Tuesday, June 1, 2010

High Country 3-Day in Review

The Cross Mountain Crew

The run intensity was low by design. Think of it as five 4-hour runs, back-to-back, on technical mountain single track ('cause that's what it was). I designed it to give me some information -- mostly about my readiness to run a 100 mile race in three weeks. I got some information. Maybe I'll share it, along with some flashbacks to my early running career. Maybe not.

I generally take a distant view on things. Always one step removed. Thinking. Some might call me aloof -- does that mean I am? I run alone a lot. I planned the logistics of this 3-day so that I could manage it alone. I cached supplies in Damascus and drove my van to the north end of the course. I ended days 1 and 2 in Damascus and day 3 at my van. I had food and overnight gear in Damascus. I was prepared to "go it alone." That sort of mindset may well be an asset to an ultrarunner. We have to run lots of miles -- and many of them are going to be alone. We have to know and trust in ourselves. But still.

OK, here's a flashback. I started my AT thru-hike in June of 1997 at Springer Mountain. Most hikers start in early spring. That meant I hiked alone. A lot. I can still hear myself creating rhythms with hiking poles, bouncing pack, and shoe strikes. I might add a little beat box, or whistle a melody over the rhythm. I remember the long mental ramblings. I build homes in my mind. I embrace time alone - sail along in my own world, and soak up the miles under my feet. So what happens when I see another hiker, headed the opposite direction? I still remember some of them. A pair of Canadian hikers, southbound. A young couple. We all stopped, immediately occupied with a chance encounter. Someone to talk to, share with. We swap information about the trail ahead, but mostly just spend a few minutes in each others' company. And then we part, refreshed. Someone else we know, even if only in that one brief encounter.

I let a handful of people know about the high country 3-day. Byron Backer had run the Tour De Appalachia I hosted a few years back, and he threw his hat in for this one. I spoke with Annette Bednosky, another veteran ultrarunner, during the Trail Days Half-Marathon in Damascus two weeks ago. She expressed interest in running some mountain trails with me in preparation for her run at Western States. And Fast Girl. Jenny Nichols jumped in with both feet. She's been running trails, and now ultras, for about a year. She's into it. She'd run Saturday and Sunday and help with shuttles and supplies. "I'll have a whole spread!" she told me. Well she did. She had so much that she was able to feed all the thru-hikers who passed while she waited for us.

The surprise was David Horton. He calls me Thursday night to find out what I've got going on for the weekend. So I tell him and he says he will probably show up and help crew (!). Well he did. Crews and takes me and Beth Minnick (who, along with Joey ran the second 4 hour run that day) out to dinner after day 2. That's where it gets really good, because we sit next to a bevvy of thru-hikers at the Whistle Pig in Damascus. Horton loves thru-hikers. A big part of his trip here is to meet and offer "trail magic" to them. Weeks of resisting gravity puts people in a state of perpetual deprivation. Hikers are especially grateful for things most people take for granted -- like a cold soda. Or cookies. But mostly Horton just likes to talk to them, tease them, find out what they're up to. Ultimately, he loves to give -- everything. No one accuses Horton of holding back.

I'm not so wide open. I do hold back. I analyze. I postponed scheduling this trek for weeks because I was unsure about the strength of my achilles. The results should help me decide about Mohican and Burning River -- two summer hundreds I may run. I could relate my thinking here, but honestly, I have not been inclined to think much about it. I've mostly thought about the people I ran with over Memorial Day Weekend. Of course I'm grateful for the help through a rigorous set of runs. Someone accompanied me, after all, on each of the five parts. And I did enjoy the interactions and conversations we had. Mostly, though, I have this sense of elevation. And not just from being perched on Buzzard Rock. I've been buoyed by a spirit of boundlessness -- one that seems especially at home in the body of an ultrarunner.


  1. eric,

    Thanks so much for allowing me to be apart of your epic weekend:o) it was not only extremely fun, but I felt like I gleaned so much from the experience and I'm so extremely appreciative
    I know you are so independent ( you completely embody emerson's essay "self-reliance") you could of ran self-supported the entire thing, hung out alone all weekend at your camp, and been content in your solitude -- no question. However, it was VERY COOL ( for lack of a better phrase) you shared your adventure with others and let so many feel they were apart of something very special.

  2. Hi Erik - don't know you, just found you and loved this post. Thanks for sharing. I especially liked your last quote: I might even borrow that one!