Sitting in my car on Altadena Drive, having just finished a run. The door is open and my leg is hanging out while I check my phone. My leg is covered in dried blood. A guy pulls up and asks if I need help. He can see that these are just scratches, but it looks pretty bad and he offers me some first aid.
He is the fourth person to offer me first aid on this run. This means two things, I guess: people are generally nice, and also people are well prepared, at least the people I am meeting today in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains.
I’m not even sure how my leg came to be so bloody, although I have a pretty good idea. I’d headed up Fern Truck Trail to Brown Mountain Truck Trail, neither of which are truck trails but more like single track. You can see they were once paved, though – there are little chunks of ancient asphalt here and there – and I like seeing that it was once a paved road, because I like seeing nature taking it back. I like seeing how quickly and completely nature can eradicate all that we do to try to tame her. There used to be entire resorts down in the canyons below Mt Wilson. There’s not a trace of them now. We humans have not been on this planet all that long, and we’re probably nearing our own extinction. The planet will survive us and probably thrive once we’re gone, and in the end nature might look back on us like we were a nasty skin condition she had for a short while, if she looks back on us at all.
Humanity’s extinction is not really the point of this post though.
Pavement Remnants on Brown Mountain Truck Trail
So I headed up Brown Mountain Rd until it ends at the Ken Burton Trailhead. Ken Burton Trail heads more or less west, switchbacking down into the canyon where it connects with the Gabrielino Trail. To the east behind a concrete pillbox is a scrappy, overgrown use trail that heads steeply up to the summit of Brown Mountain. On a whim, I’d headed up there.
I knew there was a trail, and I knew it was a use trail, but I had no idea whether it still existed except on old maps. I was able to find it and started headed up. The trail was loose, very steep in spots, and a little hard to find. After about half a mile it leveled out for a hundred yards or so, and by leveled out I mean it went from a 40% grade to maybe a 15% grade, which isn’t really level at all. It looked like it was going to get steep again, and I really did not know how far I would be heading along the ridge before I would start going back down the other side to Tom Sloane Saddle, from where there would be another ten miles or so back to the car. It was chilly and rain was in the forecast. I thought it made the most sense to save it for another day.
I lost the trail on the way down, and then I lost my footing on some some steep, loose, crumbling granite. It was a little scary for a few moments. I saw the trail, and to get to it I was going to need to head straight through a bunch of yucca on a loose slope…or I could find my way back up. I’m not much of a climber. The ground was very loose, and I was afraid I might lose my footing and slide down the mountain into the canyon below, through a bunch of yucca. My best idea was to pull myself up by grabbing onto brush, which meant pulling myself up through the brush. I’m pretty sure it was dragging myself through the brush that result in my legs getting kind of sliced up. I found the trail, headed back down, losing my footing only a few times, and as I neared the bottom I noticed I was pretty bloody.
I stopped at the bottom to empty some rocks out of my shoe. Some mountain bikers were at the top of Ken Burton. They offered me first aid. I checked my legs. They were bleeding pretty badly, but it was just some shallow cuts across my thighs and knees. No big deal. I thanked them but declined the offer and started running back down the trail.
I don’t mind bleeding. It’s the sign of a good run. If I manage to get cut up without falling and without breaking any bones, that is completely awesome!
First blood of 2019!
This is 2019’s first blood. It was fresh, and bright, and flowing, and free of Hep C, good stuff, this blood, the stuff that keeps me alive. Good old kick ass blood. I like being able to bleed. I like being able to slice my legs up on a grey January afternoon, scrambling up the side of a mountain on a super sketchy trail. I like that there are so many people who don’t know me offering to help. Thank you all.
Back in the car after this 14 mile run, I felt great. I felt alive. I felt excited, and kind of blissful too, and that, I guess, is the runner’s high so many people talk about, “a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain” which an article in Scientific American says is not just about endorphins but may also be about the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which is the same thing that pot smoking effects, except that the main effect pot had on me was it made me paranoid, and paranoia is kind of the opposite of euphoria, reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain. Also, pot heads don’t do much except eat pizza and watch TV, which is pretty much the opposite of running up a mountain. Pot was not one of the drugs I enjoyed. But I am digressing…again.
Not every run is without anxiety. I’ve DNF’ed more than a few races not because of injury but because I got into a dark place I could not pull out of, or else panicked for some reason or another. Upon learning I had Aspergers, a friend I’ve know for 30 years, who dated me back in the 80s, said “Yeah, that makes sense. It explains why you sometimes get overwhelmed by just existing.” My meltdowns happen more frequently in races than they do just in runs. This might be because I’m seldom at mile 80 on an afternoon training run. It might also be because I take racing seriously, for some silly reason, whereas today’s scramble up the ridge of Brown Mountain was done on a whim.
Most often, runs like today’s are just about getting out and getting moving. My body feels best when it’s in motion, and my mind often feels best when my body feels best. This is a best that includes hurt, that includes blood, that includes a tight right achilles and a resultant sore heel, a best that requires I stop to stretch, a best that involves sore and battered quads and the realization that my V02 max and my V02 min are pretty close to the same number (or maybe I’m just lazy) which is why I don’t run the hills like I probably should. My body and mind feel at their best because when my quads and lungs are burning, and my knees are bleeding, and I’m feeling beat up and nearing physical exhaustion, because I have once again shown myself just how fucking ALIVE I am, against all odds, too, when you get right down to it.
Sitting in the car with my bloody leg, feeling gently but definitely euphoric, without a care in the world, is a pretty great way to be. It’s pretty far from the depression that seems to haunt me when I’m down in the city surrounded by people and noise and obligation, (even though I am one of the least obligated people I know who doesn’t live in a van).
For this moment, and these past few hours, life has been awesome.