A few weeks ago, my sister ran a local road half marathon. The weather was perfect, the route spectacular; we overheard people on the course saying things like “Its so beautiful! I’m so glad I’m alive! I’m so happy to be doing this!”—not your typical long distance race comments. I had sort of a funny experience with the day though, I did not run, and simply went to cheer for my sister, and spend time with my niece while her mom ran the race (and so that my niece could see her mom as an awesome role model in action). We arrived early enough so my sister could check in and have a few minutes to get ready, which really means fuss and worry and hit bathroom. I looked around and saw all these people, fussing and worrying, plugging into their ipods, fiddling with their headband/phone case/hydration belt/compression socks etc. It was a small sea of people in plastic clothing and neon colors and nervous energy and I was struck with the outward appearance of the sad narcissism of a running race. I knew several individuals running the race, and I know that none of them are narcissists, but I had the feeling that I never wanted to do another organized event again (though that isn’t quite how its going to go down—I’m already registered for several more events this year, but they are either home grown races void of pretense, or have extreme novelty value). Being an outside observer at the start of that race, particularly one who could have easily run it; it made me see the whole “race” thing with new eyes, and tempered my enthusiasm, in a complicated way, one I still haven’t fully sorted out.
What did become clear to me was the desire to do more adventure running, big runs in wild places, on my own or with friends. Just for fun, just for me. No starting gun, no finish line party, no aid stations beyond what I bring with me or plan for, no clock. Just a map, a maybe crazy idea, and a good deal of planning and training.
I’ve wanted to get down to Cutler to visit its Maine Public Reserve land (aka the Bold Coast) for years. I’d hiked there once, a long time ago, when the trail was brand new and since then I’d heard it described as some of the best trail running in the state. The Cutler Bold Coast has been on the secret list of adventure runs I’ve been keeping for this summer, and after the fun I had at Bradbury State Park, the time seemed right.
Another reason the timing was right was because my husband was able to go with me. He is a professional climbing and mountain guide and summer can be a very busy time for him, so when his schedule opened up and he had a somewhat unexpected day off last week, we decided to strike. He has a hot and cold relationship with running. When he does it, he tends to enjoy it, but because his work is already outdoors, and quite physical, sometimes its hard to get him excited for a long stint on the trail. For this though, he got a little caught up in my sense of adventure and was hooked by the challenge of 10 technical miles in far Downeast Maine.
I had envisioned an early start, arriving early in the morning, running with the sun rising. In reality we were on the third shift, arriving in early afternoon. The day turned out to be muggy, but when we turned off Route One and made our way along the Cutler peninsula, the air suddenly cooled. The ocean Downeast is no joke, its cold and deep and doesn’t let a land lubber forget that. The drive was longer than we anticipated, but that became yet another layer of the adventure.
The trail was everything I had hoped, and we ran it tourist style, stopping at all the good views, snapping photos, taking time to enjoy the gorgeousness. The coast is indeed bold in Cutler, and the trail runs along the top of it for a few miles.
Both of us have a more than just a passing interest in geology, and I think I actually gasped in wonder when we noticed the hexagonal basalt columns clearly visible along the way. They are the kind of thing you read about in textbooks but rarely get to see in person.
Spring comes a little more slowly to the Bold Coast and Downeast Maine than points further west and south, so the Clintonia was just coming into bloom, in places it covered the entire forest floor. From cliff tops, to cobbled beaches to high points above inland wetlands, the trail was varied and brought you to relentless beauty. For the runner, the trail was technical, and thus a bit slow. There were roots and rocks, uneven footing, puddles and mudholes, it was not the manicured single track you see in the magazines, which is another way to say, it was real. The path was laid out by some one with vision, someone who wanted to share the beauty of that natural place with all who followed. It’s a path that made by the footsteps of all who walk (or run) it, we’re part of the process, part of the propagation. Beyond the rudimentary framework, we do this on our own.
People need races for a lot of different reasons, the primary one probably being motivation. If you have an event you are training for, you hold your self more accountable. Some how this summer I’ve found a different motivation, and it is so freeing. I think I just shifted into a whole new community of runners, do-it-yourself weirdos who go out and put together crazy traverses, linking trails, unexpected loops in interesting places. I’m planning my own events, and for now the community of trees and rocks and flowers and wild animals is all I need. Maybe next summer speed will matter or human companionship, and I’ll start doing races again, for now, I’m excited to see where this path is going to take me.