November 23, 2015

Georgia was my top priority in a vacation that, throughout the planning stages, evolved from a running trip to a friends trip. When I booked the vacation months ago I had hoped to run in five states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Kentucky was always a stretch since I would be staying in Asheville, North Carolina, and, if I wanted to pair a Kentucky run with the bourbon trail I would have some trouble doing it all in one day. So, after I sprained my ankle, Kentucky was the first to go. As weeks went by between the date of the sprain and departure date and I still hadn’t run I picked another state to rule out. The next to go was Tennessee. The Tennessee-North Carolina state line is actually closer to Asheville than the Georgia and South Carolina borders but I could also easily do Tennessee on a future Kentucky bourbon trail trip. Tennessee was out. That left the Carolinas and Georgia. A week before the trip, still not having run, I picked Georgia as my number one to run in. I had already done its neighboring states of Alabama and Florida. Since my friend Rebecca lives in Ashville, North Carolina, I could always come back for the Carolinas. When I got on the plane for a week in Asheville I resolved that I would be happy if I only got Georgia—though I secretly hoped for the Carolinas too. The questions and hopes echoed my most-detested phrase of my mother’s, “you’ll just have to wait and see.”

At 9:30 p.m on Sunday, November 22nd, I arrived at Rebecca’s cozy mountain retreat a stiff, trembling bag of bones from driving two-plus hours in the pitch black, winding mountain roads in a rental car that was a cross between a go-cart and a roller skate. Its shape was almost a perfect cube. The little white marshmallow was easily swayed by the wind as I drove through the night trying to soothe my nerves with familiar 80s pop. I breathed deeply as the REO Speedwagon ballads carried me up and down hill after hill, all the while knowing I would have to drive it to Georgia the next day.

A good night’s sleep, sunlight and support from a friend can do wonders to relieve stress. The next morning Rebecca and I hopped in the go-cart/roller skate/marshmallow equipped with chocolate peanut butter pumpkin muffins and the determination to run in Georgia. In truth, I was a little bit relieved to be driving because it meant I would be worried about driving as opposed to running. In just over an hour, the roller skate rolled into the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. “Cross the state line” runs can be tricky. In theory you just have to get over that line and you’re there. But, what’s on the other side of state lines is often nothing, as in Delaware. Rebecca and I drove though Dillard, Georgia, a border town of farm stands and antique strip malls. We could have pulled over but we weren’t sure where the best 5k route was. Just as the businesses grew fewer between, we came upon a gated estate of rolling green hills. I thought it was a residential development which we could safely run in: get in and get out before the Georgians knew what we were up to. Rolling down the driveway we realized it was a the Rabun Gap Nacoochee School whose expansive grounds included tennis courts, a pond, trails and track. It was 5k heaven. We knew we had hit the jackpot. We parked the roller skate in the empty parking lot, bit a hunk of muffin and stepped out into the cold, sunny air.

As we walked down a small dusty gravel hill Rebecca asked, “Are you ready?”

“Not yet. This is an uneven surface.”

I needed optimal running conditions. I was safe inside school property, next to a friend of 25 years who happened to be an MD and an elite athlete, the sun was shining and chocolate peanut butter pumpkin muffins awaited us in the car. If I was ever going to resume running, this was the time. Once on a flat gravel path, we began to run.

We talked the whole way, about what I can’t remember. The entire time I was focused on my left ankle and how my body felt after a three-week break from running. It felt heavy. I could talk but every movement was more laborious than in my former days as a runner. I felt like I had gained 20 pounds, which after the weeks of replacing running with recumbent biking while watching “Waiting to Exhale,” wasn’t a complete overstatement. Still, my ankle didn’t hurt. We looped around a pond, further into school grounds passing a farm with black cows grazing on a hillside. “Bucolic,” we said and joked how it was such an ugly word for a beautiful thing. “Bucholera,” I joked. And on and on went our jumbled, goofy exchange as we closed in on the final .1.

I made Rebecca pause the stopwatch to take a picture of the bucolic scenery just before we took our last steps of the run. The sun had never shone brighter. We hugged. I was so very happy to have completed that run, not because it was hard but because it meant I was back in the game. It meant that while it may take time to return to the pace and distances I crave, at least I was in in it.

I don’t recall much of our conversation during the run. I just keep coming back to the word “bucolic.” I think about the absolute beauty of that day, the green hills against the blue sky— the absolute beauty of any pastoral scene defined bucolic. An ugly word for a beautiful thing. I had thought taking time off from running would be the worst that could happen, and there were several emotional and physical low points which proved me right. But it was also an ugly label for an experience that turned out to be beautiful. Without rest you can’t have recovery. Without an unknown destination in Georgia we wouldn’t have stumbled into the picturesque Rabun Gap Nacoochee School. Without the space to fulfill a goal, the goal cannot be fulfilled. I thank Rebecca and Georgia for helping create that beautiful thing, a 5k in my 28th state.

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