In my first week of college, I opened my front door and saw Camille to the right. She was splayed across the concrete floor of our dormitory talking to another girl and I walked up, casually inserting myself into their conversation about our studies, the dining hall food and what we thought college was going to be like.
From that moment, she became my confidant as we shared and learned everything about one another. We began manipulating our class schedules to take the same courses despite my degree in journalism and hers in business. We met each other for lunch in the dining hall and stayed up late watching movies on our laptops in her bunk bed. We were quick and easy friends and, thankfully, that friendship has continued across several years and a couple of time zones.
But, in the time since Camille and I stumbled into our strong friendship, I’ve found that making friends is hard to do. Without a college scene acting as the ties that bind, it’s tough to create a friendship out of thin air, that is until I moved to Seward. In the small port city the thin air is the best place to build friendships.
(And for those who’d say the mountain air in Seward doesn’t qualify as “thin,” I’d retort that I’m from New Jersey. Anything above sea level is thin to me.)
Mount Marathon has been a friend to many, but despite opening my door to see the ubiquitous peak each day, it was a stranger to me. Then, I found out I had a bib for the infamous Mount Marathon Race with just 18 days to go until race day on the Fourth of July.
I had flippantly entered an Advanced Physical Therapy raffle in early June, forgetting about it until two weeks later when the woman on the phone explained that she had called seven others before me, all of them turning down the bib. I said yes.
Before that call, I had only ever talked about the race in terms of fun facts — the race point is at 3,022 feet of elevation, it’s technically a 5K, it started as a bar bet.
But I knew that with such a short time to train, my best bet was to get to know the mountain beyond the trivia, to run it with those who already knew it.
I did the race trail for the first time with Maya. As we traveled up through the trees and beyond the junior pole, we talked through past adventures, future endeavors and what to do when you round the rock at the top of the mountain.
Then I went up the trail with Sean and we talked about techniques and what he’s learned after several years of racing. We climbed up the cliffs at the base of the mountain and ran down the gut, going over the iffy parts and pivotal choices a few times to make sure I knew them well.
When Roz and I hiked up to the junior pole, we didn’t bring her dog Pacha, but we planned future walks along more pup friendly trails.
Kate and I went up together a few times, but each at our own pace. She led the way, pushing me on the uphill past my comfort zone into a place of growth. Then I would speed past her on the downhill, both of us learning more about the mountain through one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Off the mountain, I couldn’t stop talking about my budding relationship. If I ran into someone with a “3022” sticker or a past year’s finisher’s shirt I started to pick their brain. If anyone asked how my training was going, I wouldn’t spare a single detail of my anxieties for race day. I mean, come on! I had 18 days to train for what is affectionately called “the toughest 5K on the planet.”
With just a few days to go, my legs were tired and ready to relax before the big day, but I decided to go up one more time with Sydney.
We took it slow and easy, rehashing the details I learned each time before and making sure they were intrinsic.
“You don’t want to second-guess yourself on race day,” she told me. She had never run the race, but we talked about all the different reasons she had for loving the mountain while sitting in the shale and looking down on a bustling Seward in the throes of race-day preparation.
By the time we ran down to the bottom, onto the pavement and down to Fourth Avenue, Sydney had an inkling she would buy into the race at the bib auction on July 3. On July 4 she stood to my right at the starting line as we prepared to run up our newest mutual friend.
No one exaggerates when it comes to Mt. Marathon. No one is lying when they say “it goes straight up” or “you’ll fly right down.” It’s hard to embellish when the mountain seems like an exaggeration itself. Traveling atop dirt, shale, snow, rocks and more up and down the 3,022 feet elevation in just about three miles doesn’t seem real, but it is.
Even more unreal is the camaraderie the mountain and its race evoke. All along the course, strangers offered water, food and words of encouragement. At the top of the mountain, on the way down and spread across the final stretch of road, friends and random passersby had signs of support and were cheering as I and my fellow runners pushed to the finish line.
Making friends is hard to do, but every once in a while, and with some good mutual friends to rely on, you can stumble into a friendship. With Camille it was quick and easy. This time, it was just quick, but I stumbled, crawled, ran, slid, fell and hopped into a lifelong friendship with Mount Marathon.
Kat Sorensen lives in Seward and writes a freelance column for the Clarion once every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.