Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Long Way Out

Oceans are big.

I caught a glimpse of the Pacific as my plane dipped over the tips of the mountains into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this morning. It's the place where the earth stops--with the way the haze hung over the water, there was no seam between sea and sky. It was like looking at the end of the world.

I tried not to think about that.

A lot has happened since my last update here--you know how it is. Plans that sounded cool and interesting when they were months and years away start looming, getting bigger and bigger the closer they get until they're as big as the ocean out the window. And then you wonder what the heck you were thinking.

I'm about to fly across the ocean. I'm about to fly past the end of the world. It's far enough that the 12-hour flight will take more than 26 hours. And then my home will be on the other side of an ocean. My home will be on the other side of the world.

In the months and weeks and days and minutes leading up to now, I've started to suspect that I am peculiar.  The vastness of the ocean does not seem to affect the other exchange students. My hesitant confessions of nervousness about traveling to another continent tend to to elicit a particular kind of smile I haven't yet characterized to my satisfaction, usually accompanied by soft laughs and kind platitudes. It's only Beijing. It's not that far.

But I suppose I've known for a while that my connection to my home was not quite like other people's. My soul lives in Colorado. I cannot feel settled anywhere else, and no matter where I travel, it feels like coming or going depending on the direction to the Rockies.

China is decidedly not in the direction of the Rockies. I'm afraid the roots that still managed to connect me to home when I was in California will be severed, cut off by an impossibly big expanse of intractable sea. I don't know what that will be like. I think it might hurt.

My parents used the word "adventure" about 92 times this morning while they were sending me off. They're right, of course, and I don't mean to drown the fantasticness of this opportunity in my weird flavor of homesick melodrama. The next few months are going to be at least 92 different kinds of adventure. I expect that I will grow more by the advent of June than I have in the years since coming to California, which (from my current perspective) is considerable. I will learn taichi. I will learn to make really good tea. I will speak Chinese like a native and barter like a professional. And I will, most likely, get really bad diarrhea.

It's a long, long trail I'm walking now. I've walked all the way to the trail's end at the edge of the world--and I'm going to keep on walking.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Renaissance, Day 2

The Run: Campus Loop
The Mileage: 5.2

Ah, runner's hangover. How I missed thee.

It's not as bad as it could have been. One of the more useful skills I've retained from high school is the post-workout process of cooling/stretching/draining/soaking to release toxins from the muscles and reduce next-day soreness. Still, though, I'm a heck of a lot sorer than I was on Monday.

And what a beautiful feeling it is.

I wrote an essay on this some years ago. I'm sure I posted it somewhere--facebook maybe. It talked about the odd phobia people have of tiredness. How Starbucks and company thrive on our fierce desire to not be tired. But maybe the problem isn't being tired--maybe it's just that we're being tired in the wrong way.

There is a key difference between code-monkeying-all-day-to-pay-the-mortgage tired and ran-two-miles-further-than-I-thought-I-could tired. The former implies a cage--some sense of inevitability that requires hardship, and the less hardship that can be felt while still creating the necessary product, the better (bring on the mocha!). The latter implies freedom. The latter is not the kind of feeling you mask, it's the kind you revel in, because of what it means. It is the taste of a victory several miles long.

I wonder what 1100 miles worth of victory will taste like.

In the meantime, I shall wear my groans as badges of honor. And pray that I regain the ability to climb into my bunk sometime before tonight.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Renaissance, Day 1

The Run: Lagunita + a little roadwork
The Mileage: 3.3

It rained this morning.

It took me several minutes, actually, to realize that the power had gone out. I felt around for my shoes in the dark, pulling on my socks and sweats like a blind person because I dreaded turning the light on. Maybe I wanted to imagine that I was still asleep, not about to go run through pouring rain at 6:00 in the morning. I went so far as to tell myself that I wasn't actually going to run, I was just putting my shoes on. And if shoes, eh, why not a jacket. And hey, it was too warm inside to be wearing a jacket, so I might as well go outside.

Huh. I'm outside, wearing a jacket and sweats and a watch and running shoes. (Mm, I'd forgotten how good running shoes feel.) Guess I may as well run for a while.

It was all rather anticlimactic, considering. I was very big into endurance running back in highschool--worked my tail off to make the varsity cross country team, made it to State, competed for the Junior Olympics. Even ran a 200-mile relay with a group of friends. Colorado runners, we were. Mountain boys.

Then college. I kept at it for a while. It was rather a big deal, because my roommates were into running too, but I was from Colorado. California air was like soup. I ate it like powerbars. Very hardcore, you see.

But you know how it goes. I took a tough course load, because that's what I do, except then I found out that Stanford tough course loads weren't quite like Chatfield Senior High tough course loads. Suddenly I was staying up all night (ha, in high school I thought that was a figure of speech) doing homework assignments. I could cut back on the running until I caught up. So I cut back, and cut back...

Never really caught up, though. Just stopped running.

So you might expect, as I splashed my way through the burgeoning puddles on the path to the lake--trying to remember how to roll my shoulders back onto my spine to keep my diaphragm open, how to set my posture over my footfalls to best preserve inertia--that there would have been some kind of thrill, some kind of fanfare, that I was getting back in the game, I was starting up again!

Nope. It was raining.

I hadn't planned it. Well, that's not quite true. I had planned it for some time. I had planned to start again back in November. And then not November, so Christmas. And then not Christmas, so New Years. And then not New Years either.

Really, I've been "planning" my return since December of 2008, when I stumbled upon my Life Goal for the Next Seven Years. Have you ever heard of the Iditarod Dogsled Race? It's a pretty big deal in the dogsledding world. 1100 miles through the Alaskan interior, in early spring. You have to be worth your snuff just to complete the thing. I've known about the Iditarod since I was about five (thanks to a brilliant movie called Balto upon which I will inevitably expound at a later date), and I've always dreamed of going to see it. Not to be in it, of course, because I'm not that good with animals.

But then, in December of 2008, I learned of the Iditraod Trail Invitational. A band of 50 or so people, every year, who go out and race the Iditarod. On foot.

The moment I heard about the race, it clicked. This was something I wanted to do. Something I wanted to do badly. Crazy? Of course. But it could be done. People had done it. I could do it.

I'm sure you've seen this movie. Kid gets dream. People laugh. Find out he's serious. Think he's crazy. Kid doesn't care. Kid gets up every morning and works his tail off to earn his dream, people think he's crazier and crazier, convince themselves he'll give up. But he doesn't. And then when he succeeds, the whole world applauds.

That wasn't me.

I spent the last year sleeping. Doing a little school work. Planning to do more schoolwork, or at least do it better. And then not. I think I ran about seven times, the majority of which being because I drove my younger brother to cross country practice a few times and had nothing better to do while I waited to take him home.

As I wheezed and hacked my way around my first circuit of Lagunita Lake, I was very far away from Alaska.

It strikes me now that, for all the planning of my Return To Running I've done for the past year, I didn't actually plan to go running this morning. There was no set up. No announcement to friends, nothing spoken aloud. Just a simple thought last night. I think I'll go running in the morning. Yeah. I'll do that.

And then, of course, it rained.

Due to the power outage, the trail lights were all dead. Nothing but the gauzy gray glow of rainlight, the hiss of water on water and leaves. And the splashing and gasping of a college undergrad, somehow possessed to go running in circles.

The trail was trashed. Flooded sections, sinkholes, mudslicks. I guess the technical running I learned on Colorado slopes is built into my muscle memory, or else it's a miracle my ankles are intact. And somewhere between the twists and dives and smoldering muscles and bronchioles grating against each other, some quiet part of my brain smiled.

I'd forgotten how much fun this was.

Slowly, it started to come back. I remember the race when I first understood how your body can lie to you. How the first part of the race, if you run it right, is the hardest. Everything burns, breath grates through your lungs like sand, you imagine yourself crumpling into a ditch somewhere around the first mile marker--

And then ahead, you see mile marker two. And you realize you don't hurt so bad.

I can't imagine what I must have looked like to the poor commuting souls on Campus Drive. Ridiculous runner with a taffy-stretched teenager's build and a ridiculous bandana tying his ridiculous hair back out of his face. I can only hope the dopey grin running from my heart into my capillaries wasn't making it onto my face, or they might have thought I was high on something.

Maybe I was.

For you see, somewhere near the corner of Governer's Ave and Searsville, between the intervalic golden swaths cut through the rain by headlights, I was struck by a rather shocking realization.

I no longer wanted to run the Iditarod Trail.

I had decided to.

And gosh darn it, I could still do this. Here's lookin' at you, Day 2.