Sneaking in the Notch, just below the eyebrow
Sometimes you just have to sneak in a run
Posted Saturday, 22 May, 2004
The air was wet and crisp, about 29-30 degrees ( that’s around 0 for you Canadians, eh?) The mountains rose stark and massive on all sides. The sun was going down, already hidden behind the peaks. I pulled in around 7:30 after three and a half hours of windshield time. The park was abandoned except for one empty car.
I wriggled out of my suit and tie and into my shorts and togs behind the steering wheel of the rental car. I had to put on four shirts. The two running shirts I had brought with me and a couple T-shirts just to keep the chill off. I wasn’t expecting it to be this cold in May.
No time to stretch, just hit the bike path. No time to think about it, or give that little voice a chance to pipe up with “What, are you daft?” Limping off the hours of driving I plunged into the forest.
Sometimes you just have to go for a run. And sometimes you have to sneak it in. Sometimes you have to trick the world and steal an hour from the busiest of days. Sometimes sneakiness is acceptable, especially when from this sneaking comes sanity. Finally, these sneaky runs can turn out to be the best ones, like finding a 20 dollar bill in a coat you haven’t worn for awhile. A sneaky run can be a surprisingly rewarding semi-forbidden pleasure.
I had left behind the upset clients, demanding boss and peevish employees in Quebec City after lunch. Sometimes I fly, but there is still no good flight direct from Boston to Quebec City. So I drive. It takes six to eight hours, depending on road conditions and number of breaks. You lose cell phone coverage for a couple hours in the mountains, but with a couple good audio books it beats the insanity of changing planes in Montreal.
Everybody knows I travel. Travel can be a good smokescreen. I get to hide some runs ‘in the cracks’ because of all those regular stretches of unexplained radio silence that comes with travel. There are blocks of time when I’m on the road where it’s perfectly fine that nobody knows where I am or what I’m doing.
When you go between Massachusetts and French Canada, there are three possible direct routes. They are all beautiful, mountainous and panoramic. In the winter the ice pours out of the shear rock face in blue hues and the snow lays many feet deep on all sides. In the fall you get the spectacular color of the leaves; scarlet and orange maples, yellow birches offsetting the green firs. In the summer the granite peaks peek from a lush green sea of forest. I love this part of the world.
You can take the western route through the Green Mountains up past Montpelier and Burlington Vermont. This is the fastest route to Montreal. However, if you’re headed for Quebec City, it’s better to skirt the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, cutting diagonally across from Concord to Lebanon. Then you take a hard right in White River Junction due north to cross the border in Swanton Vt.
This sneaky runner knows that there is a side trip. If you stay on Route 93 north it winds through the White Mountains. About an hour north of Concord the state of New Hampshire humbles the great highway down to a single lane through a treacherous pass known as Franconia Notch. (Hey in Mass. we got 93 down to one lane too, but it took 15 Billion dollars).
It was in this notch that I ran last week. There was a fresh snow on the ground but this did not deter the signs of spring. All the bushes and trees were pushing forth this years new leaves giving the forest a fuzzy look. Lafayette brook was more than babbling from the new snow melt. Water was trickling from every nook and cranny in the mountain side.
It is a unique place. Granite mountains rise up thousands of feet on all sides. Giant chunks of rock lay about willy-nilly down the sides where glacier’s retreat or recent rock slides have left them.
It is not the stark barren rock of the Southwest. This rock is alive with stubborn green growth. I ran by one granite block the size of a one-car garage that had a tree growing on the top of it. The tree was quite happy, nestled there in a carpet of moss. It was like some giant’s dish garden.
It is a hostile place in the winter, but at the same time, in the notch all is wet and alive. It has a misty rain forest micro-climate. I snuck through here in the fall and pulled off in the basin, just to think and look around. At that time I wrote this in my journal:
“In The Notch” 8/13/03
The White Mountains are not so white today. They have cast off their cragginess for a fun, orange comforter. Not so brilliant as the fiery sugar maples, but rusty and brown, like oaks and birch.
The Majesty of the gray peaks inspires one’s soul. Thrust up granite from fiery tectonic bowels. Scraped raw by recent glaciers. It is a young country, still angry in its wounds. The fractured walls seem recently rent and torn and broken. The stony bones yet to be covered by nature’s comforting, healing, green hand.
On this day of my sneaky run it is cold and damp and green and fuzzy in the Notch. It is a great place to sneak a run. I execute an out and back on the bike path.
I head out on the bike trail from the shuttered visitor center. On the wooden bridges across the brook the snow has not melted and there is one other set of foot prints besides my own.
As I head north on the path in the gathering cold dusk, I ascend into forest and then down under the highway up to profile lake. The profile in reference here is ‘The Old Man on the Mountain’ rock formation that is/was a famous landmark in New Hampshire. It is gone now. There is no old man’s profile. There is only a piece of his eyebrow. The rest fell off last year.
The park service was quick to act. All the signs were switched from ‘how it was formed’ to ‘why and how it fell off’. Thus, with a little creative signage modification, they didn’t miss a beat. If you want to know what it used to look like, find one of the new NH quarters and you’ll see the Old Man immortalized there.
Profile Lake is dark and silent. The water is clear and clean but dark from the potash and iron content of the soil. There are rumors of trout and salmon, but tonight nothing moves in the mist. It is too cold for May flies and frogs alike.
Further north, the trail runs into Eagle Lake and the Cannon Ski area, now dormant for the season. Many inviting trails veer off from the bike path, but I don’t have enough faith in my orienteering skills to go venturing into the woods at dusk in the mountains. Many people have died here, being surprised by the changes in weather, and overcome by the elements.
Not this day. Maybe on some future sunny morning or afternoon when business again calls me north. Then I’ll sneak off again to the Notch and steal a run. Maybe I’ll hike up to the ‘eyebrow’ and take a look around. This place is so massive and alive it fills me up for days with its majesty.
I horrify a salesman on the pay phone chugging out of the woods, steaming like an ill-treated horse. All the aches are gone and the body if not alive is at least awake. I further horrify by stripping down in the darkening cold to throw my dry business clothes on for the three hour drive home. Now I am self satisfied and smug at having stolen a run in this forbidding, beautiful place.
Take my advice. Find those cracks in your busy existence to sneak a run. All true running addicts know that these can be your favorite treasures. Theses sneaky runs are yours alone and cannot be taken away. They are just one more poke in the eye for all those dopes who say “I just don’t see how you find the time to run every day”.
You can’t find time unless you’re looking for it.