“Another one?” my friend, Kristen asked. She eyed her empty beer glass and then the three of us.
“I’m good,” I said, reluctantly, lopping off another cube of chocolate fudge and shoveling it into my mouth. Because in truth, I wasn’t good. Kristen got two more no’s in the form of shaking heads and more fudge lopping. The humidity stuck to us and the heavy ocean air filled our noses. It was perfect summer beer drinking weather at the beach. Just not tonight.
“Because of the run?” she offered.
“Because of the run.”
Six-and-a-half hours later, the four of us ambled down the stairs of our motel room and onto the boardwalk.
Partly cloudy skies mercifully hid the sun. I watched the waves wash up on the shore and fantasized about the cool water the same way I long for post-run pancakes: lustily. I had ten miles on the docket to round out my cut down week and probably should have been finishing it then rather than just beginning. We’d mapped out a 10-12 mile route that followed the beach and emptied into a network of trails in Henlopen State Park. The trail seemed to disappear into the sand for about a half mile stretch but that could be overlooked until it actually came around.
With nothing left to say, we clicked our watches and set off.
The first couple miles went by without incident. The road appeared to climb steadily -- of course it also appeared to climb steadily on the way back (why is that?) -- and I charged up it with confidence, happy for the new setting and simply enjoying hearing the waves.
I hit the state park and took off down a smooth, well-groomed gravel trail. I thought of my wife who compares trail running to skipping through the woods, arms swaying in the air, and a Grateful Dead Song playing in her head.
Then, the trail ended and became a “trail,” which turned into a ribbon of unpacked sand and high grass. There was some sign on the side of the trail, but I only caught a few words of it before blowing past it.
I considered turning back, but then the unpacked sand suddenly hardened enough so that my calves didn’t feel like they were tearing. The soothing sounds of the waves receded, replaced by the incessant buzzing of Jurassic-era sized bugs that probably could have carried away stray children, which there also could have been hiding in the grass.
The humidity climbed around the still and stagnant marsh water. My singlet clung to me and while I wanted to peel it off, I kept it on to protect what little of my skin it covered. I repeatedly “felt something on my neck” only to realize when I reached back that I’d been carrying around a giant bug feasting on shoulder, which then caused me to continue thinking something was there so I ran swatting intermittently at my neck.
I thought of the Florida Everglades as I trudged on, willing my watch to beep the miles. That led me to thoughts of alligators lurking in the grass, the pets of the stray children probably; however, I put that thought out of my head when I saw all the rabbits hopping about and darting into the grass. It must have been one big rabbit orgy in those dens of high grass.
Just when I started to feel comfortable again, a fox let out next to me and ran alongside in the dried pond that smelled of rotting carcass. I ran through scenarios of how I could possibly fend off a rabid fox attack. But all I could come up with was the scene from Monty Python where the rabbit kills everyone.
I finally reached the “unknown” area of the trail, which was essentially a wave of sand dunes marked off by white poles to help you find your way or lead you to your doom. A sign read, “Closed” but it wasn’t clear whether it was the trail or the area beyond the trail. So I trudged on.
At long last, I hit the park and enjoyed the one mile out and back on one of the gravel trails before having to turn back and fend for myself in the land before time.
Once I hit the main road again, I had but two miles left. I got a full glimpse of the sign I blew by in the beginning, which said, “Trail open Labor Day through March 31 only.” Whoops.
I peeled my singlet off and watched the eyes follow me. Everyone loves a skinny dude in short shorts with a hairy chest. Especially certain gay men.
I ended my run with a walk down to the water. After a long soak in the ocean, I slung my singlet over my shoulder and carried my shoes back up to the boardwalk. An older gentlemen of the beach patrol, stood with his hands on his hips watching me stride by. “How are ya?” he asked.
“Doing well, and you?” I replied.
“Get your run in this morning? Oh, and looks like a swim too.”
*sigh* all because of the run.
And no, RunDanRun, there was no free coffee to be had.