Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maybe it's an addiction

This afternoon found me driving around, not knowing where I was going, and totally rocking out to James Blunt's latest CD. I had a serious runner's high. It wasn't 72 degrees, but there was a zero chance of rain, it had been a nearly perfect day, and I got to run some great trails for the second weekend in a row.

Last Sunday was my first time out on a technical trail since December. I originally was just going to go for a run on the road, but my brain turned on, and I realized that I would be able to navigate hills, rocks, and tree roots without worrying about ice or snow. (I never did buy any traction devices this winter). I visited a local state park about 15-20 minutes away and started on the trail that had become my standard run in that park. I did a little bit of hiking on some of the steeper and rockier parts, but it wasn't long before I got warmed up and got to running, high-stepping around the rocks and flying down hills with my arms windmilling.

When I got to a cross-road, instead of taking the path to the end of the trail I had been on, I decided to turn right and try a new trail. I didn't know what to expect from this one, and I honestly didn't think that it would be that steep. There were a few flat stretches, but for the most part, it was very steep, leading down the mountain to a lake. And it was amazing. I had to walk down some of the steepest parts, which had terrible footing from being littered with leaf-covered rocks, and it was very poorly marked, but as I got closer to the lake, I saw hints of green creeping up along the edges of the trail. Green ferns began to grow thickly on either side, and a stream ran down along one edge of the trail while the other side was cast in the shadow of giant rock formations that had been dropped there long ago by the glacier that carved out the mountain ridge. At that point, this became my new favorite trail in the park. I followed it down to the lake and stopped for a little to admire the scenery.

In the past, I've had a hate-hate relationship with hills, but now that I've gotten into the habit of running up mountains, I have begun to respect and really enjoy them. I knew that the way back up this trail would be a steady incline, and I wanted to run as much of it as possible. So I started, and once I got into a fairly steady rhythm, I didn't have much trouble at all. I think that all of the foundational strength-training I've been doing with the Wii EA Sports Active Personal Trainer program has made a huge difference with my leg strength. And it felt great.

As much as I loved the trail, I did begin to curse it when I got off-course due to poorly placed trail markers. Not only were they faded and difficult to see, but there just weren't enough, and those that were there weren't placed in helpful spots. I actually got "lost" because of this. I made it back all right, though, and I couldn't wait to get back out on the trail again.

Of course, it snowed at least 3 or 4 inches during the week, and I thought that I'd have to wait a long time before running technical trails again. Maybe it's an addiction, but I wanted to get back out again so much that I decided to try some trails even with the snow. So today I drove up to another state park with pretty smooth single track bike trails. My last attempt at running here had turned into a frantic quest to be reunited with civilization when I got lost using a woefully inadequate trail map, so I don't know why I felt so comfortable running here in the snow, but it turned out to be great. Either most of the trails received a huge amount of traffic in the past week, or someone actually cleared the snow, because about 80% of the trails were clear while the rest of the forest was covered in several inches of snow. And I guess that I ran around in circles enough last time to get pretty familiar with the trails, and I had a pretty good idea of where I was most of the time. I was feeling so good that when I finished, I decided to take the dirt fire road up to Tower Hill (there's a cell tower at the top) and back again, just to get some more miles in. I had to do a little walking up the fire road, but I really enjoyed myself, and after I made it to the top, I flew down so fast that I almost lost control a few times in the snow and mud. When I got back to the car, I lay down on the blacktop in the sun and did some relaxing stretches before turning up the volume and completely rocking out to James Blunt. It was pretty awesome.

Can't wait for the snow to leave for good so I can do some more exploring!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fear factor

Domestic dogs
Crazy people

That's my list of greatest fears when running/biking. Notice that bears are number one. I've lived around bears all of my life, and I know all of the things that you're supposed to do when you come across one, but for some reason I'm terrified of them. What, then, could be scarier for me than coming face to face with a black bear in the middle of the woods at sunset?

Coming face to face with four black bears in the middle of the woods at sunset.

That was the scenario I found myself in yesterday as I enjoyed my second bike ride of the year.

It was a perfect day with temperatures in the lower 70s and lots of sun, and because it would have been a crime not to, a friend and I took our bikes to the trail for a ride after work. My legs were feeling a little tired, so we stopped quite a few times during the first half of the ride. Around the midway point we took a long break sitting down near a lake to have some snacks, and I realized at that point that it was getting late and that we might not be able to get back to the car before the sun set.

So we set off at a faster pace and started to make pretty good time. It was getting steadily darker, though. At one point, I looked past my friend, who was in front of me, to see two black shapes ahead up the trail. They were walking toward us as we rode toward them. I asked if they were bears, and almost the moment that I did, my friend stopped, jumped off his bike, shouted, and waved his arms. The two bears took off into the bushes to the right of the trail, but another bear ran from the bushes on the left across the trail and to the right. He raised his bike above his head and shouted more. I believe that at this point, another bear ran from the left to the right across the trail. I, of course, was paralyzed with fright and just watched. Since when do bears travel in packs of four? I've never seen more than two together, so this really shocked me.

After being sure that there weren't any more bears hiding in the bushes, we continued on, making lots of noise as we did, and we continued to push the pace to get back before it got really dark. We were biking faster at the the end of our 15.5-mile ride than at the beginning. Considering how tired I had felt at the beginning, I was surprised by the strong finish. It felt great, though. This time I wasn't worried about going slowly through the mud puddles (or small lakes, as it seemed sometimes) and ended up soaked and muddy, but I felt really exhilarated. It turned out to be a great ride.