North Carolina

November 26, 2015

North Carolina was set for Thanksgiving Day. After successfully and painlessly completing 5ks in Georgia and South Carolina earlier in the week, I was confident that this run would go off without a hitch. To make the run even easier, I wouldn’t have to drive out of state and look for a destination. My host Rebecca had suggested a nearby trail along the French Broad River.  The trail was just a five minute drive from the house. After a lazy morning of Thanksgiving prep chopping onions and bread cubes, the sun came out. I made the short trip to the trailhead.

Rebecca was right: it was a perfect setup. Families strolled along the river, fitting in a bit of exercise before the big feast. I smiled thinking about the run and feasting ahead, and then I looked down at my left ankle. I had forgotten the stabilizer. I had been instructed by my doctor to wear the stabilizer during every waking moment of the day for six months but my doctor friend Rebecca said I didn’t need to wear it. I felt that the best answer for me was somewhere in between: I would wear it exercising and ween myself off it during the other waking hours. So, what made the most sense was to drive five minutes to pick it up a home. But I just didn’t want to. It wouldn’t have been a far drive but something in me wanted to go without. Be a rogue warrior. Run “Footloose,” if you will. And so I decided to try. I had been cautious in the month since the sprain but in that moment I wanted to be bold. I wanted to see what my body could do. I found one of my most upbeat indie playlists from a time when I was running, travelling, going out, meeting people, and seeing shows a lot—basically feeling like an escalated, awesome version of myself. I chose that person to run.

The run was beautiful. I hugged the river passing cyclists resting on the banks, a trailer park and Mellowdrome cycle track. The sunshine and warm weather paired with the rusted Appalachian scenery took me back to another trip to Asheviile. The first time I visited Asheville was with Rebecca 10 years ago. It was significant because it was a joyful trip of new places, fall weather, movie location scouting and delicious food and drink, but more so, it was one of the first vacations I took not just to visit family or friends. It was a trip to be, see and experience a new place. In a sense it laid the foundation for 5kin50states. It revealed how much I enjoy planning, dreaming, and fantasizing about a place and then making it happen.

As Asheville memories skated along and the indie hits kept on coming, I thought of my ankle: it didn’t hurt. If anyone saw me running I would be just another runner, not someone wearing a stabilizer coming back from injury. I was slowly, with each step and diligence, coming back from injury. As Rebecca would liberally quote Amy Winehouse the following day: “They tried to make you go to rehab and you said, ‘yes, yes, yes.’” In fact I felt victorious. I realized that the very thing I love about running was the very thing which had brought me back to it when I couldn’t run: hard work, diligence and sticking to a plan yields results. If you want something bad enough you can have it. Sheer will and perseverance do not always pay off in major areas of life such as career and love but they do pay off in fitness. If you do the work you will see results. All of those mobility circles, writing the alphabet with my big toe, balancing with my eyes closed, swimming when all I wanted to do was run and riding the stationary bike watching “Waiting to Exhale” had actually worked. I had willed my way back to running by doing.

I think a lot about what running has given me. It has given me both control and freedom, peace and energy. How is that possible? Because I love it enough. Just the opposite of the Patti Smyth and Don Henley song—which is dead on about romantic love—“Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” in running, love is enough. Simple love of the movement had brought me back to it when I couldn’t run. It brought me back to beautiful Asheville on Thanksgiving 10 years later to visit my friends to experience that same freedom of travel, will, and joy-seeking escapades that are now a defining part of who I am.

Sometimes love is enough. And on that first day back, running freely, I believed it always would be.

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South Carolina

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.

 

Georgia

November 23, 2015

Georgia was my top priority in a vacation that, throughout the planning stages, evolved from a running trip to a friends trip. When I booked the vacation months ago I had hoped to run in five states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Kentucky was always a stretch since I would be staying in Asheville, North Carolina, and, if I wanted to pair a Kentucky run with the bourbon trail I would have some trouble doing it all in one day. So, after I sprained my ankle, Kentucky was the first to go. As weeks went by between the date of the sprain and departure date and I still hadn’t run I picked another state to rule out. The next to go was Tennessee. The Tennessee-North Carolina state line is actually closer to Asheville than the Georgia and South Carolina borders but I could also easily do Tennessee on a future Kentucky bourbon trail trip. Tennessee was out. That left the Carolinas and Georgia. A week before the trip, still not having run, I picked Georgia as my number one to run in. I had already done its neighboring states of Alabama and Florida. Since my friend Rebecca lives in Ashville, North Carolina, I could always come back for the Carolinas. When I got on the plane for a week in Asheville I resolved that I would be happy if I only got Georgia—though I secretly hoped for the Carolinas too. The questions and hopes echoed my most-detested phrase of my mother’s, “you’ll just have to wait and see.”

At 9:30 p.m on Sunday, November 22nd, I arrived at Rebecca’s cozy mountain retreat a stiff, trembling bag of bones from driving two-plus hours in the pitch black, winding mountain roads in a rental car that was a cross between a go-cart and a roller skate. Its shape was almost a perfect cube. The little white marshmallow was easily swayed by the wind as I drove through the night trying to soothe my nerves with familiar 80s pop. I breathed deeply as the REO Speedwagon ballads carried me up and down hill after hill, all the while knowing I would have to drive it to Georgia the next day.

A good night’s sleep, sunlight and support from a friend can do wonders to relieve stress. The next morning Rebecca and I hopped in the go-cart/roller skate/marshmallow equipped with chocolate peanut butter pumpkin muffins and the determination to run in Georgia. In truth, I was a little bit relieved to be driving because it meant I would be worried about driving as opposed to running. In just over an hour, the roller skate rolled into the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. “Cross the state line” runs can be tricky. In theory you just have to get over that line and you’re there. But, what’s on the other side of state lines is often nothing, as in Delaware. Rebecca and I drove though Dillard, Georgia, a border town of farm stands and antique strip malls. We could have pulled over but we weren’t sure where the best 5k route was. Just as the businesses grew fewer between, we came upon a gated estate of rolling green hills. I thought it was a residential development which we could safely run in: get in and get out before the Georgians knew what we were up to. Rolling down the driveway we realized it was a the Rabun Gap Nacoochee School whose expansive grounds included tennis courts, a pond, trails and track. It was 5k heaven. We knew we had hit the jackpot. We parked the roller skate in the empty parking lot, bit a hunk of muffin and stepped out into the cold, sunny air.

As we walked down a small dusty gravel hill Rebecca asked, “Are you ready?”

“Not yet. This is an uneven surface.”

I needed optimal running conditions. I was safe inside school property, next to a friend of 25 years who happened to be an MD and an elite athlete, the sun was shining and chocolate peanut butter pumpkin muffins awaited us in the car. If I was ever going to resume running, this was the time. Once on a flat gravel path, we began to run.

We talked the whole way, about what I can’t remember. The entire time I was focused on my left ankle and how my body felt after a three-week break from running. It felt heavy. I could talk but every movement was more laborious than in my former days as a runner. I felt like I had gained 20 pounds, which after the weeks of replacing running with recumbent biking while watching “Waiting to Exhale,” wasn’t a complete overstatement. Still, my ankle didn’t hurt. We looped around a pond, further into school grounds passing a farm with black cows grazing on a hillside. “Bucolic,” we said and joked how it was such an ugly word for a beautiful thing. “Bucholera,” I joked. And on and on went our jumbled, goofy exchange as we closed in on the final .1.

I made Rebecca pause the stopwatch to take a picture of the bucolic scenery just before we took our last steps of the run. The sun had never shone brighter. We hugged. I was so very happy to have completed that run, not because it was hard but because it meant I was back in the game. It meant that while it may take time to return to the pace and distances I crave, at least I was in in it.

I don’t recall much of our conversation during the run. I just keep coming back to the word “bucolic.” I think about the absolute beauty of that day, the green hills against the blue sky— the absolute beauty of any pastoral scene defined bucolic. An ugly word for a beautiful thing. I had thought taking time off from running would be the worst that could happen, and there were several emotional and physical low points which proved me right. But it was also an ugly label for an experience that turned out to be beautiful. Without rest you can’t have recovery. Without an unknown destination in Georgia we wouldn’t have stumbled into the picturesque Rabun Gap Nacoochee School. Without the space to fulfill a goal, the goal cannot be fulfilled. I thank Rebecca and Georgia for helping create that beautiful thing, a 5k in my 28th state.

Maryland

November 16, 2014

Maryland was a simpler time. Maryland was the last state I ran in during the 2014 Mid-Atlantic trip and the last state before I sprained my ankle. It was the last state before I had to adopt a consciousness about running. In Maryland I walked out the door and ran with friends–no worries about reinjury or being too slow. It was a simple finale to a week of big time travels, friends, ambitions and distances. We ran along the shores of Annapolis past the coastal homes as the wind fought our bodies. I remember my friend Rebecca firmly and kindly stating that we “wait for each other” when I paused to correct my Garmin watch. Beyond that, the run itself was not impactful.

What is impactful is that running may never be that easy again. Since I couldn’t run for almost a month I took up swimming and recumbent biking and surprised myself because I came to actually enjoy both. As much of a pain it is to drive, suit up, and pre-shower to swim, there is something simple and soothing about following that blue line to the end of the pool. No music. No stoplights. No possibility of pain. I couldn’t hurt myself swimming, which will never be true of running again. I like how hungry I feel after a swim. I like how no parts of my body are sore. I like showering and still smelling a little bit like Chlorine the next day.

Riding a stationary bike is even easier than swimming and, in my case, requires even less prep than running. I can walk three doors down the hallway of my apartment building to a fitness room where I am met with a choice of two stationary bikes, two elliptical machines, two treadmills, three weight machines, free weights and an assortment of celebrity magazines. I’ve mostly stuck to the recumbent bike and US Weekly, the two simplest options. While the calories burn is far less than running, I can’t get over the fact that I can still burn calories while sitting down reading about the Kardashians. It feels like cheating. But it’s not cheating. It’s still movement, work and effort, just a different type.

Running may never be what it was and that’s ok. There are so many ways to stay in shape and feel whole without risking pain. There is beauty in this change and transition. Let go of what was to let in what will be.

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Delaware

November 15, 2014

Delaware is a nail-biter. An epic tale. A hero’s journey. Actually, it’s just a time I made a poor choice and almost got lost. Still, a story nonetheless.

Picture it, Annapolis, Maryland, the second to last day of a week’s vacation. Four states in the books, two to go. The next day’s Maryland run would be easy: I could walk out the front door with two friends and do a simple jog. Today was not so simple. I awoke beneath my cozy covers in my cozy private room with the less than cozy thought that if I was ever going to run in Delaware, today was the day. I peeked outside. I must have been 30 degrees, if that. My friends were still asleep in their respective rooms. I really didn’t want to get in my rental car, drive and navigate for an hour to anywhere in the state of Delaware and run 3.1 miles. Yet when else would I have this opportunity? Delaware is a hangnail of state that I couldn’t foresee ever travelling to again. I had been running for days. What was one more? I got out of bed. Put on two pairs of running pants, a turtleneck, borrowed sunglasses and a borrowed knit cap with skulls and crossbones. Grabbing a piece of cold pizza, I walked out the door.

It would be at least an hour to cross the border, starting with the four-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Winds tried to toss my little car around but my gloves gripped the steering with resolve—I was doing it now. There was no going back until I ran in Delaware. But, finding my way to Delaware—or a rather a place to run in Delaware—could not be done with sheer willpower. I’d rolled onto a smaller highway and kept checking my phone’s Google Maps to indicate I was in Delaware. Finally, that blue dot had nudged over to the right. Now I just had to find a place to pull over and run.

After my experience in Pennsylvania running on the side of a busy road, I really couldn’t run just anywhere. It didn’t have to be picturesque but it did have to be safe. So I kept driving until I pulled off on a road that wasn’t too busy and wasn’t (I hoped) a private drive. After parking and taking the requisite photo I started to run alongside a field. “Look at how far I’ve come” I thought. The idea of getting up early on cold fall morning and leaving your friends at the house to drive across a bridge to run anywhere in the state of Delaware sounded crazy. But to me, in that moment, it made perfect sense. By plopping myself in the middle of nowhere to run I was doing something. Then I noticed a “Private Property” sign. Whether I was within the private property or not, I could not be sure. And really, there was nowhere else to go so I pressed on. The run was going ok. Running back and forth across the same road, passing your rental car and a “Private Property” sign is a less than desirable way to spend 3.1 miles. Still, the music was good. I was groovin’ on a good mix and looking forward to the next song, Cut Copy’s “Need You Now.” That’s when I saw that my phone was in the red battery zone. It must have been the hour-plus of navigating to Delaware! I had a choice : use the phone to listen to a 6-minute Cut Copy song or to map my way back to Annapolis from a farm in Delaware. I chose Cut Copy.

I kept running. I looked at my mileage watch. I looked at my phone. As the mileage decimals went up (good), the phone charge went down (bad). I was in the middle of nowhere in Delaware. “I know I’m running, baby, but I need you now” was my and the lyric’s desperate plea for battery charge, looping within a frantic 6 minutes and 9 seconds. The song miraculously kept on until the final .1 mile. I stopped in front of my car just as the phone screen went black. It had happened. I was standing in an empty road, on an empty farm with a dead phone and a piece of cold pizza. I climbed in the car and looked at the pizza in the passenger seat. Like the “Wilson” volleyball in Cast Away, it seemed to glare back.  I gnawed off a bite in retaliation. I could do this. How did people find their way before iPhones? Maps. I didn’t have a map. What about before maps? They retraced their steps. They tried to remember the way they had come.

I thought of the Regina Spektor lyrics: “I’m the hero of this story, don’t need to be saved.” I was the hero of this story. This was my story and if I wanted to get saved I was going to have to just figure it out. I drove back out of the farm the way I came. Good. Done. I turned left. Yes, I had turned right before. And so on until I found myself on that same windy, 4-mile bridge home. Rolling back into the driveway it was almost as if I could harbor the secret. I never had to tell anyone that I had chosen music over safety and navigation. I didn’t have to share that I probably should have picked a more public place to run as opposed to private farmland. All of these daring choices could stay between me and Delaware.

But what fun would that be? I love the story too much.

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West Virginia

November 13, 2014

Halfway into my Mid-Atlantic running trip having already completed three runs, I was in it. I was in a flow state of being in the passenger seat, hopping out for a run, and doing it all over again the next day. The plan for West Virginia would be a little different though. I would go it alone, which I find peaceful. But I would also have to drive alone from Bethesda, which I find stressful. Still, I readied myself with warm clothes, a granola bar and the destination of Harpers Ferry. It would be an adventure. So when I couldn’t find my rental car in my friend’s parking garage I was both panicked and energized.

“Where is this car? Am I crazy? Wait. Look at that parking permit sign.”

We did. It seemed to indicate that my rental car had been towed.

“They must have towed it. Oh my gosh,” She said.

After a frustrating call to the towing company my friend and I made a quick decision. I really wanted to go to West Virginia. She could take me to the towing company but by that time half the day would be lost. Or, we could hop in her car to West Virginia and pick up the rental afterwards. Plan B prevailed. “We’re goin’ to West Virginia!” I exclaimed and in a few minutes, we were.

The sunlit, bright sky of Pennsylvania Amish country had turned to a gray horizon speckled with barren tress as we headed west. Not the kind of day I’d typically be energized for a run, but a crackle of excitement was in the air just the same: I was going to West Virginia, for the first time, with one of my best friends. I’d chosen Harper’s Ferry because not only was it closest spot in West Virginia from Bethesda, but because it is also a part of history. There’s the American history of the Civil War but also my own history. My dad had hiked this portion—and beyond—of the Appalachian Trail. Tucked between my imagined stories of the Civil War and my dad’s experience on the AT was the real experience of hundreds of others who had also hiked the AT. Since this run would be the 25th  state, marking the halfway point, I hoped, in my own way, to be a part of that story.

Harpers Ferry reminded me other towns I’d visited. It had the forgotten silence of a Galena, Illinois coupled with the tucked away charm of an Asheville, North Carolina. Leaves blew across empty sidewalks as we gripped iron rails to climb a steep, stone-stepped hill to Jefferson Rock. We looked out at a white church steeple, the meeting of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the background. Thomas Jefferson had stood here in the late 1700s, his memory confirming in the grandest way that history was in fact everywhere. In a candy shop—more like a museum, really– my friend and I were the only visitors for 30 minutes as the owner shared the history of American candy. When you dive into a subject, such candy or say… running, it is never really about just that subject but stories that cross pollinate into neighboring worlds. The owner had worked in DC government years prior but candy was her area of expertise now.

“It’s all history,” she said.

“It’s all people and politics.”

We nodded, bought horehounds and sound balls and made our way into the cold. At John Brown’s Fort, the only Civil War armory building to evade destruction, my friend snapped a photo. I look cold, but happy. My friend waved me off. She would get a cocoa, she said. So I sprinted across the railroad bridge and began. This was it. I was running on the Appalachian Trail, a million tiny stories layered upon each other. There weren’t too many people out that cool, gray day but I did encounter a family of three. The parents had big backpacks which I took as sign that they were AT hikers. Our stories had met. Then, in the most non-Seattle gesture, catching me off-guard, they said “hi.”  “Hi,” I replied in a puff of air, affirming our meeting.

After 3 miles I jogged back to the car. We got inside, warmed up and I looked around at the historic landmark signs. I thought about that powerful Potomac.  Then I thought about how I had crossed the bridge to run on the AT. And if I had run on the other side of the river which served as the state border I had most likely not done what I had set out to do. I had run in Maryland, not West Virginia.

I won’t tell if you won’t.

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Pennsylvania

November 12, 2014

Pennsylvania is 5kin50States’ cover photo. Here are the top ten reasons why:

  1. My good friend Rachel took this photo and waited in the car while I ran 3.1 miles.
  2. Before this photo was taken we drove to five covered bridges.
  3. Before this photo was taken we stuffed ourselves at an Amish buffet.
  4. En route to this location our Civic was passed by an Amish buggy.
  5. During the run I almost fell in the roadside ditch after getting passed by a semi.
  6. The light.
  7. The colors.
  8. America.
  9. This photo marks the day I went to Blue Balls, Intercourse and Paradise in under an hour.
  10. This photo encompasses everything I love about this project: friends, travel, and becoming a dot in piece of landscape I never would have found without running.

 

Virginia

November 10, 2014

Virginia was one of my favorite runs because it encompassed friends, travelling to a new place and a beautiful run. Hours after I finished the DC run I got on a train to Lynchburg, Virginia to visit my friend Jared. Yes, the Jared from the Florida run. Jared and her family had relocated to the quiet region of Huddleston, near where she grew up. I was looking forward to seeing Jared in the part of the country she was from and to reconnect with her and her family. But I’d also gotten some bummer lovelife news just after I’d finished the DC run and was worried about carrying it with me on trip to Virginia. In the empty Amtrak station I sat on a wood bench, stewing it over. I bought a coffee and a Dunkin donut since, being on the East Coast, it was a rare opportunity to do so. I couldn’t undo what I learned. I would carry it with me, one way or another. But I would be moving. I would be moving on a train to a new state, and then moving through my friend’s town and lastly running. The joy of new ideas through movement is what I love about travelling and running. Yes, you take it with you but I’d rather take it with me than sit in one place. The train rolled south out of DC, office buildings changed to factories and fields and I felt a little lighter.

Jared lives on picturesque Smith Mountain Lake, also known as where What About Bob? was shot. The next morning I could have easily stepped out her front door and had a great run. Instead, we hopped in her car for a short drive to start the run. Where we got out was just as beautiful. A winding road reached out from Parkway Marina to houses tucked among the fall trees. Red and yellow leaves were everywhere, littering the road and forming a canopy over our heads on that sunny day. The run was hilly and full of twists. We rounded a bend and a beautiful home popped up. Or a shack appeared. Or the lake peeked through the golden trees. I was so happy that Jared had shared this place with me. She had also told me, just before we had started the run, that this is where she got married. A special place for her and now special place for me had intersected in a Venn diagram of love and friendship. It was an honor to take my Virginia run at the place her family’s story began.

The next day and a half was a tremendous, true Jared visit. We picked her soon up at preschool, just as we had done in Miami but with a different crop of kids and teachers. We went to the German Baptist butcher where Jared peeked her head through a tiny window to see a bonneted woman who was ready to take her meat order. We sat at the lake in down coats and sipped cups of steaming tea in the late afternoon. We played Legos with her son and drank wine. We got up very, very, early that last morning as the blue mist rose from the mountains so the whole family could take me to the train station. In the backseat I fed her son bits of a messy fast food chicken sandwich. I couldn’t have been happier to do so.

To bring a trifle hostess present and help a child eat a chicken sandwich is a small thing. Yet to welcome someone into your family, even for a few days, is an extraordinary thing. To share the beginning of your journey in marriage with a friend’s journey in running is a gift. With gratitude, Jared and Virginia.

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DC

November 9, 2014

Although DC isn’t a state, I took advantage of the opportunity to run in it. DC was the first stop of a weeklong trip to the mid-Atlantic, the first leg of which was staying with my friend in Bethesda, Maryland. She took me into the city the Sunday before Veterans Day. As soon as we parked off of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial I felt an energy I hadn’t felt before. Men and women in uniforms and caps with military regalia paced the Mall. In front of each monument was a true representation of ages and nationalities and then I remembered that Veterans Day was in two days. My friend took a picture of me in front of the Lincoln Memorial to kick off the run. As I jogged down the cool, marble steps I was confident that the meaning behind my journey along the National Mall was different from those I would pass for 3.1 miles.

Typically when I run in a state I haven’t been to before I think about travel. I think about if that 3.1 miles is at all an accurate snapshot of the state. Running along the bluffs of Maine or through a covered bridge in Vermont I believe that was the case. Running in nondescript parks in Illinois and Idaho, less so. Two days before Veterans Day, on the National Mall, there was no better representation of the District of Columbia. I ran past the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument. I cruised by the Smithsonian Museums: Air and Space, American Indian, Natural History and American History, east and then west along Constitution Avenue. I passed the Capitol, covered in scaffolding but impressive just the same. I was listening to music because I always listen to music but I certainly didn’t need it for energy. Looking left, right or straight ahead people were everywhere, a flurry of English and languages I didn’t understand. The energy of solemn seniors and playful children was mixed in the buzz of the Mall.

For me, 5K in 50 States is about seeing the country. For those I ran past I imagined it was about honoring and learning about the U.S. Theirs was an active step beyond mine. I felt humbled that my journey was insignificant compared to the journey others had taken to the National Mall. But I was happy with that realization. I was grateful to be reminded that I was a tiny dot of a journey, which, admittedly, isn’t a mission for a greater good. I still think it’s good to run and see friends and new places. But going inside museums and reflecting on the meaning of monuments is a different level. I had come to DC to do my job and DC had done his. Thus far, it is the only run during which I paused my watch, leaned forward, rested my hands on thighs, breathed heavily and looked up. This was worth stopping for.

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Idaho

October 17, 2014

I’ve always wanted to travel for work. It sounds so glamorous– gliding through airports in a stylish coat, trying new restaurants on the company dime, running in cities across America. I believe that it isn’t usually this way but I choose to indulge in the fantasy. I have traveled by plane exactly once for work: the time I flew to Spokane and was rescued by a knight in shinning armor.

My teammate and I went to Spokane from Seattle for the Washington State Science Teachers Conference. Very much aware that Spokane is just 18 miles from the Idaho border, I had delicately inquired of my teammate beforehand if she might be up for running a 5K in Idaho. She agreed. It was a go! Finally, travelling for work that was shaping up to be anything but glamorous would get me another state. Tiny stars were aligning.

After landing, securing a rental car and changing into running gear at the hotel, we were back on I90, ready for adventure and my 22rd state. It was a quiet, gray day out on the freeway as we bounced along chatting about this and that. Suddenly I felt a jolt, like I’d run over something. I asked my teammate: “Did you feel that? Did we hit something? Can you look behind?”

“No. Nothing.” She was calm.

And things felt normal again. Relief. But just after relief came the jolt and I knew things were not normal. She felt the same and asked me to pull over. The road was sparse so we scooted off to the side without any trouble. We got out of the car and confirmed that it was a flat. It was then that this strange little stream of thoughts floated by: “We’re safe, good. I really hope we can still get the run in. If we can, what a story!”

Moments later a police car pulled over. The officer ducked his head in and asked if we were alright. My teammate replied, “Hello, officer. Yes, we’re fine. We had a flat.” Her use of “officer,” for some reason, made me feel like we were in an 80s comedy and she was Shelly Long or Terri Garr or another actress playing a quirky charmer. The officer, taken with us, out of kindness, or in an effort to get us off the side of I90 (I vote for the latter) called a tow truck to bring us a donut to get us to the tire store.

Waiting outside at the tire store, I quietly shivered in my running clothes, trying to soak up this story but truly eager to get the run in. My teammate however was engaging in conversation with another customer. I caught snippets:

She: “We got a flat…”

He: “I was in the newspaper business too…”

And so on while I munched on free, yellow, salty popcorn. I was eager for the story to turn to one of running and yet this was the story.

Did we ever run in Idaho? Yes, in Post Falls, Idaho we looped Qemlin Park for 3.1 miles. It was nondescript, alternating running along the Spokane “?River and connected cul de sacs. It was one of the most boring runs I’ve ever done and yet still a story because of up until this point one unmentioned detail: the officer’s last name was Knight. We were rescued by a knight in shining armor who saved us from sitting on I90. His name saved the story. Officer Knight helped us get the tire fixed and gave me the opportunity to eat that disgusting but memorable popcorn. He also gave my teammate the opportunity to talk to another newspaper person who, as she told me the other day, was also a veteran. The knight had created a story for her too. But most importantly he revealed that one can go off on an adventure, run into trouble and be saved. Not always, but sometimes kindness does pull over. If we tune in–and choose not to scarf on disgusting popcorn–we can meet kind people. We seek the story. What if we sought connection?

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