With my marathon goal reached and countless miles traversed on difficult trails, it is time to break boundaries. In three days I begin a fastpack of the entire historic Rota Vicentina through southern Portugal. I will be entirely disconnected from my medical care. I have ongoing mild graft host disease affecting every system in my body. There is no medication that will improve my situation, so I don’t take any. I will be traveling solo, with all my possessions in a 20 liter, 12 pound ultralight running pack.
How and why?
How: Hard choices. Effort. Planning. Letting go. Embracing the grace and beauty of epic failure.
Why, from my earlier post:
I am doing it for myself, for the indescribable joy of experiencing the essence of humanness. I am doing it for those who can’t, and for those who think they can’t. I am doing it because I love dirt and hate pavement. I am attempting this in the name of love, truth, grace, and beauty, which is the reason why I do nearly anything in my spartan and highly distilled life.
I have called out to the universe to tell me that survival and physical accomplishments don’t put me in a tiny demographic. The response has been silence. So I might as well just continue creating my own demographic, my own universe, and see what happens. This then is my own social movement, even if it is a social movement of one. But I know this: There are people facing dire circumstances right now who need to know what I am doing. I have lived in their hell, a place where one cries each day with desperation and aches for some tether to the world of possibility. So if you are reading this, pass on my story to them. They, along with the rest of the world, need to know that everything coming from me is the truth, and not a staged version of the real thing. Apparently that reflects a tiny demographic as well.
There is no doubt. It is definitely time to go.
Beginning 22 January, I will be posting daily from the trail through my NEWS link and social media.
I believe that how I begin and end my day defines the rest of it. Consequently, how I begin my year will probably define my next few months of living.
I began my last day of 2017 waking up to a glorious open desert surrounded by my own personal detritus, the debris of two weeks camping in the Mojave desert. It was four wheel drive to Chiriaco Pass and the instant rush of Interstate 10, then hurtling through downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood, past iconic exits like Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon. I stopped at the ocean on an absolutely crystalline late morning and stuffed myself on organic crème brulee French toast and fruit. Then to San Luis Obispo to give myself Christmas at my favorite running store in the nation. I pulled into my brother’s driveway at 6 pm, in my two-week wrinkles and dirt, and walked into a crab feast and a full house of friends. I woke up with the coyotes and ended the day among good people sharing their wit and stories of travel
I am beginning my first day of 2018 right now, typing this. I woke up in my favorite bed in the world, in my beloved Airstream, and cranked up the Plimsouls from 1983. “A Million Miles Away", an extra strong press of my favorite coffee, a huge slice of pizza, and now I am off to burn calories and sweat my way into the new year. I am ready for whatever.
Days before the surgeons did their work on me, followed by the oncologists, I asked them the most fundamental question. “If I accept the treatment can I ever run a marathon distance again?” That was the sole determinant of my decision to continue, because if I lived to run a marathon I had a shot of resurrecting a life of value.
Yesterday was the final chapter of a true marathon that started 34 months ago. It was the last bit of a story that I will never relive. Even though the run was easy and I have conquered much harder trails, it was a formal redemption for my failure back in June. (See June blog post.) Consequently, it was indescribably important as an undeniable statement: No matter what the future holds, I beat the odds. I did this.
It is not that I am ungrateful for modern medicine. But I am not grateful to the medical industry for something it did not provide: A life.
Resurrecting a life means assigning yourself as your own hero. You will need help, but you have to be the master of your journey. You have to cling to what is left of your own essence, and from that add tiny pieces until you have built something authentic. Maybe in some ways it will be better. Therein lies the sweetness.
The trail description said "recommended for experienced hikers only", so I was compelled to do it, and since I was already in the neighborhood I decided to add the park's next most difficult trail to it, thereby ensuring an epic day of throbbing legs.
And I got it. I crossed both parks - twice- with thousands of feet of elevation change in 17 miles. They simply don't believe in switchbacks out there. It was all up and over. But by the end... so close to an even 20 miles, right? That meant an added quick run to the nearest town and back (Guerneville), which was delightfully flat.
But the views.... some of the most remote country in this part of California. Not an artifact of humanity for many miles. I was knee deep in the good stuff, in my church, and after months trying to get back what I had lost from this summer's sickness, I finally finished my marathon preparations. A very good day.
Flat terrain. Sea level altitude. Lush vegetation. A rock-less trail surface. After months in the desert, it was such a novel experience that I ran it end to end twice and then another half of it a third time. A lovely half marathon along the Pacific, full of sea, sky and life.