Saying adieu to the Bruce Trail has been like that. It's wakes me up at night, calling on the breeze, reaching out on the moon. The forest, the rock, the escarpment... whisper, we are about to sleep, winter's coming, you've left us and we are about to sleep, and you are missing our goodnight.
Sure I've been running. Some of it trail, familiar trail, close to home. Happy to know what's underfoot. Happy to reconnect with my memorized steps here and there. Happier still to be surprised by a subtle change here and there; a foot bridge changed, a tree fallen over, a toe catcher root that finally gave up the good fight and split allowing the safe passage of the next generation of runners. Some of my running on road, in the quiet hush of stupid o'clock, before the danger of traffic becomes impassible. There are routes I'd happily take when the sun is hidden. There are roads I'd cross while the real world sleeps. I went for a lunch hour run the other day under overcast skies, surprised by the sun sparkling its way through and quickly realized that not only had I forgotten my hat, but also my guide runner. Oh how I miss you all!
This past weekend I got to breathe you all in. I got to share space under your ambition while you all chased your dreams in Haliburton Forest. Oh the subtle aroma of the ultrarunner! Oh the looks of determination mixed with interspersed exhaustion! Oh the blisters! The ITbands! The aches and pains, the random hunger pains, the smiles, the tears,..... and the running.
My massage table suffered such confusion under tarp city in Aid Station two. Never before have I let it out in the wild. Never before has it felt the pine needle showers when the wind blows. Never before has it looked so dam good beside a lake. Here, I found some peace. My misery over leaving the long meandering Bruce Trail stepped aside so I could breathe. It wasn't my journey, but I was so so happy to watch you all on yours. Every step with purpose, every step with determination, every step with the want you've filled your year chasing. I watched in amazement as my son finished his first trail race, all covered in mud, smiling bigger than ever.
I was lucky enough to break in the afternoon and take to the trail. This time I brought my trusty guide runner, Steven Parke, and my hat. This time I was ready. Unfamiliar trail underfoot. Happiest feet ever, dancing along the sand, then the rocks, the grooves, the ruts, the roots. Freedom is the most beautifully freeing thing. Feeling the trees breathing in, gulping down the energy from the optimism of the runners. Feeling them returning it just as quickly, as if to feed the runners, fuel them forward. They've seen you all before. They told me tales of the years you've been through here. How you start so quickly, how you pass by four times, how your gait changes as your feet tire, how you make so much noise at night when the bears are close.
We passed through six steps of technical trail. Six small steps. Interwoven mud with splattering roots and rocks, downhill and a small right turn, camber to the right. Did you feel that Steven? I asked my guide... You've missed your trail I think, he said. How much you learn to love the things that drive you crazy with frustration, the things that slowed your steps, that focused your concentration.... I am grateful he didn't judge my tears. Six small steps along an unfamiliar trail. Just six. Truth in six small steps of technical underfoot. A lifetime ahead and so many more steps to come.
We looped around to Aid Station three. They cheered us on. I laughed. No I'm not awesome. Just out for a run. Wait. There it is again. This simple thing we too often take for granted. I can't just up and do this whenever I want. I need help. I forget sometimes that I am different. I wonder how many people do too. But I am. I can't just take to any trail and run. Thank you Steven. You didn't come to Haliburton for me I know, you came to pace through the night for Scott on quest for his 20th 100miler. And yet you took time. Thank you every guide runner who ever braved my horrible singing along the trail. Just out for a run. Freedom is the most beautifully freeing thing.
You can't celebrate every moment. Or at least we aren't practiced at it. So I took the time to jump in the lake. Across from the place my Aid Station waited. Cooled off in that moment. Knew there were so many of you out running in this heat, chasing a goal, not stopping for anything. Knew I wasn't. You can't celebrate every moment, maybe... but I'm celebrating this one. After that a wonderful volunteer offered a towel. We passed a racer on the road. He cheered us on too. Said we looked great. Asked how far we were going today. I said 5 miles? I said YOU ARE AWESOME! go chase your quest... I'm bound to see you later. Even the forest road hummed with all your footfalls. It quivered from excitement over so many visitors. The tree line offered shade. The sun was high. The day was, well perfect. It stank of hope and attempt. It felt almost like intruding on your space to enjoy this run. I soaked it up. Grateful for the ground underfoot.
With my amazing team of volunteers, I got to spend the afternoon and night watching you all come through. My children feed you and watered you. They moved me, each time they looked ahead and thought of needs before I could suggest. They made me proud. They were lost in this race, this forest, this place we all come home to. I call them my team at Aid Station Two. But in truth they were a team long before I jumped on the boat. I'm so grateful for them too, welcoming me, having me, making space for me. I managed to keep my eyes open and focused until about 6am. Thankful for a ride back to my bed, I rested until I got to witness a few wonderful finishes.
I am so so proud of you all. You all smell really bad though, ps. And your dreams rub off on all of us who get to watch. I cannot imagine what it takes to get through that task. I cannot fathom the follow through to see it done. You are all amazing. You crazy ultrarunners.
You stand as tall as the trees here. You are as supportive as the ground underfoot, where dreams come true, in Haliburton forest.
See you next year???