Worst Running Experiences

I have written a lot about running. I have only been running for about five years but have managed to go from having to walk after a quarter mile to having finished four marathons in that time.  I am now able to to generally place in my age-groups for shorter races and have had generally very positive experiences.  If you scroll down you will see that I have written quite a bit about many of my great experiences and the positive impact running has had on my life.

Today, I thought I would share my worst running experiences.  I have had a few injuries, run in some nasty weather and dealt with the same issues as most runners.  Nipple-chafing is horrible. Chafing in general sucks. My body has shut down on me (Click this) I have had inattentive drivers almost hit me. I’ve literally had to dive out of the way of three. One person came so close that their mirror hit my hand. There are still jerks that swerve their cars at you just to see you jump to the side. I have fallen on ice. I think most of these are pretty typical.  Below, however, are my least favorite.


First. I love dogs. I am a dog guy. The bigger the dog, the better. I am not necessarily a dog fan while running.

I’m running through my neighborhood with headphones in.  It is one of those freezing cold, snow -covered runs.  I’m just trying to log my miles, ignore my numb hands and listen to a little music.  The next thing I know, my left arm is jerked straight back, I stagger a step and am twisted around. As I try to make sense of what is happening , I wildly look over my left shoulder to see that my forearm is in the mouth of a golden retriever who has it’s legs braced and is pulling on my arm. My first instinct is to punch.

In a panic, I put everything I have into that shot and connect as cleanly as I ever have. I hit the dog square in the face with enough force that I am pretty sure that I broke my hand. The dog yelps, let’s go and takes off.  The owner comes running up to me.  “Hey!  you didn’t have to hit my dog!”  I am still trying to make sense of what happened and am a little concerned about my ringing hand and can only manage to say, “I didn’t know what it was doing.”  The owner sticks her finger in my face, says, “You’re an ***hole!” and chases after her dog.  To this day, I feel kinda bad for punching that dog, but it was unleashed, in a road, and jumped on me.  Maybe it was playing, but I just reacted.

Dog #2.  I am running down the road and see a woman raking her yard with a large dog.  The dog sees me and comes charging at me.  I know that I need to stop running to avoid the chase instinct and stand facing the dog.  It pulls up about 15 feet from me and starts to slowly circle me.  I am pretty good at reading dogs’ body language, but this one is alternating between wagging it’s tail and then laying its ears back and snarling.  I can not quite decide if it is going to wag up to me to get pet or if I am seconds away from being bit. What worries me most is that it is pretty clear that this dog does not really know what it is going to do next.

The lady is still standing in her yard watching. Without looking away from the dog I call out, “Hey, are we going to be cool here?”  Without moving she simply says, “I’m not real sure. He’s acting weird”  Her neurotic looking dog is still circling me and I am becoming less comfortable with its body language.  “Look. Can you please come get your dog?”  Again, without moving she says, “I am not sure he’d let me. We are going to have to wait to see what he does.”

This does not sit well so I say, “If your dog comes at me, I am going to kick in the head and I will not stop kicking until it is done moving or you come get. Up to you.”  She throws down her rake and says, “Fine.”  As she grabs the collar of her nut-job dog, she looks at me and says, “You’re an ***hole!” Yup.  Heard that before

The Most Scared I’ve ever been on a run

It is a beautiful summer day. Today’s route is not my favorite as I am running through a neighborhood that has a lot of families from the schools that I work in. I am not worried about any of them. I just like to keep work and personal life separate. I also prefer that students not know where live.

Regardless, I am running down the street when up ahead I see a couple adults I know from school.  They wave.  I look to my left, make eye-contact and raise my hand to acknowledge them.  As soon as my hand is up, my periphery vision glimpses a flash of sparks, smoke and a giant explosion rips through the air. It’s so loud, that it hurts.  The adults I am waving ate, dive behind their car. All I can think is, “Someone is shooting!” and I sprint.  I sprint ten yards ahead and scramble behind a random car in a driveway.

So many thoughts. Where is the shooter? Is the car between me and him or am I just sitting in the open? Should I stay here or should I just ran like mad? Where would I run? I’m confused, and I am not 100% sure that I would not be running right into danger. Was there only one shot, or did I panic and not hear the others?

I glance across the street and see the people I waved at starting to stand up. They peek  over their car. One of them points to where I had been. They both nod and start laughing.  They see me and yell “It’s OK!  We thought someone shot at you but it’s safe.”  I walk over and talk to them.  It turns out that a branch had blown into one of the city’s transformers.  It just happened that I had the misfortune of being almost directly under the pole when it exploded.  We all got a good laugh out of it, but I cut four miles out of that run and went straight home.

Too Proud

Two years ago, I won my age group and finished 5th overall at a local 10K.  It’s not going to happen today. Granted, I’ve been battling the flu bug that shut West Michigan down and I have been less intense in my training, but the cold, hard fact is that Father Time is starting to reel me in.  There is about a mile left and I know there are probably 20 people ahead of and that I am nearly 25 seconds/mile slower than I was two years ago. Worst of all, is that I am struggling miserably and just want this stupid race to be done.

With about a half-mile left, I try to push through and maybe pass one or two guys in my age-group to salvage the day a little. I catch a couple more and am going to be able to cruise across the line. Slower than years past and farther back in the pack, but whatever.  Then, with 50 yards left, it hits me.

I have never thrown up while running but my stomach just completely rolled. I think that maybe it’s just a quick reaction, but it immediately rolls again and hard enough that my cheeks puff.  I know that I am about to puke all over the finish line in front of all the spectators.  I can’t just do that right on the finish mat where everyone will be crossing, but I can’t run to the side into the spectators.  What is the etiquette for this type of thing? There has to be some type of protocol.  My stomach rolls a third time.  It is going to happen. Then the worst realization hits me.

There is nobody really close ahead of me. I glance over my shoulder and nobody is within 20 yards of me.  This means that the race photographer that is crouched by the finish line is 100% focused on me and is going to be able to snap off a bunch of pics of me finishing.  His lens is pointed at me and I have visions of three-picture sequences of me projectile-vomiting across the line are about to be on the internet.  I am going to be a meme.  It’s amazing what becomes important to someone while they are freaking out.

I cross the finish mat while making the gag noises and cut a 90 degree angle. I do not think I ran more than 18 inches past the timing pad before turning. Someone yells at me that I’m out of bounds, but I saw a gap in the sponsors van. I keep it together another three seconds while I squirm between two vans and stereo equipment to a small area where I am out of sight.  I will spare the details, but as things were happening my only thought was not about pain, what went wrong, frustration or anything like that. Instead, I was genuinely happy and thinking, “I am so glad I kept it together for those three seconds so there are no pictures!”

Those are the ones that immediately stand out to me.  Of course, I have had nails go through my shoes, been told that my feet hit the pavement obnoxiously loud, literally ran through wet cement while I day-dreamed (not proud), been mocked by college-aged women and been whistled at by a teacher before she recognized me but in general, running has been a positive experience.

So…what’s been your worst running experience?

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Ragnar Relay – Leg 1

How did I end up standing at the starting line next to a man wearing nothing but running shoes and a tuxedo Speedo? I got here because I let ten of my Hope College fraternity brothers talk me into running the Ragnar Relay.  Ragnar is a 200ish mile relay from Muskegon, MI to Traverse City, MI. Basically there are two vans.  The five guys in Van 1 run legs will run the first six legs (ranging from 3-9 mile/each) before letting the six guys in Van 2 run the next six legs.  We will continue  to trade off until we all have run 3-4 legs each over the next 30 hours. Thirty six legs totaling about 200 miles.

start line
We were not smart. The first wave of teams started at 6:00 A.M. We put in an unrealistically fast prediction time and were placed in the last wave.  We are starting at noon with the elite teams. About 240 teams have head starts on us that range from 1-6 hours. We should not be here. A few of us are pretty serious runners.  However, about half of us are casual, at best, runners. A couple just started two months ago. Sips was a last minute replacement. I don’t think we are ready for this. The team next to us has run a half-dozen Ragnars and  is doing group stretching, sipping protein drinks while rolling their legs out with contraptions that look like a cross between a medieval torture device and an elaborate sex toy.  I’m leaning against our van eating a PBJ and trying to swing a last minute fantasy football trade.  We are way out of our league. There are going to be a lot of lonely miles. We are predicted to finish around 6:00 tomorrow night (30 hours total) but  I am actually worried that we may miss the post-race party which only runs from until 7PM.

Craig takes the first four mile leg and the rest of us drive to the first checkpoint.  Tuxedo Speedo blazes through first.  The third runner through starts puking in the bushes. Kinda early for that.  His teammates mock him. Craig is the sixth guy from our wave through and passes off our bracelet to Mark.  We had a last-minute drop, so Mark has to run the next two legs for a total of 13 miles. I talk to the last runner to finish Leg 1.  He is not worried because their “Beast” has leg 3. Over the next day I discover that most teams have a “Beast.” That’s their ace runner who everyone knows will make up their time.  The Beast reels teams in and saves time.  I am feeling pretty low as we pile in the van and head to the next exchange. We don’t have a Beast.

We are the only ones there. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams have passed checkpoint 3. The volunteers are packing up and are stating that they can go home as soon as the last team gets through. That’s us.  Dead last. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams stretched out over 200 miles and we are last.  The organizer asks if we are having fun. I explain that we are but that we were placed in the wrong wave. Instead of racing with other runners and hanging out with other teams at the checkpoints, we are doomed to 180 more miles of empty roads and being the last one at each checkpoint.  He explains that the teams starting two hours ahead of us are averaging 10:30 miles and that we should do the math.  My team is made up of nerds. The 11 frat rats now total 2 MDs, 3 PhDs, a S.Psy.S, and 5-6 Masters degrees.  Of course we are going to do the math.

We should average 8:30/miles. That means we should start catching the 10 AM starters in about 60 miles.  Suddenly, and for the first time, I feel like running is actually a team game. Even if I don’t see anyone on my leg, I can cut some serious time off a team way down the road. I may never see that team, but maybe The Smurf from Van 2 will catch that person tonight at midnight.  Now, I’m excited.

Mark finishes and comments that he forgot to turn his watch on for the first mile. I mock him.  Marty takes off for his 9 miler and I know I am going to be up next. We drive up the road before needing to double back to scour the weeds for Mark’s lost phone. I feel terrible for him as we give up the search and pile back in the van. I am then amazed to see that his phone has been on the hood of the car and managed to stay there for about a mile of driving. What are the chances?

Standing in the chute for my first leg, I realize that Marty may have made our first kill.  “Kills” are Ragnar for “teams passed.” Some teams mark their kills on the windows of their van.  At least that’s what I hear. It’s not like we have seen anyone. Marty hands me the bracelet and I take off for my 6.8 mile leg.  At this distance, I always try to go too fast for the first half mile. I like to burn the adrenaline off and then settle into a fast pace. It’s easier for me than trying to build up.  I also refuse to check my watch for the first half-mile. I know that I am supposed to run 7:30 miles. I’ve been sick. My training has sucked. I have little faith.

Leg 1

About half a mile in, I check my watch. I regret mocking Mark and decide not to tell him that I forgot to start it. I discover that I took that first half mile way too fast and settle in.  I can see two teams ahead of me. I am going to get a couple kills. One is from the team I spoke with earlier. Marty and I have erased the lead his Beast got. I get my two kills. As I run along the lake and weave through neighborhoods, it is clear that I am not going to see another team. It is so tempting to take my foot off the gas, but I keep reminding myself that any time I can save will pay off somewhere. If I push harder here, maybe Greco will catch one more team on his 2:00 AM leg.

I finish my run with 7:20 miles. I am really fired up.  My run should have knocked about 21 minutes off the 10AM starters and even more off the teams that started earlier. I hand off to Ryan and watch him leave. This is Ryan’s first real race. I am very excited for him and also concerned. He only has 4 miles this leg, so he should be fine.

My Van drives to the first exchange point and meets the guys from Van 2. We have some time to catch up.  A few of these guys I have literally not seen in 20 years. Pete flew in from Phoenix. I  have not spoken to Steiner since I walked off campus.  Amazingly, the conversation is still easy. There is mostly talk of the race and a growing sense of excitement. Van 1 came in significantly ahead of our predicted time. Most of the teams have already left, but not all of them. The teams that leave while we wait for Ryan are not that far ahead of us.  There are still 30 legs left and the night runs to deal with, but we are having a blast.

Exchange 2     Exchange 1

Ryan comes in faster than expected and Steiner starts Van 2’s legs. We have a lot of time to kill as Van 2 runs the next 30ish miles. My next leg should be start around 11:30 PM. It’s time to eat, keep stretched, and enjoy a break.

Leg 2 to follow….


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So Your Wife’s a Runner – What to Expect

So, the New Year has started and improved fitness is probably on a lot of resolution lists.  Running is a popular form of fitness and I am guessing more than a few of you have wives, girlfriends, or significant others who have resolved to start running, run a 5K, half-marathon, or marathon.  As a long time husband of a runner, let me tell you what to expect.

1. Sorry guys. It ain’t happening.

We have all seen what the men and women on the cover of running magazines look like.  A quick flip through the magazines will also turn up phrases such as: Improved muscle tone, increased self-esteem, weight loss, more at peace, increased energy, etc.  When one plugs those variables and pictures into any basic Dude-Calculator, we can clearly see that Running = More sex. It seems pretty clear and we all rush out to buy shoes, Gu, and anything else that will support her resolution.

However, the man-algorithm does account for one variable. The Long Run. For non-runners, most training programs have you run mid-week with your longest run being on Saturday.  Familiarize yourself with the following phrases, “Not tonight, I have a Long Run tomorrow,” “Not today, I had my Long Run this morning, ” “Not today. This is a recovery day from my Long Run,” and “Not tonight, I had to carb-load for my Long Run.” The Long Run is the Runner’s headache. Be forewarned.

2. Women run in packs

I consider myself a runner but train exclusively by myself. My wife finds it physically impossible to run without her pack. For some reason, it is virtually impossible for her to run outside of a neon-colored herd.

Apparently, in order for the runner-pack’s complex social hierarchy to work properly, the pack must also congregate outside of running.  Run-group coffee, brunches, girls-nights, races and drinks are integral to the pack’s functioning.  My wife attends more Run-group events without running shoes on than with them (See #1).  The pack also directly contributes to….

3. The Time Warp

Once again, Man-Math fails us. When I walk out the door I say, “Jazmine, I’m going to run 8 miles at about 8:00/mile.  I’ll be back in about 65 minutes and then I’ll take Ben to soccer.”

When Jazmine walks out the door, I hear, “We are going to run 4 miles at 10:00/mile.  I’ll be back in 4 hours. Don’t forget Ben’s soccer.”  The math does not add up to most men. However, we fail to factor in the pack-factor.  Runs also include pre-run coffee chats, brunches after,  got-caught-up-chatting-in-the-parking-lots,” or, worst of all, “I decided to stop into Target on the way home.”  When she steps out the door for a run, time becomes fuzzy and can not be measured by the usual instruments. Do not even try. The Time Warp simply can not be quantified.”  They say dogs have no sense of time and whether you leave for an hour or a week, it feels the same to them. The Runner Time Warp is pretty much the same.  It may also explain why The Long Run occurs once/week but can be mentioned seven days per week.

4. Gifts 

This Christmas, Jazmine said the words every husband wants to hear, “I want you to buy me underwear for Christmas.”  Of course I will.  In fact , I have several interesting options bookmarked on my phone as we speak.  Let’s talk about this!

We were on different wave-lengths. While I clearly was forgetting Point #1, my wife was showing me what underwear runners want for Christmas. Apparently, extra-warm, moisture-wicking, wind resistant (huh?), winter running underwear is a thing. And that thing is a mere $40. And it comes in beige. And I bought it.

Your gift list will forever now contain phrases such as: Gore-tex, hydrating, refueling, blister-preventing, safety, carbs, warm, functional, and orthopedics.

5. You Will Never Sleep

Allow me to circle back to the Long Run and the Pack.  As the gazelle needs its herd to bound across the African Savanna at daybreak, so too will your wife need her pack to Long Run at the crack of dawn. The gazelle is highly motivated every morning. Something about the threat of a lion eating them tends to get them moving.  The Long Run Pack’s commitment level varies from member to member and does not equal that of the gazelle.

As a result, between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 AM on Saturday you will be awoken to the sound of her phone exploding with texts from the Pack. “Little Bronn has a cold. I’m out.” “My IT band is sore, I’m out.” “I’m not 100% sure where I am, I’m out.” “Yeah, there is no lion chasing us. My bed’s warm. I’m out.” I have made Jazmine change her text ringer to crickets chirping, so I can pretend that each text is the sound of a lazy gazelle getting picked off by a lion somewhere.

6. Finally, She Will Have Much More Fun than You.

In my experience, my female friends tend to enjoy running more than we do. My personal opinion is that  this is because women tend to generally be better human-beings than we are. I have been running about five years.  I have made zero friends through running. When I train, I do it solo, start with the thought of “Let’s get this over with” and come in exhausted.  I do not meet people at races as I am there to see how fast I can go, beat as many people as I can, get my swag and then go home.

On the other hand, my wife has an entire new network of running friends. She enjoys her training runs and seeing her friends.  She is smiling and laughing at all races. She spends time socializing and meeting new people after her races. Most of her friends are the same.

So, your wife’s a runner. What can you expect. Ultimately, you can expect that she is going to meet people, have a good time and will generally enjoy the experience. And you will enjoy watching it.

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When did I get old?

Today, I dropped my youngest child off for Middle School Orientation.  Somehow Ben has made it to sixth grade.  As a drove home, I wondered where the time had gone and if the next six years will go by just as fast.  I also felt really old.  I have two kids in middle schools. I must be officially old, right?

A few other things that make me realize that I have to accept the fact that I am “old.”

Born on Date:  Every store has the sign that says, “To buy alcohol you must have been born by this date in 1995.”  1995!  In 1995, I was legally sitting in a bar buying beer. People who can legally buy beer today were born while I was a junior in college. I still had hair when 21-year-olds were born. Those signs kill me.

Roller Coasters:  I took my kids to the amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure, this week.  I used to love roller coasters. I would walk off them and instantly return to the line. If no line, I would ride them back to back without question. Those days are GONE.  After riding two wooden roller coasters, I felt like I had let a boxer work over my body for twenty minutes.  I will admit , half way through the second coaster (which is notorious for being rough) I was kinda happy to look over and see Ben’s face a couple shades of green.  Yeah!  He’s not having fun!

When we got off, I played the good-dad and asked  if they enjoyed the rides and wanted to go again. Secretly I was praying that they were scarred for life and would never make me get on that medieval instrument of torture again. Frankly, I was convinced that I needed at least fifteen minutes before my internal organs returned to their original locations.  Fortunately, neither child wanted to go for Round 2 with the wooden devils and I was able to wait for my liver and kidneys to switch places.

Video Games:  I can’t even.  I want to continue to game. I grew up gaming. The games look cool but there are so many stupid buttons.  I get overwhelmed just looking at the control pads.  I mocked my father for never being able to master holding down “A” and “B” to make Mario sprint, but I kinda get it.

It does not get any easier when I am just trying to make my guy jump while my children are repeatedly killing me and mocking me to my face. “Hey James!  Watch what I do to Dad this time!”  I can send them to bed and stay up late practicing so that I can shove it in their smug little faces, but I just fall asleep or get mad and watch Impractical Jokers reruns. Old.

My body has betrayed me:  I have never been a good looking man. I get that and the baldness doesn’t help, but do I really have to go gray too?  I shaved my head the other day and looked at the hair on the ground.  It looked like someone had skinned a skunk in my yard.  Apparently my head and face look like Pepe Le Pew . And seriously, my body quit growing hair on my head long ago, but has decided to occasionally sprout giant ropes of hair out of my ear?  I’m about six months away from being Walder Frey.

While I’m on it, when did standing up become a deterrent?  Sometimes I will look around and think, “Is there anything else I should do before I sit down? ”  I mean, I could get something to drink, but then I’d have to stand up and walk forty feet to the fridge. Screw that.  Really?  The act of raising myself out of a chair is enough to make me pass on things? When did that happen? Wow. Old.

My Toys:  Two of my favorite toys when I was a kid were Electronic Football and my Shogun Warrior. Anyone remember these?


Do you know where I last saw them?  Behind glass. In a freaking museum. I am not joking. My childhood toys are on display at the Kalamazoo Museum. Guess what is in the neighboring display case?  A fossilized mastodon tusk!  My childhood is feet away from a hairy, extinct elephant.  That just seems unnecessarily cruel.

Clothes:  I hate buying clothes. I have the same issues as most guys but now, in addition to puzzling through concepts such as as “matching,” and “tacky” and “so last year” I need to somehow incorporate the term “Age appropriate” into my shopping experience.  I am not ready to throw in the towel and start dressing like Season 1 Walter White, but I also live in fear of being the 42 year-old bald dude who is trying to look twenty-five.  Clothes are a constant challenge of trying to end up in the “age-appropriate” wasteland between sock-garters and a black T-Shirt with skulls and wings on it. My wife remains oblivious to my challenge and only tosses in the occasional, “Yeah, that’s fine” or “That’s good enough.”  Maybe she is smart enough to realize it’s time to just throw in the towel.

However, as previous blogs have stated, even I know it is douchey for a 40+ year old man to wear a sock hat indoors or in the spring/summer.  Let’s be honest, it’s douchey for anyone between the ages of 1 and 100. If you are 101, you can wear whatever you want.

DAD!!:  I work in a female dominated profession and as a result have a lot of female friends. I spend a lot of my time working with the younger teachers as the veteran teachers generally have their game down pat and do not want me messing with it. Ever. At least once a year I get a comment like, “I was worried you were going to come in here and criticize everything I do or be really boring, but do you know what? You are actually kind of fun. You remind me of my dad!” Old. Just old.

My boys’ ages: My kids are closer to voting than diapers. They are closer to college than kindergarten. James and Ben are closer to graduating college than I am. That cute 25-year-old waitress is closer to James’ age than mine. Both boys are probably closer to their weddings than I am to mine.  It’s realistic to think James (13) may be closer to the birth of his first son than I am to his birth.  Seriously, this section makes me feel like I should be getting free coffee from McDonald’s.

Every  now and then, life reminds me that I am getting older. Let’s be honest. It is pretty much daily.  However, I still do not feel old.  I am in better shape than I have been since I was eighteen.  The last time I was at my current weight, I was a sophomore in college. Really it is just a number. Cliche, but true.

And here is my biggest take away. No matter how old I am. No matter how many times life reminds me that I have probably crossed that line into being “old” there is nothing anyone can do to make me act my age!  So, who wants to go Streak the Quad?

Happy Fourth of July

My family recently returned from a vacation to Washington, D.C.  I have always appreciated my country but have never been a flag-waiving, chest-thumping patriot.  However, this trip left me humbled and far more appreciative of what I have and where I live.

Being able to see the actual Declaration of Independence and Constitution was amazing.  Touring the Capitol Building, seeing the original “Star Spangled Banner”and Ford’s Theater while visiting all of the museums was an awe-inspiring glimpse into history.  However, what really got to me were all the memorials.

I am not a Veteran. Many members of my family have served in the military, but I have not. Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the WWII Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial really pounded home how much life has been lost for this country.  In particular, the Vietnam Memorial touched me.

We visited the Memorial a few days after Father’s Day.  As you can see, the wall was covered in flowers and letters written to the soldiers who had fallen in the war. If you can zoom in and read some of them, do it. Some of the letters were letters written from local school children. Some were written by sons and daughters thanking their lost parents for their service. Still others were from friends who had served with the lost. It was quiet, it was somber and it was extremely touching.

In particular, the veteran in this last picture got to me. I never spoke with him and do not know what his story is.  What I do know is that when he got to the end of the wall he tried to walk away three times.  Three times he tried to leave, three times he stopped and turned back to stare at the wall.  Was he remembering a friend?  A relative? Remembering his experiences? I will never know, but I know that he was still standing like this when I left.  I do not know anything about this man, but my heart breaks for him.


At dinner, my ten-year-old son asked what made the Vietnam Memorial mean more to me than the Memorials. I have family who served in Vietnam but I explained to him what made this memorial special to me was that it personalized loss.  Ben was touched by the WWII Memorial  and the display that shows a star for every 100 Americans lost. As can be seen in this picture, there are 4048 stars.


I explained that the number 404,800 is really too big to mean much to us, but seeing individual names on the wall makes it very real.  Seeing 58,286 names listed in chronological order of their death was extremely personal. I said that it’s easy to look at the wall and think “look how few we lost early” or “look at the sharp decrease in fatalities at the end. Look there is the last man to die in that conflict,” but when you see the name, it is real. The families of those names do not care if the name is first, on the thinnest part of the wall, located in the middle of wall or is the last name because if there is a name, there is a mother who lost her child. There is a family whose heart broke as badly as the other 58,285 families regardless of position. First, middle, or last, someone important left us. The Memorial made it more than a number, or statistic, to me.  My son cried as I explained that to him and I am proud of him for that.

This Fourth of July, I am finding myself thinking more of all those who have served and lost their lives for this country and it humbles me.  The number of graves and memorials for “unknown soldiers” staggers me. Over half the graves in Gettysburg National Cemetery are for unknown Union soldiers! They gave the same as the soldier with the most ornate tombstone at Arlington but history can not even remember their names.

This is not an anti-war blog. Sadly, it does not matter if you believe that the seeds of war were planted when Cain killed Abel or if you think that war was born when our first monkey ancestor discovered he could get a better banana by smashing a five-knuckle-bullet into his neighbor’s face, conflict resolution by force has always been with us. I wish this was not true and dream of a world where this is not the case but that is not the world we currently live in. If you feel like you can change that, please do.

This weekend try to put aside your opinion of American wars. Try not to think about whether you think a particular  war was (or is) a noble cause or powered by ulterior  motives. For a weekend, put aside your politics and how you feel about military action. Try, with a grateful heart, to think about names on a wall or graves for unknown soldiers.  Thank that guy wearing a “Veteran” hat regardless of how you feel about his war.  If you are too cool take your hat off during the National Anthem, do it just for this weekend as a tribute to someone who forfeited his chance to be as cool as  you think you are.  For one weekend look at the homeless veteran and give him a hamburger without trying to decide if he is one of our “unknowns” who may have slogged through a jungle with his friends dying all around him or if he is really just a junkie looking for a hand-out. Give the man something to eat and assume you did something small for someone who did something much bigger.

Thank you to my grandfathers who fought in the Great Wars. Thank you to my uncles who served multiple tours in Vietnam. Thank you to my dad for serving. Thank you to all current and past military personnel.  Thank you to their families. Thank you to some unknown, forgotten soldier who died beside a road somewhere fighting the British in our Revolution.  Thank you all for doing things that exceed anything I could ever do so that I can sit behind a keyboard and bang out whatever opinion I want.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!  Be safe and appreciate what we have.



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My Marathon

I ran the Bayshore Marathon yesterday.  It was my fourth marathon.  Click this to read about my run last year. My only goal has been to break four hours and because I did that last year, I really had no goals or expectations for this race. My goals were simply to have fun, take a few pics, not utter an obscenity for the entire race and take the whole thing in.

My first thirteen miles are a breeze. In fact, I decide that maybe I have a shot at breaking my personal record. None of the little annoyances that plagued me last time have surfaced.  Everything is smooth, better than training, and easy through 13.1. I stop at the same porta-potty I used last year just for a laugh (read link above)  I scrap the goal of simply having fun, decide there was no way I am stopping for pics and go for it.

At mile 16, I can tell I am running out of gas a little and start to reign it in a little. After all, I have banked plenty of time during the first 15.  I start to walk the first 0.1 of each mile and run the other 0.9. Precautionary… to avoid the cramps that have shut me down before.  A young woman with a pretty cool looking hip tattoo is on a similar pace.  We pass each other several times over the next 4 miles

By Mile 20 the walk breaks are down to every 1/2 mile.  Hip Tattoo is about the same and we start laughing each time we pass each other because we knew we will catch up to each other again.  I see some friends from college spectating and make sure to look really comfortable as long as they can see me.  I am definitely slowing down but still feel OK and still have lots of time in the bank. I am going to knock 5-10 minutes off my best. Hip Tattoo and I joke about the misery we are starting to feel.

By Mile 24 I know I am in trouble. When my walk break ends, my body will not start running again. I try to dig. I insult myself, I do mental math, I pep-talk myself but my body simply mocks me and I know it is over. There is no question. I am cooked. I fail my obscenity goal. I fail it big.  Hip Tattoo disappears around a corner and I know I will not be catching her again. No matter what I try, my legs will not break a walk.  My hamstrings feel like they were being worked over by the most inept intern from Ramsey Bolton’s School of Massage Therapy. I begin to doubt that I can even walk the last two miles.

At Mile 24.5 a medical person approaches my shuffling carcass and says, “Are you one of our runners?”  I reply, “I’m trying to be.”  She asks me if I am OK.  When I reply that I am, she states “You’re swaying and can’t walk a straight line.”  I am shocked but realize I am staggering like its a 1996 walk-of-shame after a frat party.  I tell her I will be fine and keep going.  I can feel her trailing me for 50 yards but am scared to look over my shoulder because I think that I will get dizzy, fall and then be pulled off the course.  I give her a thumbs-up, yell, “I’m fine. Thank you for doing your job so well” and she leaves.  I stop a few more times and hunch over just to relax the tension on my hamstrings.  My watch passes the four hour mark.  This will be my slowest marathon (3:59,  4:07, and 4:09) but I just want to finish.

At Mile 25.1 I call my wife, Jasmine, and let her know I am going to be slower than expected.  She tells me she is going to walk back on the course and walk me in.  I make it another 0.2 miles and sit down on the side of the road.  I assure a volunteer I am fine, but I can see him talking to other volunteers and gesturing at me.  I know I need to get back up and I do not want my wife to find me sitting, or worse. I get back up and continue my Zombie Shuffle.

My wife meets me with about half a mile to go.  She walks by my side, talks with me, and grabs my shoulder when I slump.  She gets me there.  At Mile 26, I can see the finish line 0.2 miles away.  I look on the ground to my left and see Hip Tattoo.  Hip Tattoo is laying on her side with medics working on her.  Hip Tattoo has saliva dripping out of the side of her mouth. Hip Tattoo’s eyes are glassy and half rolled up. Hip Tattoo has an IV in her arm. Hip Tattoo is not going to get back up today. Hip Tattoo is going to go for a ride. Hip Tattoo is not going to finish.  Hip Tattoo made it 26 miles and went down with the finish line in sight.  My heart breaks for Hip Tattoo.

My wife leaves so I can finish the last couple hundred yards.  I have to stop half way  and walk again but finish on a run. I am so spent that the medal they put on me feels like it’s going to tip me over.  I have sudden empathy for Frodo having to lug that stupid ring through Mordor.

I am done.  I made it 25 miles in about four hours. The last 1.2 miles take me almost 24 minutes. 4:24ish.

Here’s the thing.  A year ago, I would have been crushed. My evening would be wrecked, I would have felt like I failed and would be thinking about the daunting task of starting all over.  Now I realize, that nobody cares.  Why should I? We went back to our B&B.  My wife and I spent the evening walking around Traverse City. We twice ran into college friends. We ate some great food and checked out some cool breweries. I had a blast.  I came home to my two fantastic kids. The rest of my weekend would not have been any better or worse if I had been 30 minutes faster.  Who cares?

Marathon #1 I cried after just because of the emotional dump and having finished something I never imagined doing.  Marathon #2 I sat under a tree crushed and crying because I had worked so hard to break the four hour mark and came up short.  I trained harder than ever for Marathon #3, dialed in and just beat 4 hours.  This one, I am more at peace. My training was more relaxed and my first 24ish miles were my best. End result was my worst one, but I am probably more content and more at peace than after any of the others.

I wish I had gotten Hip Tattoo’s name or had thought to look at her bib number.  I hope that she is healthy and is somewhat at peace with her race.

Four hours, or 4.5 hours as the case may be this time, does not have to make or break your day, weekend or life. There is too much other stuff in the world to enjoy.

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One Year Crazy

One year ago I sat in my doctor’s office speaking very slowly so I would not cry. I was supposedly there because I had been experiencing nervous tics for months.  My right shoulder spasm forward and my head would jerk right. I could suppress them with effort but they were getting worse.  My kids would occasionally yell, “Let’s be dad!” and would flop their shoulders around.  The previous night I had run an IEP meeting with eight people and had jerked so hard that I smacked the table and everyone looked at me. I spent the next hour running the meeting in a cold sweat with my left arm under the table gripping my right sleeve so I could not tic again.

My doctor said, “You’re a psychologist. You know this is stress related and there is nothing neurologically to treat this, so I need you to tell me why you came in.”  I finally quit, said “I need help” and she wrote the script for an anti-anxiety/antidepressant.

The Background

Everyone has reasons. I had taken the fall for a seriously messed up situation at work. It was humiliating. After a year of thinking, I could have done a few things different, but the truth is, I was the fall-guy.  Additional work changes followed that left people saying “Why are they doing this to you?” I had lost a couple friends and had a lot of personal things going on.  What they were is not important. Do I wish a few breaks had fallen another way? Yup.  Do I wish some people would have done some things differently? Absolutely. Do I blame any of them?  Nope.  This is on me. Everyone has reasons.

The point is, I became depressed, frustrated and anxious.  Every day became something to get through. Even with sleep medications, my insomnia raged. Several days, I was in my buildings at 5:30 AM when my report time was 8:40. Not because I was so far behind, but because I was not sleeping anyway and I thought I’d put the time to use.  Plus it gave me a refuge. Alone, I was able to take a break from forcing the smile and going through the act for my kids, my family, and my co-workers.  There was a constant tightness in my chest, constant exhaustion and an overwhelming feeling of being completely and totally alone.

I struggled to keep it together in front of my kids.  I lied about having after school meetings to buy time before I had to go home and put on a show.  Some nights I would say that I was going out with friends but since I really had no options, I would just go sit somewhere. Maybe a bar. A coffee shop.  Mostly a lot of parking lots. Maybe buy a beer at a gas station so I would have the smell on me when I came home.  Mostly I’d sit in my chair.

I felt a failure as a professional, a husband, a father, and a friend. I felt like everything I touched at work, at home, and with friends crumbled.

I tried to keep the act up at work but was failing. Make a joke, move to the next thing, fake a smile, keep moving.  Staff with whom I have no personal relationship began coming to my office for the sole purpose of seeing if I was OK. I was only at my new school a month  when a staff member said, “I know we don’t know you but do you always look this sad? You always seem so lonely.”  The statement that hit hardest, and for which I’m most grateful, was “Erik, I love working with you. You are great at your job and you are one of the kindest, most caring and incredible people I know, but I hope you do not come back next year. Whatever is happening to you is too hard to watch and I hate seeing it.”

And I ticked.  And I was not fooling anyone. And I quit. And I got the pills.

The Bad

I hate looking in the mirror and knowing I need to take those damn things. I hate that I could not beat it.  I definitely have a genetic predisposition toward this type of thing but I always believed myself stronger .  I hate that stupid orange bottle.

I hate that the price of my life insurance went up.  I hate checking new boxes on health forms.  Yup.  Got that.  I hate that my kids now get a little something to write about when they get older and are asked, “Do you, or any member of your immediate family have issues with depression or anxiety?”

I hate that when something does not bother me or if I handle something differently, people joke about, “Meds help!” or “That’s the meds.” Yeah, they help but I am fixing how I see things. All the positive changers are not because of the stupid little white pill.

I can not stop eating. My will power with food is shot and those meds make me very hungry. I am twelve pounds heavier than I was last March and that is with busting my butt with running.  I am not overweight but I hate the fact that I have to really work at controlling my food.

I miss my drive and competitiveness.  My running has suffered some because I do not quite have the drive to fight through things anymore.  True, I do not have the obsessiveness with improvement, but I am also much more likely to skip a run or say, “Wow, I am freaking tired. Screw this, I’m taking a break.”

The Good

Almost everything.  Things slide off my back much easier.  I do not replay scenarios in my head and wonder how I could have handled it better. I’m generally  less nervous about work and personal issues but I am far from zombified or affectively flat. I doubt most people notice much of a change.

I look forward to things. I am excited to go places and to do things.  I’m not getting through things on my calendar. I am more grateful of what I have and less resentful for what I am lacking.

I feel like I am back.  I feel like I used to feel.  I feel like myself, if that makes any sense at all.

I sleep.

This will sound crazy, but I swear the world is brighter. About three weeks after making my decision, I had to literally stop on one of my runs because I could not believe how bright green the leaves were.  I stood there looking around at the flowers, stream, and trees and marveled about how brilliantly colored everything was.  How had the world looked so dull? Smiling like an idiot,  I knew I had made the right decision. I had let myself slip so much that, for about eight months,  I had become unable to even see the world correctly.

The only reason I am writing this (besides to fulfill this resolution) is that I am embarrassed and I think the only way to get over that embarrassment is just to put it out there.  I am guessing some people will look at me different now.  I’m guessing that when I have a bad day the “Is he taking his meds?” question will be thought.  Whatever. This is me. I do not have some imbalance or disorder that I can not help. I have some thought patterns that get me in trouble.  That is on me and I can, and will, fix them.  Apparently, I just need some short-term help. I just needed to break the cloud of emotions to be able to clearly see what thoughts and behaviors were getting me in trouble. I know what they are. Now I can fix them. Then  I will get off the med. Soon enough. Just not now.

Hey, thank you to those who stuck by me. Thank you to those of you who made time to listen. Thanks to those who took notice and said something.  Thank you to my since-retired office mate who  spent the school year gently checking in on me and listening.  Thanks to the person who told me I had become a self-absorbed asshole who does not know how to treat people.  Thanks to those who had the courage to tell me they were concerned. Thanks to those who love me.

This is me.

I’m Erik.

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I was losing a little faith in humanity on Thursday.  My morning started out with a parent meeting.  I sat with the parent for forty-five minutes while she explained all the work she does with her son and how she needed help because her “baby is retarded or something.” When she left, I had to open my office door because my office reeked of marijuana.  It was so strong that I immediately hit the teacher’s lounge to get a donut as I was sure the munchies would set in.  A staff member was not familiar with the smell of weed, so I sent her into my office.  She knows now! It was 9:30 AM.

I stopped by the office and found staff working with a student who was having a severe asthma attack.  It was pretty scary as the student’s speech was slurred and he was breathing like Darth Vader.  In the background, I heard the principal on the phone talking to the parent about the need for medical assistance.  The principal continually apologized for waking the parent up and I could hear the parent yelling, “Don’t tell me how to raise my son.”  I helped transport the student home. The family was waiting to take him to the hospital.  Most of them were puffy-eyed and when the door opened it looked like the set of a Cheech and Chong movie. Looked like a straight up dragon’s lair. Dirk the Daring would be scared (points to whoever gets that one). A sober looking person arrived and took the student to the hospital.  It was 10:15 AM

I was more disillusioned than usual.  A teacher had organized a food drive for some of our disadvantaged families.  I had donated a few items and agreed to stay after school and deliver to a couple families.  What I saw amazed me.  Even though this teacher had been collecting for weeks, I had expected to deliver a couple baskets of pasta sauce.   What I found was that this teacher had stayed after school every night until 9:30 or 10:00 PM organizing and packing the food.  I delivered for two families.  My trunk and backseat were filled beyond capacity.  I had to collect the boxes from rooms, walk-in refrigerators and the walk-in freezer. My partner had to ride with hams in her lap. My donations suddenly appeared to be drops in the ocean and several cars left the school to deliver food across the city.

The first family accepted everything with a quick thank you.  At the second house, the door opened and kids poured out the front door.  One student yelled, “Mom, mom!  It’s that guy from school. My favorite guy!”  I worked with this student three times last year for a total of 80 minutes. That’s it.  I see him the halls each week and remind him how smart he is.  I occasionally try to introduce him to people as “One our school’s brightest young men.”  This guy is going to struggle in school but I try to give him something.  Apparently it has worked.

I was completely humbled as the children helped unload the car.  Their faces were absolutely beaming and a couple of them were hopping up and down flapping their arms.  “Look at all this food!”  Their faces were so lit up that you would have thought we had delivered X-Boxes.  There were no toys and really no treats.  Just a car load of food and yet I have rarely seen people as happy as these kids.

That experience really helped.  Yes, there are people who Wake-N-Bake and get annoyed that their kid needs medical attention.  However, there are kids who are purely grateful for boxes of cereal, fruit, milk, pasta and hams.  There are also people who work hours after school quietly serving those in need with no expectation, or hope for, personal gain.  I almost feel guilty that I got all the hugs and “thank-you’s” simply because I was a driver and a face on the delivery while the person who did the real work stayed behind and organized.

Regardless, there are a lot of really good people in this world and I am grateful for the reminder that I received this week.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Things I’m thankful for

I did this series a few years ago on Facebook and thought it might be worth bringing up again.  Think of it as a blog version of a bad clip-show.  Anyway, here are some things I remain thankful for.

I’m thankful for the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Slogging into work on Mondays is hard enough. Doing it while being chased by velociraptors would have been unbearable

I am thankful for the person who invented twisty straws. One day he was drinking from a regular straw and thought, “Wow, this SUCKS! There’s got to be something better.” Thank you for making hydrating fun again

I’m thankful for automatic turn signals. As a child I thought I had to move the lever up and down to make the signal work. Oh the joy and thankfulness that followed when I discovered my error. I often take you for granted Mr. Turn Signal, but not today

I am thankful for the lack of scientific progress in the field of time travel. Lately, I’ve realized that there is SO much that I’d like to have done different, but if I had a time machine I’d probably accidentally create some really funky butterfly effects that would end up with me in a Turkish prison or something. I don’t need to deal with that. Thank you slow moving time scientist.

I am thankful for bacon. If I have to explain that any further, there is no election that will fix our world.

With a nod to Phineas and Ferb, I am thankful for the aglet. Oft overlooked in our society, I don’t know how we’d make it without our aglets. Take time to thank the aglets in your life today

I am thankful for my animalistic sex appeal. It’s the only logical reason that my wife hasn’t left years ago. That and my massive public school income

I am thankful for Riboflavin. While other nutrients grab the headlines with their miracle restorative properties and celebrity marriages, Riboflavin quietly goes about metabolizing my carbohydrates and proteins with little fanfare. Thank you riboflavin. My underrated hero

I’m thankful for my butt. Every day I callously hurtle my spinal column at benches, sofas and chairs but my butt is always there to soften the impact and prevent possible spinal injury. I could talk all day about my butt, but I’ll leave it at “Thank you.”  And “You’re Welcome” to all the ladies out there.

I am thankful for the virtually limitless number of choices men have when it comes to hair care products

I’m thankful that there have been relatively few sasquatch sightings in my neighborhood of late. Of course, I recently stopped doing shirtless Tae Bo in front of our picture window too

I’m thankful that I was never part of a gang that battled with choreographed dance. Not sure if the knives or steps would get me first. Yes, I took my wife to West Side Story last night

I’m thankful that the tattoo parlor now located a block away from my old fraternity party house didn’t exist between 1992-1996. Pretty sure my regret column would be more full. Come to think of it, I’m also thankful that digital photos weren’t really available at that time either

I am thankful that Twitter has made the # key relevant again. For years, I’ve watched and worried that # was going to go the route of the “cents symbol” key and that eventually I’d have to look at a keyboard with no #. Thanks Twitter for keeping the magic alive. #classickeyboards, #societyforkeyboardpreservation

I’m thankful that (for some reason) caffeine addiction is one of the only socially acceptable addictions. If that ever changes I could be fast tracked to skid row

I’m thankful that I did not put a lot of time into my Y2K preparation plan

I’m thankful that I no longer have to waste valuable seconds of my life rewinding VHS tapes after watching a movie.

I am thankful to discover that, in the event of some apocalyptical event, my family should be able to subside on what I found under our couch for about a month. Moving the chair next but think that should yield about a week.

Discovering the True Legend of Manitou Island: One Man’s Journey

Sorry for accidentally posting an unfinished draft earlier. Like many men, I suffer from premature post-ulation sometimes when I am really excited.

I recently had the privilege of backpacking on North Manitou Island for four days and three nights with a Boy Scout troop. For those of you unfamiliar with it, North Manitou is a primitive island in the middle of Lake Michigan with no electricity, running water, no designated campsites, or raccoons. No raccoons! Raccoons can live anywhere. They live in my yard. The fact that raccoons have forsaken this island should tell you something.

Chippewa legend says that a mother bear and her two cubs tried to swim Lake Michigan to escape a fire in Wisconsin. The two cubs could not make it, drowned, and formed North and South Manitou Island. I have discovered how the islands were truly formed. Centuries ago, Hades was married to a beautiful, but equally evil, bride. One day, the bride consumed the last of Hades’ bacon. Upon discovering the betrayal, Hades killed his wife and cast her body from the underworld and into Lake Michigan. Today, her body floats below the surface of Lake Michigan with only her breasts poking above the water to form North and South Manitou Islands. Manitou is actually Chippewa for “Lucifer’s Lost Love Lumps.” The natural beauty of the demi-goddess’ cleavage draws many-a-man to her, but what they discover there is horror…..

Day 1
The ferry drops my family off. As the ferry departs, I glance back at the boatman. Before my eyes, his images shimmers and slowly transforms into the hooded figure of Charon. The cloaked figure slowly raises an arm and extends a long, boney middle finger to me and fades into the mist.

The troop fills up with water at the only portable water site and begins its 7 mile death trek across the island. After 1.5 miles a figure slithers next to me and asks, “I wonder why you did not fill those extra water bladders at the fill station? Would have made less water filtering later.” I wonder why this helpful question was not asked 1.5 miles ago but I notice the filed teeth as she grins at me. Quickly I recognize the Harpy and realize there is no point in bandying words with this one. I put my head down and prod James and Benjamin onward. Camp is made and endless trips to Lake Michigan to collect water for filtering begins.

IMG_2633 IMG_2632

Day 2

The morning reveals another Legend of Manitou. When Jabba the Hutt was finally slain by an ultra-hot Princess Leia he was cast into the underworld. Hades took his body and hovered over North Manitou. Hades proceeded to place the fallen gangster into a giant colander and pushed his body through the billion tiny holes. The resultant billions of tiny slug-like Jabbalings were showered over North Manitou Island.

Every morning, the billion sluggy Jabbalings attempt to gather together to reform into Jabba and earn passage back to the land of the living. My tent, shoes, and other property was the gathering site for this unholy Ragnarok every morning. My tent and rain fly were so covered in slug juice that I was convinced Slimer from Ghostbusters had a wet dream over my campsite. My mornings consisted of destroying hundreds of Jabbalings to prevent the Hutt’s return to earth.

The Harpy notices I have brought two books. She approaches and states, “Nice books. That’s not how I would pack books, but whatever.” I begin to use rocks to sharpen a stick.

Day 3

Day three dawns with the promise of the return seven mile hike. It also dawns with massive black clouds and high winds coming toward us. In a panic, our camp is broken down and a fastpack is started. We are going to get very wet and just hope we can get packed and rain gear on before it hits. During the frantic packing, Ben declares, “I have to poop and bad!” I grab the shovel (remember no plumbing, no pit toilets) a roll of toilet paper and run to a field with Ben. The wind and black clouds are really very cool but I have no time to enjoy them as I set to digging. Ben jumps up and down yelling, “Dig faster! It’s coming!” I am not sure if he is referring to the apocalypse in the sky or the earth-shaking bowel explosion that I am about to witness. As I hold his shoulders while he hovers over the pit, the first thunder crash explodes as Hades’ slams his refrigerator door after another search for bacon is unsuccessful. Life is about to suck.

At the site the fully-packed-Harpy skips past and states, “I started packing earlier.” The Harpy is about to die. The last bit of equipment is packed and Armageddon breaks loose. Hades’ baconless temper tantrum is unleashed in a torrent of driving tears, slamming of doors, and flashes in the sky as his refrigerator door light flickers on and off while he continues his fruitless search for bacon. We begin the walk of the damned.

The storm stops and the sun beats down on us. Hades has placed a curse on Ben’s backpack. When it is on, he transformed into a mopey, crying, injured shell of a boy. Once the cursed equipment is removed, he bounds through the trail with joy and abandon. I spend almost two miles in a rubber raincoat with the sun beating down on me, my 45+ lb backpack on my back and Ben’s 25lb cursed pack in my arms. My sweaty, dehydrated body drops his pack at the check point and straps it on him for the remainder of the trek. No matter how severely cursed, he will carry his pack the rest of the way or be left for the scavengers. After all, that is why I had two kids. I always have a spare. Be prepared.

Camp is made. My wife and I crash in our tent. After three days and nearly 20 miles of hiking the odor in the tent serves as a natural bug repellent. I roll over, look her in the eyes and say,
“I love you, but you are disgusting.”
Our eyes lock. My wife stares deep into my soul and states, “You repulse me.”
We lay happy and silent as a married couple who will never be able to look at each other sexually again.

At 2 A.M., I leave the tent to look at the stars. It is breathtaking. With no light pollution, the sky is incredible. I stand for nearly half an hour just staring at the sky. From my spot in the Underworld, I wonder which of the million stars that I see is the land of the living. I wonder if I will ever be able to return.


Day 4

Final camp is broken and the exit point is only a mile away. As I eat another breakfast of trail mix, I reflect on the things that I have missed for the last four days. Ice, chairs, food that I have not had to carry, a shower, a new set of clothes, a pillow, the list goes on. I pull the dirty laundry bag out of the tree. Yes, it was that foul. The last Jabbaling is evicted and camp is broken. We get to our extraction point three hours early. I take no chances.

I sit on the dock and realize that I will forever be a changed man. One does not spend four days on the breasts of Hades’ discarded bride without losing a part of his soul and a gallon of blood to tics and mosquitos. I only hope that there is enough left of me to return to the real world.

The ferry emerges from the mist. Charon makes no disguise this time and my party recoils at his site. I step forward and drop four coins into his skeletal hands and state, “Passage to the Living.” He nods and allows my family to board before rowing us back to land. As I step off the ferry, he hisses into my ear, “Do not return.” I nod. Charon once more cloaks himself in the disguise of a college student and allows more damned souls to enter his ferry to cross to Manitou. I wonder how many will return.