Hey, remember that time I convinced Jenn Shelton to be my running coach, even though I’m a midpack runner (at best) and have no clue what I’m doing? Yeah, it’s pretty rad.
What I forgot was that she used to stay in Austin, for a brief moment, so when I told her I would be spending a week there, she excitedly (maybe sadistically) pulled out her fondest memories, assigning routes that she remembers positively, probably because she is now years removed from their reality. Or, more likely, the hills of Austin are adorable running nubbins to a mountain beast like Jenn, while they are mountainous Grendel spines to a flat-lander like myself. I suddenly feel undeserving of the Big Horn Sheep ram tattoo on my ribs…
At any rate, Jenn assigned hill repeats at The Hill of Life. Notice the use of capitalization. This hill is not only a proper noun, but one bad mamba-jamba. It is about 0.4 miles of a 300 foot gain, filled with loose rocks, “huge” drop-offs, and rabid mountain bikers who probably are as out of their element there as I was. It’s freaking magnificent. On the edges of La Colina de la Muerta (my new name for The Hill) there are beautiful trails that wind through root-filled woods, and are sprinkled with the treacherous white rock waiting for you on the main slope, like an abstract, explaining in vague-detail, what is to come. I wish I had taken more time to explore these outskirt trails, but I had work to do, so I began my hike down The Hill.
And I continued, downward. For. Eh. Ver. I walked the first downhill, keeping my eyes out for loose rocks vs helpful rocks, trying to negotiate drop-offs vs killer ninja slopes, and wondering when this hill would hit bottom.
Finally, it did, and I started my watch. I took off at a conservative run up The Hill. I made it about .08 miles. Damn. But I kept moving, up, up. Up. UPPPPPPP. After a melodramatic eternity, I reached the psuedo-summit was able to head back down.
I ran a bit this time, down the flowing limestone river; the rocks and I were beginning to form the early stages of a friendship. I saw other humans struggle as I had on the first go. I saw an old man who appeared to be part gazelle, nimbly prancing up, shirtless and proud. I saw a kid on a mountain bike totally own his father, also on a mountain bike. I saw a mosquito-bite tortured hippie climb the hill in battered flip-flops, too stoned to know it was difficult. I didn’t like him the most.
On what should have been my second of at least three climbs, I got a twinge of a bizarre numbness that had shown up briefly the day before. As a runner who has never been injured, I get intensely scared about weird feelings in my legs. I decided to end my workout early. I finished the climb with some walking and running and huffing and puffing, then did an about-face to see the view.
One thing I love about Texas is that the views don’t photograph well. Maybe that’s odd, but it keeps the beauty of our sylvan worlds as our little secret. Standing at the top of this huge hill, what one notices is the woods edging in from either side. You don’t see the winding slope of the killer hill. You see the waving green boughs, calming you, almost holding you. The gentleness of the trees override the sharp edges of the rocky descent. And, really, isn’t that how memory works? The beauty remains, crowding out the pain?
So, once again, thank you Jenn Shelton for making me do awful things. Awful things make great memories.