When I was a kid, my Mom would sneek into my room sometimes before sunrise and without waking either of my sisters to steal me away fishing for the morning. Two or three times stand out in my memory clearer than others and I cherish those memories still and keep them in my heart as particular events that have led me to be the man I am now. I remember my sense of accomplishment at being chosen to share in such an adventure. I must’ve done an extra-good job on my chores! I wont ever forget my Moms smile as we snuck out of the house under cover of darkness at that predawn hour. I still remember (or think I do) the smell of the water, steam rising as the air warmed in the ever-increasing light. I remember the little john boat we rented on Lake Johnson or was it Wheeler? I remember the squirmy earth worms and the pungent artificial lures.
She would always let me pilot the boat’s trolling motor. I remember a time when we had drifted into shallow water. I fired up the motor to carry us out to a deeper fishing hole, when the tiny prop became entangled in algae and pond grass. I was so afraid of screwing up in front of my mother, whom I believed and maybe still believe, to be the foremost expert in all things outdoors that I panicked and couldn’t sort out what to do. Our situation was certainly less than dire. In my moment of lacking reasoning ability I forgot the water was only a couple of feet deep and that all I had to do was turn off the engine and clear the tangle. In my mind I was perhaps exploring a forested island chain we’d discovered in uncharted waters and any misjudgement would mean losing my very own mother to Davy Jones’ locker. An outcome I couldn’t fathom. I froze as I became overwhelmed and fearful of mishap. My mother yelled my name to have me snap-to. “MATTHEW! You’re panicking! Just relax and figure it out,” she told me.
I had ample opportunity to consider that memory while on an unexpectedly long trail run, this week.
I parked at my favorite trailhead. I dropped over the trail’s entry ledge and wound on down the root-stitched singletrack. At the first split of the trail I committed to a 7-ish mile loop. I ascended about 1500′ to the highest (elevation) point of the trail the Big Ben Tree. I sat on a log texted my wife and took in some clean and potent calories Spring Nutrition Better Carbs. Coming down the back side of the ridge I was feeling strong. I was aware that I had been out for a while. The Mrs. was waiting at home for me to return so we could run errands and spend our day together. I came to a sidetrail I believed to be one called “truck trail.” I knew from previously exploring the trail from the opposite direction that it was 4 miles to my front door. I figured that I could leave my car at the main trailhead parking lot and run home to surprise my wife. Long story short I was on the wrong trail. After about a mile the trail now a deer track dead ended in the crater of an overturned redwood. It looks like that’s where the deer sleep. I wanted to know what it felt like so I laid there for a minute and wondered where this was going.
Understanding that I was on a false trail, I decided to head to high ground to survey the area maybe find the correct path to the pass I call “Norbert’s Notch” and thus the road home. By sheer lightfootedness and nerve I picked my way across and up a steep sparsely-vegitated but duff-covered hillside. I attained one false summit after another. Hungry cold And knowing that I was off-trail I heard mom speak loudly my name in a stern voice. I remembered the tangled propellor on the lake that morning.
I abandoned my ill-conceived plan to run home arriving unexpectedly and without my car. I slid straight down a long fallen tree covered in a thick wet mat of moss to the carnage of the immense canopy. I writhed through the branches through the foliage and I was clear. I stopped for a moment to marvel at the forest. Gazing around me at the largeness and ultimate ordinariness. I had a thought for a split second that my feet were sinking.
By the time I looked down my feet were definitely six inches deeper in the dirt and duff. The hillside below the stormfallen tree was giving way. Feet ankles almost up to my knees the whole ground it seemed was sliding out from under me and I with it. I’ve never been involved in a landslide no matter how tiny and I didn’t know what to do or if indeed I could do anything. I went with it. It felt like swimming. And falling. It was over instantly. I was against a young redwood fairyring. Each trunk only about 10in diameter. I was filthy but otherwise intact. My pockets were full of dirt and my side was sore from where I landed hard against those trees. The good news was that I could hear a creek running down the valley floor. Once righted and oriented again I picked up the creek and followed it back to where the trail I had been on earlier crossed it. Defeated but not crestfallen I trotted back the direction from whence I came. About 30 yards down from where I originally diverted, I found The Truck Trail that goes straight up the mountain to Norbert’s Notch. I gave it the finger, memorized what it and the forest around it looked like, and began loping back down the familiar trail toward my car, limping a little and clutching my tree-struck ribs.
In familiar territory, headed in a familiar direction, the four miles I ran back to my car seemed to pass too quickly in a blur. My head was reeling with ideas for future excursions. I was sure I could connect the trails next time. Said and done, my route was only 9.6 miles covered. Trail running is the exception to the rule of one step forward being equal to one step forward. With every foot-fall I am propelled farther along the trail and further toward Knowing.
I still 25 years later enjoy starting my days before the sun rises slipping on my adventuring shoes and striking out with sleep and dreams still clinging to the edges of vision and the sleeping world uninterrupting.
The thoughts that occur to us while at the furthest limits of comfort are so much more potent than those that come while in repose. Few and far between are the epiphanies to be had as we “fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.” How can I be a more supportive partner? How do I provide comfort and security to my loved ones? How can I change the world?
I’m not sure where to look exactly, but I’m sure to get there faster by running!