent enough, I guess. It’s also a popular day hike, and the canyon was crowded with people on a Saturday morning. It was a bad choice.

Once you reach the old gold mine there’s a mile long trail that switchbacks up the side of the canyon to the Mt. Lowe road. I’ve done this trail once. The exposure scared the hell out of me. Today as we started the climb Andrea and I were talking about what does and doesn’t scare me, and about how these drop-offs and exposure compared to the Hardrock course, or to trails in the Sandias that gave me problems last week, and that’s never a good conversation to have when embarking on a difficult climb because it plants the seed. My body was getting more and more tense and halfway up the climb I had to turn around and head back down as fast as I could.

It was at this point I realized Andrea would have to attend the wedding alone; that my capacity for people was maxed out after less than a day and a half back in the city.

We got stuck in traffic on the way home. Saturday, 1pm, on the edge of town.

Sinner Repent, Salvation Mountain
Sinner Repent, Salvation Mountain

I am not mellowing with age.

I’m redlining. The engine is revving way too high. And this is the case for at least one more person in the neighborhood, if the sirens and helicopters are any indication. He (I’m assuming it’s a he) deals with it even worse than I do, it seems.

Los Angeles used to fascinate me, and that fascination mitigated the discomfort I feel from all the noise, all the people, and the claustrophobia those cause. Drugs used to take the edge off, too, but you can’t really sustain drug use at the level I was doing it, unless maybe you are Keith Richards or something. It takes a lot of cash, and, according to legend, blood transfusions. I had access to neither back then.

I am not mellowing with age. I desperately want to, though. I’m not sure it can be done in this city. At least, not by me.

I am not sure people were meant to live like this, packed in this giant urban sprawl, a dirty city with a cost of living almost twice that of, say, Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, or almost anywhere else that isn’t San Francisco or New York City.

The state of New Mexico has a population of just over 2 million. The population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area is 18.5 million. If you’re claustrophobic and don’t like noise or people, those 16.5 million people are an important difference.

From an article in Los Angeles Magazine: “Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization link noise pollution to high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, anxiety, poorer work habits, and lower grades at school. Sleep is where the impact registers most. Research shows that while a degree of habituation occurs with low-decibel interruptions at night—Was that a possum? An earthquake? Whatevs.—we never get used to them completely. Our heart rate spikes and REM falters even if we believe we’re out cold. The brain listens night and day.”

Mount Taylor Summit

Mount Taylor Summit

Tsoodzil, the Sacred Mountain of the South.

In Diné Bahaneʼ (The Navajo creation story), it is said that the creator placed the Diné on land between four sacred mountains, representing the four cardinal directions. Tsoodził, the turquoise mountain – known in English as Mt. Taylor – is the sacred mountain of the south.

Ken Gordon is the race director for Mt. Taylor 50K. I met Ken in July, at Hardrock 100. He’s on the Hardrock Board of Directors, as is Andrea, and he was manning the Cunningham Gulch Aid Station, mile 94 or thereabouts. Andrea hit the aid station in pure survival mode. She was sore, and exhausted, and wanted to quit, but hadn’t the strength left to argue with any of us when we said no and sent her back out for her third finish.

Mt. Taylor is a basalt rock volcano that rises from the high desert floor to 11,301 feet, the highest point in the Cibolla National Forest, and the high point of the San Mateo Mountains. It straddles the boundary between the Colorado Plateau and the Rio Grande Rift.

New Mexico is full of rifts. Rifts mean volcanos, and volcanos mean black rock. It is a geologically fascinating place. You don’t get a whole lot of basalt on continents. It also has great red and green chile.

St. Francis Prayer
St. Francis Prayer

Learning how to love.

Andrea gave me a book called “Learning How to Love”, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Apparently I need help in this area. I guess we all do.

From the chapter “Making Mistakes”:“Since we’re human beings, we make mistakes. We cause others to suffer. We hurt our loved ones and we feel regret. But without making mistakes, there is no way to learn. If you can learn from your mistakes than you have already transformed garbage into flowers. Very often, our mistakes come from our unskillfulness, and not because we want to harm one another. I think of our behavior in terms of being more or less skillful rather than in terms of good and bad. If you are skillful, you can avoid making yourself suffer and the other person suffer.”

Los Angeles is a town full of unskillful people. I am one of them. I need to cultivate more skill than the average person, perhaps, because I begin with a deficit of skillfulness when it comes to social situations. I am easily frustrated. My rpms go into the red zone with startling rapidity. These are all consequences of Aspergers. It’s why I’m much happier with a series of numbers and some good statistical puzzles to solve than I am dealing with people.

Andrea is convinced I can rewire my brain if I try hard enough. I’m not so sure, nor am I sure I want to. I’d rather not be overwhelmed by people the way I am, but I’m not so sure I want to learn to hang around them all that much. I’d much rather look at numbers, or feel a cool breeze on my arms.

The day before Mt. Taylor I took a hike up to the top of the mountain. There was a cool wind. I sat on a chunk of dark basalt and meditated for half-an-hour. It was beautiful. The next day when I hit the peak there were runners clowning by the sign and someone else taking their photo. I got off the mountain as quickly as I could. On the way down a narrow and rocky singletrack I passed a couple of runners in their twenties. As I passed, one said to the other “Old guys don’t feel pain so much.”

Thanks, kid. That was skillful.

Old yellow dog.

A friend’s dad used to say:

“The Earth is an old yellow dog and one day she’ll shake off all of us fleas and take a nap in the sun.”

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