Misinterpreted Intentions and Darkness

Part 1 of 2?

— “One adjusts.  Readjusts.  Makes certain internal corrections and realignments, restoring trim, achieving that serial illusion of balance between the fall and the recovery, an act repeated every second in walking, which sustains in turn our automatic, cinematic notion–functionally adaptive–of progressive movement through the space-time continuum

Geez, who knew that — Edward Abbey (A Walk in the Hills, Beyond the Wall) — knew about ultramarathons or running trails?

I was lying to myself again.  Making adjustments.  One truth I knew was that I should not read Abbey, Muir, or Leopold as winter finally yields to spring.  They were always eager to go find spring; to be among the first to greet the warmth, no matter how weak it was; to be among those waving good-bye to winter and then to return to their beloved wilderness.  Muir would have been in pursuit of the slowly receding line of snow on the westerly face of the Sierra.  Leopold, depending on the year, might have once more looked at the arid beauty along the Continental Divide in New Mexico and wondered about his native Wisconsin–how could the contrasts live within his mind?  Abbey’s knowledge of the Arizona deserts might draw a smile as he noted not making note of frost as he wrote in his journal on that first day of warmth.  A last bit of weirdness about these three who have shown and taught us so much of the western mountains and southwestern deserts–Wisconsin (Muir and Leopold) and Pennsylvania (Abbey) are their states of birth, but, to our good fortune, something westerly called.

The next lie was tossed over my shoulder at the car, “I’ll be home around eleven.”  I could almost see her smiling acceptance of my misspeaking.  Sunset was about twenty minutes gone.  The official tide table says it went down at 7:12 p.m. PDT.  That time column will not be correct until the sun has moved far enough north to set in the flat horizon provided by the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The artificial horizon of the Olympic Mountains usually robs us of four to six minutes of daylight.  Those few minutes of illumination were unimportant.  I had lights, both head and hand–darkness, an old friend and running companion, would not be cause for concern.  The tide level and intention, rising or falling, was a concern.  The tide was still dropping and would for about fifty minutes.  All told I had over eight hours until the next high tide–plenty of time to cover the five or so miles along the beach to Partridge Point.

I still wonder, even after all these years, about why I watch the disappearing taillights before turning to start.  On daylight runs she watches until I make the first turn down the trail.  On night runs I watch her drive away.  Which thread is the tenuous one?  The false warmth of sunset’s colors bathe me as I start up the trail to bluff’s edge.  The blinks of the lighthouses across the strait, though barely visible now, will seem overly bright as darkness reclaims its realm.  The calm of the prairie’s stillness reflects the calm of the sky.  There would be no wind to chill or fling sand or hide the sound of approaching things.  I bet against an unknown bookie that I could get to the turnaround tree before turning on a light.  I am still driven by the “get as far as you can before turning on a light because you can’t turn it off until dawn” thought.

Quiet as I may think I am, I am still scolded by several birds in the salal and Nootka roses alongside the trail.  That the songs continue means some sort of acceptance or deemed-harmless status was achieved.  I wish my hearing had not aged–I wonder how many songs, quieted wings, or splashes in the waves I have missed.  Movement is still noted, but how many Winter Wrens have I missed?  Their song is not long, not loud, but, nonetheless, still beautiful to hear.  The next song is never missed.  Two, maybe three, Great Horned Owls have taken roost and are hooting loudly establishing territories for the night.  It might be correct that I only hear the females.  It might not.  It is not a point to ponder, there being no available answer.  I have made it to the turnaround tree.  I have enough daylight for another five minutes of running if it were not for the trail going into the woods for a ways.  This is the time of day when the roots awaken and stretch from a day of sleeping; often rising enough to trip passersby.  I turn on the flashlight and follow its green glow, listening to the whisper of Douglas fir limbs brushing my arms as I run.  When I come back out in the open there will be about a half mile at bluff’s edge and then it is down the zig zags to the beach; then across the long curving white line of sand to an almost hidden Partridge Point light.  It is full dark now.  I add the headlight’s beam to the flashlight as I descend.  We often talk about what would be best if we were to fall?  At the top it is about 250 feet to the bottom, not vertical, but certainly too steep to walk up or down.  So, if falling, do you stick your arms out and spread your legs hoping to not roll over and over, or do you try to keep you feet together (very few trees on the bluff face) and just try to slide down… so you can slide into Parego’s Lagoon, giving him a good laugh wherever he may be; or skewer yourself on some ill-tempered piece of driftwood?  We have no answer after ten years of running the bluff.

The beach has a wide enough band of firmness that I can run without needed to “read” the sand every few steps.  I even turn off the hand light.  The headlight on dim is plenty.  If I had looked at the moon phase chart a little closer I would have put the run off for a couple of nights.  But… always a “but”… the rains might come back; the winds might come back; the lie might not be believed and the demons would be heard and my footprints would not be left on the sand tonight.

I have no food.  It is only a three-, maybe four-hour loop.  I have two 20-ounce bottles on the belt.  I can top them off at Partridge Point for the six or seven miles home.  Having no food does not mean I cannot sit on a suitably placed log and enjoy the solitude of open sky, familiar stars, and almost no noise.  I can still hear the throb, muted by distance, but still intrusive, of the outbound freighter.  It has already made the turn into the strait.  I can see the port and starboard lights–another piece of knowledge too trivial to be information, but being just useful enough to be above raw data.  Where I sit, my eyes are about eight feet above sea level–uh oh… what is the formula for how far is it to the horizon?  Like spouting off LC=2Rsin½ø, a formula which has been in my head since the early ‘sixties, I bring up an approximation “the square root of [(height in feet of eye level)/(0.6)] = sight distance in miles, or, since I am about six feet above water level I can see about three miles.  After that you play with how high the ship’s lights are or how high the light house’s light is or …  keeps the mind busy as the time and miles go by.  I have never ran with a sound system, there is too much to play with in my cobweb storage facility to need one.

Hmmm, someone put a Hershey Bar in the fanny pack.  She has taken care of me for an untold number of miles…  I’ll just sit here while dinner digests.  You aren’t supposed to run for at least 30 minutes after eating.