A View from the Top
I’ve Come to Take You Home
Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night*
It is a funny, maybe odd thing. But with all of the great trails and stunning mountains, the mysterious deep woods so full of soul, and endless steep climbs and drops, my favorite running here in Asheville and the Blue Ridge has not been on the trails, but rather through the old Montford neighborhood of Grand Dames and Victorian homes, many in ill repair, and then on to the University campus, and further, to the star Observatory at the very top of Nut Hill Road. Not quite sure why that is.
To be sure the Mountains To Sea Trail is a gem and extends for hundreds of miles with no easy sections to run anywhere near here. The climb up and down Ledford Gap or Rice Pinnacle is enough to take your breath away both literally and figuratively, not to mention Senator Reynolds Mountain, where after a few miles of “warm up” hills, you attend to a steady climb of about 1000′ in 1.7 miles. That hurts, although coming down is exhilarating, especially if the road is wet and more so when it is icy. The Hard Times Trail up Southridge is a mere 10 miles, the first 4.5 uphill, and the last 5.5 roll up and eventually down, but that run will either cure you or kill you, and I could go on for pages, but will not. Suffice it to say that running here is exhilarating and liberating for the soul. My soul.
But it is no surprise to find myself up at the Observatory on the top of Nut Hill Road on the UNCA campus. Kate and I run it often, but not too often. You know Kate, Nick Yonclas’ girl, she moved here about the same time we did, last spring. NIck introduced me to her at a local 10K race, we have become running buddies.
Kate is a sport model and a real gamer. One morning we ran headlong into a bear behind the Grove Park Inn. Actually, I ran into the bear, and it was almost a head on collision. Kate yelled “BEAR”! The bear looked up from the trash can. I looked up from the road, we were 2-3 feet apart and face to face. I slammed on brakes and reached for the Whoop Ass spray and looked to Kate for back up. My mistake. She was all elbows and ankles and knees, and when I last saw her she was in full flight. My, that girl can really sprint. She later told me that she always knew that she could leave a man in an instant, and that was proof positive. Anyway, it ended well enough with the bear slinking off in one direction, and me slinking off in another, both of us looking over our shoulders the entire time.
Anyway, Nut Hill Road and the Observatory, which might give you the correct impression that I am at the top of a very steep hill, which I am. She and I have renamed Nut Hill Road to “Bust A Nut Hill,” which is how you feel when you finally get to the top, it is that tough a climb. Not the longest nor the steepest, but there is something about that hill. Once at the top and the Observatory, the views are spectacular. We run early, Asheville is just lighting up from it’s nighttime slumbers, you can barely see the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and north and the incredible Black Mountains to the east, in the not yet morning sunrise still to be.
This morning I am running alone. Reaching the top, catching my breath and turning to look at the Observatory, there is a bald eagle perched on the roof. Balancing himself by spreading his huge wings from time to time, to counteract the wind, which is often blustery up here, he is in no hurry and quite clearly not bothered by my presence in the morning darkness. It is rare to see a raptor out so early. Such signs have meaning in my life. We stare at each other. Time stands still.
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice*
The staring contest goes on for a while, but I am starting to feel the wind and the cold and turn for a final look at the waking city and then the still dark mountains where twinkling lights can be seen. Time to go. I turn as if to say good bye, but he is gone.
The run back to the start is an easy one, 5 miles of downhills and flats. Little traffic this time of the morning. I like to sprint the downhills and recover on the flats. That is one of the great things about running here. You bust the hills for strength, and finish fast on the downhills if you plan it right. Runners’ memories being what they are, we only remember the last part of the run, so I make it the fast and easy downhills.
Still, I cannot shake the eagle from my thoughts. He has come to say good bye. It was unmistakable.
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son, ” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”*
Yes, we are coming home. Maybe we just lived too long in Tallahassee. We didn’t move from there, we moved to here. But still, we missed certain things, but mostly you and you and you. For Sharri I could name her friends, and it would be a long list indeed. My buds…Gary and Mike, Matty and Bill and Bud and on and on. Maybe the trails too. No doubt the trails. St. George Island and the Wildlife Refuge, and that is a long list too. No, not the heat and humidity. So many things quite intangible.
No, I don’t understand my life. I will miss Little Cedar Mountain just outside my door and many, many other things that make Asheville such a distinctive and wonderful place to run and live. But I will race to Lake Overstreet and Phipps, and the St. Marks Trail, and the Munson Hills and Tall Timbers and Miller Landing and all of those places were you and I have left so much of ourselves out there.
I guess we have unmistakably changed the land and each other. But more importantly the land and friends have unmistakably changed us too. It lays claim to us if we are lucky. You and Tallahassee have laid claim to us. We are so lucky.
So, stop and chat when we run into each other on the trails. Of life. I’ve missed you.
*Solsbury Hill, Peter Gabriel.