Synchronizing My Watch

Mt. St. Helens.jpg

Up at 4 for an Insanity warm-up and stretch. Then jogged up the meadow and ran the mountain road up to the trailhead and a third of the way up Mt. Cardigan, all while listening to 180 bpm techno on my iPhone. Music like this has been proven to increase running speed while decreasing perceived effort.

But running while listening to fast-rhythm techno music seems like all kinds of wrong. Moose crash through the woods undetected. The spring peepers peep without me, male barred owls hoo their horny vibrato only to other owls; the new green leaves may as well unrustle, the brooks unrush. 

But that’s a sacrifice I need to make. My turnover must get faster. The first time I used the headphones and 180 bpm track on a road run, I shaved two minutes off my time up to the trailhead. Whoa! And then doubled over, retching. That’s okay. Definite room for improvement.

The hard part is when I try to maintain 180 bpm up the mountain trail. Trailrunning requires a flexible attitude toward foot placement. You got your roots, your rocks, your huddled toads yearning to hop free. It’s hard enough to step properly when you’re wearing an inadequate headlamp in the dark. Now try to step over and over and over and over at a pace half again as fast as ever.

I can’t come close to that rhythm on a mountain.  It seems impossible to layer a template of rhythm onto a rough trail,  and as irrational as layering a template of years onto my life. The trail, and life, speed up and slow down on its own. Meanwhile, my heedless techno beats three per second, the years tick one per annum.

Which drags me into another story. After Mount St. Helens exploded in 1982, I followed an elite group of federal scientists doing research on the volcano and the land’s recovery. There was a tree scientist, a geologist, a wildlife biologist, a hyrdrologist, and a mycologist—an expert in fungi. In their first meeting they got confused discussing time frames. A short period for a geologist spans thousands of years; for a biologist, a season; for a hydrologist, a century or an hour. Finally the hydrologist said, “Before we get anything done, we’re going to have to synchronize our watches.” In other words, they had to find a chronological lingua franca, a common means of time.

At the age of three or four, George used to measure time in whiles—as in, “I’ll be back in a couple of whiles.”

From a certain perspective, such as the height of a mountain or of my 57 years, whiles seem more accurate than beats per minute, more accurate than a life span.