It is 6:00 a.m. and my internal clock says it is time. Like every day for the past 143 days I rise up with no hesitation. There are no thoughts or consideration of that matter. One cannot open the door of doubt because if you do it will never be shut again. The clock is running. My day has begun. It is normally a short breakfast of either oatmeal and toast or french toast with maple syrup, after all it is New York. I am driven out to my start point which is my end point from the day before. A few words are exchanged with my host, a handshake a hug and then goodbye. What I will miss the most is the visiting with my friends who have so graciously taken me in. We have a few hours at night to share stories and such about our lives over dinner and then the next morning I am gone, most likely to never see them again and yet their part in this run is of such importance that I am humbled by their hospitality. The first flag of the day and the first mile come slowly as my body is a bit slow to warm up. As the sun rises and my attention is drawn to my surroundings the miles pass quickly. Normally by mile 5 I have found my first coins of the day which I will send home to add to the jelly jar that is filled with $16.73 of money from America. It has actually taken me 3775 miles to find my first dollar bill. At gas stations I will stop for a Starbucks Mocha Frappaccino of which I have now consumed over 133 bottles. Yes, that along with the 35 gallons of chocolate milk has me thinking I may have an excess addiction. Another mile, another flag, a farm, glass on the road, cows, a hill, another one, another one, trains, a river. I have noticed that the locusts are now gone and that the crickets are silent too. I think of Cooperstown, NY. They race giant pumpkins on a lake. Actually paddle them in the water and I thought Nebraska had the blue ribbon for floating in horse tanks till I saw that. I think of my friend Dick who gave me 4 sheets of paper last night over dinner. It was photos and signatures of 14 German Officers put on trial after WWII in Nurenberg for War Crimes. Dick was a Sergeant of Guard for the prisoners and had acquired all the signatures. A piece of history, however cloudy it was. I think of an older gentleman who hugged me this morning and said goodbye with tears in his eyes. He said he had lay awake most of the night thinking about what I was doing and wished he could do the same thing. He told me I had squeezed a lifetime into one summer. I think of my friend Bob who ran with me a few days ago. He is 64 and never had run more than 13 miles and yet he did 30 that day. Kudos Bob, your company and conversation were great. I pass through the Mohawk River Valley and realize that there is more to New York than just the city, come and see. Another step, another telephone pole, another mile. Shoes are done. Cut the laces and tie one on my handlebars….17 pairs so far. There is my host. A smiling face welcomes me. The day is done…….
Monthly Archive: September 2010
There is a definate feel of fall in the air, as I travel these roads in New York. May 1st seems so long ago and the thought then, of being where I am now, was inconceivable. I could not comprehend the miles or the flags and if I had tried it would have overwhelmed me, so I have only focused on today and never ever opened the door of doubt. Time is not forgiving and it has marched on and carried me with it. The leaves are beginning to change and the hills of upstate New York are rolling and often steep. I have watched the seasons change. From the late spring and the green colors of the Northwest to the blooming flowers of summer in the Rockies to tall, rich cornfields in Nebraska. In a subtle way it started to change in Indiana. The corn turned brown and whispered in the wind. Once I hit eastern Ohio you could see the slightest colors coming out on the trees. It is almost as if I am seeing a portrait being painted before me, a portrait that swept in brilliant colors, across the country. Days are numbered now and I can almost begin to sense the coastline of Maine awaiting me. The journey has been magical. I am not a religious man by any means but time alone across this country has awakened a spirituality and opened my senses and given me intuition and energy so highly receptive that I am at a loss for words when I think of how fortunate I have been. When I started this run I wanted to believe that despite what we hear and read and see on television, despite how bad the media portrays everything, that our country is still great and filled with the greatest people. I have not been disappointed. That faith has been restored. When parents stop me on the road to thank me, when young soldiers take the time to run with me when home on leave, when a store clerk hugs me, I feel the goodness, the appreciation and the sincerity. It is a huge, huge country and there are a few more miles to go until Maine. Angels are around me now, my guardians, my brothers in arms and they have carried me this far and protected me. It is something hard to explain and even harder to understand but the certainty of their presence is real. As real as the sun setting on these dwindling days…………………..
Willard, Ohio sits just west of the southern Cleveland suburbs. It is an area that reminds me of much of the country I have seen for the past 2 months except for the presence of more trees. The roads are quiet and traffic is sparse. The sound of cicadas that has accompanied me for so long, is fading as fall and the cooling temperatures quiet their melodious songs. We drive in silence to a 15 acre farm on the outskirts of town. Silence is good sometimes, even with a host. Her name is Kathe and there are things she wants to tell me and in time she will. At the farm are her horses and an array of goats and cats, rabbits and turkeys, roaming chickens and cows and best of all, two Shrek-like donkeys. She feeds the horses and walks them a bit and I soak in this quiet country night. Unable to reach Joe-the-hay-guy for some much need bales, we walk to the field and rake what little hay there is and feed the rest of the animals. Kathe is a native of Willard. Born and raised here, she would in turn, raise her three children here. As a single mom I can imagine it was difficult at times and yet a blessing and rewarding in many other ways for her. After dinner we head for her home and in her living room make small talk and she asks if I would like to meet her son Keifer. Rising from her chair she leads me to a hutch and Keifer is there, his ashes, in a beautiful mahogany box. Pictures come out. He was a beautiful little baby with blue eyes and blonde hair. There are photos of him from almost every age through school. Soccer photos and wrestling photos and always a smile. She is a very proud mother and yet I see the sadness and there is more for her to tell. “Do you know how he died?” I am puzzled. “No, I don’t.”
Keifer Wilhelm enlisted in the Army in December of 2008. He graduated from Basic Training in Fort Benning and in May 2009 received news he would be deployed to Iraq. Kathe speaks fondly of her son. She tells me how he was saving his money to buy a new car when he returned. She tells me of his battle with weight in high school and how he had shed the pounds needed on his own so he could enlist. In Basic he toned up and carried himself taller and with more confidence when he came home on leave. She had the month of July with her son and then within 4 days of arriving in Iraq, he was gone. In a bathroom stall he would end his life with a gunshot. In those few short days he was driven to despair and depression, the result of extreme hazing by 4 higher ranking soldiers. Tragic and sad. I sit there and listen to her story, I see the tears in her eyes. A soldier should never die that way, not having their dignity reduced to a level that would lead to suicide. Most importantly, not by those who would lead you and watch your back in the heat of battle. I read the reports. Stacks of court papers and statements by fellow soldiers reveal extreme physical punishment and mental abuse. “Why should it get any easier for you?” His bunk mate would say to him. The four would be brought up on charges of maltreatment and from what I am told, only a sentence of six months is given out to one. They will go home and carry on with their lives and be treated as heroes but there is darkness on the badges of honor that they carry. Kathe sits there and is quiet now. She wrings her hands over and over, rocks gently back and forth. She will not see her son marry or giver her grandchildren or see him on fall evenings at the farm like the night we shared. There are only blank pages now and she only has her memories to soothe her anguish. Maybe Keifer will return, maybe he already has. I believe that this wonderful, thoughtful, young man is around his mother each day and although he was never given the chance to protect his country, he will protect her. It is as it should be and it is an awareness of these things that I experience on the road………..
Oakwood, Ohio is a small town that sits not far from the Indiana border in Paulding County. It is an agricultural town, like so many on this western edge of the state. Ponds dot the fields along the roads I run. They are a bluish green, free of algae and plants. Many have docks and diving boards. They are by all appearances, natural swimming pools in the summer and skating rinks in the winter. It is in this town that I will stay tonight and I will share a story now of when my gracious hosts took me on a little ride to a home in the country……..
We head up Road 201 and as we pull into a driveway and stop, I see the barn. On the side of it is a mural. It shows a young soldier in uniform, an American Flag, clouds. It is a beautiful tribute. In front of the mural is a statue of a soldier and a bronze plaque that bears the name “Army PFC Josh Ramsey” His Mom and Dad walk out and she tells me the story of the mural and of her son. Josh was 19 and was an MP and wanted be a U.S. Marshall when he got out. He died at 19. Protecting his country inevitably prevented him from protecting his country back here, how ironic. It is on a Sunday that I learn much about him. His competiveness, his quick wit, his zest for life. Qualities that so many that are gone, have had. It was on a Sunday that his mother found out she had lost her son. “You must be mistaken, I just spoke with him this morning” she would tell the officers who knocked on her door. “We don’ t make these kind of mistakes Ma’m, we are sorry”. So in mourning his mother started planting flowers around a flag pole. They were red, white and blue. There were 500 of them. It is said in some folk lore, that when we lose a warrior and eagle will appear. Across the road lived the photographer for the local paper and watching her neighbor plant those flowers one day she looked up and saw 2 eagles circling overhead and snapped a photo. That picture is now in the Ramsey home. Leigh Anne Ramsey speaks lovingly of her son, she tells me of how he would jump up on the counter in the kitchen and ask what they were going to do that day. She tells me of the day she planted flowers and then was in the kitchen mopping. Crying, thinking of her son and then he was there….on the counter and said “You can stop crying Mom, I’m home now”.
Josh Ramsey was the type to jump into the water and then say “How do I swim”. I admire that. For what we don’t know we can learn. What we don’t believe can be changed. That is the most important thing, to believe. Believe, Believe, Believe and then jump. A visit in the country, a visit to a small town in Ohio shows me the character of rural America. That even in the presence of loss and grief, love holds everything together even if it is a mural and flowers in the countryside……………
Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America and it would seem fitting that these last 2 towns that I have passed through fit that bill. Incorporated in 1836, Logansport sits between 2 rivers, the Eel and Wabash and in the last century the Erie Canal would weave its way through but with the burgeoning onslaught of the railroad, river transportation would die. As I approach from the west the corn and soy bean fields that have dominated my periphial vision for the last 4 states has given way to woods, glorious woods and the smell of oak and maple trees. I sense fall just around the corner and I see just a hint of leaves starting to turn. Coming into Logansport I see Happy Burger and a giant cow out front. They advertise 49 cent hamburgers, a throwback to prices of the late 50s and early 60s and they actually serve Indiana raised beef. In a time of big business and franchises it is refreshing to see a place so original and family owned still standing. In a time of strip malls and mega centers and Super Walmarts I find it more appealling to see small town America fighting and surviving with businesses that carry a Norman Rockwell quality. Logansport once had several railroads and vaudeville performers who would stop on their way to Chicago. In time 5 highways would lay their cement web through and on the outskirts of town. Progress, as sure as the sun rises and sets would transform this town.
In the one thousand nine hundred seventy three steps it takes me to run a mile, I see alot. The world and its pace are slowed dramatically by my slow and steady forward motion. Today I found a total of 42 cents which now brings my grand total to $14.12…..give or take a few indestinguishable coins. A long, rolling hillside and 4 lanes of road with a huge shoulder to travel on, lead me to Wabash. It is an old Union city, as the memorial at the courthouse proclaims. Wabash also lays claim to being the first lighted city in the world. Fact. It was 1880 and carbon lights were attached to the courthouse, which at the time was the highest point on a hill which overlooked the city. Certainly other cities may have had electricity and would follow Wabash shortly thereafter with lights. Wabash was also the site of Modoc the Elephant short stint of freedom through town and the neighboring countryside back in 1942. He escaped when, while tied to a post outside the gymnasium, dogs startled him and he pulled loose and made his way down main street. When the smell of roasted paunuts filled his trunk he pushed his way through a 42 inch door (taking the frame with him) ate some peanuts and moved on. Five days later he was eventually lured on to a truck with 10 loaves of bread and promptly ate 20 more and drank 30 gallons of water. Modoc is now etched in local lore and the downtown coffee shop and sandwich store bears his name.
The word crossroads carries a special meaning today. As I climb to a top of a long hill I sense a truck pull up behind me. It is maroon and small, something economical. The woman who steps out is tall. I guess she is in her 50s. She is quiet and I don’t know what to expect till she says, “You have my nephew”…..His name was Chad Lake, he was from Ocala, FL and was 26. I didn’t have his flag. It had been placed Aug. 19th on Blackjack Road, outside of Galena, IL. My aunt was with me and she had placed it. I remember it clearly. Whats the chances that I would meet the aunt of this soldier on an obscure road out of 4417 names? That my aunt would place his flag? That I would even remember that? I noticed that she couldn’t speak. She had tears. Her lip was quivering. Then she walked away and I ran on………Crossroads of America….towns and people….entwined……