* It happened to me. Except for No. 8, which I witnessed. Even I would not climb Mount Washington in 2-inch heels (though I have the calves to look good doing it).
Woke up early to head to Princeton, Mass., for the 21st annual Wachusett Mountain Race, put on by a local club, the Central Mass Striders. This year’s event was a 6.2 loop up and down the mountain, mostly via auto road. I was looking forward to the race as a training run for next month’s longer, steeper, scarier Mount Washington Road Race.
As it turns out, I should have left the house even earlier. I got caught behind not one, but two accidents on Routes 3 and 2. The one on Route 2 involved shutting down traffic in both directions for what seemed like an eternity.
Long story short, I made it to the Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort about 15 minutes after the starting gun went off. I could see the tail end of the string of runners huffing uphill about a half mile away as I pulled into the parking lot.
I didn’t want to waste a drive, and I certainly didn’t want to miss a key training day with Mt. Washington less than a month away. I walked over to the registration table, explained my situation and asked if it would be OK if I simply ran the course without a number. I expected them to be fine with it, but they went passed fine and went for really cool.
“No problem”, the nice lady at the registration table said, handing me my bib number and T-shirt. “Just run it whenever you’re ready.”
I turned to leave and two other race volunteers, who had spent the morning checking people in, told me they were starting late too, and I could run with them if I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any of the beginning turns. Talk about nice.
We ran together for about a mile, mostly uphill, before they turned off on a side trail before the real climbing began. For 2.5 miles or so, I “raced” alone, moving uphill through the rain and cold, hearing no one’s footfall but my own. The morning fog had the mountain wrapped tight, and it was difficult to see too far ahead. I felt like the sole survivor in a Stephen King novel.
My solitude was interrupted a handful of times by volunteers coming down from higher up on the mountain. They had assumed the last runner had long passed by, but they stopped to make sure I knew where I was going, and to offer me water (the aid stations having been long packed away).
Near the top, the last remaining volunteer drove beside me, giving me detailed directions for the course down the mountain. Thanks to him, I didn’t get lost on the way back.
The timer was still running when I came through the chute, but the area was empty and there was no one to take my number. (I never bothered to start my watch so I don’t know what my actual running time was. All I know was that I ran up and down a mountain in the rain and it felt good.) I wandered over to the food area, where the registration volunteer from earlier caught my eye.
“You did it!” she said, handing me water and a banana. “That must have been an experience.”
Sure was. Thanks to the volunteers from the Central Mass Striders, what could have been a bummer of a day turned into something really cool. The race will go down in the record books as either a Did Not Start or a Did Not Finish, but it was one to remember nonetheless.
Thanks again to the Central Mass Striders race volunteers for reminding me how nice people can be.
Ten miles before breakfast, the sun coming up over the breakwater as I head out the door. Maybe it’s because of school vacation week, but I feel like I have the usually busy city to myself, save for a single fishing trawler headed out of the harbor.
As I move along Rogers Street, the breeze carries the singular mix of scents that makes up a modern working waterfront: Yeast from the brewery, garlic, frying bacon, strong coffee, the indescribable smell from the fish processing plants (fish sticks, maybe?), with just a hint of old-style gurry. Passing by Rocky Neck, I can tell someone’s smoking a joint.
I turn the corner toward the Back Shore. Looking past Niles Beach and across the water, the Boston skyline is so clear and sharp I feel I could almost reach out and touch it. More than ever, I’m thankful for running and what it’s given me. The last four miles fly by; in my imagination, my shuffling feet are those of an Olympian.
When we run, we run toward something. We run to lose weight or breathe better, to compete against others or, more often, ourselves. We run to feel the sun and the wind and the rain. We run to pierce the black veil of depression, or to feel the spark of life move through our veins as our body does what it was made to do. Less than a week ago, many runners ran toward unimaginable chaos, wanting only to help the injured, lost and frightened; to me, those are the images worth remembering. Always, we run toward something.
To run is to hope.
While I join my fellow New Hampshire natives in my love for grizzled visage of The Old Man of the Mountains and great respect for the sweep and power of Mt. Washington, it has been the relatively modest Mt. Chocorua that has always held my heart.
At 3,500 feet, Chocorua doesn’t approach the heights of Washington, and it doesn’t have the anthropomorphic cast of The Profile. But it has its own story to tell; whenever I’m sitting on the summit, I remember the tragic legend of Chief Chocorua, who lost a son who was under the care of white settlers and carried out a terrible vengeance before throwing himself off the mountain to avoid capture. Looking down the peak’s precipitous rock faces, I can almost feel how those last seconds must have passed.
And what a beautiful mountain — said to be one of the most photographed anywhere, with its sharp peak rising above Lake Chocorua. As pretty as that is it’s even more impressive from the top, with a wide-open summit offering 360-degree views.
Maybe it’s the family connection, but for me it has no rival. If you were to tell me I could climb only one mountain again and again for the rest of my life, this would be it. There are trails both gentle and rough approaching from all sides of the mountain. There are great views, places to camp, and waterfalls. It’s tough enough to be a real hike, but easy enough to be an entry into climbing for youngsters. My grandfather played there as a child, and my parents took me to the top when I was still small. I did the same for my son, and I’m convinced it’s Chocorua’s views that helped cement his deep love for the woods of northern New Hampshire.
And now, the federal government is putting it on a coin.
The U.S. Mint is striking quarters meant to acknowledge America’s most beautiful places. Chocorua was chosen to represent the White Mountain National Forest (the summit of East Osceola didn’t make the list, apparently). ‘‘White Mountain National Forest is one of America’s most visited national forests,’’ Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Associated Press. ‘‘We hope this latest recognition will inspire even more Americans to enjoy our nation’s many outdoor recreational opportunities.”
Even if the language is a little stilted, the sentiment is there — Chocorua is one of America’s most beautiful places. That’s something I’ve known since I was a child. Now the rest of the nation will get a glimpse.
You don’t know me, but we have met several times. I often see you walking your spaniel when I run in Ravenswood Park. I don’t mind that you let your dog off the leash when you’re on the trails. I think it’s cool. Dogs love to run, and they love the woods. I feel the same way.
I don’t blame the dog when it runs at me and I have to stop, usually at the bottom of a hill, while it jumps on me, smearing mud on my sweatshirt. Every. Single. Time. It’s not the dog’s fault. He thinks we’re friends. He’s right. We are.
I usually don’t mind waiting while you roll your eyes and finish the cell phone conversation you’re having (“Gotta go. Dog’s being stupid.”), let loose a dramatic sigh, and pretend-rush down the trail to grab his collar. I don’t mind that you don’t get the hint when you say “He’s a bad dog” and I respond, “It’s not his fault. He’s a dog. It’s what they do.” I admit to feeling a little sorry for the animal because he always seems to put his tail between his legs when you come storming up. Spending time in the woods with a dog isn’t a chore, ma’am. It’s a joy.
I must admit your responsiveness seems to have waned in recent weeks. You don’t even apologize any more, and you don’t bother to finish your phone call or text or whatever you are doing to distract yourself from the natural beauty that surrounds you. On Thursday you didn’t even look at me, and just stuck your hand in the air like a cop directing traffic.
So I hope you didn’t mind that I decided to keep running this morning, and your dog followed me more than half a mile down a side trail. We could both hear you yelling but neither of us wanted to stop. We were having fun. He sure does like mud! And after the rain this week, there was a lot of it. You did not seem that happy to see all that wet filth when we circled back to meet you at the parking lot.
So I’m sure you’ll accept my apologies for the fact that your wet, muddy, happily panting dog shook himself clean all over the inside of your Subaru Forester. (I think his bandana’s pretty trashed too.) Why bother having an SUV if it’s not going to get a little dirty, right? A little baking soda and elbow grease should do the trick.
It wasn’t his fault. Like me, he feels free when running in the woods. We animals don’t mind the mud.
Hope to see you again soon,
Fat Man of the Mountains
P.S. You called dog Sidney. Or is it Sydney? You seem like a multiple-Y person.