Sunday, August 15, 2010
Coming Down the Mountain
I haven't gone up the mountain since June.
The mountain. I walk and run for a while, and then as dawn comes in, I go up a switchback dirt trail that rises almost 300 feet to the top of the Watchung Ridge. It's loose rocks, bedrock outcrops, and tree roots all the way. A year ago, I stopped twice on the way up. Not any more. At the top, I can look down on the lights of the town.
The mountain is really the end of a ridge. Once I'm up there, I can follow a paved road, closed to automobiles, that runs for a mile, almost level, along the top of the ridge. The best days are the few when the clouds are so low that I'm in the fog up there. One time I was going down that road, and saw shadowy figures ahead. Deer, I thought, but no, as I got closer I realized they were smaller. And they were bipeds. Six turkeys! They walked off to one side as I approached. It was like a dream.
It was in the last week of June that I pulled some connective tissue in my left foot and joined the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of plantar fasciitis. I've whined about it in all four blog posts in July. Sorry. Here's where I am now. I've been doing four miles on weekdays, two running and two walking, and six miles on weekends, three running and three walking. Maybe it sounds like I'm all better but I'm not. The foot stills stiffens up when I'm not using it.
Before the injury I had gotten pretty frisky. I enjoyed moving around. Dropping fifty pounds since April '09 made me practically bounce up from chairs. It's like when you carry a heavy backpack for a while and then take it off.
Yeah. I wanted to move. Any excuse. If I needed to go get something down the hall or on the other floor of my house, great! I used to sigh before getting up from chairs. But that was all over. Now I'd look forward to finding some reason to jump up and go get whatever it was. I was active. I was healthy.
And then, I lost it. Now it hurts when I get up, unless I first spend a few seconds stretching the foot. That sure takes the spontaneity out of it. It's pushing me back to wanting to be sedentary. No. I am fighting that.
I need to run. It's an escape. By the end of one mile, the fascia loosens up and the pain is gone. I am free from it. I know it will come back later but I don't care. For a while I am free.
I've been off work for a week. I decided it was time to go up the mountain again.
The only reason I'd avoided it was that I thought my foot might not cope with the uneven footing and twisting that would be involved. The walking and running I'd been doing was all on paved roads.
Since I had the time, not going to work, I was doing the six-mile walk and run every day. It takes me past the reservation entrance twice. I looked up the entrance road every time. It was obviously too dark to go in even on the second pass. I would have to start out a little later. I would need to guess what the right time was, since the days are shorter now than they were in late June.
I figured 5:15 might be right. I worked back. Two miles of running would be 22 minutes, and a mile and a half of walking would be 24, so that's about 46, so the next day I left the house at 4:30.
I glanced into the the reservation entrance at the first pass while I was running the second mile. No light in there at all, but no worries, it would be 15 minutes before I was back. When I came back around, walking, it was bad. Pitch dark. I crossed the street and took a few strides in. But it was no good. I need at least a little light to take that trail. I ran the third mile on roads like I had been doing. But I saw daylight coming around the middle of the third running mile, and guessed that I'd been off by only about 7 minutes. Should I go back? No, I was committed. Next day would do it.
I left the next day at 4:37. Precisely. The entrance was dark on the first pass, all right, but on my second pass, now it looked like it might be possible. I tested it by walking in. Yes, there was just barely enough light. I had done it once before in this minimal light. I went for it.
I went up the gravel road, and turned into the grassy path that goes near the old quarry. I started up the switchback trail, in its darkest part. If I didn't know the way it would have been hard, but I knew the light would increase as I progressed, both because there were fewer trees overhead as I went up and because dawn was coming in.
I reached the top without stopping. I looked down on the town, the streetlights still on, and over to the pink light of dawn in the east. It was like the old days. I felt good.
I was going to decide when I got there whether to run a third mile on the paved road on the top of the ridge. My foot felt a little stiff, so I decided to walk. As I feared, the injured foot had come down several times on the edges of rocks and roots, and twisted. Maybe I had made a mistake.
Walking the paved road was otherwise not a problem. At the end of the mile, I decided to go down the paved footpath out of the reservation. Oh no, the foot did not like the steep downhill there.
I reached civilization, in the form of a suburban street. I still had much downhill to go. The foot was not happy with walking down a steep slope. But it was the only way home.
Before the end of a few blocks I started thinking about the idea of calling Helen to get a ride. But it wasn't quite that bad yet. And I didn't want to.
I made it to my street, and now all I needed to do was walk about a mile relatively level.
I was feeling pretty down. I had been able to do this once, not so long ago. I had felt strong and able to walk anywhere. I don't like thinking about human limitations. I want to believe that I can do anything. I don't mind if I can't do something because I haven't practiced it and learned how to do it. But I want to believe that I could practice and could learn. But with this, I knew what to do, and I knew I could do it two months ago, and now I couldn't do it.
I was walking on the sidewalk, on the righthand side of the street. I was reduced to that. I run in the road, near the center, so one foot isn't lower than the other because of the crown of the road. I run in the road because sidewalks can have uneven blocks you can trip over. Running in the road is one reason I like going out early. Almost no traffic. I even walk in the road. But not now. I was walking on the freakin' sidewalk. I had come down the mountain to reality, to normal mortal humanhood. I hated it.
About a half mile from home I heard a runner coming up behind me on the left side of the road. That's where I wanted to be. Jealous, I was. I wanted to be that runner. I wanted to be one of them, without pain, without stiffness, moving free.
I don't know why I looked over at the runner as she passed, on the other side of the road. Or maybe I do. Sometimes I need to impress myself with what I am experiencing. I need to take a good look.
I looked at her face. I would know that profile anywhere.
It was Runner Girl.
I wasn't planning on it. I wasn't waiting for it. I just ... let it happen. It was Runner Girl.
If she recognized me, she didn't look over at me. I had no chance to nod at her or wave. She just passed by, like she had once done so often. But this was only the second time I saw her in 2010.
My spirits were lifted.
I let her get a block and a half ahead, and I crossed the road, and I started to run. I found that my pace was almost the same as hers. I think I was slightly faster. I was running, and the pain and stiffness left me.
I didn't stop until I reached my house. I could see her running off into the night. I felt better.
I checked the time I got in, of course. Was this her new running time? It was only about a half hour earlier than she used to run. Had I really missed this small change?
I did something wrong. I timed running the next day so that I'd hit my street at the same time. It was wrong because you cannot repeat this kind of experience. When I saw her, it would just be, well there she is, when I expect to see her. It wouldn't be the miraculous event. It would be ordinary.
But it was not ordinary. I did not see her. I was sure. If she'd been even ten minutes either side of the same time, I'd have seen her that next day. That fact made it even more amazing.
Can it actually be, that just the one day I needed a boost, on just that one day, that was the day when our paths in life collided? Was it pure chance?
It looks like it was.
Go figure. I can't explain it.
Next time: Making a Subway Map XI.