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Strolling in the proper direction

Runner ready

This article is about an experience the author had one day when he decided to go for a run in the hills near his house. What started out as a quest for exercise and stress relief turned out to be a lesson in life after he runs into a group of rowdy teenagers in the middle of nowhere. Career changes always require a painful transition period. A few years back I lost my job as a stage manager for live television shows, and I was feeling the heat. As I sat in my tiny little apartment staring at a huge pile of overdue bills, I could feel the pain coursing through my soul. I suddenly had the uncontrollable urge to just run.

I am an avid runner who loves running in the wilderness. The feeling of breaking a sweat with a good stride in the great outdoors is like no other for me. Your heart is pumping blood through your body like a turbo-charger, your lungs are sucking in precious oxygen as fast as you can breathe it in, your pores are excreting sweat and toxins like crazy, and all of your senses are at their peak of performance. You can feel the world around you and you know you are part of it. It is a wonderful feeling; a healthy addiction if you will. My drug of choice is endorphins.

I hurried down the stairs to the parking garage. The woman who lived below me was just getting out of her car when I entered the garage. She was a cigarette-totin’ Maggie with ashen-grey skin and a raspy voice that sounded like it was the product of damaged vocal cords due to years of yelling too loud at parties and breathing tobacco smoke relentlessly. She was tall, rotund, and barrel-chested, with bleached white hair that she wore way too long for her age, which I guessed was somewhere around forty. She wore black clothing every day that made her look like an albino witch. She was also a single mother of a teenage daughter that was seemingly out of control. I often saw this daughter coming home at four in the morning as I was just leaving for work. She was only thirteen, but she seemed to be in a big hurry to become an adult. Her mother didn’t seem to care about her too much.

I drove to a nearby street and parked my car next to a couple of other cars at the entrance to a fire trail. I stretched for about five minutes, and then I was on my way up my favorite wilderness trail that led into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains (California).

I grew up playing and exercising in those hills. It is my favorite place to go when I need to get away from it all. There are fire trails everywhere that accommodate anyone who is looking for an exercise in a wilderness area that includes rolling hills, bush-covered chaparral, and majestic mountains.

About a mile into my run I began to work up a sweat. A group of dark clouds passed overhead and it started to rain. It was winter. I was only wearing a tee-shirt and shorts, and the rain was cold, but it felt good. The raindrops splashed over my face and body like a fire sprinkler from heaven that was released right on cue.

The sunburst through the clouds and I have soon bathed in warm sunlight again.
I entered a rocky area filled with caves that were formed by millions of years of wind and water erosion. The Chumash Indians once lived in those caves before the Europeans came. I looked up to the right and saw a group of teenagers hanging out in a big cave that was about fifty feet up on the face of a cliff. One of them noticed me running down below and threw an empty beer bottle in my direction. The bottle hit a rock about twenty feet away from me and exploded into a million pieces. This explosion was immediately followed by an eruption of laughter from the group. I was thinking about stopping to say something, but I did not want to ruin my good mood.

I made a couple of lefts and right turns on trails that I originally explored when I was about eight years old. I ran deeper into the hills. Soon I was running up a series of steep switchbacks trails.

I eventually arrived at the top of the highest hill in that area. I stopped for a rest, and to take in the beautiful three hundred and sixty-degree view all around me. I had mountains in front of me, hills all around me, and the San Fernando Valley off in the distance behind me. I watched the sunset over the mountains and meditated for a moment at my favorite spot on earth. When I turned around I could see the lights of The Valley glistening like a million fireflies. I was about five miles away from the nearest civilization, but it felt like it was five hundred.

A half-hour later I started my run back towards civilization. It was now dark, but I was not worried about getting lost, for I knew those trails like the back of my hand. Rattlesnakes were all hibernating, coyotes aren’t much to worry about, but mountain lions were a different story. Although attacks on humans were rare, there had been a couple of people killed in California in recent years. I did not want to be the next rare event, so I made sure to announce my presence by singing loudly (and slightly off-key).

Suddenly, I saw a shadowy figure of a person up ahead on the trail in front of me. I was not used to seeing other people that far back in the hills. I approached with caution. As I got closer and closer to this dark silhouette, I noticed that this person was just standing still at a fork in the dirt road. When I was about to pass this person I noticed that it was a young teenage guy. He was wearing brown nylon shorts and a yellow tee-shirt that said Calabasas Cross Country Team on the front. He looked very worried and seemed to be lost.

The thin young man politely asked me if I knew which one of the trails he was standing in front of was the one out of there. He explained that he was training for an upcoming cross-country competition and did not realize how far he had run, or how quickly it got dark “now that daylight savings were over”. I told him that I knew that area quite well and that he could follow me out of there.

I made a right turn at the fork in the road, and the kid followed behind me. As we were running down the switchback trails it started to rain again. We ran out into a large valley with tall grass, and then the kid began to fall behind a bit. I slowed my pace down a little until I could see him again slowly running behind me on the trail.

As we were passing through the rocky area with all the caves we suddenly came upon the group of kids that were partying earlier. They were slowly walking on the trail and passing around a bottle of whiskey. A young girl noticed us approaching and broke off from the group with the whiskey bottle in her hand. As we were passing by the girl she held the whiskey bottle out towards us and with a sarcastic and drunken voice she said “you guys must be thirsty”! A full moon was now shining down on the area and it illuminated me to the fact that this girl was the thirteen-year-old daughter of the albino witch lady that lived in the apartment below me. She was too drunk to recognize me. We then jogged past the chuckling group of inebriated teenagers and continued on with our run through the wilderness.

We finally reached the end of the trail and we both stopped running. While trying to catch his breath, the kid thanked me for giving him directions. He then disappeared into the neighborhood. I walked over to my car and stood next to it for a moment. I thought to myself; I may not have much money, but I have my health. I am thankful for having parents who cared, and that I chose to run on the right path in life.

Copyright 2006. Michael P. Connelly