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Trail Huntin'
Trail Runner

Trail Huntin'

Posted Tuesday, 19 May 2015   |   2067 views   |   Sport   |   Comments (0) Searching for singletrack and finding connection in Baja Sur

8:22 A.M.,

A photographer’s gear bags. A beer cooler so big a family of gnomes could dwell in it. Seven pounds of fresh fish for tonight’s dinner. More corn tortilla chips than I thought existed in Mexico. Personalities and lifestyles all over the proverbial map. Literal maps. Here we all are, on a quiet side street in San Jos? del Cabo, Baja Sur, stuffing all this into two economy-size rental cars so that our week-long adventure can begin.

We will sweat through our linen shirts and bikini tops, pushing and prodding gear and bodies around until we all fit, and then we’ll repeat this process almost every day. We will ride low out of town, bursting at the cars’ seams and safe load limits, jostling over potholed pavement and wash-boarded dirt roads. We will grow bold, and drive one of the cars out onto some black rocks the size of tennis balls smoothed by ages of Sea of Cortez waves ... until it gets stuck.

We’ll roll through a beer drive-through (a beer drive-through!) in the ’burbs of La Paz. We’ll proudly park in front of the most low-brow lodging in Todos Santos. We’ll drive right up to the edge of the sand (but no farther because of that earlier-learned lesson) just in time to watch the sun fall out of the sky and into the Pacific Ocean. We’ll fight. We’ll laugh. We’ll find trails—loads of them—except for that one time we don’t.

We’re here on assignment to report on trail running in Baja Sur, the Mexican province perhaps better known for surfing, ex-pat life and, let’s be honest, spring-break boozing. While trail running is booming worldwide, before we went south, we found little information about where to do it in Baja Sur. Based upon a few Internet blog posts and info from random sources, we convinced Trail Runner’s editors that there would be a story here. While we indeed discovered plenty of places to trail run, what we found was more than a story about running. We found connection.
6:36 A.M.,

Zero-dark thirty and we’re a line of headlamps rolling up the buttery singletrack above Cabo Pulmo on Baja Sur’s eastern cape. There’s just a hint of light in the eastern sky, over the Sea of Cortez, a tease to the luminous miracle that will occur over the next 90 minutes. We ran eight or so miles of these trails yesterday afternoon and decided that we needed to see sunrise from them this morning.

Photographer Matt Hage leads the charge, heaving a 20-pound pack full of camera gear. The only telltale sign of his effort is the sweat pouring from his temples, which reflects in others’ headlamps when we stop for a break. He’s got sexy sunrise photos on the brain so his pace doesn’t lag. Vince Heyd, on the other hand, is terrified of snakes—I’ve seen him launch high-jump-style over garter snakes back in the United States—so he makes everyone else run in front of him, the rest of us his sacrificial lambs.

In the middle of these two men is a gaggle of gals: Ashley Gateless, Christina Volken, Alie Fohner, Agnes Hage and me. We couldn’t be more different from one another in personality and physical characteristics, though we do share one commonality: we are strong and passionate trail runners with the calf muscles to prove it.

The singletrack here—a couple of dozen miles of it—is good, super good. Its design and flow remind me of the trail systems of Vail, Colorado, or Park City, Utah, places where millions of bucks are spent to craft them. But Cabo Pulmo’s singletrack has been hand carved, picked, raked and swept by the local expat mountain-biking community over the last decade or so. There are only a couple of hundred people living in Cabo Pulmo full or part time, so we’re talking about a few people’s hobby here.

Everyone in Cabo Pulmo knows about and uses the trails, but there’s almost no record of them beyond local word of mouth. We came here because I heard rumors about the trail system from friends who had previously vacationed here. We asked Getse, a young, unassuming woman with huge, round eyes working at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, about the rumored trails upon our arrival. With a knowing smile, she furnished our group with a Xerox copy of the trail map, hand drawn and cartoonish.
Now here we are, our second day of running on this mysterious trail system, watching the sun climb above the sea and through a layer cake of clouds that fire off every color of the rainbow while a just-past-full moon sets over the mountains inland of us. As the morning brightens, Baja Sur’s stark landscape, a mixture of stumpy greenery, cactuses and brown grass that has long gone to seed—becomes bathed in pumpkin-colored light.

Matt takes photos as we run over hill and dale, the light and our muscle-y legs his muses. Alie and I talk to the heavens, asking if coffee could be dropped onto the hilltop for us.

“Could you drop a latte approximately 2.5 miles up the I-don’t-know-what-the-fu#k-this-trail’s-name-is trail?” I ask, with my hands cupped over my mouth to mimic a coffee drive-through.

Alie answers, “Sure, sure, coming right up. Or, ’er, down.”

Christina and Ashley are a bit quieter, introspective, taking in the scene with bright, glittery eyes. Agnes shoots video with her iPhone that she’ll later edit into a hilarious montage. And Vince, well, Vince mentions the lack of snakes every five minutes.

“You guys, you guys,” he says with a smile, “I’m not actually afraid of snakes. Well, just a little.”

We laugh; we watch the sun quietly; we run; we just stop and stare. We bond by today’s fiery start.

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