Trail Run in California: Devil’s Punchbowl

I went on a great trail run yesterday- it was the kind of journey I hope I’m going to have each time I go out. My running buddy, Annie, had suggested earlier this week that we go out to Devil’s Punchbowl, a park descriptively named for the shape its rock-formations make. It’s located on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains, and while I’ve gotten to know the little corner of the San Gabriel Mountains around Pasadena pretty well,  I had not yet been over to the other side of the range, which rises up from the desert.

Annie picked me up and we made the 1.5 hour drive out there. The closer we got, the more excited we became. In front of us was the desert, but just behind that, snow and pine covered mountains. I haven’t done any trail running around snow before, and was psyched for the chance. Growing up in Houston, Texas, did not afford much opportunity to be around snow except for the occasional ski trip, so the stuff still holds a mythical quality for me.

Devil’s Punchbowl itself is beautiful. There’s a one mile trail around the park, and Annie and I ran a bit of it, but we turned back because we were eager to get to the snow. The trail we wound up taking, the “Devil’s Chair” trail, skirts the outer edges of the north side of the bowl, and has gentle climbs and descents that create a fun course for running.

To be honest, I was dying a little bit at the end of the first mile. My calves and arches were doing their normal stubborn warm up- they’re tight and achy for one to two miles. I’ve been stretching and strengthening the area, to help the pain go away, but right now this is normal times. In any case, we were also starting at higher elevation than normal and could feel it in my breath. I was afraid the whole run was going to be arduous.

Thankfully, I was soon distracted from any negative feelings. We got to the snow. There was ice and mud every so often to keep things interesting as well. We passed a few other groups of hikers, and stopped to take pictures. The juxtaposition of desert and snow continued to thrill me. We passed through a cool, more heavily wooded area and Annie aptly mentioned Narnia. We had to stop and walk part of the way once we got closer to Devil’s Chair. It was on a narrow backbone of the landscape, and it was fenced in for safety. We took our views and pictures and turned back.

The last part of the run flew by. We were used to the partially slushy and icy terrain now. Where on the way out most of our views were of the mountains, coming back we were running over snow but looking at a desert. We ran straight in, barely pausing. My legs were feeling the work, but I was able to dismiss the fatigue from my thoughts and just enjoy the fun of speeding along the trail like a roller coaster cart on its tracks.

Taking Shape

When I was sixteen my parents gave me a membership to a gym called “Taking Shape” run by an talented trainer named Moses. It was a small gym in an office building, but I found a new world inside. I learned how strong I could be, and also how well I could relate to a different crowd, as I was usually the youngest person working out there. I would go there almost every week night and most Saturdays during the off season to hang out and workout.

Moses was a great man and a world class trainer. Before he opened up Taking Shape, he traveled the world working with elite athletes. He would come up with fun drills based on what events I was running or position I was playing in basketball. Sometimes he would take me on outings to get a running workout in, but since I was a sprinter, he would have me do drills up and down the hallway once the workday was over. The workouts were always varied and challenging, and I was ripped by the time I was seventeen.

All the people at the gym would get together once it closed at night and go to a nearby restaurant to eat. I liked the crowd. The people were in their thirties to forties, so at least twice my age, with experience to pass on, and I learned so much during that time. We had shirts that read “Created by God, Improved by Moses”. I met my running mentor, Steve, at that gym, the man who pushed me to try the 400 meter race after I had spent a season running just the 100 and 200 meters.

Moses got sick when I was going away to college. It was hard news to hear. I had written one of my college entry essays about him as a mentor. Here was a man who ate right, lived right, but still got stricken with disease. He would still show up to the gym, though not as often, and on my breaks from college I would go in for an hour a day to run on the treadmill, while he rested, so I still got to spend time with him.

A few semesters into college, Moses passed away. The gym members went to the service. Pat spoke. It chokes me up to think about it. Pat told me recently that Moses would be proud of me, how active I am and how persistently I pursue my fitness goals. We don’t get to keep everyone for as long as we like, but we get to carry on their legacy the best we can, and hope the message does not get weakened. Go- get fit, be strong, be the best you can be which is always good enough.

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