22 November 2020

Announcing the Janice Cattarin Memorial Scholarship for Women

Note: This site hosts my long-running running blog. Today I’m using it as a convenient platform to post about the endowed scholarship that my sister and I have created in honor of our mom, Janice Cattarin, who passed away in July of 2020. The first section of this post is a short briefer on the scholarship – what you need to know to donate and enhance the endowment. After that are some additional stories about mom that you may enjoy. And after that, navigate the blog if you’re so inclined. I haven’t written much in the last year, but there are plenty of stories archived for your enjoyment.

For the “Just Let Me Donate Now! Quick!” folks… 

Go to www.sunybroome.edu/gift. Under Designation of Gift, check “In Honor” or “In Memory” and enter “Janice Cattarin Scholarship”.  If your employer offers matching gifts, the Foundation qualifies!


Janice Cattarin Memorial Scholarship for Women

Janice Cattarin believed strongly in the value of education and worked actively to further educational opportunities for women in the Southern Tier of New York, her home for nearly 60 years.

Widowed at age 28 in the mid-1960s with two young children, Jan was fortunate that her late husband’s employer IBM offered her a position shortly thereafter. That was possible in large part because she was also fortunate to have had the opportunity to earn a degree earlier in life. Her education likely made the difference between just getting by as a single mother and the quarter-century-long professional career she enjoyed at IBM, which spanned numerous functions until she retired in 1992. Her family benefited tremendously from the value of her having the education which enabled her success.

In 1967 Jan joined the Binghamton chapter of American Association of University Women, an organization founded in 1881 with the mission to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. She was active in the organization for over fifty years until her death in 2020. She held nearly every office, attended every meeting possible, and volunteered at every event, and most importantly was active in the AAUW Scholarship Committee. She received the Binghamton area Women of Achievement Award in 1984 for her work in AAUW.

The Janice Cattarin Memorial Scholarship for Women was established by her children to honor their mother, to give back to the community that was her and her family’s home, and to recognize the value of education for women, especially those who find themselves in a changing or difficult life situation where education offers the opportunity to raise themselves and their families to success.

SUNY Broome and the Janice Cattarin Scholarship

SUNY Broome, formerly known as Broome Community College, offers an ideal environment to maximize the impact of the Janice Cattarin Scholarship. It fulfills the educational needs for those striving to elevate their situation while holding costs low, but student resources are also often low, and there is always need.

It is intended that the Scholarship will operate in perpetuity, awarding several scholarships annually. Recipients will be chosen by a committee made up of SUNY Broome faculty, family, SUNY Broome academic affairs staff, and members of the Binghamton Chapter of AAUW.

Giving to the Janice Cattarin Memorial Scholarship for Women

The Janice Cattarin Memorial Scholarship for Women is administered by the Broome Community College Foundation (a.k.a. SUNY Broome Foundation), a 501(c)3 foundation affiliated with SUNY Broome. Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Gifts can be made online or by check as detailed at www.sunybroome.edu/ways-to-give

Online gifts can be made at www.sunybroome.edu/gift

Under Designation of Gift, please be sure to check either “In Honor” or “In Memory” and enter “Janice Cattarin Scholarship”. The full scholarship name isn’t required; the staff will identify the gift and designate appropriately.

The Janice Cattarin Scholarship can also benefit from matching gifts from employers who offer this benefit. Please see details at www.sunybroome.edu/matching-gifts.

About the SUNY Broome Foundation

The Broome Community College Foundation strives to be among the most supportive community college foundations in the State University of New York System and in the country. The Foundation aims to assist needy students, recognize and honor high-achieving students, help faculty and staff provide the best instructional environment possible, and encourage innovation and achievement on campus, especially where government funds are either unavailable or insufficient.

Each year, about 87% of the SUNY Broome student population need additional funding to attend school. Without this help, attending college would be a little to null opportunity. Through the valiant efforts of the College alumni, businesses, community friends, foundations, associations, organizations, SUNY Broome faculty, staff, and students, the Foundation is able to award over $1,000,000 each year to deserving and financially disadvantaged students. The Foundation’s priority is to provide private financial funding to our students through merit scholarships and grants-in-aid.

Additional information on the SUNY Broome Foundation can be found at: broomeccfoundation.org

Broome Community College Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 1017
Binghamton, NY 13902-1017

For additional information about the Janice Cattarin Scholarship Memorial for Women please feel free to contact:

Catherine Abashian Williams, MPA, CFRE
Executive Director, Broome Community College Foundation, Inc.
williamscr at sunybroome.edu

or Gary Cattarin, son of Janice Cattarin at cattarin at comcast.net

Note: That's the facts bit. The rest is for your enjoyment.

More About Mom and the Scholarship

Let’s start with the frank part: Many who’ve run with me, worked with me, or just crossed my path have heard me lament about the trials and tribulations of caring for my aged mother (from afar, Cindy did most of the up-close leg work, bless her…). Truth: The last decade has been a rough ride. Mom did plenty of things I’ve complained vocally about as my form of ‘talk therapy’. Elderly people are frustrating in many ways. I probably will be too at some point, even if I’d like to think that I’ve learned some things not to do from mom.

But here’s the other frank part: Before all that, Mom was all the nuts. To use a bad sports metaphor, she wasn’t just thrown a curve ball, she took the proverbial beanball. I’ve mentioned repeatedly – in her obituary, in the scholarship brief above, and many other times – how she was widowed early with two young kids. You know that part. What else you should know is how she got up out of the dust and made it. And not just eked it out, but made it comfortably and with style.

She told me once that after dad’s death, she’d considered moving from our home in Upstate New York back to Ohio to be near her parents. But she didn’t. She kept on, and made her own life in New York. IBM was invaluable in making that happen, but they were only the third part of the equation. Her education was the first, her spirit the enabler, and IBM provided the vehicle.

Mom & Dad moved to the Endicott area when Dad the engineer took a job with IBM in 1961. In the five years before he passed, he made quite a mark; when I co-op’d there in 1980, people introduced me as Bob’s son. That was an eye-opener. Tom Watson’s IBM took care of their own in those days, and they hired mom the year after dad's death. Sure, they needed every able-bodied brain they could get, but mom’s education opened doors that led past a basic job to a professional career. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a young kid, you don’t see the significance of a lot of things; they just are. When the Chevy wagon went away for the ’67 Firebird, it never occurred to me that mom was young and single and cool. It just meant that when we piled in the car with the neighborhood kids for a ride to McDonald’s, which in those days was take-out and we often ate in the car, it was a tight fit in a tiny backseat. But somehow we fit; we were little, and she was young and single and cool and on top of that, a professional woman.

She wasn’t the only one. IBM was ahead of its time. We spent plenty of time with her professional women friends. It seemed perfectly normal to me. But looking back I can see all the things I didn’t notice then. That small klatch was still an anomaly, even at IBM, and almost non-existent outside that orbit. It was still a man’s world. Mail still came to Mrs. Robert Cattarin a decade or more after dad’s death. She just didn’t let that stop her.

She dated a couple of people but never remarried. She finished the job, so to speak, of raising us, all on her own. Sure, she had help. For years she employed our caretaker, Mrs. Lucas to be there when we got home from school, since she couldn’t be (and yes, she was smart enough to file and pay the employer portion social security taxes, unlike a later Supreme Court candidate who didn't). Her parents would move in for a week each year and scrub every surface and fix every broken thing. And we had the best neighbors in the world. Bill next door was there for anything we needed. Not because of sympathy for that single mom next door, but just because that’s who he was (and still is, for that matter).

By the time I was in high school it had finally dawned on me that the reason I had to coordinate with mom for dinner plans almost daily over email (yes, in 1980, we were both IBMers, she for real, me as a high-school co-op) was because her calendar was, well, crazy. She was crazy involved.

You learn how not to grow moss from such a person.

So back to the scholarship. Why? The scholarship is endowed at the SUNY Broome Foundation and benefits SUNY Broome students. SUNY Broome is the new name for what we knew as Broome Community College (SUNY, for those of you non-New Yorkers, is the State University of New York system). Neither I nor my sister nor mom went to SUNY Broome (though my younger kid did get a fine education at another SUNY school). So why there?

The year after dad passed, mom joined an organization called the American Association of University Women, or AAUW. I don’t know how she learned about it or what spurred her initial sign-up, but it’s not hard to guess that educated professional women in the 60’s were not in the majority, and that the social and intellectual rewards from hanging out with people of her type were a big draw. Mom had attended Stephens College in Missouri, which at that time was a junior college, and then Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (not to be confused with THE Ohio State University), so she had a degree, which, as I’ve noted, probably made all the difference between just making it and making it nicely. I can’t say that IBM wouldn’t have hired her, but I can speculate that they wouldn’t have put her on professional track without her education.

AAUW has been all about advocating for women’s education since their founding in the nineteenth century. Today, when women make up more than half of all college students, that might seem like an anachronism. But when broken down by field, there is still a long way to go. I’m an avid reader of Scientific American, and they’ve run countless columns about how far we are from gender equity in science and research, for example. And even now, there’s no question that traditional women’s roles persist. Not that that’s wrong, but it adds a challenge to a woman trying to come back from life’s curve balls – or beanballs – and lift themselves to success.

Mom worked tirelessly on almost everything that AAUW did. And one of those things that AAUW did was to create a scholarship fund endowed at SUNY Broome, targeting ‘non-traditional’ women students. Not teens just getting started, but women who have taken a curve ball or a beanball and are trying to lift themselves and their families to success. That was mom’s story. My story is what it is because she succeeded.

When mom passed and we wanted to designate a charity for gifts, because we didn’t want flowers and in the age of COVID had nothing to do with them anyway, so sis and I opted for the AAUW scholarship fund as a worthy target. Then when the dust settled, we decided to earmark funds she’d given us years earlier to the same cause. In light of our substantial gift, the AAUW chapter considered renaming their scholarship in mom’s name, but in the end we opted to set up a separate endowed scholarship in her name with the same goals and selection criterion as the original fund. This means more grants to more students. And hopefully more success stories and successful and happy families. And it also serves as a gift to the community which she called home for nearly sixty years, and which gave sis and I our starts.

The scholarship is administered by the SUNY Broome Foundation who’s significant size means the endowment enjoys perpetual professional investment management. The Binghamton AAUW Scholarship Committee will judge applicants, though sis and I can also chime in if we wish, and the Foundation will ensure that if AAUW and sis and I are long gone, they’ll continue to administer the scholarship and award grants. So this really is a perpetual gift.

When was the last time you were able to be a part of a legacy?

Please consider donating to the scholarship fund.

And thanks for reading this.

By the way, you can read mom’s obituary here.

18 September 2020

On Six

Was it just two weeks ago that I broke my blogging silence? Answer: slightly more, but pretty much, yeah. And did I call that one, “Take Six”, whereas I’m calling this one “On Six”? Answer: yeah, but that is purely a convenient coincidence. And when you read this story, should you assume that the last episode was an intentional setup for this one? Answer: Not on your life. Really. It wasn’t.

Sure, I hadn’t published in ten months (nearly eleven, but who’s counting?). And sure, I said it was anyone’s guess as to whether I’d run the Virtual Boston Marathon, with the smart money resting on No. And yes, I did run it a few days later. But it wasn’t a setup. I didn’t know. Trust me on this.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that my previous post saw the light of day on the last day of August. Truth is, it came out under dark of night somewhat after midnight on the first day of September. Having failed to poke my head above water since last October, I felt a weird drive to publish earlier than the month before hitting a solid year of silence. And I came so close to getting it done, missing by about twenty minutes, that I backdated it into August. Call it cheating, and shame me. I know this sounds weird. It just mattered at the time. And this confession matters now, why?

Because that was Tuesday, the first of September, and so far as I knew, there was no way in purgatory (or lower) that I’d run Virtual Boston. Sure, there was a part of me that wanted to do it, but the event window was opening in mere days and I had run a grand total of nine laps around the track – two and a quarter miles – since swapping the running shoes for the bike shoes back in mid-May. And that was absolutely the truth. At that moment.

The very next day, my clubmate Dan turned things up-side-down. 

At noon on Wednesday – yes, the very day after posting that it’d be nearly unthinkable that I’d run a “VBM” – Dan pinged me: “Do you think you could run a half marathon? Would you join us for the first half of our Virtual Boston on Saturday morning? We’ll go slow! I promise!”

Game on.

Now, the idea of showing up and running any distance with a group that would have to figure out what to do when I crumpled into a ball by the side of the road after a few miles was simply ludicrous. But as I’ve said often before, the runner mentality doesn’t rule out ludicrous.

The idea that I’d join them only to run as a pacer or companion for the first half alone wasn’t so much ludicrous as it was a defiance of logic. What’s with this halfway stuff? Why suffer just for that? And me pace them? Seriously, don’t you have that a little backwards? Hey, if I’m in, I’m in.

But I was by no means in. At least, not yet. Not having run only nine laps three weeks earlier.

So I check my calendar and yup, I’ve got no meetings for the next hour. I lace up the shoes and go out the door and, well, let’s just see what happens.

Serendipity happens.

We all know that we run together not only because it’s socially enjoyable, but because in doing so we drive each other forward almost subconsciously. You stop thinking about everything that hurts and you focus on good conversation. But doing anything together of late has been fraught with risk; we all know that even seemingly healthy people can be asymptomatic carriers in the Age of COVID. So I certainly haven’t been calling people up to run or bike or hike with (though I’ve toyed with the idea a few times). But as I noted, serendipity happens.

Less than an hour from Dan’s ping, when I step out the door, a (different) friend I haven’t seen or chatted with in a while runs past my driveway. Like this was all planned. I call out, he holds up for me to waddle up to catch him, and we end up cruising a few miles, blissful chatter making me ignore the fact that my body hasn’t run since, when? Which, to be fair, it really didn’t seem to be minding. Rolling home a whopping four and a quarter miles later and feeling fine, I figured Saturday could happen. But I wasn’t going to commit. Not yet. Let’s at least pop in a few more miles on Thursday, and maybe even a loosen-up jaunt on Friday.

Here’s where I say, “Wait a minute, how old am I, and how long have I been doing this? And don’t I know what’s coming by this point?” Denial is powerful. I really thought I’d run a little more before Saturday. I should have known better. My body has been consistent since, oh, let’s say, forever. There’s a three-day recovery from these first-time-for-anything efforts. From the bodily insult on Day Zero, we move to Day One, where the muscles aren’t happy. Then we hit Day Two, also known as Max Burn Day, which is just that. Day Three brings the fire down to Day One level, and the next day we’re in the clear. This, for me, has always been. The weeks-prior track laps had been so slow, with breaks in-between, that they didn’t trigger the sequence. False confidence. But galivanting off with a friend at a real pace (not fast, but at least a pace in the neighborhood of what Dan had planned for Saturday), well, yeah, that pretty much did it. The clock was activated.

Now you’re doing the math and you’ve quickly realized that time may be flexible in the relativistic space, but not here in normal life, and there wasn’t enough of it. From that run on Wednesday, hmm, then Day One, muscles certainly hurt, I’d better rest. Then Day Two, Max Burn Day, landed on Friday and it was indeed quite the burn; running on them now would probably extend it so I’d better not. And yes, that puts Day Three on… Saturday. Mid-day, really. So no, we’re not out of the woods by early morning Saturday. Not even close.

Having thus not gotten out the door again, that meant Saturday rolled around not only with legs still afire, but with a mere six and a half miles on my running odometer since May. Sweet.

And that brings us to the wordplay section of our story. Those of you who have ever done a track workout with me know that one of my old wisecracks is to tell the group that we’ll start (whatever interval we’re doing) on six. Then I’ll start counting, “One! Two! Six!” and bolt. My fellow runners get a humorous break during the workout, and they catch on after the first few times.

So it is. We go on six. And so it was on Saturday.

Now, Dan’s VBM course started at his home in Hudson, a few miles north of my home, and headed due south to the Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton, which happens to be exactly a half marathon (you really can’t make this up, the distance just works out; it’s eerie). This meant we’d be running through my town, bypassing my home by just a mile or so. Not knowing how this whole VBM would go, I told Dearest Spouse that I might be home within the hour.

The rest is almost a foregone conclusion. Quads, hamstrings, and at least one calf were angry by the very first block from our socially distanced start (which admittedly was virtually impossible to maintain for twenty six miles, though we tried – at least at times) at the chalk start/finish line Dan had laid down in front of his home. Everything north my waist was hunky-dory; the cycling had done it’s work for cardio health, and my brain was deluded enough to ignore the rest, a good thing since the southern half hurt early and just got worse as the day wore on. But chit-chat, ribbing, bad jokes, and even, late in the day, truly horrendous singing kept us going, the three of us who planned to go the distance, and a fourth (later joined by a fifth) along for camaraderie, plus the roadside assistance from Dan’s wife and other friends. I hand Dan a lot of credit for setting all this up – even getting the club’s show clock for the finish line – and for policing our pace to a fault. Riding a wave of adrenaline of stupidity, I cruised past the bail-out-for-home point and just ran. Slowly. Casually. Somewhat painfully. Yet enjoyably. This really was fun

In Hopkinton, we tossed in a loop around the traffic island in front of the common just to ensure we didn’t end up a hair short, which wouldn’t have mattered, since the Virtual Boston Marathon Official App failed miserably: it couldn’t measure distance (twelve-point-oh at the half marathon… cool!), so the results had to be submitted manually anyway. As the saying goes, you had One Job… But we knew the distance and we knew what we did. (The app also failed again later trying to submit results. OK, you had Two Jobs… but hey, it was very good at supplying meaningless rah-rah. Whatever.)

Somehow the Hopkinton cop who cheerfully stopped traffic and seemingly took six pictures of us on the starting line managed to never hit the shutter, so we settled for some disorganized selfies instead. And then we headed north, where, as you might expect, slow and painful became slow and painful at twenty-something miles, a different thing altogether. We’d swapped our southbound pacer companion in Hopkinton for another, so while Marathoner Things One and Two lumbered steadily on, pacer companion Charles dutifully stuck with me when I hit the inevitable walk break zone and dropped back a bit. But by that point it would have taken Jock Semple pulling me off the course to keep me from finishing this foolish folly, and even that might not have worked (it didn’t work for him many years ago, right?)

To add a bit of ironic circular closure to the feat, around mile twenty-three we passed the home of that very same friend who’d distracted me on Wednesday’s run and helped me convince myself that this was a potentially possible stupid thing to do. And there he was, out working on the lawn, getting a front row seat to my soon-to-be successful submission to stupidity, marveling at what he was mostly, but not entirely, not responsible for. A few miles later, it was in the books.

If you don’t count those nine laps around the track back in early August, this was pretty much zero to marathon in three days flat. Not to say I wasn’t in good shape from the cycling and hiking, but, well, they’re clearly different muscles. It was by far the slowest marathon I’ve ever run, even counting those uber-casual Groton Marathons. But that entirely casual approach made it fun, right up to the end.

And technically, I didn’t need to do it. The Boston Athletic Association had announced that not running this would not interrupt any Boston Marathon streak, though in generosity they simultaneously stated that doing it would count toward extending a streak. So call this a freebie, number fourteen, and since they’ve basically grandfathered qualifying times into the next edition, fifteen could be in the cards, if the event even happens and I’m able to move when it does. After that, the likelihood that I’ll requalify for future years is doubtful. Heck, in the few brief runs I’ve taken since that day, I can’t fathom how I managed twenty six at all.

But hey, you never know. I didn’t expect to run any marathon on six, either.

31 August 2020

Phoenix Riding (Or, Take Six!)

To the outside world it seems... He writes occasionally, we read occasionally, what’s the big deal? Heck, we didn’t notice he stopped writing a while back. He didn’t send flowers either.  Who cares? 

To the author it seems... Holy Bejeezus, I’ve been trying to write this column now for six months, no, make that nine! I’ve never gotten to a conclusion, and the world keeps changing. I wonder how long before Google locks you out of your own blog?

This is a running blog, but there’s scant little running going on here. Whatever. My small and anything-but-loyal band of readers know that besides dishing out amusing stories to compete for a tiny sliver of their time, my goal in this now dozen-year-long series of chronicles has been to provide some positivism, some uplift (and this year being Excrement Expo 2020, we really need positivism). Sure, there have been chapters where I’ve railed on various organizations or situations, but at the end of the day, I’m a moderately old guy who tries to keep at it, and in telling the tale of doing so, encourage others, moderately, very, or even not old, to do the same. When my unnaturally excessive activity light winks out, that will be a sad day. 

So world, let me say this: I’m not dead yet. I may have some flesh wounds, but I’m in decent shape at the moment, though that isn’t due to running. Or perhaps it is; not physically, but mentally. The running brain, perhaps the lizard part of it, but whatever, it just won’t let you hang up the active life and the desire to stay fit. So when one avenue is shut down, you find a different road. This new one (which really isn’t new at all) uses two wheels. 

For years I’ve weathered scorn from non-runners who insisted I’d ruin my [pick your favorite joints – knees, hips, feet, whatever]. And today I write with a diagnosed meniscus tear and unquestionably sore knees. So were they right? Maybe. Maybe not. But even if they were, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a hella’ ride, and it isn’t over, as Bluto (Belushi) once said, till we decide it is. 

Yes, I have sore knees, but consider that before I started running, I couldn’t hike downhill without knee braces. Now, Adirondack Death Marches are a regular occurrence (including thirty-seven miles, five summits, and ten-thousand-foot-plus vertical feet over two days a few weeks back…which was a bit much, I’ll admit…so really, can I blame running for my woes?) I could point out other benefits, but the reality is, If I hadn’t been running for the last fifteen years, I’d bet good money that plenty of other things would hurt a lot more. Motion is lotion, as my most recent physical therapist likes to say (she’s right, of course). 

I’ve completed fifty-seven solar orbits, and when I look at my male ancestors when they were my age (at least the ones that weren’t already dead by then, which is most of them), they look, to be frank, what I think of as old. My beloved Uncle Joe, pictured at about a year younger than I am now, looked like someone approaching sixty, which isn’t a bad thing for someone who was, in fact, approaching sixty (and he made it to ninety-nine, smiling all the way, so he clearly did a lot of things right). But I look in the mirror and I don’t see the word sixty (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, you are, [gosh, thanks!] but I’m waxing philosophical here, so just go with it), nor do I see the appearance of true age in most of my active circle. Maybe it’s just my rockin’ fashion sense compared to Joe’s era (I hear you laugh uproariously) or failings of the photography of his day, but I’d like to think that our mutually-supported active life has staved off decline to the rocking chair by a bit, and I think Dearest Spouse and my clubmates would agree. A few wounds aren’t too bad a price. 

All that being said, the reason I’m in decent shape at the moment is largely thanks to inspiration from Dearest Offspring the Younger, who back in May, while she hunkered down with us for a three-month COVID-induced house arrest (and cooked up for us an incredibly creative menu and breads and desserts and…), suggested we go for a bike ride. Out came the trusty Trek 520, purchased for the princely sum of three hundred eighty-three bucks almost exactly thirty-four years earlier (with thanks to Wing-San for the advice on that life purchase). The same trusty Trek that carried me through Appalachian Mountain Club Vermont Green Mountain Death Rides in the eighties (said sled being held up by a cycling companion, name forgotten, in the pic, circa 1989), and more importantly, carried me on AMC Worcester Thursday night rides where on one fateful evening in 1991 I met a charming lady who would become Dearest Spouse. Yes, said trusty Trek emerged, and its tires, which I couldn’t even pin to a specific decade, actually held air. And now, nineteen-hundred miles later, I’m no longer feeling like a tub.

Cycling isn’t a new thing, it’s just been in hibernation for about a quarter century. And it arrived just in time. When that fateful return to the bike came around, I’d been trying to turn the running thing back on after a six-month healing break, during which, well, we’ll get to all the fun and games that went down during that time of silence in a bit. But truth be told, it wasn’t going so well. My pace was, by my standards, molasses-like, which really didn’t matter, but worse, my body was, by anyone’s standards, rebelling. Then those two wheels rolled in to bring me back from the world of the fitness dead. Not like Phoenix rising, but like Phoenix riding. Yep, there it is, that clever title tie-in. You were waiting for it, weren’t you?

Mind you, that six-month break produced a half-dozen tries to put out some sort of an update on how things just weren’t healing. But each time I came around to, “But things just aren’t healing, I’m not running, and my loving readers, they just don’t care,” and I’d put it aside for a few weeks. Then come back to it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Perhaps by this sixth try I’ll get it out the door. Heck, by now the article even has two titles! So, Take Six! 

 So, in rapid-fire succession, 

Take Zero (because you heard this already): The half-marathon I shouldn’t have finished, and the Cheese Storm Incident (also known as CSI: Marlborough). And… he’s down.

Take One: Death by PT! Which really meant lots of exercises that we hoped would make things stronger without breaking anything else. And sitting on the beloved (not) spin bike at the gym (which you could do, pre-COVID). And getting a bit pudgy. (Yeah, I know, not by societal standards, but still…) The plan was to do this until said knee plateaued for at least three months, at which point we might think about the nuclear option (wait, who’s “we”, I hear you ask? In this case it’s Dr. Triathlon and I, who made a secret plot to run the NYC marathon together… how’d that work out, eh?). And I wrote about it. But you really didn’t care. So I put it aside, unpublished.

Take Two: Where I prove to have the patience of a puppy. We opt to pull in our dates and jump to the nuclear option ahead of time. But Dr. Triathlon manages to break some of his own bones skiing (I ask him, “When an orthopedist breaks something, who do YOU go to?” He replies, “Me!”), so things get delayed, and next thing you know it’s time for my half-business, half-pleasure trip to Arizona where Dearest Spouse and I plan to hike the deserts after my conference. An unexpected traffic encounter (which happened to be in Phoenix; thus her recovery adds a sort of double entendre to Phoenix half of the title, you think?) puts an end to her hiking plans, but we wander the countryside anyway and I get one day of hiking at a really wild place called Chiricahua (the picture here doesn’t do it justice, you’ve gotta’ go there!), which I’d never heard of before, but which seems to pop up everywhere since. And I wrote about it, or started to, because it while the desert was cool (or hot), the whole trip experience wasn’t very uplifting (you might say it was impactful), so I put it aside, unpublished.

Take Three: The nuclear option, PRP, or Plasma Rich Platelets (as opposed to the thermonuclear option, traditional meniscus surgery, which we’d decided is a bad idea for anyone who plans to remain very active). In this chapter, we extract some of my ether of life, centrifuge the daylights out of it in a really cool machine, and come up with a syringe of highly concentrated platelets – the component of your blood that induces healing. Dr. Tri refers to this stuff as “Miracle Gro”, as opposed to the sack of red blood cells left over, which will get you DQ’d for blood doping. Then we inject it into my knee and see what happens. Which, the first time, is not much. And the second time, feeling like a human pincushion, is sadly still not much. Well, you’ve gotta’ go up to bat, right? It was worth trying. And I wrote about it, but besides pictures of the cool blood machine, there wasn’t a lot compelling, so I put it aside, unpublished.

Take Four: It’s now pushing March and looking doubtful I’ll be able to keep my Boston Marathon streak alive. So I hatch a diabolical plan: Cook up a virus in my Level Four Biohazard Lab deep in the basement, unleash it on the world (of course, I had thought of this and started months earlier, because I’m diabolical), and make sure the nation is led by the most incompetent collection of liars, cheats, and morons we’ve ever seen. And it worked. Boston is postponed. Five extra months to heal. My streak might live on… And I wrote about it, but the O.J. Simpson “What If I Did It?” joke was truly tasteless even by my standards, so I put it aside, unpublished.

Take Five: Said virus forces Dearest Offspring the Younger, now an experienced chef, to abandon her upstate New York outpost and take refuge in Fort Home, resulting in the aforementioned orgy of baking and cooking and pastry the likes of which the world has rarely seen. I don’t believe we ate the same dinner twice. It was, what you might call, an expansionary time. Around the time when Boston was to have been run, I tried to get back out there. I logged about eighty-five miles over a month, not enough to counteract the culinary delights, and of course, the gym was closed. Things were getting desperate. And I wrote about it, but it was just another Oh Woe Is Me tale, so I put it aside, unpublished.

And then: “Hey Dad, let’s go for a bike ride.” 

Take Six: Phoenix rides. 

[Truth in advertising: Really that was Take Seven. The original Take Six didn’t make it out the door, either. I wrote about the cycling emerging, but wasn’t sure the it would stick, so I put it aside, unpublished. But Seven was pretty much Six, so I stopped counting.]

Once I glued my thirty-year-old cycling shoes back together with silicone caulk (since shopping the Age of COVID is a challenge) and refreshed my bicycle maintenance skills, the bike quickly became a habit, much like running. The first month was exciting, the second settled into a routine, but a good one, and by the third I’d ridden to towns I’d never driven through, not to mention all three neighboring states. It’s been a ride, literally; and one that my knees have been happy about. And no, I don’t know what I’ll do come November. 

Somewhere in the haze of quarantined days, Boston turned from postponed to cancelled to virtual, and that event comes up in a few days. I’ve run a grand total of two miles around the track in the last three months. But between the cycling and plenty of hikes ranging from those Death Marches to reasonable mountains to some amusing local stuff (triple points!), the summer has seen plenty of fitness restored. Whether it will let me jog a ludicrously slow virtual marathon is anyone’s guess. Whether I’ll even try is also anyone’s guess. Wagers, anyone? 

Truth is, this could well be the end of big running miles. Or maybe not, who knows? I have been and always will be a big proponent of running as a source of physical and mental fitness, but I never deluded myself into thinking it would last forever. If this turns out to be a transition, I might not spend much time running, but the running mentality won’t let me sit on my posterior, either. It’s just fitness OCD redefined to another medium.

27 October 2019

The Cheese Storm Incident

It’s fitting, I suppose. My first attempt to run the New York City Marathon dramatically came to an end thanks to a major storm. So it was, again, this time. Sort of. That first time it was Hurricane Sandy, which, after a week of dithering (what to do?), finally put the nail in the coffin of the event. This latest time it was an entirely different and somewhat odd type of storm, which, after a month of dithering (what to do?), it too finally put the nail in the coffin of the event. Such was born the Cheese Storm Incident.

I suppose I deserve it. I’ve always had an aversion to trash-talking of any sort; you trash-talk and you usually get bit. That’s why I never do it before a race. I avoid it so much that my clubmates regularly ignore me when I anti-trash-talk (if that’s a thing) and point out how crappy I’m usually feeling and how poorly I expect to perform before toeing the line. Even when I really do have a Meh race, they often don’t see it that way, only reinforcing their disbelief of my pre-race grumblings.

This time, I blew it.

Granted, what I did would hardly be called trash-talking, but by my standards, perhaps I jinxed myself. I wrote “I Must Run This Marathon”, and I stated aloud far too many times that I’d be running New York come hell or high water (though considering Hurricane Sandy, high water would in fact be a good reason why I wouldn’t run, but you get the idea). I guess that for me that qualified as braggadocio. I opened my mouth. I got bit.

I’m out. Cancelled. Not only that but sidelined. I’m now oh-for-three on New York.

To cut to the car crash, as a former co-worker used to say, I’m the proud owner of a complete radial tear in posterior horn of the medial meniscus of my right knee, and, in the wake of the Cheese Storm, it might actually be worse. Dr. Triathlon (we’ll get to him later) prefers the self-healing option, which could take up to (gulp!) six months, though I’m hoping for four. Surgery, says he, only removes material and hastens the onset of bone-on-bone arthritis, not a good idea for the active, athletic type, especially when there’s already evidence of some bone degeneration around the tear. In short, me and the (literal) pain-in-the-ass stationary bike down at El-Cheapo gym are going to be good friends for quite a while.

Oh how did we get here? How have we sunk so low? How has the ever-increasing entropy of the universe caught up with us? (We? Us? I hear you saying… Yes, you’re just fine, I’m the hurtin’ puppy. It’s just linguistic artistic license. Go with it.)

It all started in a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno California… no, wait, that was Ted Baxter (just checking to see how old you, dear reader, really are). In my case it all started with a simple walk around town back in May, prior to Sugarloaf. Or at least that’s when I noticed it. It probably started before that, because the symptom that came on quite suddenly that day, as Dearest Spouse and I neared completion of a long circuit around our beloved city wasn’t so much in the knee as behind it. Suddenly I couldn’t straighten my leg, and later I’d find I couldn’t bend it all the way, either. This, it would turn out, appeared to be the work of a big-ass baker’s cyst, which itself appeared to be the work of an already ticked off meniscus. But at that stage, who knew? I did what all runners do: walked it off, managed the pain. We live for pain, right? Then Sugarloaf came with decent results, so I shrugged it off. Runner mentality.

But as I’ve previously documented, I really couldn’t entirely shrug it off. I don’t need to reiterate the bitching and moaning of my last post. Suffice to say that during the last Adirondack Death March weekend of the season the pain was manageable, but for days afterward I wasn’t moving too well. And New York loomed. What to do? This called for a Plan, yes, that’s Plan with a Capital P.

Serendipity dropped an interesting idea. A running bud posted that a half-marathon needed pacers. On Nantucket. Now, I’ve lived in the Commonwealth for over thirty-four years, and I’ve yet to go to Nantucket. I know, it’s just an island, but someday I need to set foot there. And a half marathon would force some decent miles, three weeks before New York. And acting as a pacer would force a slow, comfortable pace. It would be a proof point, a bit of confidence heading into which might be an Epic Struggle in New York. To be fair, it wasn’t the greatest deal around; though the race was free for pacers, the boat ticket and the pacing team shirt rang up to a decent price, but I really didn’t care. It was an Adventure. It was Nantucket. And it fit within The Plan.

Just to be sure I wasn’t running on anything seriously broken, I paid a visit to a new orthopedist, an athletic type we’ll call Dr. Triathlon (I told you we’d get to him) who came recommended by my current physical therapist and spiritual advisor as the best knee guy out there. A couple of fresh x-rays revealed nothing (though I’d never learn why the radiologist put a menacing arrow on one of them), no surprise for what I expected was a soft tissue issue. I left his office cleared to run but a bit perplexed. I was skeptical of his diagnosis (said skepticism would prove apt in due time) that the lower end of my hamstring, which wraps around the inside of the knee where the pain was greatest, was seriously angry. This really didn’t fit the bone-centric pain I was feeling, but hey, he’s the doctor, right? I left with a prescription for some beat-things-into-submission meds.

Which did nothing. So much for that theory. And the horizon seemed to be sinking by the day. By the time the pacing team shirt showed up in the mail, I was no longer certain I could even run that half at the comfortable pace I’d committed. And as a pacer, I couldn’t chance letting down those whom I’d be pacing. Time to amend The Plan.

Turns out I had a free entry to another local half marathon (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty; it was free because the previous race by this organization had, um, underperformed, let’s say, so they offered me this one). Two weeks before Nantucket.

Now you are starting to see the absurdity of the situation. From running a Boston Qualifier in May, I was reduced to running a half marathon just to see if I could run a half marathon slowly as a pacer, which in itself was just to see if I had a shot in heck of running New York. Sad, ain’t it?

The day of said local half dawned close to ideal. It’d turn mildly warm a few miles in, but nothing to provide any excuse for a total collapse; no, this would all be on me. A small gaggle of about seventy lined up at an obscure spot on an obscure road in an obscure town, and with zero expectations for racing performance – this was, after all, just a test of going the distance casually – I sauntered off about as casually as I’ve ever started a race. Frankly, it was downright pleasant.

And for a while, it stayed that way. I was easily exceeding the pace I’d need to pace without much effort. For a few miles I linked up with the young lady who’d win the women’s side; curiously she looked familiar, which turned out to be because I’d run an earlier event with her identical twin sister. All was sunshine, butterflies, and happiness (along with a couple of good hills, which I rather enjoyed, I really loved the course) till about halfway in. Then all went to hell in the space of a mile.

From cruising to barely moving. From, yeah, the knee hurts a little, but no different than usual, to a stride so uneven, so favoring the tragic knee that the opposite calf started twitching dangerously. From humming to a broken wreck. Stretching stops. Both calves flipping out. As much pain walking (no, limping) as running (no, jogging). Downright pathetic. But just as stupidly as ever, willing myself to finish. I shuffled home, tail between legs, and drowned my sorrows by crashing the party at the hometown 5K, a far more jovial, friend-filled, and food-and-beer equipped event.

Now I wasn’t just not moving too well, I was in downright agony. Running was out of the question. A flurry of phone calls to Dr. Triathlon’s office over the course of the week got me booked for an MRI that Friday night, and after laying in the bang-bang tube with the earphones pumping bad music (really, that’s what they called ‘classic rock’?) I left with a DVD that I totally could not interpret. I mean, x-rays are straightforward. MRIs are wild. Looking at those images, I swore there were cracks right through the base of my femur, which felt about right for the pain (wrong: just normal vascular structures that exist inside your bones…who knew?). But by the weekend, the pain was calming down and I was feeling like this too would pass.

Do you remember that this is supposed to be about the Cheese Storm Incident? I haven’t forgotten. It’s time.

It’s now Monday evening. I have an MRI in hand. I have an appointment with Dr. Tri and, I suppose, with fate, in the morning. And I have a substantial bowl of pasta in front of me for dinner, whipped up by Dearest Spouse. And DS picks up the jar of grated cheese, because this being a more-or-less desperation dinner, it doesn’t merit grating up the real parmesan in the fridge. And it’s one of those store-brand plastic jars with the lid that opens on one side to sprinkle and on the other to pour or spoon. And she holds onto the lid flap and shakes it vigorously to break up the clumps. But only one lid flap. The other is freer than a love child at Burning Man. And it’s the side that pours. And oh, did it rain. It poured.

Cheese Storm. Category Five.

An instant of silence, that tension of, she’s wondering, will he be pissed at this lapse (which, admittedly, I’ve been known to allow to happen, I’m not proud of that failing), and… we burst out laughing. A happy old married couple moment. Dearest Spouse starts to move to clean up and I say, oh, just sit down and eat, we’ll deal with it later. We eat our dinner surrounded by a fresh coat of cheese as delicate as the soon to arrive snow. See, even I can be poetic if I try hard.

Sated with pasta, I retrieve the vacuum from the basement, and we work more efficiently than FEMA after a tornado to remediate the mayhem. Satisfied, I walk gently down the stairs to return said vacuum, still fully aware that my knee is not in top form. And halfway down, on an otherwise ordinary step, something goes pop, or crunch, or snap, I really don’t know, but I know it makes some sort of discernable unpleasant nonstandard noise, and the pain shoots, and I cannot move. At that moment, I know it’s over. My hopes of pulling off the New York City Marathon at last – are toast. I spend the evening crawling around the house. It’s that bad.

Thus, the Cheese Storm Incident. So, how did you kill your knee? Cleaning up cheese. No, really.

I stumble into Dr. Triathlon’s office the next morning on crutches. He doesn’t seem alarmed. I guess he’s used to this, but since I’d left him in far better shape the last time I’d seen him, I guess I expected at least a little surprise. The MRI, which, having been taken Friday night before Tropical Storm Romano made landfall, is probably already obsolete (though again, Dr. Tri didn’t seem concerned by this either), shows the damage. Only a radiologist could string together prose like, “Complete radial tear of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus. Associated edema at the meniscocapsular junction at the level of the posterior horn may represent meniscocapsular sprain.” There was more, but I don’t want to unnecessarily raise the average word length of this saga.

I didn’t disagree with Dr. Tri’s assessment that it’s worth trying to let it heal rather than surgically snipping out parts that will never grow back. So it’s months of no running. Pray for my sanity. No Nantucket – not a big deal, though I felt bad for having committed and having to pull out. But moreso... No New York. And so that’s it. Three and out.

Unlike Boston, New York does allow for a deferral, so I can translate my entry to next year (paying again, but whatever…). But I’ll have to decide that around January, when it may not be entirely clear how well the healing is going. I had already concluded that it was probably time to scale back to shorter distances – I just planned to ease into that after New York, and Boston, and, well…I’d get there at some point, and not fret about it. There are always adventures to be had that don’t require twenty-six miles, and there are plenty more summits as well. Just take it as it comes…

But you’ve got to admit that if it had to happen, you couldn’t ask for a better title for the big moment.

21 August 2019

Either / Or

An email arrived a week back that sent a jolt through the system. Time to pick your transportation and baggage options for the New York City Marathon. It’s less than three months away.

Marathon? I’ve got a marathon slated out there? In less than three months? And not just any marathon, but New York, where I am Oh-for-Two, the first miss being Hurricane Sandy which wiped the event and much of Staten Island off the map, the second being a couple years back when my injured state just would not let it happen, so now, third time’s a charm (right?), and I Must Run This Marathon. But oh, how far from marathon shape I am in. Or not in.

Sure, I ran Sugarloaf just three short months ago, and sure, I pulled off a respectable showing. But oh, how fast things have been falling apart. I’m getting out there, but not necessarily to run or do anything remotely like getting ready for New York. Consider, I hiked as far in the Adirondacks in one three-day stretch last month as I ran for the entire month. Granted, while those classic Adirondack Death Marches didn’t hurt so far as endurance and fitness go (but certainly did leave scars both physical and emotional), …they were not runs. That’s different fitness.

Life has, I’m afraid, come down to an Either / Or proposition at this point. Too much running sometimes leaves me with tenderized joints that might – or might not – survive the next scheduled Death March (and those events need to be scheduled – travel, companions, etc.). But too much hiking leaves me without the running fitness that I need to be building, rather than losing, with New York looming. This year, injured or not, I am going (dammit), even if I need to jog or walk the thing. Thus, I need to be in some sort of shape other than marshmallow.

As such, there have been lots of non-running days before hiking expeditions, and there have been a lot of expeditions lately due to my obsession of chasing both Adirondack 46er status (and with it, completion of the Northeast 111 list, which, as I’ve noted here before, curiously includes 115 summits), and the New England Hundred Highest roster. None of the remaining summits on either list are common with the other, so I’ve got plenty of rocks to scale and short seasons (considering weather and daylight) to cram them in. And no, neither completion will happen this year, but you’ve got to make headway, right?

With little running comes little racing and with little racing comes little writing. The cable news industry may have to fill their airwaves, so for them, any news, even news that really isn’t, is news. The Weather Channel also ran into this problem, but their solution was to create so much weather-themed-but-not-actually-weather content that it seemed there was never any weather being reported when I tuned in, so I stopped tuning in. I’m not keen to emulate those models, so when I have little of great interest, I just go a bit dark.

And it’s been a bit dark of late, even somewhat depressing. A difficult time for someone who’s theme here is to find the bright spots, stay positive, highlight the good, shine with motivation. My body has decided to age quite a bit in recent months, and things hurt, things don’t heal, challenges mount. I used to carry on about the pesky left knee, but now it has a partner on the right which hurts in an entirely different manner, and, irony of irony, one hurts more running, the other walking, so you can’t win. Training has suffered. Racing has suffered. Fitness has suffered. But all bitching and moaning makes Jack a dull boy. So let’s stop bitching and tell stories anyway.

June brought about an entirely ordinary five-kilometer race, and July followed with an even more ordinary five-miler on the Fourth. Bitch, bitch, moan, moan, I hear you say, you still took a first and a second in your age group in those races, respectively. Yeah, but when you’re a full minute slower in than just a year back in a very short race, well, that’s disappointing. But there is good.

June’s outing was our local club’s race in honor of fallen Massachusetts State Trooped Thomas Clardy. It’s a race, but really, it’s a mission, so whatever racing performance comes out of something like this is secondary to our efforts to make it a premier event. And a premier event it was, all hands on deck from the club, the entire recruit class of the State Police running the course in formation, and a truly impressive showing from the law enforcement community, striking a note of pride in all of us. Oh, and there was also the fun of herding – and sometimes racing – the kids through the mini-marathon course. Hard work, I know, but somebody had to do it.

And as the race went, it wasn’t terrible, though it was a bit of a roller-coaster. Doing double duty as both race staff and runner, I didn’t commit to even leaving the start line until about ten minutes before the gun, and even then, I questioned why. Less than a mile in, passing Dearest Spouse, I gave her a look of anguish and shouted out, “It’s bad.”, but the mile clicked in better than expected giving me a reason for why I felt so beat up, so spirits brightened. Yet minutes later, by the halfway mark I was back on the rocks, so baked, so fried, that when a clubmate of my generation crept alongside, I gave in and told him to go out and get it, since my get it had got up and gone. But with a half mile to go, he tanked as well, and I had that momentary internal debate of honor: after having verbally conceded, what kind of cad would smoke on by? I rationalized that it wasn’t so much about passing him as it was about not letting myself disintegrate, not giving in even more, not letting myself slow down further, no matter who was in front or behind me. So, what could I do? It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. And all of this action-packed drama in a mere three miles.

The amusement of the day was that while I put nine seconds on him by the line to take the Mostly Fossilized Division, the next finisher, a mere four seconds later, was equally ripened and rounded out the top three of our division. Thirteen seconds and three consecutive finishers covered the podium for our the old farts. Don’t think I’ve seen that before.

So, let’s see, we had civic pride, come-from-behind drama, and a statistical anomaly. Plenty good.

No such drama a month later at the Harvard Five-Miler on the Fourth of July. Just a hot, hilly, hellacious haul, and this time when an apparently fossilized competitor passed me by, I just smiled and waved and let him go as there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it, then turned my attention back to coaching the young kid next to me while we tackled the big climb. My initial assessment of my vanquisher’s maturity proved accurate;
yes, you can indeed judge a book by its cover, and so I settled for the slightly smaller second-place-sized jug of maple syrup. The race? Meh. The outing with my clubmates? A prime example of finding the good.

And so, with no other races slated till fall, that would, by this not-very-ripe date of mid-August, have wrapped up the story of the summer already. Except that the summer has been repurposed for knocking off summits. Remember that bit about finding the good? Well, here's more: I’m declaring this a big win season, just in a different category. Since the start of last month, eight of the New England Hundred Highest have fallen, plus three of the ‘Dacks. I won’t finish either list this year, so I’d better not expire just yet, but that takes out a quarter of my remaining peaks in barely six weeks.

Hundred Highest summits range from mellow to obscure to gnarly, and each assault has taken on a different flavor. East Sleeper, a blowdown-encrusted viewless and forlorn spot, came down with the interesting bonus of signing on to a seven-summit multi-day backpacking trip, the first time I’ve strapped on a full pack since the early nineties. The good? I didn’t die. The Weeks (North, Middle, and South, two count, guess which ones…) topped Sleeper with an even more hellaciously blown down obstructed excuse for a trail, but served up some sublimely green and beautiful (and oddly flat) summits. Equinox and Pico delivered relatively tame – as in, pleasant, passable trails – ascents shared with Dearest Spouse, as did Jay. But the lug from that latter spot to its sister summit,
Big Jay, on a brushy, blowdown-tangled, mud and muck filled semblance of a barely beaten path which required an hour-twenty to cover a single mile (which of course had to be covered again in reverse) had DS questioning my sanity. And the last of this set (not chronologically, but story-logically), Vermont’s Mendon, offered some mild navigational challenges, but all in all could only be classified as a pleasant recovery hike because it came the day after that three-day stretch of Death Marches just to the west, and I needed something that by comparison seemed reasonable. Which brings us to…

I’m repeatedly taken aback by the Adirondacks. What they call trails out there boggle the mind compared to most New England trails (and consider that what we call trails in New England boggle the minds of folks from out west and other areas, so let’s give this insanity the ranking it is due). And then, as bad as those are, much of the ‘dacks are crisscrossed not with official trails but instead with herd paths, unmaintained trails that cover stunningly impassable terrain, serve up absurd steepness, and imbue general disbelief. It seems that around every corner is another, “You’ve gotta’ be kidding me!” moment.

Intrepid Adventurer Daniel, who I met years ago in the midst of the Mohawk Hudson Marathon and who has, since then, caught ‘dacks fever, met me for this multi-day scheduled abuse-a-thon. Day One served up a mere ten and a half miles on a relatively simple summit with only one “Holy Excrement” moment, a thirty-foot pitch described in the guide with the understatement, “very steep” that tested my upper-body climbing capabilities as well as a bit of mental gumption. (Of course, you never get pictures of these spots, since the camera is safely packed away at suck moments so that if they have to come and recover your limp and broken body, they’ll be able to recover the Trip So Far on your device.)

Day Two’s target was the summit that makes aspiring Adirondack 46ers groan: Allen. It’s a nineteen-and-a-half mile out and back, but its special joy is that you really don’t start climbing the mountain until about eight-and-a-half miles in, at which point you’ve got about two thousand feet of ascent in about a mile, up a rock slab waterfall coated in Allen’s famed red-slime algae. And of course, you also have to come back down the same way, because mountain justice is cruel. We survived the ordeal with a combined three butt-landings (Daniel won this one, two to one) and one hanging-from-a-tree-while-both-feet-flailed-for-a-grip (my special moment of joy).

For Day Three, we needed something a little less mentally taxing. I thought I had a good target. I failed miserably. Seymour turned into another way-too-steep slab climb (how steep? …let’s just say, if you’re a Scotsman, don’t wear a kilt) with way too many snarling struggles up precarious pitches, way too many brushy side paths, and way too much swinging from the trees while heading both uphill and down. It was during this ascent that the mountain nearly defeated me. For a time, I went to a dark place, I lost my will to fight, I decided that I might not finish this quest. But like a good marathon, the mind recovers.

So yeah, we’re going back for more. I won’t lie. Some of the challenges I’ve read and heard about on the summits that remain downright scare me. I’m still not certain I’ll finish either of these challenges. And I’m not sure my knees will hold up – either for ascending (and worse, descending) the heights, as well as surviving the distance of the Big Apple’s mean streets this fall. But the marathon mentality draws me to give it a try. And that’s always good.

06 June 2019


My clubmates and I debated the idea endlessly. Just who’s idea was this, anyway? How did we manage to drag fifteen runners (plus a few family members) to the middle of nowhere to run a marathon? (To be precise, a dozen for the marathon and a few more for the shorter sister event, but nevertheless…) Clearly this was a fine example of groupthink, or perhaps just a stone rolling downhill and, against all odds, picking up moss, which may be an apt metaphor since the Sugarloaf Marathon serves up plenty of downhills.

This mass mileage migration wasn’t my idea, but I’ll admit I encouraged it, because I was one of only two of us who’d done this one before. I did offer positive reviews to those who asked, but still, not my idea, nor was I the first in, even though I’d signed on in December, since even then I had an inkling that I might need a do-over if Boston didn’t go so well. Which, as you’ve read, it didn’t. Gee, I was so wise (he says in hindsight, ignoring the times he wasn’t.)

That rolling rock picked up momentum, adding people, adding a rental house which almost guaranteed this would be not just an event but an Event, adding the synergistic contributions that happen when a dozen-plus mildly crazy and heavily motivated people all get closer to Time Zero and toss in more ideas (custom jerseys for our “Loafers” team!), more support (every mechanical muscular recovery device known to man!), and, as it would turn out, more (much more!) food. And beverages, of course. Goes with the neighborhood.

The result was probably the finest race weekend I’ve ever enjoyed. Not the finest race, though that wasn’t so bad, either. (Spoiler: Yes, I’m back in for Boston 2020, my ticket is punched for number fourteen.) But as far as club camaraderie, mutual support, and just plain fun, yes, the finest. And I say that with fine thanks to my ‘mates.

Sugarloaf is a net downhill course. That doesn’t make it easy. Boston is a net downhill course, too, and nobody will tell you that makes it easy. But Sugarloaf does have a little more marathon-friendly hill profile going for it, in that you do the big climbs in the second five miles, when you’re still relatively fresh. Or at least you should be; the previous time I ran this race three years back, I suffered a mental death on the biggest climb around mile nine and pretty much wrote the day off, only to find a miraculous rebirth just past the midway mark, where you are treated to one of the finest gravity assists in the business. That day’s rebirth led to what was my last (and may well forever remain my last) sub-three day.

That gravity assist, a winding, scenic, rollicking river-serenaded chute from miles twelve to seventeen, is enough to lift anyone’s spirits significantly while lowering their elevation dramatically, rocketing you into the relative drudgery of eighteen through twenty-five with just a bit more juice than you might have otherwise had. It’s because of this that Sugarloaf is said to offer a boost of anywhere from a few to ten minutes off your Boston time. It’s because of this, and the fact that being five weeks later, you can recover from Boston but still reap the benefits of your training (indeed, Boston itself is training for this one) that Sugarloaf is an excellent choice for that do-over.

Galileo proved (supposedly, whether the experiment actually happened is disputed) that gravitational acceleration is independent of mass. Our gang, acting like a bunch of climate-denying anti-vaxers, ignored science and tried to prove quite the opposite.
Anticipating that downhill course and apparently assuming more mass would increase velocity and reduce rolling resistance, we ate our way north, starting Friday in Portland (Salvage Barbeque!), continuing unabated (with interruptions for mirth and shenanigans) through Saturday night’s immense pre-race dinner that, as Arlo Guthrie might say, could not be beat, ensuring we hit the line Sunday morning fueled with a ton of bricks and ready to roll on down the hill to Kingfield, which is an attempt at a poetic way of saying that we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s mutual contributions to the feast, or more simply,
that we ate a lot.

Conservatism, not something I’d ever aspire to politically, was my obvious strategy. Don’t blow up. Get that qualifier. Get back to Boston next April. But that was my plan this past April too, and it didn’t work out so well that time. Still, given what I had to work with – a rather abused body, undertrained for the task, but coupled with a brain trained and willing to override synapses screaming ‘Stop!’ – I had little choice but to replicate my Boston plan. Go out at a comfortable pace and start banking time ahead of my Boston qualifier pace and hope to hell I held it together.

Unlike Boston, the weather cooperated, almost too much. Rather than warm and humid with expectations of warmer, this one dawned chilly and drizzle with expectations of chilly and rain, not much different from my last ramble down Maine Route Twenty-Seven. Indeed, it was chilly enough that after stripping down to my planned race duds, turning in my gear to the baggage bus, and jogging a quarter-mile warm-up, I went through a rather ludicrous panic phase, deciding it was too cold, deciding I needed my rain jacket, deciding I’d board the bus and rifle through a couple hundred bags to retrieve said cloak. You’d think I’d learn by now. Fortunately, I failed in finding that needle in the haystack and went off in my planned get-up, which was comfortable by a mile in, and which, even as the rains turned heavy late in the race, turned out perfectly. Indeed, while a bit squishy by the end with a few spates of annoying headwind, conditions really couldn’t have better.

The start of this race was almost a party. Dead flat, targeting a low-effort pace, chit-chatting while the drop-dead gorgeous scenery of Flagstaff Lake and the Bigelow Range distracted our attention (you must at some point in your life hike the Bigelows), then cruising into the town of Stratton to be surprised by a friend perched on a motel balcony (how on Earth he spotted me from above while I was wearing a hat is beyond me, but let’s face it, he’s talented in multiple ways), the first five slipped by while I banked well over two hundred seconds ahead of goal pace. Echoing Boston, I’d started my mantra of mental math early, but again knowing full well how an Epic Collapse could drain that account in a matter of a few miles. And knowing full well how mile nine, the biggest climb on the course, had just about killed me a few years back.

Nine hurt. I slipped over qualifier pace and spent a bit of my banked time assets. And ten and eleven, though downhill, didn’t pick up all that much. We’d joked ahead of the race that owing to the location of our rental house, if things didn’t look rosy we could simply take a right turn at mile eleven, bail out, and call it a day. Even though my bank account was now approaching four hundred by that point, I still had my doubts and gave the option half a brain cycle. I’d learn from my clubmates later that I wasn’t the only one who did so. But the marathon mentality kicked in. It’s not supposed to be easy. Carry on.

Sugarloaf’s Gravity Assist then worked its magic. I could question the accuracy of the mile marking placements, but what’s the point? Mile fourteen flew. Mile fifteen defied reason. My bank account exploded like the price of Nortel stock during the dot-com bubble. But that didn’t last. Could I?

Sugarloaf runs a fifteen-kilometer sister event. They line everyone up around mile seventeen and point them to the same finish line. Unfortunately for those racers, they miss all the fun, since the last nine miles, or at least eight of them till you pull into Kingfield, are the drudgery of the course. There are nice spots to be sure, places where the river continues to serenade with its gurgling goodness, but by and large this stretch is a slog, plain and simple.

Were I properly trained, I’d be leveraging the power conserved by the earlier joys of the course into an epic drive down that slog and all the way home. After all, save a few small insulting late mini-hills, most of this stretch, while dull, is still a mild descent. But as it was, there was no epic drive, just an epic grind. This was my thirtieth (official) marathon, yet I still can’t pinpoint how anyone, let alone me, can focus a brain to force a body that wants with every fiber to take a seat to instead plow on – for another solid hour. Eight miles… seven miles…six miles… pace rising, but slowly, under control… five miles… four miles… scanning ahead and being continually confused and disappointed by someone well ahead of me who’s white jersey looked distinctly like a mile marker… three miles… two miles… holding it together, bank account still growing, never willing to acknowledge I could crawl it in for the Boston qualifier, because, well, maybe I couldn’t.

Not until twenty-five did I slow enough to spend a few seconds from the bank rather than contribute, the first time since mile nine. Picking it up through the final push of twenty-six, the math hinted I might even break a ten-minute barrier, but the last point-two ran mysteriously long, quashing that idea. Back in my earlier chase-the-personal-best era I might have cared about this course anomaly. This day I knew I’d just wiped nearly twenty minutes off my Boston time and punched my ticket for next year, and it was pouring, and that ten-minute time barrier just didn’t matter.

Now, while I wasn’t in any way looking at this race competitively, there was a back-story with a heavy outcome. Three years ago, when I was still bordering on being relatively quick, I was passed in the first mile by a short (shall we say diminutive?) balding (shall we say hair-challenged?) gentleman who looked to be of my vintage and who flew by so quickly that I wrote off winning the division right there. Nearly three hours later, I made the one and only turn on the course – it’s twenty-six-point-one miles down one road, then take a right – and found him Death Shuffling slowly toward the line. I repaid the favor, blowing by him to win the age group, which, it turned out, he most certainly was in.

This time, I wasn’t thinking of winning anything, and then… I swear I saw him before the start of the race. Memories came back – a rematch? Only if he’d slowed down as much as I had in three years. But he never appeared again, and he’s not listed in the results. Instead, in an interesting repeat of events, I was overtaken by someone who again looked of my vintage; not short nor balding this time, nor can I really recall where he passed. Not expecting to be competitive in my current condition, I took note but paid little heed, and no, this time I didn’t catch him. But he landed only a minute ahead and he did take the division, leaving me with a surprising and unexpected second place, and an even more surprising chunk of cast-iron armor plating for an award. It’s cool, but I’m not at all certain what to do with what is clearly the heaviest thing I’ve ever won in a race.

Unlike last time where I licked my wounds, gathered up my one travelling companion, and high-tailed it home, this time being with the club meant that the fun wasn’t over. Once I’d regained my wits, stripped off the sogginess (harder than you’d think with malfunctioning parts), and swathed myself in enough dry clothing to return to normal body temperature, I found our gang, already re-coagulating, and we reeled in the rest of our clubmates as they made that one turn and lumbered down the chute When our last rolled in, we had everyone in earshot hooting for him. And then it was time to hobble on our busted blisters and wonky knees back to the shuttle, back to the house, up its mysteriously steep and narrow stairways (a fine practical joke for that post-marathon physique!), to celebrate a dozen plus victory stories and gather for a second immense dinner that once again Arlo Guthrie would have said, could not be beat. Admittedly, this time, with notably more beverages.

And though none of us could really recall who came up with the race excursion idea, I admit to having come up with the idea of taking a gentle group hike the next morning up one of the small summits of the Bigelows. I further also
admit I was a complete idiot for suggesting this; clearly a case of, “What was I thinking?” It was enough for all of us to coax our broken bodies on a gentle meander through the neighborhood, putting an exclamation point on the weekend of punishment and mirth. We couldn’t even get ourselves out of our cars that afternoon as we ate our way south through Portland again (Thirsty Pig!...what was I thinking ordering the Spicy McFirepants?). We’d considered climbing a mountain?

We called ourselves the Loafers, but crazy motivated people would have been more accurate. Crazy motivated people that I’m damn glad I know. Thanks, clubbies.

10 May 2019

Hitting the Bottom(s)

I really wanted to hit the Bottoms this week. And no, that’s not a grammatical, usage, or punctuation error, it’s just a pun that stands in for a quest to overcome a small bit of nastiness in the world. So to continue with the pun, they say you have to hit Bottoms to see what’s important and to start the fight back. I somewhat non-concur. I had to fight just to hit Bottoms.

Right, he’s truly lost it, I hear you saying. So, let’s back up a few days.

Recovery from Boston wasn’t pretty, though it really had little to do with Boston. Any soreness from that adventure peaked, as usual, a couple days hence, and quickly subsided, but a general malaise set in that went beyond the usual joint complaints and instead rose to a general alarm complaint. About a week back I turned in the closest thing to a tempo run since Beantown, circling Portland Maine’s Back Cove a couple of times, one of my favorite spots to hit after a northern customer meeting. My pace wasn’t horrid, but to think that it was all I could muster, and to think of the ugliness that accompanied the effort, well, it just wasn’t right. It seemed pretty clear that the meds that Lady Doc had directed – the ones that killed me back in February and I’d abandoned till after Boston, but then being a duly compliant patient had in fact restarted right afterwards – were at it again. Having failed to qualify at Boston and with my second chance race, Sugarloaf, a scant two weeks out, I pulled the plug on the pills once again.

A mere two days later I toed the line (well, sort of, since there was no line at the start to toe and they didn’t bother let us all get into the road before calling ‘go’, but I digress…) at Foley’s Backstreet 5K, a decent-sized local event that our local club had descended upon en-masse last year, and had so much fun that we descended again en-larger-masse this year. I could harp about how I pulled in over a minute slower than last year’s outing despite ideal conditions, but that would skip the important bits: first, that a couple hundred meters in it was clear that I actually felt good for the first time since Boston, second, that while not blazing, I maintained the intensity, rolling back late-race challenges by a pair of youngsters, and third, that I actually had the oomph to kick it in, avoid a get-passed-at-the-finish-line insult, and score a finish line photo in which I am not, for a change, exhibiting my usual death-warmed-over look. Oh, and I took the old farts’ division, much to the chagrin of my club-mate who, like last year, would have owned that title had he not invited me along. Next year he’ll probably keep quiet about this one.

Next up after Foley’s on Sunday was an early Monday foray to a Company Rah-Rah (which, to be fair, turned out to be a pretty good Rah-Rah) in Nashville, Tennessee. Aha, that light bulb just went on; you frequent readers probably have an inkling of where this is going. Yes, a traveling runner story, with a twist.

On the ride home from Foley’s, my carpooling club-mates, who’d just visited Nashville a few weeks prior, suggested getting in a run at the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, a roughly four-mile-long stretch of green, trails, and more green, hugging the Cumberland River almost directly across from my home away from home for the next few days, the truly gargantuan Gaylord Opryland hotel. The Gaylord, one of the biggest non-casino hotels in the country, is a combination convention factory and adult Disneyland. It features at least three glass-enclosed climate-controlled atria, the largest of which could probably hold several Midwestern towns in entirety. Every detail is attended to, every plant perfectly coifed, every faux waterfall perfectly designed, even the walkways are varnished with some magical substance that makes them always sport an ‘it just showered and things are pleasantly damp and shiny’ look while remaining remarkably non-skid. And it would turn out that the staff was top-notch and the food was almost uniformly excellent (smoked brisket hash! – a food providing the perfect way to die and inspiring my social media idea… #hashtag). Everything in the facility was top shelf. But everything was in the facility. These places are designed to be the hospitality equivalent of Alcatraz. You’re not supposed to leave. Indeed, it’s very hard to leave, at least without motored conveyance.

But I run. I insist that I leave. I want to see the real world on the outside, the tour from ground level. And I’m not satisfied with the one-point-four-mile all-sidewalk round-the-hotel jogging loop they offered up on my arrival, neatly packaged in a pocket-sized brochure with the warning that this was urban running and that all due caution should be taken. Blech.

But on Sunday afternoon, I didn’t yet know about that neatly packaged three-inch brochure. What I did know was that no amount of Internet searches would turn up any decent places to run from the Gaylord Opryland (though to my amusement I did find this page which highlights the worst cities to run in, four of the five of which I’ve previously railed about in this column). I also knew that the resort occupied a slim strip of pavement hemmed in by the river and an eight-lane freeway. I further knew that there were some non-descript roads by which I could escape to north, though with no apparent destination or scenery. But mostly I knew that I wanted to take advantage of my friend’s recommendation and make my way to Shelby Bottoms to enjoy all that green, which meant escaping to the south and crossing the river. The problem was getting there.

The City of Nashville did its part to solve my problem. A bit over a decade ago they built a lovely pedestrian suspension bridge from the Bottoms to the Opryland side of the river. Google Maps then served up hope in the form of a small road that paralleled the freeway and connected the south end of the Opryland resort-cum-hotel-cum-mall-cum-behemoth to a tiny rotary where the trail from Shelby came off the pedestrian bridge and plunged into a tunnel to parking lot across said freeway. Other than the need to hop down from the roundabout onto the trail, which appeared pretty easy, it looked like a win. Two miles from my hotel room would put me across the river with miles and miles of both paved and unpaved trails – and lots and lots of green. An early morning start would give me time for a fine tour of the Bottoms and still get me back for the Rah-Rah.

Except for one little problem. Well, two, to be precise.

That little road was actually the entrance to a building housing Ryman Hospitality Properties. (You’ll understand why I’m calling them out by name shortly.) And a quick peek at Google Street View turned up a big issue: that little road was guarded by spiked iron gates at both ends, hermetically sealing off Ryman from the rabble of the real world. While it looked likely I could get around the one on the south end, resplendent with open lawns, the one on the north end was embedded in deep, thick woods, thwarting any attempt to circumvent its distinct lack of hospitality; rather ironic for a company whose name is hospitality.

A study of the map showed that no reasonable alternative routes existed. To cross over the freeway from the hotel would involve, besides a lot of busy and highly unpleasant intersections, a crazy-long detour that would make the round-trip to the bridge a long run in its own right. No, there was no alternative but to breach the ramparts.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not being so pompous as to claim that as a runner I have any special rights to cross someone’s private property. Of course I don’t. But here’s an interesting little detail: Ryman, it turns out, owns Opryland. The hotel (Marriott only manages it). The music hall and famed show. A bunch more places. So Ryman, in the hospitality business, is sealing itself off from its own customers, a most inhospitable stance. We love you, or at least your money. Now don’t bother us.

In part, I get it. If you look at the map, you can understand why they wouldn’t want vehicular traffic coming down the road. It’s small. It’s not designed for volume. And when things happen at Opryland, they happen big. It really would be unpleasant to try to empty out a show, the mall, or a convention through their driveway, especially if the freeway backed up and people bailed for this alternative. So that part makes sense.

But nobody would pass this way on foot, save a few fitness crazies like me. Nobody would leave a performance at the Grand Ol’ Opry and try to walk back to downtown Nashville. It’s a long, long way (and it’d probably be very dark). Nobody would walk from the mall with their shopping treasures in hand. There’s nothing on the other end, save that bridge to the greenway, and once you’re there, there’s nothing there either, again, for a long, long way. And the southern end appeared (and I’d confirm later) to offer plenty of ways around the gate, so this blockade wasn’t adding any level of facility security. So why not allow pedestrians to pass, at least during daylight hours? Isn’t the point of the greenway to provide accessibility to outdoors? Isn’t the point of a hospitality business to provide a pleasant experience to their customers?

Before I slept Sunday night, I was already roiling at the irony. Here was a city that had made an effort not only to preserve open space, but to make it accessible by building a bridge (and a big and costly one at that, mind you), only to have that wonderful resource be put off-limits to their biggest point-source of visitors and tourist and convention revenue – by the very firm that was drawing those people in. It’s a wound inflicted by their own benefactor. It’s the antithesis of what enlightened civic leaders strive for. Readers of this column will recall just three months ago in A Tale of Two Cities my praise for what Austin, Texas has created, and how their work has transformed their city by slathering it with a sizable dose of healthy lifestyle, and it has paid back in spades. Nashville is trying, but they’ve been blocked at the ten-yard-line by a member of their own team.

But I’ve jumped ahead and made a lot of conclusions before spelling out the story, so, let’s back up.

Owing to what I’d learned in my pre-trip research, I arrived in Nashville with an agenda, no, make that a mission, seasoned with a relish of indignance. Fight the injustice! Free the Bottoms! On check-in, the Gaylord’s front desk was a bit flummoxed by my ask of a way to get to the greenway and sent me to the concierge. Once there, I thought I’d hit the jackpot when Concierge The First not only understood my plight and seemed to have a solution, but doused her answer in passion for my cause. Enlightenment! Yes, she said, you can get around that gate through the woods (foolish me, having seen the barrier only from a distance on Street View, I thought the method would be obvious and didn’t ask further details), and further, she said she’d been working with the city to open up the very access I sought. Hallelujah! There is hope for the world!

And so I duly dragged my stiff and aged butt out of bed the next morning and made it out the door a few minutes after six, which those who know me know is not a time I prefer to be active. I worked out the kinks while traversing the acres of parking lot that offered the shortest route south. Reaching the resort’s southern terminus, just before the resort road melded into the mega-freeway, off in a last forlorn lot to the right… yes, there it was. The Gate of Unwelcoming, the Portal of Prohibited Passage. And to my surprise, a Gaylord pickup truck was in front of it, and it was open. The Evil Empire making rounds perhaps? As I approached, the truck rolled through, and the gate started to swing slowly shut.

I contemplated making a dash. I could have made it. But if I did (and if nobody shot me) I would still have to get back. Scaling the spikey thing was not an option. If I couldn’t return, I certainly wouldn’t make it back in time for the Rah-Rah. And we’d been read the riot act that we would be at the Rah-Rah on time.

I let it swing shut, and when the truck was long gone, surveyed the scene. A Most Unwelcoming Sign warned that trespassers would be eaten by angry hippos (yeah, I made that part up, but it was unwelcoming). Fences along the road melded gapless with the gate, and southern-style-thick foliage extending on both sides. But the fence along the road only ran for perhaps twenty feet, and it almost looked trodden behind it. This, I surmised, must have been the ‘through the woods’ that Concierge The First had spoken of. I swung myself around the end of the fence and, clinging to that barrier to avoid the poison ivy and the slight drop into even thicker poison ivy, made my way to the gate – only to find Yet Another Fence, this one extending outward from the gate directly into the thick, no end visible, no trodden path, passage thwarted. Well, at least I wouldn’t get eaten by angry hippos. Extracting myself from the fences, I circled the small lot from whence the fence commenced, and finding no trodden paths into the thick, considered myself repelled but not defeated. I retreated, took a tour of the soft yellow underbelly of the resort (the service and warehouse district, so to speak), and popped in a few more miles by popping out the north end into a residential road amusingly signed to repel RVs.

Back to the drawing boards. Concierge The First happened to be off that day, so my next effort landed me with Concierge The Second. Once again, the effort and caring offered up was second-to-none. Second got creative, explored several transit options, and went so far as to offer that she’d personally drive me down there (at 5:45 AM!) which I politely declined since it kind of subverted the point of the quest, and more importantly, since I could have permanently contaminated her seat cushions on the ride back. But key to this story is that she got on the phone and called our now mutual nemesis, Ryman (Non-)Hospitality, expecting that a reasonable request from a reasonable person would get a reasonable response. Expecting to hear that yes, we keep that locked to keep crowds of vehicles at bay, but sure, you can run through, since there will never be a full marathon crowd passing by, or maybe we can offer you a one-time code for the electronic gate lock, or…let’s just say, expecting hospitality.

Nope. No way. Absolutely not. We don’t want your stinkin’ stinky runners. Go away.

I think Concierge The Second was just about as devastated by this as was I. Oh, the humanity.

Well, kids, there’s only one option left: Yup, the freeway.

Now before you rise in horror, before you call Dearest Spouse and tell her to reign me in (or you are Dearest Spouse and would prefer I come home alive, which I did, but, well, you know), consider that in the course of runs everywhere I occasionally find myself on stretches of freeway-like roads with exit ramps that often must be crossed (not the case here) and traffic moving quickly, like rural highways. And worse, I often find myself on roads that aren’t freeways but have such a nasty lack of shoulders or other safe spaces that even slower-moving traffic represents a huge hazard. But still, this was really a freeway.

As it turns out, the distance from where the south end of the resort road melded into said eight-lane freeway and where the next exit ramp departed for that tiny rotary was only about a quarter mile, all with a good shoulder. With the exception of about a quarter of that distance where a concrete wall forced running on that shoulder, it looked like (thanks again, Street View) that one could hop the guard rail and run protected along the rough but passable edge on the other side. I was a bit more nervous about the outbound trip since traffic would be coming from behind me, but it would be early and volume, I reasoned, should be light.

The next morning, I hit the parking lot at a quarter to six. Passing the gate which had stymied me the day prior there was again a Gaylord pickup truck making rounds. Or perhaps they’d had a change of heart and sent someone out to see if I’d show up and politely let me pass? Or, alternately, that staffer was there to unleash the angry hippos on me if I tried? I mentally gave the truck an impolite salute as I passed and hit the on-ramp (which I note did not have one of those ‘pedestrians prohibited’ signs) with acceleration akin to my aged Prius.

Traffic was indeed light, but it only takes one semi doing seventy to rattle you a bit. The concrete barrier section came early and passed in a minute. Hopping the guard rail wasn’t hard, though the terrain on the other side probably offered up more chance of injury than had I stayed on the road –those
six-inch cobbles they use for drainage really aren’t amenable to confident footfalls. As the thick woods gave way to the open lawns of the Ryman Hospitality building, I noticed another Gaylord pickup truck at their south gate. Were they really coordinating to let the fool pass? Or were they doubling down on their defense in anticipation of my threatening arrival? Ominous.

Reaching the rotary victorious, and more importantly still alive,
it was an easy task to hop down the banking to the trail. In another minute I was on Nashville’s quite glorious suspension bridge, then swirling down its looping approach ramp, and I’d finally hit the Bottoms.

Shelby Bottoms wasn’t a stunning piece of scenery; indeed, it was rather unremarkable (though had I gotten further south I would have gained more river views to turn up the remarkability meter). Instead, it was glorious for what it wasn’t. It wasn’t urban. It wasn’t developed, save for the main path being paved as a bikeway with a few small bridges. It wasn’t crowded – indeed, I was surprised at how few people I saw, which told me that Nashville has a way to go to try to reach Austin’s widespread embrace of their green spaces. And oddly, it wasn’t even that quiet: traffic noise from the freeway across the river never ceased, but the cacophony of birds and insects closer by made a credible effort at allowing me to forget the former. In truth, it was quieter while running behind the mall to get there than it was at the Bottoms, but I’ll take the Bottoms any day.

And it was green. Stupendously green. Entirely green, save for the flitting of cardinals, the occasional bits of mud, and the gray of the bikeway. The unpaved paths ranged from wide and road-like to single track, where the green impinged so quickly that a tree down across the trail had rapidly grown over green again. Dewy grass was politely cleaning the mud from my shoes when I came around a corner and almost ran into a trio of deer. Various critters rustled in the brush and occasionally bunny-hopped out for a look. It was just what I’d hoped for.

I overstayed my schedule, because, well, after what it took to get there, why not? Energized, the trip back north flew by. Passing the Palace of Prohibition, I offered up one final mental ‘driving finger salute’ in defiance to yet another looming Gaylord pickup truck as I hit the freeway again. Facing traffic this time, the brief stretch where I had to be on the inside of the retaining wall was over before I’d gotten nervous about the now early-rush-hour traffic. Getting back a bit later than planned, knowing my co-workers were used to, and at times even inspired, by my antics, I opted to hit the open-air (well, open atrium?) breakfast pre-shower – which turned out to be rather fun when the new exec-level guy at the table turned out to be a triathlete. Mutual respect gained.

I’m not immune to the truth: I took a risk here for what most would say was a rather meaningless goal. But I calculated and accepted that risk as low enough (and frankly probably lower than the ‘legal’ long detour, which entailed crossing major intersections), and besides, everything carries risks. Travelling to Nashville itself probably offered up far more risk in aggregate. I came through fine and relished my reward for taking that risk.

But Nashville, and more specifically, Ryman Hospitality, needs to fix this. Not everyone will be so daring, and the chance of a tragedy does exist. Open up access. Free the Bottoms.