Just before walking out the door of the office on Friday afternoon, I received news that a deadline I thought was 3 weeks away was actually just a week out. That news hit me like a kick in a place (pick a place) that hurts and hurts a lot. I wasn't happy to hear it. Angry, in face and my initial and immediate frustration threatened to fester and destroy my entire weekend.
I fumed for a few minutes, recognized that because of the give-and-take required in the project, I wasn't going to make any headway this weekend anyway, and decided that I was going to take advantage of that fact and have a helluva weekend before settling into the sure-to-be-painful grind on Monday morning.
I went home and found the kids at play in the backyard with one of the neighbor kids and a friend of Lil's from her nursery school. I tagged in on parent duty, freeing up Lindsay to attend to school work of her own, and spent the next couple of hours performing soccer goalie duties, being a "monster" and chasing the screaming kids from one end of the yard to the next. It was great.
On Saturday, I played endlessly with the kids and, once Lindsay got home from clinicals, went with the entire family to the carnival in Buchanan Park. It, too, was great or at least the time we had together was.
We had a wonderful little dinner together on the outside patio of a local restaurant at which all of the other patrons decided to eat indoors. Having the whole place to ourselves, we laughed and enjoyed each other's company without any of the usual concern for the other diners that can make eating out with 3 and 5 year olds less than inviting.
You guessed it...it was great.
Arriving home as the sun was just beginning to set, I knocked out the mowing (don't EVEN get me started on this country's ridiculous obsession with manicured lawns) while the girls got tubbies (yes, we call baths tubbies) and Linds readied them for bed.
I finished up in time to take over bedtime story reading duties and got the girls tucked into their beds. I doubt that visions of sugar plums danced in either of their little heads, but they drifted off with smiles that left me certain of sweet dreams to come.
And then...it was time run.
Rumor had it, there was a super moon on the prowl and that meant the promise of brightly lit trails to accompany the warm temperatures. With Lil and Piper in bed and Linds bound for the same soon, all I had to worry about was being home by sunrise when Lindsay would need to again return to rounds at the hospital.
I rendezvoused with Jefferson a short while later and we carpooled 40 minutes north and east to where the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 325 in Clarks Valley. This is the same trailhead from which I'd started my Horseshoe Trail 37-miler back in July 0f 2010 and Jefferson had seen me off on that run too. This time we'd be heading west instead of east, climbing up Peters Mountain and running its ridgeline until we decided we'd gone far enough and needed to turn around and come back to the car.
This so called Super Moon was out, and bright to be sure, but there were plenty of clouds to dull the dazzle of its touted performance. My romantic wishing for a run by moonlight was definitely going to require the sensible reliability of a headlamp.
Jefferson had had stomach issues earlier in the week that had him wondering about the state of his legs and I was curious if I would feel any ill effects from my climbfest on Mole Hill earlier in the week. I had hoped to sneak in another run or two between then and now but my schedule had not cooperated.
The only real significant uphill of the night came right away, as the southbound Appalachian Trail sign at the low-lying parking lot on Route 325 points to an 800 foot climb over the next mile-and-a-quarter. A couple of big step-ups near the end of the first mile reminded me that we intended to go a long way and maybe it wasn't the wisest decision to be attempting to run every single inch of the ascent. Jefferson didn't protest, hinting that it would've been nice to have a warm-up ahead of a run straight up the mountain.
No such luck, but we were up on top soon enough and settled back quickly into a steady pace. We talked about life in general (as we always do), our families and Jefferson's adolescent memories of visiting a camp in the valley just below us. We also discussed the the terrain in relation to the Laurel Highlands trail where we'd be running together in just a few weeks. I remember commenting that Laurel would have more elevation change but wouldn't be quite as rocky even though, at that point, I was finding the footing far less rocky than what had been the case on my recent miles on sections east of where we were.
The moon was growing less and less super as the night wore on and the clouds won over. It did continue to make infrequent appearances and I tried to take advantage of its light to snap a few photos. Through the lens of my camera, the moonlight cast ghostly glow through Jefferson's water bottle.
We also took periodic breaks to make sure that we were refueling, an effort worth making in the warm, humid conditions. Jefferson's legs had come back and I was feeling good too. Despite this, the initial climb, the rocky footing and the handful of stops had kept us from doing anything even close to our strongest pace and by the time we stopped at around 7.5 miles to assess the run and how much further we should go, it was well past midnight.
A slave to landmarks and wanting to reach points on the AT from which I can start fresh another day, I had hoped to make it all the way out to the pedestrian footbridge that spans the trail's intersection with Route 225. This was likely another 2 miles from where we stopped to make our assessment. Knowing that we'd have a 45 minute drive home after we got back to the car, I'd pretty much decided it was time to turn around.
But...I didn't know our exact location and, being certain that that would bother me in the days after, I suggested that we keep going west until we hit the next recognizable landmark and turnaround at that point.
We blew right past the spur trail that leads to the Peters Mountain shelter without seeing the sign that identified it as such. When we hit a power line, I knew that we were only a half mile from the footbridge and, both feeling good, we barely hesitated in making the decision to push on.
The parking lot just before the bridge burst into sight somewhere after 2:00 in the morning. The view through the fence that ensures hikers don't topple down onto the road below was eerie in the light of the full moon and again I pulled out the camera and tripod to see what I could manage to capture.
We'd come 9.75 miles and, looking at a good long return trip, we made sure to pound some food and drink before getting back on our feet. Except for minor stiffness, to be expected with the AT underfoot, we were both feeling fairly fresh.
And we continued to for the next mile or two.
When you do an out-and-back and start wondering why the trail seems so much more technical on the return trip, it's a pretty clear sign that you're getting fatigued. And I was. So was my partner and his knees weren't just fatigued but angry. My feet were getting sloppy and, as can happen when this starts to be the case, I banged the front outside of my left foot hard and awkwardly off of a rock with a poorly timed step. I hadn't broken anything but I'd clearly bruised myself in a fashion that made certain footfalls painful.
The time to shuffle had arrived. Anyone who's done any ultra racing or significantly long trail running knows exactly what I'm talking about. The knees stopped lifting and the feet were coming off the ground just high enough to scoot forward just quickly enough to not be mistaken for walking. Through a couple of relatively smooth sections, we made decent progress but those sections were frequently interrupted by rocky stretches that demanded a picking of spots that slowed us to a determined hiking.
Despite our ever slowing pace, I was psyched because I knew that we'd already well surpassed the length of Jefferson's prior longest run and forward progress was still happening even if not at the pace with which we'd started. I tried to keep Jefferson encouraged by keeping him abreast of the diminishing distance between us and our waiting vehicle but I believe that backfired as one of those updates informed him that we weren't nearly as far along as he and his body had hoped. In hindsight and in putting myself in those same shoes, I should have just kept my mouth shut.
Keeping my mouth shut might have also kept me from the hyper awareness of how dry it was. The heat and humidity, while not overwhelming, had definitely coaxed both of us into consuming more fluids than normal and with several miles left to go, we were metering out the last few drops instead of drinking our fill. I daydreamed (nightdreamed?) of the Platypus bottle of water that I'd pulled from the freezer right before leaving home. I'd talked myself out of carrying it in my pack while we ran but knew it would be waiting when we finally arrived back at the lot.
After what seemed like forever, the trail began a noticeable downward progression and it was obvious that we were in our final descent. With the finishing line looming, fairly forgiving footing and gravity as aid, I picked up the pace but soon discovered, in looking back over my shoulder, that Jefferson was no longer tucked in right behind me. I crouched down and waited a few moments for him to catch back up and he acknowledged that his knees were not going to let him pound away on the downhill.
Coming up out of my crouch, I realized that my quads and calves had a bit of the just-about-to-cramp feeling and, knowing that the car was close, I was quite content to take the time we needed to get down without pushing the pace or are luck in that last mile.
We made it, of course, and the water was just as cold as I'd imagined it. We'd knocked out nearly 20 miles beneath the less-than-super moon and, in spite of the fatigue, I'd enjoyed the several hours that Jefferson and I had spent together.
I walked through the door of my home at ten of 6:00, just in time for Lindsay to wake up and head to clinicals. An hour or two later, Lily and Piper roused me from a dead-to-the-world sleep in search of breakfast. That was all the sleep I was going to get until later that night but I had no interest in cutting into Daddy-time because of my late night.
Thankfully, the girls didn't need to me to do anything more than shuffle as we played our way through the rest of the day.