Friday, August 10, 2012

The Last Great Adventure of the Summer

IMG_3758Taken on the island while visiting Curtis's family last month...

This morning over breakfast with the fellow coaches and captains of my cross country running team, we formulated a plan for practice. We had spent most of the meal discussing legistics: meet schedules, team dinners, plans and inspiration for the season. And as the meal closed we discussed today: where should we do our long run? At 7am it was already clear that the chance of a hot, sunny Alaskan day was high, and after tossing around various trail systems near our meeting location, a brilliant idea arose: the beach.

There are as many beaches as coastlines in Alaska, though many would not think of them as such. Most are rocky, a few are sandy, and we have few days hot enough to warrant sunbathing, let along splashing in the glacial waves. As word spread at practice that afternoon of our destination, few were disappointed. It was sure to be an adventure, a departure from our norm, and with the thermometer reading at 77 it was the perfect place to run.

We started down a paved bike route, over three dozen high school runners, graduates, coaches and volunteers. After a couple minutes we veered off onto a dirt path, and then turned sharply again to a trail only wide enough for one person, that required even my petite frame to hunch over. The sunlight peaked through the gaps in the branches, and the turns wove around destined to shoot us out somewhere spectacular--by virtue of how mystical a trail like that feels. All of the sudden, the trail ended spitting us out on a steep, sandy slope overlooking the ocean inlet. Mountains towered from the peninsula across the water, and the sun gleamed on the ocean waves, removed from the beach by a quarter mile of mud flats exposed in a low tide. 

We scaled the downward slope of the sandy cliff, and I struggled to keep my eyes on my footing as I was so mesmerized by the view. Pausing for a moment on the sandy beach, I remembered coming here when I was barely a teen, feeling like I had discovered the best kept secret in town. You won't find many tourists scaling the rugged trails to this spot, and on a hot summer day there is something special about being the local at the only sandy beach in town.

The run along the beach quickly changed from sand to rocks to weeds over marsh. We ran past bonfires long since burned out and abandoned, driftwood forts capped with a torn white t-shirt for a flag, dogs ignoring their owners call as they sprint across the mud with abandon. There were logs to clear--both over and under--and I rolled my ankle at least twice as my feet struggled to navigate the uneven terrain, the slick mud covered rocks. Even as I baked in the sun and stole glances of the coast I was aware that even as I live surrounded by such beauty I don't always get to soak it in so closely, undistracted and submersed in the middle of it. The trail made by our team along the coast through marshy grass eventually took a turn back uphill, weaving through sparse birch trees until escalating in a steep angle uphill. The athletes I was with at the time started to give me looks questioning "Are you sure we're going the right way? We'd hate to climb that cliff only to find ourselves in the wrong place..." Onward we climbed, glancing over our shoulders to make sure we were being followed, straining to see if the rest of our team ahead of us was further down the coast, continuing to break trail where we didn't see it. 

As we crested the steep cliff we'd descended just a few miles before, we saw the final destination: the sand dunes. We continued our hike up the back side of the hill, and as I crested the top I saw pairs of boys racing across the top and launching themselves into the air, and flying for a few brief seconds before they gradually colapsed into the steep face of sand--eager to climb back up to do it all again.

In the end, we had to head back to reality, making our adventure into a loop through some of the many trails in acres of park I've explored for years on foot and bike and skis. When our initial route brought us face to face with a large moose, we adjusted our course, working up and down the undulations of trails, until familiar markers told us we were near our start. By the end I was tired, but could not have been more satisfied. If I was looking for a grand finale of this summer, this was it. 

School will crowd my schedule very soon, leaving my free time limited as our daylight wanes. And perhaps that is when I love being a coach most: mandated time in this beautiful creation--sun, sleet, wind and all--makes me a happier person. I hope today's adventure developed a new love in a few teenagers as well.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds incredible my friend! So glad you got that last great adventure!