Running to the Sound of Freedom

Few things make running on the trails of the old Fort Ord more complete. For the most part the trails are close to perfect: miles and miles of well maintained, single track, empty paths available for one to explore. Not to mention, the weather in Monterey is nearly perfect most of the year with daily highs averaging in the 60s and lows in the 50s with a mix of sun, a cool ocean breeze, and patchy fog rolling in from the Pacific. Today was no exception: bright sunny, deep blue skies, the light wind coming off the sea, and a high of about 65. The only difference today: roaring overheard were a pair of F-22 Raptors in circling in racetrack patterns for a airshow down the road in Salinas. With their thundering announcement of their superiority to all creatures of the sky, today’s run quite simply was running to the sound of freedom.

With this environment I headed out on the trails. Today’s run: a simple out and back to explore an abandoned track I’d seen while looking at Google Maps. Making a quick mental note of approximately where the track was, and with my faithful running partner, Kit, an overly protective German Shepherd by my side, we set off in search of another piece of history.

The run out was easy as we passed over somewhat familiar terrain that we’ve traversed dozens of times since moving back to Monterey four months ago. Shortly after the first mile, we broke off the main trail and headed north, passing by old broken down shelters once used for training Soldiers here. After crossing a road, we jumped onto another trail which initially steered west, before wrapping around back to the northeast. Finally passing over one more road and passing the two mile mark, we passed onto the field holding our target: the scrubby remains of a dirt track. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you’d hardly see it as a track. It’s more like an opening amongst the trees and shrubs with a faint clear trail running an ellipse around the land. Fortunately, the track is marked by a vivid sign strung high above it between two poles with the words emblazoned upon it, “Soldiers Memorial Field”.

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Soldiers Memorial Field

At the base of the sign and next to the track stood a bench about 7 feet long, so I placed my pack and Kit’s leash on it and we took a lap making sure to measure this aged corridor with the aid of my Garmin watch. Sure enough on the first lap the trail measured just over a quarter mile. We did it again: and again it came up this just at .24mi. So just to be sure, we ran one more lap, and it hit the mark of .25mi.

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The open track

I was sold– it was a legitimate quarter mile track. Finishing our brief track workout, we smiled and Kit made her sense of accomplishment known laying down in the shade of a bush while I packed up our things  Feeling our mission complete, we now headed back home.

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Done the track workout

One thing about Kit, she does have a keen sense of direction. She led most of the way, finding the narrow and often indistinguishable trails we’d come up on. Never missing a beat, she would trot along at my side or just in front of me. Being that these trails are so isolated, it’s easy for me to let her run off leash and chase after any small animals (and occasionally some larger ones) that dare to cross our way.

We clocked in a little over 5 miles on this beautiful day. Feeling a sense of accomplishment I opted to reward myself. The reward meant dipping into my beer supply and relaxing appropriately on my back porch. This time I chose one of the great strong beers of Germany, the Paulaner Salvator, one I first had back in Bavaria nearly 20 years ago.  Not a traditional hefe or pils, the Salvator is a doppleback: dark, strong, and filling. Coming it at 7.9% abv, it also packs quite the punch for a post-run beer. On a warm day after a good run, it definitely hit the spot.

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The reward

While I drank I also did a quick check of the landmark we’d just explored. Turns out the story behind Soldiers Memorial Field is a bit more complex that at first glance. While I had assumed it was a bygone relic of Ft. Ord, the track actually came about as an act of civil disobedience by a group called Veterans Wild Fort Ord in 2012, seeking to build a usable memorial for the public honoring the thousands of Soldiers (one of which was my dad) who trained here in the post’s 70 year history. Gordon Smith who built the sign that hangs over the field wanted something to encourage public use of the track, to honor Fort Ord’s rank-and-file soldiers and to inspire a larger land-use conversation. This came at a time when the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the field and much of the old Fort Ord lands as off-limits areas, claiming that much of the area was still an explosives cleanup site.  Truth be told, I remember running in this same area when I lived here in 2006-7, and even then I could have told you it wasn’t anything more than old training area and not ranges. Whatever the case, Gordon Smith and his group along with others like the group Keep Fort Ord Wild stood their ground and the track, the sign, and the area around are all available for folks like me and my dog to enjoy. Gordon Smith, prost to you and all the other veterans who helped make this run a reality!

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