Saturday, August 10, 2013

Run 52: Mt. Airy

On Sundays my college cross country coach would drive our team to the forest preserve and leave us with the same instructions, "go get lost."
Some of the team took this advice to heart; they would run blindly into the woods, seeking out winding stretches of single-track trail until they were absolutely lost. The most lost of us required search teams to bring them back. Fortunately, I was never in that extreme category--I always made it back before anyone came looking. My secret was simple: follow the sun.

Mt. Airy forest was the perfect place to get back in touch with my navigation skills. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: Mt. Airy is the largest municipal forest in the United States. That means it's larger than Central Park. It’s one thing to hear someone utter those words and another thing to actually drive into the forest and see the sheer scale for yourself.

Before we even got out of the car, we came across this possibly rabid--and most definitely angry--raccoon.  He(?) didn’t flinch when I stopped to take a picture.

Starting out from the parking oval off Colerain, we had a few trail options.  For no good reason we picked the H Trail, which starts with a steep and rocky descent into the woods. Here I am silently nervous that a raccoon crossing our path might be bad luck:

And here is Kayla, feeling a bit brazen:


If you’ve been following the blog, then you know that my love-hate relationship with trails is well documented.  To make matters worse, I started this trail run feeling a bit sluggish after a trip to the all- you-can-eat buffet at the Horseshoe Casino the day before.
With me grumbling behind her, Kayla led the way down the steep path; this was a good call as she is very agile (lots of free yoga classes) and I am very clumsy (lots of Greek yogurt in glasses). Fortunately, we would discover that Mt. Airy isn't all rocky terrain. 

(Kayla here, proofing this piece.  Not sure what to make of this last bit.  Yoga classes?  Greek yogurt in glasses?  What is this, Dr. Suess?)



After a good bit of exploring beneath the forest canopy, we emerged in a grassy field that reminded Kayla of Twilight, which reminded me of Kayla watching and reading Twilight while I pretended to gouge out my eyeballs. 
When Kayla stopped prancing around the meadow, I told her we were lost.

Puzzling our way in search of some familiar marker, we came to a sign for the Ponderosa Trail.  This seemed vaguely familiar, but, then again, I could have been associating the Ponderosa trail with the  Ponderosa buffet with the Horseshoe Casino buffet.  Nonetheless we forged on.

The Ponderosa trail has everything that I look for in a trail: well-packed dirt, very few roots, soft turns, and a few  gradual climbs.  I could run on a trail like that all day every day. Enjoying some running rhythm, I forgot that I had no clue where we were.

At the edge of the Ponderosa trail, I stopped and looked into the trees. Where had the sun been when we started? I was pretty sure we had been running toward it and that now we should turn and head away from it in whatever way we could accomplish that. Kayla agreed.

Soon we began to see familiar signs: a cedar trail sign with red arrows; a footbridge with a few missing steps; a steep slope.


And then, at the top of our final climb we were back at the parking oval. Thankfully, my navigation skills hadn't failed me, and we actually managed to see a good bit of what the trails had to offer. 

Before heading home, we explored a bit of the Mt. Airy neighborhood that lies outside of the forest.  We found a quaint business district and some charming homes.


But for the runner, Mt. Airy is all about the trails. 


P.S.  No map or route on this one, just drive to the trailhead and take off!

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