Only recently have I finally made the transition to running on trails, even though I’ve wanted to for three years now. I love nature – which is the shorthand way of saying that being out in it is replenishing in a way that’s second to none. The sounds, which as spring brings more foliage to the trees muffles out any traffic and reverberates in bird song, bring me out of myself, as does the kaleidoscope of sun prisming through the trees. I’d been wary of exploring the trails though, since I kept hearing about bad things befalling sole pedestrians, particularly women, particularly on one trail system. This didn’t bother some runners. But I’m not from here, and I’m currently not a fan of adventure. My reason for seeking trails and mountains has more to do with that metaphysical thing that happens when you get strength to run on and on just to marvel at unfolding views. That’s what I crave.
I’m currently not a fan of adventure, though it might not look that way since I chose to live in a place so many are choosing to leave for its uncertainties, and frustrated paths to opportunity. Here, the motto be your best self or manifesting positive change is challenged by a context that has so many layers that the motto sounds more like the moral of a children’s book: true, but better executed through the difficult intellectual work of Aristotelian wisdom.
It takes all my energy to keep a positive mindset where unseen forces (gossip, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, workplace jealousy and sometimes even sabotage) change the weather of the every day. It is not enough to set out and say: I will do X today. A more accurate approach is: I will try to do X in the following weeks.
I began to run again when career growth was stymied. I wanted that physical experience of being able to power myself away from the city housing my ailments, and leave it behind me; have it become smaller and smaller. It’s as if I wanted to say to circumstance: you can keep piling on the difficulties, but I can pile even more on myself – so you’re not the boss of me: the harder you make it for me, I will make it harder for myself, voluntarily, so you are not overpowering me with your obstacles. The obstacles will become my playground.
But life is never that simple, and at Christmas time, I found myself back in the Asian city where I grew up, reunited but facing misunderstandings with family that piled on top of the problems I already had because of where I live. So, with nowhere else to go for respite, I laced up my running shoes and found myself on a Hong Kong trail. I cannot explain to you how happy I was to finally be off the concrete and on the uneven surfaces that looped around a coast, up into the hills, off boulders, past feral cows, through little former fishing villages. Play. Toys for grown-ups.
When I returned to the place where I live, I tried to run my former flattish, 13-mile urban park route, but found it the opposite of appealing.
So, the next day I just went “up” – up the hills that I knew were there, and discovered, as if by magic, that there was actually a trail (though interrupted a little by concrete) that led to another hill. Over the past few months, I began to make forays into the near-by forest there: the first few times when it was warm in winter when I knew at least a few people would be out walking (finding mostly cyclists instead). When spring came, I ordered Black Diamond poles that were on sale, thinking I’d need poles for self-defense. But now I know differently, and feel a little embarrassed about my fears. Granted, the hill I run on is not the one known for most attacks. So, there is a difference.
No, I have never seen a solo female runner like me all these months; yes, I run past a homeless man who lives in a series of plastic bags by the side of one little isolated section of trail; yes, the list goes on. But there is something to be said for familiarity: just like in the 1990s, one could become familiar with the dynamics of living in rougher New York City neighborhoods: one comes to know and become known to the various elements. (But always carry keys ready, if you know what I am saying.)
All of this is to say that even for my non-adventurous self, the dream of playing through physical activity in nature became attainable by going step by step. What seemed so far away and impossible became possible just by getting out there, and letting time bring the magic of progressive strength through experience. Like in that Canadian joke: “Today is the first day in the single journey that begins with a step.”
I wanted to write this post on the Orange Mud blog because when I was just starting out as a runner a few years ago, Orange Mud became a talisman of what I might be able to reach one day in the outdoors if I kept training. To my mind, the logo conjures up the Vermillion Basin, entrada sandstone structures, the Colorado River melting after ski season and becoming redder with sediment as it reaches across Arizona, which I merely glimpsed as a former Greyhound-riding, non-car-owning East Coaster but still dream of bipedding through. Still, the promise of the logo is coming true as I reach my own city’s 33 hills…
I discovered Orange Mud by researching handhelds meticulously, because to order things where I live, one not only pays exorbitant shipping costs, but also customs – which have to be paid because what is sold here is often sub-par. I decided on the Orange Mud handheld because it looked like a “no-frills” product that gets the job done, in the old-timey, proud American way of toughness ready to handle the wear and tear of a lifetime. I’d like to say to anyone else on a budget, you can count on the handheld standing the test of timeless long runs – I’m even still using the same bottle two years later. There are no fiddly parts to the handheld or bottle to fall off or break; the simple shape is easy to wash.
And this spring, I just ordered my first Orange Mud endurance pack, because I am finally running the trails, and am gaining confidence on them, loving that what I see isn’t flat anymore but engages VO2 max on inclines (great since I hate speed work) and teaches better footfall on the down hills, taking me round forest bends that lead to the foliage favored by songbirds. I have seen my body gain strength and note that I’m more relaxed from all the waving branches that make sea sounds in the wind. I know that I’ll will my way to the bigger mountains this summer. Or at least try to. But I’m ready for them.