Dum spiro spero.
"Before me there were no created things, Only eternity, and I too, last eternal." ~ Dante Alighieri
We are faced with mortality when we're forced to acknowledge the discomfort that persists beneath the veil, despite our grandest attempts at becoming gods of our perceived dominions. We want for nothing, and bleed for a host of pleasures. Faster service. Cheaper prices. Elevators. Porn on our smartphones. Greasier chicken. Higher heels. Brighter feathers. Bigger promotions. Convenience. Cars. Eyeliner. Candy. We strip ourselves bare and wash away the neon that drowns the night sky, and in the flesh tones and green, the entity exposed is perspiring vulnerability from every pore. It's exquisite. And it wants to get busy living, to suffer, to know what it's like to exist lumbering down an empty road during a thunderstorm, what it's like to have the skin peeled raw from our toes.
We're pleasure seekers.
We're risk takers.
We have a deeply seeded need to overcome.
For as much as we seek to preserve our mortal figures, we also have a nagging lust to unearth the mortality we see in the chaos around us, when we breathe in the night air. On the streets of rural Tennessee, there is a lot of decay lingering in that chaos and night air. Stepping in it is a reminder that we're not cautious enough. It's also a reminder that there's a porthole to Hell in Tracy City in mid-July, and that it's a wonder the armadillo is not yet an endangered species.
I've long abandoned any notion of racing Vol State in the conventional sense, given target times tend to come in ranges of 6-12 hours--or even entire days, and are largely contingent upon avoiding things that can be so completely out of one's control that encountering one of them, 141 miles into the race, can lead to the kind of downward spiral that ought to have a country ballad written about it. But, I was as ready as I was going to get this year and I held onto my dream a little too hard, a little too long, until it had grown into my psyche and stared me back in the mirror like I'd never been without it.
I'd managed to survive the year between last year's Vol State and the present completely sans injury, and after embarking on a series of solo and duo self-supported day journeys of up to 80-100+ miles in addition to finishing 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in winter/spring 100k and 100 mile races, my confidence had grown around that dream in a brilliant way. I downsized on gear, choosing the smallest of my 3 hydration packs, realized it was without question that I'd wear Merrell again on my feet, and chose a hat with a very wide brim. I brought very few items: extra socks, Desitin, charger for my phone, Carmex, disposable rain poncho, flashlight, tylenol and Tums in a plastic baggie, and money. Having run the Vol State twice, I knew that anything else was a luxury I didn't need, and would almost certainly shed the first time I reached into my bag and had to rummage for something more useful. Baggies of Tailwind and inflatable rafts might seem like a good idea until the inside of one's pack looks like it's coated in cocaine and they wake up in a sweaty crater, slimy with dirty zinc oxide.
Five-hundred kilometers is far, and Tennessee is hot in July. The most reasonable way to negotiate these glaring truths is to spend as little time traversing those 500k as possible, to lessen the exposure to that July Tennessee heat. Doing that requires a skill set that unfortunately doesn't come from conversations, podcasts, expert coaching, or blogs... It comes from experience and experiments, getting dirty and blowing off your own foot once or thrice wearing a sweatsuit or a trashbag in the summer sun until you realize what a fucking idiot you are for wearing a trashbag when it's 90 degrees outside.
JT Hardy had been the fool who offered the breath of life to the idea of us running a sub-5 day Vol State together. He'd averaged 67 miles/day during his FKT run of the Katy Trail in Missouri, and won the 250 mile Infinitus trail race in Vermont averaging nearly the same. With two events in the 200 mile range that paced consistent with a sub-5 Vol State, and my experience with solo journeys teemed with decent finishes in the 100k-100 mile range, and each of us with two Vol State finishes already, it was a stretch-- but not impossible. For weeks we strategized, and on race day, we started together, slow and steady. We logged 40 miles at the 12 hour check-in, and then focused on hitting 80 by morning to avoid the shit storm of car exhaust and assault of the sun between Huntingdon and Parker's Crossroads. The effort proceeded at a steady pace from Dresden to Gleason to McKenzie to Huntingdon before I flopped onto a wooden bench and announced I was taking a 10 minute nap. By the time we started moving again, we were trailing Alan Abbs and Brian Trinkle who was very much running in a pair of flip flops. "It's ok", he explained, "I've tried them before and I know I can run in them". Continuing down the road, JT marveled at how strange it was that more people weren't passing us, neglecting the obvious fact that of the 112 other competitors, it was Abbs and Trinkle who had made the only move. He didn't believe we were in the top 10; it was only when we sat down to eat at a diner in Clarksburg, mile 77, next to John Cash and Douglas Long, that the colors began to align on the Rubix cube.
We missed our goal of 80 miles during the first 24 hours by 5k, and left as a group of 4 for a 15 mile trek to Lexington. It was hot.
And, after about 4 miles, I felt terrible.
The group disintegrated, Hardy leaving me seated at a booth in a convenience store, dazed and shell-shocked. Cash and Long took off running in the 87 degree heat, the humidity so high it felt like we were inhaling steam. They might as well have evolved into catfish on the spot, given the need for gills in this hell, and especially given their proclivity for beaching themselves in the most unholy places for a fish or a human along the race course. While it was a surprise to find them wandering into a gas station behind me in Lexington after having taken off running in such a way, it was less surprising when considering Cash's sleep plan: "I'm going to run until I'm tired."
I invited them to the Days Inn with JT and I where there were 2 big beds ideal for people who run until they're tired, and they liked the idea well enough to follow me. JT, on the other hand, liked the interruption so much he left the room early.
I rejoined highway 412 around 4:30pm, and hit the 100 mile mark shortly before the 36 hour check-in, Cash and Long dawdling ahead into the horizon until they disappeared, either from running fast or ducking off the course again into the shadow world of construction equipment and church lobbies.
The section between Darden and Linden is easily my least favorite of the entire course. There is absolutely no shoulder, and I wasn't in the mood to run on the rumble strip for 25 miles until the road opened up. My plan to run 35 miles devolved into a goal of simply getting to Linden without losing a limb or being mugged. On my way to the Tennessee River, past the Pine Tree Inn at mile 111, I was apprehended by local law enforcement-- an encounter I'd long anticipated, and met with flashlight in one hand, identification in the other.
"Where are you headed?" asked the first of two officers.
"Georgia. Tonight I'm just heading to Linden."
"Linden?!?" asked the second officer, completely ignoring the whole 'Georgia' part of the equation, a surprised look of doubt on his face. "You know how far that is?"
"Yes, from here it's about 15 miles."
"Exactly. You think you're going to Linden overnight?"
"Uh-huh. Right. It isn't safe for a female to be out on this road alone on a Friday night. There are drunks out here."
You don't say.
"I appreciate the concern. I really do. But, I think I'll be ok."
"I've gotten several calls about you being out here on this road. Drunk drivers are out here on Friday nights."
"I don't doubt it," I responded. "But I've been through here before. This is a 500 kilometer race, and I've done it the past two years. I think I'll be ok."
"So, there are other people behind you?" came more doubt from officer #1.
"About 100. Thanks again for being out here."
As I headed off toward the bridge crossing the river, I heard one of the officers say to the other again, "she thinks she's going to make it to Linden..." and I began to wonder what gauntlet was laid out on the road before me. After all, it was 15 miles, not 500, and one look at me was enough to tell I'd been bobbing around on this saddle for longer than a hot minute already. Time passed in fast forward while the miles progressed in slow motion, until the blackness of night began to fade into grey. I passed the Commodore hotel around 7am and signed in at the Linden Visitor center shortly thereafter before meandering along the remaining streets of Linden where the road finally branches and highway 412 shoots up and into the stars. I laid my head down on a table at the gas station and dozed off for a few minutes, waking up to Salt Shack (Tim Purol), a 4 time finisher, sitting next to me, announcing we were going to do some fast walking. I was feeling incredibly down, but I like Salt a lot, and though I was questioning my ability to keep up with him as much as I was the merit of continuing at all, being with Salt even for an hour or two certainly would've improved my lot, even if marginally.
The first couple miles passed without a hitch, and then the heat began to beat us hard and then harder. We breaked under a tree around the 130 mile mark, and again a few miles later, and then, somewhere between mile 135 and the hubs of hell, Salt announced he'd found the perfect spot for wading in the creek.
Well, burn my barn. Cold water? We darted across the road and descended the rocks down to the water, and tore off our socks and shoes. In retrospect, this would have been a good spot to skinny dip had the water been a bit deeper. It definitely would have taken the edge off the heated misery of my chafed thighs and the bleeding abrasion on my back from my hydration pack. I'm pretty sure Salt wouldn't have objected to a bit of clothing-free fun in the cold creek, either.
I'm not sure how long we spent down by the creek, but it wasn't long enough, and back on the road, we were both running out of drinkable water. There are 15 miles between the last gas station in Linden and the first in Hohenwald, and though it was only 90 degrees, the humidity had once again made short work of its ability to deplete my supply. Road angels-- persons who leave coolers of water, gatorade, ice, or treats for runners, and have become numerous in recent years, don't always reach those at the front of the running field as was the case for Salt and I during this trek. As we neared mile 138, more than 10k from town, we had come to our last drinks of water. The past 2 miles had passed like the scene out of National Lampoon's Vacation where Chevy Chase is overzealously stumbling around the desert in his underwear with his jeans wrapped around his head. I'd heaved and wailed my misery in exaggerated moans like a well-paid prostitute. Finally, seated on the guard rail in the shade, I told him I didn't know how I was going to make it much further without water. He insisted there had to be a church nearby with a water spigot, possibly even around the next corner. We'd have our last drinks, and then reassess in a mile. Lumbering down the road, minutes passing, thirsty and hot, I was becoming desperate. And then, just when I was sure I was one moan from either losing my voice, passing out, or learning the limit to Salt's patience, we saw it: a black SUV that rolled past slowly and put its hazard lights on, pulling off the road near the shade from a tree. It was Pam Pratt Moore, a local who thrived on taking care of the Vol State runners, and she had water, gatorade, sandwiches, and fruit.
Upon Pam's departure, the sky opened up and dumped a cosmic fury of rain, thunder, and wind, exactly the way one would imagine the gods of Hades might respond to the kindness of divine intervention. I was spent. My mind lost sight of everything save the Embassy Inn, and I made it clear to Salt that it was the only place I wanted to stop. In the room, we dumped our packs onto chairs and I began stripping clothes on my way to the bathroom. Mile 144: I was peeing blood from dehydration, and crying in the shower. A low of this magnitude had happened at some point every year I'd run the LAVS, but it was no less profound and stifling each time it happened. I was low, lower, lowest, not even halfway through the race. And then my hairbands both ripped. I guzzled a glass of water and a can of Mellow Yellow and laid naked on the bed, airing every angry, blistered, chafed part of my body like the good lord intended.
When I woke up 3 hours later, I felt like a different person. I told Salt I was leaving, and expected him to catch me on the way to Hampshire.
And, then I ran.
I stopped for a can of Sun Drop and a bag of sour gummi worms a mile down the road, drinking the rest of the gatorade in my bottle before replenishing my stocks for the long night. I tied the arm sleeve JT had lent me around my hair like a scrunci, and then continued to run onto the highway where the cars had thinned to an occasional one or two, and the shoulder widened by a measure of 10. The air had cooled and the miles passed without struggle nearly all the way into Hampshire. Two miles from Mack's Market, mile 163, the wheels finally began to fall off the wagon, and I felt myself becoming unhinged by the quarter mile. The town was asleep except for Mack's where two people were seated outside and cheered me on as I ran toward the store. Inside, I ordered my usual club sandwich and bought a pop and a bag of chips. I chatted with the two until about 3:30, before setting out to log another 10-12 miles before check-in. With 4 hours on the clock, I had time to walk and an hour to rest. I expected Salt to find me sleeping in the lawn chair at mile 169, but I woke up having not been disturbed, and assumed he must have passed me without reacting. I approached the gas station at mile 173.5 around 7:10, met the disgusted smirk of the teenager working the register with a request for pizza sticks with the kind of sincere stare that splits a sheet of ice right down the middle, and then carried my haul of food and drinks outside where I could reload and saunter into Columbia for the start of day #4. I'd covered 30 miles in about 9 hours after leaving the hotel, and I felt like the wind might be blowing in something good. A daily write-up had, for the second time in as many days, pinned me as the top self-supported female ("screwed" division), a statement that had been met with plenty of crowing from the peanut gallery about who was going to pull the rug from under my feet in the coming day or two. I didn't like to think about things like that, and it made me curiously nervous.
I left Columbia, jogging, under a cloudy sky, determined to make the most of Jimbo and Kim Nutt's yard set up in Culleoka 9 miles down the road, providing I got there by 1pm. I'd have 3 hours to sleep and 3.5 hours to reach Lewisburg at mile 200, a solid spot to stop and reassess my situation, and prepare for whatever horrors awaited me on Shelbyville road overnight. If this year had been anything at all like the past 2, there was an excellent chance I was going to lose half my leg and all my money, meet Sasquatch, or die. I reached the Nutt house at 1:15pm and felt pretty good about my progress. I'd covered 13 miles, even with a couple stops, and had plenty of time to eat, sleep, and cover another 10-12 miles before the evening check-in. And then, laying on a reclining lawn chair with my shoes and socks off and a burger in hand, who else wandered up beside me, but Salt? It couldn't get much better than this.
"Girl, I spent all night trying to catch you. Once I got within 30 minutes of you, and then I lost you again," he told me, resting on the reclining chair next to mine.
"I left the hotel running. I did 30 miles overnight. I felt really great after I woke up!"
I cat napped on the chair while Salt rested and then took off for the Celebration hotel in east Lewisburg, and after a while it became apparent I wasn't going to get the kind of sleep I needed on this lawn chair. The sky was dark, threatening to storm at any moment, but I collected my bearings and headed back onto the road around 3:30 hoping to get as far as I could before the storm hit. If I was lucky, I'd find shelter. Otherwise, I'd be spending more time in Mooresville than I'd have liked.
I spent more time in Mooresville than I'd have liked.
Lewisburg hit fast, and I was hit with a sense of urgency. I stopped at the Dollar General for drinks, a snack, hairbands, and more Desitin, and realized it was going to get dark soon and I hadn't really slept all day. The napping in Culleoka had been the worst kind of tease, the type that licks and pokes at your senses just enough to brand itself on your wanting, only to fade into obscurity as though it never had been. That wasn't sleep, and I was going to go bat shit crazy halfway down Shelbyville road if I didn't disappear for an hour into another level of consciousness soon. In the center of town, mile 201, a woman called me by name, and, not recognizing her, I must have stared like she'd lost her mind, because she explained her purpose in the next breath. The offices in this building-- they were open to runners, and I could eat, sleep, and clean up here if I wanted. If I wanted? And, this was a question being passed across the airwaves that required deliberation? I wandered inside and immediately was struck with a tremendous sense of humility and guilt. The furniture in these rooms was clean and beautiful, and I was absolutely ramshackle repulsive.
I chose a cot in a room beside a large window, set my alarm for an hour, kicked off my shoes, and tried very hard to sleep.
Repeat: I tried very hard to sleep. I tried very hard to sleep. I tried very hard to sleep. I tried very hard to sleep.
But, I could not sleep.
At least, not for long. In total, I may have dozed off for 20-25 minutes before I once again gave up and pulled myself together, this time for a long night on Shelbyville road with Sasquatch, the dogs, and very possibly a missing limb or two. This wasn't how I wanted my night to shake out, but I had 25 miles to cover if I intended to label this a 50 mile day. Begrudgingly, I began to plod down the road. My body didn't feel especially up for running, anxiety cranked up to level 9,000, senses heightened and on patrol for all the terrors that were waiting around that bend up ahead. Dogs, I was listening for angry dogs. Howls. Whoops. Hoots. Growls. Rustling in the bushes. Whirs from above. The lights from a UFO--
"WHAH!!!" bellowed the entity behind me, and in an instant I stumbled, tripped and nearly lost my light, screeching almost without sound as I whirled around to find Salt was powering up from behind me.
"I flashed my light twice; I thought you knew I was there!" he exclaimed.
"No!" I answered. "Were you at the Celebration? You missed out on a free place with couches and air conditioning."
Salt informed me that he needed to log 14 minute miles tonight if he wanted to get back on track to break the age group record, and I realized in that instant that I was going to be running Shelbyville road alone. I jogged to keep up for a half mile before settling back into a brisk walk, and watched as he disappeared far too quickly into the distance. And then, I was officially alone. The online tracking sheet indicated I was nearly 20 miles ahead of the next runners; Salt was the only person between me and the half dozen who were 20 miles behind, and JT and Doug who were nearly as many ahead of me.
As I speed walked onto Highway 64, Shelbyville road, two things became apparent: 1. the evil dogs had apparently all gone on sabbatical from terrorizing me simultaneously; and 2. I wasn't going to make enough noise to find out whether that 'apparently' in the first statement was true or not. Three times an animal tore into the road at me, but all three times it turned out to be a happy family pet that just wanted to keep me company. I laid down in the church pavillion in Wheel, and again on the bench outside the Bedford Market, exhausted and frustrated with the previous day's lack of sleep, and then set my eyes on hitting the outskirt of Shelbyville by check-in.
I could've spent the rest of my life trying, and I don't think I'd have fallen upon a spot more apropos for an existential epiphany.
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
Some places speak without words, and some images leave a blank canvas for interpretation. People are strange in their inability to admit there is beauty in that watermark: in desolation telling its story without a word. In the freedom that comes from unhinging a door and letting the world an opportunity to see mortality in its human form rather than something we try to avoid stepping into or running over, 60mph, in a hurry to distract ourselves in ever more creative ways.
This race-- the ultimate in macabre displays of the art of human suffering, a production playing out over computer screens and smartphones for all the people who wanted to enjoy it.
Cars sped by. My socks-- one injinji, one that came from an economy sized bag of misfits I'd bought at Walmart, were filthy. My hat drooped around my sunburned face. The borrowed white arm sleeve was greyed and browned from days on the road. I'd lost an earring. My legs hadn't been shaved for nearly a week. I smelled terrible. And, most noteably, people avoided making eye contact with me.
Pulvis et umbra sumus.
Keep moving. Keep moving.
It started raining near the top of the climb into the parking lot of the gas station at mile 228, and I donned my $1 rain poncho upon departure.
My mind was becoming hazy from sleep deprivation, worming into all the places the mind ought not go after 228 miles on the road. Dying in some unnatural form. Potato soup. Stray cats. Cathy Downes, coming to get me. Fruit roll-ups. Tylenol. Swollen feet. Salt Shack. Hotel showers. Bedsheets. A cold coke. Sex. Loneliness. Peaches.
It took an eternity to reach Wartrace.
Hours, lumbering slowly along the road, in a $1 plastic bag.
The difference a single day makes, in terms of finish times, at Vol State isn't marginal; it's the difference between stores revering you as a part of the nation's homeless problem, and welcoming you as a walking celebrity. I came into towns last year and it seemed like everyone knew who we were. This year, I came into stores to the scorn and disgust of clerks and locals who behaved as though I were trying to buy a ticket to heaven when I plopped my Sun Drop and gatorade onto the counter and asked if I could get an order of jojo taters from the hot case.
On the way to Manchester, the rain finally decided it had had enough of god's country, and let the sun off its leash again to play. Anticipating a less than warm welcome at Whispering Oaks, I chose to sleep for 10 minutes first at a canopy tent set up by road angels around the 240 mile mark. I'd made good time getting there, and the sleep was so sound that had there been a reclining lawn chair, I'd have likely stayed an hour or more. It was hard to leave.
The road was hot.
And Whispering Oaks was paradise.
In the past, I'd arrived at this barn to find stifling heat, too many people, and pop machines that didn't always work. The ethereal breeze that slipped by was enough to convince my mortal soul that I'd not be leaving the vacant couch next to a cooler of ice chilled waters for a solid 20 minutes. I needed to get to Manchester, but this? The Tibetan Book of the Dead hadn't prepared me for this temptation.
If I live to be 100, I doubt I'll ever be able to explain why I felt I'd be better off sleeping in the Manchester coin laundry aside from my fixation on numbers and the laundry's location near mile 250 on the course. But, I left Whispering Oaks around 5:45pm to cover the last 5-6 miles into Manchester. And, it was a mistake.
The laundromat was no longer in business. I stood outside the locked doors with my gas station shopping bag in hand wondering what the hell I was going to do now. The Green Leaf Inn was cheap, and only a mile down the road, but it was 7:30 and I didn't want to pay $60 for an hour or two of sleep. I wandered into the city and toward the only other place I knew might work: the gazebo next to the police station. There was a power outlet nearby, and the gazebo had benches where I could elevate my sore feet, and was sheltered enough I didn't feel totally exposed to every passerby. I climbed into the shelter and sat on the wooden planked floor, swung my pack off my back, kicked off my shoes, and ripped into my chips and dip. This was it. This was really fucking IT. My pop was expired, and flies were landing all over me. I'd passed up a couch, a bed, a shower, for THIS. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to turn off the noise, but the more I tried to sleep the less I felt able. I was so tired, but I could not rest.
Vol State is a wonderful teacher at a few things. One of those things is to be patient, because where there's pain, certainly there are other places that can hurt more. Another is that if sleep doesn't come within 10 minutes of laying down, it isn't meant to be. This wasn't meant to be. By 8:45, I'd had enough, and piece by piece, the shit show reassembled itself for a haul out of town.
There were times when I missed being with other people. I'd wondered how JT was doing, and felt a great deal of pride and happiness when I thought about the success he was having this year, miles and miles ahead of me. I'd wondered how close I was to Salt, who, at last check in, was only 5k ahead of me. I'd wondered whether tonight would be the night the group behind me closed the gap, and I would be left battling the heat of midday in Tracy City with a group of 4 biting at my heels, including Cathy, who everyone said was, without doubt, going to pick me off like a scab.
I also wondered if it was better all those people didn't see or hear me that night, lumbering down the road making up music that sounded like Maynard James Keenan met PJ Harvey and they did cocaine and bath salts together before going on stage. You lose friends over shit like that. I was tired.
I did strange things between Hilsborro and Monteagle.
I spent about 14 minutes trying to feed a machine that was, in retrospect, doubtlessly broken, limp dollar bills to no avail. I heard a cat meowing and wandered around the store trying to find it. I called my friend John on facebook video chat, and talked to him until my phone shut off when the battery died. I have no idea how long that call lasted, or what we talked about., or why I chose the video option when my surroundings were shrouded in darkness. I laid on the floor of the Pelham post office until morning was threatening to come to life, then took off with gusto for the base of Monteagle, racing the sun and the darkness.
"Overhead, ether flow moment
I've never seen the arrow of time fly so low
And time flows on"
Time and movement never seemed to align. It always felt like the world around me was in fast forward, while I was moving in slow motion.
I ate breakfast at the Depot Cafe, 7:15am, mile 274 in Monteagle. Forty miles separated me from the finish at Castle Rock Ranch, and all I could think about was sleep. I wandered off the road and into a park on the way to Tracy City and slept for a half hour, waking up to sunlight blasting my face between the tree branches above. In the city, I wandered past shops at a snail's pace, trying to figure out what was worth eating.
Tracy City offered plenty of viable options, but I ended up in a small, tucked away secondhand store that had a large bronze armadillo on display, eating a guava danish, answering questions regarding where I relieved myself when nature called. Like so many other acts of happenstance, it only seemed appropriate that this was my dining experience in Tracy City. There was no bathroom in the secondhand store. The guava danish was delicious. And, the armadillo was not for sale.
Before leaving town, I bought a ten pound bag of ice and a box of ziplock baggies and sat down outside Save-a-Lot pouring ice into bags I placed on my back under my pack, chest, on my head, and finally chilling a can of Sun Drop. It was going to be a long walk to the Mountain Mart. Twelve miles, to be exact.
Skies open and unleash thunder and rain.
I slept in the cemetery.
Slept in the cemetery.
Slept too long...
Resting in peace.
And, I hit the base of Jasper, mile 295, around 6:30pm. I had 13 hours to cover the last 19 miles if I wanted to beat the 6 day mark. I'd need most of them.
I sat down outside a shop in Jasper to charge my dying phone and discovered it had no intention of charging. Under normal circumstances during Vol State, this isn't problematic. Nearing the end, it can mean the difference between having a race director to greet you at the finish, and waiting for hours at the finish for the next runner-- and race director-- to show up. It took an hour to charge my phone from 3% battery life to 6%. I made my last refueling stop a gas station in Kimball, mile 301, not far from the Super 8. I'd seen and high-fived acting race director Carl Laniak, JT who had finished in 5:01:19, and waved at Sandra and Chrys from across the street. Those last 13 miles, I've learned, prove to be far from a simple formality, and this year was, by far, the most bizarre entanglement I've had yet with the world between South Pittsburg and the Nickajack crossing before the base of Sand Mountain.
Climbing up the road toward South Pittsburg, my phone had already lost 1/3 of its powerful 6% charge. I found myself scouring the businesses that dotted the roadside for a viable power outlet-- the car wash ,convenience stores, then the Sonic near the bridge over the Tennessee River-- all to no avail. For 300+ miles I'd been able to nose out power sources under roofs and behind potted plants, and now, when I desperately needed one, they'd all packed up shop and sailed the ocean blue.
Just as Carl answered my call at mile 303, the blue bridge, my phone heaved its final death rattle and gave up the ghost. And, just like that, I was in the dark. In New Hope, I discovered an outlet on the side of a church, and parked for another half hour, long enough to draw a 3% charge, and make a call to Carl. I explained that I might not be able to call at the base of the mountain, but that I was coming, and ought to be finishing within the next 3 hours. I filled my water bottles one last time at a water spigot outside the church, and then climbed back onto the road to head for the mountain.
My eyes shot open and I found myself leaning one step from tripping over the guard rail and falling to the railroad tracks below. I looked up and the mountain loomed ahead. It was time.
"Carl, it's Kim. There's a little hill in front of me."
One. Just one. Just one.
Time, distilled. Pain. Awareness.
The train was roaring.
I'm still alive.
Here we go...
I finished in 5 days, 19 hours, 6 minutes, and 50 seconds, 11th finisher out of 114 hopeful souls, the 1st woman to do so this year without a crew.
"It's really done," I told Carl, squatting over the rock with my head in my hands.
And, yet, it never really is.
There's always unfinished work on the open road, stories to unfold, stories to be told, love to be shared, pain to be spared, friends to make, lessons to take. There's rainfalls, midnight phone calls. Heat. Wrecked feet. Passion. Death. Stilled life. Caught breath. This is a love story that doesn't end.
Staring out over the mountain, time spinning ahead, I slowly caught up to its rhythm and squeezed my eyes shut..
Time-- I can hold it in the palm of my hand, but it cannot be closed in my fist.