The Wisdom of Hippie Dan - Page 5
I know a novelist who says he was never happier than when he was working on his first book, which turned out to be so bad that he never showed the manuscript to anyone. He said his joy came from the way time stopped and from all he learned about himself and his craft during those sessions. Running with Dusty that spring—not racing, running—I understood what the writer had been talking about.
I also thought I might do all right in a race. I entered Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon in June, and all the training with Dusty paid off. I finished in 2:54. Not bad. I thought that, with focus and training, I could get faster.
Instead, with Dusty’s recommendation, I decided to go farther. I would enter my first ultra.
The day of the 1994 Voyageur we were both ready, and when Dusty—the defending champion—shot off the starting line, I shot off, too. Dusty didn’t call me Jurker or give me shit about my studies. We ran, and not just free. We ran hard. Minnesota in late July can be a muggy 90 degrees and muddy, and this day it was both of those, but we kept cranking. Then, at about mile 25, in a particularly gooey mud puddle, Dusty’s left shoe came off. He stopped to fetch it, and for a second I hesitated. How was I supposed to run without Dusty in front of me? He was the legend. I was the sidekick. He was the runner. I was just a stubborn Polack. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I did what I had been doing. I kept running. I ran for a few seconds, then a few minutes, and I looked back over my shoulder and didn’t see Dusty. I kept running.
Maybe my ski career was over. Maybe my dad would never be happy. Maybe my mom wasn’t going to get better, and maybe I’d always lead a dual life, split between diligence and the wild ways that Dusty represented. But at the moment I crossed the finish line, it didn’t matter. I had completed one of the hardest things I had ever attempted, and I told myself “never again.” I lay face down in the grass, panting, happy but feeling sick, totally drained. I didn’t have anything left. Was this what being a runner meant? Putting everything into a single race until you had nothing left to give? I had sensed a long time earlier that I had a talent for gaining speed when others gave ground, and I had wondered how that talent might ever serve me. In the rocky hills outside Duluth, bouncing on my cruel, nut-crunching green Bianchi, I had realized that no matter how much something hurt, I could gut it out. I wondered what that skill would ever be good for. I finished second in my first Voyageur, beating Dusty (who finished third) for the first time.
Hippie Dan had told me that we all had our own path, that the trick was to find it.
I think I had found mine.