“That trail don’t go nowhere. Bridge is out.”
I wave at the weathered man leaning against his pickup truck, parked by the edge of Empire Lake in Coos Bay, Oregon, and cheerfully ignore him.
Sure enough, in another hundred yards through the ferns and blackberry bramble-lined trail, we reach the shallow water’s edge. Wes and I stare up at the rickety footbridge to nowhere that seems eerily suspended now, held up by precarious pilings there at the flooded backwaters where old cedar snags rise from the waters reminiscent of cypress in the Southeast.
So we stop. Take it in — just as a kingfisher call reverberates nearby, and just as a crayfish the size of my hand ambles toward our running shoes with its red claws held upwards, its antennae seeking, and eyes looking into the muck as if indeed we’ve entered some primordial other time here at the trail to nowhere.
Running trails with Wes stretches a mile in all directions. We take the side trails to viewpoints or “nowhere” places. We might bushwhack, reverse directions for a new perspective, circle around, stop and do pushups, or pause for bird song revery or a flower in bloom. We always stop at stream crossings.
One trail stands out like no other. Running along the ocean cliff edge of Cape Arago from Sunset Bay to Shore Acres to Simpson Reef and to the tip of Cape Arago itself comes about as close to Paradise for a runner as anything I’ve ever encountered.
If you try it, do take every side trail to one careening, dizzyingly beautiful viewpoint over the Pacific after another. Do stop at Simpson Reef where the deafening sounds of California sea lions barking sounds like the Olympic stadium roaring as the marathon winner enters the track.
Never rush this trail. Each “dead end” is a living opening of sky, seabird, and breaking wave upon the tilted cliff. At Arago’s tip looking out into the sun dazzle on whitecaps with the breeze rippling over salty skin, we see the spouts of gray whales and the arcing body of a leviathan that reminds us that the ocean as a watery medium has no edges, no defined trails or dead ends.
What would it be to live that way? To live as a bird in flight or a whale at sea? Or a sea lion cavorting and flippering underwater and then hauling up on land to bark, carouse, and then lie in total repose?
On that day, we dove into the icy Pacific–twice on a run, and enough to feel the bracing sea, our limbs freed of gravity and enough to feel that desire for what lies beyond the defined pathway.
Maybe that’s what it is to be human and taking the path less traveled? Let go of the designated route. Let go of the time. Stretch a mile in all directions. Pause for bird flight, sea lion chorus, and whale spout. Always listen to the ringing rattling resonance of kingfisher call upon the waters and follow the bird that leads away from the known. In those moments, we do know what it is to leave our bodies and enter a timelessness of being.