A Week in the Life
By Gordon Cherr
Sunday, July 31:
“Life in the fast lane
Surely make you lose your mind
Life in the fast lane, everything all the time
Life in the fast lane, uh huh
Blowin’ and burnin’, blinded by thirst
They didn’t see the stop sign,
took a turn for the worse. . .”
These lyrics are blasting through my mind on my run on the Highway 60 in Colonial Williamsburg. Just what the hell am I doing here? It is absolutely pouring down rain and what looked like a fine running trail through Old Dominion College is starting to look more like a trip to the ER, or perhaps to the morgue. The wide, well marked bike lane has narrowed consistently and considerably since I ran through campus, and the cars passing at 60-70 mph, are relentless. Eventually the bike lane disappears completely and there is no shoulder to step off of, the lane just drops away, down a steep ravine to my left. The cars are about 6 inches off my right shoulder, and the shock of their wind is not pleasant, not to mention all of the wet road grime being splashed in my face. All someone has to make is one simple miscalculation and I am going to be history. Just another disgusting squashed yellow and green and bloody red bug on some stranger’s windshield. Well, no one missed a stop sign, and no one swerved too far out of their lane, and somehow I survived this run without major mishap. On the plus side there were a few good hills and overall 74 minutes, about 7.0 miles. Hey, it’s like an airplane trip, you know. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
Monday, August 1: It is but a short drive from Colonial Williamsburg to Hampton, Virginia, where we are visiting for several days with our daughter, Dara. I don’t care much for the feel of Hampton, it feels old and well, unfriendly. There doesn’t appear to be any place worthwhile to run around here and all I see is concrete and asphalt, not much shade and absolutely no other runners. Some running friends familiar with Hampton, and Dara, suggest a run down to Sandy Bottom Nature Park, a few miles away, so off I go early Monday morning. It is about 3 miles down to the park, an easy run, but a ton of early morning commuter traffic, and damn, this place is hotter and more humid than Tallahassee. Is that even possible? It sure feels that way. Sandy Bottom Nature Park is flat, reminds me of running Lake Overstreet minus roots and hills. The route there is along a major thoroughfare, Big Bethel Road, and by the time I get to the park entrance, I am about to call it a day and simply return. I hate these cars, I hate these concrete sidewalks, I hate the heat, the humidity, oh, yuch, I hate running.
The trails are well shaded, a welcome relief. I try something called the “Duck Pond Trail”. After a few moments I come upon a one of those informative signs we often see in the parks here. Ours generally mention Pileated Woodpeckers or something about the plant life or swamps or something similarly innocuous for the hikers and walkers. I stop to read this one and it says in big letters “CANEBREAK RATTLESNAKES”. Oh, crap, I’d better read this one. Seems like there are rattlesnakes commonly along this trail and that there have been incidents recently, and now every stick I see on the trail makes me catch my breath and slow down or jump two feet in the air. Fortunately, the run on this trail proves uneventful except for the big meat platter I come across. Well, it looked like an upside-down meat platter, but it was moving slowly along the trail. What the hell is that? Things finally came better into focus and I realized that a huge snapping turtle was also out for his morning constitutional. I thought about moving him or helping him, then it struck me, that his kind have been here for about 300 million years and the last thing he needed was help from me. I gave him a wide berth, those boys can really bite, and we parted in peace.
I picked up another trail after about 15 minutes and it paralleled a swamp on one side and Big Bethel Road on the other for about 30 minutes. Maybe I was copping an attitude, but just what I wanted, more loud and obtrusive road sounds for the next few miles. I continued on a single track trail through stands of tyty, wax myrtle and swamp mallow and actually quite a beautiful hardwood hammock, and after about 20 more minutes suddenly came back to my senses. Somehow between the swamp sounds and the birds singing on my right and the steady din of unseen but nearby road traffic on my right, I had lapsed into one incredible runner’s high. How odd. How welcome. You just don’t know where and when these things are going to happen. Every run is what you make it. I finished the loop and ran back. 1:40 or so, maybe 10 miles, but who is counting?
Tuesday, August 2: Someone suggests a run around Lake Maury at the Mariner’s Museum, in Hampton. It is an short drive and supposedly an easy 5-6 mile loop. This was one fine run, crossing the lake over 17 wooden bridges, the run is constantly up or down with drops and climbs, some steep, but all mercifully short. In contrast to yesterday, there are literally no flats here. What there are, however, are deer flies in great abundance. Damn, I thought I left those pesky critters behind in Tallahassee! Guess not. This made the run much faster than planned, with flies in my ears, flies up my nose, flies in my hair and one which became breakfast, flying into my mouth during inspiration. Oh, God, that one made me retch for 10 minutes. 54 minutes, about 6 miles.
Hey, pay attention, I do have a free hint for avoiding such biting flies, at least while in Tallahassee. Run with Jeff Bryan. There is something about Jeff that will let you run, fly-free, down any trail, while he is covered from head to toe. The man is human fly-paper. They fly around him, they swarm him, they bite him, this is fool proof. Jeff, everyone has to be loved by someone…the biting flies love you.
Wednesday, August 3: This is a travel day, Sharri and I are headed for Asheville. Asheville is running Nirvana. Off day. But the anticipation is building.
Thursday, August 4: I’m up before sunrise for my run up Sunset Mountain. Once on the mountain, shirtless, I am shivering in the cool morning mist. How delightful! I figure to do the 12 miles up Patton Mountain and return to the motel, but I haven’t been here for a while and somehow take a wrong turn. Damn it, that turn sends me down a hill where I didn’t want to go, but what goes down here always comes back up (and then some), so I just follow the road, wherever it wants to take me. Climbing again, I come out on the side of Sunset Mountain and work my way back to the top, but there is such a thick foggy mist that I cannot see the city below. It is a work day, a Thursday, but there are no shortage of runners pounding up the mountain roads or flying down. And mountain bikers. And walkers.
Eventually, I find myself not too far from downtown and I do know the route back, returning to old running routes is liking visiting the best of friends, something very familiar but always a little bit different because memories get clouded by time. About 3 miles from the hotel I spy a runner up ahead and start to feel a little frisky, so down goes the hammer and after about a quarter mile I catch up to her on Charlotte Street. I am running on the left side of the street, she is on the right, and I pass her like she is standing still. I try to ignore her, but do steal a glance back about 30 seconds later, savoring my little victory. Funny thing was, she did not take this little insult lying down, and she came back with a vengeance, there she was, crossing the street and taking up station at my right elbow. Pretty soon we are flying down the big hill next to the Grove Park golf course, striding side by side, she won’t give me an inch and I am determined that she isn’t going to pass me. Together, we reach the red light at Charlotte and Eleanor, and are forced to stop for traffic, both of our sides are heaving, trying to catch our breath. She is a very pretty blonde woman, younger than me by at least 25 years. She smiles and says “Catch you later”, and with a little wave, off she goes, taking the left onto Eleanor, apparently heading back up into the big hills behind the Grove Park Inn. Something tells me that she could have buried me out there on the hills, any old time. You go, Girl. 87 minutes, about 9 miles.
Friday, August 5: I’m heading out to the North Carolina Arboretum to return to the Hard Times Trail. This was the very first place I ran when I moved to Asheville in March, 2001. I have missed it. There have been a lot of changes since 9/11, with walls, fences and even a guard/toll booth now in place. I’m sure this place, like the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, must have ranked awfully high on Al Quaida’s list of preferred targets. Geez, someone give me a break! The place isn’t even open yet at 6:30 AM, but the guard just waves me through. The only people here at this hour are runners, bikers and/or hikers. It is well known, even in these parts, that the Taliban prefer to sleep in on Fridays. I think that it is in the Koran or something.
The run up Hard Times is just that, hard. The first 20 minutes or so are uphill. Just get out of your car, stretch and suffer. I forgot but there is a gate you reach after about 10 minutes of running, that you need to pass through. I push the gate open, it is heavily spring loaded and slams shut behind me. The gate is designed that way so that anyone outside the park boundaries needs to pull the gate open to get in. In other words, bears can easily push open a gate, but supposedly are not intelligent enough to figure out that the gate must be pulled open for them to come in. Having seen bears inside the park boundaries on several occasions, it is obviously of no never mind to them, they just climb over the fence and raid the trash cans, they don’t need no stinkin’ gate.
Anyhow, after 20 minutes of serious uphill are a few minutes of flat, double track and a very pleasant run. Running in Tallahassee cannot possibly prepare you for this kind of running. In fact, if you want to be the best runner you can be, you need to leave Tallahassee and find some mountains to live and run in. That is just the simple truth. And the simple truth of this run is that I am sucking a lot of wind and my thighs have turned into hamburger after 20 minutes of uphill.
Eventually there is a split in the trail, you can chose to go downhill and complete this loop or head uphill for another 55 minutes or so into very wild country. In fact, this is part of the Shut In Trail, and a very good place to not go alone. It is an easy decision for me and downhill we go. This area seems to be about 2 months behind us weather wise and yellow and pink wild flowers are blooming in profusion. It is also apparent that the mountains suffered much washout from torrential rains sent north by our hurricanes, last year. There are a lot of huge downed trees on the mountain sides, some hanging precariously above the trails. I wouldn’t want to be one of the guys who has to cut them up, it is going to be a dangerous job.
I reach another gate, which needs to be p-u-l-l-e-d open to get back into the park property. Of course, I am tired and pushing and pushing when I read the big sign which reminds me that I need to pull the gate open, not push it. DUH…The last few miles of this run are flat, along Bent Creek. The morning mists have lifted and the creek is singing loudly. Finishing up the run alongside this stream, in this beautiful place, I cannot imagine anywhere I would rather be. 61 minutes, 6 miles.
Saturday, August 6: I cannot leave Asheville without running Reynold’s Mountain again. It is just the hardest run I can find in town, up and down like a roller coaster for 7 miles. It took me about 4 months of training here to be able to run the entire course without walking the uphills. I do not harbor any illusions about this morning, which is wise, especially on top of the three previous days. There will be some serious walking today. This course is all smoothly paved and very shady, an upscale subdivision north of downtown. Some of the hills seem so steep that if you leaned too far forwards you might hit your face on the pavement. Fortunately that did not happen, but at some point about 4 miles into this effort I am hoping that an airplane might crash on me and take me out of my misery. No such luck. But the last mile or so is downhill and there are some great long range mountain views. Funny thing how one final downhill mile can make you forget all about the misery which proceeded it. Runners are truly memory impaired people. 77 minutes, 7 miles.