Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for AT

Kipona Weekend

My capital city celebrates each Labor Day with activities around our beautiful sparkling waters of the Susquehanna River, our Kipona Festival.

Here you will find hand-made art items, musical performances and food, lots and lots of food.

While all that is wonderful, my early arrival on City Island was designed to get in a few miles before joining running friends Todd and Jen as they hosted a River Runners group run to celebrate their upcoming marriage. Todd and Jen met at a group run years ago so it was only fitting to host a run and finish it off with post-race snacks. Group runners began at different paces, making our way up river through food and performance tents not yet occupied by vendors and visitors.

Runners congregated post-run to chat and munch. I saved my snack for later as I had more miles on my schedule. On my last lap around City Island, I stopped at the Pow-Wow Festival and listened a bit to the haunting sound of a wood flute while I picked up a Fry Bread Taco. Delicious and far too big for me to finish.

While running down river earlier, I saw that wires were being set up for a tightrope walker scheduled for later in the day. Given the gusts of wind coming across the water, I expected the walk would be cancelled. Not so, as my friend Jennifer caught in this photo.

 

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Not a water walking nymph as the eye might have us believe, but a graceful tightrope walker probably 40 feet or so above the water.

Overall a relaxing weekend, ending with an out-and-back six-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail, 93 degrees at the start but feeling cooler on the trail, Our return trek took us into dusk, ending with a dark trail alight with the beam of our headlamps.

The end of summer heat and humidity did nothing to dampen my appreciation of the  bountiful beauty of this region. Never forget those who labor to protect our environment so that we can enjoy it.

I will end this post with another view of our sparkling Susquehanna, this one from atop Peter’s Mountain, taken during the hike, a scenic close to a beautiful weekend.

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Power lines can be an eyesore along some trails. In this case, our hike leader Mark captured the view as the sun was about to take that last shred of pink beneath the horizon, the lines having the look of architecture, drawing our eye down into the valley below.

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Hiking a 40-Mile Meditation

I’ve had a draft playing around in my head for a month or two, a sharing of my experience at the Hike Across Maryland (HAM). I’ve come to think of this experience as a walking meditation. This morning, a radio program gave me the impetus to move ahead and put those thoughts to keyboard.

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was airing,  her topic being Running As Spiritual Practice.  A number of runners (including Olympian Billy Mills) share with her how running has taken them through dark times, lifted spirits, developed discipline and in many different ways become part of each runner’s spiritual practice.

I have felt many of those sentiments through my years of running. At the HAM, the closest I felt was the necessity to be mindful of every step I took as I ran and hiked the 40-mile distance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a single day.

The HAM is an incredible opportunity for hikers to test their endurance and pacing. From the 5 a.m. start at the Mason-Dixon line where Pennsylvania meets Maryland to the arrival crossing the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we were supported by volunteers and checkpoints providing refreshments and documenting our passage. While this event is not a race, we were required to reach specific locations by specific times or be asked to drop and accept transport to the finish.

Rain was heavy the previous day, making our May 6th passage on the trail muddy and slick. Temperatures at the start in the high 50’s would have been perfect if not for the cool rain. A love of nature and tests of endurance still brought out over 100 participants.

Off-and-on again sheets of rain came down as we ran a portion of an early mile. As water ran down her face, my friend said “Isn’t this great? We get to be in the woods all day.” She was serious and set a tone of optimism for me.

I realized early on that 40 miles of hiking, with running spurts where I was sure of my footing, would require concentration. I decided if I was to make it through with minimal injury, it would need to be a meditative endeavor.

I cleared my mind of any extraneous mumbo-jumbo thoughts that usually find their way into my thinking. Every step was a mindful step. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the rushing of the streams we crossed, the calf-deep mudholes, the occasional birdsong and the rustling of unseen critters in the woods. It’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the beautiful deep, deep green the rain was bringing out in an already lush area. And it’s also not to say that I didn’t listen to and acknowledge a number of fellow hikers talking through their love of the trail, concerns about and pride in their children, job and health challenges. Being on the trail is license to spew out to total strangers the things that really matter in life.

With any and all of that seeming to be on a separate track, my concentration was in each step of the trail, 40 miles of meditation. Even that concentration did not stop me from taking a face plant as we climbed  a rain-slick boulder. The bill of my cap and my glasses let me escape with nothing worse than a small goose egg on the forehead and a few scratches on the palms of my hands.

At our last major checkpoint, I turned over my headlamp and heavier raincoat to friends who volunteered support, exchanging that weight for a couple of quick chugs of Coke. Off then for the last few miles, still mindful in each step, my pace was quicker than the pace of my first few miles.

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Hello, West Virginia!

Although the towpath near the finish seemed unending, the stairs to the bridge a cruel trick and as we crossed to West Virginia the wild beauty of the rain-swollen Potomac breathtaking, I stayed mindful of each step on this wonderful earth.

 

There are no regrets I took up this challenge. Through this 40-mile hiking/jogging meditation, I treasured the company of good friends as well as strangers and the support of the organizers and personal hiking friends who made the day.

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Enjoy your weekend, dream of a new challenge and try taking a mindful approach. Gotta run.