In Tom Robbins' book Skinny Legs and All, Dirty Sock is making his way to Mecca with his traveling companions Spoon, Conch Shell, and Can of Beans. Along the way, Dirty Sock somehow falls into a stream, and despite struggling mightily, soon finds himself totally waterlogged and facing a certain watery death. Facing the inevitable, he gives up and resigns himself to his fate. Then, suddenly, he gets hooked by a log, winds up drying out in the sun and is thus saved, in the process learning that just when one really and truly gives up all hope, things sometimes take a turn for the better.
And so, today was the day I conceded defeat. The soul-crushing hills of Missouri and my FPOS bike have successfully conspired to wither my Ironchick spirit. I have blisters on my left hand from trying to shift – another day of that on these hills and they’ll find me trudging back into town babbling to myself and shaking my head in wide-eyed horror, leaving the bike for the vultures to pick at. (Though it was an amusing moment when I was in a shop yesterday and wound up chatting with a youngish guy who worked there, and when I mentioned where I had been biking, his response was “Oh yeah, the Cardiac Hills.”)
So instead I decided to go for my LAR (Long Ass Run), heading to the trails-that-do-not-loop, figuring I’d try out the ones TaiChiGuy was telling me about. Before I set out, I tuck a piece of taffy in the back pocket of my running tank, as a halfway-point treat. It’s not a bagel, but it’ll do.
At 6AM, there’s no one around and there’s still a mist hanging over the lakeriver. The only sounds are those of the birds – the cardinal, the woodpecker, and some extremely noisy little birds peeping away; who the hell knows what they are. I trudge up steps made out of railroad ties, contemplating the impossibility of it all. As I’m huffing along, I suddenly hear some gruff little barks, and look around for the rabid Chihuahua that I’m sure will come darting out. Instead, I see two tiny red foxes scampering towards me, just a foot or two away. And a bit further back, a bigger animal is loping along – a wolf? Bobcat? As I peer into the woods on this uphill slope, contemplating running after the creature to get a better view, a thought pops unbidden into my mind, and not for the first time: “I am an idiot.”
I decide it might be smart to keep moving along.
I then come across Where Christmas Trees Go To Die. Yes, there are bundles of brown Christmas tree husks, still tied up, all along the sides of this narrow path. At first there are piles, and I wonder if someone was dumping them here. Then as they get more evenly spaced, lining the path like sentinels of Christmases past, I realize that they’ve been left here as compost. Clever. It’s a little eerie, just me and the trees under a dark and cool green forest canopy, but pretty neat at the same time.
The Hiawathas of the state forest system have been goldbricking, apparently, because this path isn’t very well-marked either. My one excursion down a gulley and over to the other side only leads to some ugly houses (ptooey), but when I come across a path that veers off randomly, I decide to take it, adventure-seeker that I am. It’s only a national forest in Missouri, after all – how lost can I possibly get?
So as I’m wandering in the backyards of these McMansions that butt up against the forest, I wonder how many Missourians actually own guns, and how quick they are to shoot seeming trespassers. The reentry path is nowhere to be found. As I go along, I walk right past a condo where a woman is sitting and having her morning coffee, but when I ask her if she knows where the other path is, she has no idea. Well of course, you just live on the edge of the forest – why ever bother to actually go hiking in it? How silly of me. To be polite, I mumble an apology for tramping through her 4-inch backyard, but of course I’m not really sorry. You buy housing that sits on what used to be national land, you take what you get.
I get to a house that’s built a barrier around the wee backyard, meaning I have to walk in front of the houses now. As I do so, I dimly recall TaiChiGuy saying something about a cul-de-sac, and lo and behold, there’s one coming up! The thing is, I now have to traipse back into someone’s yard in order to get to a possible path. Hmm. I run around the cul-de-sac once, mulling, then go for it, running between two houses and quickly scanning the backyards. Aha! There’s my path, which I recognize from the other day – it’s the path-that-doesn’t-loop. Victory is mine!
After running the rest of the trail, I finally reemerge from the forest, and notice that I’ve only been gone about 80 minutes – not long enough for a LAR. So, I decide to start on the trail again, thinking of this as being like a training plan for a Frank Dobbs race. But this time I actually run up the steps made of railroad ties, thinking of Carolyn while doing so. If I collapse in a heap on our beloved SF sandladder, it won’t be for lack of trying. This was of course before I knew the damn thing was an incomprehensible 400 (!) steps, so I think collapse is a foregone conclusion. Ah well.
I go down another path, for a change of scenery, but am stopped by the sight of many dead herons, in various states of decomposition. What the heck? And nearby is a pool of slimy, bright green water/muck. Somehow I doubt that there’d be a toxic pond of waste in a national forest, but then, those in charge still think there’s a looping trail, so there might be quite a few things they don’t know about. Later I stop at the Conservation Station by the dam to mention this to them, and find out that that’s where they put dead birds and fish, as compost. Ah, it all makes sense now.
My total run clocks in at 1:50, which minus the lollygogging and trail searching and animal-seeking makes for perhaps a 1:30 run, which is okay. And while my bike still sucks and will continue to suck, the natural beauty and sights and sounds I've seen before most people have even gotten out of bed has made me smile, and uplifted my soul.
When I get back to the car and sit down to drive off, I’m startled by something digging into my back. Ah yes, my now misshapen lump of taffy. Which turns out to taste just fine.