Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not just any sunday

Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the world spins in such a way you stumble upon adoptive grandparents. A person who has acquired several decades of wisdom just happens to enter your life with the appearance and feel of a grandparent. As luck would have it, my neighbor Don, has shifted into the shape of a grandpa over the years I have known him.

Returning home means long conversations over coffee with Don, discussing my most recent travels. It means a return to the impromptu creek side assessments about life or pre-paid cell phone plans, or the endless observations about mother nature's artistic infusion of birds, beavers, or whatever else catches our attention while chatting next to the peaceful flow of water.

It also means going to the movies. Before noon of course. It's only five bucks before noon. He drives. We park downtown. We leave sufficient time to get coffee before the movie. I try to keep up with Don's inquisitive mind. I'm pretty sure we've sorted out most of the world's problems over such coffee stops.

Neither of us are very picky about what movie we watch.  Last week it was The King's Speech, today we saw The Mechanic. It's a Charles Bronson remake about a well trained assassin, full of well scripted macho dialogue, an extremely cool headed Jason Statham,  heart-pounding revenge, double-crossing, and as Don jokingly describes any film we see (regardless of storyline), full of "socially redeeming value". The movie played and the credits rolled.  We agreed it was a great movie.

I couldn't help make light of the brief nudity as we gathered our jackets from the seat backs.
"...and it was a bit of a love story as well," I said referring to the few gratuitous-however-brief-love-scenes scattered amidst an almost constant flow of bullets.
Not missing a beat, Don replied between chuckles "Yeah, that was touching."

Don drove up my driveway next to his house, I stepped out, thanked him for the movie and took notice of the beautiful sunny day. A January day they only dream about on the west side of the state. It wasn't long before I was enthralled with the gladiatorial battle being waged out the window. A few bald eagles have been hangin' around recently. But today it was a free-for-all above the bend in the creek between bald eagles and massive hawks of some sort. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots overhead.

A moment later I found my friend Tom at the front door. "TOM! Hey there's some crazy sh*t going on..." He interrupts me. "YEAH, i know, i saw two sheriff's cars, a fire truck, an ambulance and some kind of search and rescue team turn off onto Hangman Valley road." I was rather surprised at how much his "crazy sh*t" differed from the "eagles vs. hawks" I was referring to. So I grabbed my jacket and we did the only thing that made sense on this beautiful day, we raced out the door and onto his motorcycle.

Tom jumped behind the handle bars and I jumped... in the sidecar. Now understand it takes a certain level of humility to ride in a sidecar. The reason being you cannot help but feel like the driver's bitch when riding at such a lower level literally and figuratively. A demotion no self-respecting male (or female) would necessarily enjoy feeling. However, having already ridden sidecar a handful of times with Tom, I took my place in his basket of death with a respectable level of sidecar self-confidence.

It was only as we turned onto the freeway, gaining speed, did I start to question the rattle that sounded like a loose bolt. Glancing down I quickly reviewed how this piece of tin was attached to Tom's side. The thought of being in a motorcycle accident is not a pretty picture. Sitting in a sidecar thinking that same thought induces intense paranoia. So I did the first thing I thought of to calm my nerves. I silently quoted the badass Shakespeare quote I committed to memory about death and buried the image of me someday wearing a t-shirt that says "I  the jaws of life" way down in my brain.

We leaned right as the motorcycle turned onto Hangman valley road. It wasn't long before we were stopped by a sheirff who was turning traffic around near the scene of the accident. Just then a woman passed us on foot and said "Someone drove their car into the river." Not able to see much we pulled U turn as directed by the sheriff who's glance gave the look of "nuttin' ta' see here boys".

We headed back the way we came, deciding to ride to the top of Tower mountain, a few miles away. The temperature was dropping, but the sun was still making its case as the afternoon grew long.

Up and up we went, darting onto a dirt road near the top I asked Tom if he had taken this way before. "NO." he shouted over the roar of the motor. We passed several signs which informed us that, regardless of how a motorcycle with a sidecar can take two men into the wilds of south Spokane, it was still forbidden to pass onto private property. But we pressed on, until we found ourselves staring down a steep, rutted, dirt trail. "I don't know. Maybe we should turn around." Tom said with a degree of timidness that took me by surprise. I suspected his logical assessment of our situation had something to do with his imminent clash with fatherhood in a few weeks. In addition to the deteriorating road conditions I knew the last sign we passed stating something about a $1000 fine for trespassing was also eating at him.

I admit, I too had concerns not only about how steep the oncoming trail looked but also the looming threat of a sign that actually name's its price on those who choose to cross an invisible line. But no official sidecar companion, such as myself, ever entertains the possibility of "turning around". No, the sole purpose of the poor sucker sitting in the deathtrap is to be the ultimate believer that given the awesomeness of our transportation we can challenge both gravity and property rights without suffering any negative repercussions.

So, having successfully made my case, Tom proceeded forward. And yes, while driving down the steep, muddy, rutted, section of the trail, we each had our own thoughts about what injuries we would suffer if the downhill incline proved to be too much, pinning Tom on the ground and dropping me from the sidecar pointed skywards.

Thankfully, none of our worst fears were realized as we crossed over Tower mountain, passed by someone's house, and used their driveway to regain access to civilization. Back on the road, Tom informed me over the noisy motor, "Boy, I never get the chance to engage the sidecar's drive shaft. That was awesome!" adding "But I gotta admit, I was getting a little nervous back there." Looking up at him, hating how much I felt and looked like a seven year old in a sidecar, I yelled back "What were you worried about, the terrain or the trespassing?" Without hesitating he replied "BOTH."

The cut of the cold air was starting to get to us. Finding an upside to my oyster shell existence I took a moment to appreciate the cereal-box size windshield placed in front of me. I ducked low, maximizing its effectiveness. We looped around and found ourselves on the other side of the accident, this time with a clear view of the SUV in the river. Turns out, a woman, drunk, missed the hard left turn, smashed over a guardrail, down a 20 foot embankment, and managed to keep driving for another 60 yards straight into the creek/river, dragged out by a rescue team, taken to the hospital and charged with DUI. Looks like we have a new challenger for the "Beyond Stupid" award.

It was at this point in the ride that Tom informed me he couldn't feel his fingers. Always quick to make fun I stopped short, realizing how much more the driver is exposed to the elements than the legend sitting in the protective sidecar. We headed for home, his fingers beyond numb, ready for the ride to be over.
Sometimes you're lucky. Sometimes the world spins in such a way you cannot help but give thanks to how your neighbor's shape shifted into the form of a grandpa, how you arrived home to find a bunch of bald eagles battling hawks in your backyard, and how your friend Tom dropped by the house riding his Russian Ural.

And it all happened on a sunny day in January.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Inside Eric's workshop I stood staring at the beautiful eight foot long custom built tug boat he just finished building with a single thought on repeat, "PLEASE COME TRUE!"

My entire being was overcome with the wish to see a pack of boisterous gnomes run out from different hiding places in the shop, each one making a speedy circle around my towering legs before converging along the base of the tug boat, cursing and swearing like sailors while taking positions, then hoisting it upon their tiny shoulders they charge down to the lake, bursting into fits of loud laughter as they pile inside, making a clean get-away. All of this organized chaos unfolding with such a high degree of bewilderment neither Eric nor I have time to respond.

Sadly, even the little bit of lingering I did before saying goodbye couldn't make my wish come true.  The best I can do is head on down to the Spokane boat show where this great little tug boat (commissioned by the Spokane Yacht Club) will be proudly displayed, trusting that by day's end most of it will be marked with tiny foot prints, not from gnomes but from nice, little (human) children.

I know, tragic but true.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A road trip with David Foster Wallace

If pulled into thirds my life's last chunk has been a wonderful gob of gigs. Like the other day when I stopped in and said hello to Mike, one of the best bosses I have ever had. We shook hands and traded smiles. "Just the guy I wanted to see" he said before asking if I could swing down to the Tri-Cities (3 hour drive from Spokane) early this morning to pick up 30 bags of cement. "Sure!"
Last night I sat in front of an endless sea of online audio books. Who? Who wants to join me on this road trip? Twain? I briefly considered his new autobiography but passed, too long winded for the road, was looking for something more edgy. Maybe some fiction? And then it hit me, DFW.  David Foster Wallace was a writer of extreme intellect and immense talent who battled the beast of depression until 2008 when he took his own life.
I will not pretend to be as big of a DFW fan as Terry, who I met while staying at Shakespeare and Company. Talking with Terry about Wallace, seeing how much he knows and appreciates Wallace's work I couldn't help but become interested. Admittedly, I have only dabbled for the most part, reading some of David's amazing essays, with the hope of mustering the mental dedication it will take to conquer Infinite Jest, DFW's glowing masterpiece of fiction.

In the end I decided to download Although of course you end up becoming yourself: A road trip with David Foster Wallace for my trip. It turned out to be a collection of recorded conversations that give a rather personal look into David's brilliant world. The book was written by David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter at the time, who set out to interview the private Wallace shortly after the giant success of Infinite Jest. I wasn't even past Sprague Lake when I realized I had made a great pick. As it is an audio version, the book's long exchanges of taped dialogue (Q/A) between Lipsky and Wallace gave the awesome illusion that Wallace was riding shotgun.
Blazing back with bags of cement in the bed of Mike's massive pickup truck I can't say that this gig afforded me the same amount of insight that my apple run provided but the beauty of any road trip is that each one takes on a life of its own. This just happened to be one I will remember sharing with David Foster Wallace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

PHOTO ESSAY: lost in the mix

I'm being reminded how "blogs are tossed into the electronic ether like rolled-up notes floating in virtual bottles" while watching bald eagles dive bomb each other in aerial attacks out the window of my corner office here at home.  These airborne symbols of American patriotism seem to be camera shy so i'm still waiting to post a shot of them.

Nothing like a Saturday spent battling this blog page, trying to make little adjustments here and there. Being as technically challenged as I am, it's been a tedious few hours. I have also been tending to the time consuming transfer of photos from my netbook (which I use on the road) to a larger laptop I use at home.

Here's a few pics that caught my eye.
A few... as in 14.  Click on photos to enlarge-

Night falls over Paris
Frenchmen belting one out

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Along the Seine

Somewhere among the French Alps

In front of the Louvre 

A Camille Claudel sculpture

Horse trading can be tiring

Kyrgyz girl snacking

Kyrgyz family photo

Kyrgyz boys being boys

Big Ben being shy

An afternoon in the park

"Mom, who's this guy taking our photo?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the aftermath

Somehow I didn't hear them shout from shore "We'll meet you at the bridge!" while I was negotiating my cold ride on top of the capsized kayak. I was too busy preparing for what would be my impromptu "polar bear plunge" before ever reaching the bridge downstream. Soaked in shock I walked back to the house and past a neighbor. She stood gawking at my state of affairs. "Water's a little cold" I said. "Get those clothes off!" the woman responded. Thanks lady.

The house was empty and the car was gone. In all of my wet wisdom I assumed Matt and Alex had gone to rescue their stupid friend. Both left in such a state they forgot cell phones. So, without changing clothes I jumped in Ruth and began a search and rescue of my search and rescue team.

I found Alex at the bridge. Her upper body hung over the side of the guardrail "searching" the waters below. "Alex!" I shouted walking towards her. We then exchanged a few brief words of relief. "Matt's gone, he took off running after the kayak. I'll go look for him, you get those clothes off." I couldn't help but agree with her.

Back at home I plunged into the hot tub trying to put feeling in my fingers, then a quick change of clothes just before Alex opened the front door. "I can't find him." she said dejected. Without knowing Matt, one can't quite fully appreciate his.... dedication, his persistence, his -how shall i say- incredible stubbornness. "Well, let's go look for him."

I rallied Ruth to life, Alex jumped back in the Jeep. Off we went to find my good friend Matt. The Latah creek runs by my house then meanders its way past a golf course, skirting along the Pullman highway until it dumps into the Spokane River. Alex and I decided to get on the highway and leap frog sections of the creek/river looking for Matt.

I pulled Ruth off to the side of the highway, put the emergency flashers on her and left her running. I left her running because she has developed an odd habit over the last year of not turning off when you turn the key and take it out of the ignition. You can literally be holding the key in your hand having taken it out of the ignition and she will keep on running as if you had never intended to stop her. The only way to shut her off is to pop the hood, and hold down a special red "STOP" button which chokes the engine into submission. Did I have time for all that? No.

Running and shouting "MATT!" I was a few hundred yards from the highway scanning the section of river for my bearded search and rescue team when I felt my phone vibrating. "Alex, did you find him!" "No, but did a cop pull you over?!" "NO. WHY. Is there a cop behind my car?" "Yes." "@!#$%"

Sprinting over a grassy knoll of the golf course I saw an officer, arms folded as if knowing I was going to come from that direction. I got within five feet of him, out of breath. "Do you want your $150 ticket now or later?" "Officer, please, I am looking for my friend who thinks I'm dead. I flipped my kayak a few minutes ago and my friend is looking for me."

Seemingly unfazed his hand reached for the CB radio attached to his shoulder. "Yeah dispatch, if anyone calls in a capsized kayaker on Latah creek, he's been located." Turning his attention back to me, he seemed both amused and bewildered with my story. "I know, its crazy and stupid on my part and I apologize officer." With a half smile he said "Well, let me see some ID." I tapped both pant pockets, nothing. "Officer, I left my house in a big hurry, I dont have any ID." "Your fly is down." He said without hesitating. With a quick zip we moved on- "well, what's stopping someone from stealing your car that you left running." "Officer.  The car doesn't turn off when you take the key out of the ignition, so I left it running."

I remember thinking at this point all of what I am saying is sounding very odd however true it actually is. "...But my friend is still out there looking for me." AKA can we wrap up this investigation of an idiot. "Do you want a ticket?" he said facetiously. "No". With that we exchanged smiles and I got back in Ruth. (side note- this makes the forth time Ruth and I have explained our way out of a ticket.)

Alex called again just as I was looking for another place to pull over further down the highway. "I found Matt, we're at the gas station." I pulled into the parking lot next to the jeep, Matt wet from his personal adventure that ended with him chest deep in the water pulling the kayak out of the river, looking like he should, cold but delighted his dedication paid off.

The three of us stood together half laughing. I have always enjoyed being the third wheel in their relationship, but its moments like these that make me really appreciate how close we have become.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond stupid

-I have long appreciated the word flow, how it can be used to describe both the passing of time and the movement water. Now, as I say it out loud, I even like the way my lips curl as it rolls off my tongue into the air-

It seemed like a good idea. I remember thinking this even up to the last second before my kayak flipped in 42F (5.5C) degree water the other day. Matt, Alex and I were having a laugh, running a small set of rapids down what is normally a calm creek in front of my house. However, the last few days had warmed the surrounding mountains in the Inland Northwest and an unusual January runoff had super-sized the amount of water and the roll of the rapids. I thought what harm could there be in shooting the middle set.

They say body heat is lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. Something I could not fully appreciate until I decided to ditch the capsized kayak. A frigid rush of water engulfed my chest, gasping for breath but inhaling a mouth-full of water instead, my arms thrashed their way towards shore, fighting against the natural flow of melted snow. I remember the sensation of my hand gripping a clump of reeds sprouting above the water next to the swollen bank. Drenched in adrenaline I managed the cold walk back to the house. 

Dry, warm and safely ashore I sit here the day after, thinking maybe I wasn't as close to the edge as I thought I was during those handful of frantic moments. Staring out, surveying the same rush of runoff from the kitchen window it seems almost like a day-dream now. I guess it's like Hunter Thompson said, "the edge.... there is no honest way to explain it because the people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."

Among the valuable lessons I am taking from this experience is how I prefer the phrase "going with the flow" more metaphorically than literally.

(Blair Witch footage provided by my good friend Alex. 
Kayak recovered by my good friend Matt)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

bringing it home

In all of my travels I have never chosen to sit in the first row on any airplane. But with Southwest's "open seating" policy I found myself spontaneously sitting in the first row on the short flight over the Cascades to celebrate my friends birthday.

At first glance they were easy to miss. The set of lifeless legs seated next to me. From the waist up his strong build carried the look of a rugged cowboy. Mid 40s with a full head of fine blonde hair, trimmed tight, a sharp line disappearing behind each ear. A well manicured mustache that appeared almost fake had the color not been so perfectly matched to his hair. His eyes, one badly blood shot, damaged I imagined doing something on the farm, gazed down with shades of dark blue when he spoke, unable, or more likely too painful to turn his neck. His red collared shirt would have seemed like business casual on its own. But a clay colored vest embroidered with NFPB (National Federation of Professional Bullriders) pushed it into the realm of formal farm wear.

I rarely initiate conversation on flights. "How are you doin' today" I said just before take off. Casting his gaze on the open middle seat between us, he paused for a split second, interlocking his hands like one does when giving a leg-up to a horse he slid them under his thigh and readjusted the position of his right leg.  "Not bad, and yourself?" he said in a low, raspy voice still holding his head down and to the right.

For the next hour, we shared thoughts on life. He spoke about his two daughters, his wife, his medical supply business. I told him of my recent travels, my buddies birthday party. We traded bits of banter about sports and cars and the inland northwest. I could feel a childish temptation to ask how he had become paralyzed. But I didn't. I told myself "don't be that person."

The plane dropped low for landing, "Well, I'm the last one off so enjoy your party?" he said with a chuckle and half smile. It was then that we discovered we were scheduled for the same return flight the following day. "Doug, I hope we'll see each other tomorrow."

I arrived at the gate eager to find Doug. A few minutes past before I spotted him wheeling towards me, his carry-on suitcase strapped close to the front of his thin legs. "Doug!" I said with a big smile. Both of us started trading stories like old friends. A women approached us a few minutes later, "Doug, right?" "Thank you so much for volunteering in my PT classes." They laughed, reminiscing for a few minutes about how some students can't handle all that is associated with assisting those who are paralyzed. In the dull light of the airport terminal I noticed the small halo traction scars left behind by the screws that they drilled in between gaps of his hairline and eyebrows.

Everyone began boarding the plane. Not surprisingly I found myself back in my same seat next to Doug. The topic of women jumped onto the runway while the plane taxied for takeoff. Somehow I got this crazy cool cowboy talking about love and the heartache that comes with it. We were having some good laughs along with serious discussion about the subject when I leaned in and asked him my favorite question whenever I come across someone who seems to be, for all intents and purposes "happily married".

"Doug, if you dont mind me asking, how did you know your wife was the one you should marry?"
A big smile comes over his face, glancing down at his legs he says "you know, that's not the question I often get asked on these plane rides." I hadn't realized how my introduction to the question had the appearance of going down a different direction until he looked at his legs.

"I knew her for six months before I asked her to marry me, I was 25. It sounds crazy and I'm sure you've heard it before but you just know, I knew I wanted to marry her. We had been married for three months when I was hit by a drunk driver. I was within an inch of my life, my wife was with me every day for the six months in the hospital. And we've been married 20 years now."

A moment past without either of us saying anything. Then, laughing a little before he leaned in, his neck still just as stiff as a starched shirt, "Sorry to ruin your question about love with that heavy answer." I hesitated, "You didn't ruin it, you brought it home."

I sat in my chair, the cabin dark with the night sky, thinking about how an answer to a single question can capture so much about life and living and loving. As the plane touched down in Spokane, Doug added "We live in a disposable society. Often we cut and run when the going gets tough. Relationships are no exception. But I was lucky enough to have found someone who stuck by me. Well, I'm the last one off, take care Brad."

There will never be another flight where I will not look to see if Doug is sitting in the front row.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Part 2: not just a car.

My hands grip the wheel, remembering the years we spent together. Remembering our epic trip around America. How we drove over the golden gate bridge down the 101 from SF to San Diego. Remembering our campsite in Santa Barbara how much we enjoyed the generous meal shared with that white Rasta and his wife who invented the first recipe for vegan cheese, more money than god and they were just a cool couple camping next to Ruth and I.
Remembering how Ruth raced my friends and I away from the crazed drunkards that over ran what was turning out to be a pretty great party. Then blazing through the scorching desert past Palm Springs, camping under a Josha Tree, then running along the Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, wrapping back towards Zion National Park, hiking up to the angels' landing, pushing east, stopping to see the pillars of glowing red clay in Bryce Canyon one minute before a snow storm covered everything white. Spending a day to see natural bridges cut between to canyons in southern Utah cut by wind and time and weather and mother nature's creative talents. Meeting a middle aged women who liked Jim Beam and believed camping doesn't mean shitty cooking, she also believed, the following day, as we ventured way out into the wilderness that her Subaru wagon could withstand extreme abuse. After brushing off my suggestion she might consider buying something with 4-wheel drive, she assured me the car is doing just fine as we threaded along massive gaps in the dirt road, both axles on the brink of breaking, remembering how the whites of my eyes went wide with fear as she mentioned the possibility of us having to spend the night in the car (together), should flash floods catch us, still hearing her say in perfect pitch, "I only buy cars that I can sleep in and that I can @#$% in."
Never more happy to see Ruth than after that little day trip I took with that wild woman. Moving on through Durango, over the Rio Grande river, sweeping past northern New Mexico, then cutting across the top of Texas, connecting with my roots in Oklahoma, Ruth and I searching for a headstone, lost in the prairie among the buffalo.
Amazed in Memphis, where we shared a drink with Russell, the owner of Earnestine and Hazel's, (the coolest drinking establishment IN AMERICA), saw the Loraine motel where MLK was shot, (all of it sounding too much like that cheesy movie that Orlando Bloom starred in) seeing where Dr. King's dream became not just his but America's. Up and down the Shenandoah valley, listening to John Denver, the sun roof open, Ruth feeling every inch of those crazy hills. The beard was getting long when we reached my sister and brother-in-law in Philly, shared some laughs then pushed on, towards our goal of getting her back to where my great aunt drove her oh so many years ago, Long Island.
Down 34th street, passing the empire state building, onto the long island, jammed with traffic, "buddy" i say to the cabbie stuck next to Ruth and I in traffic jam "is it always like this". Chuckling " 'ey kid, its the long island expressway, the longest parking lot in america".
We reach the house where my great aunt lived, an old women opened the door, and a boy wearing his grandfather's cowboy hat, driving his great aunt Ruth's car, weathered with a long black beard, stood as tears formed in front of this perfect stranger, because it was never just a road trip, it was never just getting Ruth back "home". It was always about connecting with the spirit an amazing lady I never really knew. I listened to stories from the old women who told of my great aunt Ruth's zest for life, but then it was time to go. I never thought, nor did my mechanic, Ruth would make it this far, so the question was what to do with her now.
"I guess you could drive her back" my mom said. And that's just what Ruth and I did, headed west, across Pennsylvania, stopped off and visited an old friend in Chicago, went on a savage burn as Hunter would say across Iowa at 4AM, listening as On the Road played by Kerouac, his words making perfect sense in such a state at such an hour in such a car on such a trip. Twisting around the road long enough to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore. Standing next to Custer's last stand, cruising across montana, and stopping off at my mechanic's before home, showing him where Ruth took me without troubles.
But she's old now. She's tired, she has endless issues, a tragic state of affairs every time i return from my travels. this could be the end of a long and beautiful run.  My hands still grip the big round wheel, an endless flow of memories cover my mind. It makes no sense to be sad over this hunk of steel, but to sink into her seat and stare down a long stretch of open road, is to be full of life and love.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A running resolution

Though the snow was coming down hard today, I laced up my shoes and headed out into the winter weather for a short run. There was a time when I ran 26.2 miles in a single day. What follows is a story about one of those days.

A journey of 26.2 miles begins with a single step, or at least that is what Confucius would have said as I stood shoulder to elbow with a few 16,000 other runners (almost all European) at the start of the Stockholm marathon. As I stood at the back of the start line an excited Swedish announcer shouted out what I imagined to be words of Swedish inspiration while my knees and legs had plans of their own. They tried desperately to convince my brain that their leader had gone mad and mutiny was the only option.  I admit, my legs had a good argument. My amount of training for such a distance could be brought into question. Two choice words that Runners World magazine might use would be "severely inadequate". But my mind held firm, I had crossed ocean to see this goal through to the end.

Though youth was on my side, history was not. The first man ever to run a marathon died after he finished, in fact the evolution of the marathon is a brief story worth telling. The marathon race commemorates the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C., His mission was to deliver news of the Greek's victory over the Persians. Sadly Pheidippides died at the end of his historic run. When the Olympic games were held in 1896 in Greece, Pheidippides' epic run was recreated by a 24.85 mile run from Marathon Bridge to Olympic stadium in Athens. The first organized marathon on April 10, 1896 had a total of twenty-five runners. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker came in first, his time was 2 hours, 58 minutes. When it was all over nine runners finished, 8 of them Greeks. At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, with 385 yards added on so the race could finish in front of King Edward VII's royal box. After 16 years of discussion, 26.2 miles was deemed the official marathon distance at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Here is a mental transcript of my 26.2 jog across Stockholm in 3 mile intervals:

mile 3: What a great idea this was!
mile 6: Look at all these nice Swedish people along the roads yelling god only knows what.
mile 9: And to think I was worried about how little I trained.
mile 13: Halfway there. hmmm. Only halfway. interesting.
mile 16: It will be fun to sight-see around Stockholm in a wheelchair tomorrow.
mile 19: The great marathon runner Toshihiko Seko who once said "the marathon is my only girlfriend. I give her everything I have" Applying this wisdom, I have just given her everything I have, we are fighting about how I should give her more, and considering we are going to fight for the last several miles of the race I see myself introducing our breakup with "It's not you, it's me."
mile 22: I wonder how I would feel right now if I had actually trained properly.
mile 24: I have a few choice words for Pheidippides.
mile 26: So happy that I get to run an extra .2 of a mile thanks to King Edward's royal f-ing box.

The Stockholm marathon finished with a half lap around the 1912 Olympic stadium. I waited for this moment the entire race imagining the 83 world records that have been set in the stadium. A picture made even easier to visualize with it filled to capacity with cheering fans.

The fading hours of daylight stretched across the city as I made my way along the lower field behind the stadium where the finishers gathered after the race. Loud speakers carried the announcement that the official registration for next year's marathon was officially open. 

Maybe it was just me, watching as a sea of runners hobbled down the stairs (myself included) like a pack of senior citizens during a fire drill, but the last thing on my mind at that moment was committing to run another 26.2 miles.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Where we at? Who's left?

In the nerdy world of blogging, it seems the only thing more sinister than neglecting to post is making preemptive excuses for not making future posts. However, to the remaining few who are still following, bare with me and my notes as they adjust to the small town in America's northwestern corner, where I will refuel my bank account, regain some ground I lost with old friends and take a breather from life on the road.
I will do my best to keep the lights on, but be warned the photos and the stories will be far from the humanitarian effort in Kyrgyzstan, a long way from the bread oven tucked up on a hillside in the south of France, nowhere near the bike that delivered me over the French Alps, and painfully distant from that bookshop along the Seine.

Here's to a new year. Join me for the odd jobs, the random stories, the long laughs and all else that grows from what my buddy Keat's called Negative Capability.

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