As winter gives way to spring in the Reserve, and the last cloud-horsetails of Pacific storm systems brush across San Diego, I remember the days when I ran the Extension trails near my house in the rain. Far from being “bad” weather days in the Reserve, these were times when only I and very few others ventured onto the trails for the baptism of dusty leaves, powdery trails, and our own nature-thirsty souls. It was before the rangers’ current approach of closing the Reserve during any rainstorm as way to protect the trails from our lugged boots and waffle-soled walking shoes. I can understand. New rules are sometimes needed to preserve the preserves. 

But I can remember. 

I remember … leaving the chain of lights of homecoming traffic on Del Mar Heights Road as I run into the darkness of streets beyond. The rain is just beginning, and the sky is bruised with clouds. It had not been a good week at work. A run might help. The trailhead at the end of Mar Scenic Drive awaits me. 

I move across a large, flattened mesa, once a table of reddish sandstone that capped the more yellow formations beneath Del Mar Heights and Del Mar Terrace. Now hidden by streets and trees and grass, it breaks along one edge into a series of canyons and cliffs that neighborhood activists saved from the bulldozers 50 years ago when a final dedication sealed the victory. 

The canyons smell sweet with wet sage. I draw closer to the trailhead past one last quiet row of houses, most still dark within as they wait for their owners to return from elsewhere: an office, a stop at daycare, errands run, work accomplished. At one kitchen window I see Aileen, Lady Madonna in an illuminated frame, steam from what may be a spaghetti-water pot wreathing her with warmth. Our sons are good friends. They go to the same middle school. I wave but she doesn’t see me. 

My shoes make slapping sounds in gathering puddles.

The road ends and I duck under an overhanging toyon branch to run down to the path called Daughters of the American Revolution Trail. No noises follow but for the hissing of rain bouncing leaf to leaf in the chaparral, and my labored breathing. I run by instinct. I can see little in front of my feet now. 

The rain is now pacing itself like a thoroughbred on the backstretch, conserving energy for a pounding finish. I run on, determined to complete my favorite loop in the drip and gathering gloom, trusting a memory of loose rocks and bare roots, risking a sprained ankle or worse. 

Shoulders wet. Cap-brim shields eyeglasses from raindrops, but the rain is soaking through the crown — a cold shower wetting hair, bringing a shiver. 

 Ah, there it is: the nub of iron rebar rising three inches from the center of the trail, last vestige of a timber step once held in place by this spike. 

“You will only trip me one time, and when you did, I tripped flat out, my hands breaking the fall into the trail’s sand. ¡No mas!” I compliment my instincts, pat my back, revel in a false hubris of undiminished coordination. 

Still, it’s not only about a run, a dance, a sharpened eye, and I will not stop and seek shelter under the umbrellas of pines. 

There’s something that I must get past, shake off, fly past, but it won’t happen until I’m wet, and tired, and maybe even miserable. And I know, I know, this canyon will never fail me. 

Up a hill. Past a sandstone sphinx carved by centuries of rain, paw ridges melting into the high hill above Peñasquitos Lagoon. Then downhill, flying into a harder and harder curtain of rain, past what may be the biggest tree in the Reserve. Legs loose, breathing coming easier. 

Finally, I arrive. The far point. 

As I come to a halt, a train — centipede with lighted windows along each flank — moves across elevated tracks above tidewater dark as a mountain lion’s eye. Only inches long in the distance, its windows still reveal riders in each tiny frame. I watch it disappear northward, runner on the rails, ever bound but oddly free, a red light on the last car fading and gone. 

I turn to take the trail home, running lighter, body warming, and stronger than when I started, anxious to wreath my own family in the steady breath of a dinner shared. 

When you find your far point, everything back from there is near again.