Posted by: cousindampier | 2 August 2011

Running at Night in Ohakune

Ohakune is a small town sitting at the base of Mount Ruapehu. Its purpose in life seems to be to support the ski resort about an hour away, up the mountain; it thrives during winter, as people stay a few days and buy a few drinks, or decide to have a nice meal before returning to home and work. During the summer, it is probably quite gorgeous, with lots of hiking and trails to be explored.

I enjoy it for that reason, even in winter. Living in Te Puke, working in a kiwifruit packhouse, I was left unable to go running. I lived on the equivalent of a state highway with little shoulder space, and to complicate matters, I was working eleven hours per day, rising before the sun, and returning after it set.

Running on a busy highway, at night, without reflectors, is not the best of ideas.

Ohakune is another world compared to Te Puke in this regard. The mountain itself is on a national park; finding a trail is easier than buying food. They are everywhere, and the roads around the mountain are far less travelled.

Ohakune consists of two central areas. The primary township sits on Highway 49 – a few bars and restaurants, the information center, and the grocery store. About three kilometers away, towards the mountain (which sits northeast from the town) sits the Junction. Originally named because it is where the trains stopped, the Junction still has a train station, along with a few more bars and a pizza place.

There are two long roads which connect the Junction to the township. Goldfinch, which turns into Mangawhero Terrace, and Miro, which runs parallel, a block away. One main road runs perpendicular to both: Shannon Street.

Running down Shannon Street is enjoyable. It runs around 2.5 kilometers, and takes one away from the raging hustle and bustle of Ohakune. It becomes quite scenic – getting out into the farmland, any number of picturesque, leaf-covered roads appear.

At least, they would be covered by leaves during any other time of the year. But one can imagine.

When I run at night, I take one of two paths. Either I run up and down Goldfinch and Miro a few times (a three-mile loop), or I take a cross-street: Shannon street sits halfway between the township and the Junction, and runs out to farmland. A few back roads later, I am across the train tracks and running back home.

But there is one road I desperately want to run down. Dreadnaught Rd. is more of a highway, with a speed limit of 100 kph. It runs straight, into the distance – the kind of road which, on a scalding and hazy day, would be swallowed up by waves of heat. It does not seem to end, and I want to know where it ends.

I ran down Dreadnought. The road seemed to disappear before me, but not in any hazy heat. The darkness swallowed the road. My headlamp, angled downward, revealed the nearest twenty feet of black pavement, while the wind rustled the shrubs and dead trees which grew alongside.

There were no cars. No people. No cows this time, either, which affected me more than the other two. Usually, running through Ohakune, one runs by a farm of cows, often near the fence. On a previous night run, I was moving along and my eyes caught something reflective. There was an orderly progression of evenly spaced reflective points running down a hill. I thought it was a fence, with some sort of decal on the posts. It turned out to be a row of cows, staring at me, and as I ran past, they ran with me until they were stopped by the fence.

The lack of cows – the lack of anything – bothered me. My senses were heightened. This always sounds like a good thing to happen, as if I can suddenly channel my inner Chuck and know karate and kung-fu. In reality, my mind is going wild, and I am beginning to look for things which do not exist. I think back to the Scary Story books I read in second and third grade, for the first time in years, and start to wonder when – not if – something will jump at me from the rustling woods.

I get to the bridge and stop. The night seems black and it is cold, and running into the wind is burning me out. Turning around, I see one glaring red light, like a cheap glowing Eye of Sauron. I calmed myself by presuming at the time it is from the small power station at the start of the highway (it wasn’t – I have no idea where the red light originated).

I looked back at the beginning of the road, ten minutes away. I don’t really want to do this anymore. I want to be able to see the landscape, where the road goes, what is around; now, I am simply freaked out. The vast plains of darkness did not bother me when I started. The trees, which looked so much like fall, seem eerie and claustrophobic in night. More the point, nobody knows where I am.

I shake my head and start back. Running, at times, needs to be forced on me. Nobody wants to do it every day, and there are a thousand and one excuses to stay indoors. But if the run never begins to be fun, if the high never hits, of the enjoyment of simply being outdoors never begins, than best to call it a day.

Though I was far beyond any of these negatives, and paranoid to a fault.

I ran back a little faster, constantly checking behind me. I thought I heard girls laughing – though maybe it was dogs barking, or maybe it was just my head playing tricks, wanting to hear something to match the eeriness of my surroundings.

Nothing happened. I reached the main road, ran across the one-lane bridge and took a left down Railway Row. A streetlight lit the road in a small bubble of safety, and I stopped for a few minutes, looking around and wondering, what the fuck just happened to me? And when I made it home, I found it all rather amusing and still somewhat eerie.

**

There are two types of fear. One is the fear of doing the known. Learning something new is a myriad of feelings: humbling, frightening, and strengthening. The other is the fear of the unknown. This takes a number of forms: fear of where one’s life is going in the future; fear of some new activity tomorrow; fear of a journey; and the miscellaneous rest, where my kind of fear fit. It wasn’t as much fear of the unknown as it was the fear of the things my brain inserted into the unknown.

The Saw-type killer who was going to ambush me.

The twisted ankle which was going to leave me stuck to freeze to death.

The Velociraptor which was going to eat me.

All absurd. But if you’d asked me at that bridge, all valid.

 

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