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Two Feet vs. Two Wheels

by Emily Gindle » on Dec 30, 2010 0

It was with great trepidation and a lot of whining that I let myself be hauled into a car and driven along long snow-banked country roads to Cove Hollow to run.  My brother wanted to go for a mountain bike ride, and while I didn’t pack my bike into my luggage to visit my parents in frosty southern Illinois, I did throw in my Fivefinger Treksports with the intention of running if it seemed tenable.  So we got in the car, each with a change of dry clothes and shoes, and found ourselves tracing through the landscape of our childhood to go get our ya-yas out.

I didn’t think to bring full-length tights, so I had my thin running capris, t-shirt, long sleeve, and a thin pair of socks under my Treksports that I hoped (but was not altogether certain) would insulate me from the cold, cold ground.  The plan was to be back in exactly an hour, and we left the keys in the wheel well in case I totally froze and decided to turn back.  My brother told me under which seat I might locate a Sigg bottle full of whiskey if I needed to keep warm.  With the encouragement of snow melting into a soupy, leaf-ridden mess in the slightly-above-freezing air, we set off into the woods:  him on his beautiful single-speed rigid fork hand built steel bike (his friend is the owner of Siren bicycles and makes the most beautiful bikes in the whole wide world) and me on my own two feet.

The path was packed with leaves, which made it so much softer than the rock slabs and hard earth of Arizona, but I quickly found the ground cover was also hiding a number of stones and tree roots.  Within the first quarter mile I had one of those huge near-face-plant kinds of trips over a root that hooked my toes.  I saved myself by pedaling my legs forward as fast as possible, and learned then that the best way to recover from a trip is to run hard to get your feet back under your face.  It worked.  I stood upright and carefully minced down the sloping cliff side to where the trail meets a big overhanging roof, a natural cave that extends for about fifty feet with what is usually a trickling waterfall but in this weather is a stalactite mass of icicles at one end.

Spray paint now covers one end of the overhang where stupid high school or college kids decided to write their names and paint an eyeball around a circular swirl of sandstone on the back wall.  I’ve never understood where the impulse to destroy a natural beauty comes from, but destroy it they did:  sheltered from the rain, the spray paint will take an incredible amount of work to fade.  Some awful kid spray painted the name “Bambi” on one wall when I was in high school, and every time we went hiking there we scraped at it with rocks to bring it back down to the sandstone beneath.  It took a full year before we couldn’t read it, but you could still see where some of the silver paint had been.

Past the big rock amphitheater the trail crosses a stream that leads into a lake just on the left.  As I ran down to the stream I caught up with my brother, who was having a little trouble riding through the clogged leaves and rocky stream bed.  I was excited to be keeping up with him on the bike, and realized I wasn’t cold at all; in fact as I ran I stripped off my long sleeve shirt and tied it around my waist.  I doused my foot in the stream on accident and my foot didn’t freeze.  I could still feel my toes.  I reveled in my body’s ability to create heat and course it into my hands and feet, and as we crossed into the shaded, colder side of a ridge I marveled at the feeling of cold radiating from the snow and heat radiating from me.  I love running in the cold.  I had completely forgotten.

Soon it turned into a little race between my brother and me.  He would get a couple hundred yards ahead of me on the downhills and the flats, and I would catch up to him on the uphills and places where downed trees covered the trail.  We would put stretches of trail in between us and then be surprised to see each other at the top of a ridge.

There is nothing better than being freed from an uphill slog into a flying straight stretch.  I never feel as fast as I do on a stretch after an uphill.  It’s kind of like getting to put down a heavy pack after a long hike; you feel light and airy and you want to run forever.  We didnt’ turn around at half an hour; neither of us wanted to go yet, so we tacked on another mile.

In the end, I “won” the race.  My brother let me run ahead because the section going back up to the car is uphill and rocky, and mud-slidey from the melting snow.  He trudged up with his wheels covered in mud.  Sometimes two feet is lighter than two wheels.

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