A View From the Top

Running and Writing: One More Time


By Gordon Cherr


I met John Morelock…check that…I have never met John Morelock, at least not face to face. Instead, I encountered his musings about running and life (there is a blurred distinction here for both him and me) and I was transfixed. Perhaps transformed. So, we met over the miracle (or the tragedy, you choose) of the Internet. John lives on a small island in the Pacific northwest, and he runs near Puget Sound, Washington, where running is perhaps more serious business than it is down here. Cold, rainy, windy, sleet, blustery are terms we do not normally associate with our running in north Florida. Serious running in serious weather, and John, without extolling his many distance running virtues (and there are quite a few), is a serious runner. And a perceptive one too, with a fine eye and finer ear, he is tuned into his world and ours, as you will soon see, taste, smell. I envy his ability to be in the moment. Several have asked and I will go back to my more “regular” running column next month. But for now, enjoy, and feel the wonderful writing of John Morelock.

Fog Running

Wisps and whispers,
this morning’s companions.
A breath of fog’s
gossamer wrappings
hiding my trails.

This bypath or that,
padded footsteps pausing, asking.

Around and down I run
into the bosky kettle,
through tunnels of branches,
across carpets of fallen needles;

how many winters old?

Shadows shape-shift as I pass,
changing into trees,
trees with hobgoblins and fairies,
and kobolds in the roots.
All watching.

Pausing, peering…

Unseen wings, muffled, beguiling,
for no songs do I hear,
nor forms do I see,
Only wisps of fog stirred by unseen wings.

My padded footsteps on the forest floor,
the hushed rustling of cedar boughs—
the only sounds as I pass by.
Wisps of fog close in behind me,
silently taking back their trails.

If I can just get out the door
Cell phones, Gantt charts, functional and needs and gap analysis with a little bit of strategic goal setting thrown in, and cellphones in every driver’s ear and three hours on a rain swept I-5 to the ferry and the slowing down as I get further onto the island.

Trails–it was clear enough this morning I could see Mt. Rainier’s snowy shoulders through the windows as I did this chart and that and (trails someone whispered from the window) mentioned process analysis and yes, thank you, and goodbye and…up Hood Canal the slow winding road or up I-5 in a hurry to the house and to the trails…I-5 and cell phones and…

A now anonymous author somewhere gave credit to the “…miracle of e-mail.” I decided if e-mail is a miracle, then so are the 1.3 billion coffee stands alongside our roads in the Pacific Northwest. One 16-ounce double-shot and I’m home.

Out the door. No! Discipline, what little is left of it says unpack, put things away almost orderly, check this, check that, close enough…just four miles, just a little loop on the dark and windy Ebey’s Prairie. Bike rider and I both think we are alone so we have our lights turned off and laughingly say “Sorry” as we sense something and hit the switches in time to swerve and vanish.
Old yellow windbreaker is past old. It passes wind the same way I do, but it fits so good and the ‘wind to your back’ corner is coming up. Ahhh, suddenly it’s 23 degrees warmer.

Fortissimo! Fortissimo! A hundred miles of Puget Sound wind played bass on the bare limbs of a gnarled and previously useless apple tree. Frozen at the suddenness of the string group’s appearance I stood there. The wind dances and the midwires become cellos and viols, the highlines are the violins and no one heard but me and I had no cell phone to hold up so someone else could hear.

I bow to tonight’s conductors, the waters and the wind, and head up the hill to the cemetery. I pass the tombstone: 1832-1896, he lived, Ohio Infantry Volunteers and Illinois Infantry Volunteers, he served. I sometimes wonder did he stand on his line and look across and see the eyes of some of my kin. He never tells.

The flag at the top of the hill is straight out, obeying the wind, and bathed in light. Red, white, and blue rippling and snapping in the wind, memories dance and flicker every trip by, ghosts come calling. I run on back into the darkness.

Down the switchbacks wondering if the eagle that watched me on Monday is up there. The trail is just white enough I don’t need the light, but if I turn on the light I could look up in the tree. I run on down the white graveled trail and turn by the Doug fir someone broke the top off of many years ago. Scarred now, broken, but it still hurls cones at me when I don’t watch, but not tonight.

The trails are done and pavement returns. Cars pass in another world only a few feet away. People with cell phones disconnected from their world. I go down the dark driveway to the house–empty and dark earlier–much lighter now.

I got out.

Run gently out there.

An Eighty-Seven Percenter…

That’s what it says on the tide-table printout in the percent of moon visible column. I had put off this, slid that back, missed picking up another surplus computer and the Linux project was on hold again…night run?

Clouds? There are shadows on the porch. The moon is already outlining the house–no clouds. The two Dippers are beckoning to us again. Batteries? Nah, just grab a couple of extra lights. I’ll slip ’em in the pouch. Out the door, green LEDs outline the driveway. Almost. Moonshadows. Lights are twisted to off. An eighty-seven percenter the printout said. We don’t need the lights.

We walked up the hill and across to the paved path to the trails. Orion points at the Pleiades. Even the missing sister welcomes us as a lone owl asks who we are and where we are going. To the Kettles, we reply. with our lights turned off so we won’t disturb you. “Wo wo whooo,” comes softly back in approval.

Rabbits on late night snack patrol pause at our approach. We are too noisy to be stalking, to be dangerous. One small one, perhaps just out of the warren waits…waits…ears extended…waits…and gone! Mom called?

Lights go on as we go down Humpty Dump. Alders, madrona, and rhodies close in on us. Headlights join the handlights to let me see the roots I am tripping on, again. We zig and zag onto Fern Ridge and up to High Traverse. Turning towards the bluffs we run straight towards Maia as she shines through the trees for us–no one but us–the trails are ours. Almost.

Except for those eyes that just looked back from the forest. A raccoon stares back, bandit face and watchful eyes follow us as we get to the table overlooking the bluff. A hundred or so feet below us the tide is playing quietly, moving the scoters and buffleheads up and down as it works its way up the beach. Many of the visitors here are pausing before flying to the Arctic regions for spring-time breeding. The sense of urgency has started. Survival depends of getting there within such a small window. Their cutoff times mean death of a family. No t-shirts, no next time–our efforts compared to their journey are so pale.

We look at the white patches sleeping, scattered along the water’s surface, the many heads tucked into the warmth of downy wings, and turn inland. I suppose we only saw eighty-seven percent of the travelers, or did we see all of them but with only eighty-seven percent clarity? The raccoon has long gone on its nocturnal meandering. We head up Cedar Hollow toward the house and freshly baked banana bread at eleven o’dark in the thirteen percent darkness.

One owl whispers as we turn to the driveway. “Wo wo whooo…”

Good night to you too.

Run gently out there.

Reasons to be Slow…

Over the years as I have ran along the roads, trails, byways, and bypaths I have blamed just about everything imaginable: bristle cone pines, “Alice in Wonderland” caterpillars, really old redwoods, newly bloomed alpine meadows, fields of ice frosted grass glistening on a winter morning, a porcupine wondering what I was doing on “her” trail, whales, beavers, waterfalls, lava beds, mushroom “cities,” armadillos, cacti, great blue herons, stars at two o’clock in the morning, rainbows, a pair of eyes looking back in the flashlight beams, snow as the trail went up and down a ridge line, a solstice’s full moon lighting our trail, snakes, rabbits, leaves falling, ravens rising, fog and sun streaks and shadows through the fog, and even bad burittos for my taking too long to cover a particular piece of ground.

I once stopped dead in my tracks during the Avenue of the Giants Marathon when rounding a curve in a redwood grove to acknowledge a tree; possibly 25 feet in diameter, branches way far above me and over 3 feet thick–for over 2,000 years it had been standing there, patiently waiting for me to pass. My time on that course that day just could not matter; could not compare to the wonder I felt in running ‘neath the branches of the giants.

My wife and I still look up into the Olympic National Park from the ferry as we cross an arm of Puget Sound and remember the time we took the better part of an early spring day covering 38 miles of trails, crossing two passes and three snow-field fed, bone-chilling icy cold rivers, slowly rounding the shoulder of Mt. Constance and heading on down the trail along the bank of the Dosewallups River–no T-shirts, no finishing clocks, no time goals–just hoping our daughter had moved our car around to where we were going to finish–even that was forgotten many times as we passed in and out of timber stands watched by curious mountain goats, stopped at another waterfall…just runnin’, that was all we were doing.

Every now and then I still run with time in mind, but mostly I just run with being out there in mind, if I can get my mind to be there at all.

Is Running Ultras Good for You?

Met people from lots of other places with the same interest in running.
Saw the stars from 11,000 feet at 1:00 o’clock in the morning in Colorado.
Memories of a day just south of Glacier Nat’l Park running Le Grizz.
My wife and I still look across Puget Sound and point at the two valleys so far apart, smile and remember running from the Staircase to Dosewallups and the scowl on the ranger’s face when he found out what we had done.
Seeing the frost and the diamonds formed as the sun comes up on a meadow on a predawn outing on the trails.
Meeting, meeting again, then meeting yet again the friends and strangers of many courses, many states, other countries, other times.
Helping others learn about this world of running we occupy inside an otherwise wildly tormented world.
Seeing an “Alice in Wonderland” sort of caterpillar while out on the trails.
Watching my wife finish a 50k 10 years and four months after her hip replacement surgery.
The full moon, solstice, and a night run without flashlights.
The moose swimming across the lake during the awards ceremony at Le Grizz.
A son on a bike as I ran myself into the ground again. He has seen me miserable and he has seen me win. We have memories to share.
The heat and hills of Strolling Jim in ’87.
Looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay as you round the 50 mile point of the 49er Double Marathon.
Working a finish line and watching the tired legs become overshadowed by smiles of triumph.
Ice forming on my beard on a frosty morning run.
Curiosity that causes you to stop the car and get out and run just to see what this place called Badwater feels like.
Seeing a familiar face come out of the fog and drizzle on a trail that had become strangely lonely–even though only a smile and a wave were exchanged, the trail was no longer empty.
Days of running, days of racing.
Delayed by a porcupine as it makes it way across “my” trail.
That rare day of light-footedness and speed recalled from years long gone as the trail flew by and you could have ran forever.
An early spring run when you reach a meadow in time to see the flowers waking up and turning to the sun.
Running through the redwoods, neck sore from looking up, wondering how long they have been waiting for me to run in their shadows.
Watching people come in and then leave our aid station, thank you’s so sincere and heartfelt for the little we had done for them.
A sky full of gooses an hour before dawn, Aldo Leopold called it “Goose Music.”
A tiredness that will go away, memories that will last for a lifetime.