This is the second post of three Tuna Run 200 race review posts. To read the first post, click here: http://www.therestlesswild.com/blog/tuna-run-200-race-report-leg-1
Johnston County. The hurricane damage was pretty severe and it was strange seeing the destruction in a county I had once called home. We skirted past detour and road closure signs. One road was completely washed out: some yellow tape blocked the road before the asphalt ended in a gaping, raw hole, all red clay canyon behind an old whitewashed church.
"Why are there all these random grave sites in the fields? Are they privately owned or something?" someone mused as we rolled past fields dotted with copses.
"Yeah, family plots. They're fairly common. I did a survey on some of the private lots as part of a class in high school," I replied. In a low-lying flat field with a row of crooked headstones I imagined a waterlogged Meemaw and Pop-Pop turning over in the graves, corpses floating in the floodwater.
We finally arrived at a little church. Standard make - red brick with a white colonial facade and skinny stained glass windows spaced unevenly on each side. The handicapped parking signs near the entrance were askance. Low bushes lined the foundation - boxwoods shaped into irregular lumps - and from the roof the steeple rose not tall, but respectable. Behind the church a white plaster Jesus raised up his hands in a graveyard. On the far side of the grounds stood a rusted swing set. Gnats spiraled by the telephone, lit golden in the slanting morning sunlight.
When we parked and opened the doors a few of my van mates let out low whistles.
"Whew, get a load of that smell! That's some chicken smell!" The plowed field adjacent to the church parking lot must have been recently fertilized. It exuded the warm barnyard musk of manure.
We lounged on a tarp spread under an oak eagerly dropping brown leaves while invisible fighter jets from Seymore Johnson Air Force Base roared overhead, their sonic booms rumbling over the landscape long after the sleek jets had cut through the hazy blue sky. It was warm for autumn, but not so warm that you'd say it was unusual for those parts. 30 minutes rolled by, and then an hour, and when no other vans showed up we got antsy and double checked the binder: we'd missed the next transition point. It wasn't a problem since our van didn't have any active runners for a couple hours, but all the same, we were at the wrong place.
We loaded back up and navigated to the actual transition site: Bentonville Battlefield. As an old Civil War site it witnessed the final offensive of CSA General Joseph E. Johnston against Sherman's march north to regroup with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia. The offensive was a failure, but that doesn't stop the historic site from lauding its Confederate dead with monuments and battle flags.
It was here on the carefully manicured lawns that we spread out for another hour or so and played Cards Against Humanity and waited for our team's scheduled re-start after the slew of cancelled legs.
Clouds rolled in just as our runners took off from Bentonville Battlefield heading east. A cold front was rolling in and we leapfrogged runner-van-runner from transition point to transition point while overhead the skies grew dark. I wondered if or when I might sleep, but then it didn't really matter as long as I could run.
Suddenly the skies opened in a torrential downpour. Our teammates huddled under a rainbow umbrella and our van's orange tarp while we waited for runners to come in and slap their bracelets onto the next runners, anxious and eager to outrun the rain.
Our van was done for a few hours then, and we rambled along to a hotel for forty winks. I was hungry more than anything, so I tagged along with some other runners for a quick bite at a Mexican restaurant before hurrying back to the hotel to grab some z's. 3 hours, give or take. That's all I got to sleep that evening.
We were up and out the door of the hotel by 10:45pm to head to the next transition point to start our night legs. Travis kicked off our van's second legs with a run out of Pink Hill, NC (pop. 552 in 2010). At 1:29am I started my run with my running partner Amanda from Pleasant Hill Store and Grill into the wide open wild of State Road 41.
The skies were clear after the rain that afternoon. We streamed through towns with populations between 200-500 folks. With the closest large town New Bern a full 20 miles away there was nothing but a wide open sky, cotton pastures, and tall pines rising along the roadside. This was dark sky country - a fantastic place with little light pollution courtesy of agriculture and protected forests like Hofmann Forest and Croatan National Forest. When my headlamp didn't bob over the rough road or across prismatic Wolf spiders' eyes or dart over the downy clouds of ripe cotton, the night skies lit up with the Orionids meteor show, and we ran and ran under the shooting stars.
How do you take in something like that - the thrill of being alive and running wild on an open country road under a starry, meteor-filled sky? It's beautiful, that's all you can say, and after my run I curled up in the van under my blanket and drifted into a starry snooze.