My legs spun in tiny circles in a barely successful attempt to keep me from falling on the long, steep decline from Hawkins Hill. The Dogwood Trail at Sand Run is like a horseshoe standing upright, each end breaking away from and rejoining the Mingo Trail.
I didn't know if they were ahead of me or behind me. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I turned right onto to the Mingo Trail in hopes of finding them.
We were supposed to meet at the Valley Link trail marker on the Towpath at 6 p.m. Martini had put together another small group trail run. When he told me about it, I didn't know if I would be able to make it on time. "If you don't see me, don't wait," my text message said.
No one was at the meeting place when I got there, so I figured they had gone on without me as instructed. This would be a solo run unless I could catch up.
I turned onto the Valley Link trail and flew across the tight path, over the railroad tracks, up the wooden plank stairs, across Merriman Road, toward Sand Run. The trail was too winding to see too far ahead, but I kept my ears tuned for voices I recognized. None were heard.
At Sand Run, I took a quick drink of water at the fountain and headed onto the Mingo Trail, pushing the pace where I could, surging and recovering on the hills. I turned left up the steep slope where the Dogwood Trail splits off, knowing that Martini likes the challenge of this terrain.
I saw a man and his longhaired son, a woman and her exuberant dog, and a family looking for the woman and her exuberant dog. No sign of my quarry.
At the other end of the horseshoe, I could turn left or right. Last time, we went right to run the rest of the Mingo Trail in a figure 8. My instincts led me the same way. Lo and behold, there they were, Martini and the other two, running toward me. I joined the pack, but we split up shortly afterward.
When we reached the road crossing, Martini and one of the other runners decided to skip the second half of the trail and take the multipurpose Sand Run path back. "You guys can catch up to us," Martini said, as we continued on the Mingo Trail, climbing straight up a hill.
Our prey would be running on a much straighter and relatively flatter course. Catching them would be tough. My fellow hunter and I would try, nonetheless.
We methodically plodded up the hills and flew down them. In no time, we reached the end of the trail, at a driveway where we met back with the the multipurpose path with a mile to go before the main parking lot.
Sure that we were well behind Martini and the other runner, we picked up the pace on the flatter terrain. Another runner tucked in behind us. I had visions of the chase I had here a month ago. The three of us pushed onward.
I let my fellow hunter lead, as he held a faster pace than I'm used to running. However, every time I felt us slowing down some, I'd surge ahead. The woman behind us kept me from slowing down. We were flying.
With a quarter mile before the Sand Run path ended, though, our chase seemed hopeless. The path had straightened out, and we couldn't see Martini ahead. "I don't know if we're going to catch them now," I said. We kept up the pace until the path ended.
The woman dropped off behind us, but the two of us continued onto the road toward the Valley Link trail. "Maybe we will catch them," my fellow hunter said. I looked ahead, and there was Martini's bald head and the other runner.
We caught them just as they were about to turn onto Portage Path, toward Martini's home. We said our goodbyes and split off two by two again. My fellow hunter had parked where I did, and we still had a mile to go.
Our pace was easier now that the hunt was over. We turned onto the Valley Link trail and glided through the tight path, away from Sand Run, across Merriman Road, down the wooden plank stairs, over the railroad tracks, toward the Towpath and back to our cars.