Craving For The Ultimate Cure-All

One can never have enough socks-Dumbledore

There is only one thing that I really crave whenever I’m sad or angry. It also seems to work when I’m hungry. Or belligerent, melancholic, or ambivalent. I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling nauseous, like after I’ve eaten too many peanuts after eating too much sausage stew (with blood!) after drinking too many Margaritas after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, it still manages to satisfy my cravings. And you know when you’re sitting at your desk at school, and you push your chair up onto its back legs, and you start flailing your arms around and around because you might fall forwards but might also fall backwards? You know that feeling? It always seems to cure this feeling too, even if I haven’t been to school since before Vanilla Ice.

Once I was peeved because a driver cut me off on Route 95, and was honestly considering, between bouts of shouting unheard epithets, driving if necessary all the way to Florida to wreak my automotive revenge, but found shortly thereafter that a single dosage of it worked wonders.

When I awake at night, bathed in sweat, the echoes and shadows of a terrifying nightmare still webbed across my brain, there is only one elixir that returns me to a state of balance.

When I do crosswords, and have a tough time with 43 Across (or 24 Down): “All these steaks are too well done”?, I find that it works wonderfully to put things in the proper perspective.

And when people are starving in Bangladesh, or another species is being wiped out, or another disease, created and fostered by us, is running rampant, or Our Great And Exalted Leader is setting the bar at yet another all-time low, it does just fine telling me there’s no better way to start solving the world’s problems than it.

I have not found any negative feeling or situation that it can’t help or improve, and can say with great confidence that even if there were something out there that it doesn’t help, then trying to use it anyway is still definitely worth it.

What I really crave is the Potion of Motion, which has gotten us thus far, and promises to take us much further, assuming there are no headaches. There are no wonders “in heaven and Earth”, there is nothing more impressive or miraculous “dreamt of in your philosophy” than constructing “the beast with two backs”.

But “I don’t want to beat around the bush…

Foxtrot, Uniform, Charlie, Kilo…”

-with apologies to Steven Wright, Dave Barry, Vanilla Ice, Shakespeare, the Bloodhound Gang, my Mom,

and anyone else whose toes I’ve stepped on here.

A Tremendous Wave, An Incredible Gift

“My” song is 5:40 long. It has seven verses, each one either 32, 33, or 34 seconds long. They are separated by nine second intrumentals where the melody is repeated. There is some harmonica at the end. Other than that, nothing much happens. Without the words, there is almost nothing to see here, unless you happen to enjoy the melody, like me.

But oh, those words…

The piece was written at a very difficult time of the musician’s life, when his wife had left him and his family was falling apart. Whenever I hear it, I always put myself in the artist’s situation, and wonder if I could have even picked up my pen, much less written the words that send such Earth-trembling shock waves through even the most frigid and frozen souls.

I am listening to it now, with the familiar goose bumps that have appeared with each playing since I first heard this version of it, so many years ago. Nothing has changed, no element of the song’s power has been diminished.

How? How did he pull it off? How did he drag himself out his seventh, deepest circle of hell long enough to gasp for a puff of fresh air, scribble down a line or two, and descend back into the pit.? It was the pit, after all, that made those words and letters bond and take form. And the only way out of it was to sink deeper into it.

Musically, the artist has chosen a kind of a folk-rock sound that’s easy on the ear and, more importantly, very repetitive. There are no real solos-unless you count the harmonica one at the end, and the music and melody seem to roll into your ears rhythmically, like waves, bearing the ocean’s irresistable might and an armada of words that paralyze your brain. Each verse starts with a couple of acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, and with the drummer only working the high hat with the bass drum. As the verse moves from stating facts to deeper messages, however, the drummer kicks in with the snare drum and the wave reaches a new, terrifying intensity.

When “If I Were A Boy” from Beyoncé came out, it reminded me a lot of my song. Because the musicians are merely playing a very pretty but simple melody the whole time, more attention can be paid to the words-which can be very hazardous.

The song has seven verses. Each verse has six lines, plus the title of the song at its close. Here is where the song becomes special: the seven verses have nothing to do with each other. Each one is a story that could easily be a novel that could easily be a two-hour movie. But each story ends with the title that shows, undeniably, that all of our stories are linked.

”..there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening”. -the artist said later about the lyrics.

Then there’s the language. Many artists use big words to show they’re intelligent, or “f-ck” or “sh-t” to show they’re rebellious, or they’ll use sappy words because the American audience thrives on chocolate cake lies. There is none of any of that in this song, just a whole lot of words we use all day every day, combined in a way to rip out the Titanic hull in your security, your illusion of happiness, your dreams of squeaky clean simplicity:

“…when finally the bottom fell out I became withdrawn…”

“…all the people I used to know are an illusion to me now…”

“Her folks said our lives together sure was going to be rough…”

“…rain falling on my shoes…”

“…we’ll meet again someday on the avenue…”

“… all the while I was alone the past was close behind;

I’ve seen a lot of women, but she never escaped my mind”

“…everyone of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals

pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul (from me to you)…”

These last two lines describe the singer reading his own Dante’s Inferno.

You’ll never know you’re hurting until you’ve heard these words. You’ll never know how bad it is until you’ve chewed on them, savoring their bitter taste, feeling the clunky knots descend to your gut, and feel your intestines wrestle with the truths they hold. And you’ll never, ever, be free from any of your pain unless you deal with it.

I don’t care if this song was written about 47 or so years ago. Why should that matter? The truths it contains are universal, like the characters in the song. They are each and every one of us, forging our ways through these tundras of hurt we call out lives. The truths they represent are there for us to ingest as keys; keys to unlock the true joy our lives might one day become, if we so choose, despite the obstacles.

I know a lot of people aren’t going to get it, and aren’t going to make it to this line, but I wanted to add that a lot of people aren’t going to appreciate the “rain falling on my shoes” line from above. The character in the song is standing by the side of the road when this happens, some time after “our lives together sure was going to be rough”. How does he know the rain is falling on his shoes?

He’s looking at them. What could be a more pitiful image than that? Standing on the side of the road in the middle or night watching the rain fall on your shoes?

Another underappreciated skill the artist expertly wields here in this, my most favorite Bob Dylan song, is that he tells us nothing-we’ve got to see this ourselves, create with him, and thereby work through his/our pain with him.

Which is why calling Tangled Up In Blue “my” song is a truly ridiculous notion. It’s our song now. Shout out to you Bob, you really broke the mold with this one, and gave us a priceless gift that will never overstay the need for it. He did not do this for his career, or to earn wads o’ money. He did this to accept the pain, to deal with it and try to move on, as best he could, and to show us how we could do the same.
Give the man some respect.

I know death, he weighs “239”

Death is sick-diarrhoea streams from His mouth

over an oval orange face and through tiny piggie fingers

he careens and croons through this China Shop world

thinking He be the one Most Deserved

and everything else orbits His greatness

and those that don’t respect Him are thrown from the club

and those that utter doubts about His lies are trampled underfoot

                                                    by legions upon legions of characters

for he hates   

and he lies    

and he destroys    

for death is all Death knows

and Death begets Mayhem

and Mayhem begets Pain

and Pain is the pillow underneath his sleeping skull

it rings across the vast chasms in His bulging chest

above the still-more-bulging girth below

                    that swallows and begs yet shall never be full

because His hunger will never be filled with food

I know Death and I know it well

I see its works

from His golf courses to His affairs

to the foolish wig upon His head

to the pumpkin face-paint He wears

from the endless depths of His lack of knowledge

to His robbery of the poor to pay the rich

to His seething lack of humanity

to the way He treats umbrellas

Death cloaks itself with night

    because it has no use for all things light

Death is creaky and boned

    His goodness has been filed and honed

Death is tall and wields the blade

    His father’s insults to evade

I know Death and I know it well:

    Death is the mouth of the Nightmares we tell

Yes I know Death, I know it well:

    For Death is the Price of the dreams we sell

I can only pray for one thing more:

that Death’s ugly reign ends at four


My favorite quote of all time is “Huh?”, which is what William H. Macy answers when asked “What kind of finder’s fee are you looking for (you tube: Fargo (1996) – A Finder’s Fee Scene (4/12) | Movieclips)?”  I’ll admit the quote is not as powerful if you don’t see his face, but coupled together the reaction is sublime.  

    Jerry Lundergard is all of us.  We’re trapped in our own little dramas and futile attempts at making mountains from molehills, and all it takes is a simple question to make us look like utter buffoons.  Our lives, that we deem as incredibly important, mean so little in the grand scheme of things.  Ask the bird on the tree branch, singing every morning, if he’s worried about COVID 19.  

    The Coen brothers have done this before.  In Raising Arizona, a prisoner in group therapy is asked by the prison psychologist/ex-hippie why he uses the word ‘trapped’, to which his deeply wise reply was: “Huh?”  I thought, back in 1987 (!) that the bar could not be raised any higher, but the Fargo scene just took this to a whole ’nuther level-it’s why the Coen brothers are so great.

    The next time your’re worried about a midterm, or a job interview, or the quarterly reports, or if Agent Orange will be reelected, remember this quote-it’ll put things in the proper perspective.

I Know Milk, But…

I know these sharp corners

and those serrated edges

and the logic of black ink on white page

and the spin of whitewalled rubber down potholed streets

and the piercing of the skies by our scrapers

and the scatching of the heavens by plane,

like fingernails on the inside of a coffin

and classrooms and boardrooms and meetings

and information and facts

and beltbuckles

or the foreboding ordered tanglements of a noose

and the Indy 500 and the Indy 500 and the Indy 500

and taxes and accounts and fractions and numbers themselves.

I know definitions and meanings and synonyms and opposites

and the price of a gallon of milk

the price of a gallon of milk.

I know the price of this gallon of milk,

but I will never know the shape of wind,

the path of the moth,

or this thing, alone in our world



A masterpiece aflutter-

but with the strength to travel 2500 miles (a fact).

I will never know the butterfly,

which is why my heart beats

To Save A Tribe

Hundreds of years ago, there was a village of natives next to a river, close to where it spilled into the Great Sea. The chief, Standing Bear, had a beautiful daughter named Leotie, but everyone called her Coyote.

Her beauty was known to play tricks with men’s minds, so that they were spellbound and dumb in her presence.

All of the warriors and most of the braves were in love with her, and fights occurred almost every time her name was mentioned.

Coyote came into that age where it was time to marry, and many in the village grew excited and restless. Standing Bear watched the tribe in its unruly state and was silent for three days.

After his silence, he announced to the village proudly that his daughter was of marrying age, and he had decided on a proper ritual to decide which member of the tribe should win her hand.

There will be a race, he said, at the first sign of Spring. It will start at the village and go up the river to the Lonely Pine forest, through the forest, across the plain where the flowers grew so tall and pretty, down into the Lost Canyon, where all of the braves had their rites of adulthood, up out of the canyon into the beautiful rolling lavender hills at the foot of the Porcupine Mountains, up and over the mountains and to the top of Eagle’s Peak, the tallest mountain in their world.

Once there, they would have to pick up the Chief’s Bear Claw necklace, which the Chief himself would hide, and return it unharmed. The warrior or brave that would return first with the necklace would take Coyote as his bride.

The entire village erupted with excitement. The tribal elders could not remember a time with so much anticipation, or when the tribe seemed to be as tightly knit. They all seemed blessed by the Great Spirit, and the elders went out of their way to thank Standing Bear for leading the tribe to beautiful shores.

The tribe itself was a large one. There were many strong warriors and lively braves-most of whom were very interested in winning Coyote’s hand. Many began to sneak out on secret training runs, eager to increase their strength and endurance. The energy they invested in their training, as well as in the speeches they made as the race approached, was infectious, until even those braves, warriors, and yes, even squaws, who were not interested in Coyote as wife, began to see the race as an opportunity to prove themselves to the tribe.

Life continued through the long winter, but everyone had one eye on the coming of Spring. Many in the tribe were already happily married, and they did their best to support and encourage those who would run, but there were even a handful of these men and women who decided to run anyway, with no desire to win. They either enjoyed running that much or wanted to be part of something special, and would not even make the effort to look for the Chief’s bear claw necklace at the top of Eagle’s Peak Mountain, should they arrive there first.

In addition to the married runners who harbored no thoughts of victory, many of the tribesmen would have no chance of winning because of physical limitations. Some of the braves, for example, had voices like birds, and their ascent to manhood was years coming. Even some of the warriors were ill-equipped to undertake an event of that nature, they were either too slow or too weak or even too poorly orientated, and would only start the race because of desire.

There was one final group of runners that had very good chances of being the first to return with the prized necklace. These were the fastest, strongest, smartest and purest of the tribe. None of this group, however, compared with Winged Salmon, whose name sounded much more imposing in the language of the tribe.

Winged Salmon possessed single-minded determination, endless persistence, the legs of a stallion, and a sharp and clever intuition. He was one of the tribal scouts, and when he went out scouting, he was gone for days or weeks. He never seemed to need food or sleep, and he would be very difficult to beat in the Great Race.

There were other great runners and scouts in the tribe, like Rolling Stallion, Seven Lightning Bolts, and Runs With Rams, as well as two squaws, Galloping Deer and Falcon Wings, who had already made names for themselves as runners in their own right. Both had already run to Eagle Peak Mountain and back…

There was one runner, though, who was ignored by all. Falling Rocks was a quiet young man, very healthy, but not known for being very strong or fast at all, or even for being a runner. He kept mostly to himself, took long walks, and loved to watch the animals of the plain and the fish in their waters without disturbing any of them.

Some called him strange. Many of the older women in the tribe called him a lover. One thing was true, inside his heart of hearts there was a fire burning so strongly for Coyote that he didn’t need the sun.

Every breath he took was hers.

Every bit of food he ate, when he remembered to, was hers.

Every step he took, in any direction, was a step closer to her.

And, when the last full moon rose, about a month before the race, he started to run at night.

The tribe, like many others, had several medicine men. The lowliest of them Circling Crow, who got his name because someone once said his treatments would go only about as far down the road to wellness as a bird with a lame wing.

Circling Crow had twice prophesied that wolves would be coming for the tribe’s young, which seemed unlikely since the tribe lived in an area where there were none to speak of, and none came to fulfill either prophecy or at all, for that matter.

The disgraced medicine man was possibly the only member of the tribe not interested in the race. He was young, not taken by Coyote’s enchantments, and only interested in earning his good name back.

His grandfather had been a great medicine man, as had his father. His own father had spoken the words that still rang in his ears; that one day he would be the most important voice of the tribe. Circling Crow aimed to make these words a reality.

Winter was fading. The snows were melting, and the river, no longer iced-over was high. One day, Circling Crow was walking out of the Lonely Pine Forest into the wide plains between the trees and the Lost Canyon. He heard something and crouched low. His ears and mind worked feverishly, trying to find the origin of the sound and what it meant. He crept nimbly through the high grass to the edge of a small clearing-and froze.

Circling Crow did not like owls-he had always been wary of them from the time he was small. His grandfather always told him to respect owls like no other creature, because it was the owl that signaled the approach of death.

In the middle of the clearing two owls were tearing at a carcass. Circling Crow, who was one of the stealthiest members of the tribe, tried his best to make himself invisible and silent. He did not want to be noticed by the large and dangerous predators. At first Circling Crow thought the two were busy with a rabbit, and he started to back away carefully. But then his eyes caught a flash of white, and, focusing, saw that it wasn’t fur that the birds were tearing.

It was an eagle.

He froze again. He had never heard of such a thing. His mind tried to work but couldn’t. His mouth fell open. Whatever was happening, it was bad. He felt it.

Circling Crow tried to slither away as noiselessly as he came, but he felt the wind change-the owls were now downwind. One of them raised his head, and the other did too. He closed his eyes, trying futilely to erase what he knew had just happened. He was marked.

He opened his eyes again, and the owls were gone.

His eyes searched the clearing and the skies above, but he was alone. After a few moments, he stood weakly. Moving forward slowly, he saw the remains of the eagle in the clearing. He approached it, bent down, and plucked a tail feather from the remains while reciting a chant to ward of the spirits he knew were circling him angrily.

He made his way back to the village, sure that his time, as medicine man and voice, had come. Looking down at the feather in his hand, he thought, “Standing Bear must see this.”

“Are you happy, Circling Crow?” Standing Bear asked the younger man once they were inside his longhouse. “I always hoped you would be as fulfilled as your father and grandfather, they were great men.”

Circling Crow hung his head and remained silent.

After a pause, Standing Bear took a seat and motioned for Circling Crow to do the same.

“Winter is dying,” he said. “I think the time comes for the Big Race. Will you be running for my daughter’s hand, Circling Crow?”

“I will not,” said the medicine man. “I have seen something, Standing Bear, and it bears hearing.”

Standing Bear closed his mouth and looked into his fire.

“The first flowers always know their time to push their blossoms through the last snows. The branches fill with buds when it is time for buds.”

“What do you mean?” Circling Crow wanted to know, not liking where the conversation was heading.

“There are no wolves around us,” Standing Bear stared at the young medicine man, who was hurt.

“I know there aren’t,” Circling Crow said angrily. “But I know a vision when I see one. Whatever has happened, let it be the past between us. I have seen something very disturbing, Wise One, and I would like to hear your thoughts on it.”

Chief Standing Bear remained silent, but motioned for Circling Crow to continue. The medicine man explained all that he had seen, up until the part where the owls looked at him. The chief listened closely, but when he heard about the eagle, he grew openly concerned.

The two men traveled to the clearing where Circling Crow had found the owls. They looked everywhere for the dead eagle or signs that it had been there, but found nothing.

“It was wise of you to come to me,” Standing Bear said, scanning the horizon.

Circling Crow could not help but feel pride. The Chief turned to him.

“It spares you further embarrassment,” he said. The medicine man was crushed. He held out the tail feather and began to speak.

Standing Bear held up a palm.

“There are three birds full of feathers in my headdress,” he spoke. “I’ve found them everywhere between the spot where the sun rises every morning and where it goes to rest every evening.”

He looked down at the younger man.

“You will be a great man one day, Circling Crow, when the flowers push through the late winter snows. Waiting, until then, is difficult. Especially for the young.”

One week later, the members of the tribe did not fail to notice Standing Bear leaving one morning and heading upriver.

It was happening.

Many of the braves, squaws and warriors taking part in the race headed toward special spots, where they hoped to pray and gain strength and inspiration for the race. The village was drained of life. As the sun began to set, a shadow approached Coyote under the sprawling branches of a pine tree.

It was Falling Rocks.

He neared her slowly, urging her to be quiet. She was nervous, as she was not supposed to see any of her suitors before the race. He brought a hand up, reached it into a pouch at his hip, and took out a bracelet. It was made of beautifully polished wampum, and held seven circular turquoise stones spaced evenly around the band. Coyote had never seen anything that beautiful before, and looked up.

Falling Rocks was gone.

The Chief returned a few weeks later and announced that the race would begin the following morning at sunup.

The night passed slowly. Hardly anyone slept. Winged Salmon spent the night getting loose. Most of the tribe stared upwards for hours, as the moon soared up into the night and glided slowly towards the dawn. Circling Crow stared into his fire, reciting incantations and trying to speak with those that had gone before him.

Falling Rocks was above them all. He sat on a nearby rise under the star-pierced wigwam above him. He had already returned the bear claw necklace to Standing Bear, and was enjoying his future life with Coyote. It was so real there behind his eyes he could feel it. Smell it. Taste it. And what he enjoyed most was the gaze Coyote returned to him whenever he looked her way. He was trapped in those eyes, drowning, but no need for air.

The darkness melted. Morning birds roused the groggy village. Mere moments passed until the slumbering tribe shed its drowsy skin and bustled. There were hugs and well wishes around. Songs were sung. People were dancing near the center of the village. When Standing Bear arrived, he thought he had never seen his tribe as joyful, and he was proud. Then he saw Circling Crow.

He was standing at the edge of a large circle of runners, listing to and fro, entranced. His eyes were blackened, and he had merged with his totem animal. He bumped through the crowd and stood on a rock.

Standing Bear hissed at him, trying to get him to remain quiet. Seeing what was coming, he moved forward to pull Circling Crow down from his rock, but it was too late.

The young medicine man let out a long, high-pitched screech that silenced the tribe. In the pause that followed, two or three jokesters made wolf calls. The Chief raised his staff and bade them to be silent. Maybe, he thought, Circling Crow has better news.

“You all know me,” Circling Crow began, staring around the circle. There was a strength in his eyes no one had seen before. “You all laughed at my prophecies when they failed to come true. Perhaps you’ll all laugh at this next one. But I promise you, you won’t be laughing long.”

“Circling Crow,” Standing Bear said. “Come down from there. We’ll talk about this in my longhouse.”

Circling Crow stared at Standing Bear. He continued speaking while he did.

“I have seen something which does not bode well for this tribe. I have made mistakes in the past, perhaps. I haven’t been the medicine man I wish I could have been. I haven’t lived up to the men my father and grandfather were. But does that mean I should give up trying? Does that mean you should ignore what I have seen? I hope not.”

He paused, looking at the tribe.

“I know what this race means to everyone. I know how much we need it. But I beg you now, do not run.”

The crowd grew unruly, and many began to shout and curse.

“I watched two owls tear the life from an eagle not far from Lost Canyon. This race is cursed. The only thing you all will find at the top of Eagle Peak is death and ruin. Do not run. We can still race another time…”

“Falling Rocks has started to run!” someone shouted.

The tribe burst into a confused mess. Some looked to their chief, others to family members, still others started to run towards Falling Rocks, but stopped again. Others started to run. No one knew what to do.

Wingen Salmon took off. He was their greatest runner, and he would not let Falling Rocks claim his rightful prize.

All of the runners followed. Young and old. Squaw, Warrior, and Brave. Starry-eyed and just ambitious. They were off. The breath coming from their mouths formed a wispy cloud that danced and snaked inside itself. Some of the older women, watching them all run upriver, began crying.

Standing Bear’s shoulders sank. He did not like how this day had begun. He looked again towards Circling Crow, who was shouting at everyone to stop running, and then his eyes found his daughter.

She was looking past the runners, somewhere up into the hills beyond, and smiling.

If she is happy, he thought, then I am.

The morning was cool, but winter had lost its bite. It was perfect weather to run in. And almost all of the runners wore smiles. After a few hours, they entered Lone Pine Forest, which towered above and around them, full of Nature’s vitality, despite the season.

Many of the younger runners and some of the squaws were already falling behind. Most of them would not make it up Eagle’s Peak Mountain, but they would try their best anyway.

The stronger runners were chugging along like stampeding bison, but with a lightness and grace like a strong autumn breeze. Many of them wore pouches in which they carried scraps of food to strengthen them, and, of course, their water bladders. Those who hadn’t thought of these were not only regretting it already, but the seed of failure began to grow in their minds. They had their excuse, if they should fail, and, because they did, would fail.

The hours passed. The sun rose weakly in the late winter sky. It provided little, hardly-needed warmth, but a glorious mid-morning light to highlight their way over the beautiful landscape.

Near the front of a long, irregularly-spaced line of runners, a group of the tribes healthiest athletes had formed. They ran tight and efficient, cherished the breaths they took and the way they landed and sprang forward. It was easy for them to do because they all loved to do it. The only question was which of them would run best?

At the front of this group Lightning Foot flashed forwards with the two squaws, Galloping Deer and Falcon Wings, as well as Seven Lightning Bolts, Runs With Rams, and the surprise member of the group, a tall brave named simply The Fleet One.

The group was running strong, but it was work. Somewhere not far ahead-they saw him from time to time-was Winged Salmon. He was setting a blistering pace, like a mountain lion on the heels of a rabbit. So intent were most of the members of the group on staying close to Winged Salmon, that they forgot he was trying to remain close to someone as well.

Winged Salmon knew the land like he knew the lines and curves on his own body. He had run over it thousands of times, in every direction, until there was nothing he could be surprised by, and nowhere to get lost. There was only an opportunity, everywhere in front of him, to run as fast as his feet could carry him.

And he was.

As time passed however, and he pounded more and more ground behind him, the thought crossed his mind that he still could not see Falling Rocks. It was the first moment of any run, of probably his whole life, that he doubted himself. As soon as those doubts arose, however, Winged Salmon quashed them a double dose of determination, and began to ran still faster.

The runners ran on for hours and hours. They ran from one end of the massive forest to the other, and, as the sun neared its nighttime home in the west, the first of them began to leak out of Lone Pine Forest. First Winged Salmon, then the group led by Lightning Foot, and finally the rest of the tribe’s runners. Many of them would not make it through the first night, and would return back to the village to dream of other conquests in the future.

They bounded over the plains between the forest and the Lost Canyon, where the first flowers had sprouted up from the last of the winter’s snow.

Their feet flashed and danced through the brush, kicking up snows. One or two of them fell, as the the ground was not only slippery, but very uneven, and it was getting dark. Some bled, but everyone kept moving towards the Lost Canyon.

By the time night fell, many of the runners showed the first signs of weariness. Their eyelids hung, they mouths watered, and their legs became heavy. The first runners were already wondering if Coyote was really that special, and those of them not running for her hand were already wondering if they had proven enough.

Still they ran on. They ran for hours and hours. They ran as night deepened, and they were forced to run more carefully. The quarter-moon, when it rose, did not provide them with much light, and the uneven ground was an accident waiting to happen.

They ran when the night creatures became active, and were still running when they returned to their dens. They ran past each other, and watched as others ran past them. They ran and joked, they ran and chatted, they ran in silence. And they were still running when the first day died, and the dawn rose on day two.

Winged Salmon had entered the Lost Canyon shortly before dawn. The rocky ground was treacherous, but he was used to it-had run there a thousand times. He made good time.

His feet pounded out the time, as did his breath. The breaths and pounding of his feet formed a song in his mind, a song he tried to sing as strong and as loud as he could.

The day was born, grew and aged during the chilly morning. Still the runners plodded on. Most were tired, but almost all of them were happy, running in the beauty of Nature with all of their friends. So, as the minutes waned into hours, the hours into daytime and night, they made the most of their journey and tried to drink it all in.

But still, up ahead, deep inside Winged Salmon’s mind, rose the question: where is Falling Rocks?

Back at the village, it was unusually quiet. Standing Bear was uncomfortable. There were only a few members of the tribe who hadn’t run the race, which meant the chances of running into Circling Crow were high. He was not looking forward to it.

Fortunately, Circling Crow was not eager to see anyone either. He had vanished. At first Standing Bear was glad about that, but, as the sun set on the second day, and there was still no sign of the medicine man, the Chief began to get anxious.

He stepped outside his longhouse and turned his face upwards. He felt the air fill his nose, and he inhaled deeply. There was something there he could not understand. He could neither name it or describe it; it seemed to come from nowhere in particular and grow.

The runners ran on for hours and hours, into the night that ended their second day. Those without scraps or water were nearing their limits, and they were forced to interrupt their running and scrounge. They fell back.

The group near the front remained tight, and moved swiftly forward. They began to look out for each other; they shared bits of food and helped each other up. But, as tightly knit as they were, each one of them had one thought they dreaded the most: that they would look up and realize Winged Salmon was long gone.

The villagers had two things to look forward to, and neither of them were good. They could either wallow in the endless, insufferable wait, and the lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of their sons and daughters-the largest portion of their tribe-or they could look forward to the crushed and dejected faces of the runners who hadn’t made it.

They returned slowly at first, one at a time, usually the smallest or oldest first, but then more and more regularly. As bad as it was seeing how low these runners were feeling, at least they were able to get some information about the race and its participants.

By the third day, the first warriors were coming back, and all of the braves except the Fleet One had returned. One of the warriors was Runs With Rams, who had twisted his ankle badly and was unable to continue. From him the villagers gathered a wealth of information about who was near the front of the pack and whereabout Winged Salmon was. However, not one of the returning runners could say anything about Falling Rocks. No one had seen him, not even, Runs With Rams guessed, Winged Salmon.

The winter had been harsh. One of the longest coldest stretches that anyone could remember had many people yearning for spring and the healing rays of the sun. The snows were deep, and the cold froze everything. Smaller animals could not scrounge for food as successfully as in years past, and had to depend on luck alone when it came to finding food for themselves and their families.

Many smaller animals did not make it, and that led to tough times for the predators. Times got so bad, that many hunters had to resort to traveling longer and longer distances to find food. Most of them headed South.

Including the wolves.

Late sometime deep in the night of the third day, eyes throughout the village, even those swimming in the deepest depths of dreams, flew open the instant the long lonely howl of a distant wolf called through the darkness.

Other wolves soon echoed.

The group following Winged Salmon had thinned. Some had fallen back, others had given up and returned to the village. As soon as they heard the howling however, all woes and weariness were forgotten. Runners hardly able to keep moving found themselves scooted briskly to the shelter of a larger group.

Once there, everyone slowed to a walk and tried to present no backs to the night. Warriors scoured the canyons and the first hills for weapons, but the land was barren and offered only rocks.

As the last of the group wound their way out of Lost Canyon and onto the first of many rolling hills, they felt the pack growing near, locked onto their scent. The wolves were hungry; and desperate.

The hours passed slowly in the village. Most of the tribesmen and women were awake, and they stared into the distance toward Eagle’s Peak expectantly. Some wanted to go to help protect the runners, but Standing Bear reminded them that the village was almost empty and very vulnerable.

The sun came up on the fourth day, and most of the village was still awake and waiting anxiously. No one wanted to eat or sleep until they got word that the runners, their sons and daughters, were not in danger.

A figure strode into the center of the village, where everyone was waiting. Standing Bear turned his head to see Circling Crow, still with blackened eyes, leading his horse. The two exchanged glances.

“Circling Crow…” the Chief began.

But Circling Crow turned his head. He led his horse out of the village, mounted it, and headed upriver.

Standing Bear hung his head, but not to hide his tears. He had no shame letting anyone see his sadness.

The day crawled by like the slowest tortoise, or the lowliest snail. It was already well spent when a scout just outside the village let out a wail. No one needed to be told to move.

Men, women and children ran to the scout; the hours of idleness had fanned flames of bubbling excitement, worry, and fear. These emotions crashed the dam and engulfed them all. There was shouting and pushing, but no one wanted to be alone.

All of them watched as Circling Crow and Seven Lightning Bolts returned-with cargo. On Circling Crow’s horse lay the bodies of three runners, including the Fleet One; Seven Lightning Bolts carried what remained of Falcon Wings.

They were quickly surrounded, and family members tugged at the dead. The wails were heard throughout the night.

Seven Lightning Bolts did his best to tell everyone who wanted to know what happened after the wolves attacked, but he had been gravely injured as well, and hadn’t slept in almost four nights.

Circling Crow said nothing. After unloading the bodies of friends and loved ones, he merely turned and headed back to those rolling hills, where there had been no place for the runners to hide from the hungry wolves that had surrounded them. He still had cargo to fetch.

Running is one of the easiest things people can do. Sometime around eighteen months to two years, babies take their first steps. Not long after that, they recognize that they can move at different speeds. Whether filled with anger, fear, or joy, they find that running pairs well with these emotions; in the case of the first two, running enables them to approach a solution, avert danger, and release these emotions. In the case of the third, joy, running is an expression of all that makes us alive. It mixes excitement and happiness and floods the runner with the joy of movement, of life.

There are a few things, however, which help make a good runner great. Strong muscles, bones and ligaments, of course. Breathing technique. Experience and practice. The right foods. Enough water. Many of these physical things are easy to gain and train, easy to implement.

Other things, though, aren’t that easy. How we deal with weariness and pain, for example, is a force that governs the way we practice and gain experience. Our ability to focus also plays a role. But there is a point every man or woman reaches where a full-on war between the body and the mind is unavoidable.

Over the most intense half day of Winged Salmon’s life, He burned through Lost Canyon, attacked a dozen hills, each higher than the last, until he reached the base of Eagle’s Peak mountain. He was at war, and winning, but it didn’t feel like it.

The sun shone high in the sky. The mountain was bathed in its spotlight, revealing greens in all shades erupting from wintry white, spurs and dips that spilled downhill like beautiful lengthy hair, and rocky outcroppings-the attributes that formed the face of the mountain’s boundless power.

Winged Salmon saw none of it. Over the last three days, he had shed himself of all that would hold him back from catching Falling Rocks. He remembered nothing. He noticed nothing. He gave his pain and weariness no voice. He had remade himself into a creature of movement, one with the wind. After running for three days, he still felt strong, or told himself he did. And he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he would finally catch Falling Rocks on the mountain.

However, as each impossibly fast stride was laid behind him, and his eyes scanned the heights above him fruitlessly, his heart, burning as the sun above, began to collapse in itself and exploded in a new and terrible anger. In that moment, Winged Salmon was gone.

At the top of Eagle’s Peak, in the middle of the night, Winged Salmon scoured the ground looking for tracks, hints or any clue of Falling Rocks’ presence, or the necklace he already knew was gone. He was aware of nothing else, and certainly not that he was darting around like a rabid dog.

At last he discovered three rocks that were spread out, but that had obviously, judging from the indentations on the ground, been pried apart. He threw himself earthward and inhaled through his nose, drinking every drop of Falling Rocks’ scent, even detecting the essence of Standing Bear and his necklace.

He rocked backwards, still on his knees, and howled at the sky with all that was in his core, until there was nothing left in his lungs to howl. That was when the first wolf had howled, and Winged Salmon missed it. He would have missed it anyway-he was gone.

There was only one thing he could do. He would run Falling Rocks down on the way back and yank the chain from his spindly, cursed fingers.

Winged Salmon had become a Skinwalker, a cursed creature of the night. He ran down Eagle’s Peak Mountain needing neither food not water, air or light. His feet had grown eyes and become like the wind itself, but flowed like water ever downwards. He heard not the sounds of the wolves closing fast, or the calls of his fellow runners trying desperately to scare them off.

His heart, in fact, steered him ever deeper into the black night, away from the coming catastrophe, keeping him safe but fueling him ever onwards into the depths of his now twisted mind.

Circling Crow needed three trips to bring back the dead and wounded. Four warriors, one brave, and two squaws had fallen, and three more warriors would soon follow, being unable to survive their terrible injuries.

As soon as he had completed his task, he sat himself on a little knoll facing Eagle’s Peak Mountain and began to pray. He prayed to the Great Spirit that all of the remaining runners be returned to their village, and gave praise when, one after another, exhausted and, for the most part, still weeping, they did so.

In the long stretches of time between arrivals, he gave thought to his purpose after all of his tribe were accounted for. He played out scenes in his mind: he would leave and roam the Great World behind the mountains, he would retreat to some corner of this other world and speak with no one, he would lay down his calling as healer, and other such youthful dramas.

In each of them, however, there was no heart and no desire to see the images brought to their conclusion. They were all just swirls of smoke rising from pipes of peace. At first that gave him no cause for consideration, but then he realized that this was because there was still something that needed to be done, a purpose more important than anything the Great Spirit could conjure.

And this purpose, Circling Crow felt, was approaching swiftly. He sang and prayed, heavyhearted but at peace.

The tribe busied itself with the needs of the injured runners, and of the grieving families. It took all of the energy, time, and patience they could muster. Standing Bear split his chiefly duties between attending to the grieving and injured, and comforting his daughter.

She was inconsolable. All of her beauty had been worth nothing. What’s worse, she said, it seemed to be the downfall of the tribe. Then she turned to him and asked a question Standing Bear could not answer.

“Father,” she said, “am I cursed?”

Standing Bear could not answer because evil beings were convincing him, at that very moment, that he was cursed.

The fifth day began much as the fourth day ended. Grieving and healing was the order of the day. The screams of the wounded had ensured another sleepless night in the village. Runners and non-runners alike showed faces emptied of life, and stumbled about without knowing where to or why.

Everyone tried their best to pull through the worst of times, which seemed to have no end. At the very least, there were only a handful of runners still upriver, making their way back. The smallest children, as well, were doing their part to aid the tribe out of their desperation, just by being themselves and playing.

It was long after the sun went down that evening when Circling Crow, still upon his knoll, thought he saw something moving upriver. He stood, peering into the darkness, trying to separate the shadows. The river, as it had thousands of years before the tribe was ever conceived, gurgled and splashed its way ever oceanward. On this night, however, it would never flow just the way it had again.

He saw a man. He was lurching badly from side to side. He stumbled and fell, but continued forwards in a crawl. Circling Crow left his knoll and ran upriver to the form. He found Winged Salmon crawling on his belly, like a snake, no longer able to lift his head.

His first thought, upon seeing the once great runner, was that he was impossibly thin. He took the once mighty warrior up in his arms and found he weighed as much as a young girl. Looking through the dim light into Winged Salmon’s eyes, the medicine man saw nothing there that reminded him of the warrior that was. He brought the shell of a man back to his hut.

For three days, Circling Crow fed Winged Salmon a hearty broth, rubbed herbs into his skin, helped him drink water, and chanted the most powerful incantations that he knew which would help the warrior to shed his unwholesome Skinwalker persona.

At the end of the third day, Winged Salmon rolled onto one side and got sick. Circling Crow clapped his shoulder.

The weather had changed. Winter was dead. It was still cold-especially mornings-but Nature was birthing itself anew. The birds in the boughs committed themselves to song with renewed energy. Cubs crawled out of their dens with their mothers. Plants dead in name only hoisted colorful flags, perhaps as messengers of the bounty the Earth would soon be bestowing on all of its creatures.

In the village, however, the tribe whose name meant ‘the people’ were still encased in the Season of Mortality. They hardly spoke, never sang, and grew thin. No one felt much like eating. Many of them were already well down the path toward becoming Skinwalkers as well.

Standing Bear had led a search party, along with a now healthy Winged Salmon and three of the best trackers in the tribe, to try and find Falling Rocks and his precious bear claw necklace.

They traveled for days and days and weeks and weeks until their feet bled and they couldn’t be lifted anymore. They turned over every stone from the village to Eagle’s Peak Mountain and back again. The best trackers they had could not turn up one single clue as to Falling Rocks whereabouts, or the bear claw necklace. It was as if neither ever was.

The party contained the best the tribe had to offer: its strongest, bravest, healthiest, and wisest members. They were persistent and could endure the worst for far longer than many others could, including one scout who had traveled forty days through a blizzard with no food and no warm clothing to save a young brave that had gotten lost and enslaved by an enemy tribe. He rescued the youngster and carried the weakened brave most of the way back.

None of them, however, not the hardiest or strongest among them, could help but to look toward Standing Bear for guidance. There was a desperation in their eyes that the chief did his best not to notice, but to no avail. All eyes were upon him. The fate of the tribe lay upon his aging, weary shoulders.

They returned sadly to their village.

While they were gone, Leotie, the chief’s daughter, left the village. She also had things to attend to.

She headed upriver as well, but stayed far behind the search party, well beyond the reach of the eyes and ears of the world. There was nothing more the tribe could give her.

There was nothing more to look forward to in her life. Any and all of her dreams were shattered, and the worst part was that even though she didn’t understand how, she knew she was responsible for all of the dreadful things that had befallen the tribe.

She was almost too weak to move forward, and she was too sad to cry or stay behind. There was nothing left of the Leotie that was.

Any last hope she had of recovering herself and her world had vanished like the morning dew the moment she had asked her father if she was cursed and he had not been able to answer.

She felt horribly for him, knowing what she was planning to do, but she could not live with the crushing disappointment her life had become.

Leotie carried herself to the top of the Lost Canyon, and, with a heavy sigh, hurled herself to the Great Spirit.

The search party found her on the way back. Chief Standing Bear had lost the light of the sun, but could not help noticing how easily the trackers and scouts had found this next bit of evidence that he was to be punished for something mysterious and unforgivable interminably. He raised his head to the heavens and begged the Great Spirit to tell him why.

Then he bent down and took his daughter into his arms. He tried to breath in her scent one last time, to burn it into his mind and lock it way inside his deepest of hearts. But there was no trace left to inhale.

The members of the search party hung their heads in silence, not knowing what to do and trying not to hear the sobs of their once powerful leader.

The sobs quieted, and the Chief spoke.

“Go back,” he said. “Take care of our tribe. Take care of the old, the sick, the young and the grieving. Give me three days. I have spoken.”

The Chief returned to the village three days later feeling desolate but strengthened. He felt he could handle the demands the world would have on his tribe and himself. And when he went back to the village, he brought with him an idea, one of hope, one that might just carry the tribe away from the Pit of Despair it now found itself in.

Unfortunately, there would be one last matter for him to attend to before he could share the idea with anyone.

For, when he entered the village again, they found several of the warriors beating Circling Crow, convinced he had somehow called woe down upon the tribe.

Chief Standing Bear and the other members of the search party separated the medicine man from the angry warriors.

“Fools!” he shouted. “This was the only man who foresaw the disaster that awaited us once our race was started. Not even I respected his advice, and ignored him when he urged me to delay its start. If you want to fight and kick someone, take me. I deserve it more. But remember this-my daughter is gone, just like many of your sons and daughters. We are all in this wretched state together, if you want to see it or not, and fighting amongst yourselves only delays getting out again.”

The Chief fell silent and looked at what remained of his tribe. Once proud, vibrant men and women, full of fire and hope, they had taken to stare disconsolately and to not look each other in the eye. The dwindled number of braves, warriors, and squaws could not be overseen. A change must come, he thought.

“Nothing this terrible has ever befallen our tribe before, in all the time I’ve belonged to it, and all of the time before that, I’m sure of it. It all began the moment our brave sons and daughters set out to run that ill-advised race. And I’ve decided the only thing that is going to pull us out of our misery, is another race.”

Heads turned.

“Are you mad, Standing Bear?” one of the men who had beaten Circling Crow shouted. “Will you not be satisfied until we’re all food for the crows?”

“Quiet!” the Chief said sternly. “The last race was run to pit each of us against each other, man against man or woman, young against old, for the promise of some prize. It was foolish and flawed to expect the Great Spirit to grace us with good fortune by dividing our strengths and ignoring the present in favor of some future good.”

The tribe was silent; it was the most vocal they had ever heard their normally reserved Chief be.

“We will run again. This time there will be no prize, no one will be given away. There will be no winners and losers, just one day where all of us can become, once again, proud and strong. We will start together and finish together. We will help each other along, take delight in each other’s successes and help each other overcome their failures. The race will begin at sunrise of the summer solstice. Make sure you’re all in good shape-you wouldn’t want this old man to make you look foolish, would you?”

What light was that creeping across the great chief’s face? It could not be a smile… Yet, there it was. The tribe was infused, in that moment, with more excitement and giddiness than it had felt since the morning of the race. Others smiled, and even approached the chief to express their grief over his loss.

And that is how, on the morning of the summer solstice, the entire tribe moved out at the first hint of daybreak, heading upriver. As the sun bathed all of their faces in its warming rays, the Chief looks from face to face and saw joy. Joy in being together, joy in moving, joy in being upon the great and beautiful, magnificent and magical place they called home. Each of them were where they were supposed to be; each of them was needed exactly where and how they were, with all of their problems and limitations.

His eyes scanned skyward to the clouds and to the setting moon, across the horizons toward the forests and the mountains beyond; his ears took in the calls of the morning birds and smaller animals trying to stay hidden, even the insects already buzzing around them; and, finally, he felt the cool morning air and the light breeze upon his skin. He looked down at his feet and smiled.

The powers of Nature form the blood of this world, he thought, and the light its heart. To be amongst it all was to want of nothing.

Upriver they headed toward Lonely Pine Forest, the plains beyond, with Lost Canyon, the rolling hills and towering mountains beyond that. As the tribe walked, jogged, scrambled, and shambled its way there, many became distracted. No one had spoken a word, but each of them got it into their heads that if they were to somehow find Falling Rocks, or the Chief’s bearclaw necklace, then the tribe would somehow return to the greatness it had known before the race that never should have been.

Eyes darted and searched, questions and comments were left unanswered, and shadows were paid close attention to. Even the Chief caught himself reading signs along the trail, also trying to uncover any clues.

The tribe was able to enjoy many years of prosperity and happiness, before larger shifts in history swallowed it and turned its contents into usable parts for other stories. Up until then, however, every year when the sun rose on the longest day of the year, the entire tribe assembled in the clearing at the center of their village and set out to run the race of all races. Even the slowest of them realized that, whether they found something or not, the race was the thing that would always carry them through when all hope was lost. And although no trace of him was ever found, and never would be, the runners reminded each other, either with words or with thoughts, to “Watch out for Falling Rocks”.

8 1/2 (12 1/2) Spectacular Benefits of Running Ultra Marathons

Most of us, when asked “Do you want to run 50 Kilometers up and down grueling forest paths for what seems like 62 hours until your breaking point is reached and you’re ready to lie down in the fetal position, probably in forest dung, with your thumb in your mouth and a ‘just let me die here alone’ look on your face?”, would not answer “No.”

We would answer “HELL NO!”

And we would be right, in a sense.  In First World countries of fluffy pillows and moon pies, it’s hard to see a world in which an ultra marathon would play any role, much less an integral one.

Like most people, ultra runners begin in the HELL NO, larval stage of this journey.  Some may be brave enough to be curious, as in: “What if?”

“What if I did run that far?”

And they might even train a little, right up until the day when they reach their first ascent, after which they find themselves in a fetal position, yearning for a moon pie.

In this article I will offer the poorly tallied 8 1/2 awesome benefits of running an ultra marathon, which will make you want to finally get up off of your and challenge yourself.

I recently took part in the Ultra Trail Angkor, a 128.8 Km event that takes runners through the immense and beautiful UNESCO temple ruins in Cambodia.  One does not start off a running career with a race of this length, obviously, one starts off small and progresses to the longer distances.  Which brings me to my first benefit:

1), In order to complete, or even attempt, an ultra marathon, you have to believe you can do it.  The races are expensive (for poor slobs like me), and you wouldn’t want to invest a lot of money into running one if you didn’t think you could make it.  Something has to happen with your mindset that allows you to attempt the feat. 

A positive mindset is what we all need anytime we want to change for the better.  It is a conviction that change is possible and that the goals are reachable.  No improvements in your life are achievable without it. 

On the morning of the race I got up at 1:27 because I had to tinkle and couldn’t sleep any more.  [Bonus Benefit: you learn fast that if your heart is set on something your body falls into line, in this case by not needing a full night of sleep.]

My gear and supplies soon accounted for, I carefully loaded up for the walk to a different hotel, where the shuttle to the starting line, some 15K away would be loading.  Stopping in our lobby to shoot an exciting pre-race video, I naturally unloaded my supplies to do the filming.  By the time we got to the hotel ten minutes later I realized I had no headlamp. 

It was about 2:50, the bus was leaving in ten minutes, and if I wanted to see the rocky, twisted jungle floor I was going to be running over, I would have to run back to the hotel and find my headlamp fast.

2.), Here is yet another illustration of what we’re up against in life: unscripted problems will arise, but if you want to make it anywhere you have to make the best of it.  Whether running a race or in a job interview, panicking and getting frustrated only worsens the end result.  Running ultras forces you to keep calm and positive longer.

It was weird on the bus to the temples. The world was completely asleep-we were the only fools awake at that hour-but everyone on the bus was excited. We heard Bjorn telling Gordon excitedly, for example, that it was his first Ultra, in a voice that might have woken the dead. 

Congratulations to both of them-Bjorn for finishing and Gordon for finishing fourth! 

Bjorn feeling good. Should we tell him he’s only halfway?

At the start of the race my wife/coach and I met David from Taiwan-the”accidental sweeper”.  A sweeper is the runner who does not compete but stays at the back of the pack to provide assistance to the runners who have been bitten by poisonous snakes or alligators, busied themselves too long with bubble wrap, ensnared themselves in a gympie-gympie stinging bush, been maimed by wolverines, shot by hunters or the Soviet commandoes in ‘Red Dawn’, or are just dehydrated and too weak to continue, with the latter being the most likely (barely). 

David came in last in every event he ever entered-hence accidental sweeper-and there was good reason for that.  His nutrition for the race was, um… unorthodox.  David had started talking with us about beer before the start (4:00 AM). 

“When the sun comes up I’ll get my first beer,” he said. 

I thought that was great.  These races are supposed to be fun, first and foremost, why not get stupid doing it?

Well, maybe because you won’t finish (David didn’t), but it’s worth a try.  At least you have the right mindset.  Why go out there trying to prove something that can’t really be proven?

Anyway, I left David to…other pursuits, and moved up the pack a little.  After 15-20 Km or so, I began running with Mr. Oh (sp.?) from Korea.

“‘Oh’ as in ‘oh how beautiful!'” he told me, his arms spread wide and his smiling face turned to the sun.  Mr. Oh had a positive, gushing personality that made me want to run with him everywhere, if only to see if he would gush the whole time.

Somewhere I saw a guy from Holland dumping inside a clump of not-high-enough bushes.  Jus’ sayin’.  No, seriously, it was at this time that I realized that my time had also come.  The slow construction of a bowel colossus, sped up by my consumption of dates (maybe next time I’ll try beer) and loosened by all of the running, was nearing completion.  A race helper pointed me to a clean, comfortable toilet behind a temple.  I made sure to gloat when I came out of the toilet to find the Dutchman arriving there.

3.), When your heart is set on a goal, things will work out in your favor.  As noted in #2, when you keep an even keel and be patient, problems will all but solve themselves.  My example-going to the bathroom-obviously could be from any walk of life; under-standing the philosophy hidden therein is a useful tool that will carry one through many rough patches in life.

After my pit stop, I challenged myself to catch up to Mr. Oh. Running comfortably but consistently at the same pace, I met up with Bjorn! The kid from the bus from Chicago! When he told me he was from Chicago I said, “I know, you were loud on the bus.”  

He laughed and told me how nervous he had been. I also learned he was 23 and running his first ultra. He was so cute! He had picked a good one.  Yes, his first ultra was 64 Km long, which is long for a first attempt, and the temperatures would soar up to about 95 that day, but the race was about as flat as could be. The only hill:

After this hill there’s only 100 KM left!

This picture hints at Bonus Benefit #2, but only slightly, because I have, like,  a UFon 2 1/2, and kindergarten children can draw better pictures than I can take.  B.B.# 2: The landscapes of every ultra marathon I’ve ever seen are breathtaking.  They ALL have to be seen, but not necessarily during a race, that’s why this benefit is only in the minor leagues.

It was good to run with Bjorn; I felt like a big brother or, more accurately (gulp), his father.  I hope I provided him with some inspiration to keep pressing on when things got tight-like when he ran low on water and was miles and miles away from an aid station. 

Then, what a surprise, we were joined by Mr. Oh!  We all had a great time running through the villages where everyone between the ages of three and 80 were out cheering us on.  One boy about four ran out and handed me a cold bottle of water.

4.), It’s all about the people.  Whether you’re running in a race like this one or going through life, it is boring, sad, and unhealthy to try to go at it alone.  In an ultra marathon running with someone, or being in contact with the locals, only helps you finish.  Given a choice, would you rather have a nice car, spiffy clothes, a comfy accubita or a good friend?  When times are rough, how is another moon pie going to help?

Running ultras gives you the chance, almost unavoidably, to meet people and forge lasting friendships with like-minded crazies like you. 

About three and a half hours in, we arrived at the first and only hill.  It was something like 250-300 meters high, but it would be harder than those of us who didn’t pay attention to the race briefing that morning expected.  The hill would not be scaled by some tame forest trail that snaked its way around the hill to the top.  There was a temple up there and what felt like a zillion steps that led straight up to it.


  5.), There is almost nothing more fulfilling than completing an ultra marathon.  The pride and satisfaction one feels after challenging yourself to take it to the limit and beyond, and to see the trials and hardships all the way through from square one to the finish line are truly priceless rewards one keeps for a lifetime. Running an ultra is tough, and it requires discipline and heart, and if you don’t grow them fast, you will not reach your goal.

Every step is a challenge, as was every step on our hill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, nothing that can be argued away or dismissed-it is that way.  Therefore, completion equals something true and real, every time, whether you’re first or 441st, as I think I was once in Belgium.  It was muddy. 

It was exhausting, plodding away through the midday heat, but I was well prepared and made it through those stretches where the sun was particularly merciless and into another patch of Cambodian jungle.

We passed one aid station after another slowly, which brings me to my next great benefit.

6.) FREE STUFF!  Every ten kilometers or so another aid station popped up trailside with awesome race helpers who offered us not only water and energy drinks, but also free food. 

This race was pretty bare bones, selection-wise:  bananas and apples, and a choice of several dried fruits- loaded, sadly, with sugar.  I suppose a lot of runners might have been disappointed with the buffet, but it was perfect for me.  I’ve seen aid stations that offered not only several kinds of fruit, but also (salted) tomatoes and cucumbers, carrot sticks, energy bars and drinks, chocolate bars and potato chips, mashed potatoes, noodle soup, wine and beer, steaks, sarsaparilla, ocelot spleens, narwhal horns-OK, those last three were a total and complete lie 🤥 but you get the point.  Some of these aid stations are very well stocked, almost to a fault. 

AND, additionally, each racer was offered the opportunity to get a FREE TAN!  At least on the parts of their bodies that were exposed.  But the best thing a runner can receive doing an ultra is the FREE BEER at the end of the race.  Often the organizers wimp out and provide alcohol-free beverages.  Once, however, I took part in the Olympic 50K, which did not have a physical finish line per se, but damn well had a barrel of delicious, chilled Washington State IPA right there instead-a trade I’d take any day.

Theoretically, the Olympic 50 K might be a good first ultra to run, you can read why it might not be HERE.

But I digress… the first half of this race was something I can truly be proud of.  If I had run the 64K race, I would have finished 16th or so out of 75-unthinkable for me.  The only way that could’ve happened was if I had been prepared for the race.

7.), An ultra forces you to become as healthy as humanly possible.  You don’t “just run” one.  You have to be disciplined and consistent with your training and nutrition.  Because you are (hopefully) exercising more and eating healthier, you will feel better about yourself and the prospects of getting up in the morning.  One must also train their mentals, though: as I’ve said in #1, something has to change in your mind just to attempt the race.  This change should be reinforced, so that if you are still whining about the workouts or food in the latter stages of training, your chances of a DNF (Did Not Finish) rise.

This fitness level, physical and mental are exactly what goal-orientated people tend to have, whether they run or not.  Training for ultras show you how its done.

Somewhere around the 60 K mark disaster struck, however.  On Christmas Day last year my wife organized a surprise: Thai massages.  For most people these would have been a real treat:  Thai massages go into the deep tissue responsible for alignment and overall muscle health.  But I had been training intensely; some of my runs had been almost eight hours long.  This fact poses a problem.  There are ways to grope intensely trained muscles and ways one shouldn’t.  Our masseurs were talented enough, but they knew nothing about my training and massaged a time bomb into my leg.

After one training session following the massage my calf was hurt, and my wife said she didn’t like how it looks.

8.),  It’s important to pay attention to everything, no matter how small or unrelated it may seem.  Ultras teach us to attend to every detail, because everything you do matters.  Every step you take, the way you land and spring forward, the way you breathe, the way you eat and train-it all makes a difference.

Life is a grind that wears you down with monotony and tedious tasks, like ironing.  Most people start ‘blurring’ their lives-not paying attention to things they feel are unimportant: the ride to work or shopping, housework, for males: listening, etc.  It’s a natural reaction when one is bored or unfulfilled.  Ultras force you to take life as it was meant to be: meaningful.

Back to Km 60: I started to feel a nagging pain at the top of my calf.  By the halfway point, my calf was all but shot.  My wife did her best to massage some life into and drain some of the pain out of it but just standing up to begin the second half was torture.  Even something as beneficial as a Thai massage can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

9.), There is perhaps nothing that is developed more effectively when training for ultra marathons than a Persistent Mindset.  Life will provide you with limitless opportunities in life to be too tired or hurt, too hungry, too lazy, too dumb, too smarmy(!) -too ANYTHING to continue striving.  Sooner or later, if you want to reach your goal, you’re going to have to dig down deep and continue fighting where there’s no fight to be found.

Which is why I slowly hobbled my way to the start of my ‘back nine’.  I knew it was going to be rough from there on out (a ridiculous understatement), but was still optimistic.  I hoped to walk it out for a bit and loosen the terrible tightness in my calf. 

My wife watched me limp off and said to herself, “He’s not going to make it.”

The heat bore down in its afternoon fury.  

I found a method or ‘gait’ that allowed me to continue to jog at a very slow pace over short stretches.  After the next aid station at about Km 74, however, we entered what I will call the “Death Zone”-after areas on extremely high mountains where death is more certain with each passing second spent there. 

My Death Zone was ’only’ 12 Km long, but almost perfectly straight and endless-it felt more like 52 Km.  That fact, combined with the heat, was unbelievably draining.  There would be no more running.  

When my wife arrived at 96 Km, she did not like what she saw.  My calf was swollen and very warm.  The pain had spread into the back of my thigh, and even my Achilles tendon was affected.  She did what she could, but it came down to a choice:

Did I want to be a hard-ass and risk possible permanent injury to prove something, or did I want to be sensible and accept it.  Three weeks later, I still cannot walk without pain.  I won’t be running anytime soon.  I am certain I could have finished that race, but I know in my heart I made the right decision.  

I dropped.

10.), Ultras teach you that there are times when it’s better to quit and it’s OK to do so-one dreaded DNF does not a failed life equate.  There is a time and a place for everything, and though you  may have lost the battle, in the grand scheme of things there’s always a chance to win the war.

Unless of course you willed yourself into a permanent injury.

11.), It’s also safe to say you’ll burn a few calories along the way:

Because this piece is already too long, I’ll just mention that the eleventh benefit of ultras is the most obvious: ultras improve your figure.  Duh.

12.), And because ultras are run everywhere, they give you the chance to meet people from all over, from New York to New Zealand.  You’ll gain a broad world view.  And see scorpions, maybe.  I did.

12 1/2.), The SWAG!!  After completing the Ultra Marathon of your choice, you’ll be rewarded at the finish line with a prize selected especially for you.  A..and everyone else who finishes.  Since I did not finish my race, I’ve only counted this as half a benefit, so you may even have more rewards than I do! 

Examples of Swag are medals, cool trucker hats  (Squamish 50/50):

Different colors for the amount of times you’ve finished? Oh, I’m all over that!!

whatever this is:

Real wood!


…T-shirts, and one of the most coveted (and ugliest!) objects in all of ultra running: the Western States Belt Buckle.

Then there is the Pounamu Pendant one receives when finishing the Tarawera 100 Miler in New Zealand.  Pounamu is a green jade that the Maoris considered so valuable they would never sell it, but instead give it to someone who had earned it.  What better way to remind you of your ability to do the unthinkable with your life than wearing something priceless around your neck.

Finally, these are the shoes I was in the whole time:

You can almost smell them!!

      (see benefit #9)

     The holes were there pre-race.  Make sure you have, like, shoes, for the race-why I didn’t is a story in itself, for another time.  I’m hoping my DNF is more understandable now.

The bad news about running Ultra Marathons is that once you start, you’ll never want to stop.  It’s hard to stop doing the amazing when life is trying to drown you with dull, boring conventionality.  

Point me to the next one…

Kite of Gold?

I remember one year my brother and I decided we absolutely had to have one of those cool plastic painted kites for three dollars, and my Dad, for whatever reason, acquiesced. The day was windy, and a manly sea-breeze blew from East to West, parallel to the beach, as if it were doing that bodybuilding pose where you turn to one side and everyone can be amazed that you not only have biceps but that even the muscles on your back have muscles on them.

What wondrous beauty! Can I get ice cream?

After six and a half minutes of watching the kite be aloft and wheel to and fro in the sea breeze, both of us were bored and alerted our parents that we were ready to do something else. My father, rightly peeved, grabbed the controls and took over kite enjoyment duties. On a whim I urged him to let out some line and see how high that baby could fly.

It was already very high.

My Dad obliged, probably curious as well, and we watched as the kite soared what seemed like miles up into the stratosphere. Which is where, predictably, in that masculine wind, the almost quality string snapped and the kite dive-bombed like dignity or respect in this modern world over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

My Dad was always cheap and was certainly not going to let three dollars go to waste. One time he picked us up at the golf course and, because my friend Scott wanted to ride in the car to our house and not on his bicycle, took 50 cents to drive my friend there and hold the aforementioned bike out the window the whole time.

As I said the kite had been VERY high, and was now out of sight around the curvature of the Earth. I think my father was gone for the next four hours, but he did come back with his three dollar kite.

Which we never flew again.

Insert meaningful moral here.

RIP Big D. 1934-2019

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

An Experience for All Ages

When I was about ten we visited Cape Cod. Most of our summers involved this yearly ritual, it was something I enjoyed and something I know my parents did too, excepting of course for the two proto-humans they had to put up with who were always hungry and never hesitated to pout or fight.

Times have changed, water levels as well, and the Chatham beach we spent so many summers on is but a mere shell of its former self. Back then, to get to the beach, you walked past a typical American beach shack that sold hot dogs and hamburgers and cookies and chips and Suzy Q’s and plastic rafts, fish nets, coolers, and styrofoam buoys to strap on and avoid, like, drowning with. You know, good old fashioned American fun stuff that’s so great for you and the environment!

My brother and I did not need styrofoam buoys because we swum, like, good, but we did want everything else in the store, especially the comic books they sold from a turning display rack at the door. Fortunately, they also sold beer, so my parents could be content to enjoy a day at the beach with two whining brats.

Anyway, after walking past this beach shack, there was some marshland where the cat o’ nine tails grew tall and the marsh scents grew strong at low tide. After the marsh the beach began, and stretched for a short distance to the left and a long ways to the right. The area to the left was shorter because it was interrupted by water-there was a small bay that channeled out into the ocean. In the back of this bay a small river fjorded its way into the marshland, and it was in this area that I spent some of the most memorable and regrettable moments of my childhood.

In the middle of these marshes were pools dotting the landscape, and these were all bordered by small wet dunes freckled with thousands of fiddler crab holes. Hermit crabs and regular, toe-piercing crabs peopled these pools as well, as did minnows and even some eels, and it was amazing to discover all of these creatures and see them in their natural habitats. That was the memorable part.

It also turned out to be easy to learn how to stick your finger down into the sand behind and below the fiddler crabs, forcing them up and out of their holes, where you can then catch them and tear their big claws off.

I had issues.

And yes, this was the regrettable part. But, over time, this fascinating world in the marshes trumped my appetite for destruction, and has led me to enjoy a life in complete and utter fascination, respect, and hands-off curiosity when it comes to the world of nature.

This fascination also led me to wonder about the rivulet at the back of the bay as well. I guess I must have thought that since the water traveled faster there that it might contain larger, faster, and even more interesting creatures in there. Like basking sharks.

25-foot long playmate…

Thanks to David Mark on Pixabay for the pic!

You’ll notice that this feller has no teeth (well, it does but they’re teensy), which is why it would have been totally OK for me to play with him, had I found him in my rivulet at the back of the bay. It only eats, like, water and tiny bugs floating in it, called ‘floaties’.

But unfortunately there were no basking sharks in my rivulet. As a matter of fact, I never found any creatures there. What I found, after taking a few tentative steps forward on the mussel-strewn, muddy bottom, was that the land fell away towards the middle where I couldn’t see because of the rushing waters and the mud I had kicked up. It fell straight down, I don’t know how far, because my lungs were halfway filled with water and, I realized, I was in grave danger of drowning.

I flailed myself up to the surface long enough to see how far my parents were across the bay. They would never be able to get to me in time. I went down again. Everything was getting dark, but I still continued to flail. Somehow my brain got me to realize that the underwater cliff I had fallen over was still very close, and in shallow water. I sputtered that way and somehow managed to grab hold of the bottom and drag myself out of the depths.

I remember shaking for a little bit, once I was on solid ground, and being very embarrassed. It was something I’ve spent a lifetime making sure I never repeat.

Many bible-wavers out there might say God was punishing me for my treatment of the fiddler crabs, and if you think the Almighty whiles his hours away with keeping his big scorecard of rewards and punishments then be my guest.

I, however, like to think of it another way. Up until that point in my life (and beyond!), I had spent my time sheltered in a middle class house, enjoying the best America could offer when it came to recreational activities and various combinations of the best cuisines: fast foods and sweets. America also offered me nothing in the way of real life lessons, unless you count the million spankings my wonderful childhood was sprinkled with, like molten sparks in a gingerbread house, although I can’t for the life me say why you would find them there.

Almost drowning is a pretty important life lesson, especially if you can pull yourself to safety. Especially if there’s no one around to save your ass. It teaches you to be responsible for your actions, to be accountable to yourself. I don’t even see the experience as anything negative-and I hope anyone who reads this won’t either. I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone, but I hope it’s easy to see why it’s nothing to bawl and bitch about.

Maybe I should’ve worn me one of them stupid styrofoam thingies.

Mountain of Hope and its Problem Child

The Olympic Peninsula had always been high on my list of my places to visit-and has held a special place in my heart-ever since my uncle worked as a forest ranger there around 1966 and wrote how beautiful it was. Growing up and learning who my father was as a person, and, in turn, who his father was as a person, I learned to appreciate every positive influence out there in the world that managed to sway things to a more healthy balance.

Like most homes, ours was filled with many tears-and hurrahs-and most of the former had their source in my grandfather and the person he molded my father into. My uncle, the baby of his family, was gifted with remarkable size, athletic skills, and intelligence, which made it all the more difficult for him to grow up in a house with a prison guard as a father. He did what many people before him have also done: he tried to break out. Step one was finding this job at the opposite end of the country, far away from anything or anyone he knew. He read Kerouac, I still have the book he bought in Quinault with the receipt from the General Store there. The incredible scenery and the freedom to become himself enabled him to enjoy some of the happiest moments of his short life.

Step two, unfortunately, was to sign up for Officer’s Candidate School and go off to do his duty in Vietnam. Perhaps he saw this as a continuation of his plan to become his own man. Perhaps he saw this as well as taking a step for himself that the old man would approve of-a kind of added bonus. What was neglected in these clever plans was the reality of bullets.

At any rate, the Peninsula was always THE place for me where a person could go to really bring out the best in himself. A Ying to the Yang in Vietnam, or any other insane place or condition in this world. Circumstances fell into place this year and we were finally able to visit the area. Almost immediately I began looking for Ultra Marathons. What better way to experience these wonderful forests than doing what you love to do there.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on the Olympic Marathon 50K right away. Other races up and down the western side of Washington seemed more impressive-you should see the pictures! There was one in particular-the Backcountry Rise- that allowed you to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood over the course of 50K that really called to me. The homepage for the The Olympic 50K barely had any pictures at all. Then fate interceded and deemed the Backcountry Race as unapproachable-it was sold out-and the Olympic was cheapest, closest to us, and closest to Lake Quinault, where the Ranger Station was located at which my uncle worked.

One of the first things I did after signing up, like most trail runners do, was to check the elevation profile of the race. At first glance I thought 2700 meters of elevation gain was a lot for 50K, but since I was trying to work my way up to 100K, I figured I may as well get used to it. My next perusal showed me that there were really only two huge inclines in the entire race. One immense climb up to the top of Mt. Townsend, and a smaller one up to Mount Zion.

Two “hills”! That’s it! I figured I could suck it up for those two and basically knock out a 50K Ultra Marathon as a fun little side activity. When you consider that the ascent and descent of Mt. Townsend stretched for almost fourteen kilometers, there’s a huge portion of the race put behind you ‘right away’, and the approach there is mostly flat or downhill. That’s almost half the race we’re talking about now! Dare I consider it an ‘easy’ run?

The second ‘hill’, Mt. Zion, like the first, consisted of a relatively short, steep ascent, followed by a little downhill stretch, then a longer, steeper, more difficult, proper ascent. After conquering Mt. Townsend, I told myself in perhaps a maddened, alcohol-induced stupor, Mt. Zion would seem like child’s play. Snort.

September 12th rolled around and we immediately got lost on the highway heading up there because the construction sites there led us in every direction possible except the one we wanted to head in, and our GPS threw its little bit-hands in the air and booted itself into a trance. You should have seen these construction sites-I would have done the same. We found our way back towards Quilcene thanks to pure and absolute luck and even made it to the meeting point with plenty of time to spare before the briefing, but not to, like, stretch.

The day was overcast and hinted at rain, the air was cool-ish, fresh and invigorating-it was perfect runner’s weather.

Coming in from Quilcene, we rambled over one less-traveled forest road after another, and the marks of civilization were put behind us swiftly, until the only sign of our presence on this Earth was the road under our rental car. Towering, flourishing, lush green Nature swallowed us whole. Cedars and pine trees that provided shade and umbrellas grew tall and plentiful everywhere. Everything smelled alive and…healthy! We felt we were in the right place, doing something we really should be doing-something that made sense. Except for the car, maybe.

But for one thing this little jaunt would have been a perfect bonding experience with the world of nature around us-leave mankind to muck things up. For, as we watched this road twist and roll ahead of us, we also couldn’t help noticing the occasional turnoffs that led to these dead ends with towering mounds in them. It was impossible not to notice these turnoffs because most of them were filled with a car or two, and most of those had disgorged its cargo, which consisted of two to five rednecks eager to get out in the woods on the weekend and shoot at cans. Or, depending on the level of alcohol in their bloodstream, hopefully not passing airplanes.


Well, we made it to the middle of nowhere where the “starting line” was located. There was a long slice of non-lush landscape on the left where the racers could park their cars in the mud and, on the right, there was another smaller slice of flat-ish land where some of the runners and organizers had camped, a scorer’s table, an aid station filled with yum-yums, and, at the back, another of these infamous mounds that would become a source of frustration in the near future.

I collected my bib from a helpful helper and had enough time to affix it before the race briefing began, and I noticed that I was surrounded by a small horde of very likable persons. Too often at these things-probably the more well-known, competitive races- I find myself bumping into god-wannabes (yes that’s a thing because I just invented it) who have no time for you because they are ‘in the zone’ and are aiming to make their mark.

I would like to say there was a noble feeling of espirit-de-corps flowing around and through us all, but more likely it was just an urge to get together with like minded folks and goof around for a while. Still, it made a hell of a lot more sense than shooting at cans.

Then Bud (not his real name) showed up. After the race briefing, which was, true to the atmosphere and audience, laid back, humorous and in no way tedious, our friendly neighborhood race director who might be Colin or maybe the other guy whose name I can’t seem to remember informed us that not only was Bud turning 50 in 2019 and celebrating by running in 50 Ultra Marathons throughout the year (this was to be the cause of my Disappointment Second Most Huge), he had also spent the entire ferry ride over from Seattle throwing up, and not from sea sickness, if you know what I mean.

We were then moved, or pointed, to the left, where the starting line was not located. It was more of an unmarked starting ‘area’ and, if you think about it, do you really need an inflatable, “official” starting line at all, much less 50 miles into nowhere? We’re adults, we’ll make it work.

A countdown was fabricated and Colin or the other guy yelled go.

There were enough guns in the woods already.

I love to start last, especially to remind myself that the place I’m in really does not matter at all, but also to survey the field as it heads out. Our course took us downhill back down the road we came in on, and I was afforded a great view of the field stretching out into the infant stages of the 50K race. It was hard not to notice the person I’m guessing later won the race-Chris Reed- who had no desire to waste the downhill and flat beginning portion of the race by pacing himself. He was so far ahead after two minutes or so I think I snorted. Like, “Well, I guess I won’t be seeing him again!”

The first leg of the race was equally balanced out by the joy of being immersed in such beautiful, lush scenery, and the horror of hearing the first objects thud softly to the forest floor after falling out of what had become an irreparable situation at the bottom of my rucksack. Where once had been bottom was now only air, which meant I would have to carry my necessities for about 15 kilometers to the aid station at Rhodies, where my drop bag was.

At least I was traveling light!

After 7,5 miles and only slight elevation gain the path turned upwards and we began our ascent up Mt. Townsend. As I said, it had been raining, which kept the temperatures comfortable but, as we headed up ever higher, what could have been magnificent views were blocked by fog and low hanging clouds. Should’ve asked for a refund…

It’s just over two miles of relatively steep ascent to a flattening of the trail and the first Aid Station at Silver Creek. I found it to be well-stocked, and even though it was basically a tableful of fruit, some sweets and chips, maybe something for the carnivores-I didn’t notice-and some drinks, it looked like a endless buffet line of goodies in my eyes, and the only thing I enjoyed more than the two pieces of banana and one slice of apple I ate was leaving the rest of the food for the people behind me.

It was time to tackle the meat of the race. The path from Silver Creek up to the peak of Mt. Townsend is just about three miles of straight up. I spent most of that time power walking and chatting with Zoe Marzluff, a 26 year old experienced Ultra runner from Vashon Island, and Jose Ramirez, a 35 year old from Olympia who was running his first Ultra Marathon. It was a great experience with them exchanging stories and advice, and keeping our minds off the difficulty of the task at hand. Jose even offered to take one of my “extra” water bottles in his rucksack to Rhodies, which made it a lot easier to transport my shit for another ten K or so.

After a few kilometers we spread out a little; Jose fell back and I pushed on ahead of Zoe. Not long thereafter I reached an intersection where I knew the path to the right headed up to the peak and back, and the path to the left headed back down towards Rhodies. I got to the top of Mt. Townsend and passed a sign there which was illegible thanks to me not having my glasses on, and I zoomed right on past it, because I had not been paying 100% attention to the part of the race briefing where we were told the sign was the turnaround point at the top of the mountain. In my defense visibility was very low, and it was impossible to tell if we were at the top of something or, like, the middle.

Somewhere around this peak I ran over a ridge and got to a point where the clouds and fog broke a little, and I found myself staring down into the abyss over both sides of the trail. That was something I had always wanted to experience during a race and it was breathtaking. The run up to the peak had been far less taxing than I had anticipated, and I truly felt on top of the world. It was easy to enjoy each every precious moment and step.

After two hundred meters or so I was called back by a fellow runner who convinced me I had gone too far, and I gladly turned around. The run back down the mountain was pure joy, and I rolled into Rhodies feeling great and looked forward to dumping my load(!) and changing into fresh shorts, underwear, and socks.

Yes, the race was only 50K and I usually don’t need to change for something like this, but I’m gearing up for longer runs and wanted to practice. So, despite the handicap of having no changing room and kids running around everywhere, I moved kind of behind a parked car and slid into something more comfortable. Yes, I also sacrificed precious minutes of race time for an experiment but it was a good experience and I felt fresher afterwards, especially after smearing some Anti-Chafe Material X hopefully inconspicuously onto several sensitive nether regions.

The long downhill slide from the peak past Rhodies and down into the next Aid Station at Deadfall (the Deadfall?) continued for about seven miles. The best news about that was that the race was suddenly two-thirds over! Piece of cake.

The bad news was that the climb up Mt. Zion began right after Deadfall. After more bananas, apple slices, and maybe a slice of tomato (and, OK, an Oreo), I darted up the path and onto the second largest climb of the day. It was around this time that I fell in lockstep with probably John Hager from Redmond, WA. I seem to remember his name started with a “J”. We tried to chat and I remember him being a good guy, but the going was really tough here. For some reason the climb seemed to be harder and steeper than Mt. Townsend, even though Mt. Zion was way teenier.

Then we started running downhill again. Gulp. I was confused-there was no way we could already be at the top of Mt. Zion and, in fact, we had arrived at the aforementioned dropoff that both mountains had about a third of the way up. Once we hit the bottom of this dropoff, the real challenge began. The next 2 miles or so would be some of the most challenging moments of my life.

It’s hard without pictures to convey how difficult this climb was, but picture a trail that is as absolutely steep as it possibly can be without forcing its passersby to actually climb and you may begin to comprehend. I looked up up up this infernal hill and saw a trail that might as well have been glued to the side of a skyscraper. Only buildings are flat-this trail had rocks and roots and twists and ditches everywhere.

I was hurting-bad. I had to “sit” a couple of times on logs sticking into the path that had miraculously NOT rolled down the mountains’ skirt. John had pressed on, plodding ever upward. Watching him go, I wistfully wished to have begun running at his age (32) or younger, and to have more of his youthful vigor.

So I snailed my way up the mountain alone. I stopped repeatedly, standing there in a squat with my elbows on my thighs; I tried to put my hands on my hips for a bit, I tried anything that would help me get another step or two up Mt. Zion.

And at repeated intervals I would follow the trail uphill and see…nothing except more up. How much more up could there possibly be? I whined to myself. I’ve already gone so much up. There can’t be but hardly any more up to go! I must be about 9/10ths of the way through this up.

I’m way upper than Mt. Townsend now! I must be way upper than, like, an Alp or something! HOW MUCH MORE UP CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?????? In fact, the way up Mt. Zion has no end to its upness-through pure exhaustion alone do the race’s participants mentally convince themselves that they are traveling downhill, or are on flat ground, or have finished the race, where in fact they have disappeared forever into the ether long ago.

Eff Mt. Zion.

I only ramble on so much about this climb so that you might begin to understand how hard it really was, even though no information short of planting you on the trail and pointing uphill will do it. At one point, finally near the top, I said to myself that that was it. I would never do another Ultra again. Just so it’s said, the incline up Mt. Zion is around three miles long. Up Mt. Townsend it’s about six. I’d rather do the latter three times than the former once.

After FINALLY reaching the top of Mt. Zion it’s four miles downhill, and after that about three more in a slight rise to the finish “line”. The worst is behind you, and it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you can pour yourself a cold one from the keg of delicious Upper Left beer.

As I puttered over these last few miles, I caught up to and chatted with Shannon Douglas, who turned 29 that day-who would CHOOSE to celebrate like that?? I couldn’t help noticing her shoes, and I remembered I had seen her back at Rhodies where her husband, on crutches, had paid her a visit and cheered her on. It was hard to see what I saw, know what I know, and NOT tell her what I wanted to say. Which was that I already knew how her husband got hurt, and was sure it would happen to her, too, at some point.

And here I must also pause and insert a word of thanks to the person responsible for forming me into a respectable Ultra Marathon runner, capable of running injury-free for so long and completing truly difficult feats like this one. Shout out to my wife and coach, the most singularly, intensely special person I have ever met. We don’t need to mention that nothing would be possible without you.

Here’s where I got a little confused. We were passed there by someone named Jason about two miles out. After that, I bid Shannon adieu and made my last pathetic push toward the finish…zone. Shortly thereafter I passed Jason, not believing I still had enough energy to jog, much less pass anyone. I finished a half minute ahead of Jason, but if you check the results, he’s listed a half minute ahead of me!(?) No comprendo.

Who cares. I was personally greeted by a horde of cheering race fans in a very festive mood as well as Colin or the other one, who shook everyone’s hand as they passed the finish line. It was there that I learned that I was not the only one who had not completely enjoyed the ascent up Mt. Zion, and I also learned that there are a lot of competent beer brewers in Washington State! Damn that beer was good.

Which brings me to the day’s list of thoughtful musings:

-I have lived in Germany for more than a quarter of a century and can proudly say that I have acquired a sensitive tongue when it comes to beer. Although I consider Germany to be the Hub of the Beer Brewing Art, I have since been pleasantly surprised to see so many American breweries have begun brewing so competently (a far cry from the Miller High Life 80’s), especially in the Northwest. It’s now four months later and that wonderful taste of finish line beer, as well as several stupendous micro-brews down Poulsbo way, still dance on my tongue. I’ll put a lot of these beers up against anyone, anywhere, anytime. The only problem with it is, and this is where Germany is so superior, who in God’s name can afford it??

-As I said, at the back of the finish line area thingy, there was another of these backstop mounds. I later learned that someone had christened it Gunshot Mountain, and it was possible to enter a select, elite society of individuals known as the Quarry Club simply by continuing to run past the finish line and up Gunshot Mt.. Damn, should’ve read the home page better.

-Referring to the Disappointment Second Most Huge: Bud did indeed finish the race (the 37th or so of the year) and all I can say about his project is “WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?”

-My Disappointment Most Huge: When I signed up for the race I was asked something I had never been asked. On the entrance form it said right there in black and white that if I were to put down a song I wanted to hear when I crossed the finish line, then they would play it. Oh, goody!! Being a sober, serious, semi-intelligent, middle-aged man, I settled on “Another One Rides the Bus” from Weird Al. I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, the project never realized itself because, as Colin (maybe) said in exactly these words: “We couldn’t repatch the digital mainframe with the coagulated thromboid services network. Thingy.” Or something.

In closing, looking upon this adventure from afar, both geologically and chronologically, I see Mt. Townsend always in the back of mind, shining there, representing some special version of me or all of us, standing for potential and opportunity, ready and waiting to welcome us with brash reality, truth, and hope. Its bastard playmate, Mt. Zion, is for me the hard road we must travel to get there.

Just knowing both are there provide me with an overwhelming feeling of comfort and gratitude, for everything this life is and could be. No one can talk away a mountain.