Photo: Katariina Järvinen, Flickr Creative CommonsI don't live in a hotbed of amateur athletics. It's a rural county in the center of region of rural counties. Obesity and infant mortality both far outpace the state averages in a state that outpaces the national average. Most of the guys you see riding bikes along the side of the road are on a bike not for their health or to train to compete, but because they're drunks who got busted for one too many DUIs and can't drive a car anymore. Usually it's just me clad in lycra and going hard on a bike just to go hard. Usually it's just me running big loops to and from my car, my phone giving me feedback on my pace in half-mile increments.
This weekend was different. Almost every Saturday I ride with a group of guys from a neighboring county named after a dead guy named after a very savory cut of meat. This week we set out for a 50-miler on a route we do pretty frequently. Fifteen miles in, the weirdest thing happened: We saw another group of about 10 people on their bikes heading in the opposite direction. I had heard there were clubs of guys like us in the larger small towns in the area, but I'd never actually seen them in person. I'm not using hyperbole when I say the hairs stood up on my arms and neck. This chance encounter made me very happy and I took my next pull at the front of our paceline at 24 mph for 2 miles. It wasn't even downhill.
The next day I got up early to go for my long run. I'm training for a marathon in a city that used to be called Cowford and has a really horrible NFL team. I set out from my front door to run 15 miles. Three miles in, I passed a guy I know from local races who lives 1.8 miles from my house. (I know this because he lives on the road I run on the most when I don't run at work and I can tell you the exact distance to the tenth mile of every landmark from my starting point on every route I run regularly.) He was on mile 14 of a 23 miler that day. He's training for a marathon in Savannah. We stopped for a short chat about training, and the border collie that had followed him from the lake (and who always follows me too) stopped following him and then followed me for the next 12 miles.
When I finished this time, I was too tired to drive the dog back to the lake, so I left him outside with water and shade so I could shower, lie down, and drink in some calories until I felt better. Before I got up the energy to drive him home, however, my wife and kids let him into the house so they could play with him, but he was too tired, so he climbed up in my lap and we watched the Falcons game together.
For a single weekend, it felt like I was living in a town like Boulder or Asheville, a place where I'm not the weird guy doing things for long distances that only the drunk and the extremely poor normally do.
The dog stunk a little, but so did I. My calves hurt too bad in the shower for me to take the time to use soap.
It was nice.