Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Fitting Farewell

We hatched our plan where all good plans begin – wait, scratch that – the beer still chilled in the fridge. We hatched our plan where many good plans begin: on a run.

Ebo and me after two trips up and down Old Rag.
My friend Ebo, the faithful Sherpa, trailed just a few meters behind me, pedaling my hydration and snacks. Together, we easily ticked off cold and windy miles along the historic C&O canal tow path. We had just completed the out portion of what would become a 21 mile day. The headwind that swallowed our conversation mercifully pushed at our backs now, and we picked up our conversation and the pace.

Ebo’s time in D.C. was numbered as he planned a move to the West Coast, and we wanted needed an epic physical feat to send him off.

The clouds of our brainstorm converged at once on the place our adventure thoughts always seemed to bloom….

Old Rag’s craggy summit juts out sharply over the Shenandoah’s verdant, rolling hills. It treats the hiker to relentless switchbacks, narrow crawl spaces, and ledges to hoist oneself atop.

It takes the average hiker about four hours and some change to complete the eight-ish mile roundtrip hike up to the summit, down the fire road, and back to the car. Ebo and I, with another friend, have completed two loops in just under four hours, sending unsuspecting hikers diving for the brush as we blazed past them at alarming speeds (the fire road is 2.25 miles of crushed gravel pointing straight down).

If a mountain can be associated with one person, Old Rag belongs to Ebo. We have returned to it often, though he more than I, in all seasons and conditions.

It holds special significance for me as well. It was on a hike up Old Rag with my dad back in 2003 where I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with the future Mrs. OTBR.

The sense this time around, however, was that while Old Rag was special to both of us, it wasn’t enough. We needed something bigger.

With the Georgetown Key Bridge disappearing over our shoulders, the answer seemed to reveal itself to us at the same time. Last summer, Ebo and I chalked up another double loop of Old Rag to kick off a weekend of camping, hiking, and running. While traipsing up yet another Shenandoah jewel, the White Oak Canyon Upper and Lower Falls trail, we arrived at an intersection in the trail. We walked around the trail marker curious where all roads from this point led when we came across the final panel: “Old Rag Fire Road.”

A silence settled over us as we raised our eyebrows at one another: “I wonder,” trailing off. Then, “Someday.”

Later, I pulled up a map of the area and sure enough, the trails connected, though the distance for each segment wasn’t clear. Still…

“Someday” is tomorrow.

We’ll rise before the sun and drive toward the jagged horizon. Soon, the mountains will grow larger and the city will melt away behind us. We’ll lace up and set out, unsure of just how high the day’s total mileage will be.

But tomorrow, it’s not really the mileage that matters.

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