Trails are like special neighbours.
Our neighbour’s name is Noel. He’s a 60 something ex-cab driver who is like a cross between a Duracell Bunny and the Irish rain. He doesn’t stop moving and is always there.
Noel’s always outside chopping firewood, and chucking a load of it over our wall; or cleaning the muck off his car, or our kids’ bikes, with his pressure hose; or fixing his gutters, (and ours), with a long ladder. He makes large robust planter boxes and pretty little fairy doors, both of which we have in our house in abundance. Half of his tools are in my shed and the other half are on call, anytime.
A few months ago, our alarm went off in the early hours. The bloody thing hasn’t worked for five years, and it was unplugged all that time, but it went off anyway. While I was on my knees under the stairs doing mixed martial arts with wires and motherboards, Noel was suddenly standing behind me in his jammies. He had fluffy Guinness slippers and a large ball-peen hammer. Sorted.
Last month I asked him if I could borrow a couple of tools as I was going to lift the grass and lay about 40 square meters of paving outside the back door. The next day he turned up with the tools - and his work boots and gloves. He was there every day until the job was done.
And what does Noel want in return for all of this reliable and kind presence? Nothing!
He took a bottle of Pinotage, passed over the wall, with a polite smile, not telling me he doesn’t drink wine. When I found out it’s beer he prefers, he received a couple of IPAs with gruff reluctance. He responds with irritation to queries about paying for materials.
Sometimes neighbourly helpfulness is actually neighbourly prying dressed up as helping. But not for Noel. He’s not interested in finding out juicy titbits.
You see, I’ve come to realise that Noel doesn’t do these things for us. He does them for him. It’s not that we’re somehow special, it’s that he is.
Noel is just a good oke. ‘n Goeie gehalte mens. A gem of a neighbour.
And you can’t have him. He’s ours and if we move he’ll have to come along.
But you don’t need Noel.
You have a neighbour a lot like him right on your doorstep. Always there, ready to help you fix and improve. Not wanting anything in return.
Trails are like that.
No matter how urban your environment you can find a dirt track to trot down. Regardless of how unfit your body, or sad your soul, you will be welcome.
Trails will help you to maintain yourself, in and out, so that you live a happier, more organised, disciplined and successful life. And they want nothing in return.
I know this truth.
My life has seen its share of cold, wet seasons when running trails has been firewood for my spirit. I’ve been made mucky by my own choices, and the behaviours of others, when splashing through mountain streams have washed me fair and clean. I’ve been uncontained and leaking when long, sweaty hours have helped me get perspective and reset the gutters to contain myself again. Many times I’ve started a run with a few planks of ideas and ended with solid planter boxes and pretty fairy doors. And sometimes I’ve been wailing, like a confused, over-amped alarm, and an unrelenting rollercoaster of ups and downs at speed, has hammered the noise out and some sense into me.
I know that trails are resourceful and generous. And they are always ready to share their tools with us.
But there is one difference between Noel and Trail running. Unlike Noel, trails don’t take the initiative to help you fix or improve. You have to go to them.
Get up, shoes on, head out, breathe, look, listen, think.
Is it cold and wet out there? That’s a reason to hit the trail, not an excuse to avoid it. Take an extra layer and a Buff.
Have you been mucked up by your own choices or the actions of others? Run through wet low hanging branches, splash through streams and sweat hard until you reach that hot soapy shower. Together these will revive your hope.
Do you feel tired, or broken, or in need of maintenance and care? Go to this neighbour called The Trail. Take the long ladder of a slow run, step by step. Walk if you must. Gently, persistently, make a positive start in the right direction.
Trails are very special neighbours. They are good quality features in our world – a reliable and kind presence. They do not pry or interfere. They want no payment – there is no trade.
Do your life a favour: Make friends with this neighbour. Receive its kindness. Embrace its toughness. Do it often and regularly. It will maintain your body, revive your spirit and remind you that, while you are temporary, you are fully alive and can get past your challenges to succeed at the things that matter most.