Minnesota

I expected Minnesota to be like Iowa. Not just because they’re both in the Midwest, but because they’re both other-side-of-the-Mississippi runs. Even though Iowa was on a cold, cloudy morning, and Minnesota would be a warm, sunny afternoon I imagined I’d have similar experiences in the two states. The difference came because I had a partner.

In the past three months my boyfriend Chuck has joined me to run in three states. He’s a runner too and has his own project of ascending every state high-point, so joining me in my journey is a natural fit. In fact, I could easily see him joining me for the next eleven states. I could also see one of more of those states as girls trip or even a solo adventure. That’s the fun of this project: I never know exactly what the next state’s travel and run will look like. Sure, I started with places I wanted to visit and then made plans but I’ve never planned more than a handful of states ahead. What’s more exciting is that once I’m in a state, as well-planned as a run can be, I can never quite picture the route. I’d run the National Mall I’d seen in pictures and accomplished tons of courses I’d plotted on Google maps, but truly seeing each step of the route is usually not possible. Not until Minnesota.

Chuck and I drove to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border from northern Wisconsin. We drove over the Mississippi to a dropped pin on my iPhone map. That pin was off a main road on a stretch of homes along the river. As soon as we arrived I thought, “yeah, I could run this.” Though I’d been hoping for a tree-lined path, the homes had a mix of modern and colonial architecture I imagined myself gazing up at as I ran. There was a bit of construction going on under a rust-colored steel bridge but there was also a green marsh on the other aide. I was content to stop right there, get out of the car and explore on foot. Instead, Chuck kept driving. I thought we were going just a little further down to park but we continued to drive down the street. Houses continued on one side as the marsh turned to railroad tracks and a community garden, tall with sunflowers, on the other. I sort of wanted him to stop driving but he had been so kind and patient to do all the driving that I wanted him to stop where he was comfortable. When we came to a dead end after a little over a mile, my heart sank a little. We’d just driven the whole running route. Some people may find knowing exactly where you’re going to run comforting. But I kind of liked the surprise of it all. In fact, part of the point of the project was to put myself in new places and situations to see what would feel right. In the last few years of searching for relationships and jobs that would stick, I had learned to embrace the exploration. So, I thought to myself as we circled back to park, “now we’ve seen it. Now I know exactly where I’m going.”

When we got out and started to run I thought what it meant to know exactly where I was going. On one hand, I knew to watch for those beautiful houses and sunflowers I’d seen from the car. On the other hand, I thought I might get bored because there would be no surprises on the run.  Then I thought—more symbolically about my relationship—what it meant to know where I was going with no surprises. So much of life is uncertain, especially right now when the person running the country launches one fury of hatred after the next. It would be nice, for the first time in a romantic relationship, to know that I had someone I could count on in the midst of so much uncertainty.  Whether or not Chuck runs with me in the next 11 states, trusting that he’s with me in life is a comfort I’ve never had before.

That peace of mind was far greater than the physical sensation of running. It was hot, sticky, and the huge slab of award-winning frozen chocolate mousse pie I’d enjoyed just an hour earlier was not helping the situation. Still, would I rather run with a terrific partner after having a terrific piece of pie or run alone, without dessert, as I had so many times before? The answer was partner and pie for sure. For the last half mile Chuck and I ran alongside the marsh. It was still hot, the pie was still there, and to add to it we had to keep swatting little black bugs from our faces and arms. Then I looked at Chuck and he looked at me. Both of our chests were covered in bugs. When we got back to the car he dusted them off himself and I helped him brush off the bugs he couldn’t see. Then he did the same for me. So I guess I hadn’t known exactly how the run would be. Just because there are big houses and pretty gardens doesn’t mean there won’t be a swarm of nasty critters nearby. The best we can hope for is a safe place to run and a special someone to join us. Bugs are always around but pie and a partner make them a little more manageable.

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Tennessee

In my last entry on New Mexico almost a year ago I wrote about giving up a time goal to enjoy the experience of running. I reflected on the cycles of running and writing and the balance I wanted to create between the two. Like the 34 states before, I wrote about my love of travel to new places with friends. My previous entries reflected on relationships, career, and training. And while some posts were about the beauty and experience of the state I happened to be running in, they didn’t tie one state to another as a whole country. I think of this project less about running through the U.S. and more about taking one state at a time: crossing each bridge when I come to it.

In Tennessee my boyfriend and I found an out-and-back trail that took us across a beautiful wooden bridge. Other than swatting the flies and bees that muggy morning, it was a pretty easy run. So easy that on the way back across the bridge I said, “Do you want to go fast?” We ran our hearts out across the final stretch because simply running was too easy. Even though we were hot and sweaty we sped across the bridge together because we had the energy to do so. We had “crossed the bridge” of complacent running to running fast and giving it our all.

Since November I, like many people, have been thinking of the intolerability of the state of our nation. It reminds me of what my mentor teacher during my 6th grade student teaching used to say to misbehaving students: “I’m not ok with that.” When a student was out of line, she didn’t start by reprimanding the student or implementing a consequence. She first gave their behavior a value statement. By stating “I’m not ok with that,” she took a stance. In the classroom there’s no time to reflect on whether or not behavior is ok. It’s a moment-to-moment job and all eyes are on you. There’s no time to wonder what’s right and wrong—you know it in your gut and it’s your job to lead by example.

In the “real world” outside of the classroom sometimes there is more time to decide what we’re “ok with.” It’s the way we shift our careers when a job becomes so intolerable we schedule informational interviews with dozens of one-off contacts in hopes that someday we will land in a role that truly matches our strengths and interests. I’ve done that. We decide what we’re ok with in relationships when we finally clue-in to the fact that a guy’s lag time in contact is just too few and far between to be a partner. I’ve been there too. Often, we think we have the luxury of time when deciding what is right.

The other week on the bus I watched a fist fight that nobody did anything about. I looked around waiting for someone to step in: someone tall and built or a strong-willed pacifist on their way to a job at the non-profit. But nothing. My fellow wide-eyed bus-riders and I watched punches thrown and we watched each other. We tucked our earbuds in a little bit deeper. I couldn’t believe it. Then, something else happened during the fight that surprised me. When the woman seated next to me leaned away from the fight towards me, I instinctively put my arm her. Then we sat there for another 30 seconds, maybe a minute, while the fight broke up. All three men fighting got off the bus. I was relieved, expecting that the bus driver would yell at them or the police would come. But nobody came. As far I could see the driver said nothing. Most appallingly all three of these men got back on the bus. The driver still did nothing.

This is America now. This is what happens every day. People display unacceptable behavior over and over again and we watch, feeling powerless or maybe just plain terrified. We wonder, “How did we get to a place where this is ok?” “Why do the people in charge not do anything?” This happens in blue and red states, in the most expected and unexpected places. A week after I wrote this paragraph, Charlottesville happened.

I know it’s pretty likely that if you’re reading this you too are not ok with the way things are. I know we each have our own ways of coping and making a difference. I know there are many organizations doing amazing things to oppose the leadership and policies they too are not ok with.  I did a little research and I like how South Poverty Law Center explicitly names the hateful and unjust attitudes and behavior they oppose. So, I ask you to join me in donating to this organization who addresses the “not ok” feeling because we’re on this bus together and the wheels are off the bus.

What does a “not ok” feeling have to do with running? Maybe running is a way to deal with things you’re not ok with. I’ve run because I wanted to be faster. I started running a 5K in every state because I wasn’t ok with my career, romantic relationship, or where I lived. I ran to help make them ok. I’ve taken my “not ok” feelings one step, one mile, one state at a time. And four years later, all three of those things got better. But now here I am at 37 states panicked at what is next for our country. We’ve crossed that bridge–I guess we crossed it a long time ago. Join me in picking up speed and giving it our all.

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New Mexico

9/22/16

New Mexico was the only 5K in 50 states that was a 5K race, not just 3.1 miles logged on the clock. Usually I wouldn’t sign up for a race that short but the gals I ran with in Santa Barbara were planning a running trip to Santa Fe for a long weekend.  Running in a new state with fun ladies? Sold! Then I decided to up the ante. Like the half marathon in Florida, I decided to run this race for speed. I’d been in good shape and had added barre3 workouts to my routine over the summer. The time was right to go fast. I chose a very aggressive time goal—so aggressive I won’t even name it–, a 12-week training plan, and got going. I felt great. Yes, it was really hard to hit the pace on both tempo runs and speed work, but it was the right time for a challenge. I was happy in my job and relationships. Training was the place where I pushed myself to discomfort. I made it to week 8, right on track, and then I got sick.

The hardest part about being sick wasn’t being absent from and making up work, missing and rescheduling social plans, or vomiting across my living room floor and then picking out grains of rice from my white shag carpeting. It wasn’t even not being able to run. The hardest part was missing the training, knowing that I would have to forfeit my time goal. The ability to meet my goal had been taken away from me. I knew there would be other opportunities to run a fast 5K but the loss of that opportunity made me think about how closely I pay attention to and value time.

As a former teacher, and coming from a family of former teachers, time is often top of mind. Both my mom and I break down household activities, be it cleaning the kitchen or leisurely (on the clock) reading,  into 15 minute increments.  Even things I do for fun are tracked, which explains why it was so satisfying to train for a time goal. But because I got sick, my training was on-track until it wasn’t. Time is everything to me until it can’t be. As for New Mexico, here’s why time didn’t matter at all.

I’d been so focused on time I hadn’t thought about the time…..the experience…..I would have in New Mexico. The first surprisingly cool thing about the trip was just days before, the photographer who shot my barre3 photo session said she was doing the same Santa Fe race with her girlfriends. All nine of us would also be on the same flight. The scene at the Seattle airport wasn’t just a reunion with my girls in the running group but a meeting with my new photographer friend and her three friends, all of who were named Jane. Even before the plane took off we were gaggle of happy ladies seeking joy and serenity in Santa Fe. By the time race day arrived three days in I was already in awe of the brown adobe houses with blue doors, blissfully appreciative of our hotel’s complimentary kickback (happy hour) with a three drink limit, enchanted by the bundles of purifying dried sage at the farmers’ market and, well, over the moon after gazing upon the harvest moon the first night of the trip. I was convinced there was magic in the air.

But there was nothing magical about the race itself. The four of us running the 5K dropped the two doing the half marathon off first. Just 20 minutes later we had parked our rented minivan in the casino parking lot and lazily sauntered over to the starting line. That took three minutes. There were no lines at the port-o-potties. Chilled by the early morning air, I was still wearing a floral Old Navy blouse over my running shirt. We heard the announcer queue the seven-minute milers and chuckled, “not us.” And then people started running. Not seven-minute milers but everyone. We laughed at how anticlimactic it all was as we tried to weave into the running crowd. I mostly kept pace with Lisa while our friends Helen and Christina popped up ahead and behind us. I don’t know why I hadn’t looked at the course map and elevation during my training but not even half a mile in I was simply elated that I wasn’t running for speed. Instead, I was keeping pace with a friend. I wasn’t listening to music. I heard every scuffle, shuffle, pant, and breath of those around me. The air was incredibly dry and cold yet I was sweating a lot. The course was on a sidewalk so narrow that you could only run two people across. Over-zealous kids pushed past us in a flurry of scuffling shoes and then suddenly stopped to pant and walk. The course was hilly; not rolling hills but out-of-nowhere steep hills. And then there was the small matter of 7,000 feet altitude. It would have the worst possible race to run for speed. But because I’d let that goal go I was thrilled just to be there. So I kept that silly Old Navy blouse on for as long as I wanted because a sleek, streamlined look no longer mattered. Instead of being absorbed in a carefully curated playlist I kept pace and chatted with Lisa the whole way. I never walk hills in a race–it’s usually my time to shine–but I walked those hills without a care in the world. I don’t even remember crossing the finish line.

What I do remember is watching other runners. Us 5K gals cheered like crazy when our friends Carrie and Liz crossed the finish line. Because we’d now made new friends with Sherry and the Janes we also waited for them to finish and gave them our support. We didn’t stop there. While waiting for our troupe of women we saw so many other incredible runners. Lisa and I laughed over how emotional we got. We decided the only way to avoid getting choked up was that no runners who were holding hands, carrying American flags, over 60, or finishing the race with their kids should cross. Each triumph made us tear up. Other than the fact that I had run in my 36th state, none of those triumphs were mine and that felt just right to me.

A few hours after the race I sat in our hotel’s rooftop hot tub alone. I rested my arms on the edge and stared off into the hills while the cathedral bells chimed. Later, a few of us walked a couple blocks to see the oldest house and the oldest church in the country. We couldn’t believe they were here in Santa Fe after remembering all the sites we’d seen in New England. Yet it explained why the area felt so rich in history, colors, textures, and spirituality. That afternoon the whole group went to Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa specializing in Shiatsu. I’d never had Shiatsu before but as soon as I was introduced to my “handsome massage therapist Luke,” I knew I was in for a treat.

Shiatsu cuts the massage “foreplay” as I called it, going right to the muscles from the first touch. I was surprised at first but tried to relax into Luke’s touch. Maybe my body hadn’t needed to go fast. Maybe it needed to receive touch from someone who seemed to know more about it than I did. How did he know the areas that were tight and how far they could stretch? How did he know the parts of my body that had hurt the most when I was sick? When he’d finished he said, “I’ll leave you for a moment and then sit you up.” Then he came back, folded my legs, cradled me and lifted me to sit up right. It was one of the most thoughtful, gentle touches I have ever received.

That last day in Santa Fe I wandered through downtown. I talked travel with an owner of a gem store where I bought a small ball of copper for joint and arthritic health and a piece of raw turquoise because it seemed more beautiful than the polished kind I had seen in the shop windows. I spent a long time in a poster shop looking for a perfect sun-bleached arts festival poster from the 80s like the ones my grandpa used to have. I did find a lithograph of a gorgeous sunset but the “energy of the purchase” didn’t feel right. Lastly I stopped in a fetish store I’d wanted to check out– fetish meaning a small carving by the Zuni native people of New Mexico. I bought a carved stone bear by an emerging artist, the son-in-law of an established artist who happened to be standing right beside me in the shop. I walked out of the shop completely at peace, holding my bear which I learned symbolized both courage and safety of the journey and the power of hibernation and looking within.

When I returned home and went running for the first time in Seattle, I noticed how very different it was from Santa Fe. On that first Seattle run I passed mostly men, most who were in a great hurry and/or looking at their phones. I didn’t see anyone holding their phones on the streets of Santa Fe. In fact, it seemed like there were fewer men in Santa Fe. In techy Seattle the buildings I run by are silver metal and stone, a sheen dulled by the gray skies. In Santa Fe, from the adobe to the dirt to the wood and sagebrush, there were rich textures. My second night home I remembered that Natalie Goldberg, my favorite author on the craft of writing, lived in Taos, New Mexico. I quickly pulled four of her books off my shelves and furiously flipped through for any mention of the New Mexico. There was her home in Taos and the Lone Wolf Café in Santa Fe where she once wrote. Then the two lines that have always stuck with me: “Runners write. Writers run.” In other words, do the thing you don’t always do so that you become better at the other. I had been so focused on running for speed I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to simply be in a new place so that I could write about it. After days of cloud-gazing, margarita drinking, gal pal giggling and wistfully looking a Georgia O’Keeffe paintings I’d found “the other.” Finally I felt like I was both a runner and a writer. I had fourteen more states and a lifetime of travels to be both.

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Colorado

 

I’d been looking forward to running in Colorado. I was staying with a high school friend and her family in Denver. Since I’d had to drive a couple hours and back to do my cross-the-border Wyoming run the day before, running from right outside their front door would be a welcome treat. To sweeten the deal, their neighborhood of Stapleton, the flat site of the old airport terminal, is built around Central Park. No, not that Central Park, though in some ways it was similar. This Central Park was also rectangular, had a few hills, waterways, intersecting paths, and plenty of drinking fountains for the hot morning run. All I would have to worry about was the altitude. And after my first altitude run the day before in Wyoming, I felt ready—so ready that I thought I’d throw another variable into the mix. I’d run with my friends’ Labradoodle Chloe.

I’m pretty picky about my pooches. I’ve never had a dog and tended to either adore or despise friends’ dogs. Nevertheless, Chloe seemed pretty chill. My friend Laura told me to give her leash plenty of slack and not to wrap it around my wrist, just in case she ran off. If another dog approached us she suggested I simply try to ignore it and Chloe would do the same. “Don’t led her lead you,” she said. It all seemed like rather profound advice, veiled in dog-walking speak: “give others space,” “don’t hold on too tightly,” “don’t channel your energy into unwelcome distractions,” “lead your own life.” Chloe and I started down Laura’s charming tree-lined street in a jaunty walk, both of us (I assumed) eager to be out in the sunshine doing our thing. Not even three houses down Chloe paused, sniffed around the grass for what seemed like forever and relieved herself. “Is this how it’s going to be?” I wondered. After a stop at the trash bin I resolved that in running, as in life, the only way to know is to begin and see.

We did begin and Chloe didn’t pause again for the entire 3.1 miles. She had so much energy, such bright eyes and spirited swagger, that I understood why so many runners were lured and kept running because they have to give their dogs a workout. She was motivating me. Sure I thought about the altitude and the heat but much less so because I was hyper aware of her safety and enjoyment. I had a responsibility to Chloe. Suddenly my piddly little 5K in 50 states wasn’t the big thing. The big thing was keeping up with this dog. That was a side of running I’d never experienced before. And as I thought about how different it was to run with a dog I started to think about how different everything in Denver, specifically Stapleton, was from my life in Seattle.

The first difference I noticed was the climate. I’d never been to Denver, or even Colorado, and I couldn’t get over how bright it was. We’d had a few sunny weeks in Seattle but they was nothing compared to the bright sun of Denver. Maybe it was that mile-high altitude, but I truly felt closer to the sun. The air was dry like Phoenix but the land was green like Seattle. I kept thinking about how I really was in the middle of the country because it reminded me of other places I’d been to north and south. Even Laura’s neighborhood of Stapleton couldn’t have been more different from my neighborhood and many parts of Seattle. Instead of cars parked on both sides of the street, playing chicken and waiting out one car after the next, Stapleton’s arterials seem to stretch for miles, with no parking problems. Instead of hills, Stapleton was flat, reaching to the distant Rocky Mountains. One could truly run for miles. The whole neighborhood was dotted with parks and swimming pools families could walk and bike to. In my neighborhood in Seattle, families seem hidden. Because it’s crowded with businesses, trendy restaurants, and homeless people, those children’s voices are a little bit harder to hear. The streets of Stapleton were nothing but families. Within those wide, flat streets were rows of well-kept houses with well-manicured lawns and flags waving from the front porch. After looking at the bright lawns I told Laura I felt like I was in the movie Pleasantville or at Disney World’ Main Street USA. I called it idyllic. Laura smiled, knowingly, that of course nothing was ever perfect. I knew that too but it looked perfect. I couldn’t believe any place could even look so idyllic, even if it wasn’t on the inside.

We spent the evenings eating dinner on the back deck with the kids and then sipping Colorado beer on the front porch as the nights turned cool. As often happens when I visit high school friends, I reminded Laura of funny stories from the past and tried to better understand their life in Denver. I wanted some clue as to how I could apply what worked in family-focused Stapleton to my single girl life in Seattle. “How’s your commute?” “Do your friends smoke pot?” “How much has the property value increased?” There was so much to learn from a family of four, but translating it to my world would be difficult.

Or maybe not. Turns out we are sort the people we were in high school, there are just a million tiny choices in between. It’s easy to get stuck on the irreversibility of those choices. You can’t go back in time anyway. But, on that run in my 35th state I thought about the billions of lives happening across the country and how it was so good to experience a life different from my own even for a few days. Married or single, parenting or childfree, suburbs or city, sunny or rainy, we all could stand to learn a few lessons from running with a high-energy dog.

Give others space.

Don’t hold on too tightly.

Don’t put your energy into unwelcome distractions.

Lead your own life.

Most importantly the lesson that only Chloe could teach: Running is fun. Remember to have fun. I looked down at her happy trot, tugged her leash, and led us down the path.

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Wyoming

9/6/16

Running In Wyoming Confirmed I’m An Introvert

My trip to Colorado and Wyoming came at a time when I needed to get away. My summer had been a frantic cycle of new guy, running, work, friends, barre3, and whipping up pasta salads and baked goods just in time for the next party. Some days the cycle had my head spinning: each one of those activities, with the exception of running, was with people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about being able to spend time with people I enjoy. There was no ‘woe is me.’ But there was a need to have a little space, to experience a life different from my own. A need to be in a place where the skies were bluer, the sun was hotter, the air was drier, and–most importantly—where everything felt simply open to my whims of the moment. That place turned out to be Wyoming.

Wyoming was a cross-the-border run from Colorado so I hadn’t put too much stake into how well the run would turn out. Often cross-the-border runs mean running on questionable private property or a nondescript park. I had kept my expectations low. In fact, I thought I would have to run in Cheyenne because the closest landmark across the Colorado-Wyoming border was the Terry Bison Ranch. It seemed unlikely that I would be able to truly run with the buffalo. But, when I saw the signage and pulled off the interstate, hope began to open up. The ranch itself covered a lot of ground from the restaurant to the playground, a trailer park and beyond. I hoped that I could become just a spec in that “beyond.”

I started running through the parking lot, past facades of old west buildings and alongside a trailer park. “Maybe this won’t be so picturesque, after all,” but I trudged along, fighting the higher altitude and repeating the idea that you just never know where a run will take you. Just then the gravel path led through an open gate and down a green hill perfectly situated underneath the blue sky dotted with cotton puff clouds. It looked too beautiful to be true and definitely too beautiful to be open to the public. I took a quick glance behind me. Nobody was there so I kept running. A few minutes in I heard a couple of ATVs approaching. My neuroses kicked in again. I was sure they would ask me to get off the trail. Instead, I let them pass while they just smiled and waved. It seemed that this trail really was mine so I continued on. Not worrying about if it was ok to be on the trail gave me the space to address the altitude. My pace wasn’t that slow but everything was just a little bit tougher. Breathing was labored but, ironically, that was ok. It actually felt better to struggle with the most basic function of breathing than the struggle I’d had of keeping up with my summer schedule.

I ran along a creek with cattails peeking out of the water. I passed rusted fences tilting downward to the dirt. Four horseback riders trotted along in the distance. I thought about how very alone I was. I hadn’t been so fulfilled in weeks. And yet there was only space all around. It hit me, like the catch in my breath from the altitude: I’m an introvert.

If you know me, depending on how well you know me, that might come as a surprise or no surprise at all. Introverts don’t hate people. Many are very social but they are able to be because of being alone. They recharge by being alone. The difference between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts receive energy by being with people whereas introverts receive energy by being alone. On that run through the rolling hills of Wyoming I could feel my energy well filling up. It was such a simple thing to create and take time to be alone and yet I hadn’t really done it for months. I liked the people and activities in my world, so my tendency was to take in as much of that as possible. But it had left me depleted. Running alone between the green hills and blue sky for just 30 minutes put me back at equilibrium. After the run I was fully charged to enjoy visiting the ranch animals, going on a bison feeding train, and even trying a celebratory bison burger. When I went back to my friends’ home in Denver that night, I was exuberant.

Two days after I returned from my trip I got sick and was consequently stuck at home for over a week. In the midst of being sick I broke up with my boyfriend. All of a sudden the busy cycle of exercise and fun slowed to a complete halt. In a way, it was as if my body was saying, “not yet, you need to be alone a little bit longer.” And despite being the sickest I’d ever been, there was something oddly comforting about the forced solitude. I didn’t fight it. I let myself recover and simply be single again. I did the one thing I couldn’t easily do in Wyoming: breathe.

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Michigan

7/19/16

Why I Love The Questions

There was very little question that I’d fall in love with Michigan. Because Michigan–although adjacent to my home state of Wisconsin–was difficult to get to, I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit. Instead I’d been lured into Michigan landscapes by following the selectivepotential.com blog for years, wistfully leaning in to my computer screen as I scrolled through road trips. And she wore coordinating outfits! Could I ever be in such beautiful places? Could I stand in front of a lighthouse in a perfectly nautical dress as the waves crashed behind? It was the same sort of dreamy travel fantasy I had before visiting the jungles of Bali or the marble temples of India and yet it was Michigan.

I awoke in Holland, Michigan with the intention of another dune run. My friend Rachel and I had picked another state park with a lighthouse but, just as in Indiana, selecting the best location to run a mix of dunes and beach was tough. Rachel and I first drove to Tunnel Park which offered a unique photo opportunity in that I could emerge from the tunnel right onto the beach. But I didn’t want to run on just sand again. So we drove to the nearby Holland State Park. As we pulled into the parking lot I knew that it was the right place to run, no questions asked. The red lighthouse at the end of a long, skinny pier beckoned. Miles of beach stretched north. Best of all, several metal boardwalks reached from the park to the shoreline providing me with route options between the beach and sidewalks.

I queued up my Michigan playlist. First I ran out to the lighthouse but the pier was so narrow and filled with fisherman that I didn’t have enough room to run all the way to the end. Then, I ran through sidewalks in the park and looped back to the lighthouse. Then along the sandy beach. At the end of the beach I took a sharp right and pounded across the boardwalk to the beginning of grassy dunes. At the dunes, amazingly, the metal boardwalk turned into a curving wooden boardwalk. I was just over a mile in. If I could run the boardwalk for a mile and a half, I would have only a half mile to finish close to the lighthouse. The wooden boardwalk was just the happy surprise I was hoping for. I couldn’t believe my good luck in musical timing: Rogue Wave’s “Lake Michigan,” which I’d amazingly heard live just a week before, started to play. Hearing that song at that moment celebrated a concert, date, friends and running location. It was a serendipitous intersection of life and music. When “Lake Michigan” was followed by Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” it was as if years of questions, doubts and waiting were affirmed in two minutes and fifty seconds of complete soul satisfaction. The boardwalk thundered below. I flew past families walking to the beach. For once in my life my questions were answered.

I was so glad to not be wondering anymore. And maybe I should have been wondering more than I was. But I didn’t wonder if there was a better job for me because I was happy. At work time flew by writing about food just as it flies by when running, or writing about running. I didn’t wonder, or at least only wondered to a reasonable degree, about my new relationship. Instead of dreamily wandering around town listening to sad indie songs, I was simply spending time with someone I liked. My day to day questions weren’t huge gaps only to be filled in with a stream of informational interviews and first dates (which are actually remarkably similar). The questions were instead in the moment, such as that moment of running. “How long will this boardwalk go?” “What would it be like to live in this house with a pink trimmed porch?” “What do these homeowners do for the 4th of July?” “What could be better than this run?”

Why do I love the questions? Because I love the answers.

Questions are important. The big ones are important because they’ve helped get me to places where I only have to ask the little ones. And yet it’s just as important to ask the little questions. In fact, it seems the more little questions I offer, the fewer big questions I have to ask:

For example,

Instead of, “What is the perfect job for me?”: “What tasks do I most like doing at my job? Let’s find a way to do more of those things.”

Instead of, “Who will I spend the rest of my life with?”: “What people in my life annoy me the least? Let’s find someone with those qualities.”

And instead of, “What am I doing with my life?”: “What state will I run in next? Let’s plan.”

See you next month in Wyoming.

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Indiana

July 8, 2016

I’d been looking forward to Indiana. I’d planned to run Indiana the day after my birthday on a Lake Michigan road trip with one of my best friends. I was finally in shape physically, emotionally, socially, romantically and in career. All at the same time. There had been no other instance of running in 31 states in which that had been true. What would it mean to run in a new state now that I was finally happy?

My friend Rachel and I had already decided that the run would take place at Indiana Dunes State Park, a place I’d read about and took up a lot of space on a map, which I considered a good sign. We started the morning with a filling breakfast in a Victorian B and B in Valparaiso, spent an hour in a gourmet popcorn shop, and visited Michael Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary. It was pretty much the perfect day.

On the state park map there were lots of options of places to run. I’d picked a park adjacent to the main dunes area thinking that it would have more running options than just beach. It also seemed quicker and easier to get to. I didn’t want Rachel to have to spend any more time on my mission than necessary. But, even as we drove into the lot near the park, I sensed this may not be the dynamic dune run I was hoping for.  Then a man carrying a camera and tripod approach our car which, I should point out, was a white Mustang convertible with red leather seats. He asked what sort of hike we were looking for. I explained that I was running a 5K in every state. I said I wanted a run that had some dunes. He suggested the adjacent state park and then hesitated, “There’s a fee. Are you limited on funds?” We said no, in hopes that on the off-chance he planned rob us in the wilderness we could still present ourselves as modest spenders who just happened to be driving a fancy car. He emphasized that the dunes were really the best place to run, if we weren’t limited on funds, which turned out to be nine dollars. That settled it: we headed to dunes. As soon as the man was out of earshot Rachel laughed and asked why he kept asking if we were limited on funds. “I know!” I said. “We’re driving a Mustang, you’re wearing Michael Kors sunglasses, and I’m holding a hot pink Kate Spade wallet.” I blasted “Free Bird,” laughing as the wind blew through our hair on the way to the beach.

The man in the parking lot was right. This was the spot to run. On that partly sunny Friday before the 4th of July the parking lot, dunes and beach were already getting full. A large brick shelter housed bathrooms, changing rooms, showers and a snack bar. Although the shelter looked like it had been built in the past few years, I felt the presence of generations of families on summer vacations. Some of whom were my own family and friends. I was excited to become a part of vacation history.

After my 32nd state documentation photo I quickly determined that this run wouldn’t be the mix of dunes, trails and beach I had hoped for. The dunes, while absolutely stunning, were not anything I could run up and down for three miles. It would be a beach 5K as in Rhode Island and Alabama. I don’t necessarily mind running on sand, but it is a challenge. In Indiana, the beach was so narrow that I barely had enough wet, runnable sand. The run was less of a run and more of game to escape the ever-approaching waves. At 12-minute miles, the pace was also two minutes slower than my average easy pace, making the endeavor even less like a run and more like some sort of boot camp challenge. I ran 1.6 miles down the beach and then turned around. As I leaped over waves I thought about how close I came to getting soaked. Was it luck or skill? How much of this success was in my control? And then I stepped in the water. Half of my supportive, stability Brooks running shoe sunk in the cool water of Lake Michigan. And it wasn’t so bad. The thing I’d been avoiding had happened. It was a small relief to know what it felt like to momentarily fail. After it happened the first time I was less worried about it happening again. So, perhaps more casually dodging the waves, I did get wet, just a little bit, over and over. It was kind of fun to not have things go exactly the way I wanted. I had already done that for 31 states and I had come out ok. I finished that run with a wet foot but the rest of me sun-kissed and happy. The waves hadn’t won.

After I’d used the changing rooms to get back into my navy polo dress I thought about pushing for success. Rachel and I had pushed high speeds roaring up the coast in our Mustang. I’d pushed my luck by running as close as I could to the waves without getting completely soaked. But someday I would be soaked. Someday my running, health, friends, guy, job wouldn’t be perfect. I’d been there before. In fact, all those things might be highly imperfect all at the same time. I’d been there before too. And when that day comes again I hope I’ll be better prepared.

But today was not that day. So I’ll just remember dancing among the waves feeling lucky as ever.

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