Mustard Road: The Race
Whiting Ranch can be divided into two sections, the West and the East. The East is closest to my home and — except for trail bikers who whiz like locusts down the Cactus Trail and the Serrano Cow Trail — is mostly deserted. The real traffic bulges the trails of the west side, particularly the Borrego Trail which wends its way through a marsh and live oak groves and the Mustard Road. The West Mustard Road is deserted: on a given hike to the Vista Point overlooking Red Rock Canyon you might lucky to see three other travelers. The East Mustard Road rises from the end of the Borrego Trail and slithers through the chaparral until it collides with three other wilderness avenues at a spot called Four Corners.
Throngs of bikers and walkers choke the East Mustard Road on Wednesday afternoons. The bikes come singly or in pairs or triplets or, sometimes, squadrons. I listen for the whirr of spokes behind me and try to guess which way to jump when they get closer. Walkers give themselves away by the stomp of their feet. The other day I was grimly climbing the dirt track when I heard a woman’s voice behind me. The ascent squeezed the breath out of me, so I didn’t look back. In a few seconds, a blonde woman and her hyperventilating ginger daughter came briskly walking to my right. The woman — who I surmised to be the mother — was delivering a lecture on personal fitness.
The hammering in my temples from my heart surges prevented me by listening in. They pressed past me with no attempt on my part to equal or better their speed. A few minutes later a third, stouter member of the party pounded past in her black spandex. I kept plodding along, feeling a twinge of guilt about my slowness.
“Wait,” I thought. “You have a heart condition. A narrowing of the coronary artery. You are going as fast as you can without giving yourself a heart attack. You are doing fine.
“How well would they do if they were in your place? To them, walking this trail is a race to see how fast they can get to the top. For you, getting to the top at all is a triumph. What if there was no race for them, no number on a timer that they can strive to beat? Would they keep going?
I arrived at Four Corners maybe ten minutes after the last of the three. They stood around the bulletin board talking and drinking from their green and pink neoprene bottles. I sat down on the bench, drank some water, ate some glucose tablets and then I was good to go. I left them behind me, still sweating and recovering their strength.
On the way down, I waded through what must have been a youth group on bikes. Then I saw a man riding up the hill directly behind his 8 or 9 year old daughter. He kept telling her to keep her wheel straight and keep going going going.
Poor thing. He’s already pressing her to win the race.