Friday, August 23
Asheville’s geography makes it the unfortunate collector of other cities’ pollution, in much the way that my front lawn collects fast food refuse (we are, apparently, a medium drink and a Big Mac away from McDonalds)…but of course, much worse. Today, the city is under a Code Orange ozone alert, which makes it like many of our days in Winston-Salem.
It is helpful, then, that my intended running locale is outside the city. When in a strange city, go where to locals go. When the Asheville running club meets to run, they go to the North Carolina Arboretum. I arrive about 10:30. In the parking lot, I meet Joan and Gary, who are just heading out. They agree to take me along.
Joan doesn’t like to run hills, so they had planned to run their usual, relatively hill-free route. Gary is more than happy to have an excuse to take me on the hillier trail.
The three of us walk and run together for a mile or so, to the junction where Joan will head down, and Gary and I will head up.
And up is where we go. Up, and up.
Gary is a machine. He has already run six miles this morning, and it is still morning. He doesn’t wear a watch while running, hasn’t in 20 years. He likes to run fast, but doesn’t care how fast.
He stays on that edge, where he can still enjoy running’s “free-flowing contemplation,” just shy of the point where he has to pay attention to the act of running.
I am paying attention to the running. I’m used to hills, running in Winston-Salem, but those are city hills. These are hills at elevation. But hey, what’s a thousand feet of elevation between friends? Gary is good enough to stop and walk with me when I need to. My legs are fine. My lungs would like a little more oxygen.
I’d thought we were running six miles. We reach the turnaround at an hour, and the roundtrip takes an hour forty-five, which is 12, maybe 14. With the air I have, I thank Gary for helping get me ready for the Sierra Nevadas.
After the run, we spend an hour talking about the west. Gary’s been there, and he talk enthusiastically, remembering. He has ideas for me, and I need ideas.
Already, on his advice, I’m thinking of changing my stops, where I’ll spend time, where I won’t. I need to shave days from the original plan, so Gary recommends this: drive at night, and get the hell across Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
I drive through downtown Asheville – a modest place – and then walk a little on the campus of UNC Asheville. I like college campuses for so many reasons, but mostly because they help me remember what it was like to be in college. To be suddenly liberated. To have everything ahead of us. To have the time to figure out what’s next, without losing what’s now.
This month might be as close as I’ve been since then.
Back on I-40, then, and headed west toward Knoxville.
Odometer 44,483 – Trip counter 147