Halfway around the world the earth is shifting, moving and moaning into a new position. Here, on this morning, the stillness of the ancient mountains is palpable.
We’ve stopped running, stopped moving, and even our breath has quieted into the calm. Mist from the pre-dawn rainstorm is slowly lifting as the mountain gently exhales in soft, rhythmic pulses. We hold ourselves motionless, breathless, and feel the earth energy.
It’s a silence as old as time. The quietness penetrates my porous body like water in a dry sponge. My human heartbeat is exponentially higher than the gentle earth’s imperceptible pulse that is calm, deep and completely grounded into every fiber of the universe. My imperfect human body feels the slower vibration and relaxes into the cool embrace of the place where my soul feels at home.
We met at 6am in the Chautauqua parking lot. The time change this morning makes it feel like 5am, which means that I’ve been awake since 4 o’clock. That’s what my Circadian rhythm says, but I don’t care. I’m awake and standing on the mountain on a magical morning when the fairy mist is rising. Desire pushes me forward.
We each have a light; I wear my headlamp and he holds his Mag flashlight. The ground is saturated with moisture from the light, steady rain, and our feet pause a moment longer than usual on the damp path. We begin a slow, steady jog up the hill.
When I drive in absolute darkness, I lose all sense of speed. I move much slower in the night than I do in the daytime, and check the speedometer frequently to make sure I’m keeping up with the posted speed limit. Apparently this trait extends to running as well; I run slower in the dark than I do in the light.
After a half-mile warm-up we take our first turn and enter the woods. The trail is single-track now, and I lead the way. The mud is deeper here, and the rocks stand like silent sentries. We pick our way around the obstacles and descend into the first culvert, where we slow and walk over a frost-covered footbridge. The temperature hovered at 34 degrees last night, though the low-lying nooks and crannies of the craggy mountain dropped below the freeing point. Our trail shoes provide traction, but we respect the microclimates of the valleys and walk through the slick frost-covered mud.
At the first resting point I pull out the video camera. The lights of Boulder are far below us, pinpricks on the deep black that is otherwise unmarred. The first traces of dawn are seeping into the clouds to the east, and we see a promise of morning.
We continue on our way, running slowly through the reddish mud that is starting to cake my shoes. They feel heavy, and it’s harder to lift my feet. The heavy shoes cause a few mis-steps and I feel a jarring in my left ankle, but nothing severe enough to make me stop.
My friend has never run trails with me, though he has been warned of my love affair with single-track. “You’re like a deer Lara,” he says quietly, and those are the last words I hear before I lose him in the technicality of the terrain. At the bottom I stop and look back; he’s 200 yards behind me, working his way through the rocks.
We’re behind NCAR now, and I start cruising. The mud makes me slide but I know this trail intimately; I could run it in sheer darkness and I turn off my headlamp for good. I want to experience the full effect of the sunrise and will all my senses to open to the morning.
We pause again and record the gradual lightening of the sky. The camera flash blinds us as it bounces off the denseness of the evergreens.
At the stairs we pause and evaluate. The terrain is fully exposed to the elements, and the rain saturated the ground into soup before applying a sheer layer of frost. We pick our way down the hairpin stairs, holding on to branches from time to time as the frost makes our feet slip out.
After several minutes we’re at the bottom, and we walk over the snow that’s been covered by mud from hundreds of feet over the months of winter. We’re heading up the jeep path now to the old radio tower. My friend is stronger than me and easily powers up the incline. I don’t try to keep up; we’ll meet at the top.
The slower pace feels good this morning. I’m not running for exercise or endurance, and I don’t need to feel my heart hammering in my chest. I’m here for the morning and the beauty of the mountain.
At the top of the trail we pick our way over the rocks until we’re overlooking the entire valley that runs north-south along the Front Range. The sky has lightened to the point that if there were no clouds, we would see dawn breaking on the horizon. The blanket of clouds muffle the rainbow of colors and shadow, and instead of the cacophony of color I had hoped for two days prior when we decided to do the run, I am treated to the splendor of mist rising from the land below.
We sit silently and watch as the sky brightens into an overcast morning. A bird sings its song somewhere behind us, and we both turn just a fraction to better train our ears to the sound. I have the surreal feeling of traveling back in time to an ancient, untouched land. I can neither see nor hear people, and the moving mist obscures man-made objects far below.
We sit until a violent shiver comes over me; time to get moving again.
It was manageable to run up the trail; it would be crazy to try to run back down. The slick, deep mud and invisible patches of frost dictated that the return trip be leisurely. So we walked.
As we came within a few hundred yards of the parking lot the sun broke through the clouds and turned the sky a brilliant azure blue. Translucent wisps of clouds floated on air currents just hundreds of feet above.