Monday, October 10, 2011

The Base - Part 1

In March of 2009 I drove to Chattanooga to meet a prospective team-mate for a race I wanted to do in Kentucky.
He lived in Georgia and although we had spoken and emailed to discuss our goals and experience, we met in person to see if we had a good enough rapport with each other and similar enough biking and running abilities to be able to actually spend 24 hours straight in the woods with each other.
Happily we did.
We found that we had similar racing temperaments and were compatible physically and by the middle of that day I was greatly looking forward to racing with this solid and fun-loving guy.
After trail running for part of the morning we grabbed our bikes and hit the trails having great fun along the way.
After biking through a series of technical trails we headed back to our vehicles.
I could actually see my truck in the parking lot and instead of riding the road the last 1/4 mile I cut through a children's play park.
I hit a ditch filled with wet leaves within just a few feet of the vehicles.
The front wheel and the handlebars aggressively twisted to the left, I lost control of my bike and took a hard fall, ending up unceremoniously on the ground tangled up in a mass of metal and spokes and wheels.
My left knee hit the ground hard and I wrenched my neck, but after untangling myself and then making a grab for my water bottle, I finally picked myself and my bike up and walked back to the truck feeling fine.
For a couple of days my knee was slightly swollen but I was not too worried, and soon continued back with regular bike/run/paddling workouts without incident.
My little biking mishap was quickly forgotten.
A month later we found ourselves in the middle of the race and on the trekking leg of the race.
I rounded a curve on the trail and unexpectedly stepped into a hole on the side of the trail, landing on that same knee.
It hurt.  A lot.  But the pain was brief and we continued on with the race. 
My little trekking mishap also quickly forgotten.
We finished the race tired and feeling good, and instead of staying in Kentucky for much needed sleep we immediately headed home.
Within an hour of sitting in the car my knee began to swell and by the time I got home it was very swollen and I was limping badly and in pain.
The pain and swelling continued to only get worse over the next couple of days, I was thankful that I had taken the extra time off work so that I could rest up after the race, and spent that time with my leg iced and elevated hoping to bring the swelling down.
By the time I went back to work a few days later my knee was still swollen but not as badly as it had been, the pain had diminished slightly but not disappeared, and as I walked down the hallways of my work place my knee developed an unfortunate habit of unexpectedly giving out.
I have had all manner of knee problems in the past but this was new.
I finally broke down and saw a specialist who said it may be a torn meniscus but he wouldn't know for certain until I had an MRI.
My deductible was $600.
At the same time my truck needed repairs.  Cost?  $600.
At the end of the day the truck repairs stupidly prevailed, and I resolved to try and rehab my knee myself.
And so I stopped training and focused on resting, icing, elevating, more resting.
All the while restless to return to the trails.
Against my very nature I committed to healing properly and the Summer of 09 was taken up entirely with gradually easing back into workouts, gradually increasing distances again, taking time off if there was any swelling or pain.
By late Summer I was running and biking pain free and my training was back in full swing.
In late September I raced with three guys at a race in Missouri.
We started at 11pm after being bused with the other teams to the starting location, and right from the get-go set out on a trekking section with much running and much bushwhacking.
Within the first hour I had blown out my knee.
We were in the middle of nowhere in the rolling hills of Missouri and in the middle of the night.
My knee was swollen and painful and completely unstable, and while I could still walk on flat terrain I could not walk down hills at all without taking a lot of time and using a trekking pole for support.
I was in a lot of pain, felt very badly that I had now slowed my team-mates down to a crawl, and very disappointed that I had just blown an entire Summer of careful and tedious rehab.
Finally at 9am the next morning we hit a manned check point and I pulled out of the race, meaning that the team was now racing "unofficial" but at least they could still race.
I drove back to Tennessee dejected and uncertain about my racing future, and finally resigned to the fact that this was not an issue that I could solve myself.
I would have to get that MRI.  And was a torn lateral meniscus.
My surgery was scheduled for December third, and between the time I blew out my knee and the time of my surgery I found myself happily busy and going through the extended and extensive process of being hired in Juneau.
By the time I arrived in Juneau in early January 2010 my knee was healed but still unstable and weak.
In addition to taking on my new position in Juneau I found myself also very busy strengthening my knee and learning what I would and would not be able to do from that point forward.
The last time I was on the base trails was just before that September 2009 race.
Until today....................

I woke up this morning at 5am, drank coffee and surfed the Internet until it was light enough to drive out to the base, and then I finally headed out.
I was excited to be heading for the base trails again. 
Truthfully I was unsure as to whether or not I could handle them anymore.
I had not run 7 miles since September 2009, but resolved that this morning I would indeed run them............
There are untold miles of trails located close to the main gates of the base and over the years I have been on all of them at one time or another.
I had a seven mile loop that I ran frequently and that I know every inch of, that I ran today.
An interesting combination of single track filled with twists and turns and bends and multiple tight switchbacks, some longs straight-aways, some long and grinding and gradual inclines, and a handful of short steep down hills that drop you down into gorges before challenging you with short and steep up hills.
Added to the mix are both well groomed and rutted out jeep trails, horse trails, fire service roads and electric power line trails.
Mostly hard wood forest with some tall and very old pine trees, and beautiful fields that are filled with wild flowers in the Summer and early Fall.
Located just outside of a number of surrounding small towns these trails are not busy or filled with people.
When I parked in the gravel parking lot close to the trails mine was the only vehicle in the lot.
By the time I came back out there were four other vehicles parked next to mine but I did not see anyone else the entire time that I was out there.
That works for me.
This was my playground for a long time - my quiet and isolated space where I could just be.......................
A place where three trails intersect.
I know where they all lead.
Today I followed my 7 mile loop but will travel the others in the near future either on bike or on foot...............
It has been a long time since I saw an oak tree................
These signs are located throughout the trail system on the base.
In addition to traveling on trails LC and I have also spent a lot of time bushwhacking the area to set up checkpoint flags for navigation trainings and have never come across anything out of the ordinary.
But I do know that about a year before I left Tennessee an unexploded ordinance was indeed found by a local in the area.
Always wise to pay attention to where you put your feet..............
By the time I was at mile 6 I was getting very tired.
Did I really run this loop without a second thought in my previous life?
Yes I did.  But in this life 6 trail miles seemed like a long haul.
I was loving the trails, loving being out there, loving that we were back in Tennessee so that I could be in this place again.
I was getting tired and getting sore, and my lower body was beginning to tighten.
But it was all good.
It was better than good.
I was back in a place that welcomed me as much as I welcomed it.
And at the end of mile 7 I sat on a bench, dug my water bottle out from a pocket on the outside of my pack and looked at the changing leaves while catching my breath
These trails and I are old friends and today we had a chance to bond again with each other...........
I always loved was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs........Jesse Owens 

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