Tuesday, December 6, 2011

To Prevent Life From Escaping

It rained hard yesterday and this morning, and on a grey and dreary and cold day that threatened more rain, I headed out to the base to run.
As I pulled into the gravel parking lot adjacent to the trail heads labeled mountain bike trail and horse trail I was gratified to see that mine was the only vehicle in the lot.
The ground would be saturated from the heavy rain we had a few days ago, and then saturated again from rain we had yesterday, and heading in I knew that every low lying area would be filled with multiple large pools and running streams of water.
Not great biking conditions at all, and although many would think that these were also not great trail running conditions either I entered the trail excited and eager to take on the challenges of very wet conditions.
I was wearing long tights, a long sleeved tech shirt, fleece vest and rain shell, and within only a few minutes realized that I was overdressed.
As I continued running I unzipped the large zippers that ran underneath both arms and then down both sides of my jacket for more ventilation, but even with "pit zips" unzippered found that I was still too warm.
Reluctantly I stopped only 10 minutes onto the trail, pulled my jacket off and stashed it deep into the large outer zippered compartment of the pack I was wearing.
As I absently drank from the hose of my Camelbak water bladder
I wondered why it had taken me three months to pull it out of a gear box, fill it and load it into the sleeve of my pack.
Life is so much simpler drinking from a bladder at will, as opposed to the other options, both of which I have implemented these past months - either stopping infrequently to grab a water bottle from the back of my pack, or holding a water bottle in my hand while running for more frequent hydration.
As I wondered why I had not dug out the Camelbak before now I realized that there was no good reason other than I just hadn't.
The first section of the trail was relatively dry and I was pleased to still have dry feet, but felt confident that that would not last very long.............
Briefly leaving a hard wood section of trail and crossing over a narrow and hilly open power line area before hitting a very soft-under-your-feet pine needle filled evergreen section of trail.............

As I entered the first of many pine tree sections of trail I noticed a bike water bottle cage hanging from a tree.
There are a very large number of mountain bike trails in Middle Tennessee and I have only biked on a small number of them because there are so many good trails much closer to home that are also quieter.
But one of many things I really like about this particular series of trails, located on the grounds of a military base close to small towns and away from big cities, is that the users of this trail are honest.
I read often about people losing their property (bikes, helmets, pumps etc.) to theft on other heavily used trails.
But even in the short time I have been back in Tennessee (and the even shorter time I have returned to these particular trails), I have seen water bottles and this bike cage (and even a helmet) hanging from hooks by the trail head and from branches on the trail.
I have read about stolen trail gnomes on other trails. 
But two years after I covertly placed one at the head of this mountain bike trail before heading for Juneau, it is happily still in place.
I long ago realized that expecting grandiose displays of honesty or integrity from people was likely a misplaced expectation, so in return I learned to appreciate every small sign of those same qualities.
Every time I see a cage or helmet or bottle that has been left in the hopes that its owner will again find it in the same place that they lost it I am heartened...............
Back into bare hard woods and leaf filled trail I dropped down into a gorge and began to see water in low lying areas.............
At one more trail crossing.
This wide jeep trail in both directions was quiet and beautiful and I stopped for a brief moment before continuing straight ahead, picking up the root-filled and leaf filled and rock filled winding single track trail again................
This long and winding section of trail has many ups and downs and water was the dominant theme in low areas.
In one large pool that I could not avoid I finally soaked my feet.
After realizing that a very large section of the trail was effectively underwater I walked through the center of a huge pond of water and decided that it was actually liberating to get it over with.
Trying to keep your feet dry, with all the mental and physical energy required to watch and circumvent and quick-step, when ultimately you know all along that there is just too much water and why are you wasting time worrying about wet feet anyway??
Once they were both soaked I could forget all about my feet, suck it up and drive on, and just enjoy doing what I was doing.
Which was running on a cold and drizzly day in a quiet outdoor place that I alone owned..............
A second power line crossing..............
After another long stretch of winding single track I stopped briefly at a large power line area where three separate trails intersect and then headed down a long single track straightaway.
This section grades slowly and gradually downhill, and with already soaking wet feet I did not even attempt to side step the water that was slowly but definitely streaming down towards what I knew would end in a very large pool at the lowest section of the trail about 3/4 of a mile away.
I ran directly through the middle of the water and it was all good.
I was feeling great and having a great run, and loving being where I was, doing what I was doing.............
There was no getting around it.
The pond in the middle of the trail was completely surrounded by small but fast moving off shoot streams that had temporarily appeared to accommodate the inordinate levels of rain we had had in just a short period of time...........
I smiled like a little kid as I waded through the middle of the cold and ankle deep water...........
I have to shake my head sometimes when I think back over the many times I have been absolutely soaking wet from head to toe while swimming and wading through freezing cold water during races.
In a long and freezing cold race in WV my team-mate and I were four days into a race when we hit what was supposed to be an easy river crossing section late at night.
Race officials had set up a long rope across the width of the river and we were tasked with making our way across the cold and high and very fast moving water headed towards a red light that we could see in the blackness on the other side.
What we should have done was take off as many clothes as we could steal ourselves to take off in the cold, stash them all in our dry bags in our overstuffed and already heavy back packs, hang on to the rope and just straight line across.
It would have been freezing cold and we would have been soaking wet, but it also would have been over in probably 15 minutes and we would have had dry clothes to put on when we reached the other side.
We did not do that.
What we did was try to stay dry and it was a terrible strategy that backfired badly for us.
My team-mate (while hanging on to the rope not long after we began our precarious journey across river) lost his balance almost from the get-go and the only thing that prevented him from getting swept down river was his grip on the rope.
With him now soaking wet we continued balancing and slipping on rocks, stepping into thigh deep rapids and then restepping while searching for shallow portions to place our feet, all the while hanging on to the rope for dear life.
By the time we made it 1/3 of the way across river the water calmed down a little and in the dark we let go of the rope and began to rock and island hop further into the center of the wide river where the water continued to get even calmer.
Which seemed like a good idea at the time but in our exhausted state (after four days of cold and hard racing) we lost sight of the red light, found that the islands were larger than they had first appeared and that they were not in fact the opposite shore as they had appeared to be in the dark.
We both eventually began to get very disoriented in the coldness and darkness of the huge and raging river.
To make matters worse we were both completely soaking wet.
I began to realize that we had been far too cold for far too long and I could feel the panic starting to rise.
This was getting serious and I knew it.
Where the hell was the red light?  Where the hell was the mainland?  Where the hell were all the race officials?
Eventually we ran out of land and we found ourselves swimming fully clothed and carrying full packs.
Ten minutes after beginning our swim I could finally feel the river bottom again and I stood up exhausted and freezing and struggling to walk.
And then I heard a mans' voice.
I turned to the sound and saw only a headlamp attached to the silhouette of a man, but as he waded through the now shallow water towards us he yelled and asked us if we were OK.
 I yelled back that no, we were not OK.
I had been in this condition a couple of other times in Winter races and knew that I was suffering from hypothermia.
He ran towards us, grabbed my hand, I grabbed my team-mates hand and the silhouetted man with the headlamp dragged us through the water to shore.
Reaching shore he continued to pull me (and I continued to pull my team-mate) by the hand through the bushes which eventually opened up into a large and wide open area.
The first thing I saw was the huge blazing bonfire.
Another man ran up to us and thrust a cup of soup into my hand.
I spilled it everywhere because I was shaking so badly and he quickly took it away from me.
And that is when a lot of people seemed to spring into action.
Somebody pulled my top off.
Somebody pulled my long tights off.
Somebody threw me a warm and dry fleece top and somebody helped me put it on.
Somebody threw a blanket around me.
A couple of somebodies grabbed me by my elbows and threw me into a car and turned the heat on full blast.
I fell asleep immediately still wrapped in a blanket.
I was woken up frequently by random and unknown people who came to check on me but fell asleep again immediately after they were gone.
90 minutes later my team-mate woke me up. 
He has sat awake and by the fire trying to dry both his and my clothes and I felt both deeply touched by the gesture and deeply guilty that I had slept in a warm car for 90 minutes while he had not.
My clothes were still damp and it was very very difficult to put damp clothes on a recovering and still internally cold body, but we had 18 hours left before the race cutoff and we had to move on.
The Gore Tex and fleece lined gloves that I had worn for four day were toast - soaked beyond redemption and I threw a pair of sock over my hands to keep them warm.
The last item of dry clothing I had left in my pack.
We set out and headed towards the location of the start of 3000 feet of climbing and bouldering and soon I was warm again.
We were not the only team who were chewed up and spit out on that section of the race, but our cold water experience was a testament to our strong desire to finish ............
Surprising shots of bright green, located in a leafy sea of brown...........
And one more beautiful shot of green - some type of (name unknown to me) nuts that have recently fallen from the trees.
I love the look of them.............
Every small shot of color at this time of year is like a gift.........
A mile from my truck I made the spur of the moment decision to veer off the single track, head down an unmarked and unmaintained trail and short cut it to a large picnic shelter that I have visited often in the past.
I had not stopped at the shelter since returning to Tennessee and suddenly very much wanted to see it............
Heading down the unmaintained trail.
That at this time of year truthfully does not look a whole lot different from those trails that are maintained............
The double track unmaintained trail led to this..............
Which quickly led to this.
I have picnicked here, used this shelter as home base for a mountain bike race that I organized, sat and stood here alone often (usually at the end of runs and bikes), and today visited for the first time in over two years..........
Places to hitch horses.............
And one last downhill to the parking lot.
By the end of my run I was tired and cold and it felt good to be done.............
These signs are located frequently throughout all recreational areas of the base and I have seen them for years.............
But this sign, located on a bulletin board specific to the horse riding crowd that use this area infrequently, is new.
A reminder, for people like me, to not take the signs (or the warnings) for granted..............
We take these risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us............Author Unknown

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