Friday, September 16, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 6

This is the last of a 6 part series.  Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 or Part 5.

On Monday morning we woke up to a glorious day in Burlington, Vermont.  We walked down the hill from our hotel and got crepes at a place called Skinny Pancake (I know, right?) right on the lake front.  It was easily the least masculine thing we did the entire 4 days but none of us cared.  The crepes were awesome.  We read that Amy Winehouse had died.

After packing up and checking out of the hotel we headed up to Colchester to run the Colchester Causeway, a 4.5-mile former railroad causeway that runs out into the middle of the lake, almost all the way to South Hero.  We parked the cars at a really nice park with lots of athletic fields and headed out.  Evan decided to run with us part of the way.  The weather was cool and cloudy with some light mist coming down--a welcome reward after all of the heat we had endured.

We followed the causeway through some neighborhoods and then swampy areas before reaching the shore of the lake.  Once out on the lake, the path became rutted and washed out in places, but still very runnable.  After a mile and a half or so, around the time we figured Evan would turn around, we reached a bridge with a warning sign saying the path was closed from there.  This was where Dan had run to the day before and Evan and Kyle had ridden their bikes.

(Taken the day before, when it was sunny out.)

Obviously we ignored the sign, ducked under the chain and kept running.  I was in the lead at this point and for whatever reason, I was feeling in the zone.  Maybe it was the cool weather or the fact that the mileage was starting to soak in, but I was in a groove and just really enjoying picking my way along the rough footing with the lake on both sides and the mist hitting me in the face.  Every now and then I'd look over my shoulder to see the other guys rolling along single file behind me, keeping enough space to find their own path through the rutted, rocky trail.

There were several really bad washouts and holes but we made it all the way to the end, to the site of a former railroad bridge and the end of land.  We stood out there on a concrete platform looking at the lake for a while, watching a couple of sailboats navigate the small channel between us and the continuation of the causeway on the other side.  We could just make out Mt. Mansfield to the east through the mist and fog and it was hard not to think about all we had done over the past 3+ days.

Eventually we turned around and headed back.  This time I was in the back following the guys back in toward land.  Chris was leading us over most of the causeway, rolling along at a really good clip.  We were easily running low 7's over the rough terrain--I took off my shirt take advantage of the free shower that was falling.  Somewhere toward the end of the causeway we all bunched up and then I found myself out in front with Mark.  For some reason we just started gradually dialing up the pace--my legs inexplicably felt awesome.  At one point, with under a mile to go, I noticed we were hammering.  The last mile was in about 6 minutes and I had no idea why but didn't question it.

We hung around the parking lot for a bit, eating cookies and laughing about stupid shit.  Evan had run 9 miles with us.  It was starting to set in that the trip was almost over.  Chris declared himself done, explaining that it was really a 3-day trip (noon Friday to noon Monday) and he'd run 75 miles in 3 days.  He had a point, a pretty impressive one.  But I had it in my head that I wanted to get in 20 per day, and by that I was thinking calendar day.  Dan still had it in his head he could hit a hundred miles for the trip.  So we pressed on.

The plan was to head toward Middlebury but jump out of the cars with 7 or so miles to go and run to the Otter Creek Brewery and our final stop (Dan would jump out with 9 miles to go.)  We headed down Route 7 south past working farms with amazing views of the lake and the Adirondacks.  As we approached the drop-off point, of course we had lost Mark.  Chris, looking in the rearview mirror declared, "He is the worst follower!"

I jumped out of the truck and started tying my shoes.  A minute later, Mark pulled up and jumped out and at that point he told us the reason we'd lost him was he had stopped to let Dan out 2 miles back.  Made sense.  Mark and I crossed the highway and started running south.  At that point it was all we knew--run more.

Route 7 kind of sucked just because of the constant passing traffic and the relentless rolling hills.  And the 75 miles we'd already run.  I do a lot of running with Mark and Dan and although both of them are much faster than me, I wouldn't call either of them half steppers--the annoying people who always need to run a half step in front of you.  Mark and I have run thousands of miles together and he never has a problem chilling out and running at a pace that's comfortable for me.

But he wanted to be done.  And I didn't blame him.  And the fucker half-stepped me for 7 goddam miles of US Route 7 that day.

At about halfway down to Middlebury Mark openly declared his done-ness.  He said, "You know what I'm done with the hills and I'm done with the scenery and I'm done with the whole thing."  He spoke for both of us.  At one point we had to turn off of Route 7 onto Exchange Street for the last 3/4 mile.  I was expecting Exchange Street to be a bustling city like street with shops and restaurants but it was just this industrial wasteland of warehouses and factories.  I was so bummed.

At about the point when I was about to give up hope, pull off the road and lay down in a ditch, we saw a red, white and blue "Open" flag up ahead.  The Otter Creek Brewery, at last.  We rolled into the parking lot and found Chris, Evan and Kyle tailgating at the back of the lot.  A quick change of clothes, a shower under a bottle of spring water,, a dry t-shirt and some crackers and I was good as new.

10 minutes or so later Dan showed up, bonking hard, and declared, "I'm done.  As in done, done."

Fruits of our labor.

There was some debate at Otter Creek about going to Long Trail on the way home but Chris and I were both thinking the same thing: we were on borrowed time.  It really was the end of the road.

We took a bunch of pictures like the tourists we were and did our handshakes and high fives and then hit the road--time to get back to reality.

Look, big tanks of beer!
Dan and the Brothers Hudson jumped in Mark's car and Chris and I hopped in his truck.  We figured we'd see each other at the Wendy's in West Lebanon, NH, but we all knew the trip was basically over.  It had been awesome in ways none of us could really describe.

I can honestly say that when Mark and I shuffled into the parking lot at Otter Creek on fumes, I knew for sure that I would never do something like that again.  And yet, as Chris and I drove through Middlebury and up and over the mountain, it dawned on me that of course I a heartbeat.  And the best part was I could tell Chris would too.

Over the ride home we sort of transitioned back to our normal selves.  We talked about our kids and wives and all of our first world problems.  We got ready to re-enter society.  Eventually we hit the Boston area at rush hour and the everyday traffic and scenery looked totally familiar, yet utterly foreign.

We pulled into my driveway and I unloaded my gear.  It was all over.


It's been almost 2 months since the end of the trip and I'm just now getting around to writing the final chapter of this story. I have struggled trying to think of a way to sum it up that would make sense to someone who wasn't there.  The fact is it won't, so it's not worth trying.

What was the point?  The point was there was no point.  There was no cause we were benefiting, no hidden meaning, no greater good.  This was about paying homage to The Run, and nothing else.  It was about guys being guys, about friends you can count on, about experiencing the world by being in it, not looking at it through the window of a car going 75 mph.  This run was worthwhile for the same reason a hot shower feels so much better after a long run in sideways snow, why a cold shower feels so much better after a 15-mile Breakheart run in August, why the beers always taste better after a Thirsty Thursday workout.  We didn't have a death wish, we had a life wish.  It was about experiencing through doing, not watching.

It was about runners running.