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Ode to the Road

Something to turn those friday night dreams pleasant.....tomorrow's reality.

I headed out toward Dillingham before the Friday afternoon rush hour fouled the roads and brought the flow of traffic to a standstill. Made it there in less than an hour and with surprisingly easy driving.

Moving along the bottom of long road by 4:10, I was hoofing it up the quickly sloping road with an extra gallon of water on my back. The going was slow, very slow at first, and the longer and higher the trudge the heavier that extra gallon became. If you have not had the pleasure of doing long road I have to tell you that the first mile is pretty flat, and the 1 mile marker sits at the base of a large tree that marks the first real steep. But the road is wide and smooth asphalt making it just a 'dig-in and do it' kind of up. Farther up, at the 1.5 mile marker the road moves through a gate and becomes narrower, older, and rougher, as it turns into the first valley. There the trees get a little taller at the sides of the road offering small patches of shade in the afternoon sun, false promises of relief from the humid warmth that rises off the old asphalt and the heat of the late afternoon sun. Moving toward the back of the valley the road hair-pins and heads up once again on the first of a long succession of switchbacks.


It's a bit deceptive, at first the road slopes up a bit more, but the sky opens up again as one turns out of the narrow valley and the view is of the ocean and the greenery of the coastal plain, the climb is steeper but there is sense of relief in being able to look out and away from the enclosing valley. In less than 2 miles the road probably rises 500 feet, but most of that is in the second mile. Then the switch-backs start up the western side of the valley wall and all calculations are thrown out the window as one begins to face an increasingly steep wall of asphalt.


The second switchback is the longest, hardest section. It must be a quarter of a mile long, with a surface that deteriorates quickly into a patchwork of forgotten lost budget cuts. Near the bottom there are often long fans of loose gravel which have collected during the heavy rains that hit the area on occasion. These patches are a problem going up, and dangerous coming down--a slide through one of these can do serious work on a knee. But the all pervasive fact about the second switch back is its stamina sapping, seemingly unending steepness. It quickly becomes an up that demands a momentary respite, a breather, a moment of bent over agony, as the body scrambles to cope with the sudden rush of a stark breathless reality. As one makes the hot rugged climb one is quickly convinced there could be nothing worse in life than pushing up these switchbacks, and this long second one to be most precise. It is always a bad omen to find oneself looking up and praying for an end, but it is, for me at least, inevitable on the long steep second switch, and by the time one finally sees the turn one has usually been defeated by that stretch of road, and one makes the turn slowly, humbled and thankful to be done with it.


'How can anything else be as bad?' is the thought that rings true, as one makes the turn with the feeling that the worst is behind, heart throbbing relief, and a prayer that the lungs can last a few more minutes. But the road is remorseless, sadistically coy, and after a brief flattering moment, when one wrongly assumes the hill is pretty much history, the road twists and turns upward once again. The grade is almost as steep, but the view is out toward the open ocean where cool breezes blow lightly over the dark waters. But the only water one feels in the hot late afternoon light is the sweat pouring off  one's head and dripping from arms and hands. The road wiggles like a nasty snake, threatening to strike, causing the heart rate to climb and a the breath to become shallow and quick. Somewhere deep in the back of one's mind the crying voice of a child is heard protesting the need to go on, the need to feel so bad. One soothes the angst, but to no avail, moving on despite the nagging cries of an evidently poorly trained spirit.


If one has not been numbed by the disapointment of hard training one may find the need to see the next turn as essential. It is a deceptive turn as it moves around the ridge into a long bowl of the next valley. I don't know why I always look forward to making that turn. Perhaps it's because it opens into a fresh place, another valley that promises something different. It's a false hope. It takes years of going up Long Road before one  admits that it doesn't get any less steep after the turn into the upper valley, and even after too many climbs it is hard to admit it is not less steep, that once one has made the turn it will not be better. But it's not really, and the grade continues close to 15 to 20 degrees. However the road surface is not as bad on that last stretch and the footing is better. So perhaps it can be said that it gets easier, even though any reasonable honest individual would have to say that it is no less steep than the switch backs.


One can see by this description that on the upper reaches of Long Road most thoughts are of the road. How far to go, where it might not be as steep, where one can catch a break and recover a bit of breath, where it would be good to take some water without puking. One may look out over the valley, or toward the ocean, but it is never with much appreciation, never in awe of the beauty or the stunning views. No, one looks out of blankly focused eyes, stinging with sweat, only to refocus the vision on the road, lower one's head, and grind ever so slowly up the hill.


When the road finally does bend around to the right and the gate becomes a promise rather than a myth, one is always defeated, spent, and breathing rapidly and painfully. The legs are jell-O and the back is aching, vision may even be harmonic, vibrating to the pulse of a heart that seems ready to explode. And even then the gate is only a promise, even then one is moving up through belief the end is near, not the reality that it actually is. Then, when finally there is a sight of the gate there is no celebration, no cheering, often not even a feeling of relief. On most occasions one does not even have the strength to remark about it; simply ducking unsteadily through the bars of the gate and standing there wondering how one made it, and if disintegration now follows.


But this is Peacocks, and this is just the beginning. There is the long Cross-over and then the steep down into Dillingham followed by an up that is perhaps more steep than the one one has just negotiated. But its too far away, to long to think about and the knowledge that the next 200 yards is down hill is sufficient as one  stumbles on looking forward, if nothing else, to a different kind of pain.


Aloha,  Mike M  http://runningovertheedge.blogspot.com/

Comments

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Jake

I did what you suggested and I did go up a second, hot time...and hot lava is correct....mahalo, I think.

Jake

Steve Villiger

very poetic Mike! I'll probably be reciting some slightly less eloquent words and phrases as we start climbing the hill tomorrow at 4 am.

Harald

Lovely, Mike. I have trudged up Long Road only once and, in view of your ode, I consider a blessing the fact that I don't really remember the climb in much detail. It was long. And hot. I think I shall try to keep my mind as blank as possible and have my memory refreshed only on race day.

Aloha!

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