Category Archives: January ’10

My new running partner

“Great job Ruby!” I cheer to her. “Keep it up!”

She trots along on all fours, skipping next to me, grinning all the way. Her name is Ruby and she is my new running partner.

My dad had attempted a run with her already once but found her excitement did not transfer to endurance. So instead I decided a few weeks ago we would enjoy a short twenty-minute run together. It began with the constant tugging of her adrenaline fueled flee from the confines of her fenced in back yard. Quickly though I discovered she was true to her “dog nature” pertaining to squirrels.

My arm snagged this way, the leash entangled around a street light and the dog on the other end, staring at me, confused at the predicament.

We made it home alright though, nineteen minutes and – seconds later. “You ran 8:06 minute/mile pace Ruby dog! Good girl!” She runs to my mom on the sofa in the living room, grinning of course, tongue hanging halfway to the floor. She lays down for half a second then with endorphins pumping through her veins runs to find the nearest demented tennis ball. After skidding across the hard wood floors and showing off her tennis ball to every living thing in the vicinity, less than five minutes later she is laying half-dead on the floor. The endorphins wore off and now all she is left with is the remembrance of the high that running brought her.

We continued our tradition the next day with an evening run. I realized that in the dark, as well as there being less squirrels, she cannot see them as easily. My strategy accompanied with avoiding parks and busy roads racing with frightening automobiles, led me and Ruby to a 7:30 minute/mile pace twenty-five minute run. Ruby led the way to begin and then as the lactic acid built, she slowed to a sustainable pace and eventually to a near-crawl. With a quick cheer “Come on Ruby! Keep it up!” however, she was back to the sprint, tongue flapping with each stride.

I see how excited Ruby is to run near freely and I remember why I love running so much. In addition to the release of endorphins, it is the pure instinctual element of the present nature of running. While sometimes I want to strangle her when we run, Ruby is my new favorite running partner even if plainly for reminding me of the simple joy of running.

Now every time I put the hat and gloves on, lace up the shoes, and hide the house key, Ruby jumps up and down like a kid stepping into Disney World. “Alright Ruby dog! Lets go you crazy mutt!”

Toeing the water

Strangers are strange. Friends are friendly. I used to hate the grocery store, hated it. I hated having contact with strangers. But something I learned in the woods is to open up to strangers, make friends. Like Forrest Gump said, “Well now we ain’t strangers anymore.”

I guess his naivety could have brought trouble upon him.

But instead it is curious to me why I can find so many flaws in the people I am closest to and yet strangers in hindsight all seem  “good people”.

I guess it takes some sort of bravery or innocence and forgiveness to become close to somebody. Is it because people cannot hold an act but for so long or because I have trouble letting poor decisions and mistakes of people slip away with time?

What if I met those who I was once close to as strangers. Would I think of them the same? Or because I could truly “get to know” them, everything would be different?

I somewhat enjoyed never being crushed, of never having that attachment to somebody so much that any minor disappointment would break my heart. I lived for four months without being hurt. The longest I had a friend was for seven days. But am I being true to myself denying the closeness of extended human relationships? Or am I saving myself the trouble of being hurt?

We all know that feeling of utter sickness, racing heart, lump in the throat, upset stomach when we are broken with disappointment from someone we love. That is love, I guess. Maybe I am just not mature enough to deal with it all. Maybe the escape, the peace, was necessary. But now I must perfect the art of letting go the mistakes of people just as they hopefully will forgive me of mine. I hate being imperfect.

I do miss that closeness though. It makes me feel alive, loving someone no matter how immature or unguided that love may be. A man told me that I need to match the logic with the emotional stand. He said to step back and breathe before acting. Act, don’t react. He told me that I would fall into a pit of emotion without remembering to lower the ladder first, trapped in open water in some cheesy movie.

Do I need it, the feeling of reliance? Or do I need self-reliance, learn to be alone, independent. For now the latter is the obvious choice. After the mistakes I made last year at school, starting from the beginning this year was the right decision. But what is the next step?

Rockfish Gap, January 5, 2010, 1325.8

Frustration in the deep snow turns to a paragraph sprawled across my eyes, laying there waiting to be scribed.

Georgia was once a reality. G.E.O.R.G.I.A. Easily spelled, easily reached. I could not imagine not getting there. I looked at the statistics, the 15-25% success rate and laughed. I saw my friends return home and kept walking, strong stride, consistent miles.

But when I set out seven days ago, my mom asked “Grayson, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve got to give it a shot,” I said knowing the challenge I was about to face. “I’ll call you in five minutes,” I said jokingly.

Three days later, having not conversed or seen any human, I called my mom and told her, “I am going to get you to pick me up in Waynesboro, if that’s okay.”

“Are you okay though? If you need to get a hotel room, just do it,” she responded.

“No I’m safe, I promise you.” And the understatement of my life, “I’m just not having fun.”

I went a total of six days this past week without human interaction. I trudged into the woods, postholing in the deep snow as my mom yelled “I love you Grayson” from down the hill. I slept in the same shelter with the same cold, the same ten pound mice as I did on the night from hell three weeks ago, this time outfitted with better gear.

It took me only three miles to realize that the arctic weather was creating an epic adventure for me. The occasional set of footsteps provided me with some relief from the trudging. It made it quite difficult to match the stride of a man who thought he was walking on a tight rope. And another guy I swear had a left leg at least six inches short than his right.

It was a fun dream, a fun trip. I am home now though. My beard is in the trash can and the closest I can get to the amazing experience, the glory days I had a mere couple months ago is the wood burning in my fire pit and the fallen white blaze, framed and waiting to be mounted.

Its too bad that I am so willing to completely abandon all hope of finishing. But, see I made it far. And no one can really understand what I went through to make it Waynesboro, Virginia. The number one-thousand, three-hundred, and twenty-five point eight slips easily from the tongue. The pictures look beautiful, the mountains looks treacherous, the snow looks fresh, fluffy, and fun. Pictures cannot measure temperature, a number cannot summarize the struggle, the suffering, the effort, the commitment, the life I left, and the life I led to do such a journey. The number one-thousand, three-hundred, twenty-five point eight does not slide gracefully underfoot. And the one-hundred and twenty days and nights I spent in the woods did not ever come comfortably and effortlessly.

I am quitting. I have quit. I give up. Who in their right mind would not? I have frostbite on my nose and nightmares of the cold I suffered through this past week.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“To be quite honest I am a little traumatized.”

I went out on this trip to grow, to see the world and hopefully gain some ability to love everything about it unconditionally. Getting caught in the thorns that lay across the trail while struggling to lift my leg out of the three foot deep snow bank, being ripped apart by wind, crawling under, climbing over, and squeezing between fallen trees, screaming at the absurdity of the situation, that is not my idea of a good experience.

I walked over the creek I slept beside senior year of high school. That Saturday night in high school as I sat in my tent by the creek, a thunderstorm battered the mountain ridges. I thought about a trail stretching through New England and the Mid-Atlantic into the Southeast, from Maine to Georgia, the trail that I sat beside. Is it really true? I cannot imagine that the backcountry, the woods, the bush can really extend that far. When I walked over the ice sheet covering the cold waters of Ivy Creek, I stood in shock at the site where I laid my tent down that night. It is true. I actually proved it to be true. I walked every foot of the Appalachian Trail from Katahdin to Rockfish Gap and actually proved it to be true. And of course the wonder still remains of whether it truly does continue on south. But the wonder as of now is not significant enough to instigate any hint of desire to test the theory. I’ll trust what they say and Georgia can wait. For now, my new years resolution is to not do ANYTHING stupid for a long, long time.