Sunsets and Landfills

It had been raining for much of the day here in Pennsylvania. After spending the last six years in Colorado, the East Coast’s weather has been nothing short of entertaining. Sure, I grew up with it, but six years away takes its toll. Not that I’m complaining, as I’ve actually been enjoying the heat and humidity. It’s a good training stimulus–or at least that’s what I tell myself. But really, it feels good to sweat. And the rain? I’ve always loved running in the rain.

Still, it’s different. In Colorado, rain lasts for about 15 minutes. It dumps rain and hail one minute, and is sunny the next. Here on the East Coast of the U.S. and where I’ve recently moved back to, it actually rains. Some rains, like this one, go pretty much all day. The man on the radio said today wasn’t a good day to go outside. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand that kind of thought process, I thought to myself as I drove my truck to the trailhead. It’s not that I am totally clueless about what he’s trying to say, but there is still good out there. Why be so quick to dismiss it?

By the time I got to the trail, the rain had all but stopped. What remained didn’t warrant a jacket. Then again, the harder stuff probably hadn’t either. It’s just too hot and humid here to necessitate staying dry or warm. Rain or no rain, you get soaked. I laced up my shoes and hit the trail.

My plan was to explore the Turkey Hill Trail. Though a local trail, it would be my first time on it. Atop the first climb there was a turnoff for an overlook. I skipped it and continued south toward the Susquehanna River’s Safe Harbor Dam. The trail ducked in and out of the woods as it skirted the hilltop and traversed some open, grassy fields. Just north of Fisherman’s Run, the trail turned sharply into the woods and descended to the Enola Low Grade Trail, a rail trail.

My pre-run research told me that there was another section of the Turkey Hill Trail just a little farther south at Fry’s Run. I ran south on the rail trail, and then dove back into the woods at Fry’s Run. Sure enough, there was a trail, but not much of one. Here and there it felt like I was following a path and I would notice an old trail blaze, but for the most part, it was a bushwhack. Still, it was fun. I couldn’t help but notice the potential for an awesome trail network. Eventually I found my way to the trailhead at the end of Observation Road.

Here, the blue Turkey Hill Trail blazes picked up again. They followed the paved roadway past an old cemetery. I stopped to check out the headstones. They were tricky to read. I’m not even sure if they were in English, but they had dates on them from the 1800s. A short while later the trail dove into the woods and once again descended to the rail trail below. I followed the rail trail to its dead end at an old railroad bridge, then looped around and headed back.

On the return trip, I opted to skip the bushwhack and stuck to the rail trail instead. With the Susquehanna River on my left, the steep hillside on my right, and the sky clearing overhead, I found a bit of rhythm as I cruised my way back past Fry’s Run, across Fisherman’s Run, and onto the last miles of the Turkey Hill Trail. This time, when I got to the top of the final descent, what was the top of my initial climb, I took the side trail to the overlook. What lay before me was magnificent. The cloud-filled, rainy day had given way to a beautiful sunset. The river below, dotted with islands and banked by rolling farmland, was in full view. It stretched north toward the Veterans Memorial Bridge. The sky danced with color as the sun sank west. I stood there and took it in. A bad day to be outside? Yeah, right.

The sunset before me stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the day. The pieces were there all along, it’s just that they simply weren’t aligned quite the same. Even in this moment of beauty, if I spun in a circle, the contrast continued. Directly behind me lay a landfill, and to my right, two gigantic wind turbines. The wind turbines are pretty cool and they do good work, providing 25% of the electrical needs for the Turkey Hill Dairy. But the landfill, well, that’s just a pile of trash.

And yet, it persists. Could we come up with a better solution? Probably. And yet, for the time being, it’s a real and present thing. Life is much the same way. Good times or bad, there are always at least a few trash dumps lying around. Some are quite visible, difficult to ignore. Others are more covert, but threatening nonetheless.

But you know what worsens the situation? When we choose to stand with our backs to the sunset and our eyes fixed solely on the trash heap. This is not to say that we should ignore the garbage, or pretend that it doesn’t exist. That’s how we end up with big problems. It is, however, to express that in life, the good and bad often coexist: the garbage atop the hill, the river stretching north, the sun sinking west, and the rainy day giving way to a starry night. There is a place for each.

We can stand atop the heap of negativity as we lift our eyes to the beauty surrounding it. We bushwhack through the weeds with a smile because we can see the potential of the place in which we struggle to move. We gasp in the thin alpine air of the mountains and wring the sweat from our shirt after a (hu)midsummer night’s run. In a way, the act of moving through the muck feels good for it means we are getting somewhere.

Life will never be perfect in the sense that most wish it were. To quote G. Michael Hopf, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” We all have moments of strength and weakness, so I’m fairly certain that this cycle will always exist. Even so, let’s continue to be the strong people that we can be, recognizing the good that is, and lending a helping hand to the weak soul that we will inevitably be. Let’s get to work on the future.

Call for Comments

  • How do you deal with the idea that that which is good and bad accompany each other in most aspects of life?
  • Do you find it possible to both accept and work on the bad aspects of life?

Sunset during Zach’s run. All photos: Zach Miller

The landfill on Zach’s run.

Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.

There are 3 comments

  1. Duane Hespell

    Just met you yesterday on the Conestoga and my first read here is on one of my favorite local romps with my dogs. Except for the bushwhacking, I could visualize every step. Great thoughts! Thanks, Zach.

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