I went to Whipple Hill in the rain. The rest of the world was prepping a turkey or a tofurky or a large drink with which to fend off the evil spirits of their families. I didn’t need to go to Whipple Hill. I just needed to walk the dog, which can be done by walking directly out my front door, down the steps and out into the road.
I went to Whipple Hill because I wanted to test the energy of the red trail.
That’s not entirely true. I know the energy of the red trail, because I run it pretty regularly. The thing is, I always run it in one direction, the one that gets me off the main trail soonest, away from the humans. In that direction, following the red arrows is like running up the face of a wave, steep, almost overwhelming. It lets you catch little bits of recovery in dips and flats, but mostly it sets you on a ramp to heart exhaustion. What I like about it is that I know that I can just about run over the top of the hill without popping and then come storming down the other side through so many technical twists and turns. The footing is challenging. I like that too.
Red is the appropriate color for its blazes.
But I walked it the other direction last week with the wife and the dog, and I could see a different flow, one that looked like it might be pretty goddamned fun. So when it was time to walk the dog on Thanksgiving morning, I said, “I’ll do it,” loaded Django into the car, and rolled slowly across town to Whipple Hill.
I am not a surfer. I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, but the waves there seldom get surfable. I have a lot of friends who surf though, mainly New Jersey 3mil wetsuit guys who drive out to Sandy Hook at dawn when the ocean’s energy is strong and their families are still asleep. Rabbit Man has been known to paddle out there too, and it’s from him that I came to understand a little bit what surfers are looking for in a wave.
It’s the same as the thing I’m looking for in a trail, that dirt energy.
Whipple Hill is a nothing place, not even a mile on each side, but there is a great system of trails there that works back and forth and up and down a pair of hills. The “summit” affords a decent long view to the northwest. The red trail is the one that snakes to that summit. I don’t know anyone else that really likes to run that trail. It’ll hurt you, like a big wave with a quick closeout over shallow rock, definitely not a wave you want to surf everyday.
But I like it’s energy.
And I like to think about trails like shore breaks, the hills and flats holding all the same type of energy the ocean does, and the flow of dirt and stone like the shape of a wave, pushing you forward in a certain and specific way. My fitness is the weather, the variable. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to get the trail under my feet the way it wants me to. And then, like a surfer looking for a cleaner right-hander, I retreat to someplace flatter where maybe I can get a little flow going, before crawling back to my car, exhausted.