Remember the lyric from that Talking Heads song that goes, "You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile..." Well, I found myself in the middle of a Christian youth camp deep in the backwoods of Charlestown, N.H., getting ready to run what amounts to an unusual 5K.
The setting? Camp Good News, a 240-acre reserve run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of New Hampshire, which describes itself as "a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible believing church for Christian living."
Well, a race is a race, and I needed Charlestown, so off I went. This was actually the second time I tried running the Camp Good News 5K Gallop. Last year, I got to town the morning of the race without enough time to find it. I once coveredCharlestown when I was a reporter for the area's daily paper, The Eagle-Times, so I thought I knew where it was, but nope. This time, however, I did a bit more research (it really is in a remote part of town) and also left home a little early on the morning of the race, all of which added up to success this time around.
The grounds and buildings look pretty like any other summer camp, with a few Christian touches added: a long structure with a peaked roof had a small white steeple perched on it; the dining hall had a puppet theatre with backstage props that included signs reading "Obey" and a white cross with 'Jesus' written on it. (Sorry, no photos this time around as the camera is still missing in action.)
People on hand the morning of the race were all nice and polite, but it was a little too Protestant-God-oriented for someone like me, who might be described as a lapsed-Catholic-turned-inactive-Unitarian-skeptic. In the dining room, a few guys were setting up a sound system for a concert of Christian music and one wore a black T-shirt reading "GOD'S GYM" and emblazoned with a drawing of Jesus lifting the cross above him; a younger kid was wearing an oversized t-shirt with the slogan: UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. OWNED AND OPERATED BY GOD. That sort of thing.
And though I didn't feel unwelcome, I think the people there sensed my "outsiderness" and so kept their distance.
The 5K course itself was unusual: one could choose between running a twisting path through the grounds a total of six times, or run the twisting path once and then scoot up and back down a dirt road that provides access to Camp Good News. The start found about 30 of us standing in the rain; once underway, it seems most everyone (runners and walkers) opted for hill option. It wasn't terrible, but parts of it were nearly as bad as last week's arduous ascent of Pack Monadnock Mountain.
My finishing time of 31:01 wasn't that great, but pretty good considering the hill, which slowed me down but I managed to keep running through the entire course. Coming down the hill back to the camp, my runner's bib (made of paper) came loose in one corner, creating a distraction as I ran one last time through the twisting course prior to the finish line. When crossing, I was surprised to notice the bib completely gone, but the nice ladies believed me when I said I was No. 123, and nodded approval at my offer to go back and find it.
I did find it, right next to my car, where it had finally come off in the midst of the pre-finish line excitement. And then, after picking up a couple of bananas from the dining hall, it was back to the car and to the open road, satisfied that I'd bagged Charlestown, Town #112.