Tall enough or bushy enough? I was far enough gone to have started rapidly lowering my standards. When the urge was first noticed, I thought of the campground restrooms. A few minutes or a brief eternity later, I accepted the fact that I was not going to get to the campground. Well, okay, I could get to the campground, but the last two- or three-hundred yards to the yellow building with the gender-specific doors was not something I wanted to do in public view.
So it was back to a portabush or portatree, close relatives of those portapotties we are all familiar with. As with most calls of nature, the logistics of selection come into play as time and locale vary. Today is Tuesday. The park I am running in is not at all crowded on Tuesdays. I think it is unlikely that either trail to the campground will have any wandering nature lovers from the big city who might scream in shock at suddenly seeing a full moon in the middle of an otherwise serene afternoon. I choose left, thinking of the thickets of rhodies and salal in that direction. Wouldn’t you know, here comes Mollie Traipsezlitely with Harold Rootsjumpoutatme and two ankle-biters trailing behind. Don’t they know they are in the middle of—oh great, they are pausing to do the “My, ain’t it beautiful out here?”
I estimated the pucker factor to still be below five and paused to smile and mumble in agreement, “Yes, it is a gorgeous day,” and turned to continue awkwardly up the trail when Harold asked if I knew much about the plants along the trail. Okay, he only asked if I knew much. He didn’t ask about anything specific, but… if I say yes, I know he is going to ask something more and all I want is to be around the next bend in the trail. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly and all internal shutdown systems went on Grade Two Alert as Harold’s lips pursed to … ha! Mollie pointed at a clump of salal and asked, “What are these?” “Salal. A very common plant. It will have berries on it in a few weeks,” I offered, hoping that was enough. “See, I told you,” was tossed at Harold by Mollie as she paused to scream because one of the small people had discovered a not-great-big-huge, but still pretty-big, slug. They all looked at the slug. Having seen slugs before, I turned and was gone on down the trail while those just-asked-about salal thickets separated me from them.
Salal thickets are good thickets for hiding things in or for hiding in. I did both. I don’t suppose it would be appropriate to discuss the various stages of flexibility of decaying salal or rhododendron leaves or how appropriately placed some of the many forms of moss in the Pacific Northwest were that afternoon in this particular portabush. Suffice it to say that my recently changed conditions meant I turned away from the campground and paid little attention to left, right, or people on the trails for a while.
One small window in my mind thought about the Falls to Gasworks 75k and a question about just how tall is the grass alongside the ten-foot wide Sammamish River Trail. That question was answered when I saw an errant throw of a dog’s ball go into the grasses. The dog, one of those medium-large blond friendly kinds, disappeared as it leapt into the grass. Hmmm, a little over head high if a person was, uh, squatting? Crouching sounds better. Discretion being what it is when you are on an urban trail, I did do a quick look around before disappearing into the savannah of the Sammamish on that long ago Saturday. Falls to Gasworks being a self-supported run, I had a fanny pack with everything needed so that I was both discreet and environmentally correct in all my actions, even to the extent of exiting my grass-lined loo with no one in sight as I stepped back on the trail and continued to run.
We’ve all experienced solitude out there on the trails, but the loneliness of the long-distance runner does not always present itself at the needed time. You would think in an ultramarathon where the distance sometimes puts a person running alone for miles and miles that there would be plenty of points of privacy to ponder the days unwinding. Some days are just not like that when you need them to be like that. It seemed just as the person in front of me disappeared around the next curve, a runner from behind would appear. A few minutes of adjusting pace to force the runner behind me to pass only duplicated the previous scenario. I would get rid of one unwanted witness only to have another pop up just coming around the bend. I finally satisfied modesty’s constraints, noticed no one behind me and dove into a clearing in the Manzanita bushes. Manzanita? Good grief! Who planned this course? Says right here on page 23 of the NAPBD&SRM (North American PortaBush Design and Stereo Repair Manual) that you don’t line a portabush with poison ivy, poison oak, Manzanita, Oregon grape, or Nootka roses. I suppose I should just be glad there was no saw grass or palmetto fronds in the area… or cows.
And then there were cows. Somewhere north of Outlook, Washington, the original landscapers of the those foothills above the Yakima River ran out of sagebrush, bunchgrass, mesquite, and other landscaping plants we think of as plentiful when driving through the drier prairie region of the Pacific Northwest. As much as I love running in the open region, there is something disconcerting about needing to pause when there are no bushes to hide behind for as far as you can see. It didn’t seem quite right to go over there behind one of the water troughs that are scattered all over the foothills. Why does it seem like time becomes the determining factor in such a decision. I dropped off into a gully joking to myself about the probability of a helicopter from Google Earth showing up in the next few moments. That led to thinking about ‘if I can see as much detail on Google as I do, what can they really see from up there?’ That led to speeding up the process only to pause because I was hearing something out here in the previously very quiet nowheresville. Did you know that cows don’t really go “moo.” What they do is somewhere between “moo” and “uemoohm” and “mmahhnnmoo”—some moos probably being contractions of the other moos or maybe some are structured and some are freestyle. Along the same line of reasoning is the idea that for something to startle you, that something needs to appear suddenly. A cow does not moo suddenly. First it has to decide on which moo to use (I did not list all the choices or dialects), then shift the mouthful of grass to one side or the other, inhale, and, finally, moo. The cow that mooed had probably been enjoying chewing its cud and wandering along in the shade of the bottom of the same gully I was using to contemplate Google Earth. She was not up for anymore conversation, so I left.
I continued up that hillside, sidestepping many patties, both cow and bull, thinking about their thoughtlessness and of the detours I have taken over the years seeking out a portabush here or a portarock there, just so other runners would not have any runnerpatties to worry about.
———–Run Gently Out There———-