gravel roads and friendly odes
Tranquil sounds of the forest were pleasantly interrupted by childish giggles and nervous adult laughter as a battalion of four year olds marched past on a technical section of single track, their confidence padded by a lack of experience not equated to that of their wiser guides. An exchange of waist level high-fives and eye to eye reassurance was all we could offer them for the downhill section ahead, an undertaking certainly more terrifying for the adults than for their fearless troop of twenty three-foot adventurers.
Responsibility was absent from our to-do list, nudged off by more important decisions of which trail to take first or what backcountry road would give us the best sunset panorama. With one of us actively recovering from forty two point two kilometers of World Major effort and another gearing up for an ultra trail race the weekend following, compromises of distance and terrain were taken into account to keep everyone’s morale high and legs happy.
The warmth of his greeting helped dispel the chill in our bones, but a generous offer of hot tea ridded us of the cold altogether. He retreated to the barn only to return moments later with a tray of biscuits and antique China still steaming as if he’d been expecting us. His wide eyes and round glasses, windswept hair, and nervous energy suggested he was the man in the barn windows, yet far younger and less cantankerous than I had imagined. We stood huddled together in conversation, sipping from teacups wrapped tightly in bare hands. A dog far too tall and equally unaware tried to maneuver between my legs. Our host adjusted his glasses on his crinkled nose and looked upward at the swirling clouds, forecasting that this evening’s sunset would be nothing short of magical. I was reluctant to believe his summation.
As we helped him gather the tray of crumbs and empty cups, he inquired about our dinner plans to which we responded with shoulders shrugged. He offered a suggestion with a wry smile, acknowledging that the best restaurant in the village was closed, but didn’t necessarily have to be. He tsked and motioned to his gentle giant to follow him back towards the barn, but she defied, opting to be our guide instead. As we walked down the drive, he yelled into the wind to say he’d make a call to the restaurant on our behalf. He sealed our visit with a wave and a promise to see us later.
Dust lingered in the air from a passing vehicle as we crossed the narrow gravel road. A small herd of cows raised their heads, chewing slowly. As we searched for a safe spot to crawl under the electric fence, a bull, most perturbed by our presence, asserted his dominance by goring an old tire and simultaneously emitting both a terrible sound and smell out of opposite ends. We’d reached a non-negotiable impasse.
Not far down the road, our guide waited patiently by a navigable section of fence, separate and safe from the beast not even Thesus would have dared to challenge. With angry bellows fading, we crawled under a thin wire and climbed to the top of the hill just as the sky began to open up. I held three fingers to the horizon to measure how much light we had left.
After the sixth minute, cold and hungry, our bellies made the final call and we started to retreat across the paddock. As we navigated through a minefield of digested grass and feed, I caught a shimmering half crescent growing out of the corner of my right eye. Within a few moments, the lost sun vibrantly erupted. Pyrotechnic flows of orange poured down the mountains, into the valley, and across the clouds above. We cheered and danced to nature’s silent disco until the last light was lost to Earth’s incessant spin.