After the fires

Sycamore Canyon after the Spring Fires of 2013

Sycamore Canyon after the Spring Fires of 2013

The fires were here not long ago. The earth is brown and grey. The remaining branches and trunks are black; skeletal reminders of greener days.

This place seems to be dead.

We run 14 miles on Sunday morning with the welcoming and hard-core Trail Runners Club. In the mountains just north of Malibu I realize this is how close the aggressive Spring Fires in May came to the Pacific Ocean and the homes there. I’m amazed at the parched, scorched quality of the earth as we follow the trail from the Sycamore Canyon trail head. It’s up and up and up, with switchbacks and tough climbs as the temperature rises toward 90 degrees. The fires took all shade away.

Today I mostly follow Tommy, an experienced trail runner my age. Later we are behind John, a speedy younger guy training for an Iron Man. He had started out alone earlier but quickly returned and joined us after having seen “some kind of big cat”. The thought of Mountain Lions lingering nearby keeps me focused, and keeps us running together.

photoOn the way back we struggle with the heat and thirst. Luckily I carry two liters (half a gallon) of water in my new trail running pack, and we share it. In the final miles Tommy picks up the pace: the sign of someone’s who is experienced – and thirsty. I let him go and for the first time I see small patches of happy green popping out of the grey soil. This place is not dead at all, of course.

Then we do what I know will help me prepare for the marathon in September: push the pace toward race pace in the final mile, on tired legs. It feels all right, inspiring me to raise my arms in strong, imaginary finish if –no, when!– I finally reach my marathon goal.

And it feels even better to dip into the ocean afterward, a huge and salty ice bath, with a curious seal watching from a few feet away.

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