I Was RUN-NING!
I’ve found the more complex things I start to figure out in this thing called life, the more tiny teeny mysteries pop their head up in order to completely baffle me. Maybe it’s because I’m free to stare at the ground or sky, or in whichever direction the thunder’s coming from.
I always thought it was important to “broaden my horizons” and this meant going on adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan on deployments. I thought I’d find all the things that make this odd trip worth it by trecking the Denali trails, nine miles into the thick of it. Was it beautiful and ridiculously expanse, fuck yes. In the span of a week, I saw the season change and the trees trumpeted oranges and yellows I’d never dreamed of seeing. The mountains moved among the fog, just tipped with snow.
Oddly enough though, I felt things more intimately when I zoomed in to the small details of the trip, and found delight in the things I couldn’t quite make out. The bear poop on the trail alluded to a dangerous excitement that the climbing didn’t bring. It was a small pile, deep purple with berries in it that looked quite pretty, like wine not quite ready.
While hiking one day, Jackson’s step-mom, Michelle was having some issues getting up and down hills. She had been so proud the previous day, of the special hiking shoes she got off Goodwill’s online store. She said they would help her navigate the treacherous Tundra. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I figured it was the soft, wet ground within the forests of Alaska.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me Goodwill has a website,” I asked, looking at the purple spiky shoes as she adjusted and readjusted the Velcro straps on them.
“Yeah, I got them for like eight bucks,” said Michelle.
As the day wore on she became more frustrated. All at once, during a pee trip off of the trail, we heard Michelle yelp and found her splayed out in the bushes, face cheeks red, her short black hair plastered to her face with sweat.
“I got the tundra in my pants,” she yelled, rolling around in the moss. She chucked the shoes off and said she wasn’t going to wear them anymore.
Jackson kneeled down to help her and started laughing even harder than he already was.
“What…what’s so funny,” asked Michelle.
“Michelle, these…these aren’t hiking shoes,” he said. “They’re bicycling shoes, see these straps here, they’re supposed to hook to the bike pedals,” he said shaking his head.
“Well how the hell was I supposed to know that,” said Michelle.
It struck me as funny because I’m sure whoever got rid of those shoes had no idea that someone would buy them, fully intending to hike the Denali Trail wearing them.
I’m sure I bitched and moaned more than I remember during the hike because I can never quite keep up with Jackson. I basically have the agility of giraffe on a tightrope when it comes to climbing on rocks and mountains. I’m not scared of heights at all, that’s not the problem, I’m scared of sliding down rock faces and skinning my face skin off and breaking an ankle by falling off a five-centimeter tall rock.
In the beginning of the hike, I was scared. I feared the openness and falling into a crevice where no one could reach me.
Towards the end though, I focused on each step. The trail turned into a pretty level rock staircase, which only slightly twisted and turned, surrounded by gray trees, their dressing laid at their feet in layers of brown and red, dead and alive leaves.
“I’m going to run up ahead,” I told Jackson.
I took off and probably kept a good mile in front of the rest of the group. I count that run, as only one of two, in my entire life that didn’t hurt. It’s weird, I don’t remember if I had my headphones in or not, which I normally can’t run without. When I run most of the time, it’s an ordeal. I run because, if I don’t, I’ll basically be an overweight Hobbit, with smaller, less harry feet. I usually think about how much my thighs rub together, or how much my boobs hurt because they’re bouncing. I think about how heavy my arms feel because I can’t figure out the right angle to hold them. My lungs used to burn because I was a smoker. My nose ran, and my butt cheeks numbed from the shaking. I usually pull at all my clothes, shorts ride, shirts fall down over the bum, making it look fatter than it is and we can’t have that. There’s usually one bone out of the, oh I don’t know, hundred or so, in my foot that I’m sure is broken because it aches, it aches along with the stitch in my right rib cage. I can never breathe in enough air and I almost pee myself ninety percent of the time from the effort.
This run though.
It was like there was a ukulele in the background, edging me on with its inherently cheerful sound. (Side note, to whomever plans my funeral…there better be a ukulele playing next to my casket, seriously, make that shit happen).
There was no huffing or puffing, I just let air in and out like it was natural or something. My arms swung gracefully and I leaped over rocks and down the chiseled stairs. At that moment, it felt like I could have ran forever and my legs weren’t tired.
I’m not sure why the run felt the way it did. Maybe it was because I wasn’t going for time, I wasn’t going for miles, I wasn’t going just until I reached my house. I just went. I can’t say I even looked out into the woods. I looked at the ground directly ahead and my own feet, my own marvelous, wonderful size six and a half feet, in an old black and muddy pair of Nike’s carrying me.
You might say, well yeah, you were in Alaska, who wouldn’t have an awesome run there, it’s so beautiful and so many things to look at to take your mind off the pain. FUCKING MOUNTAIN AIR, THAT’S WHAT THAT THERE IS, they might say.
To that I say, not so.
I had the best run of my life while in boot camp in the Army.
A few weeks into basic training, we had a new addition to the company, Delta 787, Charlie Company. The female recruit, Thompson, we’ll call her, had been passed on from other units who didn’t want her because she had quit. She refused to train. She wouldn’t listen to the Drill Sergeants and mostly just screamed back at them. She wanted to go home, she said. Unfortunately she had signed a contract her ass couldn’t cash. The girl had balls though, I’ll say that.
One awful day, the Drill Sergeants told us we had to run around the track, but Thompson wouldn’t do it. So they told us one way or another, we better get her around that track within the next two minutes or we’d pay. That meant, if we didn’t accomplish the mission, we’d be rolling around in the tire pit for a few hours.
A group of other female Soldiers surrounded her and started pulling her along. She swung and we were told we had the right to defend ourselves. I never laid hands on her, but I know I was part of the cloud that pushed her around that track. Miraculously she started falling in after the near lynching that day.
She was the loudest Private in the Company. Everything became, “Yes Drill Sergeant,” and she was the first to volunteer for shit duties.
After a couple weeks of being the most Hoah Soldier in the unit, Thompson was allowed to go on pass for church one Sunday.
She didn’t come back.
Satan Drill Sergeant himself was screaming in the barracks that she had to be found and a group was taken to go look for her, along with the other Drill Sergeants. Meanwhile, the rest of us had no baby sitter so we were all put to the outside track to run laps while the search took place off of base. We had no idea how long or far we were supposed to run. We were left alone while the single Drill Sergeant left at the barracks made phone calls inside.
I was so angry. I Thompson as I stepped out onto the track to begin running. The first three laps, my mind took hold and all I could think of was how this wasn’t fair. I fought it for the first twenty minutes. Why should I be punished, I thought. I’d done everything right, did what I was told, when I was told the best I could. I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to go home, and drink and laugh and play. I pumped my arms in a fit as I ran, tears running down my face.
For me, the worst part of being a female in the Army is, when I get mad, I cry. I do the very thing everyone whispers girls are going to do when they’re upset. I started calling myself a pussy and probably shrieked in my madness. I’m pretty sure I shouted a “fuck you” here or there at random people as I passed them on the track as they walked. Either way, right or wrong, we were supposed to be running and they didn’t give a shit what was happening. They just strolled around the track like this was normal, as I clopped along, feeling broken and heavy as a dump truck. There was no one around to scream at them to run like usual.
“Just run Laura,” I heard.
No one said it. I just heard it.
The tears stopped coming and the wind dried up what was already there. The sun kept ducking behind clouds and I could hear crows circling overhead and see the rust colored track underfoot. Eventually a smile spread across my face and I kept running as my tears turned to sweat.
“Down by the river…” I heard in song off in the distance as other Soldiers marched back from dinner chow and I kept running. I started to even pass Privates that were normally faster than me. It could have been an hour later, it could have been three, I don’t know, but at some point we were corralled inside and put to bed.
I was sorry to have to stop.
I don’t know if they ever found Thompson, a mystery I’m fine with not knowing. I do know I slept like I was at home that night. I drifted off to sleep on my top bunk under the scratchy, green wool blanket, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
(I wrote and posted a similar version of this story last year some time, but, history repeats itself)