I pulled into the parking lot at about 5:50am, under complete darkness. The evening before, I educated myself about the differences between Astronomical, Nautical, and Civil twilight. The time was right at about the transition from Astronomical to Nautical, however it was obvious that these terms were irrelevant to the task at hand. It was still pitch-dark.
Immediately after my twilight lesson on the evening prior, I posted a status on Facebook inviting people to join me for this morning's run, starting at 6am. I doubted anyone would take me up on this, but waited until 6 to start, just in case. I used the time to prepare - headlamp, hat, gloves, headphones, podcast all set and ready to go. When the clock struck 5:59am I stepped out into the dark cold and trotted up the trail.
Well, "trotted" is not actually accurate. Two months of treadmill running had obliterated the modest mountain-running fitness I had last summer, and I was forced to walk all but the most gradual inclines. This was fine, as in the darkness my headlamp did a poor job of lighting the rocks, not to mention the scattered patches of ice that existed on the trail. I hiked up as fast as I can, and felt like I was going very slow. Deer scurried off the trail as I made my way uphill.
Before long I was on the road. This portion of the Appalachian Trail lasts about a quarter mile, traversing the mountain briefly before heading back up on dirt and rocks. By now, especially out in the relative open, the sun made the transition to what I'll call "useful" twilight, and switched off my headlamp. I took advantage of the mellow incline and ran the road.
The road meanders back and forth to the summit and the trail at this point cuts the switchbacks. It only takes ten minutes or so to get to the top from here, and as I touch the tower and mark "lap" on my watch, I am impressed that it only reads 33 minutes.
Last summer I had a couple of times between 30 and 31 minutes on this 1.5-mile trail with 1000' of gain, and I thought that it would be nice to eventually break 30 minutes on it. Today's time of 33 minutes was encouraging; it won't take that much more fitness to knock 10% off that time. I looked out onto the horizon and took in the colors. I was alone, warm, and in the cold, on the summit of this iconic mountain 40 miles north of NYC. I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo before heading down.
One of the things on my mind was this running streak I was trying to maintain. At least 1 mile, uninterrupted, every day. I knew I wasn't going to get a solid mile running down the rocky icy trail in the pre-dawn twilight, so I decided to run the road to the top of the bottom half of the trail. Running downhill after hiking uphill is easy and fun, and I made sure to enjoy the views on the way down. After a mile, I came to the point where I was back on the dirt, and resumed the pattern of walking and careful running as I headed down to the car.
By the time I arrived, the sun had just peaked over the horizon. It was 7am. Many of my coworkers were already in the office, enduring fluorescent lights and carpeted walls. I took a moment to appreciate that even though I would join them in two short hours, I was at that moment, on the Appalachian trail, enjoying life.
New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com