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!