I’ll get this out of the way: Arizona is my least favorite place to run. Which is unfortunate because my parents have a house there. Theoretically, any time I need a reprieve I could jet off on a direct flight to Phoenix, settle in to their quiet, stucco house in their quiet cul-de-sac, go for a healing run in the morning and sit on the deck at twilight sipping margaritas with fresh lime. It never seems to work out exactly that way though. Yes, I both run and drink margaritas every time I visit but rather than “healing,” each run is more like a contemplative review of my parents’ health, my own health and fitness level and “what I’m doing with my life.”

If you look at a map of the Phoenix suburb Surprise, it appears fairly easy to navigate. It’s a checkerboard-like grid of roads. But within each square is a convoluted ball of yarn of cul-de-sacs named after coniferous trees, desert plants, Hawaiian Islands and Anglo-Saxon surnames with the occasional “145th St.” thrown in for good measure. Sounds simple enough to navigate? Surprise! You’re in Surprise. Most street names repeat themselves in one or more quadrants. So you may think you’re on the right track on Ocotillo Lane in one checker box when your destination is really four squares over. Or, the nemesis of runners, walkers and drivers alike, the anticipated arrival to your destination on 145th St. when it’s actually on 145th Lane. Did I mention most streets within a checker box are curved, rippling across the square ending in the quintessentially tan, stucco, one-story home or, sometimes, a large cactus with a river of gray rocks masquerading as water? None of these complaints are real problems but when it’s a sunny 60 degrees in December and your body doesn’t know how to respond to dry heat and you’re staying with your parents and you can’t walk to any incorporated business other than Bingo at Riverboat which is not at all a riverboat but a white building with two gray “smokestacks” sitting in a “river” of asphalt, you freak out a little. I inevitably end up reflecting on the last time I visited Surprise, which was usually a year prior, and what, if anything, has changed.  Had I progressed in work or personal relationships? Was I any wiser or more athletic? How’s my parents’ health? What’s with my running that I can never seem to have a good run in Arizona? Were these cul-de-sacs metaphors for my choices? Haven’t I been here before? Am I looping forward or backward? Why am I out here alone? Where is that bright spot on the horizon? How much longer? Is this the right direction? Why is it taking so long to run such a short distance? Where is home? Last time I called my mom to get directions home, which was a couple cul-de-sacs away.

I convinced myself the last trip would be different. I created a playlist called “Breaking Badass” packed with dusty, desert, driving and running hits like America’s “A Horse with No Name,” J.J. Cale’s “Any Way the Wind Blows” and Alexander’s “Truth.” I pictured my dad and me cruising the highways of Surprise like Walter White and his sidekick Jesse from Breaking Bad. Instead of carting meth, we would pack our Ford Taurus with freshly picked citrus and drive off across the rust-colored country. But, surprise! You’re in Surprise and long stretches of roads die at either very long stoplights or a winding subdivision. In the end we did get the citrus. Not with Breaking Bad panache, but we got it.

Sometimes running is a pain in the butt. It’s a convoluted snarl that, even though you’ve done it a before, is a little clunky and confusing. Sometimes you have to just pause in the tangled mess of a suburb with parking lots meant to look like water, call your mom, and ask how to get home.


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