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.