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February 6, 2011 / elodie kaye

San Marcos Foothills

Santa Barbara is wedged between the ocean and the Santa Ynez mountain range.  The nearest trails climb up, up and up — relentlessly up towards a summit, or another trailhead, which then continues to go up and up to one of the many peaks.  On the east coast, trails cross creeks, rivers, go down into valleys, through forests and meadows, up a knoll and down, and perhaps up again.  Here, descents in the middle of a trail are considered with a residue of resentment as gratuitous, whereas none of the trails I run at home have any summits at all, sometimes not even the suggestion of a destination.  The trails have a start and an end, but in the densely developed northeastern U.S. where I started running, the destination is often the path itself.

The San Marcos Preserve to Tucker’s Grove trail has this latter character.  It rolls up and down across the lower part of the mountain range, through some open chaparral, some woods, has a few water crossings, and a variety of dirt, sand, rocks and roots under foot.  The total ascent is a modest 1300 ft., but the single longest climb is a mere 300ft. It’s still too steep for me to run the whole way, but short enough that I can conceive of a day when I might.  By desert standards, it offers quite a lot of shade, and the earth is soft in this wet season, not at all technical.  Right now, the hills are brilliantly green, sprinkled with cheerful yellow mustard blossoms and purple lupine.  The terrain reminds me of home, but there are differences.  For one, a modest climb brings you above the most wooded areas, which aren’t very dense or frequent.  There are vistas to be earned, and so I keep looking and thinking ahead, over the crest of this hill, around this bend, past this canyon…

Geoff once remarked that trails are best experienced in their entirety, finding a unity — oneness with the whole.  They’re about panorama, and here in southern California, I have to agree.  Partly it’s an awareness that there are hills and mountains to climb.  The openness of the landscape suggests there will be something to see, hinting at a destination even when you’ve never been there before.  Inside a canopy of trees, the oaks aren’t so tall nor so tightly crowded.  The sun filters through, dappling the path, and holds out the hope that you’ll break past  into the light.  My mind is propelled by a momentum ahead of my feet.  I’ve known the environment we run through prods our bodies to elicit strengths that let us move more easily over it, but on these trails I become aware of the influence the land weaves into our thoughts as well.

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