Thirteen Again

My daughter turns thirteen today, and I think she had a good day at school. I know because I passed her in the hallway a few times—both of us clutching our binders to our chest and navigating the crowded space. My daughter is an eighth grader, and I… well, I am employed as an aide who accompanies students from class to class. This has left me feeling less like an employee and more like an overgrown student. Like the other sixth graders, I’ve struggled to find classes and to get to them on time. I’m learning the rules and trying not to draw undue attention to myself.

Middle school was not an easy time for me, but I never considered that I might have to repeat that era. Even though I try to remember that I am not actually back in middle school, I keep experiencing the uncanny feeling that I’ve been shuttled back in time. For instance, tomorrow we get our school pictures… and guess who was having a particularly bad hair day when she climbed up on the pedestal and grinned into the camera? Just like the days in which I was enrolled in Jacobs Junior High School, opting out of a school picture is—as we say in the education business—“not a choice.” Each year, I am expected to get in line for my portrait. If I try to intentionally “forget,” they will announce my name over the loud speaker and ask me to report to the photographer’s room. Over the last 8 years of district employment, I have learned that there is no escape from picture day. But hey: at least I have a record of how I’ve changed over the years. And I must say, I’ve really grown up!

One of the most dreaded things about my middle school years, was a particular fad called the “stink bomb.” I think they sold these for about a nickel at the joke shop located next to the arcade. In any case, they must have been easy to come by, because someone was always setting one off in the hallways. The other day, I was heading into the hall when I noticed students spilling out of the doors, coughing and retching. The stink bomb incidents of my past must have been long forgotten in the adolescent regions of my brain, because I figured they were just goofing off and having an exaggerated reaction to something. Perhaps someone had thrown up? Perhaps an adult was needed? I waded into the hallway, against the oncoming tide of students fleeing the cramped spaces within. That’s when I was hit by the smell of something far worse than any stink bomb. No, I was suddenly assaulted by the most concentrated smell of Axe cologne ever imagined. My eyes immediately began watering, and by the time I made it out the other side, my stomach was convulsing.

I don’t know if it was a prank, or if someone was just trying too hard to be cool. I heard from the science teacher that his emergency eye wash equipment in the lab has been deployed many times, helping to wash out the eyes of boys who accidently sprayed Axe directly into their eyes. So perhaps this was simply an adolescent hygiene moment gone awry. In any case, I witnessed the confiscation of the offending cologne, with the warning: “Never EVER bring this to school again!” But since I hear that the local movie theatre gives out free pocket-size samples, I don’t hold up much hope that the smell will fade any time soon.

I contemplate these moments on my jogs, consciously choosing routes that take me into wide open spaces—far from the locker-slamming hallways– where the wind sweeps off the ocean and offers up the scent of wet earth and brine. In those moments I feel a kinship with my daughter that I haven’t felt before. It isn’t easy to wind your ways through those halls, to dodge the sprays of axe cologne, to avoid the stomping shoes of eighth grade boys, and to emerge on the other side with good hair, ready for picture day. But that’s what it means to be a middle school student. I ought to know: I’ve been there… twice.

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On: Not Jogging and Not Blogging

Frick neither jogs nor blogs, but she does show up

2010 was a good, strong year for me, but it went out with a whimper… literally. I spent a good deal of December lying on the couch with a fever. I missed three days of work, went back for half a day, and woke up on the fifth day with my eye glued shut from Pink Eye. That’s when I waved the white flag and went to the doctor, who told me I had bronchitis. Armed with antibiotics, I got better just in time for all the last minute Christmas shopping and decorating.

After pulling off Christmas, I began to think about jogging again. But even though my last post talked a big talk about how rain doesn’t stop a tough gal like me from strapping on her jogging shoes, this last storm front was a different story. No, this storm was almost biblical in nature: sideways rain, tree-toppling gusts of wind, and the occasional hammering of hail. I did attempt a few walks on the beach during breaks in the weather. Scott and I went out to Clam Beach with our dogs one morning and braved the wind, but we soon turned back when the sky went dark—unfortunately, not before the sky unleashed pellets of hail.

Today, however, the sky is blue, and I’ve just returned from my first jog in three weeks. I started out with a walk at the beach: Scott by my side, dogs in the lead, and a mocha in hand. A gentle off-shore breeze blew, whipping the backs of the waves up into fanning plumes as they broke on the gray sand. White seafoam laced the underbelly of each wave, slipping along the surface until the wave broke and spilled, draping the foam in patterns at my feet. Plump white birds raced alongside the line of breaking waves, looking as if bits of sea foam—tired of the constant force of tide– had broken free to take flight into the world.

Perhaps that image of freedom-seeking birds came to mind because Monday morning looms, and I cannot help to wish (at times) to break free from the constant tide of my life. On Monday, I return to my job working with Special Needs kids. I can only hope that the last two weeks off have recharged my energy, so that I can greet the children with the positivity that they deserve.

Invariably, when I tell people what I do for a living, they shake their head and say something like: “I don’t know how you do it.” I am always quick to point out that they are great kids, but I am thankful that people acknowledge both the challenge and the importance of the work. “Monday” for me means that somebody may very well be berating me with foul names, or telling me that they hate me, or screaming at me from the floor. But then again, maybe it won’t go that way at all. And I can be certain that Monday morning will include spontaneous hugs, laughter, and the boundless energy of children.

Besides, I also work with mainstream kids, and I can tell you that every child has their challenges, disabled or not. I appreciate the model of autism that uses a spectrum to describe symptoms, because there is a place for everyone on that spectrum… instead of placing some children off into their own little box. In fact, some children with “special needs” are far easier to work with then those in the “normal” range. Those particular kids could teach many of us a thing or two about kindness and patience and hard work. I don’t know who among us can claim to be “normal” anyway. I’m not sure I even know what that word means.

Of course, that philosophy doesn’t keep me from contemplating an easier way of making a living. After all, there was never a moment where I consciously chose this line of work. Instead, other people told me that they thought I would be good at it, offering me jobs in the process. It is strange to find that I am fairly adept at something, that I have an instinct for a line of work, and to watch how that has pulled me down a certain direction—relentless in a way, like the force of a wave bearing down on a beach.

I contemplated that idea as my dog, Marty, and I took off for a short jog. Have I been too passive in the architecture of my life? Am I like that sea foam, slipping along the surface of a more powerful current? It is a rather morose way of seeing oneself, and I have to admit, I have a tendency to slip into that mode of thinking. I wouldn’t say I tend toward outright Depression, but a certain “melancholy” does plague me. Those kinds of thoughts creep about the edges of my brain, robbing me of the confidence it takes to show up on Monday morning, ready to tackle my job.

But as always, the simple act of jogging—of breathing in and out, of moving my limbs, and breaking a sweat—effects a change in my being. Without noticing when exactly it happens, I suddenly realize that I am feeling stronger. The sun seems brighter, and the sky more blue. The tide that bears down on my life is strong, but I am not just a bit of foam, drifting where I am told. I might not be as quick and agile as those white birds that skim along the edges of the waves, but in my own slow and shuffling way, I do manage—now and again– to break free.

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Running in the Rain


I ought to make a necklace

 of the raspberries Scott just brought me.

  Each one glows with the warmth of a ruby,

each one washed clean by the rain.

These are the sort of poetic thoughts that can get a person through the long, rainy months of Humboldt.  If you aren’t inclined to that sort of thing, you probably shouldn’t attempt to live here.  However, if you love the way neon signs glow on a misty night, if you pride yourself on the ability to gauge the depth and width of mud puddles, if the sound of water falling from the eaves soothes you like a lullaby, then you might have found yourself a home.  And furthermore, if you like to jog, there is no better climate for it.

You know those perfect blue sky days?  When there is not a cloud in the sky, and even at 9 in the morning, it promises to be a scorcher?  I hate to run in that kind of weather.  Once, on a visit up to the Reservation, I passed Hoopa High and witnessed a team of boys running around the field in full football gear.  It must have been close to 100 degrees, and they had my sympathy.  You wouldn’t catch me running in such heat—or rather, you would catch me right away, because I wouldn’t get very far.

But perhaps it would be different if I had been raised in the inland heat.  I was talking to a local teacher recently, who takes her 3rd graders camping to Patrick’s Point every year.  Sometimes it’s sunny on the trip and sometimes it pours.  The funny thing is:  the kids never complain about the rain.  But let it be unseasonably hot, and these Humboldt grown kids will complain your ear off.  I suppose it’s a matter of what you are used to.

I find I can run in the rain quite easily, provided I have some good gear.  First of all, I need a good hat.  I have this great nylon cap that sheds the water away from the face.  As long as the water isn’t dripping directly in my eyes, I’m okay with a downpour.  If it’s a particularly hard rain, I like to take a hot shower first.  Then I’m warmed up and my hair is wet anyway.  Now that I write that out, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but it still works for me.

I’m also very grateful for the rain gear that my father gave me.  When he was so ill with cancer that he couldn’t get out of bed anymore, I began to train for the Clam Beach Run.  I wanted to do the race in his honor, but mostly, I wanted something to talk about with my dad that didn’t involve chemo or medications.  I began to visit him, bringing with me my questions about the course, strategy, and training.  One day—after I had asked him how he managed to run so much in the rain–he directed me to his closet to look for his rain gear.  Among the endless three-piece suits and silk shirts, I found a track suit that I clearly remember him buying in the eighties.  We had gone to the Joggn’ Shop together, and at the time I was shocked at the price: $250 dollars. 

But quality holds up over the years, and the track suit was in great condition.  A bit large for me, but it worked.  He went over all the features of the suit, lovingly.  How the many zippers on the jacket allow the suit to breath.  How the lining wicks away moisture and the outer layer sheds.  How the drawstring hood is so lightweight that you can wear a cap over it.  This was a man who used to run eleven miles a day.  And now he lay with his head propped up on pillows, feeling the fabric with his fingertips, and finally, passing the suit on to me.

In the three years since that moment, I have worn the suit many times.  This jacket and I have run together now, many miles. In the year after he died, I was often grateful for the rain, because it disguised the tears on my face.  Until my father became ill, I never really considered how the world would be without him.  Like the rain, he was something that I could count on.  Pulling on his jacket this morning, I went out into the gray, out into the downpour that fell from a soaked cotton sky.  The grief has eased over the years, but sometimes it still falls hard.  When it does, I am comforted by gifts he gave me:  something warm to wrap about my shoulders until the rain has passed.

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The South Fork Trail

There was a time, not so long ago, when I could scamper down the scattered boulders of any river trail, with my son’s hand clasped in mine. We would cart our sleeping bags and cook stove down the steep edge of rocks, to perch overnight on a bit of river bar. Luckily, Scott could carry the heaviest of our gear, while I was in charge of keeping our toddler safe on the trail.
     Somewhere along the way, with the birth of our second child, and the addition of a little more money in our pockets, we traded in the simplicity of those far-flung places. We chose instead the hotels and campgrounds that offered a few more conveniences. Life with small children was exhausting enough: no need to tackle a tiresome vacation as well!
     Fifteen years later, our son Tio had grown into a young man—one more likely to offer me a hand on the trail, than the other way around. Our eleven year old daughter, Dezi, was sturdy enough to shoulder some of her share of the camping gear. We had always meant to take the kids on a real backpacking trip. Now Tio was looking at moving out and going to college. How had seventeen years gone by? If ever we were to attempt this backpacking-as-a-family dream, now was the time.
     The South Fork of the Trinity was our first choice. Scott had grown up hiking there with his father, Eli. After we lost Eli to cancer, Scott and his brothers took a trip and scattered Eli’s ashes from a ridge on that trail, along the base of a Madrone tree that leaned out over the river canyon. Eli now rested on a high, wind-swept place where the river stretched in a thin, silver line hundreds of feet below.
     This was the place we wanted to take our children, who barely remembered this man, their grandfather. For if anyone should want to understand who Eli was–what he loved and how he moved through his fifty years on this earth–the South Fork Trail was the path to walk.
     And so we found ourselves at the trailhead: four people, four backpacks and two dogs. One of our dogs, Marty, a Black Lab/Collie mix, seemed made for the trail. He sprinted up ahead and charged back to check on us, stopping only to arrange himself—as if for a photo-op—upon a downed tree or a rock outcropping. Wind rustled through his ebony coat, his ears pricked forward, and his nose cocked to ascertain the slightest change in scent. What a majestic animal! A veritable scout of the trail.
     Our other dog, Miss Frick, was—to put it frankly—obese. Part of this was due to overeating, but part of it was due to design. Her fifty pounds of Bulldog was drawn out and suspended over her six-inch Corgy legs. Her barrel chest splayed her legs outward, making her front end ride lower than her back, and giving her a rolling gait. I had my doubts about taking her along. But she was usually game for a two mile walk, as long as it was off leash. She would trundle along, panting, but able to keep up. So we decided to bring her with us. This, in hindsight, was our first mistake.
     Our next mistake was to arrive at the trailhead at three p.m: the hottest part of the day. We also should have allowed Dezi to sit in the front seat, because the road to the trail is quite windy and she was thoroughly carsick by the time we arrived. We started out through the trees in fairly good time, although Dezi was bearing the stomach ache with a little less stoicism than could have been desired. In other words, she was complaining a lot… and we hadn’t even made it through the first mile.
     Help came in the form of a bubbling spring. We used our filter to fill up our canteens, and we doused ourselves from head to foot with the icy waters. Frick wallowed in the mud with her tongue lolling to the side. Dezi had developed a terrible blister, and I whipped out my first aide kit so that Scott could bandage her up. Thus invigorated, we headed out on the trail again, which soon narrowed to a one foot wide path, cut into the side of a cliff. The trees thinned, allowing the sun to beat down unabated. Above the path was rocky shale, beneath our feet was the foot-wide trail and below the path was more shale—leading down to a steep drop off. I began to realize that we were cutting across an enormous rock slide, and that one misstep would send a backpacker sliding towards that sickening edge.
     The gray shale reflected the sun’s heat like concrete on a summer sidewalk. Poor Frick was going ever slower, and Scott hung back, trying to encourage her. Just to make things interesting, the shale was broken up by an occasional downed tree. This did not present a problem when the base of the trunk hung over the trail: we simply stepped over it. But some of the trees lay with their bushiest end over our path. We then had to step over some branches and crouch under others, weaving our way through the tree.
     At one point, I prepared to straddle a trunk by reaching up for a sturdy branch. Just as I lifted one leg, I felt my grip slip. The weight of my backpack pulled me backwards, and I struggled to hang on. I ended up clinging to the branch, my body at a 90 degree angle to the cliff. Although I wasn’t a professional backpacker, this did not seem–in my amateur opinion–like the safest position. But I needn’t have worried: our black lab heard my cry of alarm and bolted back to investigate, thereby knocking my feet out from under me and changing my position dramatically. But again, there was no cause for alarm: my bare knees sank deep into the sharp shale, which saved me from the long slide into oblivion.
     Tio gave me a hand up, and we continued forward. Scott was hanging back with Dezi and Frick, so we decided to take a drink and wait for them. I’ll never forget the sight of Scott rounding the bend, his figure slightly distorted from the heat waves rising from the shale. In one hand, he carried Dezi’s pack. Under his other arm, he carried… the fifty pound Frick.
     “This can’t go on,” I told him. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”
     “Don’t worry,” he said, setting Frick on her feet. “The trail should start heading downhill to Yellow Jacket Creek soon.”
     Sure enough, the next bend had a downward tilt to it. And we could just see the shimmering glint of moving water hundreds of feet below. Unfortunately, Frick could see the water too—and the sight of it made her completely lose what sense she possessed. She headed straight for the water, barreling like a tank off-trail and wading into the shale. In horror, we all watched her begin to slide. More shale joined in and soon the surrounding cliff was moving, carrying her toward the drop-off. Her backend began to slide faster than her front, turning her sideways, but also bringing her to rest by wrapping her prodigious frame around a slender tree. For the next fifteen minutes, we called to her, cajoling her to join us back on the trail. She would struggle up two feet, and then slide back three more. But eventually, she re-joined us on the solid trail. For safety sake, we put her on a leash and began hurrying down toward the creek.
     Once at the creek, Frick immersed herself in the water. We filled our canteens again and watched her wallow in the mud. My concern for her began to grow as she proceeded to vomit up all the water she had drunk.
     “Do you think we should go back?” I asked, edging over to Scott. “I mean, I don’t want to kill our dog.”
     We turned to watch Frick vomit and shiver in the sand.
     “She’ll make it,” he said grimly. “Even if I have to carry her.”
     What can I say? This is why I married the man. Even though–now that I think of it–this same quality might inspire the opposite reaction in other women. I gazed up to where the trail disappeared, straight up the side of the cliff. Shading my eyes, I tilted my head back as far as it could go. The top of the cliff was barely visible, silhouetted by a sun that was beginning to set. There was no shale up there–only bare rock.
     “Is that where your dad is?” I asked him.
     “Yeah,” he answered, pointing with his hand. “On that peak over there.”
     “Way up there?” I asked, feeling faint.
     “Yep,” he said, lifting my backpack up onto my shoulders for me. “But it’s all down hill from there.”
     And so we climbed. As the sun began to set, Frick became more animated. She trotted along in fits and starts. As for myself, I tried not to succumb to anxiety attacks as I watched my daughter stumble along the six-inch track. Sometimes we had to turn our stomachs to the cliff, and gingerly step over gaps where the trail disappeared all together. Any misstep would surely end in death. It occurred to me that I had nightmares just like this. Some vacation this was turning out to be!
     But just as we reached the top of the trail, the sun began to set along the opposite ridge. The trees turned black against a turquoise sky. The river stretched itself out below us, each ripple catching the golden light and reflecting it back. A warm wind rose up from the river bed, lifting my damp hair from my shoulders. A bald eagle swept around the bend below us, riding an updraft from far below.
     Eli’s tree stretched out over it all, standing with every bit of strength and grace that the man had once possessed. I felt that it had been waiting for us, and yet, that it was at peace no matter where we were.
     Our backpacks seemed less heavy, as we came down from that mountain. The golden light slanted through the trees, and the river sang us to its banks. That night we lay under the stars, and listened as Scott told stories of his father. I wondered if our children would someday sit next to this same river, and tell their children stories of us. The dark river rushed past, in a hurry to reach the ocean, where it would someday rise in the form of clouds, to drop as rain upon this earth again. Just before I fell into sleep, I realized that this was all the proof of eternity that I would ever need.

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Music and Memories

I’ve been jogging for about 9 years now, and I only started using an ipod about 2 years ago. I have to admit, it helped my speed and inspired me to get out the door. Before that, I used to enjoy the quiet. I liked the way my mind would go quiet, and my thoughts would mirror the rhythm of my steps. To this day, I still go out sometimes without hooking myself into my music.

Out in the Arcata Bottoms the other day, I jogged through the afternoon stillness. The rain clouds gathered out in the West, stacking up tall above the wild grasses. Without a musical soundtrack in my ears, my thoughts often run like this: rain clouds… rain coming soon… dry fields… cracked earth on the shoulder, the shoulder of this road… asphalt… crooked fence… wild cucumber… thistle… blooming thistle… purple sweet pea… sea daisy… wild fennel… queen anne’s lace…

And then perhaps the bells at St. Mary’s church begin to ring, and suddenly I am remembering how it felt to be a child, when I would hear the church bells calling from the edge of the cemetary near my house. I grew up just a few blocks from Ocean View Cemetery in Eureka, and I used to play there a lot as a kid. I loved the expanses of green lawn, and the long rows of eucalyptus trees. I loved the statue of Mary, with all the children gathered upon her lap. We would walk along the graves, careful not to step on the bodies lying beneath, reading all the names. The cold stone mausoleums fascinated us, and we would peer into the frosted glass doors, trying to see inside.

Now that I’m grown, my own father rests in that same cemetary. It seems such a mystery to me, how a person could live and breathe for seventy six years… and then just be gone. I often think of him on these jogs–my marathon running father–how his steps struck on this same path. I wonder what his thoughts were on his long solitary runs. I wonder if there are any trace of his thoughts left in this world.

As a child I was facinated by all those graves. There were so many names, so many mementos that people would drape upon the stones: balloons, flowers, necklaces, folded pieces of paper. There were carvings of angels, endearments, and dates carved into the stones. There were graves sunken into the ground with age, and graves still heaped with fresh black dirt. We would wonder about the names on the stones, wonder who was related to who, and why they had died when they did.

One time we found a bird lying in the grass of the graveyard: a baby bird that had fallen out of her nest. We took her home and put her in a cardboard box, and fed her water with an eye dropper. Later we brought her back and set her under the tree where she had fallen. She flew up in the tree, and that was the last I saw of her. It startled me, how quickly she was gone.

My mother couldn’t tell me—no matter how many times I asked—what would become of my bird. If she would fly from tree to tree, happily slurping up worms, or waste slowly away, unable to care for herself. It was a mystery, like all the other mysteries of the graveyard, and I am wondering still.

Sometimes I need the blast of music in my ears, but sometimes it is good to have the quiet. To let my thoughts drift to a place where the memories play upon a silent screen, with no soundtrack save the sound of my own breath. I feel closer to my father in those times, and closer to the mystery into which he has gone.

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Race Results

 After enjoying yet another pancake breakfast with our  eighty-three year old Grandma J, who delights in treating us to various different grange breakfasts throughout the year, I asked my son to look up my race results on his fancy phone.  Turns out I came in second place in the female, 40-49 category, with my time of 34 minutes, 19 seconds! 

“Oh,” said Grandma J. “So they judge you by your times?” 

“Pretty sure they do,”  I answered.  “Unless it was by our outfits.” 

I was pretty happy with my time–until my son pointed out that there was one woman in the 60-69 category who was ahead of me.  I knew immediately who she was.  I chased that  silver-haired woman all through Redwood Park!  As soon as we got to the woods, I thought I would try to pass her.  I started to make my move at the base of the trail.  That’s when she opened her can of whoop-ass and poured it on!  She was gone, Baby!  And I never did catch her.

So that just about sums up where I am in the world of running.  This could be read as a kind of disclaimer:  I am not starting this blog to record myself accomplishing something amazing… like a marathon through the Amazons, or a jog across Russia, or some other such other high maintenance adventure.  I’ll leave that to the more courageous, the more adventurous, and frankly, the more fit among us. 

So why am I starting this blog?  I guess because there are two things that I would like to make more time for in my life:  jogging and writing.  I already make plenty of time for family, friends, career, pets, and housework, so those things just aren’t going to make this short list.  And sure, I would also like to make time for a whole other slew of things.  I’d like to learn to knit, work with clay, improve my Spanish, learn a musical instrument… the list goes on and on. 

Last year, I took a Flamenco dance class which I absolutely loved.  However, it turns out (surprise, surprise) that I don’t actually have time to be a Flamenco Dancer!  Who would have thought that a forty-three year old, married,  mother of two would not have time to spin and stomp away her days with a rose in her mouth?  But it turned out to be the truth.  I was just too busy to be even a part-time flamenco dancer.

So the short list has come down to:  jogging and writing.  And these are not such lofty goals, are they?  It shouldn’t be so much to ask for.  But when I consider how difficult it is for me to make time for these two rather wholesome habits, when I consider the guilt I feel–the excuses, the rationalizations–it’s almost like I’m trying to pursue a heroine habit or something.

Often, when I’m out on a jog, I have thoughts that I’d like to write down.  Hopefully, this will be a place where I can write some of these thoughts out.  The ironic thing is, that at this point in my life, I often feel that I have time to write for an hour or perhaps jog for an hour.  But the days rarely include time for both.  My goal is to jog about 5 hours a week.  If there are 24 hours in a day, and 168 hours in a week, that works out to be about 3% of any given week devoted to jogging. 

As you can see, I’ve spent a lot of time helping my daughter with her seventh grade word problems.  If a harassed working mom spends 5 hours a week on jogging and there are 168 hours in every week, what percentage of her time would be spent not in the service of others?  Answer:  5 sweet, well-deserved hours. 

I’d like to go on, but it’s almost time for me to pick up my daughter from her latest sleep over.  Plus, my husband just looked in at me from the window.  He was standing in the rain,  triumphantly holding two enormous purple cabbages to his chest.  Gardening is his thing.  His 3 percent time-frame escape.  And those two cabbages are his finish line.  I need to go congratulate him, so as my therapist used to say, “I’m afraid our time is up.”

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First Post Ever: Hair malfunction at Arcata Fun Run

     My experience at today’s Fun Run mirrors my experience with this blog: haphazard, last-minute and totally amateur. Thus, my decision to make it the subject of my very first post seems quite appropriate.
     I woke up this morning, wondering if this was the Saturday that they were going to hold the race. After checking the web site, I determined that this was the correct date, and I had less than a half hour to register. I quickly brushed my hair and pulled it up into a high pony tail. Then I surveyed my jogging clothes. Three quarters of what I owned was in the hamper. And I had not shaved my legs… Hmmm. Maybe I should give up on the idea. But of course, these are the kind of thoughts I have before embarking on ANY jog. My mind comes up with several excuses–none of which are really very important, but still loom as large as Olympic size hurdles between me and the door.
     Maybe I begin to think about all the chores I need to do, or the phone calls I could make. Maybe I can’t find the right pair of socks, or the right collar for my dog. The list goes on and on. Not for nothing does the Nike slogan read: “JUST DO IT.” In fact, the hardest step on any jog is the first step over the threshold. Compared to that step, all the other steps in a 5K are easy. And just in case the use of the term “5K” makes me sound like a bad ass runner, let me just confess that I had to look up a conversion chart to in order to calculate how many miles I would be running in the race: 3.11.
     So I did my best to ignore my excuses, which led me to arriving in Arcata, dressed in Capri length sweats with a shirt that sported a small stain from last night’s spaghetti sauce. I parked quite a way back from the starting line at the Fire Station, to avoid the crowd. That turned out to be totally unnecessary because there were only about 30 runners who showed up. I presented my late registration, received my complementary shirt, and picked up a copy of the course.
     Oh, so we will be running through Redwood Park! I thought as I studied an almost hieroglyphic representation of the course. What if I got lost? What if I was last person, took a wrong turn and wandered into a camp of pit bulls and vagabonds? My hands reached up to the top of my head to give my pony tail a nervous tug. That’s when the hair band snapped and hit the woman next to me in the cheek, right below her eye.
     After apologizing profusely, I tried to make a joke about how jogging is not usually a contact sport, but that she might want to consider protective eyewear. I got a wan smile in return, and attempted to fade into the crowd. But since, as I have mentioned, the crowd was rather sparse, this was not very effective. I then decided to do a little warm-up jog away from the lady and her husband, who was inspecting her hurt cheek.
     This gave me a moment to consider the problem of my hair, which was two-fold. First, it was a matter of practicality. If you don’t have a head full of dense, wiry, dark-brown hair, you probably can’t know how uncomfortable it can be to jog without a pony tail. For comparison sake, you could consider jogging with a small animal clinging to your shoulders—like a cat or some other woodland creature. Or perhaps you could imagine running a 5K with a coonskin hat on your head. Although it can be done, it’s just not very practical.
     The second part of my problem fell squarely into the category of vanity. And if that seems shallow, you probably haven’t seen what happens to a person with curly thick hair, after they have brushed it. Those of us with curly hair rarely put a brush to our head, unless we plan on slicking it back into a pony tail. Otherwise, we end up with what I like to call the “Yoko Ono Effect.” It’s not a look that has been sported since the early 1970’s (Not even by Yoko.).
     There was, however, only 15 minutes before the start of the race. I considered my hair malfunction as I jogged up the street and I didn’t see any way of fixing it. That’s when I realized that I was right in front of—and you’re not going to believe this—my hairdresser’s shop! And there was the Clarissa, just opening up for the day. I knocked on the glass and she graciously agreed to not only give me a hair band, but also insisted on sitting me in the chair and pulling my look together professionally. After this quick hairdresser pit stop, I was back in the running, and made it back within minutes of the starting gun (And when I say “gun,” I mean the blast of the Fire truck horn.).
     We were off! Feet pounding, runners jockeying for position, vagrants scampering to avoid the oncoming rush of earnest joggers! It was all very exciting, but it soon settled into a long uphill stretch down 14th Street, heading into even more uphill at the edge of the park. Just when I thought I couldn’t stand any more, the strain of jogging up the asphalt was broken up by the strain of jogging up an earthen trail… with switchbacks. Great! I was just glad I hadn’t looked at a topographical map of this course, because I never would have even attempted this race. Up, up, up, we climbed, through ferns and over creeks, beneath ancient Redwoods and young saplings.
     Every race has its pros and cons. The steepness of the trail would have to be a “con.” However, in the “pro” compartment, I would mention that handsome Firemen stood along the way to keep us on course. And if there’s anything that will keep me from giving up, it’s a high five from a handsome fireman every half mile. Before I knew it, I was heading down hill and feeling strong.
     I remembered my father’s words, as I neared the finish line: “Always finish strong. No matter what your time, you’ll feel better about the race.” So I got my knees up and sprinted across the finish—which really seemed to entertain the winos coming up from the bus station.  Always great to have a cheering section!
     “Thirty four minutes, nineteen seconds,” called out the Soroptomist at the finish. Not so bad. According to my conversion chart for the metrically challenged, that works out to about 11 minute miles! Given the uphill nature of the course, I’m pretty happy with that. Actually, given the uphill nature of the course, I’m happy I finished at all.

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