Don’t fall in the cactus!


So I went on this trail run.

Most runs, whether trail or road, have some element of adventure. What animals will I see today? Who will almost run me down because they’re checking email instead of looking out the windshield?  You just never know.

joshua treeSome runs have more than their fair share of adventure, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way.

Anyway, on this particular day the temperature was expected to reach the upper end of the 90º range, so my husband and I (let’s just call him B) decided to leave the dogs at home. We put as much water as we could on our backs, and we each carried two bottles to stash for a longer run a few days later.

For a couple of miles everything was pretty normal. At just over 2 1/2 miles, we dropped off our four bottles of water, hiding them carefully under a fallen tree. Hiding them was probably not necessary. The human traffic in the area is close to zero and none of the animals in the area have thumbs, but expecting water near the end of a hot run and not finding it is a particularly heartbreaking experience.

We headed up a trail we had long threatened to explore. A quarter mile of lovely, shady singletrack quickly gave way to a steep hillside covered in shale. Thanks to the awesome spidy powers of our trail shoes, we made it up the hill unscathed. About halfway up, we noticed a pair of hawks circling and playing above the nearby peaks. As we neared the top, one of the hawks came to check us out thoroughly, circling so close overhead that we could see each feather.

We happen to have a particular love for birds of prey, so this was a moment to be treasured and we accepted it with all the awe it deserved. We sat on the hillside and watched until the hawk decided we were no threat (or meal) and went back to its mate.

“Did you get a picture?” B asked me.

“No, I was too… I forgot I even had a camera!”

Swainson's Hawk

After I remembered my camera…

We reached a crossroads just before the ridgetop. I recognized a giant rock hilltop from a previous run that B hadn’t seen before, so we went that way. We left the trail to investigate the rock up close. The rock is the size of a building and probably houses thousands of animals. It gives me that creepy feeling of being watched, and reminds me that I’m not at the top of the food chain. It apparently didn’t feel that way to B. He searched every crevice lower than his head, trying to identify the tracks he found. Then we had a small (very, very small) picnic in the shade of the rock.

It seems like once you know where the trail is, you should be able to find it. Not so. We headed down the hillside knowing the trail was near, but couldn’t find it. The brush got too thick to continue down, so we went back up to the rock and followed the ridgetop. Tough going, but at least I could see a familiar trail in the distance. Occasionally we could break into a run, but for the most part we were scrambling and trying not to fall.

A while later (making record-breaking slow time) we were coming down the last slope to the trail I knew. Seriously, I was twenty feet from the trail when my feet went sliding out from under me on the loose shale.

“Don’t fall in the cactus!” B shouted.

He should have told me sooner. That’s what I think. Before I was halfway to the ground.

It turns out those big spines on a cactus aren’t the worst part. Those stick in pretty good, but you can pull them out and be done with it. But there are also lots of tiny little hairlike things that get in your clothes and skin that are actually worse than those big spines. I won’t go into the details of getting all these little monsters out of my skin and shorts; let me just say it’s a good thing there were no witnesses other than B. He’s legally required to love me no matter what he sees, so he doesn’t count.



By the time we were back under way it must have been approaching the upper nineties, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the tallest plants were cactus (not the one I broke with my butt, the other ones). The breeze felt like a furnace and we weren’t all that sure where we were going.

I’d been in the area before, but not for a few years, and I’d approached it from the other direction. After climbing up and over a couple of peaks, I saw a little trail I thought I knew. We took it, heading downhill and hoping to find shade. Unfortunately, there are many little game trails in the area that fade to nothing, and that’s exactly what this one faded to…

“We’re not lost, we just don’t have a trail!” I told B, hoping my cheeriness sounded sincere.

There’s only one thing to do in this case, so we continued downhill, following the bottom of a narrow canyon until we reached some trees. Then we sat down in the shade (where I learned there were still some of those cactus hair things in my shorts) and tried to cool off.

“How far out do you think we are?” he asked me.

“Maybe a mile and a half? If we’re where I think we are.”

Feeling somewhat more hopeful, we continued down, following the canyon, knowing it would eventually lead to a trail. On the way down, I was stabbed in the leg by every variety of flora in the whole canyon; a beautiful (but mean!) purple stinging nettle even slapped me in the knee.

The heat, our diminishing water supplies, and our lack of a trail (we’re not lost!), began to wear on our spirits. We ran out of words and continued downhill in silence.

“Picnic table!” I shouted (okay it was more of a croak).

When I recognized the table, I realized how far off we were from where I had thought. But we had a trail, and a distance.

“Two miles to the car,” I told B.

butterflies & flowers

You should never be too thirsty to enjoy the flowers and butterflies

He picked the shadier of the two trail choices and we started off, finally running, although plodding is probably more accurate. We made it about half a mile before B said his water reservoir wasn’t working. I took a look. It wasn’t working because it was empty. I estimated I had enough for us to have a sip or two every half mile, so we took our sips and continued on.

We had about three-quarters of a mile to go when I ran out of water.

We had about half a mile to go when B did an amazing Superman fall that somehow didn’t hurt him even though he landed among rocks.

We had about a quarter mile to go when our running muscles dissolved and we dropped to a walk. B was ahead of me, pretty much walking as slow as he could go, but still pulling away. At one point he turned back to see if I was still there.

“I’m good. I’m running as fast as I can.”

He gave me a little nod and kept walking.

When we reached the car our words suddenly came back and we started talking about all the wet and cold things we were going to buy.


Driving home, with the air conditioning blasting and a giant lemonade in my cup holder, I determined that falling in cactus was a fair trade for that awesome hawk sighting.

And that’s a lot better than falling in cactus for no good reason.