A Normal Saturday Run

It's the usual group, minus a couple of guys, one lost to a triathlon coach and another working a local golf tournament. We meet at the normal spot, on a corner near a playground, at 6:30, too early for most on this wet Saturday morning. It's a quiet walk to the meeting spot. No traffic or early morning dog walkers. I feel fresh, having slept in an extra half hour. I left the headlamp at home, wouldn't need it today as the sun tries unsuccessfully to burn through the thick layer of clouds and fog.

The rain always seems to start falling just as I step out the door. The thin wool shirt starts to absorb the mist that turns into a light rain, and the light shirt becomes heavier.

We start at an easy pace, all except for Chris who doesn't have an easy pace, short, fast, compact strides popping off the pavement as we chase him out of the sleeping suburban neighborhood into an area that quickly transitions off the grid, littered with old barns, rusted machinery, RVs surrounded by high fences and barking dogs.

We duck between two strands of barbed wire, pulled up enough to let an average sized runner through, a barb catches my shirt, creating a long, thin red scratch down my back.

I walk slowly, not running for fear of tripping and tangling my feet in the barb wire hidden in the long grass. The trampled grass becomes a narrow trail, wider and wider as we ascend to the power line trails, jeep trails. We call them jeep trails, but I'm not sure a jeep would make it through here today, I think as I slip through the heavy, red clay mud.

We leave the wide jeep trail in favor of a narrow single track. The banter comes to a halt, the dick jokes, the war stories, and the other things we say on the trail (and should probably be left there), comfortable enough after hundreds of shared trail miles to know where the line is, and to occasionally cross it, stops as the trail descends.

The trail is steep and muddy and I scan ahead, searching for the line that is not as wet, muddy, slippery, jumping from one side to the other and ducking under overgrown branches or holding my arms in front of me, protecting my eyes from the sharp barbs. We are spit out one by one, on the wide jeep road. The first few wait as the rest of the group appears, most smiling and breathing a little harder.

We cross the road to the preserve. I notice a sign on the bridge, the trails are closed, but the trails that we are headed to are always closed. But, early on a Saturday morning, in the rain, all the trails are open. We pass the bridge, closed do to the rising water level of the stream that can now safely be called a river and run alongside the river to a new crossing, a crossing where, on a regular day, can be crossed by jumping from rock to rock to the other bank and the trail that starts on the other side. The rocks are covered today by the swiftly moving water and we wade through, waist deep. Someone takes their shoes off in a fruitless effort to stay dry. I slip on a submerged rock and my shin hits hard, there will be a bruise. Once across, we run again, discussing the manhood scale and where crossing a waist-deep stream fits in (somewhere between mustaches and steak). In the past, some have turned back here, not wanting to get their shoes wet, but today, we all go through.

We are on closed land now, land that is overgrown, but a narrow trail still winds past foundations of old, deserted buildings that crumbled long ago, running over what used to be a road leading underneath a bridge that is no longer used and is marked with graffiti, one word...Shitface. I tell the others I was down here a few weeks ago, tagging the bridge with my street name, Shitface.

We run along the stream that is now a river, noticing the fog sticking stubbornly to the mountains. My shirt becomes too heavy and starts to rub in the wrong places, so I take it off and wrap it around my waist. Someone takes a group picture.

We emerge from the trail and closed off land and onto the guardhouse for The Bridges Golf Course, and surprisingly there is a guard there, so we cut back down towards the river. Already wet from the river and the rain, there is no discussion, we just wade into the knee-deep water, then waist-deep, then chest-deep for some and neck-deep for others. I slip on the rocks underneath, but there is no point now in keeping my feet on the bottom, I wade with my hands and arms towards the other bank and climb up on the slippery grass. I think I feel leeches, but they are only small leaves and I brush them off as I work my way through the thorny bushes that leave red marks on my legs, like the lines my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. O'Donnell, used to crisscross over my bad grammar.

Back on a familiar route, steep concrete, so steep that I wonder aloud how they could have laid it without gravity pulling it down to the bottom of the hill, and we are back to the houses on the outskirts of the neighborhood, people who want to be left alone and who probably wouldn't like us running through their horse trails. We are way past the 10 or so miles that I had planned on, but I keep going, sucking down a gel. We head up and over the hill with the green water tower, and down the long, gradual decline on the other side. This is one of my favorite trails, just the right steepness for some fast running, opening the stride and feeling the pull of the bottom of the hill.

We wind through the neighborhood on the groomed trails, behind Albertsons, behind the school where I point out the new multilevel classroom being built over the grass field that now forces the kids into an ever-shrinking play area. They dance in place for P.E. now.

One last climb, then home to the kids, home to smiles and wet, stinky hugs, and eggs, and coffee, and sausage, and fresh orange juice. Time to take the kids out to soccer and the skate park. Time to start the day.

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