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Some Climb to Get to Terrapin–revisited.

03/20/2011

March 20, five days before race day

“Inspiration, move me brightly light the song with sense and color,

hold away despair

More than this I will not ask

faced with mysteries dark and vast

statements just seem vain at last

some rise, some fall, some climb

to get to Terrapin…”

Hunter/Garcia–Terrapin Station

Though by now I probably shouldn’t, I still find it surprising and strange that at this late point in my life I would find such profound meaning imbued in every other line or so of an old song penned by Robert Hunter  and Jerry Garcia. Though I could never have been truly called a Deadhead, never worshiped and revered them as some of those fans I had known,  I have marveled at that phenomenon that was the Dead. And I have certainly always worshiped at the alter of music’s mystery.

I have never found Terrapin a particularly strong or meaningful song.  But even at his weakest, Hunter has a poetic way of dragging us through the mythic–of surreptitiously slipping us a cryptic line or two that suddenly reveals the bigger pattern some decades later when we are doing a bit of soul searching. And it seems for me that at this particular point in my life Hunter has with his song, come once again to pull the thread.

It is, in fact, both the first song I ever heard the Dead play live, and the first time I had ever heard it. At a particularly low point in my life, a college drop-out ostracized by family, hitting rock bottom depressive states, and recently displaced to a bad part of DC, thrown in with a few scary strangers I hoped at some point to call friends, I was spiraling down into despair and becoming more and more lost.  I had come to this Dead show with a guy I was seeing, but had not known for very long. We were separated in the crowd, and I knew not another soul present.  The crowd was huge, surprisingly rowdy and a bit frightening. Much like my place in the world, I didn’t know where to look to find my seat, where to stand, where or how to be.

The music meandered around loosely the way it does with the Dead, the way it does with the song Terrapin Station, without a strong rhythm, without much structure, and still the crowd sang and swayed. Then Jerry’s guitar refrain peeled through the din, and everyone together screamed the lyric  “Terrapin!”

In the focus and intensity of the crowd, I suddenly  found that I no longer felt lost, found it but a state of mind, an illusion that fell away with the music, and realized that I was  exactly. where. I. was. supposed. to. be.

It was a solid if fleeting moment, and the recognition powerful. Music has always had a way of doing this for me, of bringing me back to myself, if but briefly, of reminding me of my place in the universe, of lighting the way so that I might not lose my footing on those dark and winding stretches.

Lately, I have been running a lot. In part, in truth, I have because I have needed to desperately. I have been passing through some great emotional challenges, and it has kept me strong.  Also, I have been preparing for two races: in April, my third try at Boston, and this Saturday, a mountain trail race called the Terrapin Mountain 50k.  Surely it is this race that has brought the old song back into my head. That, and it simply happened to coincide with so much else that made the song ring true.

“While you were gone these spaces filled with darkness

The obvious was hidden

With nothing to believe in the compass always points to Terrapin..

I have been writing. I write of where I place my faith. I try to focus on not what is fleeting, but on that which abides.  But everything in this world seems to shift and change with lightening speed, and recently, if I do manage to pull myself out of that ticker tape stream of consciousness if for but a little, perplexed, I find myself standing on the edge of a vastness, naked and alone before the beauty of the universe. And it frightens me. I know, there are only but a few things that can bring me here.

“and I know we’ll be there soon

Terrapin -

I can’t figure out

Terrapin -

if it’s an end or the beginning

Terrapin…

Not particularly conscious of the approaching race, that old refrain of “Terrapin!” and its message that had so long ago set me back on the path kept sneaking back into my consciousness until  once again I sensed those mental bees at work, that subconscious stirring that goes on before a big change/challenge, and I awaited that familiar snap! That thunderous clap of the master’s hands that suddenly brings in line again the workings of the conscious and subconscious.

Yes, I have been writing. I have been trying excruciatingly slowly on my wobbly new writing legs to learn to pen memoir. Cautiously, one foot in front of the other, painstakingly trying to figure out how to reach back into that darkness without losing myself in it again, I have been searching for the right balance of elements, for the correct recipe. I read others’ words. They all seem to be able to bravely open themselves up and lay it all on the line. I know that it takes immense courage. I read between the lines for what they don’t reveal. I feel it out for myself. How much detail? How much of the self do I share? Can others’ relate to this? How and when should I refrain to protect others? What can I brush over, where must I painstakingly tell all? I find myself writing then editing then deleting, then rewriting, and more often than not feeling like I am losing ground; Penelope forever weaving and then tearing out her fresh work on the burial shroud.

But in hopes of what? That I will at last be reunited with some long lost heroic part of myself returned to give me the strength to say what needs to be said? For the hope of saving myself from the past by recreating it as art, holding it up for all to see? Perhaps. For so long I had been awaiting the return of my instinct, for the return of my strength.  It came in running. It is the light that scattered the darkness and with it, I have burned my own burial shroud.  But now I must progress further. Now I must fund the courage to climb on, to lay it out for all to see in an effort to help others.

“Hold away despair…

The obvious was hidden…

In the shadow of the moon, Terrapin station…

So I will run long again. Up into the mountains where it works the best. Where I will find my strength again. Where I always manage to find myself.

“Some rise, some fall, some climb

to get to Terrapin…

I make light of it. It is not a race for me. I am slow. I do not compete but with myself.  It is just a little run in the mountains. I’m doing it for fun. I’m doing it for joy. I’m doing it because I have to. I’m doing it because I can. I’m doing it because it saves me from myself. I’m doing it because it holds away despair.  I’m doing it because running long is what creates that music of my mind that when played over and over lifts me out of the gray streets.

In my training, I sometimes run long from my house to the National Cathedral, its spires beckoning from far in the distance, glowing like the moon in the slanting sunlight, visible from many streets,  from many angles.

“Counting stars by candlelight all are dim but one is bright:

the spiral light of Venus rising first and shining best…

From the northwest corner of a brand-new crescent moon…

But it is in the running, in the journey through the dismal streets that I reach its heights.  My husband explains to people who don’t understand my love of long distance running,  that running is for me a religion.

“Some rise, some fall, some climb

to get to Terrapin…

It has always been a spiritual journey for me, and I have been climbing in one form or another for years.  It is different each time, each place.  But it remains a constant in that it immerses me in nature, even in the city, in beauty, in the sacred, in physics, in numbers.

“crickets and cicadas sing a rare and different tune

Terrapin Station

in the shadow of the moon

Terrapin Station

and I know we’ll be there soon

Terrapin -

I can’t figure out

Terrapin -

if it’s an end or the beginning

Terrapin -

but the train’s got its brakes on

and the whistle is screaming:

TERRAPIN !

March 27, the day after race day

March 27, a very special day

The day after a race is always special in that you experience a release from tension, a clear-headed-ness that often comes with the long run and the finish of something monumental.

I completed my first journey to the Terrapin Mountain summit.  An initiation come late in the game within the realm of my short running life, it proved like many races, to yield even more than I could have hoped. Mountains–like races–I was reminded, are all different, and if we listen each has something important, even life-changing, to teach us.

I never seem to do things in a natural order and in my pre-race anxiety, I had arrived once again at that place where I ask myself so many questions for which I thought I had already answers,

“Why?  Why am I doing this? Why this 50k now?  And why does it worry me so?”

I considered. I should be confident. I had completed two 50-milers as close as last November. I had even set some lofty goals for the year, selecting a few more 50-milers, one held at night,  and considered maybe a 100k or a 100m before year’s end. I had been training hard all winter, but training for Boston. I am still new to ultras and the 50k worried me. Maybe mostly because I wasn’t sure why I had chosen it. It seemed an illogical choice. Ill-planned for my schedule, it was too early for use in training for a longer trail race, and smack in the thick of my Boston training. I thought again of the distance, and then of my marathon pace. For the 50k distance I worried about having to run faster than the nice, relaxed 50-mile pace. And I had been training for speed on flat pavement. On mountain climbs I am terribly slow. Would I go out too fast? Would I burn myself out or get hurt? And the mystery remained: why did I choose this one? What does this particular 50k hold for me? “

“More than this I will not ask

faced with mysteries dark and vast

statements just seem vain at last

some rise, some fall, some climb

to get to Terrapin…

I wrote about it, attempting to solidify my thoughts, attempting to draw the reason from my subconscious, reminding myself of why I run long trail races, of why I run at all, of what it teaches me, of how it changes me, of how it helps me help others. But the mystery and the anxiety remained.

“While you were gone these spaces filled with darkness

The obvious was hidden

With nothing to believe in the compass always points to Terrapin…

The turning over of the New Year had left me lost. I made solid resolutions, but fumbled in my discipline, felt weak in my resolve. I had somehow lost my footing, felt unprepared for the year to come. Now contemplating my choice in this race,  I even pondered, “What is left in this for me? Would this be my last ultra? Have I come to the end of the trail?”

“I can’t figure out

Terrapin -

if it’s an end or the beginning…

Came at last the fulcrum in the void–race day, gateway. The day moved like a lifetime, slowly at first, quickly at last, and as I traveled round the mountain,  pivoted round the moment, I felt the new day’s fresh memories bend my old perspective as light though curved glass.

Now the word, that name that is also a mountain, a race, a song, a place, a lyric “Terrapin” took on new meaning with each fresh memory, each new layer of metaphor, with each newly burned connection of my pattern-finding brain. Among these, there was that familiar imprint, that weird hint I sometimes get when first meeting someone or someplace I later come to know well and for a long time. I would see this mountain again. Some portions of it felt like a race,  felt a lot like other races, even like races I had yet to run.

“till things we’ve never seen

will seem familiar…

The race, the day was but one long, singular moment. There were long stretches with the field thick with many racers, even stretches with fellow racers whom I had met before. Sometimes we ran in conversation, sometimes in silence. At times it felt like one of those weird dreams one has of a family reunion where family and friends present could never coexist in a true time line. At one point, someone mentioned that we were running part of the notoriously tough Hellgate course, and  “Oh!” a light went on in my head and I pondered, “Here is what my hidden brain has in store. Perhaps this will be the year I will run Hellgate. That is why I am running this now. I have already begun prepping for next winter.” And with that thought I realized that in the thought itself I had begun prepping for the challenges the end of the year would bring. Maybe I would attempt the aptly named Hellgate.

“Which of you to gain me, tell

will risk uncertain pains of Hell?

I will not forgive you

if you will not take the chance…

But a year felt like forever, and forever is a long time.  I would not commit. Time will tell, I thought. The terrain shifted, and the group fell apart. I barreled down the mountainside. In the focus and intensity of the running, I suddenly  found that I no longer felt lost, found it but a state of mind, an illusion that fell away with the music and cadence of the run, and I realized that I was again  exactly. where. I. was. supposed. to. be.

Just after I found myself alone on the trail. Unknowingly approaching the Terrapin summit, I was but following the race streamers, following the path that lead up and up to steeper and steeper climbs until at last the rugged terrain shifted again, this time from loose rock and gray-brown trunks and dead leaves to a winding brilliant green, mossy way through a dense, twisted wood of emerald rhododendron foliage. They way was so steep now, I pressed my hands hard into my quads, occasionally reaching for trees to pull myself up. Heart pounding, up, and up, I climbed slowly until the trail leveled out a bit, and then I ran along the mountain’s crest, peering out now and again at the far reaches  of the Blue Ridge and the green/brown patchwork of farmland on both sides below, until the trail ended and at last I found myself standing at the narrow, rocky point that is the Terrapin summit. Here I could see out in nearly every direction. On the edge of this vastness, I felt it again, that feeling that I had had before the run, of standing naked and alone before the beauty of the universe. But now I was no longer frightened. Now, I was here. And I know, there are only but a few things that can bring me here.

“and I know we’ll be there soon

Terrapin

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/21/2011 04:19

    hi dan,.. so glad to find you here.. miss u dani :-)

  2. 03/28/2011 11:29

    yay! wonderful blog post! You did beautifully! ( both running and writing your race report) Terrapin is such a special race and I’m so glad you experienced it and everything has purpose. You were there for a reason!! :o) good luck with your marathons and I certainly hope to see you at hellgate! It will be my first time there!! I know you’ll do well. You ran so well at both MMTR and JFK ( I could never run two 50 milers so close together) and you did that so well!!! :o)

    hope to share the trail with you soon! ((HUG))

    jenny

    • 03/28/2011 18:36

      Thanks, Jenny! Your confidence in me is swaying my decision. Hellgate in 2011! Thanks so much for your kind words!

  3. julie permalink
    03/28/2011 12:04

    You always inspire me to push myself harder. Great post! The race sounds like it was wonderful….

  4. 03/31/2011 12:56

    dude!, you’re deep. Looking forward to meeting you, especially since you say you are slow. As the next to last finisher, you can be consoled by knowing you are faster than me and many others. Thanks for the read. Do well in Boston. You will laugh at a heartbreak hill.

    • 04/01/2011 18:35

      Lol! Thanks, Craig. Glad you liked the blog. Yes, Terrapin certainly will make Heartbreak hill seem like a piece of cake! Hope I can motor up it full tilt this year! Thanks for the well-wishes!
      -D

    • 04/19/2011 17:35

      Craig, Terrapin did indeed make Heartbreak hill laughable! But, alas, it did not help my over-all time at Boston. After the lofty beauty of Terrapin, I sadly hadn’t the moxie to fly at Boston. For me this year, it had been reduced to a crowded street sprint. Sigh. But at least I still qualify for next year should I wish to give it another stab.

  5. 04/03/2011 23:26

    What beautiful words I have just read. It’s like you putting on paper all that goes through my head when I run. The longer the time on my feet the better. and it is these thoughts that I want to be lone with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It should be said that we are not alone. I never knew of the song you so appropriately threaded through your post, Of course I looked it up and listened to it. I thank you for that. for sharing, for allowing me to grow and expand my own knowledge. and maybe more importantly, to know that my thoughts and mental ramblings are no so far different than another who enjoys the same escape of being on our feet in the woods – at one with our thoughts. Sometimes music helps me leave it all behind. Yet at Terrapin, I had my music, but never once did I need it. It was a bit magical, I must say. thank you again.

    • 04/19/2011 17:24

      James,
      Thank you for your kind comments. So glad to hear you share my experience of long, lone-running bliss. Terrapin, the mountain, it seems, has it’s own music by which we all can run.

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