the longest, darkest leg of my kentucky relay race started out quite nicely. i received the team bib from my college roommate at around two in the morning, barreled through a grove of red cedars and past an abandoned shack with a NIGHTMARE FOREST banner, and felt my lungs opening up to the blackness in a way they'd refused to do for my early-evening leg on the bluffs above the ohio river. then, around mile two or so, a second dinner: my left toe caught a root and i went down, hard, on my left hand and right knee (diminutive head lamp and nearly-forty-year-old eyes, you're not always a match for technical running in the wee hours). i assured the runner who passed me as i got back up—one of just four i met on the trail—that i was fine, and he said he'd done the same thing a mile back. i shook off my surprise, stuck to a trot for the next mile or so to give my heart a bit of time to quit galloping from the pain, and imagined my beloved owls at the bird hospital. my thoughts contract at that hour in manhattan, and they tighten even more when i'm watching and listening for unexpected company in NIGHTMARE FOREST. this race lacked the otherworldly rain that made the woods in new jersey feel like the upside down, but it condensed me in a way that was incredibly reassuring; there's a moonbather for every sunbather if you know where to look (it's no accident that "tonight, tonight" makes all the ragnar village playlists). i gave the bib to my sister at half past three, limped back to our campsite, and wet-wiped away the dirt and blood i was able to see by lanternlight. our coffee was frozen over in the morning. it was fucking great.