Saturday, August 29, 2009

On the Mountain

One of my favorite things -- no, who am I kidding? my absolute favorite thing -- to do when in Phoenix is climb my little mountains. These are, of course, "hills" in the eyes of many, often including the eyes of myself, but that's being snobby, isn't it? I mean, does The Corrections cease to be a novel just because you start thinking about how War and Peace is twice as long? I think not. Even the U.S. Geological Survey says there is no clear distinction between a hill and a mountain, although various geographic boards have used 1,000 feet as a line of demarcation in the past, like in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. That definition is not used now, though, so you have no official basis on which to be hatin' on my Phoenix mountains. But I digress.

I've been climbing North Mountain a lot these past few weeks, usually by myself, because Brian has been either sick or at work (or both). On my most recent trip, this past Thursday, I went around 5 p.m., a bit earlier than usual. As I pulled into the little Secret Parking Lot For Those in the Know, I saw a moving clump of teenagers, running in sync Chariots of Fire style as they came down 7th Street, turned into the Secret Lot, and began to run up the path.

Now, I have seen loads of people running up North Mountain, because every time I go to walk it, there is always a runner. Sometimes two or three. It's a wide asphalt path so it's a good place to go get a steep jogging workout, if you have the strength to do so. But watching some high-school's cross-country team was different from there being a lone runner who leaves you in the dust and then you forget about him. With the high-school team, I became intimately involved.

Of course, their clump began to spread out as the mountain (yeah, tell them it's only a "hill") wreaked havoc on their steady group pace. They had two coaches who were strategically placed, one about halfway up who shouted encouragement and also turned them around to run back up a SECOND time, and one at the top who made sure they reached and stuff. By the time I had walked all the way up, many of them were on their second way back down and the coach at the top was just sort of waiting for those last few. Since there was nothing else for him to do as he stood there, he chatted to me as I strolled by him, turning around to make my way back down: "Well, ya made it" or something to that effect.

"Yeah," I rolled my eyes, using my best sardonic voice with a touch of bitter, "but these kids running are putting me to shame."

He laughed and said, "Nah, you went to the top, that's the important thing." Needless to say, for most of my walk down, I thought about these high school runners and thought about running North Mountain before we leave Phoenix. I mean, here I was supposed to be getting in shape this summer. I ought to be pushing myself more. And so on along that train of thought. But besides thinking about myself, I also admired more than just the running prowess of the teens. I liked how they were supportive of one another, and had good attitudes. I liked how it was one kid's first day of practice (I found out from the mid-point coach) and he was giving it his all and basically in third place. I liked their vibe.

All that and a beautiful sunset, too! I am really going to miss my hiking in the Phoenix mountains. Again.

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