90in9 Day 8: Into the woods

To get out of the wind and give Traci’s hip a break from all the pavement pounding this week, on Saturday afternoon we hit the trail circuit at Ouabache State Park.

Buffalo along Trail No. 5 (This pic from lmmcspadden.blogspot.com).

Trail No. 5 will take us around the northern exterior of the park, a little over 5 miles, so we’ll run it twice. It’s beautiful here in the woods, and we’re loving the cushy pine needles under our feet.

“This is great!” enthuses Traci — just before she trips over a tree root and plunges elbows first into the mud.

Luckily she’s not hurt. And after walking her segment yesterday — we’d agreed in advance that with her joint trouble, she could walk a bit of her mileage if needed — the aching hip that brought her to the verge of tears on Thursday isn’t demanding all her attention.

Which means that, amazingly, now more than 70 miles into our 90in9 challenge, we’re actually having fun again.

It’s cool to explore parts of this trail we’ve never been on before. Traci reports on a corn maze they went through and Gunnar and Mason’s dispatch from the Notre Dame game they’re attending this afternoon. I fill her in on yesterday’s campus visits to Butler and UIndy, and the seeming synchronicity of Rowan getting her acceptance letter from the one she liked best in the mail today.

While I waited on Traci at the campground bathroom, I checked out the campsites decorated for Halloween

As we begin our second loop, however, Traci suddenly needs to find a bathroom — fast. But the campground’s at least a mile up the trail. Reviewing her options, she decides to tough it out, groaning as we run.

Finally we emerge on the road to the campground, and break into a near sprint. There’s a ton of campers here for a fall festival. She dashes into the bathroom, and luckily finds an open stall.

By the time we get back on the trail, I’ve hit “the wall.” The wave of nausea that’s been periodically afflicting me this week has returned, not so heavy that I can’t run, but it doesn’t go away, either. My thighs feel heavy and tight, and whatever those things are that connect my upper leg muscles to my knees feel … challenged. My mind keeps whirring ahead, reviewing over and over how many sections of trail lie ahead. We keep trudging on, kicking up leaves as we go.

I know what’s going on here, and I know it will pass. If only I could help it along, somehow! I’m reminded of a quote from a children’s novel I’ve been reading with Colleen, “Freddy the Pilot” by Walter R. Brooks. It’s another silly adventure involving smart talking animals on a 1930s farm, and in this one the leader of a visiting circus remarks, irritably, that just because he’s in a bad mood now “doesn’t mean I have to stay that way until next Christmas.”

Venturing into that story, even briefly, helps lighten my mood. We’re out of the thick leaves, into the pine needles, and getting close to the grassy trail where Traci lost (and then found) her keys last time around. Finally we spot the buffalo. A big fella loiters by the fence, as if he’s been expecting our return.

We know we can do this now. The main thing is to keep going and watch for tree roots, so we don’t turn an ankle this close to the end. Traci stumbles twice, but doesn’t fall. We pick our way carefully over the rocks leading to a big drain pipe.

We can hear cars now, though we can’t see them. We know it’s not far. And finally we emerge at Kunkle Lake, feeling a bit like Rocky — though we’re not inclined to dash up the nearby steps just to raise our arms in triumph.

According to Traci’s phone app, this run — lengthened slightly by that trip to the campground bathroom and doubling back to find her keys — comes out to almost exactly 11 miles.

That puts me at 80.9 for the week, with 9.1 to go. Traci’s less than a mile behind me, I think. She’ll walk off the difference tonight.

One more day. I can’t believe we’ve made it this far. Still, we’ve got almost 10 miles to go. And tomorrow, Traci wants to run the hills.

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