Monday, May 27, 2013

#463: 10 Mountain Miles

Yes, there are beautiful places. The Rockies can be so beautiful that words stick in your throat. Sunset over the Pacific can bring you to tears. The icy waters of Lake Superior on an August afternoon on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan can make you feel like you're stepping back in time. I love all these places, but my God do I love my Kentucky.

Today, I ran 10 miles in a little more heat than I would have preferred. We didn't get out of the house until late, and it's a good hour's drive to Cedar Hill in Nicholas County, so it was almost 1:00 and 75° when I finally strapped on my hydration pack and hit the country roads.

How to capture such a beautiful experience? I started out strong. The beginning of the course is a gentle slope along the north bank of Crooked Creek. Then, just past the 1 mile mark, you turn right (on this course, you only turn right,) and begin your ascent on Johnson Road. This is no ordinary climb.
Elevation chart for the Cedar Hill 10 mile loop

Johnson Road climbs 236 feet in just over a mile. And those little bumps at the top of the ridge are no joke either. As I trudged along, I remembered the day, weeks before, when I had tried to top this ridge at the end of a 20 mile run. I wasn't making that mistake today. I wisely put it at the start of today's run. I passed a family working in their front yard, planing flowers. Dad was swinging an enormous pick, and I was happy to move along, however slowly. A trio of yapping dogs, the first of many little packs I encountered, raced to meet me as I ran. I didn't confront them or even slow down. I ignored them, maintained my speed, and tried to look liked the biggest, baddest dog in the woods. None of them saw fit to challenge me, though one bully looking fellow jumped up and nipped at me at one point, snagging my shorts and nearly re-enacting the famous Coppertone ad... only this time with big blue compression shorts instead of a pale, pink bum underneath.
Beware of Dog
 The south face of the ridge drops as steeply and sharply as the north face rises. Running downhill is always a challenge. Running down what amounts to a ski slope requires courage, luck, and the brains of an eggplant. Only an idiot would try it. So naturally, I made the descent my two fastest miles of the day. No walk breaks coming down the hill. I'm not sure I could have stopped if I wanted to.

Once you reach the bottom, you begin a long, rolling run along the north shore of Beaver Creek. The Saltwell United Methodist Church welcomes you into the valley where you'll spend the next few miles among the shady trees. It was noon, so I didn't see a lot of critters. On the other hand, there is next to no traffic on this road, so there isn't much road-kill either. The only time I stopped all day was to pick up a decent sized box turtle and move him over to the side of the road, away from marauding truck tires.

A man driving a tractor gave me a thumbs up as he passed, some kind of dangerous looking machine in tow. Farther down the road, after he had pulled into his driveway, he gave me a holler. "How far you going?" "Ten miles." called back. "Where?" "Crooked Creek," I answered, and was gone into the woods again. I wondered what made him so curious. Maybe he just doesn't see a lot of men in earrings and lime green shoes out here. Or maybe he was once a runner himself. A cross-country star at Nicholas County High School back in the 50s. I smiled at the thought that he just might have run this same route back in the glory days. Part of me wished he'd lace 'em up and join me. But I was enjoying the solitude far too much to really want to share.

Lucky for me, my bird wasn't in a fighting mood.
Just past the 7.25 mark, I started getting a little tingling feeling. I knew that there was a serious hill at the end of this course. My friend Sandy had warned me about it, but also promised a rich reward for the effort. The climb up the ridge on Gannett Road is just as high as the one on Johnson, only it gets there in half the distance. This isn't a hill, it's a pillar. Parts of it feel more like mountain climbing than running. But Sandy was right. The view from the top is really out of this world. Miles of rolling hills in all directions. Turkey Buzzards and hawks circling at eye level as they scan the ground far below for a little afternoon snack. As I crested the hill, there was a whoosh and a wild turkey flushed out of the tall grass about 10 yards ahead of me and flapped off toward the tree line. For a moment, I could look all around me and see nothing that had been built by humans. I wondered if this is what the Kentucky that Daniel Boone fell in love with looked like.

The hill from the gate to the house... don't suppose anyone
could just bring me down a bucket of ice and some Ben-gay?
The run back down the other side of this ridge isn't a run at all. It is a scramble. I was possessed by only one thought. "Don't fall." I said my prayers and gave myself over to gravity and the grace of God. I managed to get all the way back to the bridge over Crooked Creek with my Nikes pointing in the right direction. After that, it's one more brutal little hill that's steeper than a Pittsburgh Driveway, then a weary mile or so back to the cool porch, a cold drink, and a hot shower.

My friend Terry was waiting for me at the gate. "I can't believe you just ran 10 miles. I can barely walk from here to the house." I smiled, (I hope) and answered, "I am seriously considering driving myself up to the porch." I didn't. But I wanted to.

The Memorial Day cook-out was in full swing when I arrived. I grabbed a bowl of rice and beans, plopped an impeccably rare burger on top, and went out to select a rocking chair. On the porch, old friends chatted easily about ancient news and modern gossip. We laughed. We caught up. We listened to the frogs gallumphing down by the pond, and some kind of screeching bird that sounded for all the world like an angry monkey. Kentucky in the spring time is all green and blue and cool breezes and music. We had all of that and more. It was a perfect finish to a beautiful day.

Well actually, the apple pie and carrot cake were the perfect finish. I admit it. I am unashamed. Besides, holiday calories don't count, right?


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