I rose to a 16° morning but it was quite pretty out. The dawn had the promise of sunshine when the morning haze would give way. The road and yard had a thin layer of snow from the night before and I had to get out in it. I needed to shake the grumpy thoughts I was having lately and make some tracks even though it was time to take a day off.
I waited until the temperature rose to 19° until I set out around 8:30 AM. The sun had risen over the edge of Nittany Mountain by that time. I knew the battle between enjoying the protection my sunglasses offered and steaming them up to 70% opacity was on.
Still in a generally grumpy mood, I couldn’t decide what route to take or how far to run. “I just want to see some f***ing beauty,” I thought. Almost immediately I started remembering some of the things I loved about running in the snow when I started last January. There were some cat tracks going in their tell-tale straight line. Some leaf-bare trees now allowed me to see tiny bird’s nests in their branches.
My pace was still quite slow; footing on the road was unknown and I wanted to take it easy. I was warming up quickly because of my general fatigue from the past week. The sun made it feel warmer than it was and the wind that had been relentless over the past week had finally abated. I easily broke into a sweat during the first mile.
Just beyond mile one I came across some solitary footprints in the snow. They were cutting behind a building where a letterbox used to be (gone, I assume, because the wall it was hidden behind has completely toppled). The shoes or boots the person wore had extremely pointy toes, no tread and the gap between the imprint of the ball of the foot and the small mark the heel made me imagine a pair of ridiculously high heeled boots. The the toes on these shoes were so pointy that impression of the front part of the tracks looked like a series of ice cream cones leading me to a snowy parking lot.
The tracks of the high heeled shoes made me think of a conversation I had with a couple who made fun of women who wore sneakers with their dress clothes until they reached their office buildings. Their attitude was that those women were wimps. I was shocked at their judgment and know that my reaction showed it. I didn’t go into defending my reaction (that’s right, I avoid confrontation) but will choose to look foolish in comfortable shoes over bunion surgery any day.
I lost the high healed shoe tracks just about the time I had to make a decision which way to go. Actually, following the tracks had taken me off the way I usually went and forced me downhill and onto Dreibelbis Road for a while. I had avoided this road for about a month because Jimmy the Eye warned me that there was a dead raccoon on it. I gave him heck a few nights ago when he turned our car onto Dreibelbis to use that road as a short cut. I told him that I had avoided seeing the dead raccoon for so long and then we had to drive by it. It was but a shell so I knew I could certainly run by it in the snow.
Darned if those same high healed prints weren’t on the sidewalk along Dreibelbis. There they were, coming out of the swanky gated community where I never see anyone alive. A ghost in cruel shoes walked the same route I had, albeit in reverse.
I decided to turn up Shilo and run at least until Spring Valley Road and see the horses. I wanted to see more beauty and the prospect of the valleys and ridges from the road that leads down to the water treatment facility was quite nice. I told myself that if I saw any horses from Shilo, I would keep going down into Benner Springs because then I could have a double dose of beautiful images. I looked at the farm and the area where they let the horses out and I couldn’t see any horses. I ran past the turn onto Spring Valley Road and tried to see if the horses were behind the barn. Still no horses. Hating to back track, I chose to continue on the way to Benner Springs.
After Shilo passes over route 220, it takes a long steep decent down to the Benner Springs Fish Hatchery. For the first time, I read a sign at the crest of the hill that warned the road from that point on was not regularly maintained in the winter. Today was a day of no maintenance. Choosing this long and tricky hill was the best decision I made all day. It was snow covered but not icy. The lack of wind as I descended into Spring Creek Canyon allowed the 1- 2″ of snow to stay quaintly perched on the branches and dead goldenrod plants.
I decided to delay my return, a serious uphill, by crossing the bridge and running on the trail along Spring Creek. This was the first real snowfall since hunting season had started so I was wearing blaze orange. No cars were parked in the lot where the fishermen park and there seemed to be only one set of booted footprints in the freshly fallen snow on the trail.
It took me a while to sort out whether or not I might meet up with the booted person but I then determined that the same footprints also retraced their steps back to the parking area. I looked down through the enchanted canyon that was glittering with snow and knew I was indeed alone. This gave my heart such a lift and I looked ahead with joy and wonder I haven’t felt since some of the hikes we had taken to find a new letterbox. That had been well over a year ago.
No animal tracks were on this trail, just the hearty bootprints of the person who had preceded me. I told myself that I would follow them for a while and if they passed the cabled gate so would I. They did and I decided to continue on to the series of pretty rapids I knew lay ahead.
When I heard the rushing water of Spring Creek, I knew the rapids were close ahead. There they were, glinting in the sunlight with just a hint of vapor rising off of the creek in the frigid morning air. When I reached the crest in the trail that was parallel with the rapids, I saw that the booted prints continued on. I wondered if I too should lengthen my journey yet again to the sign were trespassing was not allowed. A glance at my watch showed I had been on the go for 39 minutes and I knew the snowy hill was going to take a long time to climb. With my lead-like legs in the cold, turning around to descend the little rise was a good choice.
It was but a few yards after I had turned around where I had a good chuckle. Initially I was surprised to see an unfamiliar tread in the prints that lay in the snow in front of me. It was the first time I had ever seen the imprint of my trail running shoes and there were all of these tiny little added footprints to the route I had just taken! I deal with just a few difficulties of my smaller shoe size. Not every store carries a 6 in women’s running shoes, if they do it sells out quickly and additional things like YakTracks don’t accommodate that size running shoe at all. Seeing the little prints in the snow made me realize, they are kind of small for adult feet.
My return also had me wondering just how far the booted person had gone beyond the point I turned back. Were they hunting? Was hunting even allowed out here? Were they fishing? There was one place where the prints went off the main trail and down to the edge of the creek. I chose to follow them on my return trip to see if the stopped to fish along the way. They wandered here and there, following smaller trails that gave pretty vantage points to the stream before they finally met up with their own (and my) prints on the main trail. This person was just enjoying the area! They hadn’t been hunting or fishing or walking a dog. They were out enjoying the beauty of the land just as I had set out to do on my run.
The booted tracks disappeared in the parking area exactly where a bunch of car tracks picked up. It was also the start of my climb up and out of Spring Creek Canyon. The snow made the climb even slower for me than the few times I had run this route before. I had only been able to make it to the top commuter lot without stopping to walk maybe 2-3 times and it was when I had been training for the Nittany Valley Half Marathon. I allowed the very few rabbit and squirrel tracks to distract me as I followed my own tiny prints up and up and up. I took the hill so slowly that I made it to the top without walking and I think I was even less winded than usual.
Retracing my route went pretty well for the most part. The wind picked up and made me struggle between wanting my mittens on or off. I opted for off but pulled my coat sleeves way down to keep the chilly wind off of my bare skin. I know the blaze orange vest added visibility as I ran back Shilo Road but as I got closer to home it felt kind of silly. Sometimes retracing my route can be a bore but following my own tracks that had lead me to wonderful scenes of beauty kept the final miles fresh.