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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Alabama

May 12, 2014

I miss running. I miss it like the vacation that dunks you in a happiness you didn’t know existed. I miss it like the comfort of hosting an old friend. When the friend leaves, you wander around the apartment washing sheets and taking out recycling, wondering what to do next. I miss it like the guy that turned on you, thinking back to that last great dinner, never knowing it would be your last.

After spraining my ankle almost two weeks ago I have all the energy to run and none for optimism for when I’ll be able to again. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone this long without running. It’s been years, maybe a decade? Clean running clothes overflow onto the floor; usually half of them are in the laundry basket. I don’t know when to shower because I’m used to showering after running. I feel sort of…too clean all the time because I can’t get sweaty. Last night I sat, sat, on the exercise bike watching Waiting to Exhale, clutching my heart, not because the movie was moving or the workout was strenuous but because I was waiting for an elevated heart rate to kick in. It doesn’t. I just push and pedal and hope and nothing, just a bead of sweat on the brow. Then I lie on the floor of my apartment hoping that my ab work will pay off later. I flip over to do leg lifts, fire hydrant, a moment of down dog before it’s too painful. And then I collapse, still on the floor, to power through the new Joan Didion biography, the Navy Seal tips for resilient living, the photo book of great railways of the world, Eric Jong’s new novel, the history of British India. Literary Cardio. There are moments of wordplay and story twists which leave me almost as breathless as running did. Almost.

Sometimes I walk at lunch while listening to jazz, big band and Gershwin from Woody Allen films. If I keep walking will something kick in? A heart rate? An experience? A little story? But it’s not Manhattan. It’s South Lake Union, Seattle. It’s my work neighborhood that just over two weeks ago I ran away from, literally, at the end of the day. I had a 4.5 mile, almost an hour-long, run home through three different neighborhoods. The other day a man in my office I had never spoken to asked: “Don’t I usually see you running at this time?” “Yes,” I answered, “but I sprained my ankle.” I looked down at the ankle stabilizer crammed in running shoes I had bought just days before I hurt my ankle, still not having run in them. This man doesn’t know my name. He doesn’t know what I do. All he knows is that I run—ran.

Here’s what happened in Alabama. I went to Dauphin Island Beach with some of my best girls in the world. I ran alone for 3.1 miles in the quiet, white sand. It was tough, hot, sunny, and sweaty. When I finished the run I saw my friends laying out and laughing in the sand on four beach towels: pink, yellow, red and blue. I stood among the group for a moment, panting, soaked in sweat, heat, friendship and color. Then I removed my watch, shoes and socks, and set them in the sand with my phone. I walked to the shore and in full running gear stepped into the Gulf of Mexico. I sat in the blue water and let it swirl around me, rush in and out, cooling and equilibrating.

Dear running, come back to me. I know like the waves on that hot day in Alabama, you will. I know that it only takes time to heal and all we can count on is change. I know this post is whiny, long and longing. I know that, today, I never knew I could miss you so much.

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