What is it about a place that makes you remember it? Is it the subconscious excitement that makes you remember every little detail of a place? Or is it simply the amount of time spent there and the layout of that area? Some places might have recognizable landmarks or "easy to read" street names. But what about the places away from the public, less traveled places; the places that do not have street names or that are not populated with giddy tourists? These places can only be remembered with a deep connection with the land; of course I am talking about trails and particularly running on them. This was all brought to thought after reading a book by John Hildebrand called "Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon". In one chapter John hitches a ride on a tug boat called the Ramona, taking particular interest in Claude, the captain and driver of the boat, Hildebrand talks about how Claude could read the Yukon without any means rather than his eyes. He is able to do this by the experience he has had on the Yukon and his ability to recognize different features. The same way Claude reads the Yukon river, I believe trail runners can read the trail.
Trails are not all the same, but yet, they are all the same. Each trail has features that connect one to the other; the way rocks are situated, the texture of the soil, the impact of rain, what the foliage is like on both sides and above, the roots that cover the trail, the relief of the slopes, the different elevations, and so on. Runners program different movements with different layouts and can recognize these layouts without even thinking about it, technical or not. The more a runner runs on trails, the better they become at recognizing and responding.
And once a runner runs on a particular trail, that trail is programed in their body. For instance, the trails that I ran on in Colorado this past Spring have their own distinction with me. I can recall different sections easily and recognize them if I went back right now. The trails close to my home at Strouds run have their own features that can be recognized as well. And of course, I have the trails that I know so well, in Shawnee State Forest. I know every inch of land that I have ever traversed there, because I have ran them so much. Looking down is not even necessary. I know every stream crossing, every rock, every root, and every hill. I am connected to the fullest with these trails.
This past weekend, my family and I went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to watch my sister get married. Marriage, like trail running and reading a river, is something that the husband and wife has to become very connected with. Each person has to know the others every trait and become very in tune with it. If there is no connection, the marriage will eventually fail. I wish my sister and Andy the best of luck as they begin their journey.
While we were down there, I had a chance to visit the Smoky Mountains on Saturday morning. This short venture brought back many memories from last summers hiking/camping trip there with my brother. My brother, his girlfriend Joni, Corbin (Andy's little brother), and I left the hotel around 5:15 am and headed to the Chimney Tops trail head. They were going to hike while I ran. The trail was only 2 miles to the top, uphill the entire time. I started running around 6:10 and reached the summit at around 6:30. The view was spectacular as the sun was rising. The clouds blocked out the sunlight, but with the morning "smoke" rising out of the mountains, it was a sight worth seeing. I was on top of Chimney Tops for 40 minutes until the rest of the gang made it. It was so nice having the entire mountain by myself for a while, what could be better. I was able to run down to the bottom, almost back to the top, and a little bit on a side trail before we headed back to the hotel. The trail was great, very recognizable, and locked up in my sensory memory forever.
This summer, while just started, I have already enjoyed a lot of running. I look forward to making more connections with new trails, enjoying the aesthetic beauty of each step. This feeling will last forever.