16 August 2010

Not That Great

Ed Note: Yes, I know, I’ve promised stories from the Wolves race. Sadly, my primary computer is down for the count with maintenance issues. All of the Wolves pictures are over there. So again, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the Wolves, and hopefully enjoy this tale in the meantime.

It’s easy to romanticize. We do it all the time. Imagine that perfect setting, that perfect experience, scope it, plan it, just do it, it will be great. Yeah, well, not always.

That famous glitzy running magazine features a spread every month called the “Rave Run”, where some über-fit denizen of our community glides along through breathtaking scenery, without, of course, having their breath taken away, since that would be a bad thing during a run. On occasion that feature has even hit a place or two where I’ve run, and they are fabulous spots. But since we don’t get those opportunities often, we try to re-create something similar close to home.

A few days back I had a business meeting in Connecticut, about an hour and a half from home, and as is often the case with my late-night routine, I didn’t drag my bones out of bed early enough to pop in a few miles in the pre-work sunrise hours. Rather than fret, I saw this as an opportunity: pack the bag, find a good spot, and plan a rave run for the ride home, once safely removed from customers who actually desire that the engineers who visit are clean-smelling and somewhat kempt. It is, after all, a sales job. But I digress.

My target, courtesy of a thirty-second web search, was the Air Line Trail (or Airline Trail, depending on who you believe), an abandoned rail bed stretching 50 miles through northeastern Connecticut. In my brief web search, I didn’t catch much information about the trail; I simply looked for a spot not far from my travel route but away from civilization. In northeastern Connecticut, that isn’t really that hard; I chose a section near Hampton in the James L. Goodwin State Forest. Ah, what better way to end a workday on the road than with a pleasant ramble through the forest, where the map promised trailside lakes and forest scenery, the former railway promised relatively flat and easy going, and the brief web search hinted at a soft, unpaved surface.

After a few miscues – as it turns out you cannot find the trail when it crosses US Route 6, forcing a start in the forest at the next road crossing – I hit the trail. Flat and easy going? Check. Soft, unpaved surface? Check, a fine respite for that nagging Achilles. Scenery? Too early to tell. So, two out of three so far, not bad, but there was a forth forest feature I hadn’t figured on. A frighteningly frequent flying formation fomenting furious frenzy. Silly me, I should’ve known better.

Cursed flies. Evil, villainous, cursed flies. I’d use stronger words but we try to keep this family oriented.

Now, I’m not saying I was really prepared for this. It was a quick, last minute, running-out-of-the-house decision. I’d made tactical errors. No dry clothing outside of dress work clothes for afterward. No beverage stock. No plastic bag to keep the car key fob dry (hmm, soak it in salt or carry it looped around the fingers…neither optimal). And no bug juice. The latter would have been handy against mosquitoes, but not having it was really not the problem; it would have been useless.

These were not your average house flies, or even your typical black flies. These were kamikaze flies, terrorizing in swarms, like kamikazes using their impact more than their weapons to agonize. Before I was a hundred meters down the trail I was pelted with a hailstorm of winged protein packets. No bug juice could have penetrated the air quick enough to turn them back from their evolution-honed attack vectors. Frankly, it’s hard to figure out how they do it, how they seem to position themselves in your path and allow you to smack them as they smack you.

Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead. This is going to be a beautiful route. I am going to enjoy this.

Except that it really wasn’t, and I really didn’t. Trees, trees, and more trees. Don’t get me wrong. I love trees. I will hike for days. I love forests. But even the most excitable peak-bagger will tell you that the wooded summits are a bit of a letdown. We outdoors types do like some spice on our food. We do like something more than trees. Now where were those lakes on the map? Ah, yes, those weed-choked over-phosphated almost-thick-enough-to-walk-over quasi swamps. Yes, those must have been the lakes I was promised. Well, as they say, it looked good in the brochure, but that was just marketing.

Truth? It wasn’t that bad. But more truth? It wasn’t that great.

Well, when you’re in it, you’re in it, and you might as well milk it. I pushed on, at a harder pace than planned in a futile attempt to outrun at least some of the flies, till I reached the fifth road crossing which I’d measured as a tad over five miles out, having seen a mere two humans by that time (not even another runner to commiserate with!), then spun it around for the return trip home. Being a hot, humid evening, my shirt soaked and heavy, it wasn’t long till the ancient runner’s malady set in, with friction on the pointy bits creating red streaks down my white top along with the accompanying screaming soreness of every stride. On a normal day, the solution is easy. Lose the shirt. But not with four miles of flies between me and the car.

Soldier on.

Probably the worst insult was having to jump in the car instantly after coming off the trail. No walking warm down, no time to let the drippage subside. Grab the towel, slam the door, and get out’a there. Fast.

So it wasn’t the rave run. It wasn’t the nirvana spot I’ll return to. But we have to take what we’re given and make the most of it. It was certainly an adventure. And it was the first hard ten miler I’d logged in a long time.

Who knew flies could be such tough coaches?

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