I’d been hearing for a while about the wild horses at Cottonwood but for all the times we’d been out there, I had yet to see them. I think that can partially be chalked up to the fact that when trail running, you’re pretty much looking at the trail unless you stop and stand still for a minute. Chancing a peek at the scenery while in motion almost guarantees a new addition to your trail running bruise and/or scar collection. Some people shake their heads at this, the mere mention or showing of the scars, scratches, or stories of falling scares them off. They ask, “What is it about that you like, why do you run out there on that stuff?” or they tell me, “You’re crazy!” No, really, I’d be crazy NOT to be out there. Out “there” on that “stuff” is where I choose to spend quality time and during this quality time I finally managed to spot some wild horses while out scouting some courses with friends. We saw a herd way up on a hillside and that experience totally made my day. I love getting outdoors and away from the city. Encounters with nature, wildlife, weather, it’s all so unpredictable! At times it can be a bit traumatic (say close calls with lightning or the buzz of a rattlesnake on the trail) or it can be thrilling (big horn sheep running by, coyotes yipping and calling all around you in the deep dark of a nighttime run). My second encounter with the wild horses was definitely the latter…breathtaking, enthralling, enchanting, surreal.
We’d just put on a trail race and the following morning a friend and I headed out on mountain bikes to clear the courses. As there were just the two of us, we split up with a divide and conquer plan. I am not a skilled mountain biker nor am I used to really being out on the trails much on my own. I’ve been quite fortunate, over the past few years of leading weekly group runs, to have acquired a broad selection of friends who are available to run with me at any given time so I’ve not yet really branched off into running trails solo. For me to be off on a mountain bike out on the trails by myself was quite invigorating in it’s own right. Generally there are a good amount of other bikers out, it’s not exactly a remote or unused area; however, on that day as I headed out I saw only a couple of Jeeps off-roading down on the hills below me.
Clearing courses, and marking them for that matter, is an awkward undertaking regardless of whether it be on foot or by bike. You have to carry along a bag to put the markers in and no matter what kind of bag you bring it’s guaranteed to be in the way. In fact, my friend that came out with me to clear the courses, a fellow Desert Dasher, is a very skilled mountain biker and on his course-clearing excursion that morning he passed many other bikers along the trail as he carried his bag along picking up markers. The bag he happened to bring was a purple, satchel type of thing and as he was passing some bikers one of them told him they’d never seen someone riding with a purse before….and that’s exactly what he looked like! Imagine a tall, very lanky, cool-looking mountain biker dude toting a purple purse. I still laugh thinking of him out there that day. He was quite the sight to behold as I rode along behind him down a trail, his purple “purse” flapping along. So, yes, it’s awkward and uncomfortable and not only do you have markers to collect but signs as well AND you have to fit them in with whatever else you’re carrying. It’s not a fun or easy process. And did I mention that I am not a skilled mountain biker?
Many groans, grunts, and four-letter, truck-driver-vocabulary-type words later, I’d finally found my comfort zone and had a routine down. Then just when I would get moving good down the trail or when I’d hit an uphill that I needed to try to pedal through, there’d be another marker I’d have to stop for. Dang it for good course marking!! And so it goes, riding, pulling markers, rolling a little, pulling a marker, pushing the bike up the hill to the next marker.. you can picture it. Eventually I was able to brush away my frustration with the awkwardness of the situation as the joy of being out alone and the beauty of the scenery overtook me. I was a happy girl, set on just enjoying the morning and the solitude. I hadn’t yet gone far since the first part of my course clearing began on an uphill switchback section, which for me meant I’m on foot pushing the bike… please refer to my previous mentioned lack of mountain biking skills.
I eventually made it to the top of the hill and was eager for some semi-downhill fun, knowing gravity would be on my side for a while — if nothing else. So I’ve got my groove on, I’m rolling down a beautiful, singletrack trail with snow-speckled Mt. Potosi looming in the not so far distance. I’ve gotten to a point where I can snag markers while I’m in motion. It’s pretty fun when you can do that and keep moving but a little tricky to manipulate a singletrack, rocky trail, steering with one hand while stuffing markers in a bag with the other. So I’m concentrating intently, focused on the trail ahead of me. I round a little bend in the trail and skid to a stop. Right in my path, there they are!!
A couple of wild beauties are right on the trail. I reach around for my camera, thinking that at any moment they’ll get spooked and run off. However, as I dig for my camera I am inevitably rattling my bags of markers and making every kind of noise one could possibly make while trying to be silent. Lucky for me, the horses didn’t get spooked. They just kept an eye on me and continued to eat. Two are on the trail ahead of me and two off to the side.
Then I hear one up on the hillside calling to the others. What an incredible sight, this gorgeous horse with a thick, coal black mane and tail standing up on the hill. He was just magnificent and seemed quite a bit more concerned about me than the others. He appeared to be watching over the rest of them and would call to them quite frequently.
Even more horses then came into view on the hillside behind him. Three more were with him, a total of eight horses all together, with one that was obviously still quite young. I took picture after picture after picture as they munched on shrubs and made their way around me, eventually even coming up and walking right around behind me on the trail, curious about me yet not seeming to mind that I was there.
I was mesmerized by them, it was magical. I felt like I could have followed them and gone off to live with them in the wild. It was such an overwhelming experience that it took me what seemed like forever to tear myself away. I was overjoyed, my heart filled with awe and eyes full of tears at the beauty of these creatures and the fact that they allowed me to have this moment with them.
For those that still don’t get why I trail run and ride, you never will and I’m pretty sure you’re not reading this anyhow. There’s just nothing like being a wild thing out where the wild things are.