Black midnight run

I have thought about it for months now: to run 5 km by myself in the middle of the night. Mundy Park is the place. I had wanted to do it any winter night sometime between 12:00 and 2:00 a.m.

On the 1st of December, I planned everything carefully and selected the day: December 13th. I wouldn’t tell my family but until last minute, because my wife very likely would be opposed to the idea if she knew ahead of time. I had everything ready: thermal clothing, warm gloves and toque, LED armbands, headlamp, and a borrowed and light phone. The moon would be full that day, so there would be some natural night light on the trails.

However, as it happens, Mother Nature was the one opposing my plans, and let the first big snowstorm of the season fall a week before my set date. I had to postpone my midnight run for later.

I let the holidays season go by without thinking much about it, yet at the start of the year I selected a full-moon night once again, January 12th, but snow fell one more time, so I changed it to February 10th, and yes, it happened once more, as if on cue with my plans.

March came, so I chose Monday the 13th, thinking that with Spring so close there would be no more snow on the ground. It was so, and although rain was constant during those days, most of the snow was gone by then. However, that Monday I had had to do a lot of physical work because of sudden situations at work and at home. I was exhausted, and yet again had to postpone a simple run which seemed to have been planned ages ago. The following days the workplace was chaotic… one of those weeks.

Early morning, I read a post mimicking the Nike slogan: “Just do it!”

Right then I decided it would be tonight, no more waiting, no more planning, no more excuses. While everybody was having dinner, I took my running gear and hid it in the garage. At around 10:00 p.m. I was about to tell my wife about it, but decided not to. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. I went to the washroom and left a note on the mirror: “Went for my midnight run. :)” and then to the garage. Made sure the armbands and the headlamp worked and the older, smaller phone had enough charge, and dressed up for my run. It wasn’t that cold: 4C, so I wore shorts instead of tights, and left my house quietly.

I started running 500 meters before getting to the closest park entrance, planning to do the Perimeter Trail, which is 4,014 meters long. There was no traffic, save for a couple of speeding cars. I felt excited and nervous at the same time. As I entered the park, the streetlamps light quickly vanished, and only at that moment it occurred to me that I never checked for moonlight. There was not any. New moon probably. I was not going to turn around though.

The place was pitch black. I quickly realized that my headlamp light was not as powerful as one might think. Yes, it helps when running in poorly lighted streets, but more than anything, both the headlamp and the armbands allow drivers and other people to see you, they don’t really light the way as much as one would like them to.

The path seemed narrower. When we run with daylight we clearly see where we are going, no matter how windy the path is, but with such weak lighting, I could only see a few steps ahead of me. I found myself constantly tripping on the unevenness, and veering from one side of the path to the other.

The only sounds were those of my steps, my laboured breathing, thousands of critters, and the rapid water stream that runs alongside the paths in some sections. I noticed that the armband lights were useless in there, and rather distracting, so turned them off.

I know that trail very well, I mean, I thought I knew it. When I believed I had run for a kilometer or so, I checked my watch, the “indiglo” light button didn’t work, pushing on it all I saw was a blurred blank screen instead of numbers.

I didn’t know where I was, a few fallen and bent-by-snow branches covered with green, almost fluorescent musk, were barely visible when my headlamp pointed up, but other than that I could not see anything but the very immediate area ahead of me. Looking up I could see the stars trough he trees if I turned my headlamp off, but nothing else.

I then got to a crossroads, and slowed down -if that could even be possible- for a couple of seconds, decided to go in a different direction to run only 2 km instead because it was very difficult to continue in such dark conditions. Besides, the temperature inside the park was lower, I could feel it in my numb toes, nose, and even my toque-covered ears.

This trail I didn’t know very well, all I knew was that I would get to another crossroads and that I should turn again, in order to complete roughly 2 km, and get to the street. At one point the only sound I could hear was the water stream and my steps. It had been a while already, and I was supposed to get to that crossroads. Did I miss it? Was I close? Could the GPS in the borrowed phone pinpoint exactly where I was, despite being in the middle of the park? Besides, most of those phones have a flashlight function, right? I continued my shuffled running while fumbling with my thick glove inside my jacket pocket to extract the phone. Got it!… sort of. I had just pressed a key and looked at its time at exactly 1:37 when I felt the brush.

A lowered branch hits my left eyebrow, sending my toque and headlamp flying, I fall to the side and in doing so my right foot slips into the water while my left knee hits a rock and cracks quite at the same time I hear the phone’s “fzzz zap!” in the water, despite my loud yelling due to the knee pain. I turn to see my headlamp also in the water stream, slowly being carried away. I try getting up to go get it, barely a meter from arms reach, but my knee forbids it. I’m certain something is broken, but my kneecap feels whole. It is probably my femur or tibia. I can’t say because the pain is in the general joint.

My headlamp is moving slowly, its light beam pointing downwards, which means the strap is being pulled by the current. I lay on my chest with the intention of crawling to get it, but I can’t. There are many rocks and broken branches where I am, so the best I can do is to try to find a branch long enough to rescue my lamp. I touch a few, some very short, and then finally a long one. Yet too long and thin, according to my hands. I manage to reach the headlamp strap a few times, but I can not pull it closer. Each time I try the light moves but then goes a little bit farther away, as if jumping in slow motion. I finally manage to hook the strap and retrieve it. Too late though. The light is diminishing, barely there now, so I sit down, take my gloves off, start trying to open the battery compartment with the intention of drying everything as best I can, but my fingers are cold, wet, and numb.

I can not see anything and on top of that, my knee is in excruciating pain, my right foot and my sweaty head start to feel really cold. Feeling something sticky in my left eye I touch my eyebrow to realize that the cut is big, and blood is running down my eye. I can not open the battery compartment. Damn! If at least I knew where my toque is.

So, think. Think, think. 1:45? Probably. Which means the first morning runners will come in more than three hours, if they come this way. If not, the dogwalkers will be here around 8:00 a.m. The only other and remote possibility is someone needs the washroom and notices my absence, and probably before 6:00 they call 911.

I stay there for 20 minutes or so, just feeling sorry for myself, listening to the water running, trying to identify if the noisy critters are insects, or amphibians, or anything else. The cold I will survive, the eyebrow will heal in days, but one of my knee bones is cracked. I don’t think I will be able to participate in the Vancouver Sun Run, less than four weeks from today. That really hurts.

Some 30 or 50 meter from me a heavy branch falls, breaking the twigs on the ground. 3 seconds later another does the same coming from that same direction. Then I grasp it’s not branches falling, and focus my hearing over there. Something is slowly moving in my direction. It’s not coyotes, neither racoons. A sudden shiver and cold sweat swell. I reach for the long branch, now my staff, and I manage to stand up, facing the animal.

It is a black bear, yes. I cannot see anything, but the massive and stinky body is in front of me, with noisy breaths that resemble someone blaming a female: “her, her, her…” I try to remember everything they suggest one does when encountering a bear. But I cannot make noises or make myself appear bigger or turn sideways slowly walking away from it; I can barely keep my balance! So, I’m there in front of a bear I cannot see, but I perceive to be two meters close, its eyes faintly reflecting the stars above. I wonder if turning the armbands on will be better or worse. My staff firmly in my hands, as if suddenly I’ll become a Samurai who all he needs is that long stick to defeat the beast.

I’m petrified, my adrenaline at the max, my heartbeat above 90%, my breathing is a series of muted fast sobs, I am ready to get down in a fetal position covering my face and head. The jacket and clothing on my upper body somehow will help there, but my legs will be mauled and destroyed. Do I fight instead with a dysfunctional leg? Do bears attack without provocation? Do they possess good night vision? Do they eat human flesh if hungry? Did it find me by blood smell? Shouldn’t it be hibernation right now? A million questions cross my mind, time stands still, I don’t know how long has it been since he (or she?) arrived, and I don’t know why it doesn’t go away, neither gets closer to me, or attacks me.

I’m so paralyzed with fear that abruptly I realize it’s gone around me, and I didn’t notice it. It’s approaching me from behind now, his heavy steps sweeping the floor. How can this be? I debate trying to turn around and face him. Then it produces a growl as if saying or asking something. The bear in front of me responds.

I black out.

Advertisements
Posted in Confession, Reminders | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The book of his life

It was the book of his life.

Metaphorically and literally. He carried it everywhere, it didn’t matter the weather, or where he was, or what kind of place he ended up sleeping in, the book was by his side.

Strangely, it was one of the few things he had in a box just before bidding farewell to his house forever. Somehow, from thousands of books, that particular one was among the three that had survived the demolition of his patrimony and marriage of 25 years.

His life resembled a Gauss Bell curve. Surviving infancy in an abusive family and a horrid neighbourhood. Having to begin working when he was 11 by delivering take out to offices and nice houses, which provided him not only with tips money, but also free food. He was able to save, buy school items, and books. As many as he wanted. Since then, he worked hard at school and then at the job sites. It was relatively easy for him to climb the company ladder. A self-made man and very successful person in every sense. Until everything came crashing down.

First, the problems at work multiplied when his performance levels started to suffer. His own kids could not understand that alcoholism was an illness, and in his case, a genetically transmitted one. Then everything spiralled down in a vicious cycle right from the day he found his wife with someone else in his own bedroom, she blaming his general abandonment. The drinking increased and the problems became insufferable, the debt mounted, the social relationships changed drastically, and one thing led to another, until he found himself with no friends, no family, no money, and only a box in his hands, containing a photo, three books, miscellaneous things such as a ring, some pens, a t-shirt, and some other stuff that didn’t really make any sense, neither it appeared to belong to him, and a few others that apparently were valuable, monetarily speaking.

Everything in that box started to disappear as he moved from one shelter to another. Some things he gave away, others he sold or exchanged for a jacket, boots, or anything he thought was needed to survive the cold nights, when he was not in a shelter.

A grey beard grew quickly and abundantly, which he liked because it was like a mask. He barely spoke to anyone anymore now. His reading was slower due to the eyesight getting worse, on top of whatever affectation alcohol causes to his brain.

Years came and went, and sometimes he woke up to find his plastic bag full of cans and bottles gone, but his book he kept in a sealable bag inside his jacket. His most precious possession, the only thing that reminded him of his childhood and his successes. Although the novel’s plot, place, time, and the hero were off by a long shot, there were so many similarities that he considered it the book of his life. A few times he confided to some very specific people, like the lady at the soup place, or the volunteer doctor that checked on him every so often, that his wish was to be buried with that book, please, please.

 

This morning he woke up not on the bench, but by its side, and to the realization that the book was not in the bag, and it’s practically destroyed for being so battered, and now wet with pee, cheap vodka, and who knows what else.

An adult man weeping inconsolably, to whom nobody pays any attention, because everybody passing by thinks he’s under the influence. He’s saying he’s done, he’s saying that’s it. That is the last page. He’s made up his mind, and he will be gone, most probably today.

The book of his life. Precisely.

Posted in Chapters, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What do we do, General?

“General?” My young major asks again. I’m still silent, the officers look at me as if I’m absent from the room. I realize I cannot provide a quick answer, the exhausted group of captains and majors also look at each other as if it’s time to replace me, or ignore me, and have their own consensus on next steps.

 

How did this happen? We were so close to victory. Defending our turf took so long, the invaders were first kept at bay, then pushed back. And all of a sudden, they’re at our gates.

They have our own weapons, I got reports they concentrated their attacks on my best units. All my experienced colonels and majors are dead or missing in action.

I still have no answer on what to do next, what for me seems like a few seconds, is minutes to my quarters, what’s left of them: I start to realize the enemy knew what to target, who to eliminate. They located and found the way to get to our armouries, they know how to use our weapons, and they knew our weak spots and even our attacking plan.

I’ve been betrayed.

 

They say the biggest emotional pain one can experience, probably worse than rape, is treason. At this point I’d rather been raped by the entire enemy’s army than to be betrayed. Physical pain would pass, this I feel is unbearable.

If we surrender, the enemy will take our cities, rape our women, and kill our children.

And it is practically children the ones in front of me. How could my army became so young? My colleagues of decades and our best adult soldiers have paid the ultimate prize, all of them. And now their own kids are the ones asking me what to do. Outside my tent, I glance at mortified teenagers that should be dressed in bright colours, playing sports at school, rather than wearing fatigues, being dirty, demoralized, and hungry on a battlefield.

They all sense we’re doomed. They hang on because they know if we falter our entire nation will be finished, and the suffering of our people will be way too much and lengthy.

They will torture us in front of our families, or the other way around, or both.

 

What was the motive or the reason? How could my closest people do that to us? I’m so tired too.

A quick flash of thought suggests suicide, but how could I just leave everything as it is? What do I do? I’d give my life one thousand times over if that would stop the carnage and we could live in peace, but I know vengeance and misery infliction are our enemy’s only goals.

 

I feel numb, my mind is a whirlwind, my mouth is open but no sounds come out. I want to provide a good quick pep talk, but my face and body language don’t help. I have no plan and feel so stupid. If I ask them to fight, most of us will die. If I choose to surrender, most of us will die or loose limbs and be made a slave, suffering a long agony.

Retreating and evacuating would be a long runaway, in which we’ll be eventually caught up…

 

Is this the end?

 

“General?”

Posted in Status, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do we volunteer?

Our last game of the football season and championship round-robin tournament took place this past weekend. When we finished the game and I was picking up the players’ cards, cones, vests, and balls, I was excited and glad thinking to myself:

Finally! For a few months now, I will have some free time to focus on my personal stuff.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy coaching the boys, it’s just that coaches invest between six and ten hours every week between practices, games, reporting, planning, communicating, and so on. I was very happy for the team, not only we won that last championship game all the way to penalty kicks, but also because we ended up taking silver.

At the end of such game, one of my most challenging players was very talkative. He seemed to be blocking my path while we all were leaving the field, offering to carry the balls or my backpack, and mainly looking around as if searching for something. I was about to tell him “come on, hurry up and let’s go, we’re the last ones to leave the bench,” when he gazed around and noticed the two of us were alone, he showed me a broad smile, and said “you’re the best coach we’ve ever had.”

Man! I will never forget that face and words.

I could only reply with a broken “thank you.”

 

We don’t get any money, any fame, any kind of civil recognition, anything other than the satisfaction of seeing the players grow as individuals and develop as players: helping our own kids, and at the very least, have fun in the process.

 

Why do we volunteer?

I’m not sure, but now I cannot wait for the start of the new season: words like those coming from a boy’s mouth keep us doing it.

Posted in Reminders, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A good trophy.

So, in order to catch the creature, I have to set a trap in a place that she feels safe about. That means to have it setup in a place far away from any settlement, road, building, and where not even planes or any flying vehicle goes above it.

 

I had read long time ago, that some specific specimens never go anywhere near human environments. So much so that it is until recently that some species have been discovered only through the use of powerful cameras and newest technologies. They avoid any and all contact with humans, and had been doing it effectively for centuries.

 

I thought about a simple snare first, but then decided if there was pain and blood loss, the subject would be shocked, tortured, exposed, exhausted, and therefore more easily be at ease. I chose a big, powerful, sharp steel-jaw, metallic trap that snaps shut quickly, and that can get a moose or even a grizzly, and keep the beast in place for days, even if she is strong and well fed.

The anchor mechanism goes deep in the ground with a contraption that once nailed down, expands and forms a series of Vs that keeps it in place, no matter how powerful the pull is. It’s necessary to use a heavy hammer to fix it, but once done, it stays put. The trigger spring is sensitive only to big or heavy bodies.

I tested the trap a few times, using different sticks and applying sufficient pressure to make sure it worked well. Most stick were broken in two in a split second. It was obvious an animal would really be trapped, with no possible way to escape.

 

It was a beautiful day, so I had a quick big breakfast and went there early. Once I left the road and headed toward the place I had preselected for the trap, I started walking carrying just water, a few granola bars, the trap, the mash hammer, and a compass, in order not to get lost. I was not sure my GPS unit would work in such a remote location. It took me five hours to get to the spot, through not-too rough terrain, but yet difficult nonetheless. I fixed the trap to the ground, and then marked some close-by trees around it, so that when returning there I could find the way easily. My plan was to leave the trap closed for a couple of weeks, in a way that the local fauna got used to it, and only then return then to set it up and have it ready to catch the beast.

 

And so it was.

Exactly three weeks later, the day turned out as beautiful or more than the day I went to set the trap up. I used the same road spot where I had started my walk, trying to remember the way, and at the very least not to deviate much from my previously taken path.

This time it took me six hours to get to the spot, but I found it and felt a lot of different emotions, some very difficult to express.

 

I found out that although the GPS in my smartphone is off by probably 500 meters or more, and the reception is spotty, I still can send and receive messages.

 

I waited there for a couple of hours, which seemed like an eternity: thoughts came and went fast, and yet somehow, I was not sure on whether to start walking back home or wait way more time and spend the night in there, or just wait some more while meditating about life and all.

 

Then I wrote this message, sent it, made sure that it showed as “sent,” turned the phone off, stood up, and proceeded to set the trap ready. There was no need for bait.

It’s very likely my phone is lying many meters away from where I am, because part of the plan was to throw it away, as far from me as my arm allowed.

 

I stepped on the trap.

Snap!

Posted in Confession, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dream on dream

I had a dream in which I had a fantastic dream… then I woke up, but was not sure if I was fully awake or I was only awoken from the inside dream.
So, I turned and told my boss she was an idiot. She stood up and started putting her clothes on, saying that it had been my idea to go home, ignore my six kids, and make love in front of my wife. I replied saying that in her case I was not making love, but having sex. She said I was fired, and slapped me in the face. Which was what I needed in order to fully wake up.
Now I don’t have a job, my wife left me, and my Asian-looking sextuplets tell me that they are hungry and would like me to cook them some Ogbono.
But the absolute worst is that, no matter how hard I try, for the life of me I can’t remember what I was dreaming about.

Posted in Confession, Thoughts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My most significant race?

The Vancouver Eastside 10 km race takes place 6 days from today.

 

Who would want to run on the Vancouver East streets? Whose idea was this? Idiots! Was my internal conversation when back in 2013, I received an invite via email to register for it. I dismissed the message, and all the ones following related to it, and continued on to my regular daily routines.

However, at the end of the 2014 Half-Marathon, I found myself conversing with an older lady that told me she had run hundreds of races in different cities, and that the Eastside 10k was her favourite. She picked my curiosity, and I went to check the results from such first race. Around 1,200 runners had run it. Not bad for a first edition, in fact, that number was very good.

 

What would make all these people register and run in such a neighbourhood? Would it be the discounted or low-cost fee and free shirt? Could it be something else?

Wikipedia: “The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is a neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The area, one of the city’s oldest, is notorious for its open-air drug trade, sex work, and high rates of poverty, mental illness, infectious disease, and crime. It is also known for its strong community resilience and history of social activism.”

It reminds me of places I’ve lived and been to, not always pleasant memories for sure.

 

The very first thing that came to mind when I visited the east side for the first time was Nogales. There is a Nogales, Arizona town which borders with Nogales, Sonora. The US Nogales is a small town which population could be around 20,000, while the one in Mexico is at least ten times that. Two cities with the same name divided by a fence. The contrast between the two you can imagine. The latter is the cause of my memories.

Every time I went to Nogales, I just wanted to complete the scope of work I was assigned, and then leave as soon as I could. Sometimes I had to stay there for days if not weeks, so I worked as many hours I could each and every day, trying to finish in the least amount of time possible.

I was young then, on my mid-twenties, and I felt very uncomfortable in such a miserable place: the city was built by the accumulation of generations of Mexicans and Central Americans whose intention was to cross the border searching for a better life. Some of those people could not go through, and therefore, unable to come back or go forward, were stuck in there. There was no good infrastructure of any kind, and due to geography one could easily get lost if not familiar with the streets. The core business and what really maintained the city was US “tourists”. The border area consisted of restaurants and many bars that were in reality strip clubs. These were full on Friday and Saturday nights, most of such tourists were not even legal age, yet you saw them from bar to bar putting dollars in the dancers’ minimal clothes, and buying cheap drugs, getting drunk, passing out, and going back to the US, DUI and all.

“You need to go to Drogales.” (Droga = Drug) Was the way my boss and everybody else referred to it.

Once, after a long workweek and realizing I would not be able to finish but until the next one, I decided I needed to do something to get fit, for I felt I was losing shape. If there were any schools with sports fields, or parks with trails, or any race tracks, nobody I asked knew of their existence. On Sunday morning, I put on my runners, a short, a sleeveless shirt (it’s always hot there) and headed out to run for about 5 or 6 km along the main street. The streets were deserted except for some people readying the restaurants Sunday breakfast when they knew lots of hungover guys would come looking for. Most of the other early risers were drunks still drinking, and very few train station workers.

It was a difficult run. The streets were very uneven and broken, lots of garbage littered the sidewalks and roads, and sometimes crates, garbage bins, broken bottles, and many other obstacles were in the way. Some people were confused, checking where I was going and then where I came from, not sure whether I was running away from something, or trying to catch perhaps an imaginary bus. I ignored the groups of drunks shouting me offences as if their way of life was normal and mine an aberration. One of those even stood up and “ran” with me for 50 meters or so, while mocking me about the length of my shorts, and the futility of my enterprise.

I blocked the noise and sights as best I could. Except, I noticed a small figure intently looking at me from the back of a pickup truck that had just passed me. I turned to meet his eyes, three times. He was in his late teens, and he looked like he wanted to ask me something, but did not dare. He stood up, opened his mouth and was ready to shout the question the last time I met his eyes again. He did not ask anything, the curved street and distance between us didn’t allow any more interaction.

I felt out of place in there. Once I got back to my room, I took a shower, had breakfast-lunch-dinner at once, read for the rest of the day, woke up early on Monday, and headed to work with the firm intention of finishing my work and leave the place for good as soon as possible.

 

So, because the old lady runner had said See you on the East Side, and because I wanted to experience it, I registered for the 2014 one, along with roughly 1,450 other runners. The participants number grew!

And there I was, footing the start line, hesitant to go through arguably the most dramatic neighbourhood in all of Canada. Except for the start/finish, there is only one kilometre of ‘nice’ streets in the race. Everything else is in fact, the East Side: garbage bags piling and overflowing the bins, syringes by the roadside, broken glass here and there, rotten odours, litter everywhere, and some onlookers still under the influence that look at us wondering what exactly we are doing, but somehow happy to see something different highlight their streets.

Last year -2015- and despite a downpour, we were more than 1,700 runners passing through such streets. Waving and smiling back at the people in line for charity-organized breakfast, thanking those that clapped and cheered us on, and (I’m sure) thinking about how good we runners have it, compared to all those individuals to whom life’s not smiled at as plentifully and often. We also think about whether we make a difference to those people by showing up and running on the Eastside. Do we inspire them? Do we make them feel that they too matter? Do we at least make one of their dull days better?

Will this year’s race bring close to 2,000 registrants? Will there be more East Side people watching us, clapping and/or smiling? I don’t know, but I hope so.

I don’t know the significance of the race. I don’t know if that one is better than, say, the 50,000+ people that participate in the Vancouver Sun Run, I don’t know if I, as an individual, contribute enough of positiveness of aiming for a healthy lifestyle for all. The more I think about it the more I’m convinced whatever we runners in general, and as individuals, do when participating in these events, is only constructive.

 

I felt proud when I finished my first Marathon back in 2001, I felt great when I ran 14 various different races within a year, I was happy when I finished my 9th consecutive Half a few months ago, and I’ve been elated by family and friends when they know my times, my streaks, my feats and all, and comment. All positive.

All of those emotions and feelings put in the mix and with perspective, is what makes me realize exactly what the question from that boy was all those years ago. Which I answered him right there with a facial and body expression: yes, it is worth it, and anybody can do it. Just lace up.

 

So, yes: my most significant race? 1 runner, around 1993, Nogales, Mexico.

Posted in Reminders, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment