As the last of my friends pulled away from the campsite, I was left on my own to make an important decision: go back home, or continue onward – alone. In some ways I was unprepared to go home, and in others I was unprepared to continue on alone; it wasn’t an easy thing to decide. The best way to settle this, as is the case with most things in life, was to mull it over during a run.
As I worked my way down the hot, dusty dirt road away from camp, I thought about what brought me to this point. When my girlfriend and I planned the trip, this camping and rafting adventure (with friends) was to be our first stop. We were then supposed to continue on to Bar Harbor to have some time to ourselves. So what brought me from planning a trip with my girl to running alone down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, deep in thought?
Once again the answer is running. Back in early August 2007 running seemed to run me both into and out of trouble. At the time I was living with my girlfriend, and we had moved in together that June. I had just returned from the track that evening after nailing a workout (miles run in a 1-2-3-2-1 ladder pattern) and was pumped. At the time it was arguably the best workout I had ever pulled off and my exuberance was high…until I got sick. I was clearly in distress and, instead of showing an ounce of sympathy, she became angry and questioned my genetic composition.
My relationship with my girlfriend ended that night, and I won’t go into all that detail here. The break-up is worthy of its own story as it involves the short-lived show Sox Appeal, violent (and dare I say Dumb & Dumber-esque) diarrhea and a psychic. It was a bad situation, and with the benefit of hindsight it’s safe to say that running got me out of trouble.
Back to the lonely dirt road, a decision still needed to be made. It was six hours to get back home and three to the coast and Bar Harbor. I had two weeks off from work. Why should I let this girl ruin my vacation? Fuck it all! I chose to continue the trip.
So, this episode of EJN vs. Wild featured myself pitted against the rugged landscape of Mt. Desert Island, home of Acadia National Forest and the touristy Bar Harbor. Mission: camp and run in Acadia National park for two days and two nights, and survive on instincts alone…with nothing more than a tent, a sleeping bag, a flashlight, running shoes, and a six pack of Blue Moon. Fine, maybe I picked up some snacks along the way.
Driving three hours to go camping without a reservation (or knowing campsite locations) is a risky enough proposition. It’s compounded when you’re armed with only a map and a cell phone of the non-smart variety (remember we’re in 2007 here). I arrived at my eventual campsite just after 6 pm, scrambled to put up my tent, and then quickly gathered the necessary items to build a fire (it’d be dark when I returned). On with the shoes and off to the road to run an easy six, sticking fairly close to camp. The road was narrow, winding, and hilly. There were quite a few deer just chilling on the side; they didn’t even get spooked when I ran by them (within 15 feet). The car ride offered ample alone time to think things through, but it wasn’t until I was out running in Bar Harbor where it all sank in.
The flash of pride felt upon quickly starting the fire was short-lived as the fire ended up being a little on the smokey side, which prompted a visit from some fellow campers at the neighboring site. It was all for the best though, as my new friends spent the next hour or two rotating in and out of my campfire circle. Naturally they wanted to know what I was doing in the woods by myself, and my short answer was running. Specifically, training for the upcoming Chicago Marathon. This seemed to fascinate them, and all of the usual questions followed. It was a welcome distraction and helped pass the time. I had big plans for the morning, and didn’t want to dwell on them too much.
The next morning brought about the usual “early” start for me. After studying a trail map, I drove over to the National Park visitor center to get going. It wasn’t until about 10:45 am that I was finally able to start running, which made me worry that the midday heat could be a factor. The plan was to run along the carriage roads on the eastern side of Somes Sound (somewhat hilly terrain).
I tried to pick a course that would allow me to not get lost and also minimize any map references. In total, I mapped out a distance of 21.7 miles, although I added on some here and there so I could safely call it 22.
A water bottle and a map were all I thought necessary to carry with me, and I dropped off my water bottle and shirt at the far end of Witch Hole Pond to be retrieved later. However, I kept the map, and was glad I did. I thought I’d have a hard enough time keeping the map dry just from all my sweat on such a long run, but sure enough along came the rain and thunder.
I didn’t think we were supposed to get rain, and we didn’t except for during this run. When the thunderstorm rolled through, the rain quickly turned the map into a barely usable state. Luckily I didn’t have any issues with navigation, although I stopped a couple of times to study the paper mache mush map to be sure. When the rain really started coming down hard, I noticed most of the bikers/hikers got off the path and sought refuge under the trees waiting for it to pass.
One little fat kid decided to just stand out on the path pouting. As I ran by, he asked me angrily, “Should we go home or continue?” I could tell he’d rather be home playing video games. Even though it was raining pretty hard, I was thoroughly enjoying the experience. The idea that someone wouldn’t be enjoying their time out there seemed foreign to me, so I replied, ‘It’s vacation, keep going!” I could hear his dad laughing from under the trees as I pulled away from them. What would you expect the crazy looking half naked man running in the rain to say???
The scenery was pretty impressive; beautiful country out there and probably the most picturesque place I’ve ever run (and pretty hilly too). My pace definitely felt slower than usual, but I chalked that up to the terrain. I did time the last two laps around Witch Hole and they were at a 6:44 and 6:35 clip, so I was picking it up in the latter half of the run. Luckily for me, the rain and cloud cover meant that even in the middle of the day I was keeping relatively cool and didn’t have to worry about dehydration. In fact, I felt pretty good afterwards. How could I not? I just ran 22 miles in 2:34 on soft trails! I was dirty as shit though, and I sadly had to snap my showerless streak. I say sadly, but at the time that shower was probably the greatest shower I’ve ever taken.
All that time spent on those trails was exactly what I needed. It was like therapy for the body and the mind, a chance to hit the reset button and forget about all the bullshit. Being out there was an active form of meditation and how could I not feel that way? I was doing something I loved, by myself and in a grand setting. I felt stronger, more confident with every foot strike. It was as if I was reconnecting with the sport at the purist level, and on top of this it also seemed to be freeing my mind of any stress and bringing the clarity back to my thoughts that had been missing for a while.
Tuesday was to be my last day up in Maine, and I wanted to make the most out of it. This meant an alarm set for four am followed by a drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain to check out the sunrise. During certain times of the year, it’s the first spot in the U.S. to see the sunrise, so why not? Something just seemed ridiculous about me, the chronic late sleeper, seeing the sun rise earlier than anyone back home.
I soaked it all in (it was quite spectacular) and then explored the mountaintop a bit afterwards. I eventually made my way back to the bottom and had nothing better to do so naturally a run was in order. It was early still (not even 7 am), what else was I to do? I spontaneously decided to go get in another 9 miles on the carriage road; this time on a different section. I thought the scenery on this section was much better, but you had to pay for it because the terrain was tougher.
I was pretty spent by the time I got back to camp so a nap was in order. Upon awaking, I packed up and formalized a plan for the rest of the day: see as much of the island as I could, get in an afternoon run, then get on the road and head home before it was too late.
My first stop was Beech Mtn, and after a short hike to the summit I decided to hike down to Long Pond. Down by the water, I took the opportunity to rest and soak in the scenery there for a while. I hauled ass on the way back and made it up with all the grace of a mountain goat.
When I got back to my car I saw another sign for the cliffs on the other side of the mountain and made that trek. That was really cool…I was literally just sitting on the cliff looking down over Echo Lake. I could see a swim area, so I decided I’d drive down there and run, and then jump in the pond to cool off before the ride home. The trails back there felt really secluded, and I figured that if I were to see a bear, that would be the place. Alas, no bears that day, but I did see a gigantic black bird fly off into the shadows (had a wingspan the size of a school bus). It felt pretty good doubling that day even though I had a challenging long run yesterday. In total, I covered about thirty-five miles worth of trails over two days …not too shabby. Who needs a bike?
Back at the beach, I could see the cliffs up above and it was cool thinking I had just been up there. Although the run was a short four miles (28:27), and the water felt cold, it was the perfect way to cap off my trip. Before I knew it, I was back on the road for the 300-mile drive back home.
I returned from my adventure looking like a shaggy mess, but that’s misleading because I needed a haircut pretty badly about three weeks prior. All in all, it was a great couple of days. I got in some quality training, and in doing so I saw some great sights and cleared my head. Mission accomplished.
This originally appeared in the September issue of Level Renner. Since I can’t link directly to my article, I’ll probably end up reposting most of them in the blog at some point.