Journey / Inspiration

I woke up yesterday with the creeping sensation of fall drifting through the window. As much as I like fall weather, it always fills me with a feeling of dread. I get the sense that things are changing, as they did every year of school, and that it’ll be cold and I’ll be missing home in an instant. This morning, I was also bracing myself for the arrival of pest control, and with them, the hassle of emptying drawers and cabinets, rearranging, and ultimately undoing all of my meticulous organization.

I’ve been wanting to write for some time now, but the words just wouldn’t materialize, the thoughts never fleshed out, never substantial. It always seems to go this way, and I feel like a broken record writing it. In fact, I often think that whatever I’m writing is an iteration of something written before, just with different anecdotes and perhaps a new flavor of cynicism. I suppose anyone sick of reading these same ideas can always stop. It’s really just my problem if I’m stuck in a rut of repeated sentiments and notions.

Whenever I really do feel inspired to write, there’s always some impetus. This morning was no different. As I crawled out of bed, I sat with my usual indecision: do I go run now? The weather is crisp and cool. But I’m sore from yesterday. Maybe I bike or go for a walk, less impact? But who am I kidding? Pest control is coming. I really should just eat breakfast and start preparing.

When my roommate, Joe, arrived in the kitchen, cheeks flushed from an early morning walk-and-listen-to-podcast, I couldn’t help but feel regret, staring down at my half-eaten bowl of oatmeal and half-drank cup of coffee. I needed to get outside and feel that same bite of cold air. Joe was skeptical that pest control would even arrive (they’ve been scheduled to come three times now and have never appeared), so I cut my losses and headed outdoors.

I scrolled through my available podcast episodes and quickly made my selection: The Thousand Words podcast. The podcast was created by a friend of Joe’s and mine, Craig. He was an English creative writing major at our college and a member of the elite spoken word club, so it only seems natural he would create such a podcast: each week, he writes a thousand-word essay based off of two randomly generated words. And then he reads it. The idea is simple and brilliant. Each podcast is roughly eight minutes long, and Craig’s voice is clear and genuine. It’s easy to continue listening to one after the other—and so I did.

The first podcast was the most recent—all about Craig’s love of disc golf. He and Joe have played together countless times, and while I can’t muster the same zeal they have for the sport, I can at least appreciate it for what it is.

Regardless of its subject, this podcast—and several that followed—brought me to a realization. Around a third of the way into this one, Craig compares disc golf to an old friend, one that he could pick up with at any time, no matter how much time spent together. He says something to the effect of, “everyone who has fallen in love with a hobby has an urge to do it. And to not do it would be denying their very selves.” The statement stopped me in my tracks. After all the deliberation about returning to the climbing gym or not, I knew. I had to go back. To not climb would be denying my very being, and I could deny myself no longer. And I knew I could fall right back into step, just like an old friend. Further, I knew I needed to run, that day, and soon. The compulsion to run, the addiction to running, would be too difficult to ignore.

Those decisions made, I continued walking and listening. I listened to another essay of Craig’s and grinned as he set the scene: he was writing the essay at my tiny table in my tiny kitchen, gazing up at the New Yorker cartoons I had pinned to the walls, admiring the table cloth that my mother had set aside for me months ago, along with a collection of nice cookware to stock my kitchen. I envied Craig’s ability to write so freely and skillfully from the spot—an apartment he had just arrived at, the heat of Colorado summer stifling, the kitchen walls closing in. I envied his drive to write a new essay every week, out of perhaps some obligation to his listeners, but really out of his love to write. And so, the next realization was obvious: I must write.

The last essay I listened to before reaching my home, Craig had actually written back in May. Then, the pandemic had been accepted, had become the new normal in a sense, but remained nonetheless unsettling. I’ll just say that this one told me, quite simply: I need to be alone with my thoughts right now.

I entered my apartment on a mission. I would prepare myself for a long run, text Joe (in online class) to alert me if pest control arrived, and get the heck out of there.

I didn’t know if I was physically up for it. Just days prior, I had set out to run a half marathon and utterly failed. I hadn’t run double digit miles in a while, but I knew I could do it no problem if the conditions were right. They weren’t. I couldn’t sleep at all the night before; I woke up before my alarm; my legs were aching after mile three; and when I finally reached my turn-around point, Garden of the Gods, every uphill felt practically unbearable. I couldn’t go on. I texted Joe, and the angel that he is, he rescued me, 8.5 miles out and totally zonked.

I really did not want to repeat that experience. Listen to your body, I told myself. There’s no shame in turning around if it doesn’t feel good. None at all. But as I listened to Craig talk about cooking tofu and reveling in the waters around Maine, I felt compelled to continue. All of the insubstantial musings I’ve had over the past month seemed to be talking over one another, struggling to burst forth and begin forming a concrete essay.

Writing now, I struggle to remember most of them. Maybe they weren’t so thought-provoking after all. But at least my brain felt stimulated, for the first time in what felt like quite a while.

Memories appeared around every bend in this trail, one that I’ve run countless times. The first 6.5 miles were particularly vivid. I remembered the last time I had run this section of trail this far, to the day: March 14.

The world was in full panic at that point. I had left the office the day before to snow falling down and an inescapable eeriness swallowing every step I took. March Madness had been cancelled. The NBA playoffs, cancelled. Olympic qualifiers, cancelled. But surely, the 2020 Olympics wouldn’t be cancelled, right?

That evening, I got word that the office would be closed for the next two weeks. My supervisor wondered if I’d like to go home? The thought had never occurred to me, but boy, did I jump at the opportunity. Our beloved dog had just been put down a week prior. My site visit to Tokyo that month had been cancelled. I thought I’d be seeing my family for Thanksgiving, earliest. Yes, I would leave.

The next morning, I watched one of my roommates head out on spring break to mountain bike in Utah. Three of my other roommates had already left on trips of their own. It was down to two of us. And I was leaving in just a couple days. The sky remained gray and the air chilling for hours. By 11:00 a.m., I finally stopped my packing and pointless organizing to just run.

Early that week, I had signed up for a marathon in June. I had printed a training plan and hung it up with a magnet on the whiteboard in my cubicle. I was already weeks behind—which meant my first long run would be 12 miles. It was settled; I’d run 12 miles before leaving Colorado Springs.

Now running virtually the same track as I did then, I realize how the numbers add up. I now live a half mile east of the house I lived in during March. Thus, running to the same point as I did that day would be 6.5 miles, not 6. When I arrived at that same turnaround point, I marveled at how the situation then and now had evolved in ways never thought possible. And yet here I was, feeling essentially the same physically, eating an electrolyte goo yet again, preparing for the return run home.

It was time to switch to music. At a certain point, no podcast can hold your attention. When you’re several miles out, you become somewhat mechanical. Your body feels worn, but simultaneously primed to keep chugging along, sort of like a model train that’s been circling a track all day.

I retraced my steps and veered east at the ball park, knowing I’d have a final slog up a massive hill until I’d be home free.

The last time I had taken this turn was another ill-fated run. I had gone out too late, overheated, and in vain stopped at eight miles, still another two miles from home. I hopped on a shared e-bike to make it—that’s how bad it was. I prayed this time wouldn’t be the same.

The hill definitely sucked it out of me, but I knew it was smooth sailing afterwards. Continuing east and then south, I noted how close I was to all of my coworkers’ homes. Head north and I’d be at Michelle’s. Further east, Tim’s. South, Dawn’s.

The only reason I know their locations is a result of their generosity. Last month, as I moved into my new apartment, I reached out to my whole team, asking if anyone had spare furniture they wanted to rid themselves of. It was incredibly touching how many of them responded, happy to lend a hand.

A year ago, I didn’t even know these people. But tomorrow will be my one-year anniversary with them at the Olympic Committee. The first month of my time there, October 2019, I was doubtful I’d ever feel very close to these co-workers. They were all very kind and welcoming, but I didn’t think I had much in common with them. I was far too quick to judge.

Now only three miles from home, my headphones made a jolting noise. Low battery. It was miraculous that I had made it this long running without them dying. I shot down Franklin Street, one of the prettiest in the Old North End, then banked west. I wanted to run the final block of Royer Street before hitting Uintah. There lies one of my favorite houses. It’s sort of just a rectangular cinder block, its balcony boasting rusting railings. But all of this is overlooked when you see this enormous, realistic sunflower painted on its northern side. I would live in this house if I could.

The headphones jolted again. I was only a half mile from home. I could survive without music if they died, but they didn’t. Finally stopping in the crumbling parking lot of my apartment building, I felt like I had just been on such a journey. I suppose I had.

At that moment, I vowed to write about this run. Yet now that I have, I realize there isn’t a conclusion. This isn’t a thousand-word essay like Craig’s, an essay that has a beginning, middle, and end, an essay that ties up so seamlessly. I guess it doesn’t have to be; so long as I’m inspired.

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