Out Of The Darkness
I sat inside Leah’s car, the windows fogging ever so slightly, signifying the clash of the frigid air outside and the luke warm air within. I peered out into the darkness, glared at a bridge I’d seen only once before and asked myself in an annoyed fashion, “Why am I here again?” I openned the door and stepped outside into the frigid night, it’s cold… damn cold.. 20 degrees cold. The moisture that has worked its way off my body and through a few layers of clothing is all ready freezing on my fleece pull over. “I really don’t want to do this.. not now.. I’m not ready.” A testament to my lack of training over the last few months, and my decision to run this thing about 3 weeks ago. I had no business being out here.. a common theme.. but yet here I was, about to step back into the tunnel. Another common theme.
So here we were. Nathan Sanel decided to come back and try is luck one more time against the relentless roads of New Hampshire’s countryside. Josh Robert and Leah Belanger agreed to serve as crew. We all sauntered around the vehicles getting ready to go. As the whisps of breath rose into the air, I began to smile as I watched excitedly at the movements. You could feel the angst, the nervousness that comes with a task this daunting. Or was it just me. As if 100 miles wasn’t long enough.. I needed to add another marathon to that. I question my sanity as I walk down to the river, Josh and Leah behind me. I walk to the water, unscrew the cap to a small vile and submerge it in the water. The vile fills, I raise it up, screw the cap back on.. and shake my head. “This is so stupid…” Not the vile.. the idea. The idea that exactly one year previous I enacted these same actions.. and thought the same thoughts. I finished then and said, “I’d so do that again..” And magically, one year later.. here we are. At AGAIN.
My step brother has driven down from Montreal, on his way home from a work trip. He left there at 1am to be here. We probably got about the same sleep. I got all of 3 hours of it, I knew it would haunt me later so I chose to not think about it now. I filled my bottles, finished my pop-tart, orange juice and a boost. Sucked down a gel. Secured my waist pack to my waist and began walking towards the bridge. I looked like an odd Christmas Tree when the lights hit against my reflective gear. Cars and trailors rushed by at blazing speeds, the air reaked of carbon. I stepped onto the bridge and looked at my watch, it was 6am… I ran across into Vermont, turned around.. and started running East.. East.. thats all I needed to know for the next 2 days.
The Journey Commences
Nate and I filed into the tiny breakdown lane of Route 9 West and headed East. We’d spent many many Wednesday afternoons running with each in preparation for our events. However this year has been different. We’re two men too busy to get together for such madeness it seems. So finally, as we bounded down the highway, we had a chance to catch up on all of our favorite topics. Nate is like my extra big brother. He cares about me, looks after me. I knew he was out here to support my journey, but he wanted to get that monkey off his back from last year. Then he dropped at mile 70, today he planned to go the distance. I wondered if he’d even come at all, and when I heard he was and what his plans were it was about the only thing that got me excited for this run. Running with Nate is always an adventure. A collection of immaturity and insight, there is nothing else like it.
The sun rose in the Eastern sky and we ran towards its warming rays. We were all ready over heating in our mass collection of wardrobe we chose to wear for the first section. I was all ready dying to see the crew, so I could peel some of this fleece off. I was sweating hard, dying even, but knew I’d rather be warm then cold. We talked and laughed and ran up and down hills without a care for time or pace. We just ran, settled in, and enjoyed the journey. This was the initial vision I had for this run, and it was important to keep this attitude intact. To see New Hampshire from a different perspective.. to see it, hear it, touch it, smell it. As we ran by the closed doors of businesses and the slow arising ‘steads with smoke billowing chimneys, I felt as if we were welcoming New Hampshire to the new day. “Good Morning New Hampshire! It’s a beautiful day!”
The weathermen had called for a washout the entire week. Rain and snow Friday into Saturday. A gloomy weekend, a good one for soup and cider. Laziness on the couch, quality time with family. We brought every piece of clothing and jacket we could possibly run in with us. If it was going to storm, we had it, we were prepared. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to the Gulf of Maine.. Nothing. And as the sun continued to rise, we bounded down the long hill into the city of Keene.
We rounded the corner into the Super 8 in Keene’s surrounding town area. I stepped inside to use the restroom. The Indian lady I found didn’t speak very good english, if any at all, but she knew the word bathroom. I was a mess. Here I was,a short stalky sweaty mess, standing in a lobby to a hotel which I have no room for and asking for the bathroom. I understood her pointing and mumbling and made my way into the fitness center. I chuckled as I thought of the irony. Maybe I should do a few reps? The hotel was so warm and cozy. It was hard to leave knowing that I was in a building full of beds, hot showers.. food. Yet I walked back outside into the frigid morning air. I delayered a bit, changed some clothes around, and we started running once again. The mental struggle was certainly there today.. from before I started to a simple bio-break here.. I knew it was going to be a long way home.
From here the real work begins. The hardest part, the toughest section of this run is the climb out of Keene and the descent into Antrim/Hillsborough. As we left the city we noticed how full of life it was for 8am. And as we made our way past the hospital, we noticed the steady stream of cars that had begun to file in from the East. Travelling against traffic while traffic is heavy is quite a task. As each car and truck and trailor rushed on by, it carried with it a gust of wind, super chilled from the quick movement of molecules. The wind and road grime hammered against our faces. We shook the chill off and kept moving ever forward. A wind had picked up and blew in our face.. we didn’t seem to be winning the battle as I cringed from the feel of the air. This weekend was Pumpkin Festival in Keene, hence the reason for the traffic, which would affect us for the rest of the day.
As we continued our climb out of Keene, we saw a trail off to the side of the highway. “Hey look! A Trail! Ooooo…” We began a conversation about “next year..”, yeah next year when we do this again. We should do it on trails. Find as many trails as we can and connect them all from West to East. It would be harder yet better. No pavement, no traffic.. just New Hampshire. We loved the idea and it filled our mind with fantasy for the next few miles. We continued to climb, running when we could, walking when we felt like it until we reached Granite Gorge.
As we rolled into the aid station I took a look at Leah and she looked a big ragged. Probably tired herself, the crew had taken a few naps in the car while waiting for us at the stations previously. I looked at Leah and asked her if she was going to make it. She did not look too thrilled, “It’s a really crappy job waiting for us isn’t it?” This was only her second time crewing. I knew right now it was a drag for her, but as it went on, she’d reap the rewards of being part of something special. I asked her for patience, “it’s not a glorious job” she smiled and nodded. Nate and I ate a little bit, snacked on the typical ultra foods, Banana’s, chips, drank water and gatorade and asked the crew to have lunch ready at the next stop before we headed back out onto the road.
It was a no brainer when it came to asking Josh to Crew for me during the run. He was there for the last 80 miles last year. He’s an ultra-veteran having run 10 VT50’s by now. He has the mind of an ultra-runner and knows what to do. Leah is his girlfriend. I didn’t know if Josh was going to say yes when I asked him to crew, yet I wasn’t surprised when he fired back with the answer rather quickly. He had his truck loaded to the brim the night before the run. A gnarl of Christmas lights wound it’s way in, through and around the kayak rack. Nate and my Binto Box were lowered into the back as well as a cocophony of food. Josh was as dedicated and into the run as anyone, ready, prepared, anxious. I appreciated the help of these two beyond what can be expressed in simple words. I’m glad I chose them as it proved a wise decision.
The roads leaving Keene climb up to the Gorge Ski area, after stopping here we head back out on Route 9 and follow the Ashuelot River further up hill towards Nelson. This section of the route is the most desolate and uninhabited by man, yet the effects of days past still linger on amongst the woodline that follows the road. Long rock walls extend for vast distances through the wood. We pass by a few colonial style farm houses, where the owners continue to prepare for the pending winter. We run through small towns as smoke billows up from chimney tops. We pass a neat old Sugar House that appears to be falling into the earth.
We climb some more and are awarded with views out across the countryside, of hills and villages a short distance away by car, yet forever on foot. This is the hardest section of our run.. yet it is also the most beautiful. I love the hills, they make me feel so free and so alive. After we crest the highest hill while playing our new game (yes, no).. we start heading back down hill. We meet up with our crew once more where the Mondanock-Sunappe Greenway passes over the road.
Nate and I stroll into the aid station. Nate all ready has a tiny blister on his foot. I sit down as Josh hands me a cup of Ramen. I drink the soup slowly while nate plays doctor with a pair of nail clippers, getting rid of a nusiance nail. I look at his feet and gag.. ah yes. The true resolve of any runner is partially determined by how far he/she will run on bruised, battered and mashed feet. Poor Nate’s toes look like a science experiment gone wrong. YUCK! I eat my grilled cheese and we have some fun with our noodles before finally adjusting the clothing again, the sun is finally getting warm and we smile ear to ear. I’m still tired.. moving along, slowly, just moving. We figure out that we’ve just run a marathon… a 5+ hour marathon to get here. It’s going to be a long journey to the ocean. Especially when I’d just ducked back into the woods for another bio-break.
We head off down the road and start to wind our way down and around towards Antrim. Nate runs past a Honda hood ornament, picks it up and we try to figure out a way to wear it as a necklace. Like Flavor-Flav and his clocks. We toss it back to the road like good stewards do and continue running. Nate is full of life, energy, good form. I’m tired all ready, slouching forward and trying to figure out in my mind how the hell I’m ever going to make it to the Ocean. I’m all ready thinking about how Concord would be far enough. Nate talks and I just listen, I’m falling out of a talking mood and begin to crash. We roll into the Antrim Rest Area, I change my tops for clothes to get dry pairs on. The crew promises to dry what I had on. I sit in the grass and take a few minutes, sipping hot chocolate. Nate pops the blister finally trying to keep up with his body. He goes inside for a bio-break.. I warn him “Don’t Look At The Map!” referring to a map inside with a push pin that says, “You Are Here.”
We head off down the road and as we take off nate looks at me and says, “I did it.” “Did what?” “Looked at the map.. Dude….. Dude.” We stop to pee..again. Nate’s been going a LOT, me.. not as frequent but I’m going. We head off into the woods at one point and go to do my thing when “CRAP!”… literally. I asked Nate for help, he hands me a napkin and I use some leaves. I was beyond aggrivated that this happened, totally unexpected.. and it was about to change the course of the run for good. I had had good control over the chaffe.. until now. Now it burned.. and I cleaned up as much as I could before we took off again. The aid station was 2 miles away. I texted Leah what had happened… there was no reply. When I got into the aid station I asked if she had gotten the text.. “No why?” “I sh*t myself.. no big deal.”
I took a few minutes to get myself in order once more before we carried on. Josh and Leah were doing a great job of keeping us fed and leaving with full bottles. Only thing is, I was coming in with full bottles. As we left the fire house, I felt clean but the chaffe was now letting it’s presence be known. I put the pain in the back of my mind and pushed on. Nate and I continued to reminisce about Last year, “here is where that reporter called last year…” As we head into Hillsborough Nate finally says something to me about my fueling. “You gotta start drinking John..” He was right, and I knew I had about 40 or so minute to finish a 20oz bottle of Clip2. I need to get caught up at these next few stops or I’d be in trouble later.
Franklin Pierce’s Hometown
We enter Hillsborough and continue down Route 9. Soon we reach our turn off and head off of the busy Highway and down West Main St. As we start running down through some residential neighborhoods we look ahead and see a car turning not far ahead. An impatient pick up driver decides to go around by driving in the breakdown lane. As he comes back out onto the roqad, I decide to run out into the road.. I was so annoyed. The guy then swerved to hit me. I guess I deserved it.. for running out there.. but jesus buddy. PATIENCE! Nate and I arrive into the busy section of downtown Hillsborough.
As we run into the Irving station we see our Crew. Loni is here now.. another ultra-runner from NH. She agreed to help, she also lives with Josh, and even run the night sections. I was so psyched to see her this early! They all tended to us. We had cold Coke’s waiting for us. Nate laid down in the mulchbed. They asked how we were, we’re both tired, our feet are starting to hurt and it’s only been 44 miles. I hold up my bottle for Josh, look at it about 85% gone and say, “I tried dude.” He takes it from me and refills it. I eat Gummi Bears, chips, and a banana. It’s starting to cool down again, we’re behind last years time yet enjoying ourselves. As Nate and I rise to our feet once more, we head out of the parking lot… heading ever East. “How you doing John?” “I’m tired man… tired.” “Yeah.. I am too for some reason..” Maybe it’s because we’ve run 44 miles of roads. It was a gorgeous day, now its overcast, the sun is setting.. Maybe it’s because we didn’t get much sleep last night.. either way.. We’ve got mile to go before we sleep… Miles to Go…. Left Right Repeat.
(Continue To PART 2 CLICK HERE)