My son lined up for the start of the mile yesterday. He held back and ran his pace as the rabbits bolted on the first lap. He looked composed on the second lap. He reeled the five leaders in at the halfway point. He stuck with his pace and put it in cruise control during the third lap and shed a couple of the pretenders. Bell lap and he kept stringing them out. Two guys stuck with him. One guy popped with half a lap to go and came to a complete stop. The last contender stuck with him through the final curve. My kid got the “angry eyebrows” and put five strides into the kid down the homestretch. He ran a 5:35 and won the race. It was a PR for him. It was nice to see all the kids shake hands and congratulate each other after the finish line.
I was, of course, ecstatic. Nothing surprising about that. What was surprising was the amount of composure he showed when the real racing started with 600 yards to go. I used to be a miler. It’s easy to lose your mind at that point and he didn’t. He created that race out of the ether. He shaped it from nothing. You could say he made a work of art. I would say that was pretentious if I heard someone else say it. But what if Steve Prefontaine says it?
A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding. — Steve Prefontaine
I was on a layover in Eugene, Oregon two weeks after 9/11. I ran up to Pre’s Rock. It was the spot where one of our country’s best runners died. I paid my respects. There aren’t many people who have inspired me to believe that a physical act can be considered an artwork.
This post was supposed to be titled The Fun Dome (#62): High Flying Hikes: Part 7. Instead I was lying awake in bed last night, breathing through my mouth because I have a stuffed up head from a cold. I was thinking about that mile and I was thinking about this long list of hikes I’ve been going through here on this blog. Hiking is really just walking. That’s a pretty elemental thing. But walking up to the top of hills and looking around with my friends and loved ones is something else. When I looked at the thread of hiking that has wound its way throughout my life, it started to feel like something else. It might just be obsessive-compulsive behavior to go walk to hilltops everywhere I’ve been. Or just maybe, it’s performance art.
Maybe that’s not as crazy as it sounds. Everybody knows martial arts. Kendo. Karate. Judo. Kung fu. Archery. Physical efforts designed for war that are studied and pursued to a high level until they become art. But other Eastern pursuits have also been raised to the level of art. Flower arranging. Origami. The tea ceremony. You could argue that, as long as you pay full attention and dedicate yourself to perfection, you could raise brushing your teeth to an art form.
(If you know me well, you could say that I’ve raised hypocrisy to an art form, but that’s a topic for another time.)
I learned a few things from these seven previous posts about hiking. I’ve learned that I miss hiking big hills and that I’ve got a list of other places I’d still like to climb (Katahdin in Maine, Ruby Mountains in Nevada, Mount Whitney in California, etc.).
I also learned that these hills are part of what I would call a body of work. A high school coach of mine posted on Facebook this week that he just logged 90,000 miles of running in his life. I guess you could say that all these mountains and Birkies and Grandma’s Marathons are my magnum opus of outdoor activity. My total is around 35,000 miles under my own power. I’ve had a lot of joy moving around in direct engagement with the outside world. I hope that I remain healthy and continue to make tracks so I can perfect this piece of performance art.
The last two hikes on this list are oddly symmetrical. In August of 2014, we visited my parents in Maine. One fine day, we drove over to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and walked up a hill called Welch-Dickey. It’s a short hike with good views. There I was with my family and my mom. And my dad, my old hiking buddy. We looked at Sandwich and Tripyramid and Moosilauke. I hadn’t poked around there for decades, but they were all instantly recognizable. My birthplace as a hiking human being in New Hampshire, literally and figuratively.
Just last week, my family and I walked up to a big ledge called Section 13 along the Superior Hiking Trail. My last two hikes have spanned from my origins in the distant past to the immediate present. This list of hikes is my Sistine Chapel. Or maybe it’s better to call it a castle made of sand a la Jimi Hendrix. In either case, these steps across this earth are my creation. I feel lucky.
All this hiking and biking and running and skiing is a form of expression. My howl at the moon.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
— Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass
I hope it continues.