Because, because, because.
Because if the island is a story, and the island has high points and low points and winding roads and jagged moments and adventurous characters, you, too, would save the highest, most impressive peak until RIGHT before the very end. You would.
You absolutely would.
We save the volcano for last, because there are so many other trails to explore and each is more wonderful than the one before.
Mountain-lovers, trail-runners, for goodness sake, go. Go to Tenerife! Such a random choice. Like the book by an unknown author, plucked from an airport bookstore that leaves you laughing and weeping at 33,000 feet.
Don’t go to Tenerife’s holiday resorts. If you go to the resorts you will simply lie beyond the lick of the sparkling sea, or more likely some ways back from the sparkling sea, and you will compare your slab of flesh to slabs of other flesh also lying beside or some ways back from the sparkling sea, and you will compare not only your legs and midriff, but your meal plan and your balcony and your view or your lack thereof and you will be unsatisfied. You will.
Go North — that’s what we do. Away from the volcano, Teide, although we can see her from every vantage point, her snubbed snout, white-tipped in the sunshine. At 3,718 m high, Tiede is the highest mountain in Spain and the highest peak of all the Atlantic islands. An active volcano, Tiede last boiled over in 1909.
Tiede, surely, has been and always will be the island’s most exciting moment followed by a lava-laden denouement. To be saved for last.
Instead we drive up the coast watching the land grow greener and wilder. We stay in lovely San Cristóbal de La Laguna because — well, because! So quaint and charming, and nestled like a tabby cat in a nook of the Anaga mountains. Each day we can run and hike something harder and more lovely than the day before.
The best? Oh, the best is the loop from Afur over the mountains to Taganana, along the ragged coast and back up the winding barranco to Afur, a chorus of frogs clearing their throats as we pass through.
No, no, no. The best is the loop from Punta del Hidalgo up to Cruz del Carmen, then back along the scarred knuckles of rock beyond Chinamada, the wind blowing across the sea from Africa so forcefully it knocks our legs together as we run. We hold hands and crouch low to keep from being swept from the cliffs. That night, we’ll scratch sand from our scalps and from the whorls of our ears that began its day in the Atlas Mountains.
Oh, we couldn’t possibly choose the best. And because.
We’re saving Tiede for last.
Let me tell you — I write nothing, or almost nothing on this vacation. The project sleeps
(like a dormant volcano)
But I plot and plan and ponder, sometimes aloud. Just to pass the miles.
The husband, always the faithful listener, endures my fretting about showing and telling and third person limited point-of-view, and says helpful things like
Are you drinking your water?
Look at that cove/cactus/spiderweb/falcon/flower!
Dandelions — or their distant cousins — shoulder-high and bunched in posies atop thick, nodding stems. Yuccas the size of our rented Fiat 500, speared by stamens tall as streetlights. Clumps of pale cacti, each limb straining towards the sun with six beaded seams running the length of each arm as if upholstered.
Or the husband says that the book he is reading is SO GOOD. I should read it and that doing so will help me with mine. It absolutely will.
Tiede watches all of this, amused.
Those runners who write, who say they solve all their writerly problems while they run. That while running, they are at their most present and creative. That ideas come to their rescue like aid stations. That the rhythm of their legs becomes the beat of their sentences.
These days, without a doubt, I am running the way I’m writing, which is pigheadedly. With steady desperation. Denying the pain, yet still managing to complain about it (tediously) to anyone who’ll listen.
I’m fitting my writing it into spare and unwashed moments the way the dedicated runner fits in a run before dawn, before work, before dinner, before sleep. Before all those things that keep you from doing the thing that you tell yourself you absolutely MUST be doing and then beat yourself up about when you don’t. I am writing the way I am running, which is to say: with longing. Without grace.
In most of the photos taken by my husband, I look like Shrek’s grandmother on a seaside vacation, elbows out, hunched and thundering after the thief who snatched her purse.
Why oh why?
Because, because, because—
Because I want this badly enough that I’ve lost all sense of form and function, bouncing my fears off the husband when I have breath enough in my lungs. Who merely says:
I’m proud of you.
You said the same thing last time.
And he has enthusiastic suggestions. Ideas so outlandish they serve to ricochet my own thoughts onto a hitherto unseen path that might actually help me get where I need to go. He says:
Can you work the Pinkertons in at all? I think the Pinkertons should be in there. The Pinkertons were everywhere.
Could she meet Mahatma Gandhi, maybe? In India?
So does she have some kind of superpower?
What about getting kidnapped by Nazis? Everyone loves books about Nazis.
(How much further to Punta del Hidalgo?)
Next, trail-lovers, go West.
Because that’s where we go. To the ancient port of Garachico: once upon a time, the richest trading stop between Europe and the Americas until lava lapped it up in 1705, leaving long, black talons that claw deep into that same sparkling sea. We love it, and we love the nearby mountains where we run and climb and descend on our creaking knees. The best? Oh, the best is our loop of the smaller volcano of El Chinyero, which was an unexpected and welcome subplot. Like that part of the story that is very exciting, but turns out not to be quite as exciting as the main volcano towards the end.
No, wait, the best is—
All this vacation trail-running and adventuring — I’m not sure why we’re doing it other than: we can. And even if it’s not helping me write, it’s a pounding reminder that to keep going is to get closer. That if it was easy, everyone would be doing it
Because, because, because.
Go inland at the end, because that’s what we do. We spend our last three days on the hem of the volcano in Tiede National Park. We run sun-soaked forests that smell like back-to-school, blanketed with ash and pine needles. We slog up lesser peaks laced with red tendrils of rubble that crumble under our sneakers. On our very last day, we drive to the bottom of the volcano
the highest peak in Spain!
planning to leave the car at the base of the teleferico, to run around Tiede’s base, then up, up, up its black and blistered flank, ogle the crater at the top, and take the cable car back down at dusk.
It is almost an afterthought to check that the cable car is running.
It is not.
Too windy. Not safe. Come back tomorrow.
It’s our last day, and now there are not enough hours of light to make it up and back down. In this particular story, we are out of tomorrows.
My book could do this, couldn’t it? Be leading up to that one, sure, big, exciting thing, that then doesn’t happen. The thing that was there in the distance, always, so that you long for it, you can’t help it. You come to expect it, and then it’s whisked away. So then the big thing becomes not that big thing, but the longing for it, the thing that was never meant to be. The book could do that, couldn’t it?
The husband (the best) says calmly: you’ll get there.
But I’m not even halfway, am I? Not even a third. A quarter? I don’t even know how far I still have to go to get to where I’m going. I don’t even know if I’m lost.
Ah, he says. But you’re doing it. Now, stop: look at the view.
Look at the view.
Shout-out to Paddy Dillon’s very thorough and occasionally infuriating Walking on Tenerife, which was short on superlatives (Paddy, c’mon, an adjective or two to warn us these hikes were going to be THIS awesome) and occasionally a tad short on mileage/elevation estimates. Ahem. But we relied on this HEAVILY to create the loops we did and were very grateful.