We each play the role of the central character in the story of our own life. In doing so, we either create the story, then try to live it out, or we instead live out our life and let the story spring from it.
Once Upon a January…
For a time, I distanced myself and disconnected from ideas that I found to be counter to my values. Namely, the constructs of social media; collecting – not connecting with others, left me disenchanted. So, I left it all behind me and, in doing so, I wondered if going against social norms was just where my path was leading me, or if I was creating my own narrative to disguise a lonely walk into self-isolation.
There is a moment of shock in making the change from having hundreds of “friends” down to a number that can be counted on a few fingers. Being away from social media for some time helps unlearn those ideas though. Although I had no sense of how, or even if I would make more meaningful connections with people by keeping my focus in the real world. I found my attention fixed on my family and the precious few friends in my life. The connection that I believed in, that I trusted I would find, was not quite what I expected if I’m honest… it was far more than I ever imagined.
My kids and I visited Elephant Rock Pier. hoping to find a friendly angler there to educate us about the art of pier fishing. As it turned out, we were in luck! A young man was there with his Dad, and he was catching fish one after another. We approached the young angler and asked if he’d share his secret technique; he enthusiastically agreed! Before long, both of my kids were fishing alongside him using spare rods that he’d brought out. It was one of those moments that was just very neat to watch unfold.
The young fisherman’s father and I started chatting, his name was Geoff. Somehow the conversation quickly turned to running, I don’t recall how exactly. Maybe everyone is just an ultrarunner these days! I had just run Firetrails 50 mile the day before; Geoff had run it a few times himself over the years. He’d run quite a few other trail races including WSER a few times, and Quad Dipsea a bunch of times too. I had one of those moments where I felt a little bad about not knowing who he was, but I could tell he wasn’t carrying an ego around and was just a regular guy who happened to also be an extraordinary person. Our kids were having a great time, and we were just two doods on a pier, talking shop. We exchanged contact information before I finally pulled the kids away from the fishing rods. In the weeks that followed, the kids and I geared up and went back to the pier where we had our own fishing success thanks to Geoff and especially his son’s expert tips!
Around that time, I had been enjoying spending time with different people in other ways. I increased my involvement in running for my local track club’s USATF master’s team. Being part of the team felt good. Pursuing goals with others who valued athleticism, sportspersonship, and mutual respect felt good. I have gained such an appreciation of the “older” runners (which I am now officially one of). Their level of maturity, openness, and athletic ability is a true inspiration and has totally changed my perspective of aging. As I’ve become friends with some of these guys and gals and through the club, new doors have opened up with opportunities abound, despite my lack of time to jump into everything I’d like to. The point of all this rambling, I suppose, is to recognize the overabundance of fulfillment which stems from a small number of meaningful connections. Often, my cup is overflowing, and this is to say nothing of the many friendships and support I share with fellow students and faculty at SFSU. I even started playing djembe and formed a Kinesiology themed multi-cultural world-music band (kidding, well… partly!).
Going with the Flow
Had I never stepped outside the limitations of social circles based on broad, but shallow connections to others, I likely would have missed out on an event that has set the tone of my year. This underscores how spending energy on person-to-person relationships returns in magnitudes.
I awoke one morning and checked my inbox to discover an email from Greg, who was unknown to me, but the message was about coming out to run at Point Reyes with a group of runners. I just shot back an email to Greg, who had mysteriously known that Point Reyes is my absolute favorite place to run, thanking him for the invite. “It’s going to be good, just come out, you’ll like it.” That was more or less all the information that Greg sent back. He also mentioned that it was a mutual friend from Tamalpa, my track club, that informed him of my love for Point Reyes. Otherwise, I only knew that some people might run about 15 miles and some might run about 35 miles. The first thing I thought is, I bet Geoff would be into this, maybe he even knows about it… so I pinged Geoff who sent back a similar response “It’s going to be great, see you there!” So… he did know… I inferred. It was all a little cryptic, which only further piqued my interest! I showed up at the trailhead just as the sun was rising, ready for anything. That was my interpretation of the instructions given to me. There, I discovered a small group of about 2 dozen runners preparing to go out for between 15 and 35 miles of Point Reyes magic.
Immediately, I spotted Geoff and a few other friendly faces. I introduced myself to Greg, who was genuinely stoked that I decided to come out, then as a group, we discussed who was interested in running what. I was up for the full 35, as was Geoff. Greg said he’d join us for a good chunk of it. Then something very touching happened.
Greg had bracelets made up with Mark Richtman’s name on them in remembrance of Mark’s life. Each of us was given one and there was a moment taken to remember Mark and dedicate the day to him. This particular day was to be a celebration of life; Mark surely would have been there himself running with his friends as they liked to do each year around this time. In thought, I took a step back to appreciate what was about to unfold, then all of us ran into the forest together.
As the morning mist retreated from the warm sun, I ran along with Geoff and Greg. At times we just ran with only the sound of the saturated forest floor and our shoes giving away our presence, but mostly we talked of family, friends, and life. I only knew Mark as an acquaintance, a humble and good-natured spirit of the trails of Marin. I had run with Mark on occasion, but less often than I would have liked to. Geoff and Greg knew Mark as a friend, and it showed in the many memories they shared.
Each story was inspired by a different stretch of trail or a particular view. We shared a lot of laughs in those memories, and through them, I got to know Mark a little better. I had a few of my own Point Reyes memories of Mark; he and I bumped into each other there a handful of times and he would graciously slow his pace to share some miles with me while out on his 13-mile tempo runs through the woods and along the coast. He was smiling every time I saw him and liked to remind me “always do some repeats at faster than race pace!” Solid advice, it turned out. As we all talked, I could imagine Mark running alongside us, with all that hair of his flowing behind him, and his wide grin that seemed to be ever-present during his runs.
As the day drew on, the conversation wove in and out of the importance of our children, significant others, and taking time to appreciate life. It donned on me that these guys were both super down to earth and just all-around good people. Suddenly I heard Greg take a fall behind me. The slippery mud had finally got its way with one of us. He went down pretty hard, but picked himself up and walked it off. “Toughest guy I know”, Geoff said to me. Five or six miles later, we reached Bear Valley Road. Greg decided it was a good opportunity for him to head to the visitor center, clean up the mud and scrapes, and relax for a few.
Greg peeled off as Geoff and I headed Northward along Coastal Trail, continuing a good conversation about making family time count, and spending our precious free time with good people. The conversation made the climbs easier, and soon enough we were descending for the last time. As we made our way down from Sky Trail to the visitor center, with legs heavy from the 30 miles of running, our spirits were high. A handful of folks waited there for us with food and drink!
I recognized Laura from her win at Miwok a few years prior, but also because she and I had done some trail work together once. She remembered! It was out on Coastal trail, reworking a couple of miles with fellow Tamalpan, Kevin. I shared my story of chasing Kevin down the finish at Miwok once when he was racing and didn’t realize I was just a volunteer. We shared laughs and good times. For their kindness and awesomeness, I thanked Greg, Laura, John (who generously brought us some water and snacks) and David, all who had waited at the visitor center for Geoff and me to re-emerge.
Although it had been more than I ever expected, and a full day of trail enjoyment, I decided to run the final five miles back to the trailhead where we started for some reflection on my own. I didn’t get too far into the final leg of the run before I was laughing out loud hysterically. The cows along the Rift Zone trail had completely destroyed their pasture, thanks to the recent rains. I was in sloppy mud up to my lower shins! All I could do was laugh, even though my legs ached as I pulled my heavy shoes along for the last few miles. It was the perfect ending to the day. I imagined Mark, waiting at the trailhead, leaning on his car with that big smile of his. I imagined what he might say if he were to see me appear suddenly, covered in mud. I have no doubt it would be another one of those small moments in life that make for a lasting memory. Marks good nature and charisma clearly touched many folks; I felt honored to be one of them, and to be among them, keeping Mark with us through experiences such as this. I don’t typically address the closing quote I choose to leave, but in this case, I would just like to say that I can’t think of someone more appropriate than Mattie Stepanek to comment on the importance of appreciating life from one of his “Heartsongs”. – JD
“While we are living in the present, we must celebrate life every day, knowing that we are becoming history with every work, every action, every deed” – Mattie Stepanek