Chiquita Ridge is not an oasis, per se. It's an old cattle trail overlooking two distinct valleys. From the nearest road, it's a quarter mile rise to the top. Those that have never made the hike up the trailhead from Antonio Parkway probably don't even know it's there. But there's a magic to Chiquita Ridge. Once you make that climb, it's as if something in the world becomes lighter.
I don't think it's the 360-degree views spreading as far as the eye can see, though they certainly help. Chiquita Ridge was my first run when Callie and I moved to our town back in 1990. I was struck by my luck, the ability to live in an area that balanced true wilderness and the amenities of suburbia (I hate that term; it's such a disparaging way of slamming the fact that it's a town where people find a safe, clean place to raise a family; with good restaurants, sidewalks that don't smell like urine, and seeing friends you've known for years at the grocery store). From our original condo to the hidden creek separating the town from the wild took just five minutes of running. From there, a spider's web network of trails leads to the ocean in one direction and the top of Mother Saddleback in another.
Back when we first moved to RSM, running Chiquita Ridge was a perpetually mindful act, because a little trespassing was always required. Even now, as surveyor's stakes pop up randomly on the scrub-covered slopes, I have a feeling some great force is going to swoop in and grade and shave the whole gorgeous place. So I try not to get too attached. But Chiquita is where I did that first run, trained for the Raid Gauloises, ran personal time trials on a regular basis to figure out whether the trail was faster going north or south (it was south), then basically served as my go-to run for as long as I can remember. No matter if I'm having the worst day in the world, the instant I reach the top of the ridge my cares fall away. I think more clearly. I solve writing problems. I see my relationships with greater clarity.
I can best describe the isolation and silence by saying that Chiquita Ridge is a place where you can fart and blow snot rockets and stop to take a leak without worrying about the embarrassment of some other runner catching you in the act.
For some reason — and now that I think it, the fear of impending development weighs on me, making me not want to get too close to such a wondrous place for fear of having to say goodbye — I haven't been up there in months. Though I know its therapeutic effects and gaze longingly upward from the road below, other things got in the way. It was easier to run the mining car trail in O'Neill, where Mike the homeless vet stands as gatekeeper, siting on his bench on the park all day getting stoned and pretending not to be as smart as I know he might be. Or I'd head over to Canada Vista for an out and back, just because there is parking and a clean bathroom at the start and finish.
But today I ran Chiquita Ridge. It was awesome, as always. Those ominous surveyor stakes gave me pause, and I was interested in noting that a homeowner in the gated community on the eastern slope has gone eminent domain, planting a vineyard on property that is clearly not his own. But I ignored all that, just like I ignored the young runner who interrupted my reverie. He was a gym guy, wearing a weight vest. He ran with toes supinated, and no visible knee lift, like a hockey player skating past.
The guy came up slowly from behind me, and it seemed like he took forever to pass. At first I was a little embarrassed that a kid with a weight vest was passing me, until I realized that my natural weight vest is at least double the artificial one around his shoulders. And anyway, I wasn't in a mood for racing. I just let him go, and once again got lost in the ribbon of dirt that keeps me sane and lets me enjoy the emotional and physical catharsis of inhaling peace and exhaling conflict.
The run lasted 45 minutes. Just enough. Not too much. But I drove away rejuvenated.
I guess Chiquita Ridge really is an oasis.