Friday, September 23, 2011

Katahdin 100 recap, last installment

After Abol Hill, we have a few miles of dirt road to get to the campground and we're walking all of them. Sikwni is visibly hurting, walking with a limp. Right as we near the finish, my mom insists on a group photo. Myself and probably others are impatient and exhausted but we tolerate the one minute for all to assemble. My mom takes a photo, then says, "Just one more..." but we've gone already. We enter Katahdin Stream Campground to the sound of a drum beating. We've finished our journey, I realize. I hug the others as I am flooded with many strong emotions at once. Everyone leaves in different directions for sleep and rest. My parents set up a tent for me and ask me questions for which I only have the mental energy to respond, "I don't care. I just want to go to sleep." My uncle and cousin have to leave for Long Island and say goodbye. Poor timing, I think. I'd wanted to thank them for joing me on this great journey and ask them about their experience but all I managed was, "Thanks." Then I'm in the tent, on a soft pad, and I am still. Rest has never felt so good.

I wake up in a puddle. The heavy rain outside is flooding my tent. I stumble outside and, oh, that cool wetness feels great. The rain washes the sweat and dirt and stress off my body. And then I turn to see Katahdin, a great giant looking over me. Finally the sky has cleared for us to see the mountain. Usually, the canoeists and runners can see the mountain dozens of miles before they near it. The view makes me so happy.

The Potluck that evening is wonderful. Ribs, corn, bread, chili, soup, fruit. Barry asked me to make a "natural, organic, and wholesome" dish for the Potluck. My family didn't prepare one in advance so my mom improvises a great tomato and mozzarella plate out of the trunk of my car. At the closing ceremony on Monday, Barry revealed that the Potlucks had been growing less and less natural every year, but this year's was very wholesome.

Sunday night, there's singing and drumming under the tarp. But I only hear the drums' muffled thumping from my nearby lean-to as the rain puts me to sleep again.

In the morning, everyone packs up camp and sits in a circle under the tarp for the closing ceremony. The fire burns near the circle despite the continuing rain. Barry's uncle, Butch, a Penobscot Elder, conducts a smudging ceremony. Holding a smoldering herb, he fans the smoke with an eagle's wing towards each person in the circle. Barry says that, to him, a smudging ritual puts everyone on the same page. A carved talking stick is passed around. On it hangs 29 eagle feathers carried from Indian Island on each of the last K100 journeys. Barry gives the one he carried this year to the youth of the group to put on the stick. Everyone is invited to talk about their K100 experience this year. Many, myself included, express gratitude for the warm and generous individuals that made this event happen. When handed the stick, I also want to talk about the significance of this experience compared to my weak condition when I was hiking in Baxter one year ago, but I get choked up before I can begin. Barry says a lot when he gets the talking stick. He says the health of the tribe is faltering and "elders are dying young." He challenges everyone to live this year as if they are preparing to run the 100 miles in next year's K100. The ceremony concludes with a tobacco offering. Others burn pieces of paper and fibers. I ask Barry later what significance that has and he replies, "Indian text messaging," with a chuckle. I gather from what else he says that the objects are symbolic of intentions or thoughts added to the fire, and they rise with the smoke like messages towards the spiritual world.
When the closing ceremony ends, we exchange hugs, phone numbers, K100 t-shirt orders, and go our separate ways.


Two weeks later, my former college teacher, Karen Waldron, asks me to come talk about my K100 experience to her Native American Literature course. The presentation and discussion among friends goes well. For some questions, I am tongue-tied and my thoughts come out in jumbles. Someone asks, "Is it challenging to talk about this experience with others?" I shout yes! The experience means so much to me that rattling off details or statistics or trying to summarize such a multi-dimensional experience is frustrating.
How fortunate and privileged I am to have this completely unique experience of a different people's traditions and spirituality.

To be year from now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

K100 Part 3

The night is dark with no moon, many stars, and clouds rolling in and out. The night is also very long. Walking makes it feel much longer. At some point, my stomach declares an all-out war with me and I'm taking frequent bathroom breaks. Steve and the others move far ahead. When I'm done, the idea of running faster to catch up worries me at first. But lengthening my usual shuffling to a decent stride is liberating and wonderful.

I count down the miles until the break mile. Rest becomes something my body tells me I need as much as water. The road crew sets up chairs and snacks as we come in. I imagine, to them, the runners look like a bunch of newly born fawns with the sorry state of our joints. After 75 miles, bending my knees or calves or any part of my legs is a great challenge. After we eat and drink and sit down for ten minutes, getting up and jogging again is like awakening from a deep sleep.

Late in the night, Steve and I get word that Barry and Sikwni have started running FAST. No one knows why or how they are doing this. They're even too fast for the road crew to catch them every mile. Steve tells me that when we get to a bridge soon, we will turn off on a long poorly-marked hiking trail that's hard to navigate in the dark. And Barry knows the trail best. Soon, the road crew is telling us that Barry is at the trailhead and wants to go on without us. I'm worried that Steve and I will waste time being lost in the woods so near to the finish. When we get to the trail, Barry's waiting for us. We all walk the trail together as the sun rises.
At the other side is a dirt road, and my family and the road crew is standing together, waiting for us. Someone mentions we're at the bottom of Abol Hill. Finally! I think. Barry and Steve have been referring to Abol Hill since the start. Something about runners and road crew members and canoeists and anyone else running up the mile-plus hill as a tradition. My cousin Christopher, egged on by his dad, steps up to the line with me. Looks like a friendly competition to me as we all line up together. I'm eager for a little excitement after a long night. Barry says it's only right that I call the start since I kept time for 26 hours already. "Go." Christopher and I get off to a great start. I have no idea where I'm getting the energy but I love it. Just when you think you can see the top, the road turns and another hill appears. Reminds me of killer hill repeats my high school coach made us do. Christopher is breathing hard and falls behind me just short of the top. I learn soon after that he had just eaten breakfast and hadn't stretched or even warmed up in the cold morning. What a strong kid!

To be continued.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

K100 part 2 continued

Katahdin 100 Sacred Run, Part 2.

Where was I...

Right. Barry's friend Steve is telling us great jokes. He says he's ran this before, twice unassisted. Wow.

Meeting the road crew every mile is getting on my nerves - it's easy to stop and break more often.

The miles slowly peel by like sun burnt skin. "Run." Count four minutes. "Walk!" Count one minute. "Run!" Barry said the youngest keeps time so I'm calling out the commands. This is for the best, I think. I don't like the walk/run method at all. Kills my momentum. Giving me the power to call the changes is comforting.

All day Saturday, we run a road that parallels the Penobscot river but the woods only occasionally allow us a glimpse of the water. Almost every mile, we hear the barks and snarls of dogs in yards. I'm glad Steve brough a dog stick.

Less than twenty miles into the run, my toenails hurt on every stride. I tell Barry and he asks what shoe size I'm wearing. I tell him my foot size and he says, of course, your feet hurt. Feet can swell up to a size and a half during an ultra. I make a mental note and change to my old shoes. Now my feet hurt less. Good.

At every mile, I stop at my family's car and ask Dad or Mom for food and a refill on my camelbak or whatever else I need. I'm eating protein bars, ham sandwiches, peanut butter cups, smoothies, watermelon, oranges, and bananas. I drink gatorade or an electrolyte replacement tablet dissolved in water. Or just water when the lemon-lime flavor gets old. Barry's group is eating more natural foods including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit

With only one task at hand, the hours blend together and day becomes night. Steve gets heat cramps in his legs and falls way behind. Someone suggests I go run with him so I do, and we end up running and walking together all night and all morning.

To be continued.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Katahdin 100 recap part 1

Last Spring, I sent a letter to the former chief of the Penobscot People, Barry Dana. I asked him to consider inviting me to a sacred native tradition that he had mentioned to me in a phone interview. Weeks later, he still hadn't responded so I called him one morning. He explained that he had just talked to the Penobscot elders and they agreed that inviting me was a good idea. The event, which is called the Katahdin 100, was held Labor day weekend. This is a small part of the story of my experience.

On Saturday morning, I wake up before four AM. My family drags themselves into the cars, and we drive to a church parking lot at the entrance to Indian Island in Old Town, Maine. We wait a long time. Barry Dana and friends show up late in a pickup truck and someone yells in good humor, "Are we early?" We follow them across the island to a clearing outside a cemetery where others are gathered. A young guy grabs a bow drill from a bag and starts a fire with just wood and string in minutes. I love it! I teill my cousin Christopher about the difficulty of learning the bow drill last Spring. Soon, 35 people, mostly natives, are circled around the small fire for the starting ceremony of the event. We all take turns offering tobacvco and prayers. Barry's mother offers prayers in the native language as the sun rises. Many ask for safety for the canoeists and runners as we journey together over the next two days along the Penobscot River. Our destination is one hundred miles away at the base of the sacred mountain Katahdin. Then, we start to run.
Barry told me the strategy a few days ago. Since no one has seriously trained over the summer, we will stick to a run and walk ratio of 4 minutes to 1 minute. We'll take a five minute break every six miles. The road crew, which feeds and fuels us during the run, will stop every mile for us. I'm initially disappointed to hear we are walking so often. I'd rather use momentum to carry me through the miles instead of stopping and starting over and over. I told my parents that I would start with the group, then break way when I felt ready, 25 or maybe 50 miles into the run. I never did break away from the run and I am grateful for it.

I run into my first challenge just after starting. Running behind Barry's daughter, Sikwni, I catch a scent that takes me back one year. I am in Baxter State Park, trudging along hiking trails behind a girl with the same scent. I can't think of anything to say. We hike in a sad silence. We were trying to repair a friendship with a long hike in a beautiful place but it won't work. Like the past three years, I have developed a severe clinical depression and have little spirit. Life is miserable.
This flashback is jarring and my focus from the run dissolves. What cruel luck to be reminded of sad memories like this. They bring to mind many stupid and shameful decisions I made once. Now I have countless hours ahead of me vulnerable to these thoughts. Lessons from therapy kick in and bring myself back to the present. We are running seven strong across the road. I've been ambitious enough to sign up for the longest journey I have ever made on foot. Unlike the past four summers, I am healthy, happy, and free of depression. I carry a wide grin today.

Barry runs in flip flops for over eighty miles. He says he's never ran more than eight miles in them before this. I am amazed and inspired to run light next year...
Check tomorrow for more recap!