November 24, 2015
Even though “The Keystone State” is technically Pennsylvania, for me it is South Carolina. Geographically, South Carolina looks somewhat like a keystone, an inverted triangle wedged between Appalachia and the Atlantic. Figuratively, it locks my other states into position, bridging the gap between states I’d run in and those to come.
South Carolina as the 29th state marked just over the halfway point of this project. On the bases of both sides of the keystone are the first 28 states. The firmly stacked stones on the left are the unintentional running achievements in states I had lived in or visited multiple times: Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Oregon and California. On the base of the right are the clusters of states I had visited with the purpose of running: New England, the Mid-Atlantic, The South and now Appalachia. The experience of running in South Carolina was both challenging and easy, planned yet surprising, sluggish and triumphant.
My friend Rebecca and I had to pick up our friends at the Greenville airport around 4. We’d sketched an itinerary that began with a hearty Asheville breakfast and would finish with a 5k run on a greenway in Greenville. That morning, right on target, we paced ourselves through biscuits, bacon, and breakfast burritos with fresh avocado. Our charmingly-Asheville waiter, clad in requisite flannel and knit cap, flirted with us in the southern hipster style. The check-ins were warm and lingering. The coffee flowed. When Rebecca showed him my Spotify playlist “Breaking Badass,” he was genuinely impressed at the inclusion of both Creedence Clearwater Revival and Gnarls Barkley. As Rebecca took her final sip of coffee, sharing that we were off to run in my 29th state, our waiter leaned back in surprise, revealing a wedding ring. Alas, some goals cannot be attained. Others, like running in South Carolina, were just over an hour away.
Once in Greenville we caught glimpses of the greenway outside the passenger window. So we opted to park the car and venture on foot to locate the trail. Rebecca in hipster cap, puffy vest and cowboy boots and I in a mint-green running top and black pants we must have been a sight as we walked passed an arts center, the office of the Greenville News, and a few construction sites. We found a park where city workers were repairing a stone bridge. Rebecca asked directions to the greenway. The workers replied and told us to have a good day. Rebecca thanked them with a drawling, “ya’ll do the same.” We were in South Carolina now.
We connected with the trail at a small bridge, two benches and sculpture of an airplane. Even though North Carolina is the home of “first in flight,” I sensed that the photo documenting South Carolina’s run should be with this plane. Rebecca stood back and helped me set up the shot. First beneath a wing, hands pressed to the bottom as if I was supporting it. Then I gripped the wing and balanced on one foot as if I were holding on for dear life. That was the shot. It perfectly captures the momentum of kin50states: the fearless drive paired with the jaw-clenching terror of wondering if my ankle would hold up for two 5ks, two days in a row. I let go of the plane, waved goodbye to Rebecca and started running.
The trail started out winding and flat but about half a mile in it climbed up steep, stone steps and over dusty hills. Had my ankle been stronger, I would have welcomed the diverse terrain but that day I was still tentative. I opted for a branching off flat path with an even surface. Soon that path become a narrow road leading out of the trail park into a neighborhood of colonial homes. I started to feel like myself again: there were forks in the road. I had to make choices and I was able to make those choices based on what I felt was safe and kind to my body yet in line with my goals. Soon I had to flip around and run back the way I came to get in more mileage. That was ok too. I passed Rebecca sitting on a bench still reading and panted, “a mile to go!” In that last mile I felt the sluggishness of the return to running coupled with the triumph of conquering my 29th state the day after my 28th state. I was holding on to the wing of the plane yet still flying. When I approached Rebecca on the bench for the last time I saw her standing, iPhone in hand, ready to capture my final steps.
After my run, Rebecca and I spent the next hour strolling the trail back to the car. We stopped to linger on a bridge overlooking a waterfall and those same stone steps I had cautiously avoided on the run. It was a beautiful urban park—one that I never would have found had I not needed to run in South Carolina. It’s just what I love about 5kin50states: the opportunity to connect with a friend and visit a little–known spot of the US. I smiled looking down at the families playing on the rocks beside the waterfall. We were all there together enjoying the park, but to me the moment was so much bigger.
On our way back to car we stopped in the arts center to use what I was sure to be a “really nice bathroom” (I was right). Walking out we passed a counter with a pile of nameplates. I fanned them out and uncovered, amidst names I’d never heard of, Diana Ross. The Supreme. The soloist. The diva. There she was, just tucked beneath the no-names, ready to shine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Diana Ross. I don’t run far or fast, but I do keep at it. I am tenacious. My running career has spanned three decades and I hope it spans three more. At the keystone of 5kin50states, just over halfway through, I had a grin on my face and my hands in the air. Ain’t no mountain high enough.