Saturday, January 19, 2013

Uwharrie Calling - Prologue: The Claim

"Eno tells me you've come to claim it" growled Uncle Uwharrie, leaning against the front porch post, arms crossed.

"If I can" I replied, standing in the mud by the rusty mailbox, my shoulders aching against my heavy pack. Talking to Uncle Uwharrie was difficult at the best of times, but I had left his world a generation ago, and our conversation strained to connect across that distance.

Uncle Uwharrie didn't move. There was a moment of silence while he stared at me. The moment stretched uncomfortably as he stood there, motionless, with his gray green eyes locked to mine, his jaw lightly clenched in silent judgement. You never looked away from Uncle Uwharrie, no matter how uncomfortable you felt under his hard gaze. In these parts, respect was both given and earned through unflinching eye contact with your elders, something that had always been difficult for me growing up here as a shy boy.

I kept my gaze locked to his, but shifted uncomfortably from one tired foot to the other, and the movement seemed to satisfy something in Uncle Uwharrie's mind.

"Well, get in out of the drizzle, boy." Uncle Uwharrie turned and walked back through the clattering screen door, calling "Eno will be glad to see you again."

Nathanial Goodwin Uwharrie, known to his few friends, simply as Uwharrie, was a lean, gristly, hard man of backwoods North Carolina. A man of short words and a shorter temper. Everything about him seemed slightly out of date, from the rough cropped cut of his iron gray hair, to the rough, dark cotton work pants and button up shirts he wore year round. His voice was edged with sharp gravel and kerosene whiskey, constantly threatening to erupt with the booming snarl I remembered from my childhood. I was deathly afraid of him as child. Thirty odd years later, I still feared him.

Coming back hadn't been easy for me. I had left this part of my life on my own terms, and for good reasons. But time and age had whittled away the reasons that had mattered so much in my youth, leaving a growing hole. A hole that I needed to fill.

[ Bear with me. I haven't written any significant fiction in a long, long time. I plan to write a few chapter snippets like this and place them between the multipart series of posts I have planned for the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 Mile race report. I have no idea where this is going, but that's half the fun. ]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Uncle Uwharrie Smacks Me

Whack! Uncle Uwharrie towered over me, staring down at my broken carcass. I had deserved the smack to the back of my head, so I couldn't even complain about the pain.

"Boy, don't you EVER come out here thinkin' it's gonna be easy!" he snapped. "You gotta come out here with a mind of steel. You gotta embrace the pain this place gives you. You gotta use that pain to get through!"

Uncle Uwharrie was right of course. Cruel, but right. I had forgotten how hard and unforgiving Uwharrie could be. I had been blinded by my own hubris. Running crazy miles in Umstead had somehow fooled me into thinking, I could run equally well in Uwharrie.

Ha! Not even close!
After more than 5 hours of Uwharrie "running" in preparation for my planned attempt to complete the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run, I was broken, both mentally and physically. Granted, I was still moving, crawling up the hills and shuffling along with a painful jog where I could manage, but everything was hurting. The trail had slowly beaten my body to a near standstill. The only thing that spurred any speed in my shuffle was the sight of some fresh bear scat a few miles from the trail head, and the safety of my car. But even that adrenaline rush was washed away in less than a mile by the endless stream of pain flowing up through my body from the hard, stoney ground of Uwharrie. Calling Uwharrie unforgiving would be a great kindness.

Mentally, I had totally given up. I promised myself that the first thing I would do when I got home was to email the race coordinator and request to drop back to the 20 miler. Or maybe I wouldn't even show up for the race at all! Yeah, screw this place and screw the race through it!

Luckily, having a couple of experienced 40 milers (Brandy and Heiko) along for the "fun" of a Uwharrie training run made a huge difference in my post run mental recovery. Their encouragement, plus a couple of good beers washed away the doubts later that evening. I think I can actually finish the 40 mile race! Yeah, the last 15 miles are going to hurt like Hell, but I'm more prepared to deal with that now. Not that I'm actually ready for this beast of a race, but I'm hoping Uncle Uwharrie's smack was just the medicine I needed to pull me through.