Crazy things happen when the car is pointed toward the mountains 1) at dusk, 2) in the cold, 3) loaded with four teenage girls chomping on pizza, and 4) headlights already donned and blinking red in anticipation of the hours ahead. So, somewhere between noting a country club party on the drive out and seeing it still going on in the wee hours on the way back, we became a tiny yet significant society. In that instant, we decided to henceforth be known as The Shindigglers. We are five women strong and much better than the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: our pants go a lot higher, longer, further, and faster.
The Shindig shenanigans all began with an idea to run three mountain tops in the dark. The idea wasn't novel for a college running class was to seek similar adventure as well. But for two of the young Shindigglets, they had never run further than ten miles, let alone in the dark on mountain trails. It's no wonder their parents were a little apprehensive. Nevertheless and rushing to arrive on time, we were surprised to be the first to drive into the parking lot. We would be equally surprised to be the last to leave. But I rush ahead of myself.
Allow me to introduce the Shindigglers:
|Rebecca, Caroline, Sarah, Rebekah, Abby|
Remarkable Rebecca: High school senior, racing in her first cross country season. Inordinately talented and mature.
Happy Abby: A high school junior and Sarah's sister. She is the cross country lead runner and a capable, effective leader. Ready picture-taker and video-maker.
Caroline the Considerate: Sister to Rebecca. Kind and capable. A strong cross country runner in her first season.
Senior Shindigger: That would be me. Coach and confidant. Friend of shindigglers everywhere.
Now, back to the story. . .
It was to be a clover-leaf run: Up the parkway and over FlatTop Mountain. Return to car. Up over and around Harkening Hill. Return to car. SharpTop Mountain. Return to car. Go home. Sleep. The distance? 17 miles.
Off we ran into the darkness, headlights still in the off position as we made our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway. But once on the rugged trail ascending the first mountain, our lights lit up our path as our chatter filled the air. Three or four of the college runners surged ahead, all others remaining behind us in the darkness. We didn't care. We laughed, talked, and told stories up one mountain and down the next. I felt proud as my little Shindigglings followed me through the trees, over boulders, and down rocky, rooted trails. No complaints. No negative talk. No "How much further" babble. Just one profound discovery: You are always half-way to somewhere.
We were still laughing back at the car, glad to sample snacks and refill water bottles. Then it was off again. The Shindigglers were finding out that what goes up must come down. We liked this loop, climbing to the summit only to run wild on the downhill return to the car.
There were fewer cars this time. We wondered if-and why- the college crowd left without completing the run. But it really didn't matter. We had one more mountain to top. Past nearly-tame deer, we started up the steep incline of Sharptop Mountain. The temperature was dropping and the winds picked up. Some wished they had not left their jackets in the car. But snow flurries silhouetted against the night sky delighted us. Up, up, up. Though our legs began to feel the miles, no amount of scrambling up the steep pitch could thwart our enthusiasm.
Wind howling the closer we got to the top, the temperature was surely in the 30's. Standing upon the highest pinnacle, we shivered not only in the wind but in the excitement of the accomplishment. Lights turned off, it was so worth it. The towns below appeared like those lighted miniature Christmas villages, the brilliant stars above twinkling hope and happiness. We took it all in. But alas, the shivering Shindigglers headed down the mountain.
This time, the descent was on the bus service road, much easier but longer, than the trail we had come up. Signs read "No walking on the roadway." So, we didn't. We ran. . .and ran, and ran. Down, down, down. Now we were anxious to get back to the car. But the unrelenting descent just kept on coming. The lights below never seemed much closer. "Where is the last turn?" we mused aloud, ten feet rapidly pitter-pattering on the pavement. Still no complaints. Finally, we turned off the road and cut down the last bit of trail. Everyone was excited; excited enough to race the last 100 yards. We were alone in the parking lot, celebrating. Hugs, smiles, laughter. Mission accomplished.
The joy never let up on the ride home. Everything was funny. But then again, it was after midnight and we had run for hours. Thoughts turned toward warming showers, hot food, and comfy covers. Watching my fellow Shindigglers devour pizza from atop squeaky kitchen stools, I was proud; proud of what happens when thoughts of normal shift far enough off center to embrace a new "normal." The kind of normal when running through the dark is A-OK.
Rest well, Shindigglings. Well done. Let's do it again.