Part Three: Chipotle and Wildflowers
This is the final installment of my stupidly long story of Matt’s Ultramarathon and the ensuing chaos surrounding it. If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, you can catch up here:
Part 1: https://marglink.com/2015/06/10/sleep-deprivation-and-oreos-aka-the-ultramarathon-saga-pt-1/
Part 2: https://marglink.com/2015/06/12/bloody-but-unbowed-the-ultramarathon-saga-pt-2/
I’m writing this on an airplane as I head home from DC, so forgive my blatant lack of editing.
So, when I last left you, I was trudging uphill from the finish line, in search of Matt after having retraced my steps all the way back to my car. I had no idea how far Matt was from the finish line, so I kept moving forward blindly, feeling my heart rate rise again as the incline grew unforgivingly. I took the steep climb one step at a time (which is technically the only way to move on two legs, but I’m addressing more the psychological component than the physical constraints of bipedalism), breathing heavily and wishing that I’d considered bringing water with me for the last leg of the journey.
Experienced ultrarunners know that running up steep hills is a good way to over-rev your heart rate and burn out quickly. I figured that I might as well just blast up the hill and deal with the consequences later, fueled only by the Larabar I’d eaten at 2am (Coconut Cream flavor WHAT’S UP) and the fear of leaving Matt alone on the mountain when he needed support the most. After nearly two miles (!) what felt like climbing a never-ending staircase, I saw Matt in the distance, looking slightly more battered than when I’d left him & moving pretty slowly. I was elated that I’d be able to finish the last 2 miles of the course with him. I called Stina once again to check in- she let me know that Ryan was on his way, but he was going to stop by our downtown apartment first to try to dig up my spare keys. I honestly had no idea where they could be, so I relayed a few guesses to him but told him not to worry about it too much. The important thing was getting him here in time to see Matt finish, and I didn’t want to send him on a fool’s errand around my messy apartment when he was already driving 50 miles up into the mountains to pick our asses up.
The sun was now high and hot in the sky as I started down the hill with Matt. We were in the final stretch, but to someone who’d just run 98 miles, the last 2 miles of technical terrain wasn’t easily dismissed. Every time our path turned away from the direction of the finish line, Matt would let out an audible groan. “Just keep moving”, I’d remind him, as if there was another option at this point. We were running parallel to the very last straight of the course, separated only by a one-lane highway. The cheers at the finish line were audible in the distance, encouraging and taunting us at once as they wafted over the highway as runners completed the race. Now that I really think about it, I was exhausted, but oddly happy to be out on the mountain, getting a farmer’s tan on my legs and getting to savor just a bit of this experience with Matt. After about 30 minutes (with Matt asking me for the time at least 6 times during this section), the end was near. We crossed over the freeway, joked about getting hit by a car at mile 99.9, and started picking up the pace as we closed in on the finish line. Out of nowhere, Matt started actually running for the finish line, shedding his backpack dramatically as he covered the last stretch of trail (I was reminded of a young Forrest Gump running out of his leg braces). I ran alongside him until he got into the final “chute”, at which point I veered off to the side and let him cross the line solo. He’d made it 100.2 miles.
Ryan was there at the finish line as we’d discussed, soaking in the atmosphere and witnessing some inspiring finishes (Ryan and I are running a 50k in September, so in preparation we take inspiration where we can get it). Matt was energized, chatting with the race organizer and grabbing cookies from a buffet. We took a final glance at the finish line then hopped in Ryan’s truck to make the hour-long drive back down to San Diego. I still had no idea what I was going to do about my car, parked at the Chambers campground in freaking JULIAN CA (home of mountains, pies, and not much else). It was a Sunday at almost 11am at this point, and our keys, wallets, all forms of payment, etc etc were all stranded inside my car. I chose to just deal with it later because getting Matt home and getting his feet up were my priorities.
The stress of imperfect situations can be frustrating, debilitating. How was I going to get my car? Where were my spare keys? How was I going to buy anything until I got my car back? However, it was clear to me that this was one of those times where I was going to have to subscribe to my own hippie philosophy of trusting the universe and letting things work themselves out. We got back to our apartment in downtown San Diego just before noon, and Matt was asleep on the bed by approximately 12:10, frozen packs of peas on either foot and our dog Luna standing vigil at the foot of the bed, somehow aware that Matt was in a bit of a battered state.
I quickly started strategizing food- we had limited options in the house, no real currency available to purchase additional food, and no car to pick up anything that required driving. I realized that I could order chipotle online, pre-pay with the credit card number I’d memorized (thank you, online shopping), and pick it up 3 blocks away. Crisis temporarily averted. I called my mom and relayed the saga up to this point, wishing she could just come down to San Diego from Sacramento and take care of everything with her magical mom powers. One of the most impressive powers in her arsenal is her ability to read my mind, so she asked, “Do you need me to come down there and take care of you kids?” Mom, obviously I need you to take care of us but I’m a 25-year old grown-ass woman and I should be able to handle dumb shit like this! AKA: “Yes, please come down here”.
She made arrangements and hopped on the next flight out. By the time she got in, Matt and I were fast asleep, waking up only as she entered the apartment with the spare key we keep at the front desk. I felt like I could handle anything with my mom there, helping me navigate the crazy mess I’d made simply by losing my keys at a very inopportune time.
After being chastised for not knowing where my spare key was, started to get the feeling that it was actually in my purse (in my car, in Julian, as you know). We agreed that I’d take the next day off of work and we’d go to Julian to recover my car. It was kind of a half-baked plan- I mean, what if my spare key wasn’t there? We’d have to tow the car back to San Diego and figure it out. TRUST was the theme, so when we woke up the next morning, my mom grabbed Matt’s keys, we filled up a camelback with water and headed up to Julian, thinking that if everything went horribly wrong, at least we could hike around and try to find my keys on Stonewall (ha!) and get some pie.
As my mom and I headed up the highway around 9am, I became aware of how lucky I was to be in such a crazy situation. I never get to spend time with my mom when she’s in San Diego- I’m always working, running off to some fitness class or social event, barely making time for my own mother. Now, here I was, heading out to basically go hiking with her when I should have been at work. I knew that the day was going to be special, no matter what materialized from that point forward.
After a winding cruise back to where I’d been just 24 hours ago, we made it to the Chambers campground. My car was there, unhurt, and we called AAA to try their luck with the lock. By some stroke of magic (witchcraft? Jesus?), a tow truck was 5 minutes away and zoomed over to meet us. He broke into my car handily and I immediately went for my purse, rifling around and eventually locating my spare key (along with my house keys, which I’d disconnected from my car key before taking off running with Matt). SUCCESS!
I could go home now, life was good, and I wouldn’t have to be towing my car back to San Diego. However, the day had just begun, and I wanted to try my luck on the mountain to see if I could locate my lost key. I was feeling optimistic, and my mom and I figured that we might as well get a good hike in. So, with a camelback full of water and our minds already at ease after locating the spare key, we headed out on the trail, eager to revisit my old friend, Stonewall Mountain.
It probably won’t surprise you that we got to the top of the mountain and didn’t find my key. However- the day was not lost for productivity; I’d contacted the race organizer and let him know that we’d be helping with some trail cleanup. So, as we headed back down the mountain we began collecting the bright orange ribbon that had marked the race path, stopping every 5-10 minutes and untying the ribbon from tree branches, shrubs, and stakes in the ground. As there were gorgeous early summer wildflowers dotting the mountainside, I obviously needed to fashion myself a wildflower bouquet (this surprises nobody), so I was carefully selecting blooms and delighting in my little wild collection of flowers. So, there we were, marching downhill and stopping whenever we approached an orange ribbon or a particularly compelling flower.
My mom points to a shock of little white flowers and suggests grabbing some of those. I contemplate their place in my bouquet and agree that it could use some of these little unassuming white blossoms. I bend down, grab a few, and something catches my eye. It’s my key. In the flowers. Sitting there, like OF COURSE it should be right there. I want to say something like “I shook my head in disbelief” but I actually believed it right away. I realized that, at that moment, the mountain had given me everything I could have asked for: I got to run with Matt, get some good training miles in for my own race as I ran back up in search of my keys, got to spend the day with my mom, volunteer and do some race clean-up, and eventually when I’d completed EVERYTHING I didn’t know I needed to do, I was rewarded with my key.
I guess the point is that trust is deliberate. I won’t make some resounding statement about “the universe working everything out” because sometimes our problems are bigger than losing a car key. But when it comes to small problems that have the potential to ruin your day, empower yourself with the knowledge that you have the choice to free yourself from stress and roll with the punches, trusting that you can handle whatever is put in front of you- because honestly, what choice do you really have?
Friends: Do you remember a time when you had a huge problem that you conquered? Tell me about it in the comments!