Wednesday, April 5, 2017

In The Pines

There's no hill named for me. There's no stretch of trail where my legs move to an unwritten rhythm sacred to that space. There's no spot, no fork in the trail where I had to decide whether grit or defeat would lead me.

But when I joined the trail running crew at Chain O Lakes State Park for the Fat Ass 50K, the big lead up to the Indiana Trail 100, as I traversed the unfamiliar course, I was introduced to Mike's Hill. And Jennifer's Hill. Sandy's Puddle. Joe's Section. The High-Five Tree.

These were parts of the course where the veteran trail runners liked to stretch their legs. To test them. These were parts of the course where they are reminded of a darkest moment but also how they took a step forward, toward the light.

There was an honor in the introductions, as if being led through a secret world hidden by trees and separated from my regular running life by miles and circumstance.

It revealed itself slowly with each footfall, each turn, each deep breath of fresh, crisp air. Tree lines and hills. Dirt paths and grassy fields. Foot bridges and old school houses. There was so much to see, so much to explore that it was hard to focus on the miles ahead. The sound of the wind rustling the bare branches, the voices of the blue birds as they flew from tree to tree -- all a welcome song from the worried refrain that plays in my head when I run 20 miles.

On this magical day, I was ready to claim it all for me. This place, this route could be mine if I just found a way to make my way there as I train for the Another Dam 50K.

But just as I was ready to stake my claim, the brown dirt turned red with rusty pine needles. The clean air took on a sweet fragrance, perfumed by the towering pine trees to the right and left. In an instant, I left that secret world. The one where my trail runners reside and build their lives.

I was home. Underneath the evergreen in the front of my grandma's home, a childhood Christmas tree planted when my mom was a child. Playing underneath, tripping on pine cones and climbing its sturdy branches. I was in a world where the future was abstract and the possibilities endless, accompanied on imaginary adventures by my  brother and cousin.

In that small stretch, just near the turn around, at a place they call Rally, I knew I couldn't put my name on the park. It wasn't all for me. But that spot, where the pine needles blanket the ground and cones ornament the line, I knew I could have that.