Monday, April 13, 2015

so there I was....

I was just coming out of a really really rough, dark, consuming, obliterating depression and I finally had some energy and believed that I would be around in three weeks so any steps towards anticipating life next month wasn't arbitrary.  I bee-bopped down the street, jumped over puddles, sang, laughed at dogs (rudely to their damn faces), and chipperly greeted the convenience store clerk as I swaggered down an aisle.  I had entered the little market to get a banana, which I thought would take the edge off the jitters I had, and I walked the aisles narrating my thoughts and ridiculous actions aloud. 

I didn't see any bananas, spent a long time agonizing over if I should get a jar of spaghetti sauce for dinner (as in to eat just a jar of spaghetti sauce), and decided against it.  I made one more swoop through the little market, saw a few packets of self rising yeast and thought it would be great to bake and boil my own bagels (I live in a TINY apartment with no kitchen so this would involve the herculean feat of borrowing/getting pots, using a community kitchen, actually cooking).  As I reached out to grab this yeast and embark on the journey of home made bagels, I realized that two days ago I didn't have the energy to LEAVE my tiny ass apartment and didn't believe that the entire universe held even as much opportunity or promise as a bagel. 

My hand fell back to my side and I walked out of the market, a bit more soberly than I waltzed in, but felt ok about how this wide strange universe has more wonder and mystery than we can ever even imagine on our darkest or our brightest days.  Hang in there.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hark! A book!

I rode my bicycle across the United States this past spring and summer and strangely found the energy at the end of the day to write massive amounts about my daily experiences.  Every day I woke up, broke camp, pedaled east, reached depths of loneliness and freedom on the road, met interesting humans, found a place to make a camp, rigged a hammock, and then tapped out my day's thoughts and miles on my trusty iphone. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Will Gadd! Thanks for the ultra inspiration and perspective

I'm not sure if it's mostly a Hawaii-Canada phenomena, but there is a skewed importance on a rivalry between our two great nations (Hawaii and Canadia).  Every year a whole crop of amazing runners come from all over the world to run HURT, and the podium is always chock full of Canadians.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What I Saw of HURT 2015, Crew/Volunteer Report

Friday before HURT was a new set of pre-race nerves.  I have never been so calm or disengaged since I've started HURTing in 2010.  This is because I haven't missed a HURT since 2011, but I had no plans to be there this year.  When I got back to my apartment Friday evening with the sick realization I had absolutely no where to be until Wednesday, I asked the Internet and gods of procrastination to bless me with a cheap ticket to Hawaii.  Fortune smiled upon me and less than 10 hours later I was on a flight to Oahu to watch some of my favorite people on the planet run, crew, manage, hobble, and tackle the HURT 100.

I made it to the Nature Center with the help of several HURT friends (one asked around to get me a ride, one lent the truck, a third drove to HNL to get me) by 1 o'clock--seven hours after go.

The Nature Center Aid Station is aptly named only because on this weekend every year the Hawaii Nature Center graciously lends its grounds to the race's use.  Otherwise, the place is an un-Nature Center...transformed to a mega hub of activity, wifi, iPads, junk ultra food, and dozens of people either running or running the madness.  

Runners come down the trail, and through a thick canopy you can start to see the brightly dressed runners before they reach the aid station. The runners shoot across a bridge, cross the Makiki Stream bound for the Pacific, round the ramp and tramp into the aid station, where crews and volunteers tend to these people in varying states of physical wreckage.  

It is quite strange to watch people come and go and see such change in a single person after 4 to 6 hours.  You wish them well and send them off fed, encouraged and at least at a jog away from you and then sometime later they show back up filthy, hungry, exhausted, injured, and often with plenty of emotion.  

In your life, stationary at an aid station, you serve as the stick to which their progress is measured.  It might seem ridiculous to run 20 miles (or 40,60,80,100) only to end up exactly where you started and to a pure physicist, it might seem that the runner went no where at all.

I don't have much understanding of these things, but if quantum physics says that a particle can be two places at once, let it also say that a runner making round trips to and from Makiki went way far and also went no where.  It's really only discernible if you compare them to us who stand to serve and watch.  

And that's what I did this HURT.  I showed up a little after noon and watched friends and trail mates pour in off the mountain in that parade of destruction.

My relationship with ultra running has taken a few major course changes.  I DNFd last year which gave me so much to think about and so much freedom.  That 1st DNF has also made me fearless in the sense that I don't care to throw effort or pride around to impress anyone and I think it's forced me into less races (good because if I'm not there for 100% reasons of excitement it's probably not going to be fun) (bad because I miss lining up).  Also, my philosophies around life and toughness and strength have shifted radically with those lessons from that black eye DNF at Northburn as I've had to view my decision to DNF as a direct application of my developed strength.  I finally said no to self destruction and had enough backbone to have a middle finger in case someone said I was weak or a fuck up (no one did because it's both not true and no one is really that concerned with what I do).

I am also recovering from a solid little injury and I think if/when I make a start line of an ultra it will not be something I can ever take for granted.  I see now how much I did just assume would be for always and unalienable.  Health is ephemeral at best--we humans live such short little lives and our bodies can take abuse but can also be changed forever. Performance is going to peak somewhere and PRs, podiums, piles of race numbers and belt buckles are not nutrients needed for cell function and life.  We don't have some membrane that allows that kind of awesome to diffuse in without conscious thought.  Those things, those achievements from a dedicated application of your body's abilities, take risk and effort and stars aligning and a body and mind to cooperate and can disappear even as you continue in life as a runner or not.  Damn I took all that for granted.

I digress.

I was beyond happy and grateful to be at HURT in the capacity of everyone's crew.  People came in and I got to scurry and fetch drop bags, offer ice, refill bottles, offer a heartfelt hell yeah, and send them back out.  I had plenty of great company in these tasks--all labors of love as well.  I caught up with friends I haven't seen since before moving from Hawaii and was very glad I made the flight.  It was great to be back with HURT.  

I'm also really glad I went because when I crew I'm reminded how much it takes to get runners from point A to point A.  When I've asked people to crew or pace, I've known how much of a pain in the ass I'm asking them to go through on my behalf, but it's wonderful to be reminded and go through that role in person. 

***Michele, Mom, Everett, Pops, Aunti Margs, Dave Snipes, Andi and Don, Doug, Matt C, Mosi, David Jones, Wren, Ryan B... Thank you for having crewed and paced me over the years.  Thank you.***

Best part of showing up to HURT was getting to see my ultra brother roll through the Nature Center.  Doug Long cruised in smooth as a vanilla gel and it had been too long since we'd seen each other.  I ran up to hug him and then switched immediately to crew mode.

He was over heating (easy--not our first rodeo in hot weather) so I made him an ice bandana, considered finding him a sports bra to shove more ice into, decided to hold off, and calculated his calories.  Doug was fueling properly if he was 50 pounds and sedentary and his lethargy was proof. We ran the numbers and cackled but it was also an easy enough fix.  He ate pretty much everything plant based on the aid station table and sat in the shade.  

Doug and I agree on many things about ultras, but he and I surely have different strategies for aid stations.  I prefer to get in and jet out in the style of a bank robbery and Doug seems to go at an aid station like one might the DMV: get comfortable cuz it'll take a while.  I was ok with it because we got to hang out a little more but as his impromptu crew, I wanted to give him the best chance possible at a "good time."  Mostly I just back-seat-ran his race out of concern if he stayed at an aid station longer than a minute it could add up to approach cut off times but ultimately knew he knew what he was doing and I didn't push too hard to kick him out onto the trail.

Things couldn't have worked out more perfectly from my crewing/want to see friends point of view.  One of my next favorites rolled in to the Nature Center and I got to alohaing and tending to Andrew--raddest baddest Texan I've met and my friend from Northburn.  I sat him down and introduced him to Doug.  Andrew was quicker on the turn around and Huddy and I had a little bit of cajoling to do to get Doug up and out of there (now fueled up as though he was a 250 pound lumberjack in frigid temperatures) and to leave with Andrew.  They'd both run almost entirely alone, and ultras really are best enjoyed with friends.  I hoped they'd get along and was pretty pleased with things as I watched them take off for their third loop.  

40 down and 60 to go.

The leading men flew through not too long after, third loops now recorded and their loop times the envy of probably everyone who knows what the hell a hurt loop is.  Michael Arnstein was all business and sprinted in and out of the Nature Center before anyone could offer him watermelon.  

I was especially happy to see Michael zooming through at the top and looking great.  I know he's climbed a long road back to the start of any race and his return to HURT was perhaps more meaningful.  I won't put words in his mouth or assign anything to his achievement of being in the starting field, but he made hurt history with his first hurt finish--no where near first place like he's capable of but absolutely a class act with mud war paint and a gracious sense of humor about a course direction mix up.  Mike seemed to have nailed the course direction down pat and led the men's race from loop 3 on--but not by much.  

In third place was Nick Hollon--another great friend and Badwater accomplice. Nick didn't seem too excited about 3rd place, or much else, but he got back out there and I hoped in his 20 miles, our four hours, my stream of tending to more broken, more unexcited, more suffering runners who came in after him that he would be in a better place.

Round and round.  People came in and took respite and picked themselves back up and back onto the rocks and roots and climbs.  I felt the flight's affects and was in mild pain, but as I watched the progression of racers limp in, I watched their pain with new eyes--new since my herniated disc and new since that Northburn DNF.  I couldn't quite understand WHY people do this shit.  Seriously I looked at everyone and thought them all crazy and short sighted--perhaps all guilty of extreme hubris.  Really? You're going to destroy yourself for a belt buckle and bragging rights?  You know bragging always makes you look like a douche hole right?  You know tough isn't the pain you can take but it's your buoyancy relative to whatever shitstorm you find yourself in, right?  You know that not quitting because you're afraid of what people will think makes you afraid?  

On and on.

I watched an ultra with these outsider eyes for the first time in my life because before that, anytime I saw, spoke, heard ultra and the goriest, grittiest, most bone grindingest finish stories I had nothing but stars in my eyes, masochist dreams in my head, and words of adoration.  I slayed many a sacred cow that day.  The runner who ran 35 miles through aid stations on a broken leg just to finish? Idiot.  The person who pisses blood and has all kinds of the rhabdo monster going on and refuses to quit? Do you have health insurance? Seriously? Idiot.  

This much is clear:

Ultra running, our honeymoon phase is over.  

That was loop 3.  Loop 4 people came in and went.  Doug and Andrew stuck together for a whole loop which made my focused crewing very consolidated.  They were both very much fatigued and Doug was naptastic again.  Huddy and I approved a 10 minute nap plan on the cots after a lot of food. 
I thought of my friend who always had questions about ultras and countered my ULTRAS ARE AWESOME lunacy with texted pictures of funion wrappers and Dr. Pepper bottles strewn about on a morning spent sleeping in.  In this way I think there was a cosmic venn diagram--Doug binged on lots of aid station gourmet (also with plenty of caffeine) but still managed a food coma nap.  The volunteers who manned the soup were exceptional--people anticipated what my runners would need before I could scurry to get it.  As the guys racked out, Huddy and I talked loop math and knew they had a great run lined up if they got up and out of here in a timely manner.  

Ten minutes on a cot--when is that ever too much?  Surely too quick for Andrew and Doug and they took a bit to come back to life (soup, change shirts, more food, fresh lights) and they got up and at it.  

I walked with them around the ramp and up to the bridge across the Makiki stream to watch them disappear down trail.  Loop 4.

Not too long after Mike Arnstein ran into the aid station to end his 2015 HURT race as this year's champion.  Eighteen minutes later Alex Nunn came in for his second podium finish here with an incredible performance.   Nick took third and handily.  

For everyone else, the hours of 1,2,3 am were ugly.  I wasn't out there but I've been there and there's that saying nothing good happens after midnight.  That saying perhaps describes best pizza delivery but it is also really on point about running all day and night.  Hallucinations, roots that jump up to grab you, sleep running, a torrent of what the fucks and serious examinations of life choices that lead you to that point, aches, pains, and so many more miles to go.  

I crashed.  I founda cot, set an alarm for well before Doug and Andrew's ETA and while I ran approximately 0 miles, HURT has a way of getting everyone involved exhausted. 

I was up around sun up and I got to watch the parade keep on cruising.  With sun up, people came into the Nature Center defiant of the shit they ran through all yesterday and all last night.  They were perhaps bowed with fatigue and nagging injuries and bodily misalignments but for most everyone that showed up to that 4th loop's end and that had the allowed time to finish, they got back out there for more.  

Did you know that the runners were all cordial and gracious and could accept help and be thankful for it at 60,80,0 miles in?  Did you ever see someone in serious pain offer a smile for some flat Mountain Dew or a kind word?  Did you ever watch something so self indulgent as the accepted continued discomfort to finish become so beautiful and hopeful? 

One HURT loop is 20 miles; it is 5,000 feet of climb up and is 5,000 feet of climb down.  One loop is a 7 mile leg over to Paradise, a five mile leg to Nuuanu (an aid station infamously hard to get to and pronounce for out of town runners) and a looooong 8 miles back to Makiki. One loop is sometimes the last fucking thing you'd ever want to do but runners would smile and pick themselves up and make as much forward progress as their bodies still let them.  

Did you know the human body is smart and will shut down to protect itself before it's destroyed by its own lunacy? In many cases this is true. Ultra running makes a person say, yes, I hear and see and feel you on that one, body, but you fuckin' listen to me.  There is an accessory out there with our name on it if you just listen to me and give us 20, 30,40, 0 more miles.  Did you hear me?  A belt buckle. And bragging rights over all other human bodies.  

The body is not convinced and the physical traumas don't dissipate with that plea bargain, but instead slow the mind on its quest for self esteem or adventure or quantitative toughness or the perfect accoutrements to fasten one side of a belt to the other to keep pants up at hip level.  Yes, that's it.  Or for love of running--body says you know if you had just run for 7 hours yesterday we could run everyday next week and STILL had a gnarly 7 hour run...

Still they kept showing up and heading back out.

Loop 5. Loop 5 is magical.  Loop 5 is when you have a loop and then some in you still and you have finally earned a victory lap. Loop 5 is often an 8 hour affair and 0 percent of it is relaxing until the runner is around the bridge, down the ramp, and kissing the sign that means they've finished.  I cannot imagine what it would feel like to make it 99 miles and get timed out, and that's what people agree to test out when they step off for loop 5 around mid morning Sunday.  

Hustle and grit and bargaining and risk and pain and all that suffering with a chance of no buckle.  People could have the audacity to call it a failure.

I watched some incredible people get up and get out for that fifth loop--again defiant in all the greatest ways a human can be defiant in a selfish pursuit.  Political activism for social liberties, equality, freedom, and nonviolence of course are more noble yet, but for a single human to act defiantly on his or her behalf because of a really long run... I still don't know how much it's worth but defiance when practiced can be applied and I think people who've endured and done so with good humor can be counted on to be good, enduring people when you need them next to you.  

Doug and Andrew made it through the night and were in good (enough) spirits. They had plenty of time, they had each other, they had 40 hurt loops done between the two of them (Andrew kicked in 4 of those).  I sent them packing and again watched them cross the Makiki Stream and disappear into the trees and rocks and roots with fists over head like rock stars.  

Behind them, pure grit showed up.  A woman came in to DNF after her fourth loop because she missed the cut off time.  She let me talk her into the fun run--only seven more miles to Paradise and it's an unofficial official 100k finish.  She agreed and I refilled her stuff, got her some food, told her my name so she could cuss me with specificity while she was back out on the trail.  

Lady, I'm proud of you and hope you find it was a good choice to get back out there.
You might say, why the hell would you talk someone into more arbitrary suffering when you're now of the camp that thinks it's all bullshit?  Well, it's not bullshit.  And if 7 miles is the difference of a claim to DEFIANCE and to a head held up because I can stand in there and suffer long enough to earn empathy and understanding and strength, who am I to deny anyone that? Who am I to deny even myself if and when the day comes that I get to show that?

She stepped off for her last leg of HURT 2015 with her pacer and knowing full well those 7 hiked miles would ask of her pretty much everything she had left and maybe 5 hours in pain, pain, pain.

A couple more of my favorite HURT repeat offenders came through and all of them made me tear up as I watched them limp in, gather briefly and step off for LOOP 5, filthy, exhausted, pained, and with the pressure of a relentless clock.  Starchy Grant, Alex Garcia, Mike Garrison, Ken "all day" Michal...congrats a thousand times over for stepping off for loops 1,2,3,4, and 5. You guys probably made me cry the hardest but everyone I watched go across that bridge for loop 5 reminded me why I fell in love with ultras in the first place.

Doug and Andrew made it back with hours to spare and it was excellent to have played a small part in getting them there.  My proudest stroke of crewing was that I introduced them and they ran 100k together for Doug's third HURT 100 finish and Andrew's first. 

Time elapsed at 6pm Hawaii Standard Time (that's 6 sharp not 6:02 Hawaii time) and 61 people finished this year's HURT 100.  

Sixty or so other people made it to Hawaii, found the starting line, and found the combination of dumb luck and strange strength to not get to mile 100.  It's a loop course so, in pure displacement terms, no one went anywhere anyway.  It takes a little quantum physics to realize that a DNF is a win as it's also a shortcoming.  

Ultra running, I do love you and the strange company you keep.  Take me back?  I think so.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bike tour gear: hammocking across the USA with ENO HAMMOCK REVIEW

Biking across any expanse of land will ask a lot of a person and her gear.  There isn't really volume on a bike to have sentimental items, superstitions, or luxury BS.  If it's getting packed, it's getting used. In my case, I needed to sleep out safely in 20-30° weather to wake up refreshed to do it again the next day.

I chose to use a hammock system as my tent with amazing down quilts that nicely compliment a hammock and make them usable all four seasons.  Details and in depth reviews below.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bike tour gear: hammocking across the USA with Hammock Quilts gear review

Biking across any expanse of land will ask a lot of a person and her gear.  There isn't really volume on a bike to have sentimental items, superstitions, or luxuries.  If it's getting packed, it's getting used. In my case, I needed to sleep out safely in 20-30° weather to wake up refreshed enough to do it again the next day.

I chose a hammock system as my tent with amazing down quilts that nicely compliment my hammock and make it usable all four seasons.  Details and in depth reviews below.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bike tour is pau, bring on the epilogue

I rode my bike from Long Beach, Washington to Hampton, New Hampshire and had 20 miles by crow's flight until I hit the Atlantic Ocean.  I stalled on that penultimate day and camped inland instead of making that hour and a half push to THE BEACH.  I needed one night more to collect myself and to come to terms with the fact that I was going to see the ATLANTIC and end this ride.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Saw of the Ultra D-Day Run

I made it to Omaha Beach, Normandy, France 70 years and three days after the Allies landed.  The scene today was of course beautiful, eerie, solemn, and hauntingly sober, but only because I knew a little of the history before I got there.  Otherwise you could possibly mistake it for any other ocean beach.  Shells and rocks in soft sand, a man flies a kite, children rough house and cry out SAVE ME! SAVE ME!, dogs splash in waves, boats launch to tow skiers and to go fish, houses encroach on the shore in a fight for amazing views, someone writes I LOVE YOU in the sand with a stick where the waves will soon wash it away.

I suppose life must go on and it does, even here among monuments, engraved sculptures, cement bunkers, and flags. 

On the beach just past the high water mark stood seven US flags on thin wooden rods with simple computer paper print outs.  PFC K. Mister and names of his fallen comrades stick out in a neat line as if to say seven of us charged the beach and were mowed down in this very formation.

It's clear these flags for each individual soldier are newly placed.  Someone some 70 years later has never forgotten who or where or how and has crafted these humble markers and traveled to plant them here.

I tear up for these men who are now 5x7" flags and a stapled strip of paper with Times New Roman size 12 font.  I cry for their friend who has never left Omaha Beach but returns like a sea turtle who finds the exact strip of sand to lay eggs.

In this way we continue to have sea turtles but we also continue to have fresh grief and remembrance for all who were at the Battle of Normandy.

I am torn between annoyance and relief at "regular life" stuff around these markers and monuments.  On the one hand, is not throwing a frisbee or BBQing on the beach here absolutely inappropriate?  On the other, is not freeing from the grip of violence to embrace and participate in all things not war even more wrong?

The I LOVE YOU in the sand seems at once distasteful and trite but also courageous and hopeful.  Either the person had no idea what beach this is or what happened here or they do and the knowledge of the horrors makes any and all expressions of compassion and nonviolence extremely powerful.

I two days I'll join thirteen other runners to run 100 miles along the sites and beaches of this battle and I know I'll come closer to an answer and understanding of living among ghosts.

permanent memorial at Omaha Beach, Normandy.

June 12th, 2014

We run at noon.  I woke up and put my team gear on.  I am wearing the USA flag and this is my first time representing the nation on an individual level--liberty ports abroad and military postings excluded.  I ate breakfast early and sat and talked with the other runners.  I and Audrey and Alvine Gentilhomme, the French twin runners, were to go to a school near the starting line and talk with a couple classes of school kids.  A class corresponded with me the length of my bike trip and I was going to finally meet them in person.

We made the 40 minute drive and I almost forgot I had a 100 miles to run later in the day.  I brought no food and little water and it was not brightest execution of a prerace fueling plan.  It was wonderful to meet the kids and they asked all sorts of questions about life with Bike.  They prepared hand drawn pictures and notes, some in English and some in French and gave them to me as they filed out of the room.  They were on their way to the starting line as well to participate in the send off.  I was very touched and was very grateful for their enthusiasm and bike art.

Alvine, Audrey, and I said aloha/au revoir to the kids and hopped in for a 15 minute ride to rejoin the rest of the runners.  We gathered at Utah Beach, the western and northern most point of our course to start the run.  The plan would be for the fourteen of us to stick together, behind a pacer, with various running clubs who would send runners in a relay.  I was curious to see how that would work out over one hundred miles as I find it damn near impossible to sync up two runners' bodies over a 20 mile training run but I left that to be a problem for when we started to get out of whack hopefully much later in the run.

We got the signal to start walking and we took off on the sand of Utah Beach, east and along the water.  We met up with a group of kids and each of us took a child by the hand and we walked to a field and a grandstand where much was said in French and I stood there and caught every tenth word or so.  Opening remarks complete by the mayors of the villages along the route and Laurent, the RD and head honcho.  We gathered around a field where we waited for Roland, another organizer, to parachute in with the flags of the US, Britain, France, Canada, Poland, Belgium, and Germany.  We watched him make a successful and safe tandem landing and the kids ran to collect the flags to present to us.  As a group again we ran with the flags of our nations briefly and got on with the miles--though once out of sight of the crowd Laurent's promise of a very special moment--a very special surprise-- came to life.  The fourteen of us loaded into a troop transport truck circa 1944 and we drove a couple kilometers to a trail head.

the fourteen ultra runners before the ultra running.  photo by UDDT staff

On with the miles

We ran down double track through farmers' fields.  Much of the pathway was cleared by the farmers themselves who not only granted use for this run but volunteered their time and equipment to make the route passable.  We ran along, us fourteen, pacers, relay runners, motorbikes with film crew.  There would always be company and cameras on this run, even on this rugged stretch.

At checkpoints we stopped and could refill bottles and grab food from our drop bags that we prepared the night before.  I felt like a runt of the litter as fourteen runners, our pacer, our entourage hit the aid station at the same time and made getting aid more like a land grab.  I needed to toilet badly but as there wasn't a facility, I had to make due while I waited for the feeding frenzy to calm down so I could return and grab my bag when there was less risk for death by stampede or Black Friday-esque shopping tragedy.  Is that wrong to compare these in light of the hallowed grounds on which we were?

We'd get the signal to get ready and always sent off with a shrill whistle blast.  The terrain was mostly roads and flat early on which was a shock to most of us I think as a lot of the runners were mountain trail types. 

We made it to the German Cemetery where we ran a couple loops for purposes of photographs and such.  At each site, one runner was to place sand from Utah Beach somewhere at the memorial and possibly answer questions with camera crews.  I walked around the cemetery and was amazed at the size.  Thomas, one of the German runners, told me there were 21,000 men buried here.  Twenty-one thousand.   I looked at the ages and headstones and from what I saw it was a lot of 19, 20, 22 year olds.  I saw a tragedy at every headstone and grave and could not care less if they were German or not.  With that much emotion welling in the German Cemetery, I knew the American Cemetery would be overwhelming.

The German Cemetery is off the coast a bit, back in La Cambe.  We left there and made our way back seaside by way of farm fields and stretches of France I know I'd never have seen otherwise.  Tall grasses and single track and electric fences and farm fields and back country roads...  We approached Point du Hoc from the south and prepared for another ceremony.  Point du Hoc made me lose it.  I walked away from the main group and looked down at the cliffs that tried to thwart the US Army Ranger Assault Group but instead was the rock face that the Rangers climbed to infamy and glory but at a highly lethal cost.  Surrounding the memorial and south of the cliffs, huge divots in the earth are still visible from the shells blasts from the US Navy.  The earth has not filled those in yet in the 70 years since the rounds exploded.  It was hard to be there and stand where shells landed and bullets left and keep my composure.  To see a battlefield years later with only placards and obelisks as historical markers is one thing, but to see the unmistakable hallmarks of violence and know you're standing where young men died and killed is a haunting and crushing experience.

We were gathered and again shot off along the coast towards the next check point.  My good friend and American compatriot did not make the start so I knew I had a 100% chance of being selected as the runner who places the sand for the cameras.  As we approached the climb up to the American Cemetery, I overheard a complaint from someone-- why is it the US cemetery is the only one with rules? You're not allowed to run or lay in the grass or picnic here.  I didn't bother with a retort out loud but I was grateful there was a forced guideline for decorum.

We walked up a steep path to the entrance and I was already overcome with emotion before I saw a headstone.  I worked to keep my shit together because we still had a long way to go for the rest of the run, but the initial glimpse of the rows and rows of white crosses, standing in a perfect formation together, hit me.  

There is a huge statue of a very muscular, powerful, sculpted man with his arms and eyes stretched skyward and is surrounded by tall columns.  There were still flags and flowers at the foot of the sculpture, likely left over from the anniversary.  I took my handful of sand from the beaches that likely could have been the last thing a lot of the guys in the graves behind me saw.  What do you do that could possibly be a fitting enough thank you or apology to those guys?  With many tears, I placed the heap of sand at the base of the statue, propped up a simply crafted American Flag in it, and placed a kiss at the sculpture's base.

Behind me stood 9,837 soldiers, likely most of them younger than me when they died.  More of their comrades were shipped home to be buried in accordance with their family wishes, and more still fought further campaigns and died later in the conflict.  Nine thousand, eight hundred and thirty-seven men of the thousands more now stand the forever watch.  At this post they are symbolic and stern and will never stand relieved.

One can argue that these deaths of these young men in armed conflict and in service to our nation were perhaps the most justified of any in war, but there is no amount of ceremony, heroic artwork, flag waving, or impassioned speeches that makes me see anything other than tragedy at each of these sites.

As a veteran of a passive aggressive war ground out on the waters of the Arabian Gulf, I can not pretend to understand the depths of terror these men witnessed.  As a sister to an Iraq vet and a friend to plenty who've gone and come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see second hand the impacts of violence.

My heart breaks for each of those men buried in France, and their loved ones, but also for the Germans that killed them.  There is tragedy in every casualty and every shell blast and every round fired. I care not for direction the shells traveled.

The Superintendent of the American Cemetery and I spoke at length about the place and he thanked me for coming over to France to do this run.  Cameras zoomed in and I was not at all doing this for any record or performance and felt slightly violated and trod upon during such an overwhelming moment.  I thanked the supe for his careful watch over this place, and long after the main body of runners and cameras left to make the mile or so to the checkpoint, I hustled out of there not quite ready to say good bye to the 9,837 guys left on that bluff.

photo by Michel Rama.  Me and the supe at the US cemetary
 That for me was truly the culminating moment of the entire event.  I knew some of the history of the sites we traveled past and felt deeply at each nation's cemetery.  The Brits in Bayeux, the Canadians at Beny-sur-Mer...At each checkpoint there was a memorial or a historically significant (today) tactically vital feature (1944) that inspires tourist attractions and cafes (today) and extreme, focused, direct, all out violence (1944).  It is hard to hold both these in the same space, but in 70 years I suppose we must all move on.

It was invigorating to see the towns and villages celebrate the liberators still almost a century later.  Flags of America, Britain, Canada, Belgium, Poland, and France hung from streets and in shop windows.  I watched as people who lived in an occupied France truly celebrate freedom, earned with blood from allied nations.  To see their gratitude and sheer relief at being free French restored my patriotism in a way I never thought possible.  I remembered why as an idiot high schooler I felt called to service and I think it was because of the stories and feats of men in service through all our conflicts--that legacy I wanted something in common with.  Ours is a different time however, and my participation in the military does not leave me feeling the hero or just.  I can almost forgive myself for my hand in the second Gulf War because I joined initially out of respect for the legacy the greatest generation left us and believed I needed to serve and contribute.  I didn't question the morality of it didn't see much of a difference in necessity between fighting the nazis and fighting terrorism.  I went and learned to question and if nothing else, I've taken away a profound respect for those that bring about and maintain peace.

Our finish line was in Caen.  We ran through thousands of cheering children.  I don't know that Justin Beiber makes a more excited or attended arrival.  We ran and slapped hands with the thousands of kids on our way to the memorial to raise  our nations' flags together as a token of hope for a peaceful future.

finish.  photo by Ultra D-Day

As I have returned back to the US from France and seen the long standing effects on the earth and a people, I have strengthened my commitment to a non-violent life.  There might be some cause some day that must be quelled with arms, but my hope would be to keep national guardsmen stacking sandbags in preparation for a hurricane and our navy and marines jetting off to respond to humanitarian crises.  I don't know how much an apology from one human, 80,90 years late does for anyone, but maybe I'll make it an apology to the future.  I'm sorry for the violence we allow to happen and that we then justify with our participation.  I'm sorry that memorials paint our fallen as heroic dead, immortalized with sacrifice like an immaculate transformation from human to legend.  This will be a stretch, but a month after you run a hundred miler, you have a belt buckle to show for your efforts and your foul stench, the physical devastation, the floated prayers and pain and WHY THE FUCK IS THIS HAPPENINGs are gone and forgotten.  In this way we remember our war dead.  Beautiful, pristine, white head stones and lists engraved in stones in small towns across the country and medals sent home and mounted on walls.  We call up our friends and say hey remember when, and the worst bits seem to be the funniest.   We tell young people aw go join a running club/the service because it'll give you discipline, and thus the cycle continues. 

I wish to see a sterner warning of the true human toll.  There is no glory from war and there are no marches or solemn taps that can possibly make the loss of a son or daughter worth "it" to a family.  I wish we would display the gruesome lessons from millennia of war.  I am a simple person and I concede there are forces bigger than my possible grasp of the world and geo-political dynamics.  I am sure there is no such simple solution to tensions around the world and sadly think world peace is as far away from us as it has ever been.  In that light, why not give the people a hero?

To K. Mister and his comrades who died on the beaches of Normandy, to the French, Germans, Polish, British, Canadian, Italian, humans who died as individuals embroiled in international conflict because they had to be there, your sacrifice is freshly remembered and mourned by me.

What I Saw of the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run

Pre-Race, 17-18 July

I pedaled from Washington to Vermont and the only thing between me and the beach was the Vermont 100 mile endurance run and a few days' ride to the shore.  I took a break from my cross country bike tour to run the Vermont 100 mile endurance run.