Still not used to it

Something to add ramblings to…
The giddiness of crossing a finish line has varied in degrees, but has never gone away. It might be because the ultramarathon does not lend itself to visualization. How many times do we hear (or utter), “I don’t even like to drive that far.” This is often accompanied by noting, on the way home, when you have driven the distance just run. jul_17_18 017My first ultra was a ten-lapper 50 km run at Green Lake in Seattle, Washington. There was no Internet, no Facebook, no nothing back then–the training had been done in solitude with no one to consult. There were days of training runs several hours long; my feet taking me here and there in the forest west of Olympia. A phrase that still wanders in and out of my mind was born on those trails, “No footsteps but mine”. There was little to write about except some idea of how long I had ran here and there.  A day’s run would end with a sandwich, a drink, and a look at the surroundings, “Did I really just run up there, across to there, down there, and…” The paradox of knowing I had, while always doubting I could, would grow into the unending appreciation for covering ground, sometimes quite a bit of it, on my feet. Even those days when I outran the water I carried or the days when the leeward side of the mountain was needed because I had neglected to look at the weather, again, were ended with a certain joy—joy for being done; joy for knowing I would return.late_summer_2011 072
Adjustments were made. I learned to eat for the running I was doing. A Three Musketeers candy bar was in a small bag attached to the web belt.  A conversation with someone whose name I never knew led me to having a second bag in that bag;  second bag  being full of chunks of baked and salted chunks of potatoes. A gallon jug of water was hidden at some allegedly strategic point as I drove to the day’s starting point. I paid attention to the westerly sky.  A small, but useful knowledge of the sky and its clouds, both good and bad, was slowly learned.  Gloves were carried most of the year.  Fog and wind were felt and tasted–salt on the wind told me it was an ocean breeze and rain would soon be on my shoulders. A pause at a junction; was the wind strong enough I needed to turn down into the protection of the valley?  Silence greeted most of my questions.  It would be a line of one of Gordon LIghtfoot’s songs, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy, that would come to mind on days when the wind was still; the rain somewhere unbidden; “When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.” IMG_2325
c–The absolute thrill, inner of shared aloud, of pointing at distant hills or valleys and saying, “We crossed that.” We had been at starting lines together.  We had left them with varying intentions.jul_17_18 143
d–Simple pleasures outweighed iowa_mn_end02aug 172
e–Where would you run if you had just one left?a_watching
———-Run gently out there———-

Veterans Day

U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France, 18 October 2004

We had been walking around, looking here and there, and feeling the deeply emotional undercurrent. Kathy pointed at the beautiful white sandy beaches, saying, “It’s hard to imagine a battleground here.” I looked at the beaches, at a few rusting steel remnants of a beachhead from long ago; sand and water swirling around them–soon to be gone. I said something like, “Nature and sixty years can hide a lot,” and we paused to sit on a bench in the warm afternoon.

I started watching one old guy. I don’t know what drew my eyes to him, but I turned to watch him closely. He had a piece of paper in his hands. He looked at a cross; moved on. He bent to look at a cross; looked at his paper and moved over one row. I could see his head look to the left, then behind him at the rows. I still swear I could see his head nod as he counted, then he took a step to the right and looked. He bent briefly, touching the cross as if to steady himself–then he knelt. I nudged Kathy, “He found him.” “Him?”

He had found someone who had stayed behind so he could go home.

Thank you to all veterans. All. Everywhere. Always.

———- Run gently out there ———-

Veterans Day – 1

IMG_0340Brown Shoes and Black Shoes

There are these two old men that I see wandering here and there, never quite entering my running environment for some reason.  I have seen them when I am pedaling to the store, driving to the post office, or from a bus, but had never encountered them while on foot.  When I first saw them their number was three.  Time, being what it is, their age being what it appeared to be, a reduction in numbers was not unexpected, but I watched more closely during their next few appearances–yes, three had become two.

Of the two that are left and having no names to put with them, I know one always has on black shoes, brown corduroy pants, green flannel shirt, khaki jacket, and a herringbone hat with a blue ribbon that almost matches blue eyes that are undimmed by the passing years.  The other wears brown shoes, khaki pants and shirt, creased from the years of wear and many years of ironing.

On one bike trip to the store I was close enough to see the word “Normandy” on brown shoe’s baseball cap.  I was flying on the downhill, too fast to stop even though I was becoming aware of an emerging need.  That image on his cap, two smiles, and a chuckle as I zoomed on by were all that managed to be recorded in the abstractions of my mental scratch board that morning.

Yesterday as I turned to run up the last quarter mile of trail I could see Kathy talking to, hmm, two old men.  As I got close I could hear words, then a laugh, then black shoes pointed at me and said, “Better give the lad some room” and motioned for them to move over.  Kathy laughed and I stopped.  She explained they (brown shoes and black shoes) were picking mushrooms for soup, and they were showing her which ones not to pick.  Minutes passed, old fingers, bent from age, pointed at white mushrooms, red mushrooms, tan and black were disapproved. It is a good “crop” this year, black shoes said, brown shoes agreed, and sliced off a piece of a tan cap for Kathy.

A part of my mind was playing with faces and numbers–1944 minus 16 (some 18-year-olds had lied about those last two years just to be in uniform) would be 1928, which would make them 82-years, or so, old.  Okay, seemed to fit.

Mutterings about mushrooms continued back and forth.  My curiosity killing me I finally asked brown shoes about the cap.  “Were you at Normandy?”  “Yes.”  “What outfit?”  A pause, they looked at each other, then, “The 82nd.”  “Oh.”  There was an aura of quiet, me and my stupid curiosity and question asking.  “Rats.”  Then Kathy said, “St. Mere Eglise?”  Brown shoes looked at her, then looked at black shoes, both smiled, then he asked Kathy “Have you been there?”  “Yes, in 2004.”  Brown shoes thought out loud, “2004, sixty years gone by, quieter now, I suppose?”  “Yes.”

Four generations have come and gone since brown shoes and black shoes were born, just long enough to pass on the knowledge of which mushrooms to pick for dinner, and other things along the way.

———- Run gently out there ———-

Veterans Day – 2

Old Men and an Old Man on the Trails

jem_31_mar_2009_ft_ebey 132 (Medium)

Fall in the Pacific Northwest and the running gets quieter as the rains soften the leaf covered trails.  I parked the car and started running down the Kettles Trail.  I was headed for the old men up on Cedar Grove Trail–cedars and firs that have been shedding needles for two or three hundred years.  One old man, limbs bent from fighting the wind while seeking the sun for these many many years, always brings me to a stop.

Six feet thick he stands, most limbs bare, bark deeply grooved and fire scarred on one side.  Many times I have asked him what happened those summers and winters gone by.  Just as many times no answer was offered.  Three ravens were perched on his lower limbs one day.  They told me tales of winters gone by, of summers long ago.

Today at the fork leading to the old men was another old man.  He had a walking staff and stood to one side to allow me to pass.  I pointed left, saying he was okay.  He asked where my fork led.  I slowed.  You never know which interruption is to be an “important” one–which one is to becomes a memory–but the woods are not to be hurriedly passed through.  I paused.

I told of the loop I was heading up, to the old trees, the “old men” as I called them.  He said he was walking the trails trying to remember them from before the war.  They weren’t trails then.  They were logging roads.  Oh.  That war.  My father’s war.  He spoke of living and working out here, days at a time, never thinking of returning to town.  The sounds of the axes would stop in the evening and the bluffs would call.  He told of watching whales and ships and sunsets from the bluffs.

He asked of my running.  I said it’s not really running.  I pause to talk to trees and ravens and listen to the early songs of fall’s migrating birds.  I run the bluffs answering the same calls you did those many years ago.  Perhaps some of my whales were his whales before he left for less peaceful lands.

We talked of Vermont and of Georgia, of France and Germany, of the Pyrenees and the Rockies, of scattered families and friends, some gone, some remembered, some somewhere ever unknown to us.

He looked at his watch, smiled, “I must go and find my car,” he said.

I gave directions, offered my hand in thanks and farewell.  The twists in the trail separated us quickly as I headed for the old men to tell them of an old man.

Perhaps they would remember his passing.

Run gently out there.

November 2005

Balanced Time

Sunrise was at 7:00 a.m. (PST) this morning. It says so on the tide table I print and tape to the refrigerator door at two-week intervals. Since the only thing I do in the morning is look out the window to see if I should grab the camera and run down to fail to capture the magic of an outgoing time, again. I barely noticed that seven o’clock part on first glance. I poured a cup of coffee and went out to sit on the porch steps.The sunrise that went on and on and on...The quiet of morning. The warmth of coffee. An incoming tide halfway done with its work; seals barking and slapping the water–the grey of dawn hides the mountains across the strait. A hint of fall’s chill is in the coldness of the porch steps. It seeps through my pajamas, old bones creak, but not enough to make me take the coffee back inside. An eagle’s chittering can be heard; not a noise to wake others, just talking to a neighbor, unseen. Seven o’clock?
sunrise 002
When running down a trail and some fragment of a memory, some sliver of almost knowledge comes calling, the best I can do is repeat if a few times and hope to recall it when I get home. It seldom works, hundreds of pages of tales and tellings and scribbles and notes have been left on a scratch pad that I never find outside the forested trails. But, I am on the porch and seven o’clock must mean something, I can go inside.
The second cup of coffee is held in front of the tide chart that is on the refrigerator. Will its vapors expose the secret of high tides and low tides and sunrises and sunsets and … sunset? The tide chart is printed two weeks at a time. In a vague sort of way it is useful for running. Running the beach at high tide, if it is a high high-tide, might be ill-advised, but that is of little interest at the moment. My eyes finally catch up with the wisp of memory first stirred on the porch. The important information of the chart is the column headed “sunrise/sunset”.Mt. Stuart's sunset shadow -- by Scott Morelock Mt. Stuart’s sunset shadow — by Scott Morelock

Sunrise crosses 7:00 a.m. this morning, sunset is at 4:47 p.m. As the sun continues its (perceived) journey southward, sunset is a minute or two earlier each evening. Instructions or reminders to do this or that are adjusted in accordance with the time of the setting sun. A seemingly few days ago it was to take a flashlight if you will be out past six o’clock.  Now I see the 7:00 a.m. and 4:47 p.m. and the card that fills the straight is dealt.
We are approaching the day, in my corner of the world, when the sun cracks the eastern horizon the same number of hours and minutes before midday as will pass before the sun goes out of sight to the west of me, behind the Olympic Mountains. This year it is December 1st, sunrise 7:40 a.m., sunset 4:20 p.m., both Pacific Standard Time.ebey_night_02 I took the cup of coffee and with a certain amount of smugness, went back to the steps on the front porch.

———-Run gently out there———-

Running – possibly in a storm

I am not sure.  I found these two paragraphs.  I know most of what I write, but these seem to go out into the weather and I have not done that lately–not running; not recalled.a_coast

As so many times before, the first drops of rain brought the late Keith Whitley’s “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” to mind. I was silently getting through “I’m no stranger to the rain, I’m a friend of thunder…” when the first flash of lightning came. We don’t get many thunderstorms up here. We get gentle rain, sometimes followed by hard rain, sometimes accompanied by wind, but we don’t get flashing lights and sound effects. “And I’m good at finding shelter in a downpour….” Maybe I should try for another song.rockport_st_park_ 062 I wasn’t worried about the lightning as I had turned down onto a trail that was winding its way around and down—down where no trees were on high to attract a random bolt of electricity. I was looking for some cedars—nature’s umbrellas. I got to them and sat down on one of the contorted roots I had long ago understood to be there as a bench for when I wanted to sit and pause in the quiet of the bottom of the kettle. I pulled a smashed up PB&J from the pouch, knowing I wouldn’t need much time to eat it. Rain that started that suddenly with that intensity seldom lasts very long around here.rockport_st_park_ 042The quiet returned as the rain passed. The rain laden leaves were heavy enough so as to not dance in the rising wind. My sandwich was finished and the rain was gone. I got up, listened to the creaks and pops of my now cold joints, and started the climb to the bluff overlooking the beach. Passing storms mix the grays, greens, blues, and whites of the water in the strait that, like snowflakes, are never recalled as having been seen before. The eastbound storms hide the mountains to the south and east, but the westerly end of the mountains are visible and sharply silhouetted by the lowering sun.aaa_ 022 A raft of surf scoters, probably never having acknowledged the storm, bob on the waves.  There are three kayakers just pushing their always frail looking watercraft back into the waves. I wondered if they had soggy PB&Js to eat while waiting out the storm. The sun is a lot lower than I had expected and I needed to head for the car, but the clarity of wave patterns and snow lines on the mountains kept holding me there. The contrasting stillness of the mountains and the ever moving waters of the strait are left to a poet to describe—all I can do is look from one to the other. The contradictory thought of each being older than the other does not bother me.aa_sunrise4

———-Run Gently Out There———-

Pausing to scribble

Picture 010
Pausing is hard.  We want to keep moving.  Pausing to scribble at the end of each day’s travel is helped if I have a good desk.  This desk is in a side stream of the Smith River in northern California.  We are a few days away from flying to Spain; to España and our many days afoot.  In another distortion of time, we are one sleep away from donning the ‘packs for that first morning’s walk.Picture 028
The celebration.  The noise.  The smiles and music and singing are enjoyed, but our minds are on the Pyrenees Mountains just beyond all the Basque music, singing, colors, and joy.  As in so many strange campgrounds with a starting line awaiting in the morning, sleep is fitful, a bridge over the river Nive just a short walk down this stone-surfaced street in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France fills our mind.Picture 029
We knew about running.  Running was no stranger to our minds and feet.  It was this walking with backpacks that brings concern.  All our belongings were with us–our world was shrinking to one of essentials–something so familiar, yet, this time, so different, awaits.sunrise_sjpp
Sunrise, tomorrow’s, with only the hum from a power line to send us up and into…

———-Run Gently Out There———-

Just another day


I was digging a post hole yesterday; not an overly exciting sort of thing to do.  A man drove into the parking area and parked nearby; also not something to raise the pulse of the average citizen.  He got out of the car and strapped on his gun belt and gun (a Colt .45, one of the few handguns I recognize); still not exciting since this is an open-carry state, but I did slow my actions a bit so as to keep an eye on him.

He reached back in the car and picked up two small yipping dogs.  I don’t know what kind.  My ignorance became totally unimportant as one of the dogs did the yippiing and squirming thing enough to escape.  Said escape involved leaping from the man’s arms, tangling the leash around the gun and jerking the gun from the holster… freeze frame time… dawg (no longer a nondescript dog) and gun did the (why don’t things go to slow mo in real life?) unsynchronized fall to the ground routine.

Dawg  and gun hit the ground at the same time.  Flinch–short intake of breath, continued freeze frame.  A short statement describing the dawg’s ancestry was proclaimed loudly by the dawg’s (and gun’s) owner.  He kicked the dawg a short distance and reclaimed his gun; retrieved a rag from the car and wiped the gun down.  He ejected the magazine (gawd, I hope that is the correct word) and… wow… jacked the round out of the chamber (what good is a gun that isn’t ready to shoot?); blew the dust, dirt, and spiders out of the barrel, slipped the magazine back in… chambered a round (I’ll pretend I could tell he slipped the safety on), and put the gun back in its (safe and secure) holster.

I am still trying to think of how to describe the grin he gave me when he noticed I had watched the entire episode of a moment-in-the-day-of-a-responsible-gun-owner; a somewhat exciting sort of thing to do.

———-Run Gently Out There———

Father’s Day 2015

A Last Call to My Father

I almost shouted into the telephone, “Hi, Dad! I won! I won!”

My father replied, “Does that mean you were second again?”

What? Oh. No. I was first overall. I won.

Three weeks ago I had called to tell him of the course record I had set at Le Grizz. Then I had to explain how I could set a course record without winning (I was second overall but won the masters division). Rick Spady, the overall winner, was so far out in front that he probably had no idea a race was going on somewhere behind him. I, in turn, had no idea of the assault I was mounting on the masters record for Pat Caffrey’s 50-mile course alongside Hungry Horse Reservoir just south of Glacier National Park in Montana. Larry Carroll and I had played cat and mouse for many miles. When I finally passed him that last time, I started running against the most challenging competitors I knew—the watch on my wrist and the unsympathetic demons in my head. It would be fun to pretend it was something romantic like the age-old “You do your best and the rest of the day will take care of itself,” but it wasn’t. I had simply raced my watch with little thought about how that would do in the overall standings.

I thought of that conversation and told him no. This time there was no one in front of me. I was the overall winner.

I was calling from a motel room in East Wenatchee, Washington, late Saturday afternoon. I usually waited until the trip was over and we were back home to call and tell him of the latest running trip. His interest was never at the level of excitement from years ago when I ran one lap or less—distances and events he could understand. He had never approved of this endurance stuff, these hours-and-hours-at-a-time runs—not good for your joints, he would say. Still I would call, perhaps still seeking his approval as any other aging child seeks a parent’s affirming nod. These last few years we had slowly bridged the gulf created those many years ago. It might be we had both learned along the way—surely he learned more than I—how was I to know of the abilities he had seen in me, tried to coax out of me during those years when I already knew everything? Surely his inability to talk was more the problem than my inability to listen.

This time, for whatever reason, I called before we started home. The 100k had started at midnight on Halloween, October 31, 1986. There were no aid stations. Kathy was up all night, stopping every three miles to feed and water me and whoever else was near. She was mysteriously correct at judging when I would want a dry shirt, a nibble of this, a drink of that, and all the while punching all the right buttons to keep the frayed ends of my mind together through that night.

Her mastery of my mind reached the peak as I took the lead at just past sixty miles and then labored through the paranoia- and anxiety-laden last few blocks as the course returned us to town and then the final turn up the two blocks to the finish line. I had won an ultra. We sat around waiting for the other events to complete. There was a 50k, 25k, and 15k being run on the same course. The staggered starting times made for quite a mix of finishers at the end. Finally everyone was in or accounted for, then various rounds of applause for awards, “oohs” and “ahhs” and cheers and laughter, rose and fell with each announcement, then finally died as the last runner was hailed.. Those of us from the 100k said good-bye or see you in a few weeks. Kathy and I headed to the motel, too worn out to consider the 150 miles back to Olympia.

The motel had an outdoor Jacuzzi—a Jacuzzi being a major selling point if we are not camping. After a shower and the requisite 47 minutes in the warm, whirling waters I decided I should call my father now instead of waiting. He should know of this one.

Hi, Dad! I won! I won!

Does that mean you were second again?

No. This time I was the overall winner.

Was this another 50-miler?

No, it was a 100 kilometers.

A 100 kilometers, how far is that?

Uh, just over 62 miles.

And you won?


That’s a long ways to run.

Yes, my longest so far.

How long did that take?

About nine hours and fifteen minutes.

For the first time there was a conversation with all the old interest from the years of track and field—sprints, hurdles, and jumps. The years where my performances, though erratic on a grand scale and full of high potential, were more showcases of my bullheaded refusal to be coached than anything else seemed to be set aside. We talked for a few minutes, questions about the course, about the field, and so on; finally I said I needed to get some sleep before I fell asleep with the phone in my hand. His last words still echo so wonderfully clear:

Sixty-two miles; John, that’s a long ways to run.

Yes, it was a long night on the mountains.

And you won.

Yes. Yes, Dad, I did.

Good, that’s real good.

I didn’t have to pretend I could hear the soft chuckle of approval.

Bye, talk to you next time, Dad.


Ten days later when I answered the telephone it was my mother calling to tell me my father had died that evening and I needed to come home.

Over the years I have been thankful many times for that last phone call with my father. We were left with many things still needing to be said, but we had said many other things. I am more thankful for what was said than I am remorseful for not getting to what we still had left to say.

———-Run Gently Out There———

Native Peoples Interlude

Trails have carried us to abandoned mines, logging camps, and a beaver pond one cold grey January afternoon. They have taken us to the historic Gila Cliff Dwellings and a sunrise on what seemed like the top of the Rockie Mountains just east of Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Somewhere in Maryland we got out of the car to stretch our legs–Kathy noticed a historic marker and a short trail took us to the birthplace of one Harriet Tubman. We learned long ago to pause long enough to see the writing on information posts, placards, signs, and such. Today’s gift was encountered on a run on some trails near Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island here in Washington.  The story combines legend, history, and myth, Native American spirits, and visions of people gathered ’round a campfire to listen to an old story retold.

In case the words on the left in the first picture are not legible,
“This is not a “totem pole”. Totem poles were made by Native peoples of the North Pacific Coast such as the Tsimshian, Haida, and Tlingit of British Columbia and Alaska. A totem pole is a record of lineage (family history). It uses a relatively standardized vocabulary of animals and people.”
“Here in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and Georgia Strait), Coast Salish peoples carved or painted the doorways and large cedar posts of their houses. Carved and painted posts were also sometimes used to mark graves. The designs often tell how the builder of the house became wealthy.”
“This pole was made by Fidalgo Island artist, Tracy Powell; for the Samish people. It was raised here in 1983 by Samish families to celebrate their survival and honor their traditions.”
I look at these lines of historical information and am thankful for that day in 2009 when Kathy asked, “What about North Dakota?” I said, “What about North Dakota?” She explained about the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Reservation needing volunteers. We left our beloved Pacific Northwest; paused at Chief Joseph’s grave over in eastern Washington, ran on the trails of the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico with Aldo Leopold’s words in mind.  We even took a picture at one of the bridges of Madison Country before finally arriving in Belcourt, North Dakota for a year full of new people, peoples, stories–myth, history, and legend–Native American crafts and skills, and a constant reminder to always pause to read the story pages along the way.

———-Run gently out there———