Silver Canyon at the end of a hot day seemed like just the thing for heat training: six miles of runnable incline through a narrowing rotisserie oven that gives way to four miles of steep, open terrain and tops out at near 10,000 feet and cooler temps. Rushing cold and clear, a creek cuts across the jeep trail in five or six places and is a lifeline for not only foolhardy humans, but also animals like quail, rabbit, rodents, snakes, coyotes, and, though I have yet to see one, mountain lions.
Dipped headfirst in the creek on hands and knees, I see the low rays of the sun streaming across the canyon sky, thinly textured by golden hatches of insects. Reptilian-brain survival signals ping through my body, looking for quads and hamstrings on which to drop the depth charges, to return things to a stasis of quiet and calm. Cool. As my ears fill with the burbling music of the creek, I begin to feel separated from my body and at one with the physical world around me. I can see the design of all things, the natural flow of ... Oh shit, I look like food!
My spine tenses and my head snaps out of the creek like I’m a springbok at a water hole in the Kalahari. Stop acting like food, I think as I try to be as tall and stringy-looking as possible. Non-delicious. Surely this smell is unsavory to a big cat?
If only I were the springbok – a taut bundle of fast twitch and tendon – instead of a midlife ultra runner simultaneously being beat down by the heat and frozen by the paralytic powers of “higher” thinking. No, I’m a 9-year-old again camping in a blue pup-tent in a fenceless backyard; the snacks are gone, the flashlight is fading, and I swear I heard something.
I’ve never found a drag trail that leads to a pair of running shoes with the feet still in them – I’m more likely to fall in the shower, become roadkill crossing U.S. Route 395, or straight explode from simply sitting on my ass too much – but when I find myself moving through cat country during feline dinner hour, statistics do not stop me from going to DEFCON 1, from envisioning the mountain-lion-meets-trail-runner apocalypse.
Look big? Run? Poke its eye out? Shove my arm down its throat and squeeze off the airway? I just hope it waits until this headrush goes away.
My dysphoria and panic subside as my blood flow returns to normal. The light in the lower canyon slowly fades out, floating up the walls and pouring onto the upper slopes like warm vacuoles of fat separating out of cooling chicken soup.
I pull my headlamp out and click it on and off, still an hour away from darkness. Running up the canyon again, I take comfort in my gangly, steady gait. Unappetizing for sure. Besides, my neck is all in the wrong place, my knees almost knock together, and this high-output LED would blind Godzilla …