Monday, November 30, 2015

Day Four: Personal Encounters

"Ok.. I'm here I think," the text said.

I went out the back door, placed my Garmin on the porch rail so it could pick up the satellites, and waved to the young man in the car. When he exited the auto I said, "I'll be right out," and went back inside, put on my pack, and rejoined my companion for the day.

Yes, I made it to French Camp on day three and was able to rent a room. Even though I had partly hoped to be homeless, when I crawled into the soft, warm bed inside the log cabin and heard the strong, cold wind howling outside the window, I was awfully relieved not to have to sleep in the woods.

Then the Facebook messages started. To make a short story long, somebody had seen me running on Highway 407. Somebody's fiancee saw a Facebook post. Somebody wanted to run with me, so the fiancee contacted me via Facebook on behalf of her boyfriend and here we were, two strangers about to spend the day together running from French Camp to Ackerman. 

We left at exactly 9:00 am. I had set the time that late to allow for the sun to penetrate the cold air with some warmth. In addition to the cold (26 degree low), I was worried our paces might not be compatible. I had been going for three days, and I'm not that fast when fresh. But right away he didn't seem to be bothered by my slow shuffle.

I could tell in nothing flat that he, James Bevis, was an introvert like me. You know what happens when two introverts get together. We talked each others ears off. I haven't said that many words in the last three years all combined. 

I was first surprised that he could run that slow and then surprised that he could run that far. James is a football player from Jackson, Tennessee who recently inked a scholarship with Mississippi State University. He's a big guy and big guys don't normally do distance running, but James does and like me he does it primarily for fun.

Unlike past starts, I did not walk a long way to slowly warm up but began shuffling as soon as our shoes hit Highway 413. We ran the flats and downhills and walked the uphills while quickly becoming proficient at working together to avoid traffic. Since 413 has no shoulder, one of us, James, would run ahead so we could shuffle the white line single file until the car passed.

I was surprised at how quickly we made it to Highway 12 where we turned north-east toward Ackerman. A couple of miles later, we stopped at the Dollar General Store in Weir. I needed Gatorade, had forgotten to pack a razor, and had lost my toothbrush. After purchasing the three needed items, we were back on the road.
James Bevis and me at the Ackerman sign.

Working with a partner made the time and distance pass much faster and easier than it does when one is alone. Not only that, but I actually ran a little faster and ran a lot more. My legs were feeling the best they had for the whole trip. Day three had been a 27.46 mile effort with the most running of the journey thus far. Yet the old legs still had some juice in them, not a lot but some.

We made it to Ackerman at 12:30 after covering 14.6 miles, much earlier and shorter than expected. We stopped at the intersection of Highways 12 and 15 to eat lunch. I didn't even get the name of the place, but I acquired a plate lunch there of turkey and dressing, butter beans, and mashed potatoes. Jame's fiancee, Samantha Leeanne, arrived to pick up my partner. He was apologetic about leaving, but it was OK. I had made a new friend under the most unlikeliest of circumstances, had enjoyed our run, and we agreed to get together during the Christmas holidays to do some seriously long ambulations.

Originally, I had planned to overnight in Ackerman, but since the day was so young and my legs still workable, I gave thoughtful consideration to going on to Louisville. That would cut day five down to about ten miles and get me home a day earlier which would make my wife happy. Besides all that, I had long recoiled over the idea of staying at the Ackerman Inn.

While I finished my lunch, I made the decision. I am going on, I thought. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see who touched me.

"I'm sorry," an elderly lady who walked with a cane in her right hand said. "I have to be very careful. I broke my hip. If I fall again, I don't know what will happen to me."

She then proceeded to tell me how active she had been and how she was attempting to come back from her injury and surgery. I had heard it all before; life has been putting this story before me over and over: the aged struggling with advancing years and the numerous challenges that presents. I saw it with my grandmother. I saw it with church members. I saw it with Dad. I see it with Mom and with current friends. Getting old is a difficult deal that being young does not prepare us for.

I didn't even get her name. She made her way to her table, and I got up to pay my bill and leave. On the way to the counter, an elderly man sitting in a booth with his wife looked me in the eye and said, "You understand."


"You understand life."

"Yeah?" I answered with a strong question mark in my voice.

"Struggle. Life is struggle." He then proceeded to tell me how he had recently cleaned a yard, roofed a house, climbed a tree and sawed off a limb with a bucksaw. He is eighty-three years old and told me, "I don't want to live forever, but I want to live while I am alive." 

There was a passion in his eyes as well as his voice. I was beginning to understand what he was talking about.

"Are you on a bicycle?" he asked.

"On foot," I answered.

He asked the usual questions about when and where and then, "You're doing this for your health?" Everybody wants to know why. 

"My health. Adventure. Fitness. Goal setting. My great-grandfather." Then I told him about George Henry Quinton. His deep blue eyes filled with tears.

He shook my hand and said, "You call me if you need anything. Anything. Call me in the middle of the night if you have trouble."

"Thank you," I answered and walked away surprised once more by the power of that story.

After paying my tab, I went out into the sunshine and began a slow walk down Highway 15. I was alone again, and since I moved slowly to let my food digest, I had time and energy to think. Struggle. That's what I thought about.

I think the old man was right. Life is struggle. Even in the garden of Eden, Adam had a job. He worked. The Bible says, "And the LORD took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15). I don't know how hard Adam's work was. I do know it became much more difficult after the Fall when God cursed the ground and told Adam that "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Genesis 3:19).

Whether we like it or not, life is filled with struggle. We try to avoid it; we try to prepare for a life without it. Could it be that much of mankind's battles with depression, aimlessness, and anxiety have to do with a contemporary world that has removed too much struggle from our existence? Yes, I understand that sometimes depression is caused by those chemical things, neurotransmitters, in the brain. Or the lack thereof. Some would say it is always caused by those chemical things in the brain. But maybe the chemical things in the brain are the symptom or results of something else, some stress or distress, or something not in line with the way God made us.

Although I have had real struggle in my years and much of it, life is pretty easy right now. The most difficult thing I have to do is try to teach students of English to begin a paragraph with a topic sentence rather than a supporting one. I look at myself as blessed because now I am in a stage of life where I can create my own struggles and make those struggles my play instead of a necessity for my survival.

I stopped on the south side of Ackerman and took a picture in front of the sign to Louisville. Then I began to shuffle some. The legs were tired, and the play had turned into a struggle. But it was a struggle I chose and created. It was still play.

I played for a long time that afternoon. It was only 15 miles from south Ackerman to my destination, but I was moving pretty slowly. Despite my best efforts, darkness caught me some miles north of town. Finally, I came to the place where the old highway-- the one that we always drove in on when I was a kid-- parted from the new bypass, and I had to make a decision. Do I go the bypass route where the newer motels are, or do I go downtown and stay in an older place but one that puts me closer to my great-grandfather's grave? I chose the latter.

The temps fell with the setting of the sun and being reduced to a walk, I was having trouble generating enough body heat. I added clothes, zipped zippers higher, and wondered where downtown Louisville was.The road had no shoulder and when my flashlight went out, I found myself having to step off the pavement onto the ditch bank whenever a car passed to keep from being run over. With my feet being terribly sore, standing on the incline of the ditch was terribly uncomfortable. Where was town? I should be there already. Finally, I approached some stores and the road now had a sidewalk. I walked past a service station and then the Village Inn, an older motel on the south side of town, came into view. There was a Mexican restaurant at the motel, El Rodeo, and I thought, this is everything I need: a bath, a bed, and a meal. So I stopped and rented a room.

Then things got interesting.