Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chapter 23: Blue Hills

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a high school cross country team.  My goal is to post two chapters per week.  To access prior chapters, click on the fiction tab.  Today's chapter is about a hill workout.

He parked the van at Snow Pond, two miles from the base of the hill.  All week he left tacked on the bulletin board this day and this workout.  And for the week it loomed over the boys with an aura of mythic foreboding.

Blue Hills
Objective: To make it to the top multiple times.

            He caught whispers and groans and speculations of what exactly the bill meant.  Having Monday’s “workout” still in their minds only hyperbolized the potential agony and suffering that would undoubtedly ensue.  Now, Saturday morning, their inferences would either materialize or—poof—vanish into thin air.

            Hartman jogged with the team for their two mile warm-up.  A water fountain awaited them at the base of the hill, so he didn’t have to worry about providing the hydration. 

            -Grab a drink and start your leg swings.

            The boys, quieter than usual, congregated and loitered around the fountain.  They still looked half asleep. 

            -Get those hamstrings and quads nice and warm.  Coetaine, you too.
            Yes, Hartman dragged Coetaine and his sore IT-band to Blue Hills at eight am on a Saturday morning.  The junior was progressing nicely and would be back to full steam in another week or two. 
            -I’m running the repeats?
            -Why not, Coetaine?
            -Yeah, Coetaine.
            -How much longer you gonna nurse that?
            -No, Coetaine, no repeats today.  While they’re running up the hill, you’ll be doing pushups and planks with me.
            -Oh Jeeezuzz.
            -That’s it.  I’m never getting injured. 
            -Yeah, me neither.
            -If I do, I’ll pretend I’m not.

            Hartman outlined this workout sometime in early August, and it being fairly simple in concept—run up the mountain then back down it—he didn’t have to think about it again until this morning.  Didn’t have to but he did.  He drove over after Friday’s practice to measure both the length of the access road and the distance from Snow Pond to the base.  For the latter he used his handwheel, the former the odometer in his pickup.  He decided that the team would peak the summit three times, twice via the access road and once via the ski slope.  To protect their quads, he’d have them run slowly down the dirt access road for the first seven tenths then open it up ever so slightly for the last two.  He didn’t care about time.  He wanted to get up the mountain any way they knew how as long as they didn’t quit.  The goal today was to build toughness and create a mentality.  The conditioning of the quads and strings, a bonus. 

            He made them all wear their survival t-shirts from Camp Week.  The shirts were a dark athletic gray that bled darker still when the sweat seeped from body to textile.  On the front, three letters: SXC.  The back, four words: Per Aspera Ad Astra.  He never told them what the Latin meant but in time they all came to know and they held that knowledge clandestinely.  Rivals would inquire; nobody would divulge. 

            -No groups today.  We’ll spread out naturally over the hill.  You’ll know you’ve made it to the top when you see the observation deck.  Touch the tower and come back home. 
            Everyone started the first repeat cautiously.  Jenkins, Spider, and Hammond led the way.  Torres, Deo, Smith, and Wallan followed with Galiozzi and the freshmen tight behind.  The slope started gradually and after a tenth, Smitty looked around and said, This isn’t so bad.  He pushed up to the front and caught Spider. 

            Smith was right: the first two tenths weren’t  bad.  Only after the first right curve did things get steep.  The road twisted and bent for the next half mile offering hardly any relief at all.  A quarter mile from the top, the access road flattened and even declined for a moment.  There the boys felt the muscle groups in their legs shift.  By this point, the team spread itself out into a long and crooked single file line.  Jenkins and Hammond in the front, Smitty had glided back to midpack, and Lee acted as caboose. The flat, at about three hundred and forty feet from the nadir, lasted fifteen maybe twenty steps, then the road curved left for the final ascent, which was the straightest and most severe.  Not so steep that their noses touched the packed dirt but steep enough so they couldn’t see the observation tower.  Not until ten strides from the crest did the deck come into their purview.  The land leveled at the zenith, and burning hamstrings were doused with planate ground.  Hammond and Jenks touched the stone tower first then it was Torres and Deo.  Those four grouped together and began their descent.  Recovery came quickly and just as they caught their collective breath, they began yelling at their struggling teammates. 

            -Come on Wallan, you can do it.
            -Gales, Paws.  Keep pumping those legs.
            -Use your arms.
            -You’re almost there.
            The downhill running was conducive to opening up their strides and Hammond picked up the pace.
            -Not yet, Deo said.
            -Right, right.

            They turned a corner and there Hartman stood observing form and speaking quiet words of encouragement.  Once they passed, he loudened.  He told them they looked good—too good—and asked them if they really made it to the top or just hid in the woods for ten minutes.  He also told them that they were point two and that it was time to open up.  Let your momentum carry you, he instructed, not a full sprint.

            The guys, now all at the fountain, drank liberally and traded stories about the travail.  They waxed on about the incline just prior to the top and how their legs burned for those last few steps.  Hartman enjoyed listening to their stories and could tell Coetaine felt left out.  He let them carry on for another minute and then announced that the next repeat would be on the ski slope two hundred meters to the right.  We start in ninety seconds, he said, see you there.  He started walking and did not look back.

            The ski slope was shorter but steeper.  It would be more painful but wouldn’t last as long.  They’d be able to use their hands to help them grapple up the mountain if they needed to.  From the patio of the lodge, the hill looked ominous.  The boys were almost scared.  How are we going to get up this thing?  Are we supposed to be able to run up it?

            -This will put hair on your chest, boys, Hartman told them.  Now all you have to do is follow that defile from here to the top.  Don’t stop till you reach the tower.  Jog back down the access road.  I’ll see you there on your way down.

            -Coach, I think I’m up for this one, Coetaine said.
            -I don’t want you overdoing it, Sam, Hartman paused, maybe the last one.

            The boys took off in single file up the path.  Halfway up the mountain, they looked like a colony of ants headed toward an upturned ice-cream cone.  They spread out, scrunched, and spread out again.  Wallan was having a great day.  He hiked himself into fifth position and even passed Spidestrom with about a third of the hill to go.  Somehow the sophomore transformed himself into a strength runner over the summer.  If he didn’t watch out, he’d be running varsity in another year.  Hammond and Torres put the hammer down on Jenkins.  These two were classic grinders and what better way to grind than on a slope like the one before them.  Paws and Gales hung together before Gales grabbed horizontally at a handful of dirt and tucked most of it into Paws’ waistband.  That’s when Paws took off and Gales lost his breath from laughing.  Paws then cupped a handful of dirt from his shorts and threw it back at Gales.  Gales fisted some more dirt and threw it upward.  Paws dropped his waistband and flashed Gales a pale white Polish moon.  Before they knew it, they reached the top of the mountain and were back down at the fountain again.

            -Two down, one to go.  This will be the hardest.  This will also be where you make your gains.  Remember: you will never face a hill as tough as this in any race this whole season.  You conquer this hill, everything else is gravy. 

            The boys were proud of themselves but not too hubristic as they directed attention to one another.

-Quadzilla, what’s gotten into you today, Smitty asked Wallan.
            -I like hills.
            -You will squash Godzilla with you mighty quads, Deo told him.
            They both took large high knee steps then twisted the balls of their feet in a squishing motion. 
            -Hey Paws, you want to tell coach what happened up there, Gales said.

            The frosh stared at Gales for an uncomfortable second.  Suddenly, Spider and Smitty were ululating up to the sky.

            -I’d rather be a dog than bay the moon, Torres said.
            -Okay men.  Last one.  I have a little surprise for you.  If you make it to the top.  On the other side of the tower, there are picnic tables.  Under the bench of one of those picnic tables is a shoebox.  In it is something for each of you.  Make it to the top and it’s yours.  Don’t make it, then you can’t have it. 
            -What is it?
            -Why couldn’t you tell us this after the first one?
            -Wait, where was it?
            -It’s a trick.
            -Alright, get out of here.  Go find your booty. 

            Coetaine hesitated and looked at Hartman, who gestured his head toward the access road.  Coetaine took off. 

            A good eighteen minutes later the whole team came down the road jogging together.  Each had a wristband halfway up his left forearm.  White bands each with a different black block word tattooed upon it. 

            -Nice job men.  I see you all made it to the top. 
            -These are cool.  Thanks.
            -Yeah, thanks.
            -You earned them.  But how did you know whose was whose?
            -Each of you has his own word.
            -We do?
            -Of course.
            -Well how are we supposed to know?
            -You’ll figure it out.  Consider it your term paper.

            They compared words and speculation commenced.  Hartman cut them off. 

            -You can continue this conversation on your cooldown.  Underclassmen get started.  We’ll meet you back at the van.
            A few incredulous looks.  Go on get out of here, Hartman said. 
            They reluctantly left with their heads turned back.  Jenks, Smitty, and Hammond stood there a bit dumbfounded.
            -You three have one more to do.
            -One more?  Why?
            -You know why.  Stay together for this one and if you don’t know why by the time you’re done, you’ll do another.  And another.  And another.  Now get going. 

            The three seniors departed from the base for the fourth time.  Hartman waited for them.  When they returned, Hammond acted as spokesman.  We know, he said.

            -Good.  Let’s go.

            The four of them jogged together back to the van.  As they approached, they heard the splashing of water.  The rest of the team was in Snow Pond. 


Muddy Puddin' said...

Dude, great chapter. Although, WTF happened at the Westerling meet? You're just effin' with your readers! What about the words on the bands?

My Latin sucks but is it: "By/through difficulty to the stars"?

Nice job...

Anonymous said...

I love this chapter, and I love the delay of satisfaction. I too wanted to hear about Westerling, but I get it. This chapter is better. We all know they kicked ass on race day! Keep 'em coming. I really look forward to each chapter. Nice writing KG!


KG said...

Thanks for the input, you guys. I really think this thing would read better if I just posted the whole thing at once (but that has its own issues) b/c then you could see how the whole thing fits together. Esp. w/ the duel meets. The coach doesn't care so much about "Wednesday" meets, so some key details are withheld to reflect that. I will try to post the next chapter tonight.

Post a Comment