As we pulled into the Schultz Tank parking lot for a Saturday morning NATRA run, we saw Sam pacing about, looking agitated.

When I asked what was up, he let on that he’d just spent several minutes driving up and down Highway 180 and the lower reaches of both Schultz Pass and Mount Elden Lookout Road looking for the YMCA so he could ride with us up to the trailhead. He’d finally thrown in the towel and driven himself up the hill.

And there it was: Sam is new to town and hasn't mastered the local lingo longer-term denizens take for granted. The description of the run stated we should meet at “the Y” to carpool. For the uninitiated, “the Y” refers to the popular parking area at the junction of Mount Elden Lookout Road and Schultz Pass.

With a sly smile, I let him know the “Y” he was thinking of is on Turquoise Drive, in town.

But wait; there’s more! Where are the “Seven Sisters,” and are there really seven? What are the “Oldham Steps” and why do they get steeper every year?

Sam doesn't yet know about the “UFO Landing Site” somewhere up Long Canyon, and a nearby opportunity for a daring dip into a dark pool of chilly water come winter.

He'll eventually be introduced to another traditional version of the "Polar Plunge” besides the one held at Lake Mary on New Year's Day, this one taking place at “the Crack” about 3.5 miles up Wet Beaver Creek.

Of course, all these appellations refer to specific places. Others are virtually meaningless in trail-speak hereabouts, such as "the steep part,” “the rocky section” or “the large rock by the pine tree,” but these can be a good test of naiveté when giving directions to someone.

Even longtime residents can be comically misdirected by some location lingo they don't understand. I've lived and played in Flagstaff for 30 years but had never met anyone at “the Mailboxes” on Lake Mary Road. So when my running buddies, Sara and Alain, wanted to meet there for a run, I asked for a specific location.

After lots of confusing analog descriptions, I was finally supplied with latitude and longitude to six decimal places.

GPS coordinates are a wonderful tool, especially when they actually refer to a place you're aiming for. Unfortunately, these indifferent digits directed me to a spot over 20 miles southeast of the intended meeting point — plausibly adjacent to the highway, but in the middle of nowhere and sans cell coverage.

Beginning at the appointed time, I spent several minutes tearing up and down Lake Mary Road south of Mormon Lake trying to find my friends, while they thought I skipped out without a word. Missing the run, I took my frustration out somewhat later with a fast run up Woody Mountain, which, as far as I know, has no location lingo associated with it. Yet.

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A regular with the Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association since its inception, Bruce Higgins became "serious" about running in his late 30s while training for other adventures, but came to love it for its own sake (or maybe for the endorphin rush).

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Send it to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com.


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