by Matt Gray
Training for an Ultra is actually a great deal of fun . . . an adventure on every outing:
I'm not sure how it happened, but about ninety minutes into the run,
I'm no longer on the High Line Canal Trail. There's a puzzling detour
sign at the end of a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood. Sporting my
classy jogger costume once again, I'm tempted to flag down the next car,
but the passing stranger is probably more likely to call the cops about
the sweating beast harassing the locals than give me directions.
scratch my beard in contemplation. The map pinned to the bright orange
road sign doesn't make sense. I just passed mile marker 29 (the trail
runs for nearly 50 miles across Denver through an urban greenway). How
could the trail go that way, into the depths of suburbia? And why is there a detour on a trail anyway?
is a wonderful way to explore new cities, wilderness areas, and
unfamiliar places. I read that in a book, but it quickly became true for
me when I returned home to Denver after a summer of travel in
California and the East Coast. While visiting R.E.I. I picked up maps
for nearby open space in the foothills and of urban bike trails in Metro
Denver that I'd never hiked or explored after living here four years.
the fall, and now into the winter, I've pursued these new trails
relentlessly. The urban network of sometimes gravel and dirt paths has
provided me a new perspective on a city I thought I knew well. The High
Line Canal Trail quickly became my favorite route, but today, it's
throwing me for a curve ball.
"Excuse me," another jogger passes
by and I holler after her politely, "sorry to bother you, but do you
know if this is the right trail?"
She turns ever so cautiously and
grimaces. I would too. "Uh, I just moved to the area," she responds as
bewildered as I'm sure I look. "Sorry."
I turn back to the sign.
Wilderness survival 101: always bring a map. But I'm not in the woods,
how could I get lost? And the map I'm looking at isn't doing any good
because it covers far too small of an area to orient me in my
surroundings. I shrug my shoulders. Well, it must go this way . . .
minutes later I'm back at the same sign. No, I didn't run in a circle.
The path I took turned into a concrete sidewalk, rambled by a school,
and came to a dead-end in a park. I saw at least two soccer moms pick
up their kids at the sight of me coming down the road. I've really got to buy a new running outfit.
I'm pretty certain at this point that
I'm south of where I need to be, so I follow a main road up a hill and
then spot a dirt path leading back towards where I think I lost the High
Line Canal Trail. About a half mile away, I spot the rise of the canal
levee and the familiar trees along its border. I emerge back onto what
I'm almost certain is the trail.
A jogger passes all the way by,
but I can see the turn of compassion in his eyes as he stops to check on
me. "Are you lost, mate?" He asks in a thick Australian accent . . .
friendliest people in the world, I'm sure of it. I have a moment of
disillusioned globalization, marveling at the fact that maybe I
time-portaled to the Outback. How cool!
"Mate?" He catches my attention and pulls me back from my wandering musings. I love runner's brain.
I shake my head yes. I admit it. I am lost in suburbia. "Is this the High Line Canal Trail?"
"Which way are the mile posts running?"
"That direction," he points from where I think I came, "is up. Mile marker 29 is just around that bend."
I smile. Oh yes, I nod, mile marker 29. I did run in a circle.
He pauses for another moment, waiting for me to say something else. But I've got nothing. Where are my manners?
"Thank you!" I say, excited at remembering this common pleasantry as he jogs off.
runner's brain. I estimate I've gone about 12 total miles with the
unexpected detour. And with at least that many more miles to go for the
day, I'm in desperate need of fuel. I reach into my pack and pull out a
Tupperware container of homemade gu (a cocktail of molasses, honey,
brown rice syrup, vanilla extract and salt) that I'll shovel into my
mouth with a bamboo spoon while running down the trail.
time I reach mile marker 25, the thick black sugar mixture is stuck in
my beard and coating my fingers. I give up the spoon feeding and switch
to slurping the mixture straight from the container. The looks I get
from a retired couple out on their Thursday afternoon birding stroll are
priceless. If I'm going to be lost in suburbia, I might as well look as
crazy as I possibly can.