These callouses on my palms, dirt still jammed under my fingernails and bruise on the inside of my foot do not match up to where I am sitting. It’s Monday morning and as my co-workers pound out emails and talk TV shows, I am out of the loop, thinking about scenes from the Fight Club where Ed Norton’s unnamed ‘everyman’ comes to work battered and without explanation. I am, ironically enough, also utterly unaware of what they do with their weekends, though I have my suspicions that it’s fairly pedestrian based on the looks they give me as I tell them, in a cursory manner, where I’ve been. “I cleaned trail all weekend”, I say, “down on the coast.” “In the rain?” they ask, “why?” To run it, of course; but they are just bewildered and I’ve lost them already. Already, before I can tell them it’s to feel the power that comes from surging up and over moss covered rocky cliffs and hurl down long, narrow tunnels of birch and spruce trees canopying knee deep mud puddles; to be with the rugged, kind people who relish this time of endurance and exertion; to hold court with those of like mind and break bread. And maybe get a few scratches and blisters along the way. What the hell – it’s summer, you gotta cram in all the adventure you can.
And there’s something to be said, some noble thing to be said when you can drive for a couple of hours to a house you’ve never been to that is home to folks you’ve never met and not once think that there is anything wrong with it. And there is equally something amazing to get there, to walk through the front doors of a 140 year old homestead to kids who have just met and are already playing on the floor together, and to see straight away that these strangers who have opened their doors and kitchen, guest house and lives to you are going to be your fast friends before even the first pair of sneakers are soaked. There is something to be said for the hope it renews, the civility it nurtures, the excitement it breeds. Something good, something we all need but does seem hard to find.
The trail in question -- a combination of grown over horse-logging roads, immaculate & sinewy single track, & freshly rehabilitated ATV double track – had all of the signature marks of being well loved and run almost daily. The moss on all sides was thick and fragrant with a four inch swath cutting straight to the soft undergrowth down the middle, cut branches collected to the sides in various states of decay, and brooks were bridged with fresh hewn short logs strapped together as only a seasoned MTBiker knows how to do. Every corner revealed a new series of fast challenges over roots and rocks, down steep embankments, up and over large downed trees. Our host had us out there to spit and polish it up for the first Annual Herring Cove 11 & 22k Race. Our reward, he had said, after the raking and trimming, talk and removal of loose stones, would be to run it together. Sounded good.
The evening before we had all met and gathered around a table that filled, emptied and refilled with food and woven conversations over and over again as the kids played together and dogs chased each other through the woods and fields. We had been given a strip of a local hurricane that morning so as the sun went down the light turned orange and yellow against low hanging clouds. Talk was studded with dreams for a clear and wicked summer of racing as we tried, in our Maritime way, to connect families and friends into an ever-narrowing world of four, three, two degrees of separation. Kids tired and food dwindled, once the fire in the stove started to cool and thoughts of an early morning start crept in, we went to bed, strangely confident that all would be well, that no doors needed to be locked, that having your kids close and your sneakers and kit packed and ready was more than enough to create safety.
Clouds gone and heavy dew on the grass, 5:45am coffee with the host settled into slow talk of the day’s work. Maps from the night before were rehashed and flattened out. We collected rakes and saws, loppers and gloves and threw them together with our hydration packs and runners, gels and compression socks -- weird and fitting warriors and their armour and tools. A couple of local sailors had been recruited to come out with us – neighbours whose land the trail cut across and good old boys who had more than enough gumption to help us out for a bit – even if they did openly express their head-shaking disbelief at why any of us would think that running through the woods was any fun at all.
The trail was heavy in parts with wet leaves and mud pooling up in the low sections, but the raking was easy – a light breeze and the freshest of air. As we wound and leap-frogged our way over the moss and solid bedrock it started to dawn on me how important and nurturing it was to live like this, how not so long ago this was nothing more than a dream, how hard I had worked to get here, with these people, doing this. At 43 and my kids 8 and 10, I see that these years are all about being the man that my life has lead me to be, that their memories are as dependent on my initiative as their physical health is tied to my knowledge of what is best for them. I see that the world I bring to them, the world that I cultivate around me, needs to not just be satisfying to me, but safe and important and interesting and fun for them, filled with cool people who in turn do important and interesting things. That we are those people.
We get back to the house mid-afternoon, quickly kick off wet shoes and swap them for dry ones, stuff a couple of gels into us, throw down the tools and before most of the folks who stayed behind have even realized we are back, we are ready for the ‘reward run’. The kids, seven of them in all, ranging from 1 – 10 years old, are playing some crazy game with the hammock. My two catch a glimpse of me and come over. “Are you going running AGAIN?” my daughter asks, smiling and planting one fist firmly on her hip. She’s just so little, but has the mannerisms of her mother. It’s utterly adorable. “Uh, yeah, I am.” She nods. “Cool”. I’m off the hook and off running.
The pace is fast: we are moving hard and quick and letting warm muscle carry the day. Over our freshly cleared and narrow trail we accelerate into corners we hardly know at all, grabbing trees to slingshot sharp turns and leap, feet churning air, over jagged rocks and jettison straight off shear drop offs. We whoop and holler, push at each other’s heels, urging more speed and passing. We stop on top of a rock overlooking a beaver pond, sweaty pouring off al of us. I snap a photo: we will want to remember these goofy smiles, these first days of a new friendship. And the kids will one day want to remember us like this.