In the early summer of that year the deer were still hungry from a hard winter that offered too much cold and not enough food, and they were not timid but instead watched us plaintively as we passed in the near-moonless sky, or they darted in front of us without warning, on roads named Blue Ridge, or Old Bell or Mountainview.
We were a patched-together crew of Horsey veterans and first-timers, from the regions affectionately called Metro, South and beyond, with faces fresh for the challenge the course promised. We moseyed in together, ‘moseyed’ being a subjective term that for one man means a certain pace and for another man, something else altogether. But the leader waited for us all at the top of the hill they call Blue Ridge, and he gave his instructions, and all followed.
It was a simple plan, but the simplest and best plans often mask the amount of work that went into their creation. Down the dark descent of Mountainview, only to face quickly its steep and unforgiving grade before a hard right onto Old Bell, somehow, again. The incline up Old Bell looking no more threatening at its start than a white midsummer wisp of cloud, but delivering a punishment on the men’s legs like that of a tornado spun loose of its skyward roots.
To the end of Old Bell the men ran, then back out and right onto Wilby for more deer. Down again, up again, and to the corner at Mountainview, where the one they call Chester lives, or simply stands, or simply is. Down the northerly end of Mountainview and then up, up again, for in this country it seems the roads always move up, and the downs don’t quite make up for it, not quite. But they were men of honor and of valor, and they did not complain. Not one.
The leader waited on them all to finish this first pass, then asked for five hand-release burpees. This being somewhat counter to the normal approach for a summer Monday at the McHorseArse, the men could have complained. But they were men of dignity and strength, and they did their burpees, and they moved on.
Reverse course, on your own. 5 more burpees at the flag. Reverse again and do it all over. The same downs and ups, but there being the distinct feeling each time of more ups than downs. The leader among them struggled mightily to keep the one they call Lee (TM) in his sights, and almost resorted to walking toward the mythical Yucca at one point, but the voice in his head said no, no Lee is not walking, and the one they call Hollins is not walking and the one they call Horeshead is not walking (though maybe Horsehead was walking a little bit, but that is between him and his Maker, and is not for other men to know or judge, for Horsehead is a #HIM and this is his namesake), so the leader did not walk.
The one they call Hollins was running with his shirtless friend, the one they call Nabisco, whom some call Cowboy, but we do not, unless it is in jest. And toward the end, as we all were in our individual pain boxes of varying degrees, Hollins announced that he was suffering from some internal malady, a physical sign that all men have known in their gut and must address immediately, and alone. And so Hollins went away. But we knew he was a capable man and a man who knew where and how to remedy his situation, so we did not follow him.
With only minutes until the time to meet the rest of the crew, the leader approached the corner where so many before him have reported of mysterious sightings of the one they call Chester, and where he was certain he earlier saw Chester leaning against an idling pickup truck, but the truck was no longer there, so he assumed Chester had left. But now the leader saw the man again, standing alone without shirt, pants or socks, but with cigarette and bowl in hand. And the leader looked away, and tried mightily to focus on the road, and the pain and the sweat at the blinking light from the one they call Lee (TM) ahead of him. But he could not burn the image from his head, just as one cannot unsee the horrors of war when one has witnessed them first-hand.
The men, being men of their word, assembled at the neon flagpole at the allotted time, paid their respects, and proceeded back down the hill, to the flat section of Old Bell, and to the gravel lot still dusty for lack of rain. There they looked again for the one they call Hollins, but he was nowhere to be found, for his situation must have required indoor attention. They drank from weathered water bottles or plastic cups, and some dried off with frayed towels, but some did not. The one they call Grave Dancer provided a quality prayer, for it was honest, and brave, and true.