Course one – a real treat. Course two – very tricky.
In Hopewell on the Saturday morning before Halloween: Clear, sunny skies. Blocked-off streets with arrows and helpful volunteers at every turn. Fast, flat route on paved surfaces through historic areas with occasional views of the Appomattox River. A bunch of runners at my pace. Residents and volunteers offering friendly encouragement along the way.
That night at the Devil’s Backbone Brewery in Nelson County: Pitch black, with only a headlamp to light the way. Tiny flags and occasional glow light sticks mark the route. Uneven dirt trail up the side of a mountain, complete with rocks, tree roots and patches of slippery mud. All by myself at the back of the pack. Monsters, goblins and other creatures jumping out of the bushes along the way.
In Hopewell, a small town where the Appomattox flows into the James River, I took on the City Point 5K River Run & Walk. There were about 150 runners of all ages and fitness levels. For some of the participants, it was the culmination of a seven-week fitness training program.
At Devil’s Backbone – along a stretch known as alcohol alley for its eight vineyards and three breweries – I took on the Trail of Terror II Run. Most of the 80 or so participants were younger and in better shape then me and, no doubt, had better night eyesight.
In Hopewell, I was a middle-of-the-pack runner, mostly trotting two minutes and then walking one. I stop once and awhile to snap a photo. I finished in a respectable-for-me 40-minutes even though I never really pushed myself.
In Nelson County, I was quickly in the rear by a wide margin. I ended up walking more often than running as I struggled to see where I was going and tried not to fall on my ass. I only went totally off trail a couple of times. I managed to keep on my feet. I opted to do a 5K and finished in the middle of the pack of 10K runners.
In Hopewell, quite a few of the participants were very excited to make it to the finish line. You would have thought they just won a marathon. One of the volunteers who had offered encouragement a couple of times along the route shook my hand and vowed to do the run next year, but “nowhere as fast as you did it.” He was about half my age and in about as good a shape as me.
At the brewery, as I struggled my way toward the finish line, I asked the passing 10k runners “how do I get out of here?” and “how much farther?” As I finished, one of the volunteers attempted to give me a high five. I missed the first time, but made the slap with a second try. I think the organizers, Col and myself were just glad I made it back without any major injuries.
Hopewell is an independent city about 10 miles Northeast of Petersburg. It was first settled by the Europeans in 1613 and, given that Jamestown was abandoned in 1699, holds the title as the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the U.S. Today, about 26,000 people live in the city. It is home to a number of large chemical plants. In the 1970s, one got caught dumping a nasty chemical similar to DDT called Kepone into the James.
Nelson County is in the middle of the state, just south of Charlottesville. It has a population of about 16,000 and is the home to the Wintergreen Ski Resort. Walton’s Mountain, where the writer of the Waltons (Earl Hamner Jr) lived as a child, is in the northeast corner of the county.
62 runs down, 72 to go.