The Second Run

Essay
Running Down Cancer
The First Run

The orange full moon I watched rise over the bay last night hangs low over field and forest as I depart for my second run. To move about the world in the early morning hours affords one the chance to witness the beauty and tranquility of the land that few  experience. Fog blankets a farmer’s field and wraps itself around a line of telephone poles, a Great Blue Heron stands motionless on a dock overlooking a lake of glass, and the cool morning air is calm just before the red sun gains the eastern mountains. I step onto the trail that follows an old road into dense hardwoods. The grade is mild, the footing good and there is no other place I would rather be at the moment. At seven in the morning it already feels warm, slightly muggy, and the bugs are already out.  The narrow ribbon of trail on this old road is surrounded by a dense carpet of green that closes in around my ankles. I continually crash through last night’s cobwebs and wonder how on earth a spider can stretch its web across such a large expanse. The trail meanders, leveling out for a time then rolling and dipping, seeming to rise up to meet large trees, their tangle of roots creating steps along the trail. Golden shafts of sunlight slide through their branches. 

Hardwoods subtly give way to pine trees with a sprinkling of birch and the ground becomes springy underfoot. Here the forest is nearly devoid of undergrowth and I can now see much further up and down the mountain side, making for an exaggerated feeling of openness.  As the mountain rises steeply above me I get the feeling that an animal much larger and more powerful than me is watching, perhaps trying to decide if I’d make a good meal. 

Through the entirety of this run, the trail turns from smooth to technical, forcing me to walk and pick my way around small fields of jagged rocks and twisted roots before the trail smoothes out again. Other times it will narrow to little more than a goat path, the land falling away precipitously just inches from the trail’s edge. At times the trail rears up, so much so that it seems I am eye level with the section ahead. 

By nine in the morning, I’ve made it to the trail junction of the New Boston Trail and I take a .2 mile detour down to the shelter to refill my water. As I approach the shelter, an unrhythmic banging drifts up the trail. At the shelter I find a tall man contorted around the central built-in table, trying to sweep out the recesses of the dark cramped little shelter. On either side of the table are sleeping platforms that reach from floor to ceiling. There is heavy wire fence running around the outside with a little gate to let humans in. The man has a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and his neatly arranged pack rests by a tree. He grunts in response to my call of good morning. After a few moments of grumbling and banging around with the broom, he steps out, looks at me and smiles, gives me a more pleasant greeting, then turns back to the shelter and says; “Fucking pigs! It takes ten minutes!” Then he returns to sweeping. As I prepare to leave he jovially wishes me good travels and then goes back sweeping and grumbling. 

By the time I reach the next shelter some time later, I am completely out of water and my inner dialogue of how hard this is is pulling me down. After I fill my water bladder, have a snack and pleasent conversation with a through hiker (A person who hikes a long distance trail all at once.) I feel rejuvenated as I set out again and quickly settle into a steady pace.  My mind, however, is ready to be done, and I keep checking my watch and counting down the miles. I linger for a moment at the junction where the Appalachian Trail diverges from the Long Trail and continues northeast towards Maine. The hum of cars grows louder as I descend through an open forest with large trees and ground covering of a single plant with large green leaves. It is interesting enough to make me pause and look around. Despite the noise of civilization rolling up the mountainside it seems tranquil, almost otherworldly, with the openness of this part of the forest. The land levels out; the sound of cars grows louder. I push through some tall reeds and am at once standing on the side of Route 4 with the traffic barreling by me. After twenty miles and six hours of relative silence, the noise is almost painful and the hurriedness of modern life seems for a moment too much to bear. The simplicity of moving over the land under your own power has a profoundly relaxing effect. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go for a run, I think, as I dart across the busy road to meet my mom.