In which Carrie thinks of two “Bobby McGees” . . .
A jarring purr-call of crows in the forest, which, to other avians must seem like a lion’s roar. I ignore my labor and self-doubt with the distraction of interesting looking forest debris and idle chatter about things I would have a much easier time discussion were I sitting with my hiking companion over a cup of coffee. It is eight in the morning and we put one foot in front of the other up a gentle incline which nature will turn into steep, loose cinders later on in the hike toward the end. This is my first, my second, my third, my fourth attempt up the mountain. They all blend into each other. I have known this country. My memory assures me it was I, Carrie Anne Ebner, who travelled there.
I also once tried the Portland Marathon. I remember this September (or was it October) morning, after a night of watching two strange black-and-white movies (Pi was one of them) and not really feeling like sleeping, as the sun was rising by the second and I was smiling (at least internally) at the little downhill bit near the Naito Parkway. An older woman passed me and I followed her skinny frame and the sign clipped to her shirt which said, “This is my 18th marathon. How about you.” I remember lime green something, and her moving farther along ahead of me. It didn’t matter that she passed me or that this was my first official marathon, or that she was, like, 80. I was happy to be there. I wore a cut-off shirt with a giant sunflower printed on the front.
I have just read, and re-read a quote found in the book Running Away: “When a bad thought floats into your head you have to say, Thank you for coming, thank you for visiting, now go away.” The runner Bobby McGee said it. It is probably a well-worn sentiment used by coaches of many varieties to motivate their charges. It has succeeded in both advising me right now while also invoking the Janis Joplin song which will probably be in my head for most of the day.
The trail is getting steeper, but I know there is relief coming, this being my multiple time here, the Three Sisters Wilderness. Soon it will flatten into a plain and to the right of my companion and me will be Moraine Lake, and Broken Top, void of snow this August, farther off. We’ll stop for a snack and some water up by those damn-tough looking trees. They are probably five hundred years old or something. How would I know, but that I suppose someone told me that they grow slowly, but enduringly, in this hostile habitat.
The other marathon was a lot more successful, though unconventional. I might have worn that same sunflower shirt part of the time. I remember waking up on my twenty-first birthday with something like a smile. I had been thinking of running my own version of 26.2 miles for a week or two, and took two days off of work at Black Butte Stables to allow for the run and a day of recovery.
I jogged my first 5-mile loop in sweatpants. I came home and ate and drank water, changed my clothing into something cooler–it was August– and went for a different loop. Ten miles in a row was the longest set I had put in ever. My “training” consisted of ten-hour work days with horses and an occasional hike. My ambition was fueled not by knowledge that my body was ready for this but that I loved something about the idea. I wanted to at least try.
I went for another jog, had a longer break and completed the last 10 or so with a couple of friends of mine who seemed to admire me for this strange enterprise. For some reason I didn’t consider it a big deal, not like getting an advanced degree or having a baby or buying a home. I sipped a few gulps of merlot where they took me for a birthday dinner and complained of soreness. I had run five and a half hours in one day which, by my loose estimate on my average mile time (13 minutes), was, indeed, a marathon. I am the tortoise.
I miss running. The book I read made me crave it. I missed running and hiking long trails when I was studying philosophy and linguistics at Portland State. I underwent a different genre of endurance–one where my thought and creativity and scholarship was remarked upon to the point of feeling not very good about myself–almost the entire time I was there. I would read biographies about mountain climbers–the real ones who faced actual death every moment of their Himalayan treks–and would fit some homework in here and there. Probably those stories kept me on track to graduate.
It was hard to thank the bad thoughts which floated into my head and firmly, but gently, invite them to leave. I took therapeutic walks with my German shepherd while writing my papers in my head. The verdancy of Tryon Creek State Park enriched me in my darkest moments in which I composed nothing resembling philosophical argument but passionate explorations of deep philosophies–useful ones. Life-affirming ones. I would look upon the cyclical habitat with awe. I came to know Wolf spider webs in the fall and explosive buds littering the trail in the spring. Very different from where I grew up.
The summit of the mountain wasn’t really the end. Nor the second or third one. Maybe that is what helped me think, It’s not a big deal. Sure, nobody can take away those accomplishments one accrues in a lifetime, but there is still the downhill trek. And the next unremarkable day unremembered now. I faced other ambitions later which took longer and required the participation of more than one or two people in order to make me win or lose, more or less.
I finish and finish again and try something else and remember who I was in my sunflower shirt with nothing, really, to lose.