Friday, August 12, 2011

A New Experience with an Old Friend: A La Luz Trail Run Race Report (sort of)

I first moved to Albuquerque as a teenager in 1984. I didn't know anyone and the only reason I was in Albuquerque was because the experiment with me living on my own to finish off high school in Wichita Falls, TX wasn't working out so well. I called my dad and asked him to come get me and so he did. Those were pretty lonely times in my life with my senior year in high school being a complete mess smeared across two different states and three different schools: Wichita Falls High School – Texas, Del Norte High School – New Mexico and Southwest High School – back to Texas but this time San Antonio.

This is one fact of my life that I truly hate. I have no real options for a high school reunion. The place I graduate from, Southwest H.S., I have no connection to, I went there the last semester of my senior year and while I made some friends I have no connection to them or that place. The place where I actually have connections is Wichita Falls but even there my connections are spread between my time at Rider High School and Wichita Falls High School and I didn't graduate from either. It just seems sad for a non-graduate to go to a reunion but I do long for that sense of continuity in my life. In my 12 years of schooling from 1st grade to 12th I went to 13 different schools spanning an area of about 200,000 square miles.
That is a lot of space for a young man to become lost.

When I arrived in Albuquerque back in 1984 I was depressed and alone and even then I knew what I had lost in departing Wichita Falls before graduation. Given my young life as a transient Wichita Falls was my last, best hope at having an enduring link to my past but I could not pull it off by myself and I felt like I was risking my future just for the possibility of having something that I had long craved but never had – stability, continuity, a history grounded in place. It was a hard decision for a young man to make but it was inventible that I chose to leave because at that point the unknown future always looked far more real to me than either the present or past. The future was my comfort zone; I knew it would always be there for me.

To be able to literally wander in the wilderness while I was figuratively already there was a great comfort. It didn't take long for me to discover the La Luz trail though I can't for the life of me figure out how I got from where I was living to the trail head. I suspect that first time my dad took me. I wasn't in Albuquerque very long though, maybe a month and a half or two months before winter break and then it was off to San Antonio to finish off high school living with my mom. I remained largely in the wilderness there too. She lived out in a rural area on 15 acres of land at that time and I spent hours with a double bladed axe clearing the land of scrub trees. I probably did my work pretty haphazardly and don't know that I actually accomplished a lot of value because it was mostly me trying to pound out my anger.

Not long after graduation I was back in Albuquerque and back to the La Luz trail. There is a place on the trail where you can descend into a kind of hidden grotto where a small waterfall splashes down from above and lands at the feet of a mighty pine tree. It is cool and secluded. I loved that place so much that I never bother going further up the trail. I would often just go to my place and sit and think.

In the years between high school and college while I was away in the Marine Corps I would often go back to visit the La Luz trail while on leave still never ascending beyond my quiet grotto. Despite my relatively limited acquaintance with the trail it had somehow become the center of my universe. Enduring, wild and quiet it stands apart from mortality as humans know it. Simultaneously indifferent and welcoming it is always there and wherever my travels took me I knew it was there simply existing until I returned again.

My post-Marine Corp years as an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico saw me once again up on the trail hiking like a mad man both on the trail and around some of the small side trails in the area. In my mind I was trying to become human again. My time in the Marine Corps has gotten much better with time and distance but when I first left I felt quite damaged and I needed to reclaim myself. I called these outings my "In through the Outdoors" outings; a not so subtle play on Led Zeppelin's album "In though the Out Door", which, incidentally, was also named because, in a sense, they were trying to get back to who they had been as well.

For whatever reason, probably because I had found so much richness at the bottom of the trail, it never even occurred to me to try and get to the top. I had seen people running up the trail and had known people who had climbed to the top but the upper reaches of the trail, even the entire rest of the mountain, held no interest for me, that is until I got into ultra-running.

However, once I began ultra-running I was spending all my time running pretty much everywhere else on the mountain except La Luz. Maybe somewhere in my subconscious I viewed La Luz as my emotional salve and that isn't something I feel I need these days. I have actually been a bit resistant to running La Luz, again, maybe because I didn't want to go back to that place I had long ago left behind.

But back to the trail I went to run the 46th annual La Luz Trail Run. The race begins at 6100 feet elevation and nine miles later finishes at an elevation of 10,678 feet. Other than the first mile and a half when everyone is on open road and jockeying for position I was passed only once during the entire climb though I passed maybe 50 people on the way to the top.

It felt good, I felt strong. My relationship with the trail has changed completely. We are long-term friends and I no longer need it for my own purposes. I am free to simply be with it and not just on it and in my head. Maybe this is the story of the Giving Tree from the boy's perspective. If it is I can assure you the boy feels enormous gratitude. The tree, the trail, was a solid center when I needed it most and I like to think I am better for it.


  1. Your experience with not having a graduation "home" is part of the reason I work so hard to help students finish school; it truly matters and the diploma is only part of why it matters. You articulate it well.

  2. This is a really neat post. And as I got to that line about long-term friends, I thought "like the Giving Tree!" and then smiled at your next sentence.