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Sam Cook: Run provides serenity of the sole

We awaken on a rocky point in Canada's canoe country. Birds are singing in the red pines that dominate the peninsula. Sun slants through the canopy. One by one, we gather to sit on logs damp from the previous evening's rain. Someone lights a camp...

Sam Cook
Sam Cook is a News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com.

We awaken on a rocky point in Canada's canoe country. Birds are singing in the red pines that dominate the peninsula. Sun slants through the canopy.

One by one, we gather to sit on logs damp from the previous evening's rain. Someone lights a campstove and begins making coffee.

For nine days, we have lived this way. Simply. Close to the land.

We have paddled 16 lakes and lugged our gear over intervening portages, some laced with deadfall. We have caught huge walleyes, enormous pike, powerful lake trout. We have eaten walleyes nearly every night. For six of our nine days, we have seen no one, and on the other days, almost no one.

A gentle breeze rustles the tarps we have strung overhead. Maybe they'll dry before we have to break camp. We are going home today. It would be nice to pack up dry gear, but we don't get our hopes up.

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We miss wives, kids, friends. But it is good out here in the great silences. A person could live out here a long time with enough food in the pack.

During the night, I had heard what sounded like branches breaking. I had wondered if a bear was climbing a tree, trying to get at the food pack we had hung from one of the pines. But the cracking of timber continued, then reached a crescendo, and I knew a big pine was falling. The splitting of the unseen tree trunk was so violent that I covered my head instinctively. The tree crashed to the forest floor harmlessly somewhere nearby.

The silence of the big woods returned. It was as if no tree had ever fallen.

When the coffee was ready, everyone dipped a cup. After a simple breakfast, we broke camp and paddled out of the wilderness.

Less than 24 hours later, I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with 6,500 other runners in the middle of Scenic Highway 61. A public address system blared music. The crowd buzzed with nervous conversation. Old friends shouted greetings over the sea of humanity. Bodies contorted in stretching routines.

It seemed a long way from that last campsite in the canoe country, but this was another kind of good. People were loose and happy, ready to run 13.1 miles. Behind us another 13 miles, 6,000 more runners were gathering to run 26.2 miles.

Grandma's Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, 2012.

The starting horn must have sounded, but nobody standing near me had heard it. Slowly, this elongated caterpillar of humanity gathered itself together, oozed forward a hundred yards or so, then stretched apart again. Finally, we reached equilibrium, and everyone began trotting toward the Lester River.

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Along the way, we were serenaded by bagpipes, kazoos, tubas and subwoofers. We kept time with the tapping of our running shoes.

For the previous week or so, I had fed my soul with soothing silence in our journey through the canoe country. Now, I had joined this aerobic anniversary with thousands of others, feeding our soles great gulps of asphalt on the journey to Duluth.

I wouldn't have missed either one.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@ duluthnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at "twitter.com/samcookoutdoors."

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