“What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote.” Edward Abbey
I always think I want to come back here. Why do we think we want to revisit places or people that should just be peacefully left in the past? I do love the colorful sunsets painted above surprisingly green desert horizons. I do love the miles of fun, rocky trails that are so easily accessible in the middle of miles of concrete. Running these trails, bouncing around the rocks, feels playful. I like the climbs, which are short, steep and often like staircases taking me up and over the desert “mountains.” Of course, I love, love, love the sunshine and the warm December days when I can scamper, sweaty and shirtless, around the cactus. Yesterday, in a sadly amateur move, I stopped for a – ahem – nature break too close to one of the jumping chollas and stepped back onto to the trail with a few of those obnoxious clusters of spines stuck in my shoes. Then, in an even more neophyte act, I sat down on the side of the trail to remove some of the tiny prickers that had actually gone through the sole of my shoe, resulting, obviously, in more of the invisible prickers sticking my bum.
The rest of my run was fun and technical and I forgot about the cactus. Back at the car though, my mood plummeted as I completed my post-run, gravelly, pseudo-yoga routine and baby wipe ritual. Time here is an exaggerated microcosm of my usual mental roller coaster. The desert dirt sidetracks my attention away from my anxiety even more than usual thanks to the concentration needed to navigate tricky footing. But when finished I feel more pronounced despondency about real life. City life, especially the immense urban sprawl of an area like Phoenix, amplifies my anxiety. Each time I am back it takes about forty-eight hours for the weight I left behind here to threaten a reappearance. I cried before leaving on my run this afternoon because I couldn’t find a specific sock. I am getting overly frustrated trying to give Paul directions and apologizing for the minimum of thirty minutes it takes to drive anywhere. I miss walking. I am overwhelmed by all the choices on every corner: an unrelenting array of food and drinks and marketing. I am disheartened by the entitlement and, as Paul noted, bravado, that saturates the air.
Phoenix is that ex whom you have fond memories of, maybe even think could work out one day, but then every time you see him you are reminded why you broke up. It is that catchy refrain that gets stuck in your head, that you wish you could forget, that you hate to like, that you can’t stand how you know all the words to. The one from the cheesy boy band song that you know is total garbage and actually steals real music from your soul. It’s the handful of jalapeno kettle chips and Diet Coke you think you want back at the car after a hot run but that leave a greasy film on your lips and mouth followed by familiar belly woes.
“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” — Mo Williams
This week, I had a few requisite visits with special trails (National Trail at South Mountain is one of my all time favorites anywhere and brings giant smiles!) and lifers that make the trip valuable, and even had a couple of fun surprise run-ins with people I hadn’t seen in forever. A particularly hospitable friend let us take over her living room for a couple nights, as a reprieve from van life and the unavoidable Walmart lots we seem to have to fall back on in large cities. But by the second night Netflix was already a bore, I didn’t even bother to take advantage of the clean shower, it was confusing not to have all my stuff right there at arm’s reach and I looked forward to our thin, but plush, van mattress with my wonderfully puffy comforter. And, I was dying for a road trip again.
One morning, at the awesomely stocked Whole Foods near where I used to work, I tried to explain to Paul how I felt back in Phoenix. It was a rough morning; I had a little meltdown, something that hasn’t happened for a long time. Sitting at the booth with all of the Scottsdale-ians sitting around us, I couldn’t stop crying. I think I cried for the hazy memories of my thirteen years there which often feel like a whole different life I’ve been reincarnated from, for some of the best friendships I’ve ever made, for the couple years of depression I experienced there, and gratefully, for the person I am now. We decided that reentering the Big City every now and then is a good and useful exercise. It illuminates the drastic shifts in our demeanor and mindset from when we can easily settle in to more basic settings, with less “modern” stimuli. It confirms that personally, for us (and everyone is different!) and for now at least, we need less for our mental health. Less driving, less choices, less stuff, less talking! Oh, and for our physical health, less damn baked goods. Soon to be explored…
*Phoenician friends – please take no offense… The city is not truly garbage, it is just not nourishing to my personal spirit.
Happy trails and tales,