Thursday, March 24, 2022

'22 Houston Marathon

It felt like right before you're about to break or freak out and/or almost to the point of hilarity, but not yet. You're still handling it; you should laugh, but you can't. I professed a weakened resolve for weeks leading in. Understanding that my emotional/mental capacity to handle anything short of a blip was unnerving. I know what led to it, which is helpful, but, there wasn't much I could do about it, during, and in hindsight: A never-ceasing pandemic. A demoralizing departure from an employer I'd spent 7 years working for. Brainfry in learning a new job. Devastating flooding which affected/continues to affect people I care deeply for. Death & separation sentences. What felt like endless windstorms; yelling into the wind out of breathless desperation & then irritated at my inability to ignore the sensation of it. Two critical weeks of big snow, sad ice and slighted ankles. Plantar in the other foot. Cancelled flights and expensive re-purchases. Covid exposures and quarantines. A sickness - the eventual clutch of Covid. Mass outage of Covid tests; pharm's audible smirk on the daily inquiry. Did I have it? The CDC edited their standards. I communicated my sick to my close friends & teammates I'd travel to Houston with. After a week of "it," thinking maybe I had it, maybe/hopefully I didn't, no way to test, and their approval, we made the trip to Houston. 

I was irritated with Alaska Airlines. Empathetic enough to understand the difficulty in the Delta variant's hold, its affect on staffing, the snow storm grounding flights. But. they cancelled our flight without notification/communication in any form. We'd only found out through looking at the upcoming flight schedule and no longer seeing ours listed. And then the phone lines went wild and all of us were on 3-12 hour holds which ended in click because the lines themselves were tired. I only received confirmation of the cancellation after texting AA myself days before our trip, and then I/we had to buy last minute flights to Houston through someone else at a much higher cost. I felt a sort of entitled rejection - was I not the Courtney Olsen of 7 years' membership, with 45,503 miles flown (lol)?!

Thursday, Jan 13 - That aside, Thomas Two-Trainz, Derek D$, Coach Sloane & I boarded, flew & arrived in Houston. Car rented. Taco Bell gorged - stomachs extended. Our flat was in some faux-luxury medium-rise in the Central Business District, off Caroline (an excellent spot in relation to the race start/finish and eateries), but, and I've been noticing this a bit with Airbnb's across the states, these "luxury condos," which are a hybrid of renters and Airbnb listings, are bare bones and gaunt in comfort, s&p, and basically all basics. A fine-glossed glossary of photos and a fine first glance, but the garbage cans on property are overflowing, the hallways smell like weed, and the sleepersofa was like laying on stacked cattle guards. Poor Sloane folded the metal back into couch form and slept sadly, his knees bent in order to fit. Thomas & I had cute little twin beds side-by-side.

Friday, Jan 14 - We met with Ber who had flown in ahead of us, went for a shakeout and enjoyed the delicious sun. Picked up bibs at the Expo at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Discovery Green. After weeks of quarantining, and living in Washington in general, it was weird to be at the expo, to see nurses in scrubs sans masks and infants being carted around amidst the unmasked - such faith in health, and/or such lack of faith in masks, and/or, simply, Texas. 

Craved TexMex. Walked to Cobo's BBQ for smoked tacos, cocktails & Lone Stars. Drove the course. Went for groceries. Was most excited for dinner, a suggestion from Derek - Pappasito's Cantina - walkable from our bnb. Pappasito's hadn't been on my radar, which is offensive, because it has a thick list of delicious & large margs. En route to our table & look, it's Ben Flanagan, Thomas' double, and he's drinking a marg, so he must be alright. Derek suggests the Fajita Famosas for the 4 of us. BEEF. Succulent. Grilled on open flame, flour tortillas, rice, frijoles a la charra, margaritas of course, and it was us in a cardinal glow, wanting just one more, asking, "Do you do Margaritas to go?" Surprised with the, "Yes, but we can't do 'open container,' so I'll have to get creative." And then she places a plastic bag with 3 blue-capped milk bottles in sweating blended margs, zip-tied at the top in front of us - it pleased me. 

Saturday, Jan 15 - Another thing about these faux-lux condos - though generally recent builds, they tend to shortcut the thickness/material of the walls. All of us woke in the wee morning to the sound of jackhammering concrete, the walls vibrating. After another shakeout and strides we toured a bit of Houston, between Midtown and Westmoreland, enjoyed Westheimer. Thrifted while the guys checked out beer can house (full of sound). Made plans to come back the following night, post race, to sample the libations. 

One of those unremarkable, slow-moving, anxious day-befores. Indecisively ordered takeout, where I made the not-so-smart choice of a vegetable-heavy pizza, drank my pre-race favorite chardonnay, while we watched 1960s-70s clips of mid-distance Olympic races.

Sunday, Jan 16 - Toasted bagels & coffees, thankfully no jackhammering. We text'd Ber to make sure she was up & found that she'd withdrawn, her desire to race absent, on a flight back early. It was weirdly out of body - like where is my friend? Why has she left? Is she ok? Am I ok?  A befuddled puddle of sad & mad and then complete compartmentalization for preservation. We got ready and it was frigid, black & windy. The wind had been likely, it tends to be there, then, and it had been through our entire build, which seemed to encourage its eventual probability. 

The benefit to our bnb being proximity, we were able to jog to the start line. My plantar wasn't the best, but it wasn't the worst, and I believed that on a good day, if granted, I could run sub 2:37. As part of the Athlete Dev. group, we weren't afforded fluids or a bag drop, so I'd packed my bra full of Maurten & tossed my pants for good. Left a long sleeve top on covering my kit, and gloves, thinking I'd toss them along the way, but I never warmed, and for the race through I ran in an outfit that added to my feeling of not really being "in it."

It was a nice benefit that Derek and I got to start together. We had similar goals. We'd trained together for a large part of the year & knew what it felt like to run/feel through the nuance of concrete hours. We were bunched up several hundred people back of front. The gun blew. It took a bit, to cross the start, to find a stride. The first mile was disjunctive & slow. I thought that when I found the space, I'd also find the pace, but in all honesty I was strained from the beginning. I tried to dumb down, ease into it, lean into Derek quite early on. I think I was able to maintain that connectivity & delusion till mile 8? And then I felt him slip and he slipped and I wanted to go where he was going, but I couldn't. Fatigued, with intestinal cramping, I stopped, hoping that by going the bathroom I might find myself better sorted, but that turned into stopping every few miles to go to the bathroom. I'd try to dip back down to 6:00s and I'd immediately suffer gastrically. My butthole had a pace cap. In one stop I found a porto where there was a poo-splosion across the whole back wall, which puckered up my own butthole & I think I just puckered up and pace capped myself to the finish from there on out. I think I spent a good amount of time sad, but I also made up new goals (finish) (sub 2:50), and self-soothed and self-talked my way towards the finish line, baring a smile in hopes it reached me deeper, pushed me further. At the time, during, I figured it just wasn't my day, the sick had taken some from my reserves, that my resolve that was weakened was a part of it, that the vegetable heavy pre-race dinner was the culprit to my distress. I didn't think, Oh, it's covid - because who could run 2:48 with covid? That's not likely right? 

I crossed the finish line in 2:48:07 (33rd F), over 11 minutes off of what I had worked for, proud of something Lilliputian, and also dejected. Composure kept in seeing my friend & teammate waiting there for me. It's a small kindness that means a lot. You have to kind of pretend that you're not hovering, so that officials don't encourage you along. You have to think about someone else aside from yourself & what you've just accomplished. You have to want to share something. It was a chance to feel good for a second - to find out that Derek had achieved his goal of sub 2:40, running 2:38:03. And in his result, knowing that we had trained well & right. He could be the symbol of what I could have done, and I could feel gratitude in his ability to achieve it, in his success. I very painfully and butt-clenchingly hobbled to the meet up area, where I ate an ice cream sandwich in a sad way & caught up on the results of Thomas (1:12:21, not what he was capable of, but an ok day), Jay's other athletes, and  news of the Americans (D'Amato's 2:19:12 AR & Hall's 1:07:15 AR). Jay confirmed how I felt by allowing that I did not look in my true form early on (which I appreciate, because sometimes it's easy to think, Maybe I'm just not tough enough? But when someone says, Yeah you looked off - it's actually quite helpful). 

Full Results

Since I had lost my pants, I walked back to the bnb in my buns. At the bnb, in the shower, I sat down in my sadness. Had a sharp cry & grieved contemplations; cracked a beer and drank to the adventure with my 3 lovely men. It took a while before I averted the proximity between my existential pain & it's bodily response; had to excuse myself a few times for secret cries, but I came around. We dressed and met Jay's other athlete/s at a very sick brewery - 8th Wonder - in East downtown. The vibes were soul-soothing. Angst-lifting. The chalkboard list of availables ample. Creams and hazy's and Vietnamese coffee porters and Viet-Irish and haterades and dubbels and goses and french toast breakfast beer. I could have lived there. I had the Threat Level Cherry - a barrel aged red w/ cherries @ 7%. The graffiti was sick. The art sick. Houston-centric photographs, memorabilia & jerseys from the city's sports franchises sick. Food trucks sick. David Adickes' Fab Four (Beatles, 36 ft. tall, for sale) statues sick.

After, we headed back to our beloved Westheimer Rd./Montrose. To Velvet Taco for chicken & waffle tacos (crisp tenders, peppered bacon, peppercorn gravy, green apple slaw, maple syrup, red chile aioli & chives in a waffle tortilla) (woof) & one very good margarita with added tajin rim (bomb). 

To Present Company, a Palm Springs style patio bar with Bowie in a striped bodysuit by Kansai Yamamoto wallpaper and a room covered in disco glass, for sassy cocktails like Stranger Danger, Are Those Space Pants?, Don't Tell the Butcher {About the Milkman}, The Whispering Eye & Plan Bee. I had something pink lit on fire with a grapefruit garnish (?). 

To Pistolero's Tequila Bar, which wasn't very good, but looked like it should be, for below-average margs. To the much more sophisticated & lux Hugo's, where we should have been considered under-dressed & underwhelming patrons, but were treated to as kindly as the posh couple ordering endless chardonnay at the end of the bar (and who so kindly offered us all a round). Derek bought us mid-level tequila shots, we pounded and left. From here Thomas & I diverted to a tattoo parlor whereupon he was tatted (insert funny anecdotes). Reunited with D$ & Sloane, headed home, ordered pizza and beer for delivery, then slept for a few hours before we'd leave on an early flight back home. Shortly thereafter I was finally able to sneak a covid test in an obscure, cagey way (tests still unavailable for the gen public & the government's release of home tests not yet accessible), and there printed faintly was my positive result. Followed by: guilt, relief, sadness, awe, vulnerability, sharing the news with those I'd put at risk. Thankfully, I did not, as far as I'm aware, get anyone I spent time with sick, including my husband. I'll thank my full vacc & booster, mask wearing, tequila drinking, weird luck for that. 

It was full of dichotomy, to find out and that which came thereafter. I had to ask myself hard questions. Some were mad/disappointed and others supportive and non-blaming. I had to reckon with the question of selfishness, with honesty, with how I'd respond if it were someone else. I was mourning the work I'd done, and I was also, briefly aware that I had just run 2:48 with covid - what that meant about what I could handle. I'm still processing, still irritated, still hurt, still in self-reflection, and it was deep in all of that in the beginning, that we were also trying to go to Argentina a week after Houston. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


In a two-seater plane; it's the closest I've been to a stranger's body in months.
Falling asleep, with a mouth in O in hiding behind a surgical mask, and the sudden self-conscious jerk of waking feels even more intimate than in all planes past.
As I was O'ing, in air - Inauguration, and a young woman in yellow,
Amanda Gorman, poet laureate, called for unity. 

Down the terminal, down the escalator - a man in a black suit at the bottom,
"HOKA" in hand, spoken for: glamour. 
He's a soft talker or my ears are riddled in a compression of clouds or its our masks or all of it.
It's his first week back working.
Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, now familiar: a Native American-owned luxury resort which reflects the Gila River Indian Community's heritage and culture in architecture, design, art, of the Pima (Akimel O'otham) and Maricopa (Pee Posh) tribes. 
"Notice the spectacular ceiling dome murals!"

Reading Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties by Allen Ginsberg.
Contemplating peyote. Not enjoying his dream sequences. 
Looking out the glass door, 
Of floodlit Chandler! City of santa-rita prickly pear!
City I want to see: its javelinas & desert breeze & yucca.
It's a learned requisite to do less, lay plumb under the weight of an about-to
Under bleached bedding and Native American motifs
:Forensic Files, thin walls, staccato

Dart into the fever of an Arizona afternoon, on dirt track and perpendicular to
SR 347, to the windmill in the sky: Dutch - Kicker: Goodwill

Dinner slot: fragrant beef, thick mash.
All subsequent meals are presented in singular containers, brown bagged
(alcohol & sweets are wanting)
Broken between cleaning cycles; we've lost our ability for second helpings, for touching handles, 
We've lost our microwaves and mini fridges, but,
Do you know the elementary reverie, the nostalgia
of having meal slots and things decided for you? Yes - blest

A dream: I'm racing Herron in a backyard duel & leaping lawn furniture:
a 100k steeplechase race...It's close, but I'm going to win.
I tell McManus as much. I think he smiles.
I love race dreams. 
I savor the test in front of me with the youthful fear of standardized, aptitude, where
you know you have a sort of something behind the curtain, but you're blunt ended and at the mercy of body
:plantar, heel, with it's hot temper! 
The playlist > Fitness > Hip-Hop Hits: 2020
Riddy Ricch, Pop Smoke, DaBaby, Cardi

Thursday night: enfolded by a mothering character organizing pacing strategies.
It's involved - it sure feels nice being around engrossed women. 
Each in Hoka blue, at a round table, dim in desert night,
"Everyone is in a holiday mood."
It was tricky because none of us intended to set the WR, and knew 
that it would take a really good day to hit the prospective AR, BR, FR, IR 
But we came up with some strategies and
our pacers were more than generous in their willingness for range.
Still, among us were the undertrained, unknowing, injured, never have before's, pregnant.
That's a lot.
Optimism raged.
Disbanded and Forensic and Tik-Tok'd to bed.

Friday, 7:30 am: Addi, Ashley, Audrey, Carrie, Carla, Dani, Emily - such a bouquet - 
a morning run, fruit parfait sky, entered 
Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for  
a tour of the course: the finish, the start,
and strides and breakfast and bottle drops and 
pre-race zoom meeting and the zoom bloop sounds of everyone leaving.

Saturday, 4:45 am: Cafe traipse
:latte and oats with nut butter, banana
Bag packed with accoutrements for weather or feelings, a note tucked (to be read)

Here, the Brown Tower, the checkered floor, mass window, hi-top tables, narrow.
It is both pacified and twitchy; the race track vibrates.
He lays on the floor, lifting his arms, truly vertical, up and
down, eyes closed; a prepared portrait that makes you stop and consider. It's Buddhish.
And there's a very large tub of petroleum jelly and little stickers for us to write our names for the necklines of our clothing. For though our talent be different our layers are the same. 
It is getting close.
"I don't warm up for this right lol?" I'm thinking 
about all the people who have to stand around exposed for 8 hours. 
She's doing an interview for her fans on Instalive.
He's striding the length of a thin slip of concrete that lines the race track's finish & flashing lights
I'm laughing, acting out old Western track drills
I'm about to do a few new things:
1) not wear inserts for my PF in order to best absorb X2's amulet
2) Run 62.1371 miles

Saturday, January 23, 7:10 am MST
:Walmsey, Hawks, Andrews, Pannu, Brown, Lantz, Lantz 2, Olsson, Hunt, Cabada, Finocchiaro, Van Der Zon, Watson

7:15 am MST
:Herron, Molinaro, Tanguy, Jennings, Monette, Olsen

We're lined on X's several feet apart, countdown - crack.
It feels so uncomplicated, undemanding. I'm not 100% myself, but perhaps I don't have to be.
Define: The feeling of wanting something desperately but being physically incapable of achieving it
Not: Delusional, Unsound, Idealistic, Invented, Presumed, Vainglorious
More like: trying to grasp the cat toy from under the couch, tickling, you just need a longer arm or to jam your face deeper into the plinth base
Like: willing oneself, belief despite disputing evidence + Weltschmerz
"If only I was X, then X"
:Likely a common thread that weaves through the human narrative.

An assigned pacer became a person I knew my soul needed. 
Addi: divine, comedic, architect of slipstream, and perhaps most intimately - piddle bosom bud.
I stopped not less than 10 times because [hydrate] and also, Acceptance
Math: +/-10x30-45s ÷ 7:55:00 = X

There's this marching drum band going off next to the Brown Tower on each lap.
They are a Party. So much
So that when they've disappeared after lap 2, Addi and I are all like,
And Hoka staff are like, "Not to fret, they're on lunch. They'll be back."
Guess what?
They never came back.
And right where the drummers had been rippin it is this little blip, like
the only incline on the whole course, and every time I'd hit it
I'd almost trip and be like, Dude! And the Hoka staff would giggle, and say,
"Watch out for that hill!

Two reporters spooning on the motorcycle zipped in with camera down - 
"Hey! Where's Camille?"
"Dude, she's up front - I'd take that shortcut."
:literally directing cameramen about where people are at in the race, because I'm not as cool, and maybe because it looked like I wasn't racing                                                              lol
They came back for a spell, trained on Addi & I, and it was this annoying hum of motorcycle and trying to convince yourself not to stop for another pee. When
they did leave I ducked into a porto where someone had fusilladed sloppy joe across the whole interior.
It was the worst thing I've seen in my long history of porto usage. And I'm going to blame it on a male, because there were more of them in front of me than anything else. Yet
when I left the poo gremlin, who passes by?
And immediately after? 
Craig. And so like I start talking to Craig, and we're chatting as he's running 5:XX's and I'm all like, 
"Damn dude, you're doing awesome!" And he's all like, "Jim's crazy!" And I'm all, "LOL!" And he's like, "I'm running under the World Record Pace! So Jim has to be having a day."
And that was it. 
I'd make sure to keep cat-calling him as we'd pass by in opposite directions along Wild Horse Pass Rd. 

I held to my pacing strategy until about halfway (50k), which was also when I lost Addi.
Losing her was not why I fell off, I had been trending towards what would be an undeviating internal commentary of, One foot in front of in Refrain. Imagine:
32 miles of a cyclical resignation but dedication to complete - 
"I knew you'd finish," said the bike sweep,"You can just tell with some people."

There was this fun tango I did with Hawks (not fun, rather, team-spirity), where he passed and I was admiring his sinewy gams, and then he pulled over to the side of the road in obvious leg agony, then he'd pick it up, and have to stop again. He'd eventually drop due to quad upheavel, but seeing him try to man-handle his way through it, when his body was failing him, and also not over-reacting in the process - his spirit had a sort of, It is what it is, but not of deep angst, more of curiosity. 
I really valued that. 

Was passed by Audrey after we played this intense game of cat-n-mouse where she started out faster than she thought, I caught her and was like, Bye B! and then she reeled me in and
totally dusted me
by 15 minutes in the end. 
Is it delusional if I wonder if my 10+ bathroom breaks could have afforded me a more competitive race? If you'll give me that, then I really need to figure out how to pee myself like Camille does. 

I heard Camille's voice call well wishes from an aid station, and in a panic wondered if she'd dropped.
She did (due to hamstring pain). 

Was passed by a few more men, first
Kris, who I really want to be best friends with.
I tried getting him to allow me to get on his back - 
"Can I get on your back?" And he pauses, contemplates (?)
Likely assuming! that I wanted in his slipstream,
that I'm thinking I'm capable of using him as pacer for a bit, and so he goes, 
"Yeah, sure.
Or something and then just runs away. 
And then I'm passed by the striking specimen (apologies for any objectification) that is Rajpaul Pannu, and I ask him too, 
"Can I get on your back?" And he pauses, and he's also, like offering a questionable yes,
and runs away. 
They really didn't have any idea that all I wanted was a piggyback. 

I had a lot of right hip, glute and hamstring pain for a large portion of the race.
I'm thinking it was due to compromised form from the PF.
Do you know what a fundamental comforting thing to hear/read is?
"Plantar Fascia: it serves a variety of functions, but one of those purposes is to actually get stretched out when your foot hits the ground; it stores energy so that when you take your foot off the ground it kind of recoils, gives a little hop to your step..."
This is very basic. 
But comforting. 
And creates visualization, the very reason why I can't pop off the ground, maintain speed.
I've had chronic adductor tightness/tendonitis/opathy, osteitis pubis, bone bruises, broken toes, and when they happen, I immediately picture taking a knife and just cutting the problem area out. 
Adductor's talking? Just want to knife it. 
Heel is throbbing? Knife it.
I am aware this gets me zero places. It probably simply speaks to frustration albeit the violence is a little weird. But think of this: 
I feel ok everywhere but
my heel, so 
can I just cut it off so I can get to work? 

Retrocede - I've never done more to get to a start line:
Hire coach
Major decrease in volume & effort
9-12 hrs of sleep/night
Sleeping boot
Milk Thistle
Vit B12
Vit D
Pfizer Vaccine (1,2)
Bloodwork to monitor WBCs
3 Covid tests
A little less wine

It was as if for the first time I treated my body with the respect that it should have always been given. What of delayed respect?  

So, I'm one foot in front of the other because I need to finish
:for my spirit, ego, Hoka
Even though I've just now been passed by Nicole, and I'm currently 4/4.
I'm just trying to make everyone I come into contact with feel good or smile.
And I'm coming around this roundabout, which is coned off so you don't cut the corners, and I tell the Hoka staff, "I'm going to cut through right there!"
And they're like, ", you need to go around the cones."
Very calmly, as if I was confused or asking a question.
"Just kidding." And they lol'd.
And at the roundabout was a sign that read something like, "Ask me about the beer and the Fireball."
So, "What is this Fireball about?"
And some eager dude is like, "You want one?! I've got them right here." And I pause. Say, 
"How about on the next loop?
[He's excited] 

I come upon aid station & these two guys who know my first name have football energy. 
They're running beside me, though it's stressful, and they're clamoring cowbells and my brain is ringing
And they're saying how fast I'm going (lies), and that they remember me from the Marathon Project (embarrassing). I say, 
"Oh yeah? So you know that I dropped out right?"
And then, desperately, 
"How many more laps do I have?!"
They tell me I have 1 lap left.
My god, I'm going to finish this thing! And better than I thought based on that information. 
:It was a lie.

I'm on that next loop, what I think is my last, rounding that same roundabout,
ask Dude, who I would later learn is a Hoka superfan, for the Fireball.
He's secured an ok to give it to me, because he had enough to offer anyone in the race
[fairness], but spoiler,
people don't really do this, and
I'd be the only one. 
We've handled the transaction with Covid precautions.
He has a mini bottle on ice, and I'm to grab it from the cooler. 
I tell him, "You have cost me 3 seconds," and tuck it into my top.
I hear them say, "That was so cool."

All of a sudden I see Carla, another person I'd fall in love with during the trip. 
She had taken it out hard in sub 7:00:00 pace, and looked effortless in doing so until the later stages of the race where
her quads also reacted unfavorably. I see her get swarmed by these bell ringers, and then they swarm me and say, 
"Our apologies, but we were incorrect before, Now You Have One Lap."

Wished that Carla and I could have used one another, picked it up,
but we were both muted by our bodies.
That day, we had the same sort of determination. 
I had, with great patience, not giving up, and some luck, fallen into 3rd of 4. 

I'm coming down the finishing stretch (800m) of the oily Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park drag strip. A mini car is whipping about, filming. I see Kris to my right and pull out my bottle of Fireball. 
He squints to make it out, then laughs. 
I cross the finish line with a (resigned to my situation, which is unfortunately not competitive, but also proud), arms out holding my prize, my whiskey. 
When I look at the finish line photo my anima smiles. I see
large gangly wingspan, a well-positioned logo, and a sickly face. 
Kind of like a body in whitewash, a first coat of sickness. 

I'd found that Walmsley had annihilated the AR, but fell 11s short of the WR. I kept asking around,
"But how does he feel? Does he feel accomplished? Is it bittersweet?"
I'm sure. 
The man I saw post race seemed most gracious. 

I'd found that there had been many drops: Camille, Caitriona (who is simply divine, beautiful, talented, and is also pregnant. I can't with the Irish. I want to be among them always), Fernando, Hayden, Dion, Tyler, Joacim, Peter, Cole. 
A big mix of elation, nearness, pain.

And it's just this - I'm underwhelmed. 

Carla crosses the finish with a beautiful smile.
Audrey has won in just over 7:40, followed by Nicole in 7:43, and myself in 7:55. 
Audrey is cot-ridden under a foil blanket but she's only cute and content.
We take a photo and it's burned into memory, I don't even need it's physical proof, the moment 
was visceral.
I ask them, "So, we going to pee test or wut?" And they're like,
And damn it I'm going to get good enough one day to earn a pee test! 
And then I ask the medic if he has a scale, because I'd like to see if I should be concerned about fluid loss (is this intense? I mean I've never asked for it or done this before, I just thought it would be helpful information to glean from). He says, 
"No, we don't have a scale, but that would be a good idea.
This is kind of funny, but if you've followed along this far (god bless), you will see that I have directed camera crews to better talents, had conversations with many people alongside the course as well as my Hoka teammates during, got to know someone intimately by buddy-peeing with them, grocery shopped for some whiskey, and advised the medic of items he should, in the future, bring.
It might sound distracted, but I think it shows me that when I'm healthy, I have so much more to give.

Carla and I, plus two Hoka staff were the last ones left to shuttle back. It was hard to climb up into 
the beast, "I'm sorry I'm moving like a little old lady." Followed by, "Now I'm sorry I'm being ageist." And a woman goes, "I appreciate that you self-corrected there.
And the gentleman says, "You're Courtney from Bellingham? You have some very fun, motivated friends back home. We were chatting back and forth the whole race with a guy named Shawn? He's awesome and really supportive of you.

I called my people. 
Took a shower, knelt down, and cried.
It was a painful cry, stemming somewhere in the gut, as if the heart had dropped into it. It was not
a productive cry, it was
almost like being stripped of, and 
what I think it is, was 
a major bouleversement in hormones, or
complete gratitude mixed with deep melancholy.
I couldn't perform with fluidity a lot of my more general tasks: sitting on the toilet, putting lotion on, and I'd keep looking up at myself at the mirror, and saying, "Dudddde."

As a teen of SQHS and a young adult of WWU, I was raised
under the guidance of schmoozers. 
I love to schmooze. Or wait, 
I don't actually like to schmooze, I'm strangely introverted although a Leo, although a jokester.
But there's something about concentrated schmoozing, like
being around like-minded people, like-passionate, like-motivated, as well as 
inspirational people, that really brings out my cultivated schmooze. 
And this was just a fucking cherry to the whole experience provided by Hoka - 
I didn't think there'd be much of anything going on post race, because 
But - we had all been tested 3+ times, quarantined at the hotel, and
had hardly interacted with one another unless it was outside for a meal or a shakeout run.
Plus I had told anyone who would listen that I was vaccinated (douche). 
So it was special when a few of us got to have drinks together after at the hotel, where
Hoka bought Jim and Audrey a bottle of bubbles, and Audrey generously poured
us all fishbowl amounts, and we, Simply
got to celebrate being able to do such luxurious, fortunate and self-fulfilling things. 

I only had a good time. 
I wish I could have been competitive, but I enjoyed trying.
I'm really happy to be a part of, and grateful to Hoka.
I never made it to the hot tub.
Can't wait for Project Carbon X3.

Full Results
Full Video
*All photos courtesy of Hoka One One 

Audrey Tanguy Wins 100K in Her Road Running Debut
Jim Walmsley Shatters the 100K American Records, But Misses the World Record by 11 Seconds
Jim Walmsley runs 6:09:26 for 100K, misses world record by just 12 seconds
Jim Walmsley comes close to a world 100km record
Flagstaff's Jim Walmsley breaks U.S. 100K record in Chandler

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Marathon Project

Back in October, when those silvery words, "I think you'd be a good fit" fell, I was simultaneously buoyant and impostrous. I'm still working through the dichotomy. Coming off the elation of a 6HR effort, but muddling my way through plantar, it was a little over a month before the race, that I was confirmed entry at the Marathon Project - a fortuitous inaugural event created for high level athletes who burned to compete, who had the pressure of sponsor commitments to see through, times to post. To be sure of anything in 2020 is/was fallacious, but Ben Rosario, Josh Cox & Matt Helbig worked hard to create the event for the purity of supporting athletes whose potential livelihood and income was affected in 2020. The upper echelon were invited and the back-of-the-packer's, myself one, paid to take part. A virtual event piggy-backed the MP, the sum of which directly made the race possible. Wonderful friends and teammates signed up under my name, ended up placing high as a team and winning categories outright. Though I had less than optimal notice and an 'itis, I was confident in the last couple of marathon cycles, what they indicated. I had the unique build of Mile to 6HR training/racing, so, a fall of the cards, a speculative enterprise - maybe the marathon would be my sweet middle. 

Though the voluble ache in my foot and though less than certain of my ability to perform, I remained strangely optimistic; whoever that delusional person was, I like her. Want to know a funny match? Optimism paired with insecurity paired with injury. When it got to be that I could not walk in the morning and could hardly walk at work, it's pretty safe to say that I was Le Idiote running towards some fantasy. As is characteristic, I trained harder, stopped often and perhaps tickled the interior of that big banner than is oft hard to ascertain but right there in your face like Welcome to Vegas - Welcome to Overreaching. Half of my buds said, "Surely you're not, it's just the injury." The other half, "You are definitely Overtrained." Do you know what a mindfuck it is trying to ascertain the sticky what-if of being Over-anything? Whatever the case, in the rearview mirror, I think I was skirting it for sure. I was insecure due to injury and pushed hard through it. I got bloodwork done and some values were disconcerting. I was below the lowest range for WBC's.

There's rosé in there.

Despite all of this, I've got these blinders on, and I'm like, I think I can run a sub 2:36, if my foot will allow it. Why not today? Why not me? And I've got my new Hoka kit on, and the buzz in the air is that there's about to be all this talent realized. People are due a result. Are seeking vengeance on injury or missing out at the trials, or dropping the trials. People have been doing big things, cool things, and this is the exact moment we are allowed a start line, for many - the only moment. If I don't take it by the balls right this very moment, will I ever be guaranteed another moment? Among this talent pool? 

There was a thing in the back of my mind that I did a good job of shelfing until I could focus on it properly so that the investment I put forth for the MP would remain at center. I did a good job of not letting that larger, looming, scary, exciting thing in - a yet-to-be announced Hoka Project Carbon X2, which I'd signed on for, to be run 1 month later. And yet acknowledging it at all, in its small shelved form, I ended up protecting myself from further disaster. As many of us understand, it's really hard to call something what it is, to call a thing off. To quit. To "fail," even if nuanced. What words better express the meat of the feeling? Yield. Underperform. Fold. To let yourself down.

I knew embarrassingly early that I could not compete. That I was hurting. Though I needed to yell at my friend, Amber, on the sideline, with panic, asking her what I should do, because I didn't want to call it for myself. Though I had a panic attack trying to conceptualize what all this effort was for, all this money spent to be there. Though I had the sweeper on my ass, his walkie talkie in an endless continuation of chatterrasp, him cheering on the runners on the other side of the road, my competitors way ahead. How vivid and cartoon-like the words, "I never want to feel like this again," came into view in black, spelled out in front of me. 

Do you know what's also really embarrassing, but only if you take yourself super seriously, which is a toggle at times for me...? To quit, fail, fold in front of the marketing team that just signed you. Even if there's a good enough reason. 

Amber's coach, James McKirdy, heard me in my distress and told her how she could help me. I had put her in the unfortunate position of asking her to tell me what to do. To pull me. And he co-counseled her, and she did. Or I did. I pulled me. And I'm very grateful for that. There was no reason to continue on in such pain & distress but damn it if it isn't totally demoralizing nonetheless. After about 11 miles I pulled off and let that sucker of a sweep daunt someone else. It made me feel better that Steph Bruce had to make the call for the same reason. That there were 16 of us who dropped in a small field. I wouldn't want it for anyone, but there is a sort of very raw human truth to misery loving company. There's always a positive - being able to watch the rest of the field finish. I was able to see Hehir win and Droddy lay it all out there. Got to see Hall improve upon her PB. Got to see Josh Cox squeal with passion over each one of his athletes down the final 800. I got to see what bringing it on a day where it matters looks like. I got to see what I wanted to be.

 Marathon Project Results 

Flowers M had sent to the room. Apparently there was also supposed to be chocolate, but they pocketed those.
Flowers M had sent to the room. Apparently there was also supposed to be chocolate, but they pocketed those.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

IAU 6HR Virtual Global Solidarity Run

After the Olympic Trials, after Atlanta, Natchez, Baton Rouge, Houma, NOLA, after the first murmur of a virus and the subsequent chaos, I thought to myself - What sounds fun? Remembering: during a rafting trip in the spring, exclaiming into the still between white water - I think I'm a Hedonist! To which the raft guide clucked, I don't think so. The word, Hedonism, swirling like whiskey sour on the froth of the river. After the marathon, what sounded fun was The Mile. I felt like the OT's ended up being a celebratory event, not an expression of pure faculty. How could I actualize pure faculty? Where neck dips into the cup of shoulders, chin juts and a line of electricity ferments up the meat of your calves? An acidotic expression. The Mile. It was fun. It's the kind of training I'd always felt most akin to. I got down to 4:50 and stayed there, not fast but fastened. 

In June, after a track session of 200s, my heel started to hurt. I thought it was a bone bruise, then Achilles tendinitis, and then finally and accurately, plantar fasciitis. My first foot injury aside from broken toes & a cuboid bone bruise. I trained through it. Because I'm really smart. Because there were so many races. Because there was the self-imposed desire to break 4:50. Then we found out that the 2020 IAU 50K World Champs set for November in Jordan would be cancelled, but that the IAU had created something to keep us motivated, something called the IAU 6H Virtual Global Solidarity Run set for August 29-30th. I signed on. A chance to compete on Team US, even if virtual, plus I'm pretty down to do anything my friend Liz Eder-Northern does, who would also represent. I think I had a month to go from mile training to 6HR race ready, which let me tell you, is stirring.

The IAU/US contingent allowed us to raise money for a cause of our personal choosing in relation to the event. I was proud to connect with NAMI Whatcom in honor of my aunt Jenny, who we lost a few years ago. I feel strongly about the mental health of our society against the backdrop of Covid, 2020, and all the myriad ways it has affected the world. Because of some rad followers, family and friends, we raised well above the goal I set. It meant a lot to me. 

I wasn't sure what I was capable of in light of the extreme shift in training and with PF, but the pressure was non-existent and I was a hedonist. I chose a lake loop called Lake Samish, which is a little over 6.5 mi around; it undulates, has some pretty hefty hills, but long flat stretches and low traffic. My friend and teammate Nick ran a marathon of it with me. My friend LB ran a portion as well. M set up a table with snacks and a poster of Prefontaine. A prius tried to run me over. My foot ached; had to switch shoes halfway through to relieve the pain that was accumulating along my 5th met as I altered my foot strike to not land on my heel. Watch went wacky. My diet consisted of Maurten, Spring Energy gels, Honeystinger, chews, gummy candies, water. Hands sticky in the ick of sweat and torn packaging and wet sugar. I passed the 50 mile mark in silence, smiling inwardly. I had never run farther than 32 miles in my life. Nick, LB, and M on bike were beside me as I finished the 6 hours having run 52.69 mi (over 8 laps of Lake Samish). We stood for a picture. I removed wet gummy worms from my sports bra. I could barely walk on the PF leg. We soaked in the lake. Disbanded. Watched as the results from the team and other countries came through. I found I'd run the most miles among the US contingent of men & women. Each chose a route, cause, challenge that excited them. For being such a self-created/self-inspired/self-actualized virtual event, it really did feel like I was on a team. The IAU did what they set out to - keep us inspired, motivated, and connected. 

IAU 6HR Virtual Global Solidarity Run US Results HERE

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

New Orleans

Tuesday, March 3
After the swamp tour, back in the car, 50-odd miles into New Orleans. We couldn't find a place to stay for the whole week, so we split the trip between two. The first - a home in uptown on the east bank of the Mississippi (encompassing the French Quarter and Jefferson Parish). I have a 19th c architecture fetish & Nola in general satisfies it. Our first place had excellent stemware. A painted white brick fireplace inlaid with white bricks - ineffective, but stylish. Hardwood floors. A tin-fenced-in back yard with a young orange tree bearing fruit. Once arrived, we went for a walk to Magazine St..

We had dinner at Coop's Place in the French Quarter, a place Adam & Stacy had taken us on our first trip to the city, "where the not-so-elite meet to eat." Magenta lighting. Crotchety bartenders. Sat at the bar for Nawlins sazeracs, a cup of rabbit & sausage jambalaya, smoked duck quesadilla, and shrimp creole with a baguette laid across the wide white bowl.

Walked to Snug Habor to catch M's favorite Nola drummer, Stanton Moore, of Galactic play in the Stanton Moore Trio. According to M, I was infatuated with the bassist's tattoos and fingernail polish, which I'm only now recalling because he reminded me so closely of an ex. Front row. G&T's.

Wednesday, March 4
M and I went for breakfast a short walk away, to the Bearcat Cafe: cafe au lait, cat mama biscuit: green tomato, crab, sunny egg. Met up with Cousin & Neil who were doing a walkabout in the Quarter, for drinks-to-go at the Corner Bar off Royal, a place with colorful laminated menus & sugarbooze delights. With our drinks in hand we perused the window fronts of Rodrigue Studio's Blue Dog, of Antieau, Fawkes Fine Art. Wanted all the art. To the French Market: Cajun creole hot nuts & famous gator on sticks, grilled gator sausage and little frivolities. Past Decatur St. to the lip of the Mississippi in various shades of ecru, murky puddle, overcast sky. Past the Archbishop Antoine Blanc Memorial & the Old Ursuline Convent. To the no. 1 bar of all time - Erin Rose - for frozen Irish coffees, savored over seared gulf shrimp poboys in the backback.

En route to the St. Louis Cemetery we spotted the heartbreaking eyesore of the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel. It would color the trip, locals bemoaning the shame of it. Walking the perimeter of the St. Louis Cemetery, "the city of the dead's" crumbling above-ground graves, its offerings left for Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, we passed some not-so-gentlemen non-discreetly shooting up into their elbow crux. Likely overwhelmed by the dysphoria of the semi-exposed hanging limbs of a deceased man left in the collapse, his privacy tarp blown astray, and the open-air drug exhibition, we called an uber to take us back home to process through a sad nap. Post, Cousin and I walked to a local mart for supplies: chilled bottles of wine, cans of yerba mate, and a tin of mints. At the checkout was a big plastic boat of boiled crawfish with flies a'swarm ($4.99/lb). "SORRY! NO FREE SAMPLES." Below that, a white cooler on the floor with shrimp in a pool of gray water ($7.99/lb). Guy behind me was buying a bottle of frosted white wine and a 2-thick sleeve of those mini vanilla & orange ice cream cups of youth.

Back at our place, we sat in the back yard under a tent and drank wine. Got ready for what would be Cousin & Neil's last night with us. To Jacques-Imo's off Oak St, passing by a discreet little house with a few christmas lights outside; M goes, "Isn't that Snake & Jakes?" And our uber driver goes, "How do you know about Snake & Jakes?" Sex appeal.

Jacques Imo's was another favorite of ours from the previous trip; "Warm beer. Lousy Food. Poor Service." We ordered drinks and apps at the bar while we waited for a table. Red wine, thickly buttered cornbread cakes, calamari with brown garlic sauce, fried boudin balls with jalapenos and Creole mustard sauce, shrimp Creole, mussels, a sampling of their desserts: bread pudding & creme brulee. After dinner we walked back to Snake & Jakes for a drink, then to d.b.a off Frenchman St. in the Marigny where we watched Walter Wolfman Washington & the Roadmasters play under blue light. Ended the night at Cafe du Monde, near closing, M in a panic that we were being rude, but me like a gremlin in thick thick need of white sugar. I enjoyed that cup of coffee and numerous beignets hard, and for a second I was ashamed that I was eyes-closed, face covered in powder, ecstacyzed - but then, I'd walk by Cafe du Monde the next day, and saw all the white powder laid exposed on the bricks at numerous hereandtheres, and the guilt dwindled, because it's just part of it - the gremlin-esqueness, for some at least.

Thursday, March 5
Cousin and Neil had a few hours in the city before they'd head home. M's cousin Grace, his brother Brian & his partner Suzy would come and spend the rest of the weekend with us. When I woke that morning Grace had landed and was taking a snoozer on the couch. We rallied as much as drinking for a week straight and eating a lot of fried fish allowed us to, back to the French Quarter, where we caught this delicious bucket band playing off Royal St. Suspended still in this moment of not wanting to stop taking photographs of the frontwoman sitting in an old metal folding chair, sweating from the motion of her trumpet going up and up and. A sprinter van goes by with a pomeranian driving. Lunch at Pat O'Brien's, in the courtyard, sipping bloody mary's. We decided that Cousin & Neil needed to stock up on Muffaletta's for the trip home, so we stopped at Central Grocery & Deli, the waiting line near out the door, with an intriguing selection of almost-dusty cans of odds and ends like cooked wheat grain for Neapolitan grain pie. Grace, Cousin and I left the men to stock Muffalettas & headed for cafe au laits and beignets at Cafe du Monde.

Meandered the Lafayette Cemetery No. 2, past a black Jesus mural in dappled tree shade on a brick wall. Tall, wide, multi-vaulted tombs. The Butcher's Benevolent Society. African-American Labor Societies. Cement-based stuccoes. Granite rubble cladding. Active decay. A cemetery guard called us out and closed the gate under a late afternoon sun.

We moved to our last lodging, off 4th St. in the Garden District.

M deposited Grace & I on Magazine before heading to the airport for drop offs and pick ups. It was sad to see Cousin go (my sweet roadtrip facial friend). Magazine St. was sleepier than I'd experienced in the past, several shops closed or closing. Meandering in out and out of boutiques, art shops, bric-a-brac'rs, and a jewelry shop where Grace lit up & the shopkeeper told us endless stories, to one very special outdoor market that held a non-interested overseer of vintage. Later we met Brian and Suzy at the Portside Lounge in Central City; it's on my growing list of favorite bars in Nola. A tiki dive bar. Caribbean rums & handcrafted bitters. Colored lights in dim. The owner used to work on sets in the film industry and created this majikal space; he credits "Free State of Jones," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and "Monster's Ball" as his inspiration.

Dinner at Jacques Imo's again, the same unraveling of events - drinks and snacks at the bar, ushered to a table, this time in the side house attached to the main building. A family reunion. Post dinner drinks at Snake & Jake's, again, but this time I sort of kissed a dog seated at the bar, and by sort of, I mean it definitely happened.

Friday, March 6
On Friday, Grace's friend Daniel flew in to join us, and I'm v. happy he did. The group of us met him for jazz brunch at The Court of Two Sisters; dining outside in the courtyard, the wind blowing bits of tree across our plates. Mimosas. Coffee. A sumptuous selection of hot and cold dishes like eggs anystyle, benedict, turtle soup, creamy crawfish pasta, a carving station with roast beef, sausages, grits, grillades, Creole jambalaya, Duck a L'Orange, shrimp etouffe, gumbo, catfish roulade, ceviche, pates, cheeses, pecan pie, bananas foster, king cake, bread pudding with whiskey sauce. The jazz band flitting around tables to serenade the celebratory. As I write this now, reminiscing, it feels like a different life, where large groups sat at tables of white linen, and stood close in line, foaming for an omelette. All that closeness, intimacy. Our server gave us a hand-scrawled note with all of her favorite lesser-known treasures to be found in the city. A list which shared the secrets of jazz history, streetcars, where the best char-grilled oysters lay.

En route to Daniel's declaration that he needed to get us a round of Grenade's at Tropical Isle's, popped into Pat O's for a cocktail to go. Tropical Isle is neonarific. Another one to add to the list. A couple rounds of cocktails at the Carousel. Grilled cheese sandwiches, poboys and beer at Killer Poboys.

Fancy dinner at Josephine Estelle's, per Daniel's suggestion. It was sassyfancy. Like frosted blackberry on a stick in your cocktail as you wait kind of fancy. Not my immediate inclination, but damn, it delivered, and we moaned and shared dishes and drank a lot and then after, we were able to balance the fance with Snake & Jake's, because I literally needed to go there every night since the very first night M brought it to attention. And I have to say that the first time I went I cried in the bathroom, the second night I made out with a dog, and the third, well...The night ended at Tipitina's for Brassfest. We bought swag. Swayed to brass. To the Big 6. To Mama Digdowns. To Josh Mosier.

Saturday, March 7
Woke early, ate some cold beignet's left on the counter. Drove ourselves to the car return, boarded the plane and landed in Seattle at what would be the "beginning" of our country's reaction to Covid-19.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Le Baton Rouge & Houma, LA

Monday, March 2
It was about 100 miles from Natchez to Baton Rouge. We stopped just shy in Baker, at a Dollar General for some sandals & snacks & chic-fil-a. Our place - a gorgeous home in Beauregard Town, a nationally registered historic area, walkable to downtown; it also came with a porch cat. Once settled, I forced the group to go thrifting with me, hoping for some good southern finds (not fruitful, sadly).

Baton Rouge ("the Red Stick City") was established as a military post by the French in 1719, but the name of the city came about in 1699 when French explorers found a red cypress tree's underbelly, marking the boundary between the Houma and Bayogoula tribal hunting grounds. They called the tree, "le baton rouge." Archaeologists have been able to date habitation in the area back to 8000 BC. Since Euro settlement, BR came under 7 governance's: France, England, Spain, Louisiana, the Florida Republic, the Confederate States and the US.
We walked to dinner, to Stroubes. Our server was top tier: funny, encouraging, informative. The meal was high end: a couple loaves of hot herb-crusted bread, bleu cheese wedges, duck & andouille eggrolls, crispy brussel sprouts with pork belly, some old fashioneds & french 75s and a bottle of Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Proprietor's Blend ('18). We ordered everything as the server liked it; her favorite meal, her favorite presentation. After dinner we walked downtown, to the riverfront along the Mississippi River levee, past the old Georgia State Capitol - a Gothic statehouse that has withstood war & fire, down the city dock across from the USS Kidd, to a docked riverboat. Spent a lot of time in stimulus beside and on top of a 14-foot stainless steel spherical sculpture (designed for interaction); A sensor within the river, measuring the water's speed and height connects with software within the sculpture, converting its data into frequencies that sounds like singing. Response from visitors changes the way the frequencies respond. It's designer - Po Shu Wang - donated it to the city to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge. Couplings split; Cousin & Neil to an Irish bar downtown called Happy's, where the staff wore micro kilts.

Tuesday, March 3
Leaving town we stopped off at LSU: stately oak trees, broad magnolias, it's legendary stadiums. If there had been more time, I was hoping to check out LSU's hilltop arboretum, a plantation, or walk blue bonnet swamp, but we were pointed towards a swamp tour down in Houma, LA, about 85 miles south of town.

Developed for sugar cane plantations in the antebellum years, Houma is thick in French & Cajun history. Many in the community continue to work as their ancestors did, as shrimpers, oystermen, crabbers, fishermen and trappers, with others having moved towards the oil industry and ship building.
We arrived early for lunch at the Bayou Delight Restaurant off Bayou Black, where we'd also meet up with our guide. Bayou Delight is a sort of decaying homage to "Alligator" Annie Miller, the walls covered in  balmy sepia photographs of Annie nuzzling alligators, taxidermied alligator heads for sale, trophy case, plastic checked tablecloths. Sweet teas all around, Cajun fried pickles, boudin bites, fried chicken, seafood Cajun gumbo, red beans, rice & sausage. M had set up the tour, which turned out to be with Annie Miller's son, Jimmy Bonvillain. The tour would take us through his family history, which really deepened our gratitude & joy.
Annie Miller was a Cajun naturalist who put Houma-Terrebonne on the map by creating Louisiana's first swamp-boat business. She was theatrical, short, stocky, with a signature red scarf. She grew up in Bayou Black, trapping, hunting, fishing, living off the land. She'd catch snakes and sell them to zoos and laboratories. She caught two otters, tamed them and sold them to Walt Disney for movies. She trapped nutria, muskrat, crab and fish. She'd call alligators to her boat by name as if they were her children. Annie passed away in 2003. Today there are about 30 swamp tour operations that fringe the southern edge of the state. Her success led the local government to declare sections of the marsh and bayous as alligator preserves.
We climbed into the airboat's flat bottom, powered by an auto engine with its sweet pungent gas. Along with us was one other couple, some french canadians. They sky was broody but held out on us until the end. With a belly full of grease and hootch blood, the Louisiana air felt restorative. We'd duck our heads to pass under low bridges. Passed a young alligator sunning on top of swamp foliage, appearing to smile. Fit like a perfect peg in and through a salt-water control structure. Scoped oil money houses with cottonmouth water moccasins sunning on their bayou access docks. Distinguished the differences between the marsh, the swamp/bayous and canals. Through the Mandalay Wildlife Refuge. Crossed the Intercoastal Waterway. A backdrop of Spanish moss, water hyacinth, cypress knees, palmetto. The effect of erosion on the wetlands. Jimmy whips out a hand-concocted wood stick with ducktaped hook, skewers a piece of raw chicken and calls out to his friend, a couple-year-old alligator, drawing him further away from the territory of some big currently-hibernating beast, afraid that he'd suffer a boundary murder (the bigger the gator the longer the hibernation period).
We were educated on the hunting practices in Houma. About permits and this-for-that's. Drawings for tags made available only after a certain number of nutria are killed. The orange-toothed rodents were imported from S. America for their fur and have grown rampant in the area (can have up to 3 litters a year), causing extensive damage to marsh vegetation. Trapping nutria has always consisted of some sort of incentive, but there was a time in the 1970's in particular where Annie Miller made a buttload of money for nutria pelts before a move away from fur fashion in the 80's drove down the price. Other invasive non-natives that I thought were adding to the lush, but which are actually permeating diversity, habitat quality and the natives, are plants like hydrilla (India), salvinia (S. America), Chinese tallow trees, water lilys, etc. A bald eagle danced between tall cypress trees as Jimmy called to him; flung some raw chicken bits into the water, and we watched with baited breath as the bird swooped in. It was an educational and intimate experience. I enjoyed getting to know about a single family's experience growing up for generations on the Bayou Black. If it's to happen again, I'd love to see some thousand pound beast in stalk from some private fanboat with a huge Chevy purr.

Next stop - New Orleans, LA.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Natchez, MS

Sunday, March 1, 7 am
I'd been asleep for 2 hours. M had picked up the rental and a quad stack of coffees, the sky (in)lightening. Racers for Atlanta Marathon Wknd passed beneath our high-rise, LB one of them. We were slothlike, slovenly but out by 8 am. Kissed Greg the Peach goodbye, and M, Cousin, Neil and I set out on our road trip across the South.

A little backstory - I counseled M before we left for the Trials that I would do minimal research on our desired stop-overs, but mostly that I had zero opinions and wouldn't want to concern myself with any specs until after I raced. So he booked shows and would say things like, "You don't seem excited about such-and-such," and I'd be like, "Bish! I told you, no excitement until after the race!" And for months he'd been looking forward to Natchez - the setting of some of his favorite books, and the whole time I was thinking, "Ok, Natchez is for M, it's his thing. I've never thought about Natchez in my life. If it's awesome, cool. If it sucks, it's his fault." Let me tell you - Natchez was my favorite place. This is a compliment to M.

Atlanta was soft as we left, heading west on 20. It wasn't marked by a painter's palette of sage, olive, pine, moss - rather a steady line of soft brown highway flanked by pines. Pines on pines. Passed by Talladega Speedway & M squealed. Recalled the Talladega curse, perhaps a once-Indian burial ground or shaman influenced. Crossed the Georgia state line into Alabama. Cousin was asleep, propped in the back by a neck pillow, and we schemed all the things we'd tell her we did while she was sleeping when all we'd really done was read roadside propaganda which was heavily influenced by this one male lawyer.
First stop - Homewood, Alabama (suburb of Birmingham), where they use pine needles as mulch. On a single quaint street: Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Family of Faith Sunday morning church doors open, policemen ushering suited masses under a blue sky dappled. Stopped for breakfast at Ruby Sunshine's (because, morning margaritas); a round of irish cream coffees, ruby mimosas, bloody mary's. Our server, a bright blond bun with a sweet rococo. We started our food journey here - catfish & grits, southern breakfast with buttermilk biscuit, honey butter, grits with goat chz, fried green tomato, bacon, bananas foster pain perdu covered in rum-flambeed bananas & raisins with a side of corned beef hash and stuffed french toast with mardi gras glittered sprinkles of purple, green & yellow. We rolled out of there.
Passing through Boligee and I look back and Cousin is doing a spa treatment on herself, and it looks like the very thing I didn't know I absolutely needed. This is why my Cousin is my best friend - she does what she wants, and in being witness to it, I think like, Why not me too? I've fully conditioned myself to not need anything comforting. Save for wine, cheese, margaritas and flannel sheets. It's more of a hard edge, don't help me, manhandle the lawn-mower, weed the flowerbeds with bare knees on pavement kind of life for me. When I'm around her, I remember to take care of myself. And so, kindly (because we know how much this beauty bs costs), she hands over products and walks me through face wipe & serum & lotion and then Neil asks for a spa and lays his head in her lap and get's the royal. It's a series of photographs that I'm fond of.

I had a single request - take the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Nat'l scenic bi-way-green-way stretches for 444 miles through Mississippi, Alabama & Tennessee, originally bisecting the homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. It's vibrant. Andrew Jackson. Jefferson Davis. Ulysses S. Grant. Emerald Mound. Indian mounds. Mount Locust. Numerous ecosystems. Watersheds. We stopped at the Lower Choctaw Boundary, est. 1765 and site of the Red Bluff Stand. Neil laid on the earth to capture his surroundings. Wound our way leisurely through, braking for big waltzing fowls. By early evening we arrived in Natchez, MS.
"Established by French colonists in 1716, Natchez is one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. After the French lost the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), they ceded Natchez and near territory to Spain in the treaty of Paris of 1763...The US acquired the area from the British after the American Revolutionary War...In Natchez, Mississippi, even the surrounding landscape beckons you toward a storied past, with roads cutting canyons through red-dirt forests, eventually arriving at the city's famous bluffs. Oak limbs spread known for its sumptuous historic homes, built throughout the 19th century when the region boomed with cotton. The incredible riches of that era are hard to fathom. But the town's wealth has always been matched with a certain wildness: for every planter, there was a river pirate; for every ornate garden, a wailing blues guitar."
We rented a riverside shotgun, close to the Natchez Grand Hotel and across from a riverboat casino. Brightly-painted, haggard cats asleep on the concrete out front, one room wide/several rooms deep, beginning with the living space, bedroom, kitchen, with a small bathroom tacked on in the back, backed up to a large, vacant field. The best feature - the bedroom held two beds that faced one another. We walked to the bluff outside our door to see the muddy Mississippi - there's this pleasant walking trail that sits up above the river - to 100 Main for a shrimp po'boy with remoulade, waffle fries and funnel cake fries drizzled with chocolate sauce and doused in powdered sugar. We rolled out of there, too, a tire growing between ribs and hips.

Took a funnel-cake-induced nap, walked to where the city itself began - "on the riverside strip of land known, suitably, as Natchez Under-the-Hill. The very first French colonists landed here in 1716. In the past, the neighborhood was bustling - and occasionally libertine, full of fishermen and grocers working next to bordellos and bars. Only one row of brick buildings has survived the river's floods, but these offer modern comforts behind a rustic veneer."

Down a steep hill, past older men with thick drawls outside the saloon, to Magnolia Grill (built to look like the original saloon that once occupied the spot); dark wood, dusty brick walls, cluttered with paraphernalia. I already needed a salad cleanse at this point, but we couldn't not and went for bayou egg rolls filled with Magnolia Jambalaya chicken, tasso, smoked sausage and Mississippi-grown rice with sweet chili sauce, a cup of shrimp, chicken & okra gumbo.

Per a description in one of the books at our place -

"Natchez-Under-Hill in the early 1800's could claim the dubious distinction of being the Devil's own personal workshop. Here a burly boatman from the River or dashing dandy from the Bluffs, with the loosening of his purse string, could purchase any or all of the products of Hell wholesale. In this place, during those lusty times along the Mississippi, the only thing cheaper than the body of a woman was the life of a man. 

Clinging like a malignant scab to the base of the Bluffs, Natchez-Under-the-Hill had no peers as the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Old Southwest. Only four or five muddy streets wide in its hellish hey-day, this city of sin was said to have kept the wheel of chance spinning day and night. More than once the flat rattle of shuffling cards had punctuated the passage of a whole plantation to some dark, river-tanned man with a set of skillful fingers. Under-the-Hill whole fortunes, and the people who made and lost them, were know to disappear with the same rapidity. 

Today all that remains of Natchez-Under-the-Hill is Silver Street and one pitiful row of broken buildings that stare, like hollow-eyed ghosts, across the restless ramblings of the muddy Mississippi." 
On the walk back we ran our fingers through the Mississippi to test its temp. Laid out on the leather couches of our living room and fell asleep to a southern murder mystery before climbing into our facing beds with their homemade quilts and iron wrought posts.
The next morning we fed the porch cats some leftover scraps, locked up, and drove over to the Natchez City Cemetery, admiring the antebellum houses along the way. Established in 1822 on the bluffs high above the Mississippi, it's graves revealed a deeper sense of the history, mystery and tragedy that befell Natchez. It's a garden of live oaks with green coats dancing in shadows, marble monuments, 19th-20th century ironwork. We'd heard about the Turning Angel statue, and sought to find her. There's a man named Rufus E. Case who was buried in his rocking chair pointed towards his home state of Louisiana; a woman's headstone which reads, "Louise. The Unforunate;" Florence Irene Ford's gravesite: a child of 10 who passed from Yellow Fever in 1871, whose mother constructed her grave with stairs that led down into a clear glass encasement so that she could spend time with her, and finally, the Turning Angel - known to watch people as they pass the cemetery at night. The story of her - on March 14, 1908 an explosion at the Natchez Drug Company killed 12 employees, including 5 young girls, the youngest of which was 12. The owner of the Co. purchased a lot at the cemetery and had the angel statue made in memory of the 5. We found her and them. Coins left at her feet. I photographed her at every angle, hoping to catch some of her magic.
We got hungry, stopped at a roadside eatery called Natchez Midtown Grill. You walk up to the window and give your order and walk around and come back to pick it up from the little window. I think it was the best po'boy I'd have - the Voodoo Po'boy with grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, onions, bell peppers and cheese for $10. As we waited M and I walked up the street to a little thrift shop and picked up a bright blue map of the Mississippi River (currently framed at home) and a book for Cousin. Dewayne Johnson signed his name in pencil on the picnic table outside. We ate our meal out of white styrofoam there, under gray sky and breeze.
Tried to check out Longwood - a 30,000 sq. ft., dome-topped 1820's antebellum octagonal mansion (feat. in True Blood), but was blocked by a little gate guy who was charging $40 a person to see it. Instead we drove past other stately, Corinthian columned homes. Someone said we needed to stop off at Roux 61, so, as we headed out of town and spotted one, we went in for another snack. A round of Roux Ritas (pretty sure I asked if there was alcohol in it, a faux pas I keep employing), some decadent shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake ($10.95), served with thick cut & buttered texas toast, and a half dozen chargrilled Louisiana oysters with garlic, butter, herb sauce and parmesan cheese plus more grilled bread so thick forks stood up straight in 'em. I  look up and there's a stuffed beaver hanging out in a log in the ceiling.

Back on the road. Next stop - Baton Rouge, LA.