The trail dropped off at the creek. Newly painted blue blazes indicated a new water crossing farther down, but this looked like more fun. It would require a leap of faith.
Sunday felt like spring. Everyone was outside, it seemed. The neighborhood was abuzz with people walking their dogs, strolling by shop windows, and basking in the warm sunlight. It was the perfect day to return to my favorite running grounds: the Buckeye Trail.
Considering my last run was a month ago, the plan was to run a short but difficult loop starting at the Pine Lane trailhead, going out on the Valley Bridle Trail to old Akron-Peninsula Road and returning on the Buckeye Trail.
My strategy thus far in 2013 has been to run 30 minutes at a time, and this route complied with this plan. However, where such timed efforts usually have netted me about three miles, this run proved to be much shorter, considering the steep elevation changes.
The ground was a little moist, which required some careful navigation of mudslick hills. The Valley Bridle Trail was fairly quiet, despite seeing a horse trailer in the parking lot when I arrived and fresh fecal evidence on the trail.
My feet plodded down and up the switchbacks to and from the shallow stream.
The less aggressive terrain of the bridle trail eased me back into trail running. There would be no such easing on the return trip.
This section of the Buckeye Trail has perhaps the toughest hill in the area. Thankfully, I would be running down it. The long, steep descent has only one switchback before arriving back at the water crossing, probably close to a half-mile downstream of where the bridle trail crosses.
The stream looked much shallower here, and I decided to test an older section of trail that crossed earlier than where the trail markers now indicate. Once I got to the banks of the stream, I realized my folly. The edge dropped off a good four feet into the water, but there was a sandbar that looked to be within my meager leaping limits.
I took a few steps back and started for the edge, but bailed out to reconsider my life. No, you can do this, I thought. Just need to make sure you land square and don't twist an ankle. I took a half dozen steps back, took a deep breath, blinked slowly as if this were my closeup, a glimpse of our hero deep in thought before the big moment, and then the impulse exploded into action.
Once in the air, I got my feet together like a long-jumper. My heels dug into the sand as my knees absorbed the shock and bounced myself forward and kept running. But there are reasons why they remark trails.
Not more than 100 yards upstream, the trail was washed out. My options were either climb down into the gnarled clutches of tree branches in the water and pull myself up along the steep slope of the hill. Down probably would have been a better choice.
Without much to hold onto, I grabbed at the ground to steady myself as I circumnavigated the trail. Next time perhaps I'll follow the blue blazes like I'm supposed to, but first there was one final ascent before this run was over.
The adrenaline from my leap of faith soon dissipated, as the hill took the piss and vinegar right out of me. There were many witnesses to my walk breaks, as the hikers were in full force. The shame helped motivate me to run onward.
OK, so this post is probably a bit overblown for a two-mile run, but damn if it didn't feel more epic. It felt like the start of something glorious.