Sunday, March 18, 2018

R & R, My Version

It's been nearly three long and arduous years that I have been separated from a place that owns a piece of my soul.  

This week, I reconnected, in spite of enough obstacles to make me consider cancelling.  Were they omens telling me to stay on the farm, or challenges meant to plowed over?  I chose the latter... meaning that I didn't get to leave the farm until late at night. 
It's a good way to cross a normally gridlocked Atlanta.

Downtown I-85 around 1 AM: no traffic!

Peter and Garrett on their down duvet settle in for the 4-1/2 hour ride.

My tiny terrorist remains on his docking station the entire trip.
I arrive at mine at 3:30 AM.  
obviously not taken in the  middle of the night

After a cat nap, we awake to this scene.

It continues to snow most of the morning, yes, I am in Heaven.

Garrett prefers the window seat.

Dax, despite my often insisting that he is Beelzebub's spawn, shows he truly is my kid after all.

"A day outside is better than any day inside".
To thank my friends for inviting me to stay at their mountain home, I like to make myself useful and fix things, paint stuff, or this time, get the house ready for the season... all the while looking out at this incredible view:

Never feels like work when I'm up here.

The window seat becomes prime real estate.
The real estate I'm interested contains hiking trails.  I don't know if there's a trail Cole and I missed during our years running in the Pisgah, Sumter and Nantahalla National Forests, and all the plethora of other trails in the area.  This one was our favorite, and right in our backyard too.

9.6 miles up to the tower and back, but we always took side trails to make the runs longer.
Cole and mine's last run up to Yellow Mountain

The view from the fire tower...

is breathtaking.

How things can change in a short time:  No longer am I a fleet footed ultramarathoner racing through the woods with my running partner, Cole.  I now lumber and wheeze and pretend to stop to wait for Peter, when in fact I'm winded and seeing stars.  Even with a medical file now brimming with reasons not to endurance run anymore, I can't give up the dream.  I may never attain it with a dog like Dax, who refuses to grasp the concept of pacing, or any other form of obedience for that matter, but I'm going to die trying!

As long as I'm with dog on trail.
We don't make it all the way to the fire tower, we get over halfway and turn around before Goat Knob.  But the goal of our first hike is to visit Cole Mountain.

I've brought soil from Cole's grave and hair that I'd pulled from his jackets.

Time to let my best friend run free on his mountain.
Dax, initially not recognizing the solemness of the moment thinks there's treats in the Tupperware.

It's no wonder our love for dogs is so profound.  

Without words, they understand.  They watch the ceremonial toss over the edge.  Dax doesn't try to play fetch with the flying sand, Garrett doesn't wander off to pee on a bush... they just mirror my soul.

How do they do that?

I'm thankful every day for my crew.
Dax included:

For all the respect shown to a great uncle he's never met, Dax deserves a trip to Woofgang Bakery.  

Cole loved shopping here.  We'd come every day while we were here.  The owner made homemade peanut butter popsicles for him after our Summer runs and one year, a birthday cake.
A ritual worth repeating with the new crew. Toys and treats the first day.

Christmas, extra early.

On the second trip, I stock up on dog food that ordinarily has to be shipped to me.

Dax pulls a few more toys off the shelves and I obligingly surrender my credit card.

Next stop: a 2.5 mile run up to Mt. Chinquapin.

"Are we there yet?"

"This is why you dragged me up here?"

Dax seems more suitably impressed.

This 5 mile in and back trail was a regular for me and the Colemeister because it was an easy climb.

Peter is unimpressed that there's 2.5 miles to go to get back to the car.

And the Little Dynamo sleeps.

OK, just for Peter, an easy forest service road run in the evening.

Turns into a bit of panic when we run into the smoke from a forest fire on the mountain that sits next to our lodgings.

911 operator assures me the fire is contained, but that I should turn around. Roger that.

My favorite barn on the way back home.

The stables I can see from my deck.

Our last run is in Ellicott Rock Wilderness, within the Nantahalla Forest on the North Carolina side and the Sumter National Forest on the South Carolina side.  Making it another state Dax has bagged. Cole and I would start out at Bull Pen Road trailhead and run one end to the other. For Pete's sake (and mine), we start at the Walhalla Fish Hatchery and only go halfway.

Close to civilization, the trail is civilized.

Progressively less civilized as the miles add up.

This is better.

Up and down.

The two old farts stay tethered until we reach halfway points.

Garrett suffers from total lack of direction, so I only trust him to follow us on a return leg.

We make it to the Chattooga River. Peter asks if we can turn around now.  Heck no, we must follow the river until we get to the famous Ellicott Rock.

Dax poses on the Rock, looking like Washington crossing the Delaware.

An incident reminds me of why he can't be trusted off leash, yet.  He hurls himself into a set of rapids to attack the churning water.  He gets tossed around and I reel him back in twice!  I take this video after he's backed of his suicidal zeal.

Here in Ellicott Wilderness, I find my little peace of soul I'd been missing.  Having run all over America, this will forever be my favorite place, forever wild, forever beautiful.

Don't cry, Ma, we'll come back.  
I do have the best boys.

No matter how slow I become, or how many more times I'll fall, I'll keep running.

Forever free.

How I love this little sanctuary nestled in the woods.