On a Shoestring
Confessions of a Vagabond Runner
Racing on the European mountain running circuit, with a pair of shoes, bike panniers and two wheels
Photo by Pete Hartley
Mid-July: 30 miles from Lublijana, Slovenia
I hear an accordion in the distance, echoing the remembrance of a dream. I'm above treeline and people are scattered about, shouting at me in a language I do not understand. Behind me, the lush, green valley of gushing springs and gnarled trees falls off 3000 feet to the valley floor where the race had started only three miles earlier. I have to climb another 400 feet before I reach halfway.
For the first time in my life, I'm wishing for a louder accordion because, according to the Doppler effect, a louder accordion could only mean closer proximity. Three hundred vertical feet to go. Looking back down the rocky slope, I can see the Pole in second place, only a few hundred feet back. A jolt of adrenaline hits me and for a moment I forget the accordion. I forget the 30-percent incline. I forget about trying to understand what the spectators are yelling. I forget where I am, what month it is, what shoes I'm wearing and who I should be missing, so far away from home.
One hundred vertical feet to go. Coercing my body to lengthen the gap between me and the Pole, I call myself awful names. Names I wouldn't utter in a barroom fight ... if I were the fighting type. The accordion is getting louder. More spectators. "Bravo!" then, "Dajmo!" "Pojdi!" Upon reaching the halfway point I'm disappointed to find the accordion in the hands of a non-descript Slovenian man rather than the devilish jester I had conjured. We exchange looks of confusion, and I begin to suspect that he would be up here playing his polka with or without the other 600 runners who would pass by him.