Thursday, May 24, 2012

The everlasting itch: exploration runs (Acapulco, Mexico).

 "I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote"

            --from Moby Dick

 On most days, we all run the familiar paths. On the trail, on the road: we know the turns, we anticipate the key landmarks. We are aware of past splits; we know if we started too hot or too slow. On some trails we know every root and rock.  When we do run a new route, it's usually a path that a friend has shown us. We add new paths slowly, running and learning them, incorporating them into the fold of the familiar. 
  In life it tends to be the same. We are creatures of habit and comfort. I imagine this is a survival trait. If we expended all of our energy always finding new trails to run, or endlessly seeking new experiences to live, we would wander endlessly.  
 And yet despite our penchant for the known, there is paradoxically within runners (and non-runners) the craving for the new, the unknown. The new trail to the peak. A new race. The new experience, the new job, the new town.
 Like most runners I enjoy running known trails because it's a way to experience the outdoors and it's also an effective way to train. In contrast, running a new trail --especially when running alone-- takes extra energy away from the run. It's also impractical to always be running a new route.
 However, the runs that are most memorable are these rarer runs into the unknown. I had this experience a week ago when I finally went to Desierto de Los Leones to run. I arrived at Desierto with some directions about where to start. After finding the Cruz Blanca entrance, I was on my own to find a way up the mountain. I followed a few simple rules: keep running up, keep running in more or less the same direction, and try to stay off the main paths in the search for the most remote and/or the most technical trails. From a training point of view, this was not the most productive run. There was a lot of backtracking, sightseeing and cautious foot placement that was involved.
 I finally found my way to a path that clearly went up to the peak, or seemed to. But on that day the mountain was covered in clouds blocking any views. When I reached the base of what I thought was the peak, I got off the trail and followed a line of rock formations that sliced their way to the top. At this point I was climbing, not running, but I didn't care. The excitement of finding this new terrain was more important than pace or tempo.
  I missed the actual summit that day, the peak I climbed is a bit lower than the actual summit, El Cerro de San Miguel. I didn't realize it until I returned to Desierto on a sunny day a few days later and made the same climb.
 Another exploration run took place a month ago while I was in Pie De La Cuesta, a small beach town about 20 minutes up the coast from Acapulco.  The town was familiar to me. It is the first place I ever visited in Mexico back in 1998, a trip that led to my life in Mexico today. As beach towns go in Mexico, it leaves something to be desired, but it's the closest beach that is not Acapulco to Mexico City. I had brought my running stuff, but I despise running on the beach and the long, straight, flat run to the end of the lagoon wasn't appealing either. In my handful of trips to Pie De La Cuesta over the years, I've always been compelled by the mountains that seem to rise out of the ocean, and yet I never considered going up there as they are residential, not tourist areas, and also perhaps because I know that in Mexico the highest houses on the hills house the most impoverished Mexicans, and I had a sense that this was not my place to visit. However, my curiosity overwhelmed my caution and I could see a ridge line that I was sure would take me up through the residential area to the peak above. I had no idea if there were trails up there, but there was one way to find out. I thought it would also be interesting to run from sea level and see how high the mountains climbed.
  Because of the humidity and the heat, I left early from the hotel on the beach. I ran up the road out of Pie De La Cuesta. I tried to keep the peak up on my left, and when I found a road that looked like it would take me to the top, I started climbing. It was steep and I ran slowly. I made a few false turns and I avoided one climb that would have taken me to a row of houses --shacks, really-- that lined the top of a narrow ridge that showed signs of severe erosion. I finally arrived at a dirt road that seemed to separate the houses from the forest of the mountain. There were no structures above the road, only trees and rocks. There was a sign placed by the government warning people not to construct their homes above this point. The illustration on the sign was of a house sliding down the hill onto another house.
 I followed the dirt road and kept looking for trails. Sure enough, after about 600 meters, there was a narrow, but well-trodden path to the left. Why not? This trail took me winding through the forest, and then it became a wider path that had been clear-cut and led straight up. I kept climbing. The peak was in sight and I followed the trail to its end, but I still needed to make the final ascent. I back-tracked to eyeball the peak again and then began bushwhacking up. It was like a briar patch, with vines and trees literally tying me up, holding me back, thorns sending me back to find another route. My Garmin read no pace, meaning I was somewhere north of 40 minutes a kilometer, but I kept pushing up, my curiosity overwhelming my desire to keep my heart rate up and get a decent workout completed. I finally arrived to a small plateau, but there were trees all around me and I couldn't tell if I made the peak or not. My Garmin map suggest I didn't. There was a small path continuing on, but the sun was coming up and I had taken over an hour to go 5k, much of which was just struggling to go a few hundred meters. I descended, and along the way was treated to some incredible views of Pie De La Cuesta, which is just a small strip of land stretched out between the ocean and a lagoon.  Despite the 40 minute bushwhack, and my doubt about whether I'd actually reached the peak I saw down on the beach (El Jardin, one of the workers at the hotel informed me), it was a satisfying run, as exploration runs always are. 
 Here are the few photos I took with my phone:
Part of the trail up El Jardin.

Pie De La Cuesta: view from El Jardin

Where the trail ends... and begins.

1 comment:

  1. Love the view! Sounds like it was quite an adventure.