Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Legendary Thoughts

For a few years now, I've been hanging out with bicyclers, and from time to time I tag along with them.

Sometimes I even go along for the ride, or at least a small fraction of it. A few times this summer when Nancy's bicycling group started at Geneva State Park, I was there with my little chariot and managed to do four miles on the park's bike trail in the time it took the men and women on bikes to complete a 25- or 30-mile tour of western Ashtabula and eastern Lake counties.

On a bike trail, both the Western Reserve Greenway Trail and the trail at Geneva State Park, you don't have to go far to get away from it all. Except for the birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves and the occasional distant car, the world is quiet. Who'd have thought a strip of asphalt through the woods could be so pleasant?

And it can be rewarding. In August, Nancy and I participated in a poker run on the Greenway Trail sponsored by the Jefferson Rotary. It came as no surprise to me that I wound up with a handful of nothing. In fact, my hand was so full of nothing that I won the prize for the low hand. Yes, I was the biggest loser, but a loser with a few bucks to show for it.

A few weeks ago, Nancy took part in the Dam Ride, a two-day event on the Youghiogheny River Trail, part of a longer trail that makes it possible to bicycle from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Nancy rode about 126 miles over two days. I rode along the trail, which was once the right-of-way of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, for about five miles. It was wonderfully peaceful - the woods, the river, the birds - with only the rumbling of an occasional train on the opposite side of the river to remind me that I was still a long way from the middle of nowhere.

I started thinking about all this for reasons that have nothing to do with bicycling. One cool morning last week, I pulled out a long-sleeved T-shirt from the 2002 Lake Erie Cross Country Club Challenge and Kiwanis Cross Country Club Challenge, which was, until a few years ago, an annual rite of fall for those foolishly hearty runners brave enough to challenge the course known as "The Legend" at Geneva State Park.

The course, laid out a by Bob Dulak, when he was the Kent State-Ashtabula cross country coach, and his team several decades ago, had a back-to-nature quality about it. And there was a certain resemblance to a famous Thanksgiving song, except The Legend was into the river and through the woods. And Dulak somehow always managed to schedule the race for a cold, cloudy, blustery fall morning, often with some occasional flurries to add a seasonal touch.

On the bike trail at Geneva State Park there is a bridge across Cowles Creek. It's where the runners in the cross-country challenge - who ranged in age from college students to old-enough-to-know-better - already exhausted and covered with mud, jumped in and walked, waded or swam through the frigid water. Once on the other side, they ran around in the area where the Lodge is now before jumping back into the creek on their way to the finish. And each time this summer as I went across that bridge on a warm, sunny evening when the creek looked inviting, I thought of those runners on cold, windy, overcast mornings when it didn't.

Had it survived, the race on The Legend would be coming up in a few weeks. When I would talk to the runners after the race, they all insisted, as they stood wrapped in a their blankets and shivering, that it was fun. I don't know about that, but it certainly was a lot fun to watch.

I miss it.

This appeared in the Star Beacon, September 22, 2010.

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