Saturday, August 10, 2013

"What kind of a host invites you to his house for the weekend and dies on you?"

It seems I was caught up in my travels yesterday and didn't post.  Sorry about that, it's just that the wind and sun and surf and history and food and architecture all sort of overwhelmed me.  We had quite a day.  It started with a run off the island and back.

Not Seven
by Jonathan Stark
August 2013; 1216 words

There was a bit of discussion but I was ultimately dropped at the light.  I think it's the busiest place on the island.  Getting across the street and then the 100 yards to the part of the road - causeway - with a shoulder was like playing Frogger.

I knew the first part - the arch for the bigger ships over the inter-coastal - was going to be steep but I didn't realize how long or how steep.  A quarter mile in and I was already winded.  The traffic was incredible.  Car after car.  No let up.  I saw a new Mustang convertible, top up, tailgating the car in front.  What a waste.

I tried to look out over the salt marsh and had some luck, but there weren't many birds and the cyclists were too afraid of the cars to give me much room on the shoulder.  They were friendly enough but it was tight.

About a mile along I saw another Mustang convertible.  It could have been my father's car, before I was born.  The top was down and there was quite a line behind it.  The woman driving it was watching the birds and living on island time.  I guess it could have been my mother's car too.

"I'd never buy a convertible." she said.  "But you'd drive with the top down." I told her.  I was right so she changed the subject.  "Isn’t it lovely out here?  A mile from land in either direction?"  It is nice, but I say, "There are too many cars.  All I hear are their tires on the concrete."  "But you’re practically deaf!  Look the other way and you won't even notice."

I run in silence for a time, the rhythm of my steps and breathing chasing the roaring away.  "Do you smell that air?" she asks.  "Barely."  "But you do smell it, right?"  I have to admit that I do.  A yellow butterfly crosses my path and I watch out over the marsh as it goes.  A white heron stands twenty feet below me.  "Do you remember the heron in Muddy Brook?"  How could I forget?  We saw him nearly every day for what seemed like years to me as a little boy.  But I say, "He was a Great Blue.  Not like these."  My feet pound against the tarmac, the cold bottle of water I carry already hot in the sun as I switch hands.

"Will you just enjoy this?  We'll remember this walk for the rest of our lives."  I don't argue with her this time though neither one of us is walking.

The causeway ends 2.1 miles from where it starts – time to pull a you-E.  I dart through the opposing lines of traffic like a sandpiper flirting with the breakers.  The couple from the "ask your doctor about" ads on TV ride their beach cruisers by me, smiling and saying, "Hello."

The trip back has the sun in my face.  It's hotter but the breeze is strong.  Strong enough that the father and son on their fancy racing bikes are complaining about it.  I nearly twist my ankle in one of the seams between the sections of roadway.  There's a pretty big gap, with grass growing in it.  I spent most of the rest of the way across noticing just how not quite together the causeway is.  I won't be as calm driving it anymore.

I searched for gators but didn't see any.  I never do.

The hill at the end was even worse going back.  I made it, but then I was really tired and I still had half the run to go.  When I turned at the light the wind stopped.  I was on the island and it was sheltered.  I think it got about 20 degrees hotter too.  I slowed to a walk at the first shade and drank some water.

"Wow.  You're going fast."  My Dad is always full of encouragement.  "Thanks.  It's pretty easy going, only the one hill."  He looks back - I never do anymore.  "You've really come a long way."  "I've got to be able to do 10 miles in two months.  I'm not sure this is far enough."  "It is.  You couldn't get this far a month ago.  How far do you have left today?"

In my head I do the calculations.  “Should be about 3.5 miles.”  I don't run with a watch so I'm not sure how long I've been at it.  A figure runs out of the sun toward me.  She has a watch on but I suspect it would be creepy to ask for the time so I let it go.

"You should drink more water."  He's right, of course.  I do take some.  It's hot enough to make tea, but I’m drenched in sweat and need it.  "You should stop and rest under one of these palms."  I won't.  I'm not going to stop.  I think about my blog, want to say, "You cannot make me quit" but that wouldn't fit.  He's never made me quit anything.  I settle for, "I'm not going to stop.  I won't quit."

He laughs.  "Oh, I know that.  You never quit anything."  It's an awkward silence; we both know that isn't true.  "It's too hot for me.  I'll see you in a couple of weeks."  I'm struggling now, but not so much I can't answer him back.

There is no break from the sun.  My fingers tingle.  Sweat is pouring into my eyes.  I don't think I can actually see very well anymore and I keep drifting to the right off the sidewalk.  I've made it to the wall - figuratively because I'm tapped, and literally - the giant flip-flops are as big as me.  It's shaded so I walk and finish my water.  I'm sure my heart is pounding and I know that my clothes are drenched.

The last big straight away - a full mile of palm trees and sun.  I can't make the second gate.  I take the first knowing that I'm off the planned route but needing the shade.  It's a struggle.  A grumpy old lady pedals by and gives me a death stare.  I'm not sure how I've offended her.  A family passes on their bikes.  They are friendly.  Nothing makes sense.

I stumble past the second gate.  I'd stop, but this is an 8 mile run, not 7.  A funny thing happened then.  I ran faster.  I started passing people.  I felt strong.  I actually had some chills.  Decided that wasn't a healthy sign but I was within a mile of the finish.

Then it all fell away.  I was struggling again.  I argued about the importance of a walking cool down and I should probably start it now.  But I wasn't going to walk.  The debate brought me to our parking lot.  I was surprised when I saw the sign.  I'd made it.

The stairs were a challenge.  I met my wife at the door - she was on her way out to find me.  I was overdue, I'm hoping it was the heat that slowed me down.  My daughter thinks it was.  I know I've come a long way from where I was.  And I'll remember running the island for the rest of my life.


  1. Beautifully written, Jon. I really like the inclusion of both parents. I will remember this piece - the sights, sounds, feelings, and conversations. Please be careful. Don't push yourself too hard. C

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you liked it. I did recognize that it was silly to push too hard - blurry vision is a good time to find some shade :)