In the light cast out by my flickering headlamp, I could see S's breath coming out in silver plumes about his head. I wanted to keep right on his heels because his lamp was more powerful than mine. In its illumination I could survey the depressions and obstacles which lay under two inches of powdery snow on the narrow mountain trail better than in mine.
I was trail running at night! On the slope of a hillside at 7200 feet. Snow was falling.
Santa Fe lay below us in a spherical orange glow. I paused once to drink in the splendor of the view and to calm my ragged breathing. Although I had run on trails a few times before, and even on a steep incline once, I had never done it at altitude, in the snow or at night.
S, who lives in Santa Fe on Sun Mountain, which is a popular daytime hiking destination, can run trails merely by walking out his back door. He runs trails at night, on hour-long runs. I had taken him out to run my "neighborhood mile" when he visited me years before, and now he was returning the favor by taking me out to run his trail.
Since the snow was powdery and unblemished except for some animal tracks, it wasn't too slippery. We had to take care not to trip on the innumerable granite rocks, with their sharp edges, which littered the hillside and trails under the snow. We also had to watch for above ground hazards such as waist-level cactus and the face-level branches of spruces. I had already poked my thigh on the sharp point of a yucca plant. (Left: Running into a yucca plant in the dark hurts!)
S was leading at a modest trot. He was forging a path by running along a slight concave concourse which wove between close-in pine trees, where snow had settled onto the trail differently than upon the surrounding hillside.
Running under a canopy of short evergreens in the deep darkness of the hillside, a blackness tempered by the brilliant shine of the stars overhead and the glow from the city lights below, was both liberating and exhilarating. The funk I was in from my fourth day in a row of driving for hours in wretched snowy conditions with low visibility, over mountain passes on snowpacked roads, fell away. I became suffused with the joy of physical performance applied to a heretofore untried strenuous challenge.
Two miles out we paused in a slight clearing just before the last row of trees lining the back quadrangle of St. John's College, which lay on the other side of Sun Mountain. We had skirted around the base of the small mountain along its slope in 23 minutes. We headed back, following our tracks in the snow. Halfway back, as I grew tired from my extreme exertions in the snow and cold, I paid the price of vanity for my supposed physical ability to do this novel and difficult task. I tripped or slipped and fell heavily upon the trail, banging my left knee upon a rock under the snow.
S hovered over me protectively while I applied a snow pack to my injured knee for a few minutes, and then we walked it in from there. We arrived back at S's and my sister's house at just over an hour's total time. This was a magical run unlike any other that I have ever done.