A chilly breeze works its way through the trees, bending the ends of branches that bow toward earth in the soft light of this mountain morning. Horses graze in the pasture, majestic in their stance and stride as I walk outside for a short walk. I was hoping for a warmer start to this day; cool temperatures and wet clothes are not the sort of combination one hopes for such a day as this.
It is the inaugural event for the Mountaineer Mud Run in Boone, North Carolina, and I have come here for the fun and to help my oldest sister, Freeda, celebrate her survival of her second cancer surgery in less than two years. My brother, Paul, and his wife, Debee, have driven here from central Ohio and our other sister, Patsy, has flown in from Abilene, Texas. Our celebration began with a day of much-appreciated yard work at Freeda and Olian’s mountain home. It ended with a spaghetti supper made less risky by the custom-crafted shirt bibs that Freeda made.
Freeda and I leave early so we will arrive in plenty of time for me to register for the ten o’clock run. By race time, the temperature has risen from the low forties to the upper fifties. To my surprise, Patsy, Paul and Debee all come over in time to watch me do the 5K event, complete with two trips across the river and seven mud pits.
The intent of the organizers was that most of the entrants would be in teams of four. Since our team stint is scheduled for the afternoon, I am running as an individual in the morning. The starter, not wanting to burden some fit, well-prepared young group, tells me, “Just find a team of three people your age and run with them.”
I tell him with equal amounts of sincerity and wryness, “There isn’t a team of three people my age out here.” My conservative estimate is that at least ninety percent of the people sporting race numbers here are no more than thirty-five years old and most are in their early twenties. A young man and two younger women are waiting at the starting line during this conversation. The starter looks back along the line of teams, shakes his head and gives up, “Just run with this group.”
The first mud pit is less than thirty seconds from the start. I run through the pit and up the steep, short slope. I pick up one of the anchored ropes and toss the loose end back down toward the pit. The guy and one of the girls get up pretty quickly. We have to wait on the third girl. In less than a mile, she is a tenth of a mile behind us. The guy decides to wait for her and I decide to go on. At each of the climbing walls, I pitch in to help other teams get over, then accept their help for my climb.
It is very easy to tell who has conditioned for these events. Some who start off running are walking before they get to the two-mile mark. Some are crazy conditioned, running the entire course at a sprint pace. Some, like me, slog jog the whole course, not breaking any records but coming in well ahead of the walkers.
I finish in just under thirty-three minutes, reserving a bit of energy for the afternoon. Paul helps me wash off the mud and sand, pouring hot water over my head as I stand behind his truck in the grass parking lot. There is little sensual pleasure that surpasses the bliss of hot water when you’re tired and dirty. The feel of cleaning and soothing is absolutely delightful.
One day, when we have completed the course of this life, endured all its mud and sand and stickers, conquered or at least survived every obstacle and challenging test, we will enter a rest more blissful than this.
But for now, clean and dry, stretched out in the sun shining on a beautiful valley, with my siblings laughing and chatting, waiting for our walk with Freeda in the afternoon race, this is pretty darn good.