• By Jason Cathcart (he/him)
  • Art “Paths” by Roni Ragone (they/them)

Rio Mesa High is rooted in miles of farmland.
If you’re on the cross-country team there,
you run around these fields,
sometimes far enough to make it
to the neighborhoods beyond them.
It’s all very flat, so on the weekends,
you’ll all meet in Camarillo to train
on the steep grades of Spanish Hills
or one perfectly inclined road off Las Posas.
Of course, there’s no parking at that road,
so you’ll meet at the
community center
off Carmen Road
and then run to it
as your warm-up.
The run back is downhill
and makes for the perfect cool-off.
As for the runs the team does during the week,
those are all on the flat plains of Oxnard.

There are two ways to turn: toward Vineyard or toward Rose.

If you take Central toward Vineyard,
you turn at the shoe store
and take Vineyard all the way down,
turning around at the fire station
for a short run
and lapping around Rio Vista Middle
for a long one.
In the fall and spring,
the fields smell more like manure than berries,
so you’ll want to run Vineyard.
This avoids the crops somewhat,
leading you closer to the diesel truck gas station,
the juvenile detention center,
and the stone and gravel supply.

If you take Central toward Rose,
you jog past Rose and continue
out onto on Central. The shade
from the skyscraper tree line falls
on the road in the afternoon,
which is good for you on hot days.
For the first part of the run,
you can avoid near misses with cars
by dipping into the path by the lemon trees,
but don’t take any lemons, even off the
floor—they don’t belong to you.
Coach has an agreement
with the field workers
that we can run there
as long
as we don’t

If you turn around
at the first light after Rose,
it’s three miles.
If you continue out to Beardsley Road,
that’s about a five-mile round trip.
No one knows for sure how far it is
if you make it to the city limit
and cross into Camarillo, but it’s far.
Sure, Vince did it all the time,
but he never kept track—he just ran.

There’s a third option
that the whole team dreads:
the boxes,
the huge rectangular routes
that trace the fields.
For any of them,
you run down Rose,
cross through El Rio,
and then make your way
back down Vineyard to Central.
El Rio is where all the field workers live;
you can pass by Rio Plaza Elementary
on Simon Way to be short,
trek through the suburbs
on Walnut Drive for a medium day,
or you can run all the way out
to Ventura Boulevard
and follow the side of the 101
until you hit Vineyard,
which is eight miles
but feels like nine.

If it’s a short day,
or if it’s raining,
Coach might let you run around the track
instead of going off campus.
If the field workers happen to be
on the other side of the school’s fence,
they’ll always hand you a few strawberries, freshly picked.