Sunday, I was running at Temescal Cyn, beneath a canopy of trees that lead you to - when we aren't in a drought - a lovely waterfall, I saw a woman standing in the middle of the singletrack. I yelled, "Comin' up!", and she scooted to one side, and that's when I saw her sternly speaking to a large-ish man who had backed as far away from her as possible. He truly looked like a 6 year old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Or playing Wii out of turn. Times have changed after all.
It's then when I smelled smoke.
"Are you smoking?!" she demanded as I trotted past them.
This hiker, a mere 8 miles from ground zero of the Griffith Park fires, in an area of forest that's seen 2 inches of rain in the past year, decided to, during his commue wih nature, light up. The young lady was still laying into him as I climbed beyond them. I figured the point was being made, so I continued up while yelling over my shoulder for him to please extinguish his cigarette.
Every weekday morning when I drive my way into Griffith Park for my morning runs, I am still awed by what has happened and what is left behind. I posted awhile ago, on a different blog, immediately following the fires, my reflections on what had happened. I include it below with one added memory:
In the past 24 hours, I've watched over 800 acres of Griffith Park burn. The footage and photos are devastating to LA residents and confusing to others across the country ("What? There's a park in the middle of Los Angeles?"). Throughout the myriad of feelings I feel welling up inside of me, I'm pausing to reflect on a park that, over the last 3 + years, I've run - literally - thousands of miles in.
Once, I encountered a homeless man, beard to his waist, carrying a cardboard suitcase, sloughing up an incredibly steep incline. I remember considering, "Lucky bastard - what a great place to live!"
Another time, I came across a cross-country high school runner who'd strained her Achilles tendon during a group run and was camped out in the shade, wincing in pain. Another runner and I advised her, "No running for 6-8 weeks." She replied, "Bullshit!", and we both understood where she was coming from.
Time and again, I found myself being passed on the Griffith trails by ultra running champion Jorge Pacheco, who nearly broke the 100 mile world record, missing it by less than ONE minute(!). His wife, Maria Lemus - another ultra running machine prone to running Griffith - and I eventually began to recognize one another. At the Avalon 50 miler this past January, while walking past her on my way to the hotel, she smiled and said, "Hey - HI!"
I recall a week prior to Christmas, running my 2nd long run of the weekend (of 3 hours, preceeded by Saturday's 4 hour run), out in the woods as the sun began to set behind the peaks and hills. I clomped along The Old Zoo trail as darkness settled in and heard the caressing voice of Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" as I looked down the ravine at the park's mile-long display of Christmas lights.
My first 2 rattlesnake sightings were at Griffith. Actually, one week ago, for the first time, a rattler shook it's tail at me. You don't forget that shit, let me tells ya.
One morning, bright and early, 2 men on horseback approached me and wished me a good morning as I stepped aside. Once they were clear, I started again to realize that one of the riders, bearded, wearing a baseball cap, was one Steven Spielberg.
2 years ago, during my first run over 3 hours, I stopped after a steep ascent and squatted at a trail's edge, completely out of gas and an emotional trainwreck. I said to myself, "What - are you gonna live here?" and hoisted my body back up, continuing another half hour to push through, possibly, the most emotional moment I've had as a runner.
I know the next time I strap my shoes on, grab my water bottle, and hit the trails in Griffith, I will not see what I'm used to seeing. It probably will be shocking, stirring, disturbing, and absolutely amazing.
I also know that from death, something more beautiful can - and will - emerge.