Love the Trail You’re On

I almost didn’t post this picture from my run yesterday. It’s been so incredibly hot and humid here this week. I was pouring sweat, and every freckle on my face seemed to scream, “Look at me!” Combine that with the fact that I miss my friends, am still recovering from back surgery, and in a bit of a funk. I just haven’t been in much of a selfie-posting mood.

As I was running, one of my all-time favorite songs came on Spotify – Rocky Mountain High. Within those first few well-known guitar chords, I was transported in my mind to the beautiful trails of Colorado, and I confess I started feeling sorry for myself. When I lived in Colorado many moons ago, I didn’t appreciate what I had in my own backyard. I was working crazy shifts as an airborne traffic reporter and later a radio talk show host, and spent my limited free time either sleeping or eating. I was in terrible shape, and if you’d said to me that one day I’d be running ultra marathons, I would’ve laughed. It wasn’t until years later, when I’d moved back to Louisiana, that I became interested in my own health and wellness.

I started running and cycling in my early 30s, and over the years, have gained a group of like-minded friends and a new-found appreciation for outdoor recreation in the South – so much so that I wrote a white paper to draw attention to this often overlooked region. Yet, I still find myself yearning to “climb cathedral mountains,” to breathe the mountain air, and the lower humidity. I try to make it back to the mountains as often as I can, and was fortunate enough to squeeze in a trip to Colorado this year, pre COVID-19, to do a bit of snowshoeing and trail running. I fantasize of one day being offered a dream job where they pay me to be in nature daily.

Winter Park, CO

Back to this week’s run…. I took a moment to sit under a tree to cool off and listen to John Denver. As I took in the shady breeze, I felt sad that I probably wouldn’t get back to the mountains this year. I grumbled to myself that I would be starting my 50K training plan during the dog days of summer. I started thinking of all of the things I was missing out on, and generally worked myself up to the point where I was getting on my own nerves.

I forced my mind to still. I inhaled and listened to birds and the sounds of the river nearby. That’s when it hit me. Just as I didn’t see the value in living within walking distance of countless trails 20 years ago, I was now so busy focusing on what I was missing out on that I wasn’t appreciating what was right in front of me. Louisiana is known as Sportsman’s Paradise, for heaven’s sake. It has a thriving group of outdoor recreation enthusiasts, driving a growing number of trail races, endurance sports, and other outdoor activities. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge, where I ran this week, is a remote oasis in the heart of town, making it easy to squeeze a ride, run or hike into a lunch break or after work. It’s just one of many gorgeous outdoor spaces in our state.

Sunset over Lake Caroline – Red River NWR
Bayou Chicot

Is it Colorado? No. Is it still beautiful in its own right? You bet.

I may not be running in the mountains this year, but how many people can say they’ve seen a gator while running through the swamp (I’ll save that story for another time), or been serenaded to sleep by cicadas while sleeping under the stars? True, I may not be living in Aspen any time soon. But while I’m saving for retirement, I can appreciate what I have. I may not be able to run with my group of friends until COVID eases up, but I can still get up and outside, and look forward to seeing them on the trails again soon. I can be an advocate for outdoor recreation, helping others learn about, and perhaps visit, Louisiana’s beautiful outdoor spaces.

Whether in nature or on the proverbial road of life, we have to play the hand we’re dealt. The path ahead may not always be aspen-lined. But, we can come to appreciate and maybe even improve our surroundings, and have a little fun along the way. To paraphrase Stephen Stills, if you can’t be on the trail you love, learn to love the trail you’re on.

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