"Looks like I may get to run in some snow this afternoon. I know how much you used to love running with me with the big flakes falling around us" he said to her. Of course she made no response. She had been here in the nursing home for nearly two years now and any memory she may have had of those days were long gone, wiped away by the terrible dementia that had slowly but surely taken over her mind. For many years she had been his closest friend and confidante as well as running partner. In fact he called her his Princess although she was not "THE" Princess.. No, they had never had that type of relationship but they did love each other in the way that dear friends do.
Although her mind and memory were gone he still came to visit every weekend. Usually he would come to visit after his run and tell her all about his adventures but today he came early before running . He stood and leaned over to give her one last kiss on the cheek and quietly turned to leave. He missed her so much but she was lost to him.
It was just a short drive to the trailhead which led to the mountain summit. The skies were overcast and gray with a calm in the air and he could smell the snow that was forecasted to began falling shortly. He stepped out into the cold and began to shuffle at first but as the old muscles began to warm the motion became fluid and he felt young and alive again. The run was always there for him as it had been for over 50 years although he was now always alone, all the friends who had shared the miles dead or moved on.
Still, he tried to get out everyday but his favorite run was the one once a month up to the mountain. It was here that he felt most at peace although it was now tinged with a bit of sadness as he thought of those special ones that had shared the miles with him so many years ago. The miles passed quickly as he bounded over the rocks and roots along the way so familiar to him that he could nearly run with his eyes closed and he savored every moment. The snow was starting to fall now lightly at first but soon the flakes had become huge. Oh, so beautiful and it brought a smile to his face. But now the trail was becoming steeper and the wind was beginning to pick up and he noticed the chill cutting into him.
He soon passed a young couple of hikers that were descending from the summit. They said things were getting bad and they had turned back and advised him that he should do the same. He thanked them for their concern and assurred them that he would be turning around very soon once he got to the scenic overlook. He hated lying to them but he really didn't need them worrying about him. He would be going to the summit today.
Quickly now the ground was covered in white and conditions were deteriorating but on he ran. Slowly his energy was failing and he began to shiver as he moved ever slower up the steep trail. Confusion started eating into his mind and the smooth stride was becoming almost a drunken stagger. He expected this having suffered hypothermia before in high moutain races before and oddly he welcomed the feeling today. Only a mile to go to reach the summit and by sheer will and determination he continued on, one step at a time.
And then suddenly as if from a dream, through the near whiteout blizzard conditions he saw someone coming down from the top and in a moment he recognized her. She was just as she had always been, forever young and beautiful, athletic with the long flowing brown hair as illustrated in the book of his childhood. She stopped in front of him with a huge warm welcoming smile and said, "I have been waiting for you !" Tears began to stream down his face and without a word they embraced as if they had known and loved each other a lifetime.
Slowly Ranger Smith and his crew trudged forward through the foot of freshly fallen snow. There had been one lone car in the parking lot at the trailhead this morning and he was not feeling very hopeful that this was going to be a rescue. The young couple had reported when they came off the mountain late afternoon the day before that there was an older gentleman running up toward the summit. All the team could do was wait out the storm and hope for the best but after years of patrolling these trails he knew that with little opportunity for shelter that it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to surive the night up there.
Although it was expected, it never got easy finding a body. Slowly he approached the scene and a puzzled look came over his face. Too many times he had done the same but never before had he seen anything like this. The old man was sitting with his arms wrapped around a tree as if holding on for his life but strangest of all he could swear that there was a smile frozen on the face of the old runner.