Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I Don't Want a Pickle

Heads up, folks! Crazed codger coming atcha atop 600 pounds of raw power and pure speed, spurring a motor singing its trademark song through pipes that burble like a giant symphony hall organ. Watch out, now!
The Codgerhood Fairy left this prize sitting in my garage a few days ago. She thought I'd been a good boy. She knew what she was doing. I think she's trying to kill me.
No, I bought it myself, seeking no advice, asking no one's opinion except my own. Cause, what could anyone say to someone who is 78 years old?
"Yeah, man, go ahead. Buy a Sportster. That's just what you need!"
Yeah, that's what they totally gonna say. Not likely, Bud. You got to make your own decision.
Imagine my wife's surprise when I left for Lebanon, Tennessee on one Thursday morning and came back owning a Harley. She didn't know me when I messed with motorcycles and airplanes.
It ought to bring a good price at my estate sale. "Shit, man, look! A 1200 Sportster! Didn’t expect that."
A decision of many factors. But the biggest one is a belief I hold that we must wean ourselves of gasoline by say year 2040. Gas should be extinct by then, and I will be, too. So, why should something that will happen then determine what I do now?
This: motor sports perpetuate our love of machines and help continue our dependence on gasoline. And there I was considering buying a sport machine. I was caught in a contradiction. Well, I did read that it gets a pretty good mileage, 50 miles per gallon. Some redemption there maybe. Small redemption. Not enough for Bob Marley to work with.
Finally, I decided I have to live in the world where I find myself. Harley doesn't make an electric motorcycle. They better learn how. Instead they make a deep-throated mumbler that sounds like no other motorcycle, a sound that legions of loyal fans love specifically for that unique percussive sound.
          Two other factors I had to consider: my fading eyesight and dwindling years. I've curbed nighttime driving of my car because of vision defects. As my ophthalmologist warned, "You've lost one eye and half the other. You can't mess around with this." I understand that and yet I still drive, safely I think, at least in daylight. My vision is no worst sitting on the bike. Stakes are higher in case of an accident on the bike, true. Noted. And my dwindling years? Well, I am getting on in years, also true.
          Both these two factors failed as an argument against the bike. What they did was this: added urgency. Urgency. If this is an experience you want, man, you'd better get on with it!
So, I bought the Harley, against my deeply held environmental beliefs. I bought the bike. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. Very well then, I accept Whitman: I contain multitudes.
I also accept Arlo Guthrie:

"I don't want a pickle
I just want to ride on my motor-cicle.
And I don't want to die
I just want to ride on my motor-cy-cle”

Which leads to another thought: Don’t die. You stop growing, you die. You stop learning, you die. Seek adventure. For a codger, buying a muscle bike is growing, is learning, is adventure. See me ride my motor-sicle!
Watch out, now!


Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Six miles into a run in a rural county where dogs run wild and people do, too, I was hiking up a long hill while I ate a pack of M&Ms. In the first four miles it had rained hard and steady. I was still soggy and waterlogged.
            I finished the snack and was rolling up the empty pack to stuff in my shorts pocket. Just then a beat up old pickup rolled up from behind and stopped. A kindly old gent with a beard like a white broom looked over.
            “You need a lift?”
            “No, thanks, I’m training.”
            It was as if I’d said the most ordinary thing you could possibly hear on this country road. Without another word, the man reached across the seat and lifted up a two-pound plastic jar of honey-roasted peanuts still about half full.
            “Hold your hand,” he said.
            He filled my hand and was still pouring. Peanuts were falling on the road.
            “Hold your other hand,” he said.
            I cupped my hands together and he poured out a giant pile of peanut, until peanuts were sliding down the slope and falling on the pavement.
            “That’ll help you,” he said, and began to rumble away.
            “Thank you, I love peanuts,” I shouted as he pulled away.
            I stood on the wet pavement cradling the pile of peanuts. Trees overhead were dripping. The truck passed out of hearing.
What to do with the peanuts? Child of the Great Depression, I hate to waste food.  I’d planned my snacks to simulate the race I was training for, and stuffed the snacks in the pockets of my shorts. I’d brought two packs of M&Ms, a pack of peanut M&Ms and a Pay Day bar. I’d just finished the first pack of M&Ms.
I’d accepted the peanuts from the man. That was the right thing to do. It is a kindness to accept help when people offer. It gives them pleasure and satisfaction.
The clock was running and I stood in indecision. Finally I leaned my face down to the pile and began chomping peanuts, like a pig eating corn in a trough. More peanuts fell to the pavement. Birds will follow me after this, I thought. Eventually I ate enough to free up one hand, but I still held a handful of honey-roasted peanuts.
What now? I noticed the empty M&M pack folded between my fingers. I’d never gotten around to stowing it. It’d be like stuffing toothpaste back into the tube. I decided to try, and started funneling peanuts into the wet pack. The side seams were beginning to come unglued. More peanuts fell to the pavement. Eventually I ended up with a lemon-sized lump of peanuts bound more or less by paper, and I stuffed the lump into an empty pocket.
The lump stayed there until I finished my 24-mile run. Then it became my recovery snack. I dug it out and ate those last peanuts as I walked back up to the house. A few more fell on the ground.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


            We’d just finished running the race known as Run For Your Mama 5K, a race in honor of Mother’s Day which fell on the next day. I was talking with a man from another town, a stranger to me, an older runner near my age. He told me that he was a high school baseball coach. We talked and laughed easily, as runners at a race always do. Suddenly he turned serious, recalling another time, another place.
His face twisted as he relived the moment, telling me how he'd come home from Vietnam, how he reunited with his mom. I averted my gaze for decency. It took his entire athlete's strength to choke back the catch in his throat.
It had been a long journey. Toward the end, he hitchhiked and finally walked the last stretch, arriving at his mom's home on a cold morning just as she was sitting in the car warming it up to go to work. She didn't know he was anywhere about.
"I dropped...I just dropped... the bag...and went running. I knocked...I knocked on the window." His hand made the knocking motion.
She looked up and recognized him. He described the surprise and joy. The memory was too powerful. His throat caught, his face drew.
"I opened the door... There was the seat belt..."
But they got it finally unlatched.
The telling didn't have to be eloquent. The tears, the joy, the happiness—you could see it all in his face, the memory there.
We stood on the grass, two old men reflecting, remembering. He was every mother’s son and his mom was every son’s mother.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cummins Falls Marathon Welcomes Return of Local Ace

Josh Hite runs alone in first place at the Baxter Street Fair 5K, September 2011, a race he went on to win.
Cookeville half-marathon runner Jan Lowe enjoys the rural scenery along Blackburn Fork. Photo by Monte Lowe.
Cookeville resident Josh Hite didn’t have time to run a marathon.
Even though running marathons was his hobby, back in 2013 when the annual Cummins Falls Marathon was inaugurated, he was busy. Busy teaching English at Vol State Community College, working on a PhD degree at Middle Tennessee State University and even teaching karate after school at his business, Karate for Kids.
So he was busier than most people. But at the last minute he did decide to run that first Cummins Falls Marathon. Good thing too. He ended up being the overall winner of that race. Since then, Josh has returned to Cummins State Park each year to run one of the four races offered in that event – marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 5K.
The Sixth Annual Cummins Falls Marathon will kick off next Saturday, February 24, at the State Park, and once again Josh will toe the line.
Prior to the start, The Tennessee Tech Golden Girls dance team and mascot Awesome Eagle will be on hand to entertain and brighten the mood. The Golden Girls finished third and Awesome Eagle earned first in recent national collegiate competition.
The Cummins event typically attracts over 300 runners. Some 40 percent of runners are from Tennessee. Around two dozen states and a few foreign countries are usually represented.
Winning the first Cummins marathon was just another entry in Josh’s list of running accomplishments. He was not known as a shabby runner. The year 2009 is instructive. He ran 4,000 miles that year. That many miles comes to an average of nearly 80 miles per week. He ran 22 marathons and won five of them outright, appearing on the podium (top three) in 14 of them. The previous year he had already qualified to run in the prestigious Boston Marathon. The following year he would create Cookeville’s first marathon, the Blister in the Sun Marathon—and win it.
Josh’s professional achievements have kept pace with his running milestones. He expects to finish his PhD degree this year. Recently he was named Director of English and Humanities at Hagerstown Community College in Hagerstown, Maryland. When he can, he returns to his Cookeville home, where his wife Martha and two sons, Andrew and Jude, ages 13 and 8, respectively, still reside.  
Saturday Josh runs the Cummins Falls Marathon. The Marathon and the Half Marathon start at 8:00 a.m. The 5K and 10K start at 9:00 a.m. On-line registration is available at ultrasignup.com. In-person registration and packet pickup are at 2-7 p.m. at TownePlace Suites and also at the State Park on Saturday morning up until 30 minutes before the race starts.

Runners stream down Sliger Hill two miles from the start line during the 2016 Cummins Falls Marathon. Photo by Bob Melgar.
Athletes who choose the Cummins Falls Half Marathon run across Blackburn Fork State Scenic River on a temporary pontoon bridge made from plywood placed atop kayaks anchored in the stream, a unique feature of that course.
Josh Hite finds balance in Rock Creek during the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Races in 2010, where runners complete a trail marathon each day for three consecutive days.