The magic and the familiar

Running is a whimsical companion. Sometimes she is kind and loving, others she is absolutely without mercy. On a couple of recent runs, though, she’s reminded me that she’s someone I can always count on.

The weekend’s long run was a 12 miler. Having increased by a mile each weekend, my legs were not really looking forward to the haul. Late in the week, however, I found that I would have company on my run, and immediately, the prospect brightened. The doctor released Gary to ride his bike, and I think I was more excited about it than Gary was. I admit that I’ve enjoyed this very small window of time in which I’m faster than Gary, but I’m ready to run with my favorite pacing partner again.

The morning dawned warm and overcast, with a fine mist falling as we loaded up. We wanted to go to a trail, but as it’s still hunting season here in South Mississippi, we decided against the woods and headed for Longleaf Trace. The pace was slow and easy, the company was steady and familiar, and it was one of those magical runs where 12 miles whiz by in no time at all. That doesn’t happen often, so I’m particularly thankful when it does.

Stumpy goes for a bike ride!  My pacer for Saturday's long run!

Stumpy goes for a bike ride! My pacer for Saturday’s long run!

Getting back to our “normal” routine found us on the road this week, meandering through back roads on our way to Natchez. We haven’t made this monthly work trip since August of last year, so we were both looking forward to it. I, especially, was eager, as Natchez has one of my favorite runs. Gary hasn’t been released to run yet, so I tried to curtail my anticipation of the morning. Gary’s a great sport, though, and mostly just wishes me well, although I know he’s ready to hit the pavement soon.

I awoke to a view of the mighty Mississippi at sunrise, gulped my coffee, slapped on my clothes and headed out the door. The warm, wet breeze embraced me like an old friend, making me long for spring and the smell of honeysuckle. I ran alongside the riverbank along the familiar route that Gary and I have run together so many times. Past the magnificent, crumbling old mansions that line the river, through the seedy row houses, then up Cemetery Road to one of my favorite spots in the world, the Natchez City Cemetery. That may seem weird, but there’s something spiritual about that place. The majestic old oaks dripping Spanish moss that line the Avenue of the Generals, Bishop Hill memorializing the remains of many of the state’s Catholic bishops and nuns, Jewish Hill with its amazing view of the river and bridge combine to make the hush of the place seem surreal. Only the sound of my footsteps pounding up those relentlessly wicked hills kept me company. This run soothes my soul. It’s quiet enough that I can hear God whispering in the leaves. No dogs and few cars mean I can zone out and just run.

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery

The view from Jewish Hill.  Don't know who thought the power lines were a good idea.

The view from Jewish Hill. Don’t know who thought the power lines were a good idea.

Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

I stopped on Jewish hill to get a picture of that spectacular view and when I turned around there was a creepy white van stalking me. Sure enough, it was my man. I’ll enjoy this run even more when he can make it with me. I headed back to the river and finished up through the downtown streets at St. Mary’s Basilica, the perfect place to end. Then, back to the room to shower and change, and a delicious Southern breakfast of grits and eggs from the incomparable Natchez Coffee company.

St. Mary's Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary's Basilica - as breathtaking from the back as the front

St. Mary’s Basilica – as breathtaking from the back as the front

Sometimes, when the stars align, runs are magical. Sometimes they’re familiar, like having coffee with an seldom seen friend. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted a run, but I always regret it if I miss one. As one who loves to travel, there is nothing better than exploring new places on foot. Each new running route invariably becomes an old friend that beckons me back again and again.


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