Late this morning with heavy clouds hanging in the horizon like a children's mobile, I put my cell phone and keys in a Ziploc bag, loaded Clyde into the car, and headed for the park. After weeks of being sequestered in the confines of an artificial, air-conditioned office, I needed some freedom and fresh air so badly that I didn't even care if I got poured on. I wanted out. I knew Clyde felt the same way, anxiously sniffing my sneakers and bounding down the steps to the back door to make sure I didn't accidentally leave him behind. The heat and humidity has affected him too--while he usually relishes the freedom of his electric fence, running laps and spying on the neighbors, these days he bats the door to come in mere seconds after we let him out.
When we got to the park I was pleased to see plenty of cars in the dirt parking lot at the base of the mountain trail, hoping they had all seen an encouraging weather forecast that I had missed. The path is just under 4 miles up a mountain in the woods with a few steep, unforgiving inclines guaranteed to make you pant even if you're just walking. I was hopeful that the trees would block heat and rain and eager to smell pine needles again.
The second I got out of the car my baggy cotton Gap t-shirt stuck to my skin like a clingy child, wary of our next activity. The humidity was so thick that it felt like the air was sweating. I hid my purse under a towel in the back seat, grabbed Clyde, and made my way to the base of the trail. With one final look at the ominous clouds, we started running. It took Clyde a little while to catch on, wanting to sniff every plant and pee on every tree. Slowly he began to meet my stride, pick up his head, and let his tongue flap with such pure joy that any stranger passing us couldn't help but smile. At the crest of the first major hill, I stopped and put my hands on my knees, my panting just seconds away from full-out wheezing.
We got going again a minute or so later and I felt instantly like I was on vacation. With no iPod I could hear every bird and breeze, the jingle of Clyde's collars, and the occasional plane flying overhead. I felt free and happier than I'd been in ages, slowly picking up my pace as I meandered up and down the trail. I felt like a reckless Plinko chip, bouncing off each rock, quickly changing directions, and landing at the bottom of each hill feeling like a million bucks. Every once in a while I would feel a sharp pain biting at my ankle as I hit a rock at the wrong angle, but the pain would recede as quickly as it came.
The amazing thing about trail running is that you are so focused on where to put your feet that you have no time to think about the burning feeling in your chest or the heaviness in your legs. It's like a rock climbing wall that way, working your brain as well as your mind, forcing out any thoughts other than what you are doing at that very moment.
We finished the loop quickly and as the sun began to peek through the clouds I decided to take a different trail and work our way back up the mountain again. Clyde was happy to oblige, although I don't think he appreciated the giant spiderweb that he walked into, face first, or my haphazard attempts to get it off of him.
When we finally made our way back to the bottom of the trail an hour later the sun was out completely, warming the already heavy air. I let Clyde back into the car, opened the sunroof and windows, and turned up the radio. I looked back at Clyde, his drool leaving wet dots across my black leather seat. He was smiling, and so was I.