[Editor’s Note: This Community Voices submission is an extract from MK Thompson’s book “The Art of Misadventure: Volume I.” Thompson is a writer and former competitive athlete who works and lives in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. You can get in touch with her on Instagram, or her website.]
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” — Charles Bukowski
It had been the most wonderful seven days. Three of them were spent running in the sun and amongst giant trees along the Rogue River Trail in Oregon. Friendly boaters floated my gear down to the next camp and put my beer in the river to cool. I spent a few days in idyllic Ashland, [Oregon] running its fabled, unmuddied trails as cool, female raindrops touched my forehead and shoulders.
(According to Tony Hillerman’s book, “Listening Women,” “In traditional Navajo belief, a thunderstorm with torrential rain is considered a male rain. A gentle, slow-moving rain, accompanied perhaps by low clouds and mist, is a female rain. In general, male rains are associated with the violent seasonal summer storms known as the monsoons, whereas female rains are associated with the stirring of the seasons when spring rains bring the high desert to life.”)
During the many miles that I had wanted so badly to run, my legs remembered a lesson from pre-season high school field hockey when we would have two practice sessions each day: it’s OK to run on tired legs — it’s called training.
After five days, I had already run farther than I ever had in an entire week. I’d logged about 54.5 miles, and I was pretty happy with myself. Still, two days remained. Perhaps I would be able to increase my mileage and set an even better record.
Day six was bogged down with eating frenzies — a potluck lunch and a fundraiser buffet for dinner. I probably replaced every calorie burned in the previous days and then some. Any plans to run were drowned in cherry cola and rice pudding.
So, on the seventh day, I knew I had to shit or get off the pot. (That’s what God said too, right?) If I was going to set a personal record of running 60 miles in one week, it had to happen that day.
The day in question was cloudy, though not quite gloomy. The clouds attempted rain here and there, sometimes clearing enough to allow shadows. I had to work that day, so I wasn’t ready to run until nearly 4 p.m. I considered running on the road, which would be faster and less muddy, but decided it would also be mind-numbing to the point that I might slow to a walk.
So, I set my sights on Animas City Mountain [where I live in Durango, Colorado]. It wasn’t far if I rode my bike to one of the trailheads, and its continuous loop of a trail might keep me from sneaking out of the run too early to get sufficient mileage. Plus, I’d run that area so seldom that the trail would be more interesting than my usual trails.
I cruised to the trailhead on my road bike named Lightning. He’s a quick steed and had never let me down. There was a large, dark cloud over the area. Not a problem. Once Lightning was locked to the gate, I headed up the trail.
I started out walking. My legs were immediately unhappy with me. Why was I doing this? Whose stupid idea was this, anyway? At least the trail steepened quickly, providing a good excuse to continue walking. About 12 minutes after I’d started, it began to rain. First with medium drops, then in large drops — what the Navajo refer to as male rain. The clay-based dirt could turn to peanut butter in a hurry. I wondered if this maybe wasn’t my smartest decision ever. I should head home and run on the road.
Then, as if the cloud was agreeing with me, *BANG* crashed the thunder, right above me. My feet were heading down the trail before I knew it. While my judgment outdoors is sometimes questionable, I know enough to discontinue ascending a mountain along its exposed edge in a lightning storm.
It soon stopped raining, and the peanut butter transformation seemed less likely. So at the next trail intersection, I headed across the hill to the Sailing Hawks trail system. These merry little trails had probably been a better idea from the beginning. Aside from superior protection from the elements provided by a thick blanket of tall scrub oak, the trails rolled along the base of the mountain and offered a frequent change of pace that my weary legs enjoyed.
This misadventure seemed to be going well. It was also a trip down memory lane … most of the time I had spent at Sailing Hawks, I was enjoying its highly praised climbing boulders. There were boulders galore composed of good quality sandstone offering routes of all difficulties — from scrambling to top level challenges. I jogged past, delighting in the memories, while navigating the brain-stimulating obstacles of roots and rocks. The plethora of green oak leaves glowed below the occasional towering ponderosa pine tree.
But then it started raining again with the thunder still close. As someone who has spent days and days out in thunderstorms without incident, I assured myself that this area was fairly safe since I was amongst shorter trees surrounded by taller trees. After all, I knew what I was doing. Only once had I been close enough to lightning to hear the rocks buzz or feel my hair stand up.
And only once had I been so scared that I took out all of my body piercings — that had been in a tent maybe a little too close to the Continental Divide. Yet as I approached the high corner of the trail system, suddenly the short trees were barely taller than me. And there were many tall trees, all around me. I felt almost as if I was standing below a single tall tree in a meadow.
I ran faster. It rained harder. The thunder boomed. The trail began to descend. I felt myself escaping. I concentrated on the turns, rocks, roots, and curves. My weary legs were no longer weary. The steepest of the downhill gave way to a perfect, gentle downslope. I railed a corner. I felt like Steve Prefontaine.
By this point, the storm clouds had painted the sky so dark that, if you were indoors, you would turn on the lights. I pounded on, my legs spinning beneath me in what felt like perfect form. Lightning flashed, then thunder clapped only five seconds later. One mile away. It began to hail. I ran faster.
Now that I was back within trees of various sizes, I figured that I had the same chance of being struck by lightning as did anything else around me. I wasn’t sure if that thought comforted me or not.
For a bit, I let the hail pelt me and soak in. I was on my way back now. I wouldn’t get chilled if I kept running. But the temperature was dropping. I hunkered under a tree and quickly put on my ultralight rain jacket. Its smell and the sound of the zipper reminded me of a time when I was pacing a friend in the Hardrock 100.
We were well above treeline for miles and he was 93 miles into the race. The afternoon thunderheads were all around us, and it would be at least an hour before we were safe in the trees again. It was not a situation I would ever choose to be in. The things we do for friends.
Of course, a few minutes after I put on the jacket, the hail ceased. Without it, the jacket became stiflingly steamy inside. I eyed the bushes for a good spot to pee, as if anyone crazy enough to be out in this storm would be bothered by my naked ass. I pulled off to pee and stripped the jacket off inside-out. The air became calm.
Shortly after that, I encountered some other crazy people, though they appeared just as unfrazzled as I now felt. I jogged happily along the merry trails rolling up and down through the tranquil air. My previously exhausted legs were just as pleased as punch to be trotting along.
When all was said and done and I got back to my bike, I had logged 4.4 miles. I did, of course, round it up to 4.5 so that my seven-day total would arrive at 59 miles. I contemplated jogging the mile home with my bike beside me, but I didn’t care about the numbers anymore. I unlocked Lightning and cruised down the road back to my house. I didn’t run 60 miles, but I didn’t get electrocuted either. You win some, you lose some.
[Editor’s Note: Just three months later, in August 2015, MK set her current seven-day record by hiking 117 miles in one week on the Colorado Trail.]
Call for Comments
- Have you experienced running in a thunderstorm? Tell us your story in the comments!
- Have you read this book? If so, what other stories from it did you like?