Thursday, December 19, 2013

After the Flood

Running on what's left of Blackburn Fork Road

Zion Road bridge, the only modern structure spanning Blackburn Fork, was destroyed

This mattress from a destroyed house was left balanced on a snag

Josh wanted sixteen, and I had fourteen. That is, he wanted to go for a sixteen mile run, and I had a fourteen mile loop. My fourteen-mile loop went into Jackson County, a rural place where the dogs run free; and past Cummins Falls where the water runs wild.
The water of Blackburn Fork jumps off the falls and meanders down a narrow valley for ten miles before it joins Roaring River. You might call the valley a gorge; it is pretty narrow at the bottom and bounded by steep wooded slopes with some bluff outcroppings. A road surfaced with creek gravel, paved in places, follows the stream on its journey.
But I didn’t even mean to go there, down the gorge, I mean. The fourteen mile loop stayed above the valley. It merely went past the falls, staying on top. But, see, Josh wanted sixteen miles that morning.
The weather was hot, August hot. One bottle in a waist pack is not enough for such heat. The well-equipped ultra runner made preparations. I dug out the backpack I use for journey runs and such. It’s a tiny thing probably designed for the shorter torso of a woman. But it is just right. It is short enough to leave room for my regular waist pack below it. So I can go with both the waist pack for my bottle and still have a bit of cargo room in the little backpack.
The backpack is large enough to hold a pair of long pants, a wind jacket, a pair of gloves and emergency medical kit. The pack was a bladder pack before I took the bladder out. Now it’s just a pack. It’s what I use for ultra marathons; so I don’t need drop bags, or for a crew to meet me two hours before or two hours after I need an item. I travel light and carry everything I need. That way, I have it when I want it.
What Josh needed was sixteen miles. In August that distance crosses the line for a one-bottle run. So I duly filled two extra bottles and put them in the little pack. Just in case. Those two bottles may be responsible for what happened, because without them, I doubt we would’ve made the decision we made that day. Or, more accurately, failed to make the decision we should have made.
Because he did say sixteen, and once I’m pretty sure I further heard “or more,” and I only had fourteen. I figured we’d just run down a side road for a mile—“or more”—and add that excursion to the fourteen miles of the loop. Which side road exactly I didn’t know. We could take our pick.
So we shoved off at my house into the building heat, heading toward Jackson County, each runner with a bottle strapped to his waist and with two extra bottles in the pack I was wearing.
Six miles into the run we were approaching Blackburn Fork, when we made the decision on which side road we’d pick for our extra-distance excursion. The signpost said Blackburn Fork Rd. I was very familiar with the road from having ridden my bike all over Jackson County. The road stays up on the rim for a mile and a half before it drops suddenly into the gorge, making sharp turns and switchbacks.
We headed down it. Soon a pickup approached from behind, pulling a farm implement. We edged over.
“Dallas, you going all the way? the driver asked, stopping.
“Nah, we’re just going part way.”
I’d never seen the man before. I shook his hand and redundantly told him my name. He said he recognized me from having read my newspaper stories. He had a reason for asking his question, because the road was closed. On back roads in that country, what road closure signifies is not so much a legal condition as a physical one—it’s impossible to travel it.
We knew a little of what had happened on upper Blackburn Fork, at least its two branches near Cookeville. Ten days earlier, a strong flood had covered roads, disrupted travel and work and school schedules. The two main branches of Blackburn Fork pass into Jackson and converge maybe a mile above the falls. The concentrated energy of the two branches had combined in a catastrophic way. The flood had gathered strength downstream to a degree that Josh and I didn’t yet imagine. 
I’d actually seen some of the damage on the end of the gorge near where Blackburn Fork joins Roaring River. But most of the gorge was closed off.  Only a few people live in it, and generally speaking the gorge lies beyond the experience of most of the local population. People didn’t know what had happened there.
So I thought maybe Josh and I could penetrate just a little ways and then cut and climb back out.  I was carrying two extra bottles of water, after all. The road I had in mind crossed the stream on a single-lane bridge and climbed up to a ridge called Seven Knobs in Jackson County. So I asked,
“What about the bridge…”
“It ain’t there,” the man cut me off—his way of telling me I had a poor idea of what was down there. That bridge had been there since 1937, I believe he said. He mentioned how deep the mud was, and he talked about how he’d once enjoyed canoeing on the stream. Then he drove on, turning in to his house just up the road. Josh and I resumed our run.
Another three-quarters-mile brought us to the edge of the rim, where the road dipped sharply down. There in the road stood the obligatory Road Closed sign that people in this part of the country simply ignore and drive around.
Half way down the hill we came to a view of the valley floor, although screened and obscured by dense tree foliage. Through the leaves, we saw tan. Where the fields and pastures below should have been green, we saw expansive desert tan, desert in Tennessee. The flood had stripped away green living plants and replaced then with acres of deposited gravel bars, or gouged out the bottom land to bedrock, in either case replacing the green background with an alien tan overlay, at least from our distant view. Although no stranger to floods, it was the first time I’d realized that a flood can change the very color of environs.
We rounded a switchback, the hill’s last sharp curve, and leveled out on the valley floor. Approaching the place where the creek swings in close to the road, the creek on our left and steep hillside on our right. (And here, I’ve used the work “creek” for the first time. Some will argue with that, because the state legislature has designated the stream a Scenic River. So they claim it’s a “River.” But in my experience, locals refer to the stream as a creek, the legislature notwithstanding. I’ll continue favoring the local and historical “creek” over the legislative term.)
The road disappeared into a dark chaos of tangled trees uprooted by the flood and swept into random piles. The road surface vanished under a deep layer of mud, now rutted by truck tracks, but the tracks didn’t go much farther.
There sat a car. Josh and I picked our way through, to find a young man and his girlfriend. The young man appeared quite drunk. They were just standing around looking in amazement, as we approached. We were at a one-lane bridge where a branch known as Dry Creek flows underneath just before its confluence with Blackburn Fork. The bridge was partially covered by uprooted and broken trees. The branch had washed out the approach on the other side. End of road.
After talking a bit with the man and woman, Josh climbed down the other end of the bridge. It was a three or four foot drop. As I followed, the over-solicitous young man insisted on helping ease the old gent down and grabbed hold of my upper arm, which had the unhelpful effect of depriving me of the use of one hand. Nonetheless, I made it down without breaking an ankle. Josh and I picked our way though some more downed trees and broke out on the road again.
“He’s been drinking Mimosa juice,” said Josh, the former bartender.
“He wanted to help me. I didn’t need it, but he wanted to. That’s okay.”
The road curved left, hard against vertical bluffs. The flood had gone high up on those rocks far above our heads. The creek, calm and pastoral now burbled across the gravel shoals below us innocent of all the violence it had brought. I looked for the right place because I wanted to show Josh something about the bluff.
“These are the bluffs I’m running in front of on the cover of my book, Falling Forward,” I told Josh.” This is where we made the picture, these bluffs.” I showed Josh the place where my friend Charles Denning had gotten the low angle by stepping part way down the creek bank, to a low angle from below the road.
“He photographed me running up and down the road in front of these bluffs.” In one frame, the shadow of a tree on the bluff had loomed menacingly over the motion-blurred runner. The runner’s shadow ran across the rocks. Although the runner was blurred, his shadow on the rocks was jarringly sharp; it was reduced in size and preceded the runner as if the runner rushed toward his diminished future. These fleeting shadows, the ephemeral quickness of life caught in images cast against timeless rocks and threatened by the looming darkness filled the photo with metaphor. The picture inspires me yet. Its feeling of menace had come true—this location had drowned under fifteen feet of rushing water.
Farther down the road, the roadbed simply disappeared, gouged away by the flood’s force, the road bed itself replaced by gullies and ridges. Josh and I picked our way through. In the distance I could see where a small rustic bridge had spanned the creek. It was gone. One steel girder remained, its end cast in the near abutment and held tight. The flood had bent the three-foot-deep girder like a noodle and aligned it with the flow direction. Charles and I had made running pictures on that bridge, too. He had laid down the floor and made a photo showing the splintered wooden floor as I ran by. Now Josh and I had no way to even record the bridge’s absence, or any of the other devastation around us. We had no camera; Josh wasn’t carrying his cell phone as he usually does.
A white frame house sits on higher ground on the right. Two dogs came tearing out barking invectives. I don’t worry about dogs when I run with Josh, although Jackson County is full of unleashed menacing dogs. He has a black belt in Karate. I trot happily on, leaving him to deal with any malevolence. I figure he’ll just kick the shit out of one out if he needs to. There is a danger in that too. The owner may come after you with a deer rifle in his hand and vengeance in his heart. He places the welfare of his dog a couple of rungs above that of two strangers on foot. But these two dogs I just sweet-talked, and they turned into tail-wagging pussycats. Their owner was more guarded,
“Who are you guys?” she wanted to know. So we stopped and talked, and convinced her we were harmless. They’d gone without power for seven days after the flood, she told us. During those days her husband had stayed up guarding the darkened house. They’d had suspicious-looking men come around late at night, would-be looters they’d figured. She had a reason to be cautious with strangers.
We went on, running through devastation like we’d not seen before. Whole groves of mature trees swept down and flattened like so many corn stalks. Stretches of the creek bank had been denuded, the trees uprooted or broken off and carried downstream and left in house-sized piles. Just past the woman’s house a creek bottom cultivated in soybeans had been simply erased, gouged to bedrock in places, buried by gravel and television-sized rocks a few feet deep in other places. It was as if the Colorado River had coursed through this narrow canyon and scoured it out.
River bottoms and creek bottoms have existed ever since humans first occupied this land, thousands of years ago. I believe this because you can find stone points thousands of years old on the surface or in the top few inches of the soil. The soybean field experienced a flood it had not seen in a similar span of time. By coincidence, only two months had passed since Nashville had endured what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called a 1,000-year flood. Josh and I had run the Strolling Jim 41-mile ultramarathon at Wartrace, fifty miles south of Nashville, that very day. And now this place, hit by a similar flood. But Josh and I were not talking about that—until suddenly we were. We were trotting along in amazed and morose silence, when out of the blue he spoke,
“Global warming’s not happening, right?”
“Right!”
We were being ironic. Climate scientists have told us for twenty-five years that global warming will bring storms of enhanced intensity and frequency. Within two months, Blackburn Fork and Nashville had both obeyed that prediction. Severe weather is here. We’ll have to get used to it. We’ve done nothing to stop it. And it’s too late now. It will only get worse. The polluters and their lobbyists together with their stupid and dishonest politicians have won.
We passed where the seventy-year-old bridge leading to Seven Knobs used to stand. No sign of it was left, no abutments, nothing.
Josh had become the mule now, carrying my little pack. It contained two empty water bottles. We each were running low on our last bottle. The creek water wasn’t safe to drink, we knew.
About half way through the gorge, Zion Road comes in from the east rim and joins the main road, which crosses the creek there. But not anymore; the bridge was gone, the main road cut in two at that point. Left of the bridge approach is a grassy lawn where a brick house had stood. It had been cleanly swept away, its pieces, bricks and all, scattered downstream. The concrete walks remained like the house’s silent signature.
The bridge at Zion was the most emblematic scene of the flood’s power. It had been the only modern structure spanning the creek. Its entire three-span deck, still attached to the beams underneath, had been swept downstream sixty yards and spun into a skewed alignment with the creek, the near end left resting on the bank, the far end out in the water. Even the two piers, hammer-head-shaped monoliths, had been toppled and carried downstream sixty yards or so and left lying in the water like giant overturned mushrooms.
The bridge had been of routine construction like dozens of such structures I’d designed myself working for the then-Tennessee Department of Highways. This one was worth maybe half a million dollars. Its near abutment was the only part of the entire three spans left in place. That abutment was now covered by a house-sized pile of trees.
Josh and I worked our way through downed trees to a point upstream where the creek flowed shallow over a gravel shoals. We waded across the creek and climbed up to the road on the far side and ran on.
For a long time now Josh and I had been past turning back and rejoining our loop home, even though we were running low on water. We’d gone too far. We were committed to wherever we ended up now. And we’d not even discussed that decision. We simply kept going forward, too fascinated at the destruction to turn back. It’s a safe bet no one had ever before run the length of this remote road. It’s an equal bet we were seeing the destruction in its entirety like no one yet had. We could only run on now, the town of Gainesboro our likely target—for the reason that it was the only one possible, however far it was. It was a hot day, and our lack of water was becoming worrisome
You are never prepared. I’m not. We were running on gravels, dirt and washed-out gullies, and wading the creek. And what was I wearing? Why the lightest pair of lightweight trainers I’d been able to buy, not trail shoes. That is a good way to break an ankle. Both of mine have been broken, but I think they recovered stronger than before. Sometimes I get away with negligence.
There’s a memory on this road I told Josh about. Many years ago I made a special ride on my mountain bike through here. It was one of the most alluring valleys in Tennessee and a favorite place of mine. I guess that changes now. Jim Smith and I rode our mountain bikes through here, as we later did many times. What made that particular trip memorable was that my youngest son Joel, maybe nine, rode with us, as did Jim’s son Andy, a few months older than Joel. Andy had muscular dystrophy which affected his legs, and he couldn’t ride a bike. He came along on his all-terrain-vehicle, a three wheeler.
There was a place in the road then where a flowing branch came into the road, turned and ran with the road. Branch and road were one for a few feet. You rode down into the water, followed it a bit and then it turned from the road and went on while you climbed back onto the roadbed. At the start of the trip Jim and I told Joel and Andy about that place, about how they’d have to go through the water. They got excited. You’d think we’d told them they’d see Santa Claus. While we rode alongside the creek that day, they kept asking about when we were going to ride through the water. And, of course, they did love it once we got there, splashing the water and whooping.
The three-wheeler was a blessing for Andy, allowing him to participate in trips like the ride we took that day. A year later he was killed on it, when a school bus hit him on the subdivision road near his house. Jim lived in a rural development called Dry Creek then and I still owned a house there myself, having recently moved. Our houses were on the head of the same Dry Creek that flows into Blackburn Fork where Josh and I entered the gorge on our run today.
At that place where Andy and Joel had enjoyed the water there stood a faded old house close beside the road, one surrounded by outbuilding, and fruit trees, the home place of an old-time family. Josh and I were running by that place as I told him the story. The house was now gone, swept away by the flood and scattered in pieces. An old woman had lived there alone, I’ve heard. She was lucky enough to take refuge in a barn on higher ground. A young man on an ATV, successor of Andy’s, rode down, apparently on a trail through the woods, and rescued her from the barn.
Down the road a hundred yards from the house site, Josh and I discovered a giant pile of trees thrown up against still-standing trees beside the road. Mixed into the pile and scattered beyond it were items from the house: a microwave oven, floor fan and so on, and articles of clothing hanging like prayer flags from the brush. We found home-canned jars of green beans and pears, muddy but looking perfectly good to eat once wiped off.
“Something’s dead,” Josh said. I noticed the scent about the same time. We began looking, wondering if it was the body of a human, a pet, or a farm animal. Josh and I spread out. We poked around in the piles of brush. The scent came and went. I began back tracking the wind. Concentrating, I was aware a car passed. (The one bridge left standing was the last one near Roaring River Road and crews had repaired the road on that end enough that cars could come in from there.) I followed the scent to a depression against the road bank, and found a collection of minnows that had been trapped and died there when the flood receded. I called Josh over and we stood looking down at little fish that stunk out of proportion to their actual size. Mystery solved without drama.
“Was that two women in a red convertible?” I asked.
“They were not attractive.”
“Uh.”
When you hold an ace in the hole, you need to be certain it actually is an ace. Charles Denning and I once went hiking in the mountains in the dead of winter where it can get dangerously cold. Our route was long and the sun got low and we began to wonder if we’d make it to the truck before dark. Spending a night in the wilderness began to seem a possibility. There were many overhanging bluffs and caves where we could take shelter. If need be we’d just build a fire for warmth and light. For Charles’ benefit I dramatically produced the butane cigarette lighter I carry for such emergencies, held it up and gave it a flick. Results were notable for their absolute absence: no flame. Flick, flick, flick, flick, and still no flame. In fact, no flame ever came from that traitor of a lighter. I should have checked it beforehand. It had been stored with my hiking stuff for a long time and had lost its pressure, I reckon.
By the time Josh and I crossed the only bridge left standing on Blackburn Fork—out of four—our water was nearly gone. We’d been stretching it out. But, of course, that only allows one to get more dehydrated and does little to conserve the total combined fluids contained in bottle and body.
My ace in the hole was just one half mile farther. A spring seeps out of the bluffs beside the road. An ancient plumber of springs had stuck an iron pipe in the bluff crevice decades ago, capturing and running the pattering little stream right out to the thirsty traveler. Just stick your bottle under it. And you don’t even have to turn off the faucet that the plumber didn’t provide to the everlasting spring that never stops.
When we got there, the everlasting spring that forever brings cold, life-giving water, that non-ending stream of the thirsty runner’s dream, that very spring had, in point of fact, gone bone dry. We’d get no water there. I’ve filled my bike bottle there. I’d never seen it dry before. My ace had turned into a joker.
It was a half mile further to the Roaring River Road, and from there, an uncertain distance on to Gainesboro—maybe in the range of six to seven miles, I vaguely figured from my memory of riding the road. My guess would prove to be not bad wrong, and would end up pushing our total distance to twenty-one miles by the time we reached Gainesboro.
We headed down the two-lane blacktop, fully catching the sun’s heat now, running beside Roaring River. Our lack of water began to tell. Josh is half my age, hence, more able than I to shuck off the heat and dehydration. Nonetheless, we ran together down that road carrying empty bottles in our waist packs and Josh carrying two empties in the backpack, little more now than relics of a water-blessed past.
Occasionally we walked, getting gradually tired and slow. Josh ran on. I began to trail behind. Cramps had set in on my legs. I could only go so fast before the cramps seized hard. I did what I could.
“Josh, go on. Don’t wait for me.” But he did wait.
“The first thing you’ll come to is a liquor store,” I said.
It was true. On the lower end of Roaring River—preceding the town itself—sits a campground belonging to the Corps of Engineers. The liquor store, as well as a companion grocery store, sat across the road from it. Because of the campers, that had once been a good location. Then the campground closed, followed by the grocery store. Now, only the liquor store remained.
“At least I hope it’s still there.”
But I didn’t know for sure. I hoped we could fill our bottle there. But I feared it might have dried up like the spring.
Ultra-runners know you can log a long distance if you simply keep going forward. We were getting closer, but also getting thirstier. So thirsty, that Josh took a chance. We came to a house on a hill above the road. We could see a frost-free faucet standing in the yard beside the house. Josh carried the empty bottles across the yard. I stood in the road watching to see if he was going to be shot. He lifted the faucet handle. Not one drop of water came out. Apparently it had been disconnected.
He looked around and found a coiled water hose connected to a faucet on the house’s foundation. Now he was really pushing his luck. If anybody was home, they’d likely hear the water flowing in the pipes under the floor. Josh turned on the faucet and filled all four bottles. He came walking back smiling. Nobody showed up waving a shotgun.
“You were taking a chance.”
“I figured it was die of thirst or be shot.”
I took a long swig. And at once spit it out on the hot pavement. The water out of that hot hose tasted like water out of a tractor tire, full of chemicals, the taste thereof anyway.  
“That stuff’ll kill you!”
We trudged morosely on, still thirsty, carrying the weight we didn’t need of the water we didn’t dare drink. But we were getting close. Soon we came to the closed campground, the gated roads and weeds between camp sites. And I knew we were there.
The liquor store was, too, and still open, even though there were no customers until we walked in. Yes, we were customers. Josh had revealed his ace in the hole—an emergency twenty-dollar bill. A lone woman sat behind the counter.
“You got any Cokes or Dr. Pepper?” I asked.
“We don’t sell anything but liquor.” That’s all their license permits, she told us.
“Well can we fill up our bottles? You got a bathroom or something?”
She took me to bathroom in an unfinished utility room at the back, and turned on a light. While I was pouring out bad water and filling bottles with good water, Josh was prowling around in the cooler. He found a drink called Jim Beam Cola in an aluminum can, and a daiquiri by Jose Cuervo in a plastic bottle. I saw him purchase two of the colas. Then he called his wife Martha on the store’s land line to see if she could drive to Gainesboro and pick us up. Arrangements were made: we’d meet her at the Marathon station, which, with a name like that, was the appropriate place.
We walked out of there smiling, and drinking the colas, in violation of open container laws, I am sure. It was afternoon now and we’d had nothing to eat, but the cold colas compensated for that. We had about a mile to go, and we walked down the shoulder sipping on the cans. Josh and I happened to actually be talking about how we were surely violating the law when the sheriff’s car passed.
“There goes the sheriff, Josh said. And then, “Well, he’s not stopping.”
“I don’t give a damn if he does.” My patience with all things contrary was worn out.
Suddenly Josh crushed his can.
“Man, you finished that in a hurry. I’m sipping on mine to make it last longer.”
“I got a couple of those daiquiris in the pack.”
“Oh.”
So we opened the daiquiris, kept walking, and finished them too. When we hit the Marathon station we saw Martha pulling in at the lot. She’d been prompt. Josh and I had just had two quick drinks on empty stomachs. We went in the station’s store.
“Want to get some beer, Dallas?” Josh said. He had a ten spot left from the emergency twenty. We went to the cooler.
“Budweiser is what you want,” I said. I pulled out a quart can. Josh grabbed a quart of Corona Extra. We sat them on the counter and got in line to pay behind a couple of other customers. A uniformed officer, a woman with a badge and a gun got in line behind me. I turned.
“Catch any crooks today?”
Nope, she didn’t. I was telling her we’d run from Cookeville, that we’d come through the flood damage on Blackburn Fork, and had she been up there to see it yet, and she hadn’t, and then I became aware of a querulous discussion going on behind my back. I turned to see what in the world was going on now.
Josh was holding the ten out, but the clerk wouldn’t take it. He was demanding an ID, and Josh was trying to tell him we’d been running and didn’t have any and…
My patience really was exhausted. I didn’t want to hear it. I snatched the ten out of Josh’s hand and thrust in at the clerk.
“Here, I’m buying this stuff. Do I look old enough?”
The clerk made a slow grin, took the ten and gave me the change. I turned and dropped it into Josh’s hand. We scooped up our beers and dashed out. Martha was waiting.
Josh and I drank the quarts while Martha drove us back to Cookeville. She dropped us off at my house, turned around and left us standing in the driveway. It was mid-afternoon. We’d now each had the equivalent of four drinks on an empty stomach. I unfolded a couple of yard chairs in the shade in front of Josh’s car, where he’d parked it that morning.
“Josh, you want another beer?”  I had a refrigerator stocked in the garage.
So that’s how we finished the day, sitting in the shade and nursing a beer each, talking about the day’s astonishing scenes. We’d seen a remote rustic valley, one of my favorite places, devastated by flood damage unprecedented in our experience. We’d run twenty-one miles on a hot August day with not enough to drink, and with nothing to eat—on a run we’d never intended to make in the first place. We’d spent extra time exploring damage, and, thus, had gotten more dehydrated than twenty-one miles would usually indicate.
Around three-thirty we finally got something to eat. Jo Ann brought out sandwiches, ham on croissant.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Journey to a Better Life—Adana Goney


            Note: Adana Goney is a junior majoring in elementary education at Tennessee Technological University. She wrote this story about how she took up running for her English class. The professor gave the paper a grade of “Excellent” and entered it into a pending campus-wide essay contest. Adana has kindly allowed me to publish the story here.

*****

I remember the first day. There was a calm April wind that seemed to welcome me into the woods. The sun was brightly shining down on my face, and the pleasant smell of early blooming honeysuckles filled the air. After just recently losing my grandpa, I was trying to cope with the emptiness that I felt inside. I laced up my shoes and gazed at the trail before me. The first steps were the hardest. I guess that is how it is with anything; but, before I knew it I had forgotten about the sadness that had flooded my heart for months. I was mesmerized by the peace that filled me and awestruck by the beauty of nature that surrounded me. Yes, I was in love with running.
In the months that followed the more I ran, the more I realized the impact running was having on my life. It was more than just the forty-five pounds I had lost since my shoes had first met the trail. Running was becoming my entertainment. It was the activity that distracted my mind from the chaos around me. Still to this day there is nothing more refreshing or more energizing than the afternoon run.  Running is what connects me to myself, while also serving as my escape from the worry and stress around me, my stability in uncertain times, and  my encourager on days that I am feeling down.
            “Don’t shut yourself off.” Those were a few of the last words my grandpa ever said to me. He knew he was dying. So did I. He also knew how I would deal with his loss, and he was right. My heart was brimming with hurt, and  I could not seem to find the words to describe my pain. That was the beautiful thing about running. I did not have to say anything. I just had to run. The farther I went, the stronger I became. The longer I stayed on the trail, the more my heart would  heal.
 Over the last two years, I have relied on running when dealing with stress. From being nervous about leaving my small hometown and moving away to a place where I did not know anyone, to being so uncertain about what the future may hold, running has gotten me through it. Despite what obstacles are thrown at me during the day, I know that in the afternoon the trail will always be waiting, and with every pounding step, worry and stress will evaporate amongst the trees.
However, many times situations in life require us to make decisions. During these times, I know that a run to let go of my stress is not going to be enough. At the end of the day, I am still going to have to make a choice. Running helps me do that too. It is almost surreal, but as I run, my mind becomes clearer and I begin to see the situation in a new light. I often see what decision needs to be made by the end of my run.
Life can be a startling ride sometimes. You never know what is going to happen next. For instance, I had my entire life planned out at the age of eighteen. I was to graduate from a small Christian university and then I would finally experience my life-long dream of teaching. After that, I would settle down in a gated community where I would raise my perfect family. Now, two years later, I found myself having recently transferred to Tennessee Technological University, the last place I was ever going to attend.  Oddly enough, I absolutely love it. Though I am still pursuing my goal of becoming a teacher, I have learned the hard way that things change, some change over time and some over night.
Yet, running never changes. My plans will change. My goals will change. I will change, but the act of running remains the same. It is the pure definition of stability, at least in my life. Yes, the physical world in which I run will even change as the seasons come and go. However, it does not matter if the trees are full of golden and amber leaves, or if they are bare with trunks covered in snow. I can still run. The conditions will change. I may even have to run through the rain, but I always have the choice of lacing up my shoes and starting my journey.
Running also has served as my personal encourager. There are days where I feel like I have failed in many ways. We all have days  like that, when nothing seems to go right. Just when I am feeling my lowest, I reflect back on how far running has brought me. It has transformed my life and introduced me to a new and refreshing side of myself.
 Before I began to run, I considered myself to be quite the studious individual. Sure, I had wonderful friends and family who I thoroughly enjoyed being around, but my primary focus was on school. Running taught me that I could still be a straight “A” student and enjoy other hobbies. It has given an unexplainable appreciation for nature and the world around me. It has also connected me with the various organizations and fellow runners that I have met while participating in numerous 5ks and even coaching a Girls on the Run team. Running has shown me the beauty that can be found in stepping out of our comfort zones.
When I first started to run, I was not looking to become a runner. In fact, I , like most others, thought that to be a runner one must have a fast pace, a lean body, and a superhuman level of endurance. However, I quickly discovered that my physical body and poor athletic abilities were not holding me back. It was my determination, dedication, and discipline that piloted me forward.
Running is a daily activity in my life. It is as though it keeps my entire world in balance. Every time I start my run, I am always reminded of that first day, those first few steps, when I began this beautiful journey to a better life. I was searching for something to get my mind off the pain in my heart, and what I discovered was a entire new side of myself. Running has made me a stronger and more well rounded individual. For that I will forever be grateful. Not only did it aide me in overcoming my grandpa’s death, but running also empowered me to face each new day with a more positive outlook on life.


            Note: This is Adana’s story in her words and not mine. If you like it, let her know. You can reach Adana on Facebook or via email at akgoney42@students.tntech.edu and on Twitter @AdanaGoney

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Sweetest E-mail a Marathoner Could Hope For

          

          Today I received the sweetest e-mail a marathoners could hope for.
          For four months I told everyone I had finished fourth in my age division at the 2013 Boston Marathon, broadcasting it on Twitter and Facebook and even saying it in a radio interview. But all the while I knew it wasn't true. Boston had made an error in my time. I'd actually finished third, hence a podium position. But given the tragic blast there, where so many lost so much, I didn't feel like raising a big whine about it. The workload at B.A.A. must have been overwhelming, I figured. 
          Too, leg cramps had ruined my run, and I didn't feel like I deserved to win anything. I should have run better. I accepted fourth.
          But Boston did eventually correct my finishing time, which put me in third position. It was a narrow victory with only a 16 second margin. 
          But every second is important to a racer. Last Thursday as I returned from my morning run a package from the Boston Athletic Association was sitting on my front porch. Inside was the third-place award. It's a hand-blown vase made by Pairpoint glass works, small but elegant. Pairpoint claims to be the oldest glass works in America.
          The vase was sweet to see, but what's better is that complimentary entry in the 2014 Boston Marathon comes with the podium position. It's my third consecutive complimentary entry. This action by B.A.A. affirms the rigor of the Boston Marathon. In my opinion, its integrity is beyond question.
          This is the happy e-mail that arrived today:

Dear Dallas,

The 118th B.A.A. Boston Marathon is scheduled for Monday, April 21, 2014, with 35,000 athletes anticipated to compete. 

Based on your outstanding age-group performance at the 2013 race, we are pleased to reserve you a non-transferable complimentary entry for the 2014 race.

f you plan on competing in 2014, please respond to this email by September 13 and the appropriate entry application will be e-mailed to you in early November.

Please note that general athlete registration opens on September 9; you do not need to register via this method if you plan on racing. If you enter via this method, there are no refunds of entry fees.

Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions about the race.
Best of luck with your training and racing in the coming months. 

Michael Pieroni





Sunday, May 26, 2013

Today Is Memorial Day


            
            This Memorial Day I find myself at Greer Stadium where I’ve come as a volunteer to help the Nashville Striders hold their Memorial Day Dash 5K, as I did on this holiday last year. The race starts here and then ends in the Nashville City Cemetery.
            Last year I remember talking with Joe Dunkin here. We exchanged news about ultrarunner Angela Ivory. At the finish line area, I saw Congressman Jim Cooper, who’d run the 5K himself. After my job was completed that day, I drove to Shelby Park and made a twelve-mile training run.
            Once the race has started, my job today is to help disassemble and stow the starting line equipment, scaffolding, fences, and so forth. Then we’ll go to the finish line down in the cemetery and after the last runner has finished, we’ll do the same at the finish line. “Teardown,” the Striders call my assignment for today.
            This race meanders through a good portion of the cemetery. It occurs to me that some might view running in a cemetery as disrespectful. The Striders disagree. I do, too. The sport of running exists at the intersection of good health, friendship, charity and even love. We honor the fallen heroes when we bring these qualities to their resting place. Demonstration of our life-affirming behavior honors the fallen more than any solemn speech from a politician.
            It was there in the cemetery last year that I saw Congressman Jim Cooper. After the race he was talking with another runner, probably a constituent of his. Living outside his district, I didn’t interrupt to talk with him myself. I had no need to. Now I do.
            Not a year would pass before he would propose voting as a constitutional right, a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, and argue its need in a speech which I later read. The speech is poignant, personal and powerful. It ranks among the best documents I’ve ever read. If I see him today, I want to tell him what runners always say: “good job.”
            He tells the personal story of his father, a three time governor of Tennessee, who, he claims, would be a racist by today’s standards. Yet, “like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird,” he had once defended a black man accused of raping a white woman. A lynch mob burned the Shelbyville courthouse down and killed two bystanders. The Congressman’s father, Prentice Cooper, narrowly escaped with his life.
            He further talks about how Tennessean Wilma Rudolph could go to the 1960 Rome Olympics, where she won three gold medals, and yet could not have lunch at a Nashville lunch counter, or ride a Greyhound bus, or go to the women’s restroom, and other indignities. Here at home, the fastest woman in the world was not accorded the full rights of citizenship.
            He talks about John Lewis, the civil rights leader and U.S. Representative from Georgia, who, like Rudolph, attended college in Nashville. Only recently, while attending the second inauguration of the nation’s first black president, Lewis stoically ignored “birther” jokes from opposing congressional colleagues, during the very ceremony itself.
             All citizens deserve the rights of citizenship. The heroes we honor today fought for that principle. Though much has improved, the struggle continues. By various strategies, the vote was historically denied people of color. A constitutional right to vote would guarantee that no adult citizen’s right to vote could be infringed.
            


            As a person of color, Angela Ivory, would agree, I’m sure. In her relations with friends like Joe Dunkin and me she’d always seemed apolitical. Perhaps that was a defense mechanism. She’d been a quiet leader, earning BS and MS degrees in engineering from Vanderbilt, in a day when women, let alone black women, were a small minority in engineering.
            Answering a question, she once confided to me that she suffered insults in her life because of her race. Hard to accept that such a sweet unassuming person could be the target of racists. But I know it must be true.
            Though she was apolitical, I once talked her into attending a protest. We listened to some rousing speeches and marched downtown with the Occupy Nashville movement. Later we sat on a bench at the courthouse resting and then walked across the Woodland Street Bridge, a structure we’d both run across many times, to the Gerst Haus. There we occupied a table.
            I ordered bratwurst, sauer kraut and pumpernickel, a meal I had there again only three nights ago remembering Angela. I tried to help her select some items that met her vegetarian regimen. She rejected beans, pointing out that “they are usually seasoned with meat.” Her self discipline was without flaws. It was the discipline that enabled her to run a marathon in every state, which she did twice, and to run an ultramarathon in each state. A handful of states remained in that last task when her time ran out.
            Angela and I frequently attended concerts at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We’d meet for dinner before the concert. As a practice, I bought season tickets to the jazz concert series, but we attended pop and classical shows as well.
            One time we went to Sole Mio, a white tablecloth restaurant near Schermerhorn. Angela preferred pasta and I thought she’d like the selection there. The dinner preceded a classical concert. We agreed to dress up for that. Angela wore a black dress, smooth and long. It was wintertime, and when she entered she had on a black coat and beret-like hat, both of which she left hanging in the lobby.
            Accustomed to seeing her in running clothes, I expect few of Angela’s friends ever saw her the way she looked that night—strikingly elegant in her black dress. Her head was bald as a billiard from cancer treatments. It didn’t detract, but lent a vaguely exotic look. Angela laughed about it, not the least embarrassed. I was glad. We sat at a table for two. The waiter wore a white apron and a thin mustache.
            I suppose he wondered why the young bald black woman was dining with the old white man. He could invent all sorts of reasons without ever guessing the simply truth: Which was that we were simply friends, that our friendship spanned a chasm of race, age and culture like a bridge, that we were after all two people much alike – alike in temperament, in running, even in engineering training. That we had much more in common than in difference. That we were friends.
            It is by the spirit of such friendship that the runners today honor the fallen in running through Nashville City Cemetery. I’m here to remember Angela.
            Because, in the end, it would happen that we were different in a way neither of us could overcome: Angela had cancer and I did not. That difference finally separated us.
            A friend of Angela’s, too, Joe Dunkin is an old runner like me. Rather than run he mostly walks now, following some heart trouble. He was the one who told me here last year that Angela was “in her last days.” He knew someone who worked with her. Incredibly, she was still going to work, but Thursday was to be her last day, he said.
            After the race last year, on my way to Shelby Park, I gave Joe a lift and dropped him off on the eastside about a block south of the Woodland Street Bridge, near the Titans’ stadium. I can’t remember why he wanted to get out at that particular place. As I drove away he seemed to look around a little uncertain himself.
            After I’d finished my run in Shelby Park, I gave Angela a call. I thought we could get together for lunch, or just visit. It had been in my plans all along, but I wanted to surprise her.
            The phone rang and rang. There was no answer. That wasn’t too unusual. She lived alone in a house she owned, and she did the yard work herself. I then tried her cell phone, but there was no answer on it either. I waited a while before leaving the park, and tried both phones again, several times. Still, no answer.
            From that day on, no one ever saw Angela again. Her sister Nicole from Memphis had visited with her on the previous day. She was trying to call Angela, too. Finally, on Thursday, the day which was to be Angela’s last day at work, police were alerted. They found Angela lying dead in the floor of her house.
            I’d last seen her four weeks earlier, when I came to town for the Country Music packet pickup. We’d had lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory. She felt good that day, although I could see that her eyes were slightly yellowed from her ailing liver. She had a good appetite and we laughed a lot. Later we walked up Commerce Street to Fourth Avenue, where we had to part. We hugged. “Good luck, precious lady. Take care,” I told her. I watched her walk up Fourth toward the L&C tower, where her office was. It was the last time I would see her.
            Angela died alone. Even as we were trying to call her, she died alone. That fact struck me as infinitely sad. Then I realized a contrary fact: she died like she’d lived, asking no one’s strength but her own. She didn’t die in a hospital connected to tubes. She didn’t even die in bed. They found her in the floor. She died on her feet. And that was the way the extreme marathoner had lived. The manner of her death evinces the extraordinary strength she’d shown throughout her life. It was the last terrible expression of her iron will.
            She finished the race the way she’d run it. Today, Memorial Day, one year later, that thought buoys and encourages me.
            Today I have another duty—to visit with Joe Dunkin. Four weeks ago when he was running the Country Music Half Marathon, he fell near mile 12 a bit before he reached the Woodland Street Bridge. He struck his head in such a way that it damaged his spinal cord and he had to have emergency surgery on his neck. Now he is in Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital learning to walk again. I won’t have to search for that building. It’s the place were my mother was taken following her stroke, fifteen years ago.
            Memorial Day, one year since Angela’s passing—Joe and I together will remember her. And to Joe I want to say, good luck, man, and take care. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Incident on Boylston Street



            As the third Monday in April approaches, memories always return.
            Amy Dodson and I trundle off to the packet pickup and expo in the Hymes Convention Center around the corner from my hotel. This run is a celebration for Amy. The previous year, 2001, she became the first woman leg amputee to ever run the Boston Marathon.
            We pickup our timing chips, number bib, Boston Marathon tee shirt—a prize for any runner, yellow this year—and a bag of free junk. Then we head into the expo section looking to buy more junk—souvenirs and running stuff. It’s all part of the Boston experience.
            Finally we head off in search of lunch, but first Amy wants to find a grocery store where she can buy some breakfast snacks. I know where one is, half a block away on Boylston, toward the very finish line we’ll both ache for tomorrow.
            A disquieting thing happens as Amy and I enter the grocery store. A young woman with the facial features typical of Down’s syndrome suddenly runs past us out of the store, crying loudly. We stop in some dismay and watch from just inside the store as she flops on a bench facing the crowded walk, still wailing. An elderly black woman stands beside me looking on, wearing a kindly expression of pity.
            “What happened, do you know?” I ask the woman.
            “Naaww,” she says with a soft drawl, like she might have come from the South.   
            “I wonder what it was. I wonder if we can do anything.” We stand there in bafflement and indecision, looking through the store window at the unfortunate woman bawling on the bench.
            “Maybe we can find out,” I say. The old woman and I both turn at the same time and head back outside. She wants to help, too.
            I ask the crying woman if she can tell us what is wrong. The old woman pats her shoulder and talks to her softly. We can’t understand what she is saying. Between sobs we hear something about money—that they had her money? Or wouldn’t give her her money?—we aren’t sure. The woman appears to have a mental disability, but, then, she is here by herself.
            “Let’s go inside and talk to them,” I say. “Maybe we can help you.” We all turn and go back inside the store and find a clerk at the front.
            “This woman has a problem with money—she lost her money or something inside the store,” I say to the clerk—and then to the young woman: “Why don’t you tell the gentleman what happened.” She starts again, her sobs quieter now, talking about “it wouldn’t give her any money.” I think maybe she’s been short-changed or someone took her money. We still don’t understand.
            Trying to tell it again, she points at the ATM. It wouldn’t give her any money, she tells us.
            Now I know.
            “Do you have a card?” I ask. She shakes her head no.
            “You can’t get money out of an ATM unless you have a card,” I say.
            Where can you get a card, she wants to know.
            “You have to go to the bank to get a card,” I say.
            “But the bank is closed,” she says, bleakly. She is correct; today is Sunday. There are no possibilities at all today.
            “Do you need some money to buy something to eat?” I ask.
             “Uh-huh,” she says, nodding.
            I open my wallet and hand her a twenty, expecting her to head to the shelves for food. Instead, she suddenly goes outside again and disappears in the crowd, clutching the twenty-dollar bill in her hand before her.
            Some alert thug probably took it from her before she went a block.
            Amy stands by patiently watching this entire episode. As a former New Yorker, she has a hardened feel for the street. I vaguely wonder if she thinks I’m a dope or a Good Samaritan. She may think I should mind my own business, not go involving myself with strangers, unfortunate or not.
            And I had misgivings, too. I hope Amy is pleased with my attempt at kindness. I suspect that’s the case, for she is a generous soul herself. But I don’t ask her how she feels about it. We quickly dismiss the unpleasant incident, the unlucky woman, chase it from our heads and go on. We’re here to run a race, not cover ourselves in sackcloth and ashes.
            But I still remember the incident vividly—and the pity shown by the old black woman, who, as they say, didn’t have a dog in the fight.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cummins Falls Marathon - Astonishing!


Marathon and half marathoners gather at the starting line while Cummins Falls murmurs nearby. Photo of runners by Tom Glynn.

            Despite my urging Josh Hite didn’t decide to run the inaugural Cummins Falls Marathon until late the day before the race. Then he sent me a text:

“Chances are that I will run a marathon tomorrow.”
           
             And so he did.
            Good thing, too—he won, finishing in a time of 3:13:56. That’s not likely a time that will impress anyone who was not there. The course is challenging, bringing an insane climb at mile 17, and Josh had been undecided because of a recent bout with the flu followed by an injury from a fall on an icy patch. The injury healed just in time.
            A gray sky, 40 degrees, and calm winds greeted the 197 runners assembled at Cummins Falls on Saturday, February 23. Runners spread across four races held that morning—a marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K. Twenty eight had registered for the marathon. They knew what they faced. The course map and profile had been posted on the race’s Facebook page, here:
http://www.runningahead.com/maps/a0e701fd73ed4927 a57517a8f432ffa0?unit=mi

“One big downer, one big upper, and eight miles of routine hell to pay...”

           Half marathoners and marathoners started and ran together for the first five miles, until the former split left on Perry Smith Road. Just 1.5 miles into the run we plunged into the gorge carved by the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River, the stream that makes Cummins Falls. We ran alongside that river until it joined Roaring River—also a State Scenic River—followed it for two miles and then turned up Morrison’s Creek, which drains another narrow valley. At the head of that valley, the course demanded payback. A crushing climb called Chaffin Hill at mile 17 delivered marathoners back to the plateau on which they’d started, and to which they were bound to return.
            For eight miles after that, the route followed a roller coaster along a ridge known as Seven Knobs. Suffering runners will tell you that Seven Knobs has at least a dozen knobs. Other roads followed, bringing more dips and climbs. The last eight miles, on legs already wasted by Chaffin Hill, were bitterly hard. The course profile looks like a mountain turned upside down.
            Put in geologic terms, runners started on the Highland Rim, descended into the Nashville Basin and climbed back out again, a traverse encompassing millions of years in geologic time. But runners measure time in seconds.

“…I trailed by 30 sec until 17. Then Hite crushed me.”  - @thunderruns

            Andrew Holbrook, a friend of Josh and mine, also ran the marathon. Andrew grew up in Cookeville but now operates a running store in Roanoke, Virginia. His Twitter handle is @thunderruns. Since they are the same age, 35, and both accomplished runners, I expected Josh and Andrew to have a competitive race. That was true for 11 miles. At that time Josh pulled ahead by 30 seconds. Then, for Andrew, the crux came in the hard climb in mile 17, as he tweeted me above. Andrew ended by finishing in third place, with a time of 3:28:24.
            Third place for Andrew, because Franklin Baker, 33, of Cincinnati, Ohio ran a spirited race. Franklin, the son of well-known mid-state runner Bill Baker, was able to finish in a time of 3:15:39, taking second place.

Virginia marathoner Andrew Holbrook runs to a third-place finish. Photo by Bombdog Hamilton.

            On the women’s side, Donna Dworak, 48, took first place honors in a time of 4:38:11. Karen Austin, 60, of Nashville finished second, with 4:51:19. Altogether, 23 runners managed to complete the marathon.

“Hold me and make it stop!

            For myself, the oldest runner there at age 72, I managed to trudge across the finish line after precisely four hours, one minute and 52 seconds, to finish in eighth place overall, first place for runners over 60.
            While half marathoners and marathoners were out on their courses, 10K and 5K races were held.  Men and women winners of the half, 10K and 5K were:
            Half Marathon (45 finishers). Brian Shelton, 34, 1:20:59; Ginny Bond, 31, 1:46:02
            10K (48 finishers). J. D. Pollard, 27, 49:29; Erin Rainer, 27, 49:39
            5K (64 finishers). Tracy Yoder, 49, 20:06; Anne Sharpe, 33, 22:35

Cookeville runners Jennifer Hackbarth Parks and Gabriel Gitan help Jennifer Scarlett, center, up a hill. Photo by Bombdog Hamilton.

“Where the scenery is hardcore and the course is hardrun.”

            Despite the vast differences in our ages, overall-winner Josh Hite and I are running partners. I’m sure he runs a little slower when he runs with me, while I run a little faster. Nonetheless, somehow it works. One of our favorite things is to make what we call adventure runs in Jackson County, following loops across the hills, ridges and hollows. Hills like Chaffin Hill are hardly new to us. Indeed, we’d run most of the course for this marathon before Cummins Falls Park existed, before the idea for this marathon was born. 
Pastoral scenes greeted runners all along the course, this one on Blackburn Fork. Photo by Cyrus Rhode.

            One impromptu run took us down Blackburn Fork just nine days after the historic flood of August, 2010. That flood evinced power we’d never seen. A TTU geology professor later researched the flood. Among his findings: its magnitude fell in the range of a 500-1,000-year flood. It is thus likely such a flood has never occurred on the stream since Europeans settled in North America.
            Our run that day was in a landscape Saturday’s marathoners would scarcely have recognized. We climbed through house-sized piles of uprooted trees, waded the river, and ran where a road only used to be. The experience so enthralled it became the ultimate chapter in my 2011 book, Going Down Slow.

Marathoners ran beside the river and bluffs. Photo by cummins Falls State Park.

            The road has now been repaired beyond its original condition. Two bridges on side roads have not been rebuilt, but the main bridge at Zion Road has been replaced by a higher, longer bridge. 
            The Blackburn Fork landscape remains rustic, still one of my favorite places. Many of Saturday’s runners commented on the course’s outstanding scenic beauty.
            A note on Jackson County. Cummins Falls lies only a routine run from where I sit in my home in Cookeville, county seat of Putnam County. Although near Cookeville, Cummins Falls State Park and the marathon course lie entirely in Jackson County, one of the state’s more pastorally rural and sparsely populated counties. It was that county marathoners saw.
            And they saw it as few outsiders ever have. But not just outsiders, it’s likely that even most people who live in Jackson County have never seen Morrison’s Creek. The marathoners saw it intimately. They saw Chaffin Hill, and they’ll never forget it. Seven Knobs, they’ll never forget. They will tell amazed stories to running friends back home. Those runners will come to run next year, and the next.
           Alex Forest, Maine, on Facebook: “I’ll never forget that hill nor will I ever complain about hills again! Thank you for a wonderful day, awesome hospitality, and a memorable experience.”
            @Karenruns, Twitter: “4:51 bitch of a course, 2nd female overall.”
            Danny Staggs, Facebook: “Beautiful course!”
            Bill Baker, Facebook: “Wow,The toughest half course I remember running—ever…”

“Thank you all for a great job. It was SO hard but beautiful,” Karen Austin, Facebook

            Runners were unanimous in their thanks and praise of rangers and volunteers. It takes a large body of helpers. Race Director Ray Cutcher brought together an outstanding team.
            Often a lone marathoner ran into an aid station where from five to a dozen volunteers waited to offer water, sports drinks, food, anything needed. I felt guilty for having so much help. And I never saw so many rangers in one area, sitting with blue lights flashing for traffic control, or pointing runners in the right direction at remote intersections. Other state parks must have been short-handed of rangers that day.
            Friends of Cummins Falls State Park sponsored the race in an effort to improve the park and eventually buy enough land to protect the view shed. An immediate concern is to protect the park’s hemlock trees from the woolly adelgid. That insect has already killed many hemlocks in the Smokies. Spraying works. “The spray lasts for three years,” Friends member Jim Whitaker told me. In that time natural protection may be found in the form of an insect that preys on the woolly adelgid.

Unique age-group and finishers’ medallions were made of laser-cut wood.

            The Friends outdid themselves. The success of this year’s race establishes a base from which future editions will grow. Finisher Cyrus Rhode, on Facebook:  “I would dare say that this could be the signature marathon for the great State of Tennessee.”     
            From the whole spectrum of big-time races, little-time races and those in between, I’ve never seen post-race food like Ruby Tuesdays brought to Cummins Falls. They spread a full cafeteria—even including that Southern favorite, sweet iced tea. Ruby Tuesdays deserves recognition for their outstanding contribution.
            And if I were in the market for a kayak, I’d give Jackson Kayak of Sparta, Tennessee my business. I’ve never seen such a generous door prize as the one they donated, a 14-foot kayak with MSRP of $1299.
           
“Double proud.”

            For myself, I’m proud my running partner Josh Hite took first overall. Since I won about all I could expect to win, one has to say we did okay. Mutt and Jeff, in terms of speed, but we do, after all, go out and run those hills. It pays off, and the boys did alright. I’m putting it down as a good day. I hope to be there again next year.