I ran when I was younger the county roads in our valley. During those years, I never figured out what I was chasing … or running from. Perhaps, I just wanted to be alone. I traversed loops around the rectangular blocks of apple, pear, and cherry orchards, noting the seasons as blossoms emerged from their dormant winter and the fruit swelled on the branches and then was picked or fell to the ground and the leaves of the trees turned yellow and orange after harvest.
I ran by fenced pastures observed by the indolent glower of cattle endlessly chewing the rye and barley grasses in fields made tall and green from the plentiful water tables of northern Oregon. I followed graveled roads into the forest where loggers had clear cut majestic stands of fir trees and ran back along the forks of the Hood River and its tributary creeks.
Sometimes, I wandered the dirt trails next to irrigation ditches and once stumbled and fell miles from home and limped back with torn ligaments in my ankle. I ran and I ran for ten years or more up and down the rolling hills in the lower, the upper, and central valleys, in the rain, snow even, and most trying, the blistering heat of summer.
Normally, residents of Hood River endure one period of 95-100 degree temperatures in the summer. This year, however, we’ve seen several hot spells, which old timers in the valley say are the worst in memory. In late June, the first brief but intense heat wave broke. Then, by Independence Day, another blast of hot weather returned and scorched the valley. A handful of wet days provided relief before a final more lengthy succession of hot days stifled activities for the remainder of July and into the first 10 days of August and stores sold out their air conditioners and fans and people mulled over what to do.
Throughout the surprising summer heat, we sought relief by hiking at altitude, visiting the coast, and refusing to cook meals at home. Seven of us followed the dog bone loop from Hood River Meadows to Umbrella Falls and back on Mt. Hood’s northeast slope. It’s just five miles but climbs steadily through the forest’s abundant shade before descending exposed to the sun. The thin alpine air caused me to stop occasionally and catch my breath but overall, I tolerated the low grade anemia related to my blood cancer, multiple myeloma.
On the following weekend, my wife and I escaped to Manzanita on the Oregon Coast. We walked miles on beach sand with friends enjoying the coolness of overcast windless days. My stamina felt remarkable compared to a year ago, which I credit to a change in medication.
Finally, the most recent string of hot weather days came to an end. The air, a broth thickened with heat, clung to my skin when I stepped outside. Thunderheads bubbled above the foothills below Mt. Hood. The sky darkened and a sluggish breeze stirred the leaves on the trees and the shrubs. Soon, it stiffened, teasing the chimes in my yard to sing along with the rattle of kettledrums that rolled forward from the ridges into the valley. Rain began to fall and would continue for several hours and the wind, indifferent to direction, dispelled the heat and something in the fragrance of the wet pavement reminded me of when I was a runner.
I remembered that the hardest part of any run was starting and the first few hundred yards before my body found its rhythm. I recalled the suffering satisfaction of long runs and the realization that stamina and endurance and well being must be earned with plodding effort, with staying at it, whatever it may be. And, I thought, “Today would be a good day to run,” and stood there for several more minutes observing the storm, getting wet, in the late summer of the warmest summer in memory.