Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Al's Run

Grandpa died today. Or yesterday, I don't know.

His heart gave out a week ago, and Technology gave out a week later.
But this blog is about running, and rambling, so what can I offer?

Grandpa Al taught me to ramble, whether it be in story or across the atlas. Just before his 70th birthday, we spent a dream trip together in Alaska. He is the "A" in "MAH" (and, aren't sandwiches named not after the ends, but the meat in the middle?)

Grandpa Al was born in 1933, grew up in Michigan, and saw Korea from the reluctant barrel of a gun, and, at the 38th parallel, he learned to drive truck. A few years later, he returned safely, and drove truck across his homeland. He spent time here in Colorado -- got married in the Springs, as a matter of fact -- and rambled about, and then spent most of his time living near family in Michigan and Wisconsin.

His final days were spent in Racine, Wisconsin, just a mile or two from Lake Michigan, the great, endless body of water that separates Michigan from Wisconsin.

Spending a few days in Racine to celebrate Grandpa's life, I knew I would invariably end up at the lake. There's something innate about water and it's link to the cycle of life, from baptisms to bon voyage. Just over five years ago, in fact, I was in the same house and watched my grandmother pass away on her living room couch. Once she breathed her last, I resorted to the coping mechanism I know best:

I ran.

After my grandmother died in 2004, I ran out the door and headed East. At that time, Fall had just begun, and when I reached the lake -- running out of East -- I waded straight into the water.
This time, being late November, I awoke after sleeping at my grandfather's house, headed out for a run, and simply stopped at the beach. I had arisen early enough to beat the sunrise, by mere minutes. I watched as the horizon lightened, before an intense orange ball poked, degree by degree, above the calm blanket of fresh water. Satisfied in the dawning of a new day, I ran back.

Spending the weekend in Racine, I returned to the beach twice more. Each of these times, I discarded my shoes, and enjoyed the rare pleasure of barefoot beach running. I've greatly enjoyed barefoot running on both coasts before, but never this close to winter in my birth state. This run, at the end of November, I felt a novel sensation of partially frozen, crusted freshwater beach sand sink beneath my feet. I continued a mile and a half or so south, on North Beach in Racine, past the zoo and desolate "Beach Oasis" of summertime pizza and ice cream, until I hit a long concrete jetty that led out to a small lighthouse.

Shoeless, I headed up the jetty, across pockets and patches of solid ice. As the concrete jutted out into the lake and stabbed at my feet, the waves lept vertically and splashed across me. My feet, fingers, and mind were comfortably numb as I made way out to the the lighthouse, with nothing in my vision but swirling waves straight ahead. Eventually, I reached some cold, rusty steps that led up to a platform. I sat here for a bit and rub my feet.

"The meaning of life is to love" said a choice piece of graffiti.

After a few minutes, I headed back to the beach, and retrieved my shoes. I returned along the path and city streets, waving hello to a few folks walking their dogs, in front of old houses with decorative Packer flags, Badger flags, and "Happy 11th Birthday, Tyler!", taking comfort in the small traditions that never change.

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