IHOP day 23 — 6 miles

We’re in Guadalupe, a tiny town shared by Native Americans and Hispanics, in a desperate bid to find a rubber duck piñata. I know, I know, don’t they sell them EVERYWHERE? As it turns out, not so much.

We’re in our favorite little store. They have bull piñatas, donkey piñatas, star piñatas, clown piñatas. But no ducks. Mo asks the nice woman if she has ever seen one. The nice woman responds in a mix of English and Spanish that Mo somehow translates to “Party City.”

But that’s not the best part.

A little girl is in the store. She’s sprinting from the front of the store to the back, apparently trying to get in her 200 repeats indoors because it’s cold out. I lose track of her and become increasingly fearful I’m going to knock something off a shelf (I’m non-functional before 11 a.m., so I go out to the car. And there she is.

She has a tub of colored chalk. She’s drawing in the parking lot, perfectly content. Does she not have school? Is she not aware of video games? Is there not a TV in the joint? Can a kid be content in modern times to just use her imagination to entertain herself? Apparently so. I momentarily pretend there’s hope for the world after all.

We give up the hunt and settle for a rubber duck in a pilgrim costume. I raise the point that a duck should keep a low profile around Thanksgiving. Mo posits that a duck would be wise to disguise itself as a human, since you don’t hear about that many cannibal holiday meals. That seems to make sense, the advantage of Mo being heavily caffeinated. Oh, well. Rubber duck duty complete.

Today’s outing is in the afternoon. The track is open and empty. I go around in my little loops. I wonder why a sane person would choose to walk on a track for 6 miles, given the many more scenic options in our area. This is a moot question given that I’m not sane. But I guess it’s like the girl with her chalk. You create your own little world wherever you are. You’re limited only by your imagination.

I ponder ducks and illness and whether I could actually live somewhere that drops occasionally below 60 degrees and coyotes and softball players who hit off of tees and how many founding members of a band need to be in the band for you to still call it the name of the band and whether you need to say “vanilla cone” at McDonald’s or if just saying “cone” would suffice and if you do it every day could you hit the point where you could just point and wave a dollar and why SHOULD Trump have to include Acosta in his news conference and do we move to Oregon or Corpus or Washington or stay here forever and if you weren’t supposed to eat doughnuts then why do they exist and the cruel knowledge that running and run-on sentences are not the same thing. And then I’m done.

I guess the trick is never to put down your chalk markers. Keep drawing, keep walking, keep imagining.

I get back in the car and turn on the heater (IT’S BELOW 70!!!!) and head home. The doughnuts are calling …

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IHOP day 22 — 2.2 miles

You broke the silence to say, “You’re going to take care of me, right?”

I’m just a couple of miles in on the track when I get the text message from Chase. “Ummm, did you just try to charge $1,940.39 online to Best Buy?” Yikes. And that was that for today’s outing. Hours of panic and calls and changing account numbers and remembering the world isn’t such a safe place to live these days. But it’s just as well. I’m feeling haunted.

I just read it yesterday.  I’ve had moments of profound sadness in my life. Holding Ma’s hand for the last time. Saying goodbye to Austin. Embracing Mo as she sobbed uncontrollably for Sarah. But this may have been the worst.

I had no idea. The problem with being a recluse is you never talk to people. You don’t know what they’re thinking, what they’re experiencing. You compose stories in your head for people’s lives, not giving much thought as to whether they’re biography or fiction. And then one day, you learn the truth.

I guess it’s not so far removed from what I always imagined; it’s just so much sadder to see it told so eloquently, so honestly, so painfully. The blank pages were filled in, the puzzle pieces assembled. In the season of Hallmark Christmas movies, it’s a reminder that life isn’t like that. Life is real.

I’m not back on the trail, because the trail I’m frantic for doesn’t exist anymore.

I was never part of helping her find that trail. I could have been, but life has a way of getting you lost. Months become years, years become decades, decades become lifetimes. And then here we are.

I read it a hundred times, missed a couple deadlines, wiped away a few tears, and then. Mostly I’m numb. I don’t know what to say, what to do.

Are you still here, somewhere? Where?

The two of us struggle with the same horrible riddle, one that has no answer. I want to help, but I am helpless. I am in my own forest, equally lost.

Maybe her new start is for the best. New state, new family, new life. No Luckenbach moon to make her remember. No Marfa lights to reopen the wounds. Different isn’t always better, my old boss once said, but better is always different.

We’ll see each other again. We’ll smile and joke, but it will never be the same. I’ll know the pain she carries inside her, a lifetime of disappointment and heartbreak and rage. I’ll hug her and play the role of Uncle Stranger. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done.

What you thought was your trail isn’t there anymore. It’s gone. Don’t look for it, the same way you wouldn’t look for the dream you had last night. You are a human moving over the earth. This stretch of land will work the same as any other.

Mo and I will hang on to her spot in the desert. We’ll find a new trail. We will keep a candle burning for her. I will do better. I must. I probably won’t.

“Of course I’ll take care of you,” I said. “Okay.” That was all. We kept walking.

So wise. So painful. Sometimes walking is all you can do …

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IHOP day 21 — 5 miles

“There is no problem that can’t be fixed by ziplock bags, safety pins or duct tape.”
— the prophet pete kostelnick

I don’t know a lot of things. But I do know never to doubt the wisdom of a guy who runs from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Florida. So I knew the solution to the ankle thing was somewhere in there. Since ziplock bags seemed unlikely and safety pins a bit too close to acupuncture, I slapped a piece of duct tape over the hole in the ankle and it worked just fine. Never question a transcon runner pushing a baby stroller, other than maybe to ask “WHY THE HELL ARE YOU RUNNING A TRANSCON PUSHING A BABY STROLLER???”

And as usually happens in such instances during outings you hadn’t planned, I made a fantastic accidental discovery. There’s a perfect hamster loop on the outside of the jackrabbit loop. EXACTLY 1/3 of  a mile. All dirt and crushed rock, an excellent simulation of the hamster course. No other people but close enough to civilization that I am unlikely to be eaten by coyotes. I think I like it a lot. I’ll call it the Coyote Course©. No idea how I came up with that one.

Allbirds and compression socks were the secret combo today (please don’t tell anyone. Secret, you know.) I look like a crazed snowbird, but it worked great, other than a burning desire to hit the 4 p.m. buffet. I love the Allbirds despite the strict ban from my oncologist. They don’t make any sense for running. I think that’s what I like. We’ll see.

Sunday mornings are always an adventure because the peewee plane guys are out. Their little landing strip is next to the jackrabbit course and their airspace is just above me. I worry a lot about getting killed by a plane that has run out of gas and dive bombs to its demise, but I suppose it would make for a great obit.

I really need a baby stroller.

week 3: 24.5 miles; 6 hours, 16 minutes. 

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IHOP day 20 — rest

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be
that isn’t where you’re meant to be

It’s easy
— the prophet lennon

The hole in the ankle got infected and it’s sort of ugly, and not in a good way.

Which, of course, meant taking the day off and putting on socks with smiley faces and going to the LOVE statue. Because that’s where I was meant to be. And really, all you need is love. Hey. That could be a song.

Although actually I also need ice cream. And for my foot to heal.

Mostly ice cream. I love ice cream.

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IHOP day 19 — 2.5 miles

i wish i knew
what I knew then
i miss indiana

— the prophet eric taylor

Some days are harder than others.

You’ve got holes in the back of your ankles where the fancy new shoes rub. They worked great right up to the point where you tossed the receipt and box and wrote on them. Then on The Very Next Run they started rubbing in the way shoes rub that you know will never allow them to work. Another $130 ornament.

A week of reading New York race reports. Has it really been 28 years? It seems like yesterday. But then, yesterday seems like 28 years ago.  You pretend you’ll be back someday. Some days pretending is harder than others.

A token effort to go out despite a desperate yearning to stay in bed with the sheets pulled over your head. Another shooting, another wildfire, another election. The worst thing about being in the news business is that you can never get away from it. Never.

Pull the plug after trudging for a couple miles. What’s the point? The ankles are worse; so is the world. We’re all on a long road to oblivion. And it’s getting shorter every day.

You go home, try on shoes trying to find something that will work. Nothing does. You swear off running forever. You start thinking about when you’ll go tomorrow. Because. It’s what you do.

So long ago. I wish I knew now what I knew then. I’ve never been to Indiana.

Some days are harder than others.

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IHOP day 18 — 4 miles

A confession: I’m 62 years and 4 months old, and I’ve never owned a mattress. Till yesterday.

OK, technically Mo bought it, but Arizona is a joint-mattress ownership state, so I think I am legally entitled to part of it. We slept on it last night for the first time, and I think I get what people have been talking about. OK, nobody talks about it, but still.

As I was lying in bed last night thinking, “jeez louise, this doesn’t feel like I’m sleeping on a sidewalk anymore,” I was thinking back, and realized I’ve never actually owned a mattress.

When I was a kid, the parents always provided one. I think it’s mandatory in the parental handbook. When I first moved out, I lived in furnished apartments, given that I had nothing much but running shoes and guitars. I slept under a co-worker’s ping-pong table for a year or so in my sleeping bag. I always liked the idea of sleeping in the bag, because it made every night a camping adventure.

I moved to Austin and slept in my sleeping bag inside my tent set up in the living room because I had no furniture. Once I finally settled down, I got a waterbed from my brother. It was the ’80s, you know. It followed me to Arizona until I eventually got kicked out of my abode. I lost the bed and everything else in a divorce that came as a relief because I had too much stuff at that point anyhow. Then I was back to nothing but guitars and running shoes and sleeping on the floor in the living room in my sleeping bag. Funny how life comes full circle.

And then Mo came along. I married her mostly because she had an actual bed, although it was just a wooden frame with a scrawny futon mattress. And that’s what we’ve had for 20 years. Until yesterday.

Mo ordered a Real Mattress. It came in a box and magically fluffed itself out. And here’s the thing. It’s soft. And comfortable. And it doesn’t make you want to just sleep in the living room chair because it’s so damn hard that what’s the point in going to bed.

And today’s outing was better. Sub-15s for all four miles. Was it because of the mattress? Or the Democratic House majority? Or the joy of finally being back on the track? Beats me. All I know is it’s just past noon and I already want to go back to bed.

I’m 62 and I own a mattress. Adulting is funny …

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IHOP day 17 — 4 miles

Oh, experience is cheap
If that’s the company you keep
And a chance is all that I need
And I’ve had it
— the prophet aimee mann

There are many forms of torture. Waterboarding, bamboo under the fingernails, Senate expanding its majority in the Senate, bolstering the already inflated ego of a psychotic. But none of them can compare to Guys Barbecuing Burgers Next to the Back Turn of the Track When You’re Hungry.

I’ve been doing the autophagy mambo for a few weeks, meaning i don’t eat anything between 8 p.m. and noon. Normally this works out fine. I go to sleep, wake up, read the latet depressing news and then run on an empty stomach. Bonus is that the prophet Maffetone likes this for teaching your body how to burn fat. I generally don’t even think about food till the run is done, and then it’s time for lunch. Until today.

As soon as we showed up at the track, they were there. Grill was fired up, burgers being cooked. The tantalizing aroma wafted across the track each loop. Mo made two brilliant observations.

1. There should be places that just sell BBQ burgers. We can’t think of a place that does this. This is a brilliant business idea. Mo is wise.
2. “I got you, babe” should never be covered as a reggae song. Mo moved to the other side of the track just to avoid it. Mo is wise. I might have mentioned that.

I held out hope. Our friend CJ works for the college. Maybe she would show up for the event, see us and wave us over. Or maybe they would have some left over and just invite me in. You there! You look hungry! How about a burger?

But then around mile 3, I heard the person say over the PA that it was time to play a game where you had to go up to someone you had never met and chat for a while. There is NO burger on the planet that could cause me to do this.

So we left hungry. Otherwise, an OK day.  Weird how pace is swerving all over the place while staying at 110 HR, but whatever. Today’s mile splits made sense anyhow. A little slower progressively per mile while staying at the same HR. So maybe. At least I’m not being waterboarded.

This for sure, though: We’re moving to a Blue State soon. Or maybe Flagstaff. Even a Blue City seems enough at this point. I’ve had it.

But I haven’t had a burger. Dang, those smelled good …

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