Just Outside the Door, Over There

I was not expecting to have pea soup fog in the high desert.

The first time I ran on my current backyard trail was April 2017. RK and I went to central Oregon hoping to mountain bike and instead we went running in sideways rain/sleet/snow.

There are two loops, stacked. Or you might visualize it as a big loop bisected into a small loop and a medium-sized loop. I guesstimated the small loop was maybe 5 miles and convinced RK it would be great! Back then RK had one bum knee and wasn’t a big fan of running. Both dogs will run with us but after a decade of it, Emma is less enthused.

We took the dogs, we ran, it was blowing snow and rain and sleet, and we were grateful when losing 300 feet of elevation meant ice pellets weren’t hitting our faces. I worked very hard to keep up the cheer (“I’m sure that intersection is right up here…”) even while I worried the old dog would slow down and we would all freeze. It turned out to be just shy of 10 miles, more than any of us planned to run, but no one froze or had to be carried!

The trail and that run were very imprinted in my memory. It was beautiful and vast and unknown. I was following a blue dot on a mountain biking app, we were underdressed, under-prepared, but ignorance made it all possible! RK was shocked and maybe even pleased that he ran that distance without his knee hurting.

These days I run or bike that same trail several days a week, right from our house. In fact, you can see the house from certain spots on the trail. I explore side trails while running, RK wanders with the dogs. In order to explain where we’ve been, we have had to make up names for these unofficial trails: Ol’ Lumpy, Legacy trail, Upper Cut… I am constructing my mental map of the backyard.

This part of the country is subtle in its beauty. After a dozen years in Utah, where drama, color, and downright surreal gorgeousness dominate the desert landscapes, I’m soaking in a landscape that is marked with rolling plateaus, lava formations, buttes, vastness, and ever-changing light.

Every single morning I watch the sunrise over the trails, from the trail or the living room. Every day the clouds and colors are different. Silhouettes of ponderosas and junipers in front of peach, purple, red, gold, blue, gray, green, cloudy, foggy, or clear skies. When I am running on the plateau I often stop to absorb the view and the quiet changes in the light. I tend to stick to a loop of deceptive distance, where forest fire has opened the view.

On Christmas morning, Mack and I ran on trails freshly coated with 3 inches of squeaky snow. I was not surprised to see one perfect bike track on an otherwise flawless trail. There are a few folks nearby that I see out on the trail no matter the weather. (Rather, I see their tracks and maybe those of their dogs… these cold and dark days it is rare to see actual people.) The snow had fallen without wind and every branch, stem, leaf, blade, and blossom was topped with snow. The long ponderosa needles nodded with the weight. Mack stuffed his nose into rabbit tracks in the snow. We stopped often to admire the clouds, the light (!), the snowy volcanoes occasionally visible in the distance.

When it warms up, when the packed sand turns to choking moon dust, I imagine I will want to go beyond these trails, will even drive to get there (!), but for now, I am deeply smitten with this backyard and those trails right over there.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA