Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Night Run


                After I turned my headlamp off, I saw the true beauty of the winter night reflected across all the snow covered trees. The moon was about half full providing just enough light for me to see down the trail that I had been running on for about the past fifteen minutes. Somewhere in the moonlight my dog Wild was running through the newly fallen snow, where exactly he was I could not tell as the bell he was wearing was now just out of earshot. I wanted to stop to take it all in but this was still a run.

                I should have run earlier in the day. I would have except my daughter was home with a fever for the second day in a row. The fever was going down now without medication as I took her temperature just before I left, leaving her at home along with my wife and son. Thankfully my parents had come over to babysit her so I could go to work but now it was 8:30 at night and I finally could get out for my daily run. Wild needed to run as well, and since the salt on the roads are awful for his feet I knew that we needed to hit some trails so it was a short drive over to Hedgehog Mountain to run along trails that I knew really well.

                The run started with my headlamp on and Wild immediately off the leash. I was glad to see some tracks in the snow from someone earlier in the day. This made it easier to follow the trail which was still a little challenging to follow despite my familiarity with these trails. I had my watch running but never looked at the pace, staying focused on the trail lit up in front of me and listening for Wild’s bell.

                Occasionally Wild popped out onto the trail ahead of me as I could only see his eyes being reflected by my light. His eyes shone better than any reflective gear I had ever seen, and I could only see his eyes for a moment before they turned away as he charged ahead.

                We crossed a stream, he getting a small drink and me slowing to a walk not wanting to slip on the crooked bridge like I had a week before leaving my shin with a couple scrapes and some swelling. We climbed a small hill and I had to call to him to change his direction at the top. I was so pleased with his enthusiasm to follow my direction and I felt my pace increase as I followed my light.

                Another turn with Wild following my lead and I decided to tilt my light up which revealed much more of the forest’s beauty in the night.  I grew less concerned with Wild’s loyalty and focused more on my run crunching through the snow. I had dug out an old pair of waterproof light hiker shoes that I hadn’t used in years but glad they were doing the job of keeping my feet dry in the cold night.

                We circled back toward the bridge and as I spotted Wild’s brightly reflected eyes, I wondered what his view of me was like coming toward him with my headlamp glaring. I walked once again across the bridge seeing his eyes waiting for me up the hill.

                Now on an old road that was really more trail now than a road, I checked my pace on my watch which indicated I was moving at under an eight minute mile pace. I knew I hadn’t been consistently doing that but it gave me satisfaction knowing that I was indeed really running and not just plodding through the night’s stillness.

                Moments later was when I turned my light off with the moon high overhead just at my back. I was amazed at how well I could indeed see and continued to move swiftly through the snow. I made my way to one of the summit trails but was forced to turn the light back on to be sure I was on the trail and quickly found some of the tracks left by some other adventurer earlier in the day.

                At the ledge just off the summit, I turned the light off again, looking westward knowing many miles away Mt. Washington lay hidden in the darkness. There were some lights of houses below but I took very little notice and strode up to the summit, looking forward to more running.

                I grew a little wary coming down the steeper trail not being able to see any slight obstacles directly underfoot but then as Wild came cruising by me I realized that he had been running the whole time with no light to guide his path. Oh, how I was jealous of his abilities.

                The path forced me to turn on the light once again, as I grew a little worried that I had no means to communicate with the rest of the world if I should come across an unforeseen emergencies. I was blessed however, that snow did begin to fall again and my light made me more aware of the beautiful white crystals blowing in front of my vision.

                Back to the old road and now without a light, I picked up the pace to the next intersection. Wild was somewhere behind me and as I called to him, I did turn on my light for him to find me. A quick check of my watch revealed we had traveled just over three miles in thirty two minutes. Not a pace to get me into the Boston Marathon, but this solitude in the night was far greater than getting elbowed and packed in among twenty thousand other free spirits.

                Wild stayed just ahead of me on our final dash to the car, and although I wanted to stay out for more, I knew that my soul was satisfied for the evening. Wild leaped into the car being rewarded with some treats. Back at home a few minutes later he looked at me as if he wanted to do more, or maybe he just really wanted more treats. After a quick check on my sleeping daughter I came back to the kitchen to find Wild laying down, now truly done for the night. I too, would soon be lying down to slumber as the rest of my family, happily with visions in my mind of a forest covered in crystals somehow aware that it’s beauty was a secret that only those willing to turn off the light and  away from the rest of mankind would ever be aware of.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Redemption Race


                “Can I get you anything,” the race director Valerie Abradi asked me as I came into the finish area of the 50 K Big Brad Ultra (BBU).

                “Yes, a shrink,” I responded as I had just dropped out of the 50K race with only about eight miles left to go. I couldn’t really figure out why I wanted to drop, why I didn’t want to run another foot, let alone eight miles, and even though I was having a really good day, ahead of my planned pace, I just wanted to take off my shoes and go home.

                Now less than two weeks later was my chance at redemption. Just like the Red Sox had the chance to redeem themselves from the previous season, I had the chance to redeem myself from a DNF. Coincidentally, the Sox victory parade was scheduled to take place the same morning as the race. I was fortunate enough to get a spot in the Stone Cat Trail Marathon in Ipswich, Massachusetts through their lottery and I was determined not to let this opportunity to escape. I had been unsure during the BBU that I even wanted to do this race, hell I wasn’t even sure that I ever wanted to run again. But in talking with my wife Mo, she got me determined to go out and do my best at the Stone Cat. I began to look at the BBU as a training run, I ran mostly with my dog and for two weeks I never wore a watch on any of my runs. It seemed to be working as I was enjoying running again and was really looking forward to redeeming myself.

                One other thing I did, or rather did not do, was to live a little like a normal person in the days leading up to the race. I didn’t obsess about details of a healthy runner’s life by totally carbing up, drinking lots of water, stretching a lot or even getting lots of sleep. There was a good reason for this lifestyle as the Red Sox were making their final push for their third World Series Championship in my lifetime and I was passionately tuned in. Oh yah, I did treat myself to fried chicken and beer after my DNF at the BBU, just like that pitching staff of 2011, which was now lights out.

                I spent a very busy Friday before the race getting the house ready for a visit from my mother and sister in law, a day after going out in the rain with the family for Halloween trick or treating, and all the time it took getting last minute items for their costumes. Like I said I was living a very normal life. So when my wife arrived home with her mom and sister from the airport, I spent less time with them than the time Clay Bucholz spends between pitches when I took off to spend the night at a hotel close to the race. Now it was time to wind down and I was treated to a glorious sunset coming into Portland.

                I got really lucky finding my hotel as I had just decided to pull off Route 1 in Danvers, MA at a restaurant which just happened to be right in front of my hotel. I checked in and then knocked on the door across the hall where Valerie and Rick were staying. Valerie accompanied me for dinner as Rick tried to get some rest as he too was running the marathon the next morning. We met up with Sean Case, who was to run the fifty mile race, at the restaurant and I had an utterly fantastic pasta dish, and really want to come back and do the race next year just to come back and try something different on the menu.

                Back at the hotel, I enjoyed watching a couple movies while trying to get to sleep. I was glad for the wakeup call at 4:15 as I hadn’t set the alarm clock correctly and sure I would have slept well past starting time. Well at least I could have gone to the World Series parade not so far away. My wife, brother and I did go to the 2004 Parade, which was the greatest sporting event I have ever been too, even though it obviously was not even a game.

                The breakfast buffet room was full of runners as I made a waffle and topped it with some honey. A little coffee to wash it all down and I was good. A cup of tea added some more caffeine to my tired system as I drove north on Route 1 in the dark. No problem finding my way but I began to wonder why runners were wearing headlamps walking from the parking lot to the school starting area. I thought they were all just trying to be safe while on the side of the road and didn’t think much about the 6:30 AM start time.

                After I got my race number and shirt I heard someone call out, “Hey, L.L. Bean.” I immediately recognized a guy who had run the Sugarloaf Marathon with me two years ago and was a customer of mine at the store. This Sean was from Massachusetts would be running the marathon as well and was still feeling pretty elated about his 3:14 performance at this year’s Sugarloaf Marathon which more than qualified him for Boston as he was a little over fifty.

                My usual pre-race nerves were nonexistent as I met up with fellow Trail Monster runners. As far as I could tell Danielle Triffit was relaxed despite facing her first fifty mile race, even though her husband and crew chief extraordinaire Ryan said she was extremely nervous. George and Ann Alexion were all smiles getting ready for their marathon. Bob Porier seemed dialed in for the marathon, Rick and Sean were also there getting ready to go with us as we waited inside the school gym.

                Around this time, Monsters noticed that I didn’t have a headlamp on. I stated that I didn’t bring one as I didn’t plan ahead. Ryan offered me one, but I politely declined figuring I would only need one for half an hour or so and could just mooch light off other runners and force me to take it a little slow at the start and not burn myself out.

                I hung out with Rick near the starting area outside while the fifty milers took off a half hour before our race. Bob came up to me with an extra headlamp which I couldn’t turn down. I put it on and it felt a little loose and didn’t seem to be putting out much light but I kept it on and soon enough our race began. I had been feeling warm enough even though it was chilly and I was wearing only a shirt and shorts but actually began to feel more chilled as I started the first of two laps around the athletic fields before we were to hit the trail. The headlamp still didn’t seem to do much for me and so I handed it off to one of the Monster crew members heading into my second lap.

                I stayed tight to other runners as we went around the school on the road and then finally onto the trail. I could see well enough by staying behind other runners and was thankful there weren’t nearly as many rocks and roots as I was used to running over and around back home. My pace felt a little slow, but I didn’t check my watch wanting to keep my footing, and would have to wait for other runners to pass before I could move forward using someone else’s light.

                Slowly but surely the sun began to rise, just like it always does and I began to run on my own while wondering when other runners were going to turn off their lights. I found the course to be well marked and kept a comfortable pace not having researched the course much ahead of time. Valerie had described the course as “Bradbury Lite” and I was enjoying not having steep climbs or hairpin turns to contend with every fifty yards.

                I stuck with water at the first aid station, even stopping to drink it all down and properly throwing away the cup before moving on. I ran close to a few other runners as we passed other runners. It wasn’t until around mile seven or more when we began to catch up to some fifty mile runners. One guy ahead of me was very encouraging to runners he passed and when I finally stepped past him I was awaiting some of the same encouragement but got none. No big deal, save your energy.

                My body was still a little cool as the trees shaded us from the morning sun but I was glad to be cool as I noticed many fifty mile runners dressed too warm and hoped they were planning to drop layers as they came into the main aid station, start/finish line back at the school. I found myself in a good zone and followed another runner dressed similar to myself. I also began to notice his gait and how his left foot kicked back at an odd angle. The only other thing really going through my mind was AC/DC lyrics. There were a few runners with headphones but I was glad my inner playlist was rocking some bad ass tunes from down under.

                I caught up with Sean Case sometime after the second aid station. I still checked in with him to make sure he had been eating and drinking. He looked good, and I felt good so I moved on enjoying my time on the trail. On occasion, I would give a check to my watch and was real surprised by my pace. I was sure I was not holding a sub eight minute pace and I most certainly did not want to be in fear of burning myself out. I had gotten in more than six miles before the hour mark and was on a similar pace heading toward the second hour. Before the race I had figured that if I did just a little better than six miles per hour than I would be able to break four hours in the marathon. So far, my plan was working.

                I was a little surprised when a few runners started coming toward me. Then even more were heading my way, but we all stuck to the right and I’m glad to report there were no mid trail collisions. I realized I must be getting close to the school and sure enough, just beyond the swamp and around a turn I was on the ball fields and heard some Monster cheers directed toward me. I told the crew that I was good and just drank some more water at the aid station. Heading back out, I was surprised not to see Danielle and asked Ryan her status, which turned out to be a porta-potty break.

                After a couple turns, I was climbing one hill and still feeling strong enough to run it. I didn’t want to stop running. I didn’t want to give in to any walking. I feared that if I did my race as I knew it would be over. There were more and more runners to catch up to, and I thought most of them must have been 50 milers until I saw Sean from Mass working his way up the next hill. I caught up to him a few minutes later and it was good to spend some time chatting with him. Eventually he told me to go ahead as he needed to slow his pace. I told him that I would probably be burning out in a few miles and that he would be able to catch back up to me.

                AC/DC was still rocking between my ears when I stopped at the first aid station once again. Just some more water, and taking time to drink it all. I got a little disgusted when I came upon a few cups thrown away to the side of the trail far beyond the aid station. Could be worse, sure, but made me appreciate just how courteous all the runners seem to be back at Bradbury.

                All my gear and apparel choices were performing well. I had switched shoes from Brooks Pure Grits to more cushioned New Balance 1210 Leadvilles and was pleased that I was still able to be rather nimble over trail obstacles. Also, I had switched from a bladder backpack to a waist belt with a water bottle. My only complaint was that the strap would loosen up and I had to retighten it about every half mile or so. I wasn’t totally sure whether the strap was loosening or that I had dropped a dress size through the course of the race.

                With eight miles left in my last race, I had officially quit. I had sat down and quit about two or three times before that but with eight left, I finally left the course and walked back to my car. Now as my watch beeped and I saw that I was eighteen miles in with only eight left, I felt the wall. That feeling where energy moves away from your body and is replaced by a chilling tingle that says you’ve gone too far. “F… you wall! This is my f…ing body!” This was only a physical obstacle, I could overcome this.

                My first step was to eat a magical marshmallow. Well, it really wasn’t magical but if I thought it was magical than it would be. Sadly, this was the first thing I had eaten since before the race when I did eat one Clif Block. That marshmallow tasted so good, and went down so easy. I washed it down and soon let out a monstrous burp that had a couple runners twenty to thirty yards away turn their heads. One said, “Hey is that a Monster.” He turned out to be a runner from Maine who also works for L.L. Bean and was attempting his first fifty miler. We chatted a little but he let me move ahead as I was finding some new life.

                I had another Clif Block before coming into the next aid station, doing all I could to kick down that wall in front of me. I was a little confused coming into the aid station, as there was a sign indicating the next aid station was a little over five miles away, but that was just about how much distance was left in the race according to my watch, unless it was wrong. Could it be wrong? I hadn’t thought of that. I began to question that even more when I got passed for the first time and the young lady asked what we had for miles left. I figured somewhere about four, and as I watched her cruise well ahead I knew that I wouldn’t see her again.

                A week before the race, I went and watched Gravity all by myself, literally I was the only one in the theater, and I decided that if I found myself in trouble during the race that I needed to channel my inner Sandra Bullock to get me to the finish line. Now here I was with approximately four miles left, and I found that I did indeed need to pretend I was an astronaut lost in space trying to get home. I couldn’t give up, and I just couldn’t go through the motions. I had trained for this situation and I needed to execute. Keep the legs going, go as long and as strong as you can while minimizing the effort. Kind of contradictory I know. I needed to stay under ten minute miles to still break four hours.  As far as I could remember there was just really one challenging climb left, it was short but steep. When I did get up to it I kept running, very slow running but yet still running. Once over this hump I should be able to get to the next Space Station, I mean aid station.

                There had been one runner behind me for some time now and I felt like I had been pushing a little hard to keep in front, although I knew it was just a matter of time before he would pass. I was okay with that, as that would mean really only two people had passed me in the last lap and a half. I told him to go by, and he declined but I really did want him by me so that I could slow my pace just a little more. He finally sensed that, as I had also slowed up and made his way past me, but not as blazingly as the young lady.

                The trail grew flat and straight once again, and I knew that meant I was coming near the end. Certainly less than a mile left, I didn’t totally trust my watch. At a sharp left turn were a few people to cheer me and other runners and then I was making my way through the swamp where the trail was dry and only featured a slight amount of mud.  Another person was seated alongside the trail to cheer runners and as I made my way past her, thankfully she alerted me that I missed the turn that took me to the field and thus the finish line.

                There was a little more confusion on my part exactly where the finish line was but thankfully the Monster crew was there to direct me. I crossed at 3:52 and although I was tired, salty with sweat, and tired legs, my body did not feel completely spent. I grabbed some refreshments and was presented with my finisher sweat shirt and received congratulations from fellow Monsters. It was a really good feeling completing a marathon, it was even better knowing that I had beaten my goal time, and even better  knowing that I had beaten the Ultrasignup.com finish time projection (4:06).

                I was real thankful to have a seat to plop down into at the Monster camp and have some good friends to share my joy with. I continued to hang with the Monsters while recovering and cheering on our other runners as they either finished or came and went on their fifty mile quests. The best treat was a brawt with all the fixings made by Ryan and washed down with some special coffee.

                Eventually, it was time to begin my drive home. As I got back to my car, I found WEEI on the radio and was able to tune into the Red Sox parade coverage. The parade was winding down with the duck boats coming back into Fenway and the players going back to their families officially ending their triumphant season by the time I was back in Maine. Although I will not have a World Series ring or free drinks in any Boston bar for the rest of my life, after this race I will have something that those players also have, REDEMPTION!

 

 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Responsible Journey?


Responsible Journey?

 

 

 

                The sky was once again darkening as I sat there on my couch digesting my lunch and reading some articles from the latest Trail Runner magazine. I was planning to go for a run in about an hour but instead of reading anymore about someone else’s running journey’s I decided to let the foul weather create a journey of my own.

                I had originally planned to do my long run for the week on this day, but the humidity levels were sky high and I still had the next day to grind out some long slow miles. Plus, I have been nursing a slight foot injury that I didn’t want to become any worse, so an extra day of relative rest should keep me on track for this fall’s upcoming races. Earlier in the day I had taken Wild out for a walk at Hedgehog Mountain after our dump run. Even though I hadn’t been running, and only walking at a quick hiking pace, my shirt was soaked with my sweat and Wild was breathing pretty heavy as he had spent most of the walk off leash and doing more miles than I. I did want to bring him on the run with me, but by the time we got home I figured that he had enough exercise for the day.

                So I grabbed a shopping bag, my credit card and keys and darted for the mini-van as the sky had fully opened up, and I had left a window down. The rain the night before was just about as hard as this and I was pretty excited about running in the sheets of rain. As I pulled out onto Route One there was clearly lightning in the sky which gave me some second thoughts about this run. The rain couldn’t kill me over the course of a few miles, but the lightning certainly could. I doubled back to the Bow Street Market where I needed to pick up a few things for tonight’s dinner, as it was my responsibility to feed my wife, children and a friend of ours who would be joining us for dinner. By the time I got to the market the rain was coming down so hard that it reminded me of being in a car wash and I was just waiting for those big brushes to come along to try and dry the car. No luck with the brushes, so I bolted into the market getting drenched in the five seconds I was outside.

                As best I could tell the lightning had stopped as I parked at Hedgehog once again. I gave my watch a couple minutes to pick up satellites while I sat in the car listening to more sports talk radio. There were no other cars there unlike this morning. I would have the trails all to myself. Usually you get this kind of solitude when it is raining over an inch an hour, which it was still doing. The puddles from last night were even deeper and soon my feet were totally saturated, and so was the rest of me even though the woods did give me a little shelter from the rain. I was moving nicely and feeling there was still plenty of humidity in the air, and for this I was glad to put off my long run.

                There was no getting around most of the puddles and I had to use caution crossing over any wooden bridges. I began to wonder if people would think I was slightly deranged running through these woods in these conditions, especially since I was absolutely enjoying every moment of it. I was feeling too good to think about what others thought of me as my watch beeped that I had just passed my second mile.

                I decided to go down a trail that leads to an old sand pit that I hadn’t been down in years even though I run and or hike here quite often. I was wanting to add some distance to my little run and this out and back would do just that. Once I got there, I realized why I didn’t come here very often as there wasn’t much there to enjoy. As I made my way back I noticed that a few things didn’t look familiar. Furthermore, when I ran through a cobweb I knew I must have gotten off the trail somehow otherwise that web wouldn’t be there. Soon I could see a couple backyards and the Pownal Road. I pulled a u-ie and soon found the spot where I had inadvertently turned off the main trail. It had only added a few minutes onto my run but it started me thinking more about my responsibilities as a parent. Both of my children are now going to school full time so even though I have this time during the week to go on these runs I still needed to make sure that I would be home in time, and in one piece in order to encourage their own paths of discovery.

                I made my way along the Wentworth Trail and then over to the Summit Trail to climb up the steep side of the mountain. In the back round I heard some rumbling noises and wasn’t sure if it was more thunder or the sounds of cars on the nearby highway. I thought back to the trip my wife and I took to Colorado this summer, and when we went for a short hike up an unplanned summit. It was totally open and Mo was worried about some clouds in the distance and said I could go ahead to the summit while she made her way back to the car. I had been really ignorant of the potential weather dangers while she had decided that at least one of us should stay alive to parent our children. I was rewarded with some great views and a little running to catch up with her and fortunately none of the clouds ever delivered any dangers to us.

 I got up the mountain without destroying my body, and yet keeping a decent pace and I looked forward to coming back down where I could open up my pace. I did slow down as a trotted over some wet exposed rock but then I was able to open up my pace as I desired. My feet slipped out from under me a couple of times but I was fortunate to keep my footing and soon began to recognize the patches of mud which were most perilous. Back onto the Wentworth again and my pace really increased, or should I say decreased, and I was joyous that I didn’t let weather keep me sitting at home.

My pace was back down as I knew I still had a long run to consider the next day and now would be a good time to keep the legs moving but at a recovery pace heading back to the car. Still, I kept an eye out for the slicker mud patches and bounded through the puddles. There were a couple more bridges that I had to use caution crossing, the last one which was just before the parking lot and as I looked down into the gully and saw the water moving rapidly I missed my kids as I knew it would have been a great time for us to play Pooh Sticks on the bridge.

 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Head Up, Eyes Down


 

 

                He just kept going and going and was totally out of sight. At times I could still hear the bell attached to his collar, but other than that I had to trust that he was still following the trail leading up the mountain. On occasion, I would catch a glimpse of him up ahead, or he would even walk back a short distance or stand and wait until he saw me, but once he understood that he was on the right path, he would once again be off.

                It was actually the second time that my dog Wild, now thirteen months old, and I had been on the Firewarden’s Trail leading to the col between the West and East Peaks of Bigelow Mountain. A couple months ago we hiked up to the East (Avery) Peak and he did wonderful but I was slightly worried about over stressing his young body and opted to head straight down from Avery rather than continue to do a complete loop around Horn’s Pond. So now, I figured we could skip Avery and just focus on the loop by hitting the West Peak and then towards the Pond.

                My plan for the day was something else without Wild since my wife and kids were heading to Boston to meet an old friend of hers. But with no one to take care of Wild and not wanting him to spend half his day in his crate while I was running, I decided to head to one of my favorite places in Maine, the Bigelows. I hate driving nearly anywhere for more than an hour or so, and was feeling like I was regretting the decision sometime before I hit Farmington. A couple of stops for biological needs and a couple treats, and two and a half hours later I found I was about the eighth car in the small ‘lot’ at the end of the Stratton Brook Pond Road. Which I had missed the turn off to once again despite being down that o-so-many times.

                Wild was very anxious to start, not only because the car had finally stopped and I was changing shoes, but there was another dog in the lot and Wild just loves everyone. I had to show the dog’s owner the right way to the trail, and although I was in a rush to get going I did take it a little easy in order to give them a little space before Wild and I hit the trail.

                The couple was a little older and so I was surprised that it took us nearly a mile to catch up to them. In fact we caught a couple of other guys first, who were slightly overdressed for a glorious day and thus sweating pretty profusely. I had kept Wild on leash not wanting him to be a nuisance to the other dog and after we got past them I still kept him on leash for a while, until he stopped for a drink. But then once free, he ran back to greet the black lab that was much bigger than this fifty fit pound husky frame. Back on the leash, the lady said she would give us a couple minute head start, which was very nice I must say.

                Soon we passed the intersection where we would be looping out of after the Horn’s and I let Wild off leash so we could begin the real climb up to the col. I had my Garmin watch going and was surprised by its little beeps for miles passed. We had been going along quite well and I was glad he had spent so long on the leash so that he wasn’t worn out by the time we would be facing the toughest ups of the day. It was here that he cruised ahead, checking occasionally on me while his bell warned off little critters that a natural born hunter was moving along the trail.

                The Firewarden’s Trail certainly is the toughest way up, but much easier going up than coming down. It can get quite steep and of course it’s all covered with roots and rocks so there is no way to just get oneself into a steady pace to conquer the trail. I was giving up a long run in my training plans in order to be on the trail, so I took it as a challenge to keep pushing myself up the trail hopefully without a break. No running, that hopefully would come later, but three thousand feet up in only a few miles would be a good workout. Fortunately I had a great training partner in Wild, who did not want to stop and pushed the pace by staying just out of sight. I didn’t want to see just how steep the trail was in front of me, and so I focused back to my race on Mt. Washington years ago, by keeping my head up in order to take in as much oxygen as possible by keeping my diaphragm open, yet keeping my eyes on the ground in front of me in order to see all of mother nature’s obstacles and not seeing just how steep that fragging’ trail really is.

                I heard some voices ahead of me just about the time when we hit the major rock work done on the trail by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. Three guys, all looking rather fit, were chuckling as Wild tore past them and I tried to catch back up to make sure Wild wasn’t a nuisance. Wild was happy to say a quick hello but more ambitious to keep on hiking. Unfortunately, a short time later he did need a rest. I knew we were only about a third to a quarter mile away from the Col but Wild was digging around some rocks where there was very, very shallow pools. He couldn’t drink any, so he lied down instead to cool his belly. I offered him a bowl of his water, but you can only lead a horse to water as they say. I gave him a few treats and got him back on his way.

                Still with plenty of energy we were soon at the Col, where Wild was checking out some tent sites but I was calling to him in order to take a proper break. Instead he went darting past me and towards the West Peak 0.3 miles away. I thought, sure, why not take a break on the summit instead of the woods and followed him.

                I heard some voices once again as we came out of the woods to the summit and soon met up with another hiker and his dog. I could tell right away he was a thru-hiker and saw three others fitting the same profile. I got Wild on leash to keep him away from precious thru-hiker food and took off my pack to enjoy some of my own treats, while offering Wild more water and treats once again.

                I had a pleasant conversation mostly with one of the hikers who was dual citizen from Israel, while two of the others were from Germany. I shared some of my pretzel bits with them while asking their trail names. I only remember the young ladies who said it was Giggles, who did exactly that while I was pouring pretzel bits into her hands.

                I kept Wild on leash coming off the summit in order to keep him on the trail and off alpine areas, although I think he knew very well how to follow the right path. He continued to show that proper judgment as we cruised through the forest around three thousand feet up meeting more people than I expected heading in a northerly direction. Wild just kept pushing on keeping to the trail and I would occasionally ask people if a husky was just ahead, or they would ask me if that was my dog who only had one objective, to hike.

                I only ran just a little bit on this section, and probably should have done more as it was mostly down but I was still reluctant about wearing down Wild who can come home and pant for nearly an hour after some runs with me. He was doing well, and that was more than good enough. He was happy, I was happy and we hadn’t seen really any wild animals that may distract him.

                There was a group on top of the North Horn that were incoming freshmen at Tufts. Wild barely paid them any attention and I only could talk for a moment having to keep up with him. Usually that is a nice place to take a small break and enjoy the views but not on this day. Instead, we b-lined it up to the South Horn where we got the summit all to ourselves. The view back to the West Peak was perfect and I managed to get Wild to pose for a couple of photos.

                It was less than a mile down to the Horn’s Pond Campsite, but I still took a small break by getting Wild into the water a little. Most huskies aren’t swimmers and I hadn’t tested out his abilities or desires very much, so I was pleased that he would at least get his feet wet. I checked out the log book at the shelter, not much news really and we pushed on.

                A sign indicated it was 4.3 miles back to parking lot, and most of it would be downhill. At a normal hiking pace this would take someone nearly two hours, or an hour and half if they hiked fast, I decided that it was now time for us to run so we could do it an hour. I felt pretty confident in my ability to cover that distance in that time but I didn’t want to bring home an injured or heat exhausted dog. So I set a moderate pace and Wild seemed up for it by staying slightly ahead of me on this Horn’s Pond Trail. We were now officially off the Appalachian Trail.

                The footing was still once again a challenge as I had to be careful not to trip and knock my head on many of the rocks. As much as I appreciated the trail work of many volunteers to build rock structures to divert water off the trail, these structures were really testing my foot agility. By the way, my feet were feeling great even as my Garmin indicated we were around ten miles as I was wearing some New Balance Leadville trail runners. They stuck well to every surface, had plenty of cushioning and yet were still light enough to cruise along down the trail and I only wished they made them in Wild’s size so that I would be sure that his feet were getting enough protection.

                Wild fell into place behind me, which meant that he was getting a little tired, so I pulled back on the pace a little suppressing my desires to run like hell all the way back to the car. We would stop at any water that crossed the trail for him to get a drink with me following suit. It had been this way the whole day and it seemed to serve both of us well as we were now running under a ten minute pace.

                I have been on this trail enough to recognize certain places and I had a feeling that were just about at the intersection when moments later there we were. Now we were more than halfway back to the car from the campsite and right on the pace I had hoped for us. The trail actually flattens out here quite a bit, except for one area of downhill ledges, and I kept us moving along looking forward to getting Wild to Stratton Brook Pond so he could cool himself off. He was eager to go into the pond once we got on its edge but not quite the area that I had planned, so I called him and he obeyed ignoring the treats I was offering as he charged past me.

                We came to the crossing where the stream divides the trail from the dirt road and this is where I wanted Wild to spend as much time in the water as he wanted before we were back to the car in just a few minutes. I encouraged him to get in the water by tossing in a couple of sticks, which to my surprise actually sank as the bark had been stripped off apparently by beavers. Still, being a dog, a creature some may say of less intelligence than us, he dove in after the sticks as they sank to the bottom. He must have found the water to be refreshing as he soon began to just swim around paying no attention to where the sticks had sunk. He then rushed to the shore and shook the water from his coat, looking as if he were smiling from ear to ear. I knew I was, as I was so pleased to know that he really had cooled off his body after twelve very steady miles of hiking.

                Wild was now re-energized as we ran along the road. I noticed a couple of random flip-flops on the road and then we soon came upon one car and then another that was trying to turn itself around in the middle of the road. A couple young men were giving the driver directions on how far to back up and as soon as he stopped Wild dashed past him and so did I having to keep up. I quickly asked about the flip-flops and the young men said they were the owners and I practically sprinted in order to catch up to wild.

                I opened the back of the car and he jumped right in and I treated him with more treats and gave him plenty of water. I had stopped my watch and noted that it took us about four hours and fifty minutes to complete the twelve mile loop. Wild was not breathing heavy, neither was I and I felt much stronger than I do when I complete a long training run.

                I felt glad of my choice on how to spend my day in the outdoors. It is seldom that I look back and say that I wished that I hadn’t done something. Even though it can be hard to get the motivation to go, or regret that I’m not doing something else, I am glad to move my feet across this blessed planet. My eyes that day saw plenty of it just below me, and yes they also saw the beauty of all of this creation in the endless vistas from some of nature’s castles.