Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Trail Running for the Ages

I’ve been a runner all my life, or more correctly; was a runner for about 47 plus years. During that time, I ran a number of sanctioned races and covered many miles chasing those elusive goals of staying healthy and feeding my soul.

My one goal or obsession during those many years was always to run the Western States 100, the premier one hundred mile run in Central California. I have no idea why. It seemed to fit a pattern of seemingly romantic (picturesque) romps around the world I had envisioned in my head.

I would put it on par with other fantasies like traveling around the world on a tramp steamer, retracing the old Route 66 highway from Chicago to the West Coast and crossing the country on my bicycle. All of them lofty aspirations that crashed on the shores of reality early in my life.

While working in Maryland in the mid-seventies, I did try to run the JFK 50-miler. It’s still around today and is as challenging now as it was years ago. Their web site describes the course this way:

‘The first 5.5 miles (starting on road surface and joining the Appalachian Trail at 2.5 miles) gains 1,172 feet in elevation. The course from 2.5 to 15.5 miles is on the Appalachian Trail (except for two miles of paved road between 3.5 and 5.5 miles). This section of the AT is very rocky in sections as it rolls across the mountain ridge. At approximately 14.5 miles the course drops over 1,000 feet in a series of steep “switchbacks” that then crosses under Rt. 340 and connects with the C&O Canal towpath. The “Canal” section of the JFK 50 Mile is 26.3 miles (from 15.5-41.8 miles) of almost totally flat unpaved dirt/gravel surface that is free of all automotive vehicle traffic. The JFK 50 Mile route leaves the C&O Canal towpath at Dam #4 and proceeds to follow gently rolling paved country roads the last 8.4 miles to the finish. The Boonsboro start is at an elevation of 570 feet. The Williamsport finish is at 452 feet above sea level.’

I had never run fifty miles before but felt my daily runs at a local high school track would put me in good shape to cover the distance. What a mistake.

It was a wonderful leisurely run at first, climbing the rugged hills and dancing down the rock-sown slopes on the other side. Then, gradually, time on the trail and a steady 30-degree rain began to wear me down.

I had grabbed a plastic garbage bag for protection (that’s all we had back in the early 70’s). When I began to sweat profusely, I took off the plastic wrapping and promptly began to get hypothermia.  In the end, I only completed 22 miles before hypothermia, crippling chills, and nausea brought me to a standstill.

There is nothing so liberating, so freeing as trail running.

During that time, I began reading books about running long distances. It became a bit of an obsession with me. Unfortunately, I never did attempt the Western States or any other ultra-distance runs. Life moved on and I continued my weekly runs, now much calmer at four to five miles a day. Finally, after running for some 47 years, I began to confine my running to a tread mill at home or LA Fitness.

I thought I might try to return to trail running this summer and would just start up jogging the hills and dales of Lebanon Hills Regional Park nearby.

Unfortunately, my first attempt at jogging on an incline at the gym proved to be my last. My knees wouldn’t let me do it. And I’m not about to risk surgery on my knees just to prove a point. So now, I still get to re-read my running books, watch my running videos and fantasize about hitting the trail once again. While it’s never going to happen, I still have my memories to fuel those grand illusions of races not won and trails to conquer.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Summer of Strange Occurrences

Sharon broke her right arm three days before leaving Palm Springs this spring. Thus began a rather disjointed (pardon the pun) and disruptive summer for both of us back in Minnesota. Of course, her broken arm was her good arm. So, suddenly sporting a cast for more than five weeks, made her feel unbalanced and (understandably) it was difficult it for her to navigate steps and stairs. The accident also made it more difficult for her to continue her painting projects.

So began a summer of adjustments for Sharon’s new situation and a real challenge for her to continue painting as she had in the past. It also involved two trips weekly; one to Edina and another to Red Wing to deal with therapy and rehabilitation. You do what you have to do.

My Coffee and Chat sessions also went through some adjustments as a couple of folks disappeared entirely and others found more interesting ways to spend their time. The core friends that remained formed a tight bond over the summer. Over the ensuing months, we had some fabulous conversations; solving many of the world’s problems in just one sitting.

I finally got an E-bike and wanted to restart my beloved long distance Twin Cities bike rides. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a suitable e-bike carrying rack so I had to confine my rides to Apple Valley and its surrounding communities.

A sibling gathering up at Lake Vermillion proved a wonderful opportunity for Sharon and her sister and two brothers to finally find time for themselves sans kids and grandkids. A grand time was had by all.

Sharon and I managed to find time for a long weekend in Colorado. At this stage in their lives, Brian and Amy have three kids knee-deep in all kinds of school activities and sports. It was a quick taste of their crazy, hectic wonderful life raising three kids in today’s hurry-up lifestyle. Now we can just sit on the sidelines, cheering our grandkids on and enjoying their success.

A move script outline that had laid dormant for years finally rose above the rest of my other writing projects. Starting to write ‘Habitat for Humility’ proved much harder than I thought. Movie scripts differ from plays in their organic composition; demanding many more subtle nuances from both the characters and the subliminal story lines.

‘Broken Down Palace,’ My book of poetry, finally came out to great response among friends. It was a project six months in the making and I was glad to have it finally done.

My very personal play ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ took a lot longer to finish and is now in the recrafting stage.

My latest play, ‘By the Salton Sea,’ was not accepted by last year’s venue (out of 130 submissions) so I hope to present it to other venues instead.

After months of searching, I was finally able to meet up with a musician who seemed interested in helping me create a sound track of nine songs for my play ‘PTV.’ After our initial meeting, I have high hopes of collaborating with him to craft songs that fit the time, place and mood of my play. If that works out, I have more musicals to score.

Through my old illustrator, I am creating a second book in the Waleed series. This one deals with ‘being afraid’ and facing one’s fears. A friend encouraged me to do an audio version of Waleed, the Skinny Hippo. So, I hope to have audio versions of both books soon.

We’ll be returning to Palm Springs early this fall. Last year’s play ‘Widow’s Waltz’ has been nominated for six different awards by the Desert Theatre League. The awards banquet is October 1st. It would be a real thrill to see my play win some awards.

After a summer like no other, I hope Sharon and I can get back to our respective passions of writing and art.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Crossing Over

Most of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have areas of interest that might surprise a lot of other folks. Where this subject matter comes from is less important than the depth to which this focus can grasp and hold tight to our reflective consciousness. Some people might call them our ‘hot buttons’ or for others, their ‘touchy subjects.’ No matter the moniker, the subject in question often seems to capture our attention and hold it tight.

I am guilty of a number of these inquisitive infractions. For whatever reason, my attention is often drawn to a wide variety of subject matter. ‘Class in our society’ is certainly one of those areas of interest. In my mind, it ties in nicely with ‘The American Dream,’ ‘Class Consciousness,’ and (the old favorite of mine) ‘risin above your raisen.’

Over the years, class in our society has been addressed in movies, song, and in literature. It’s a subject matter that has long since fascinated me on a very personal level. Around the turn of the century, one of the first manifestations of this was through the tales of Horatio Alger; a rag-to-riches story, for young people to absorb. Cloaked in Protestant colors of hard work, sacrifice and determination, it was the banner under which thousands of youngsters pinned their hopes and dreams for a better future.

Perhaps the thin fabric of my own upbringing had a lot to do with my later fascination of the subject. Growing up, it certainly wasn’t the glamor of wealth or accumulated material possessions that caught my attention. Instead, I think it was the place American society had sketched out for me as a child based on my social, economic, and cultural upbringing.

Both my grade school and high school administrations had slotted me into educational tracks based on my test scores. My family structure certainly didn’t help advance any educational chances at success. There were sometimes understood and other times openly stated assumptions that I would follow a pre-ordained path and certainly never give any thought to ‘rising above my rasin.’ My mother and father did just that. My grandparents the same. That simply was the way it was and always had been back then.

One of the chapters in a recent book about class talked about working class folks who, usually inadvertently, get a taste of another life outside of their own realm of existence. The example was a young woman who was taking college classes at night to get a promotion at work.

What she found to her amazement was her newfound ability to grasp the material and delve into it at a deeper level than she ever thought possible. She was encouraged by her teacher and fellow students to continue her pursuit of knowledge. But this is where it got complex and ugly.

Her boyfriend didn’t like the time she was spending in class and not with him. Her parents worried that she was hanging out with ‘those’ people who would give her ideas about her own class and status in life. She was treading where few of her family and relatives had ever gone before. And it made them all very nervous.

‘Educating Rita’ as a wonderful example of these phenomena. Educating Rita was a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. A woman takes night classes at ‘the university’ and finds to her amazement that she has the knowledge and talent to succeed there. But forces in her life all seem to conspire against her. Think of this romance/drama as the American Dream without the violins and background music. Instead you’ll hear the scrapping of fingernails on a blackboard and the vision of the future that can’t be reached.

Another good example of this idea is the movie ‘Rudy.’ Based on a true story, ‘Rudy’ does a good job of examining the complex and confusing roles that class places on folks seeking to break out on their own mold and for those who watch them leave the fold.

One of my first novels ‘Love in the A Shau’ painted a picture of just this scenario with my main protagonist. I also touched on this concept briefly in several blogs: ‘Damming the Intellectuals’ and ‘Rising above Your Rasin’ as examples of social and economic crossovers.  Another blog entitled: ‘Book of ‘61’ talked about the caste system at my old high school.

That caste system (let’s be honest here) at Cretin High School was neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. It was simply a recognition by the administration that some students were better prepared for a college-bound track of studies than other students. Test scores were the primary indicator of this placement but I’m willing to bet that socio and economic factors also played a role in that determination.

In life, class is a worn-out pathway we are forced to follow until such time that we consciously select a different route to travel. It is a conscious, and perhaps at other times, a subconscious decision to follow our heart and head instead of directional cues from those around us. It might mean leaving behind friends and family who choose to stay in place.

But in the end, it is being true to oneself and seeking fulfillment where it means the most…to you…consequences be damned.