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Later this week I will be posting the story of the most amazing experience I’ve had yet in training, and it is one worth telling. But before I have the whole story to tell, there was an excellent diversion this week. Literally.

It was going to be a boring afternoon in the suburbs. I had agreed to be the DD for a friend who was going to a fantasy football draft. I don’t play FF, because if I did, I would end up obsessed and a full-time FF geek. It’s why I don’t play Sudoku. I just can’t start, my mind won’t ever let me quit if I do.

So the plan was to take a long run. I had no idea where, but with a garmin on my wrist, a camelback on my back, a smart phone with GPS and maps, and $20 in my pocket, I was off for a suburban run.

Within 3/4 of a mile from my friend’s house, I crossed over a creek on the pedestrian part of a bridge. Looking to my right, I saw this.

Someone just put a boardwalk in the middle of nowhere.

Hey, I thought, that looks interesting. Maybe there is a running path. So I went down the path along the creek, and the boardwalk lasted longer than I expected. Someone clearly invested in this path. About 1.75 miles along, I ran out into a field.

Am I entering the Shire?

The bridge in the far end of the photo leads further up a trail, but there was a marsh between me and it, so after running around this field a few times, I turned around. I was in my Brooks road shoes, not trail. I didn’t want to soak them. But this was clearly a well-established path. It probably goes past the bridge where I picked it up.

After crossing the bridge and following trail blazes underneath it, I was on another section with bridges and stairs, and planks laid out in areas that are clearly wet in non-drought times. I started to get a nagging sense that I was not on any ordinary running trail.

Was I on THE trail? The Appalachian Trail?

I became convinced that I was. It was the only explanation. I knew it came through this area generally, as my father-in-law had met many hikers in his days as a park ranger. Meg went out with him a lot as a little girl and got to meet through-hikers. I laughed at myself for not knowing this was where I was. Eventually I spotted a sign that removed all doubt.

Confirmation

I met a section hiker who was talking with a conservancy worker who had cleaned up a huge party mess at a shelter. They told me how far the shelter was, and where to get water near it. At the blue blaze, I filled my camelback with cool mountain spring water. It was at the water source that I actually met a full-trail hiker. His trail name was JR, he’s from Dallas, and started in Maine on May 16th. He looked to be on the trail with a son or grandson. The only other people I saw other than the first two mentioned, and these Texans, were two trail runners who went flying by me with a lab and a beagle, and one more solo runner headed the other way as I descended.

The blue blaze for the watering hole was right next to quite a sight.

A Hard to Miss Landmark

This logging truck crashed decades ago, but the tire looks like it was just put on last year.

That Had to Hurt

I am sure that in the thousands of miles of trail, there are many oddball sights like this along the way. In my short afternoon, I got to see just one of them.

I continued past this, up the hill toward the shelter at the top where I planned to turn around. As I kept climbing up and up, the other hiker caught up with me again and said “when you get to the good climb, you’ll know you’re close.” I had the idea I was already on a good climb. I decided not to go all the way up this time, but would get up there soon.

I turned around and headed for the access point I originally stumbled upon.

Somehow I failed to notice this sign the first time I went by.

I ran back to my friend’s house, and logged 10.08 miles total for the day. More than 8 of that was on the Appalachian Trail.

I was amused that they were so close to the trail but didn’t tell me that. They never thought to mention it since they figured I was road running. I’m actually really glad I didn’t know it was right there, or seek out maps to plan the run. I would have still run it, but I had a rare experience today: I stumbled upon a national treasure without really knowing it, and got to enjoy it for awhile before the conscious realization set in.

In a digital age where everything can be planned, tracked and measured, all the time, it was so nice to actually experience surprise. It’s also nice to be in good enough condition to decide to do eight miles of trail running on a whim.

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