I don’t run as much as I used to. I used to run every morning, before daybreak, six miles through the Pennsylvania countryside, luxuriating in the solitude, enjoying a world with a population of one. I used to like lapping up the miles, feeling the seasons change right to my bones, breathing in the black, moisture-saturated loam of the forest floor under my feet. All of that changed on June 6, 1989. This was my third week-long camping excursion to Mount Pocono, a pleasant two-hour drive from my home in West Chester.My buddies and I chose Mount Pocono because of the awesome running trails. My favorite was a 10K which began and ended on Manor Drive, rising some 500 feet past the aptly-named Summit Avenue and Cliff Road.
No wristwatch with me in my tent that morning — just my well-tempered biological clock, its mechanism honed by years of use, which told me “time to get up — time to run.” By the time I’d laced up my Nike’s and ached through the usual, obligatory stretching, a chorus of crows had already started up, heralding those first rays splitting through the crisp morning air, inviting me to a celebration of my own physicality. I distinctly recall thinking, “crows — sounds like an omen.”
Best time on the trail was 51 minutes and I was determined that morning to beat it. Hubris? Maybe. I didn’t care. There was something outside of me, some unseen energy pushing my feet faster than they’d ever moved before, something pitting me against the ticking of my stopwatch, a relentless, primordial pounding which pushed me relentlessly up the side of the mountain. They say you never remember what happened just before an accident. They’re right.
I came to on the side of the cliff. The first thing I saw in the hazy light was some yellow moss clinging to the trunk of a pine. The second thing I saw was blood. It was running down my arm, settling with wanton disregard on the now glistening leaves of a may apple. My head hurt and it was wet, dripping. I reached up to find the source. When I touched skull instead of hair, I knew I was in trouble. I looked around. There, not far from the trunk of the pine, was a piece of my scalp, just lying there. I looked up the mountain to see the trail above me, an impossible ascent, 75 feet separating me from any hope of rescue. I pulled myself up a few feet, then slipped back down. Over and over, the same ritual. “No one is here to help you — you idiot,” I told myself.
Now or never. With one final burst of improbable adrenalin, I got some momentum. I made it back to the trail after what seemed an eternity and was eventually rescued by another runner. When the surgeon in the emergency room told me more about compound skull fractures than I’d ever wanted to know, I resolved that I’d heal and that this wouldn’t affect my running. But it did.
I still like to run, still get up before the sun rises, still camp with the same group of friends at Mount Pocono most summers. I even visit that trail off Manor Road. But I don’t run there anymore. And, when the crows speak, I listen.