As a child, I loved Wind in the Willows. Like many children’s books it featured a cast of anthropmorphic animals: Ratty, Mole, Badger and, best of all, Toad! Reckless and irresponsible, Toad was a natural trouble-maker.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why I admired Toad so much.
The “wind” in the title, however, is perhaps the only time I’ve really ever enjoyed that particular form of weather.
I don’t mind rain, heat or cold. But I’ve never been a fan of wind – not that I know many who are, either.
Can’t you just hear them?
“Oh my! That’s a particularly brisk wind today. I can hardly wait to turn around and run head-long into it!”
And, “This icy cold wind is so refreshing and I just love how it makes me work that much harder.”
So it was with trepidation last Saturday that I found a particularly strong tail-wind pushing us along the Salt Marsh Trail, a little like a hand on our backs giving us a gentle shove. The running was easy, too easy.
The trail itself is located over in Dartmouth and the point from which we’d left would take us out to Lawrencetown Beach and back, a distance of 21 km. Along the way are long, absurdly beautiful ocean views when you’re not boxed in between two strips of trees on either side. The trail itself is crushed gravel.
At around four kilometres, having crossed one of the short but stunningly scenic causeways, we found ourselves running a long – very long (actually mind-numbingly long) – piece of tree-lined trail.
At least there weren’t any vicious dogs.
A little further ahead we found the two Daves halted in their tracks. Our group joined them. Before us stood a dog not quite as big as a small lion. It completely blocked the trail and made threatening lunges at the first sign of motion from anyone in our party.
Stacy strode forward yelling at the beast: “Go home!”
It didn’t budge.
“G’wan,” Stacy yelled in her Southern accent. “Go on home!”
Apparently the critter understood Tennessean: it slunk off into the bushes.
We continued running.
It could have been worse. The sun could have been in my eyes.
A kilometre further and the sun began to shine directly in my eyes.
I kept my head down, my world now limited to chunks of gravel and the occasional glimpse of trees on either side.
I’d been led to believe people ran this particular route for fun.
At the halfway mark we emerged out of the trees, crossed the road and landed on the boardwalk of Lawrencetown Beach. Huge waves crashed into the stony shore. We stood for a brief moment admiring nature’s untrammeled glory: the blue water whipped into frenzy; the long, empty blonde beach; the clear, cold, uncompromising blue sky.
Then we turned.
Into the wind.
Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I could feel it pushing me back and plucking at my jacket and tights. I’d been warm running out, but as we turned back I was immediately grateful for the extra layers of clothing.
I found myself running with Stacy, a tall, lean woman whose every stride matched about 30 of mine. As we leaned into the wind, Stacy kept up a non-stop, hilarious monologue on everything imaginable. I concentrated on forward momentum.
Soon Stacy noticed my lack of conversational contribution and, correctly deducing I was finding the pace difficult, began to offer the usual encouragement: “I’ve heard you’re a terrible wimp, but it’s awful to see confirmation before my eyes. Run, you little worm. I’m not going to wait.”
I gratefully blinked back tears of joy at the acknowledgement of my ability.
We run further, the fury intensifying. “Listen,” Stacy said. “If you can keep this pace for another 400 metres I won’t kick you in the testicles.”
Silently debating the levels of pain, I opted to stay with Stacy for the distance.
We took a short break, allowing Leah and Micheline to catch up with us and then we set off again.
Thankfully, the trees blocked the stiff breeze – until the causeway.
We came onto the causeway directly into a gale-force wind tunnel. It took everything I had just to move forward. Stacy and Leah began to open a gap. I looked on helplessly as the wind grabbed the skin on my face and pulled it back taut.
I experienced the odd sensation of my skin beginning to separate from my bone and muscle and thought, “This can’t be good.”
Birds trying to fly forward blew back past my head.
I pushed on.
The trees bent at almost right angles.
I pushed on.
A couple of the Saltmarsh Striders breezed past me. “Hey, bit windy today, eh?”
I pushed on.
Ultimately, using a series of progressive hand-holds on various rocks and clinging for brief moments to other, faster runners, I managed to make my way to the shelter of the tree-lined trail. I collapsed on the ground, my eyeballs dry in their sockets where the wind had sucked all the fluid from them.
As I lay, gasping for breath, I began to understand and appreciate why Toad had wanted his damned automobile so much: he’d been searching for a way to beat the wind, the infernal, never-ending wind in the willows.
Well folks, I’ve been enough of a blow-hard for one evening. Will I run in the wind again? The answer my friends….