Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Coming clean...

Now that I am in the middle third of the run, I have three corrections to make.

First, so exhilarated was I when the clouds cleared after crossing the pass at Mt. Hood in the beginning of my trip that I enthusiastically tweeted photos of Hood as soon as the clouds broke and I saw the iconic, snow-clad mountain, easily forgiving the fact that it was in entirely the wrong place.  When the skies further cleared, I saw that such beautiful peaks punctuate the entire skyline in Oregon, and it was probably Mt. Adams that I was calling Mt. Hood.  Fortunately, this ease I have to see what I expect has not gotten me into trouble navigationally, but it will happen.

Second, it was probably good that I thought the Teton Pass was on the Continental Divide and the highest point of my trip.  It made a glorious day all the more thrilling, thinking it was "all downhill" to visiting my daughter Celia in Minnesota.  My trip is always framed in two to four day sections, due to limitations in my smart phone screen size and software, which makes it hard to look at broader maps or topographies.  Mostly it is due to my brain's inability to keep track of much more.  This has been generally good, keeping me more in the present, less overwhelmed by how much is before me, but I do sometime get anxious that I lack a longer range view.  The high point, as it turns out, is Togwotee Pass, quite a bit higher at 9,658 feet and the actual crossing of the Continental Divide.  I crossed this two days after Teton Pass. Now it is all downhill to Celia!

Third, and most significantly, I have been referring to this trip as "self-supported" because a significant part of my day to day existence involves pushing my 60+ pound stroller and finding safe places to sleep and food to eat.  Yet, I am utterly dependent on others.  A better term might be "supported generously, continuously, and unpredictably by people I know and don't know" (an unwieldy term, I admit).  I cannot overstate this.  My emotions are often on the surface on this trip, not so much because of my routine that requires that I push on (even when I don't feel like it), but because it is an amazing experience to be continually on the receiving end of such love and generosity, everyday.

My regular Sunday running group finishes each summer run with a plunge in a cold water stream near my home called the Green River, the perfect therapy for legs punished by a long hilly run.  I always wanted to be the kind of person who could just dive in, but instead have been a one-toe-at-a-time type.  Two years ago, I was determined dive in, like the others, but it always took me so long to get up the courage, knowing the bracing shock that awaited, even though the shock was over in a moment and the benefits would be wonderful and lasting.  It didn't help that me friends' shrieks betrayed how cold the water actually was, despite what they would say.  But I learned a trick: I don't have to dive into the water; I just need to dive into the air and the rest would take care of itself.  Maybe I am simple, but this works for me.

This describes how I went into this run, though on a different scale.  I had too little time to plan, and I tried to be aware of and prepared for the things I wouldn't recover from, but the rest, which is to say most of the trip, I hoped would take care of itself.  And it has so far.

The only desperate time, when I first arrived in Oregon not having slept the night before because of packing, that I had a Wile E. Coyote moment, if I can go back to the jumping in the air metaphor, where I had a period of being suspended midair, panicked about what was about to happen, the scale of my commitment and my inability.  With Wile, when gravity kicked in, it meant a plunge to a stream way below (kerplush).  For me "gravity" meant the nurturing guidance of people I had not met previously but now consider dear friends, Joan and Nick, who got me through the day and the weeks that followed directly and through family and friends of family and friends of these friends--you get the idea.  Gravity for me also means running home.  When I am on the road running toward home, I feel good at the deepest level.  I find it interesting to discover that progress, no matter how painfully slow, is what matters most.  I need to keep moving.

Daily I meet people, sometimes I don't even meet them, who support me in meaningful ways--logistically, physically, or emotionally.  The number of vehicles that beep and wave or move way over astounds me--thousands--and these small acts mean a lot to me.  People I encounter when I stop are almost always wonderful, whether it is making me a black bean burger in the middle of a national forest in Oregon after closing time (heaven to a protein-starved vegetarian in beef country), to a rancher who shouted out from the woods as I ran past, wondering what I was up to. His family had experience Alzheimer's disease, and he gave me heart-felt encouragement (and grizzly advice!).  A farmer in a saloon far from a town, an unexpected place to get some fuel, insisted on buying my sodas and shaking my hand.  "No one doing what you are doing should have to buy his own soda" he said to me and other patrons nearby.  Two nights ago after a day of running into a headwind, cold rain, and lightning, multiple generations of dancers from the nearby Wind River Reservation, passing through on their way home from a performance, cheered me up in what was my home for the night with their conversation and warmth.  These interactions happen by the dozens each day--with people from places and lifestyles very different from mine.  Caring for me, and I for them in return.

Some relationships are deeper.  The folks that ran with me or hosted me for a night or a breakfast or lunch--there are so many beautiful people in these places that seemed so far-flung.  Many of these relationships (joyously) continue through facebook, email, twitter, and phone.  Every single day I wake up to find my body ready to go, but my spirit not so sure.  These gestures from these new friends and old friends and family--often even strangers who heard from word of mouth--not just get me going but make me excited to have the privilege to do so.

Several times cars await me on the side of the road having heard that I am coming into town.  Some spot me driving past (sometimes several times--there aren't many roads out here) and stop to chat, having heard of my run from others or just curious.  My new friends Norm and Alicia, who hosted me when my leg first swelled up, passed me on the road many days later coming back from a trip with protein bars, a dozen boiled eggs, and friendship.

The two days I spent in the Valley View Assisted Living Center in John Day, OR, was a turning point for me.  I could not get the swelling in my leg to go down, and I was very discouraged.  The staff and residents pampered me, encouraged me, and told me I needed to call them when I reach Rhode Island, when I was doubting that that was possible.  So many individuals were so nice to me over those two hardest days, I wish I could describe each of them.  I will just single out Etta, whose dad had Alzheimer's, who, like many others I've met on the trip with Alzheimer's in their family or among their close friends, shared with me a deeply knowing and powerfully moving connection--an understanding of how much is lost and how much is at stake.

The folks at Valley View gave me several things, but among them is an American flag that you might have seen on my twitter pictures (It needs a little patching due to strong winds, but I will do it.)  They told me that my stroller should have a flag, and I agree.   For me the flag is a symbol of what I have experienced about the part of the country that I have passed through so far, an ideal that I, to be honest, did not expect.  The country really does feel like a community of caring people.  I know that there is a unique nature to my trip that attracts interest, but I think it would be unfortunate to dismiss my experiences as an anomaly.  Perhaps because I am so dependent on the help of strangers, I am judging less, more open to each person as a friend.  But I am not sure that this has to change when I return home.  I am not sure that I am any less interdependent in my normal routine.  I hope I can carry this feeling--this way of being--with me long after this summer ends.

So, thank you to the wonderful people who have helped me much more that you can imagine.  I feel like others, both at home and in my travels, have infused the trip with meaning and I have a job of many to do in all this, a singular one, of just running home.

Somehow it is already afternoon, and I have to leave this nice hotel and start running, but I want to share my thoughts from Father's Day first.  The reporter from our local paper, Richie Davis, had asked me about Father's Day at the beginning of the trip, and I told him that I hadn't thought about it; I'm not much of a holiday person.  It turns out Father's Day was my toughest day weatherwise, with the rain and wind and lightning that I described earlier.  I found myself thinking about and missing my dad acutely, and this continued to clarify for me why I am doing this.  A mantra dominated my thoughts during that period: "it is not ok."  As my dad was suffering from Alzheimer's it was really hard to process for me--so overwhelming.  Now many years after he passed away, I finally have an opportunity to cry this out.  It is not ok that over one hundred years after Alzheimer's was identified that there is still nothing--not one thing--that can slow or stop the disease.  Beautiful people--my dad and millions of others--have suffered so much. I believe there is hope in this generation to change this.  In honor of the people we love with Alzheimer's and for our children, please join with me to advocate for and support more research funding for Alzheimer's disease.

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