I’ve migrated! On the internet and on the map.

•September 23, 2015 • 4 Comments

Hello my faithful readers,

I apologize for the lengthy silence. In the wake of my cross-country run, there was a lot of life to be lived, and both running and writing took a backseat for a while. That has changed recently: after a lengthy gestation period, I’ve finally started a new blog, and it’s all about maximizing performance in both running and singing. It’s very exciting to me to be back in the habit not only of running (80 miles a week for the past two months!), but also writing (not much was required of me in that department when I was doing my MMus, and I’ve got a whole backlog of ideas).

So after two years in New Haven, I’ve moved to Brooklyn, and for the first time in my life I’m not in school, and I don’t see any more formal education on the horizon. I’m pretty excited about creating a life for myself as a freelance professional singer, a runner, and a writer. I realize there are a few of you out there who will get an email when I publish this post, so, if you enjoyed hearing about my run across Canada, and if you’re interested in becoming a better athlete or musician yourself, check out this new blog, which you can sign up for by clicking on the comments section of any post:

http://www.edmundmilly.com/air-thresh/

Hope I can reconnect with some of you soon. Whether you were one of those people who followed this blog from the beginning in 2012, or you met me while I was on the run, your friendship has meant a lot to me over the years, and I’d never want to lose touch. Drop me a line if it’s been a while, I hope you’re well.

 

Notes from the Strong School

•September 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment

“You have done very well. If one works hard one may be certain of God’s help. Always remember:

drops wear down the stone

not by strength but by constant falling.

Therefore, we are taught to work tirelessly in order to master the sciences, and to allow no day to pass without a line written (as they say).” – Aloysius, Gradus ad Parnassum (J.J. Fux)

 The stronger you become, the more calisthenics becomes a game. Perhaps more than a game, but a creative mode of self-expression containing unlimited possibilities, like counterpoint, or the written word. It has taken a few hundred thousand pushups and pullups to get to this point, and it’s true that along the way there were many times when I questioned why I was repeating these meaningless and monotonous motions. But now, every time I work out has truly become a genuinely fun event to which I can look forward, a time to explore the various possibilities my body offers, and to relish the sense of mastery I have over a select few types of motion. “How pitiful is our enforced return / to those small things we are the masters of,” wrote Mervyn Peake: but also, how fun, right?

Since New Haven doesn’t have public exercise equipment like Montreal or New York, I’ve been doing some freestyle calisthenic workouts on the playground of an abandoned school on my block. It’s actually called the Strong School.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strong_School

 What I am trying to do right now, I suppose, is to come as close as possible to embodying the abstract ideal of strength. In a similar way, and as you have probably gleaned, I spent roughly the years 2008-2012 attempting to embody endurance: spiritually and physically, endurance was the quality I strove for. I was led to this by a feeling that both internally and externally – in mind and body – this was an area in which either my natural gifts or my acquired disposition fell short. It was not only via distance running that I attempted to embody endurance, but also in the way I lived my life: as a gemini, I have always been inclined to flit from one pursuit to another, but, during those highly productive years, I made concerted efforts to stay focused on a discipline, a relationship, an interest from which I might otherwise have moved on. These efforts have paid off. For most of my youth, I was inclined to distractability, and, though I have not completely overcome this tendency, I feel I now possess greater tenacity. I am just more capable of hanging onto things that I feel should be hung on to.

Emil Zatopek’s race face is endurance:

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To change one’s body is – always and necessarily – to change one’s mind. Too much of our culture is based around denying this fundamental truth of what practicioners of the Alexander Technique call our psychophysical unity. I believe the modes of physical expression in which we allow ourselves to take part change our minds, permanently. Likewise, the books we read or write change our bodies, permanently, as observed by one 10th century monk/scribe:

 “Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer’s task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body”

Accordingly, if one wishes to live a varied and balanced life, it may be necessary to practice a number of different physical and mental disciplines. All the same, one sometimes encounters two such disciplines which are mutually antagonistic. Case in point: endurance training (running), and strength training (calisthenics).

This is just one of many examples which illustrate how total surrender to a given discipline is the fastest and most efficient route to mastery… a principle I have appreciated on an intellectual level for a long time, but which I never seem capable of incorporating into my life. I forced myself to triple-major in school, to carry on a double life as a professional chorister and a grad student in literature, to complicate that double life by leading a counter-productive (in the academic/professional sense) nocturnal life as an ultramarathoner, and so forth. Old habits die hard, but I feel I have begun to curb this tendency through my work with endurance.

So the next frontier in my life, then, is strength. What is strength? Are runners “strong”? Of course in some senses of the word, they possess great strength. In my worldview, however, I am currently choosing to treat “strength” as a quality which is diametrically opposed to endurance. If endurance is the ability to “put up with shit,” to make peace with the Buddhist assertion that human life is suffering, then strength is the opposite ability: the capacity required to execute a sudden, efficient movement which changes the arrangement of elements in play rather than acquiescing to their seemingly unstoppable flow. Interestingly, we can see both strength and endurance as modes of embracing transience. In running, as in Vipassana meditation, the runner allows himself to pass through an ever-changing array of mental states from joy to extreme physical and emotional pain, surrendering to these fleeting sensations which inevitably arise and pass. In strength training, the practicioner is the agent of change. In both disciplines, stasis is an occasional daydream, but one which can never be reached. The difference between my endurance mindset and my current, strength-cultivating mindset, is that I am trying to attain agency. Endurance was about accepting that I am not in control of everything, whereas strength concerns taking control of what I can.

As I said before, I feel my work with endurance has enabled me to retain my focus somewhat better than has previously been my wont. I have never been a winner of running races, but can a winner ever truly be a master of endurance? Scott Jurek won ultramarathon races, but perhaps only because he was able to maintain his loser essence through a series of losses in his private life. Perhaps ultramarathoners are, like Elizabeth Bishop, masters of the art of losing. If I am not yet a true master of losing, a king of pain, a paragon of endurance, I have nonetheless begun to feel that I have engaged enough with this whole mode of life/thought/athleticism to move on. I’m just not content to max out one vital stat, I want the whole package.

 To that end, I have been running a grand total of maybe three or four times since I arrived at Wreck Beach, Vancouver, on August 20, 2012. At first I felt I might get back into it sooner or later, and I even had plans of training for the 2013 Canadian Death Race, but, with the exception of cycling (and that mostly for everyday transportation, though not an inconsiderable amount), I have felt more powerfully drawn to strength training, specifically minimalist, bodyweight stuff – calisthenics if you will, or what has come to be known as the “ghetto workout.” Accordingly, my body has changed a lot in the past year. Gradually, my gigantic quads, calves, and butt have shrunk to merely large proportions, allowing me to wear some pre-trans-Canada pants again (though they will probably never fit right again). A couple weeks ago, I was surprised to find that I was able to pull of a half-lever with ease, and every day I seem to discover some new variation on a basic move that I can perform. Handstands, muscle-ups, one-arm chinups, clapping pullups: these are the things I’ve been making progress on.

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 Well, all right, I’d be lying if I said I don’t take some pleasure in what, aesthetically, my body has undergone; sure, I’m tickled when people express their shock or their frank admiration for the muscle I’ve put on in my upper body this year. Is that avoidable when your mental life, in literature, film, music, and so forth, revolves around aesthetics? As a scholar of the arts and as a performer, I am so far past feeling any guilt when I take pleasure in aesthetics. Aesthetics for me comprise a dialectical network in which my preferences and my pleasure are not a form of masturbatory self-indulgence, but a nuanced intellectual position. What is more meaningful than this pleasure, perhaps, is that the corporeal aesthetic through which I choose to express myself, in which I take that pleasure, has – not to put too fine a point on it – shifted from the ripped to the jacked. Navel-gazing? Whatever. Whether you realize it or not, your body is an expression of your inner self. Why are we so often attracted, on a genuine emotional and spiritual level, to people who we single out as physically beautiful? It’s a (true enough) clîché that a person’s history is written in their facial features, but it is also inscribed on their body. And all bodies which are deliberately constructed and presented, all bodies which intentionally embody the ideals held in high esteem by their brains, are beautiful, just as all music which rigorously adheres to its maker’s aesthetic is beautiful. Sometimes, as with Stravinsky, the cumulative aesthetic developments which the composer goes through create a heterogeneous and eclectic musical body. Likewise, as with my own experiences, the idiosyncratic practices you carry out with your physical body accumulate to form an idiosyncratic but dynamic mass. This represents the sum of your values, your experiences, your abilities. It is important to be comfortable with that, and being comfortable with my body is a relatively new thing. (I remember being a bookish and pretentious child with a body that was always rebelling against the ways I constricted it and denied it any kind of expressive movement – when I was little I thought it was possible, even admirable, to have a keen mind and an immobile, inconsequential body.)

This is me when my body’s central task (and only real strength) was efficient locomotion across vast expanses:

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 And this is the result of my attempts to make my body better at a number of different tasks which are somewhat closer to real life:

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I realize I probably don’t even look very different. At my lowest trans-Canada weight I was still around 155, and I’m probably around 170 now. But it is amazing how different that can feel. Small changes feel big, I guess. One of my hopes is that this type of largely upper-body-focused workout might be more beneficial (or at least less antagonistic) to my professional aspirations as a classical singer. Is it a coincidence that good singers are so frequently just massive dudes? Your voice teacher will just be like, “hey, put your hand here and feel what happens when I breathe.” And then you try and feel that breath-expansion around your own puny waist and you wonder if you’ll ever have the same power, if maybe there’s a correlation between size of body and size of voice. There’s a complex relationship between voice and body that I haven’t figured out yet, but on the other hand I’m sure technique is far more important.

Well, I realize this isn’t, perhaps, the long-awaited update my loyal handful of blog readers might have expected. Like, what happened in Alberta and British Columbia after all? I haven’t managed to write out an account of those incredibly rich weeks in which I reached certain mental and geographical end-points. But one of the most important things from the past year, I think, is that I maxed out my personal concept of endurance. When I came back from the run, I had to think, “what’s next?” And these are just some of the thoughts I’ve had since then, which I think continue the exploration of bodily and psychological issues at the core of this whole blog.

I hope you are all thriving and consciously refining your own corporeal and spiritual narratives. It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to catch up with some of the people I stayed with while running across Canada, but I think of you all very often. Keep in touch!

A year (not just 4 months) in the life: meditations on volcanic activity, whisky, internet dating, etc.

•December 31, 2012 • 2 Comments

2012

It was the year that everything changed. I ran insane amounts, in sunshine, rain, hail, sleet, snow, and lightning. In the winter, I was the running phantom of Parc Laurier. I ran across Canada, and then I ran no more. I pined after someone who didn’t love me anymore until I didn’t even know who she was anymore, who I was anymore. My personal fashion concept went from nice check sportshirts to spandex shorts and nothing else for days on end, and finally to a weird blend of those worlds, but the tan lines never went away. I even had a “beard tan.” I thought I was going to grad school for literature, but I could never be entirely sure. In the year 2012, I moved three times, or many more, depending how you count.

After six years of living in Montreal, I finally began to make it my home. Ending my self-imposed exile from any even remotely cool Montreal neighborhood, I moved to the Plateau, and then to Mile-End, and then east of the Village. My French improved, and, ultimately, I began to realize that perhaps, at this point in life, I was as much Canadian as anything else. I converted my bike to single-speed and flopped and chopped its bars. I rode my bike like an Italian Futurist, hurtling toward my inevitable death, moustache billowing in the wind, perhaps with goggles, or perhaps without – and when my eyes streamed with tears, I could never say for sure if it was the wind. I started the year feeling that I had no reason to wear a helmet. I changed my mind.

Scotch was big. Blended, single-malt, cheap, expensive; you name it, I drank it. Sipped it and savored its peaty nose, swigged it straight from the bottle, took covert nips from a flask. I drank scotch in an upper duplex by Parc Laurier, in my bedroom or at the kitchen table with various cute European girls like Cecile and Kerstin who nonetheless declined the offered dram. I drank scotch in a tent in the rain on somebody else’s property in northern Ontario. I poured scotch from a flask into my root beer float in a Dairy Queen on the Trans-Canada Highway in Sault Ste-Marie. I briefly drank scotch in Mile-End, and tomorrow I will probably drink scotch with Woody in Brooklyn. Achieving an effective state of mind was – occasionally – an artful dance of stimulants and depressants; aesthetically and practically, Laphroaig and black coffee both had their places.

I swallowed my pride and confronted my loneliness and laughed with Elan and Estelí about being on OKCupid. I went on dates with girls, dozens of girls I had never met before, and for every one of them there was a dozen more who never wrote back. Have I even met them now? Who can say with certainty? You probably don’t even know the people who are closest to you, nevermind the random ones you meet on the internet – but then again, maybe those people know the real you in a way nobody else can. I think there was something really important in that bizarre and alien practice of dating, perhaps something similar to what I went through while I was running across Canada – reconciling myself to the necessity of opening myself up to complete strangers, of walking the line that separates shy obscurity from arrogant self-aggrandizing, of laughing at the ridiculousness of my present situation and just saying “okay, I will allow whatever is about to happen, to happen.”

As some of you may recall, the end of the world was predicted by the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. I remember sitting with Lizzie at the kitchen table in Chris Zutt’s house in Winterthur in late April 2010, watching news coverage of the volcanic eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull that, experts said, theoretically had the potential to disrupt air travel in or out of Europe for over a year. Chris Zutt believed that 12/21/2012 was, potentially, for real. What if Eyjafjallajökull prevented us from returning to our homes before the End of the World? What could we do in order to live that remaining span of our lives to the fullest?

Fortunately, we didn’t end up having to make those kinds of decisions, but throughout this year I often pondered that question: if I was going to die in a few months, and nothing could be done to stop it, how would I be spending my time? It’s not an easy question to answer. You often think that there might be some flashy answer, that if you were just able to let go of your future-oriented psychological baggage, the right path might reveal itself. It really isn’t that simple. Not everything I did in 2012 was as obviously “carpe diem,” as glamorous, as catchy, or as grammatically compact as “Running Across Canada.” But there isn’t always something obvious to do like that. Talking with a bunch of smart and funny science students about Chaucer; drinking a 21 year-old scotch at l’Ile Noir and then taking a cab home because I just sang my first Messiah; reading a coursepack article that makes the wheels turn just a little bit more, that gives you some piece of ideology to cling to… I think in 2012, every day I must have done at least something that I would have done even if I was going to die imminently. The fact is, there are just too many things that are worth doing.

In 2013, it’s quite likely I’ll do a few more things.

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Photos

•December 28, 2012 • 1 Comment

Hello all,

I’ve had a little bit of time to spare over this holiday break, and I managed to upload all my photos to one place where everybody should be able to access them, and add some locations/tags/commentary (though I haven’t yet put the correct dates on them – it’s a big job). Take a few minutes and check out this photographic record of my 112-day run from Montreal to Vancouver.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10101015111285777.2596310.13616552&type=1&l=0d6c25959c

Thanks to all for your support and your patience with my slow, slow updates. Grad school is no joke! But in May I’ll be done, and hopefully working on some writing related to this experience can be one of my first projects as a “free man” in Montreal. It’s been interesting here at my dad’s place – one year ago at this time, I was obsessively mapping and coordinating the outlines of the big run, and to be honest, it was all I could do to keep my mind in a productive or happy mode. Things are very different now, and the experiences I had this summer already seem, in a sense, faraway, unreal. But we all know the truth😉

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I’m Alive

•October 22, 2012 • 2 Comments

Hi everybody,

I finished my run, wading in the Pacific Ocean at Wreck Beach in Vancouver, on August 20th as the sun set.

The reason I haven’t been in touch even to tell that, is because for the longest time I kept telling myself that soon I would catch up with blogging, and then I would have some really substantial stories to tell, and it would be a proper way to break the big news. Unfortunately, two months have passed since then, and I’ve been sucked back into this relentless vortex of real life. It’s hard to believe how much has happened since then! I’ve been just trying to keep my head above water since getting back days before my second year of grad school started.

But I wanted to let anyone out there who follows my blog know, however belatedly, that, well, it went according to plan. This blog is an unfinished work, and one I fully intend to revisit so I can finish the account I was really enjoying writing. I have copious notes and some entries already almost fully written. But I need time, and maybe it is for the best that I have a little bit of space from this epic thing which – however significant a chapter of my life – does not define me or my life as a whole.

So, to be continued, when I get some time to breathe…

Tired old shoes at Wreck Beach, ready for a hard-earned retirement.

Wreck Beach, Vancouver at sunset on August 20th, just as I arrived at my final destination and started asking myself, “what now?”

 

Article in the Gull Lake (SK) Observer, July 24

•July 31, 2012 • 4 Comments

On a very hot day, as I was running and walking down the highway from Gull Lake to Piapot, a car pulled over, and a guy named Tim got out, gave me some water, and asked if I had time for a little interview for the local paper. It seems that a couple people had separately called into the paper office and asked them what I was doing. People needed to know! So I took a few minutes to try and explain myself / ramble semi-coherently, and Tim wrote this nice little piece, uploaded here for your perusal:

“He who travels always travels alone”

Mapping Saskatchewan / geographies of openness and concealment (July 3-16)

•July 27, 2012 • 2 Comments

What is the ideal landscape for human habitation? According to our basic physical and psychological needs? According to Steven Pinker (“How the Mind Works”), the African Savannah strikes an ideal compromise between the contradictory feelings of safety we get from wide open spaces and from ‘nooks and crannies’ where we can hide. That is to say, wide open spaces are comforting because of our ability to see far into the distance (to be on the lookout for predators, fellow human beings, etc.), but if they’re too open, with no brush or trees to provide visual points of reference / landmarks / hiding places, they merely become disconcerting. Are we programmed to seek out Savannah-like landscapes because the African Savannah was the cradle of humanity, or is it the other way around? Hard to say.

I found myself thinking about these two opposing geographical forces when I first encountered the wide open spaces of the southern Manitoba prairie, emerging so suddenly after the densely-forested northern Ontario bush. Northern Ontario can be a dark, scary, vaguely threatening place for a pedestrian traveler: the constantly evolving landscapes of the Boreal Forest and the Canadian Shield leave you wondering what lies right around the corner, on a road (Highway 17) which is relatively narrow and prone to twist about. You don’t know what’s coming next, and you have to be prepared for anything. This is even true of the weather, which I found liable to change far more quickly than on the prairies: in Ontario, if you see thunderclouds way off to the west, you have to start formulating a plan for that storm immediately, whereas in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, you may see lightning and stormclouds for hours before the storm reaches where you are (if it even does).

These kinds of fundamental geographical differences can form the basis of modes of social interaction which characterize entire landscapes. Thus, there might be said to exist a “Shield” of paranoia and distrust just beneath the surface in Northern Ontario. Perhaps it manifests itself most clearly in the ubiquitous “NO TRESPASSING” signs which line the road. Why are they there? What exactly are you afraid of someone doing in your God-forsaken patch of rocky bush? There are “NO HUNTING” signs posted next to open fences on the plains, implying that the owners wouldn’t be much bothered by somebody walking in (though, of course, why would they want to?) My friend Brian Mealey railed against the No Trespassing signs of Northern Ontario when I was there, wishing that people were more open with their property, as he certainly is, inviting people he hardly knows to stay in his cabins or fish off his docks. To me, “NO TRESPASSING” says, “I fear what I cannot see. I don’t want people on my property, because I won’t be able to know what they’re doing in there, or even if they’re there.” Perhaps there is also an element of insecurity in the knowledge that the Northern Ontario landscape is brutal and primal and incapable of being tamed into pasture or farmland; thus, landowners try to exercise control over it in the small ways they feel they can, whereas the prairie farmers are confident in having mastered the land, and so they feel more generous with it. The easygoing nature of Southern Manitobans could be a product of that panoptical landscape (which, nonetheless, is bound to make a traveler feel more exposed… where to pitch a tent where it can’t be seen? Where the heck do you relieve yourself?) What I’m getting at is, geography forms the basis of narrative.

Southern Manitoba, just before crossing into SK – it really doesn’t get any hillier than this.

Now consider Southern Saskatchewan, which so many people had led me to believe was the flattest, the most treeless and the most boring stretch of road I would traverse. I didn’t find that to be the case. Rather, it seemed reminiscent of Pinker’s ideal human landscape, the Savannah, neither disconcertingly flat and open (like Manitoba) nor excessively dense and opaque (like Ontario). Some of the first explorers to see Saskatchewan said that it was such an inhospitable land that not even trees would grow there – they were ignorant of the fact that it is some of the best and most fertile farmland in the world, simply because trees are not really a natural part of the ecosystem of the prairie / tall grasses. Saskatchewan appears more open than it really is, because the “canopy” of the tall grasses forms a smooth layer resembling shorter grass. Peel it back and you realize what it conceals: wetlands, sometimes, and an astonishing array of wildlife that somehow finds a place for itself between endless fields. Snakes, weasels, gophers, skunks, raccoons, foxes, etc. Beneath the tall grass is an underworld, like the tunnels of Moose Jaw, SK, which hid from public view an entire population of illegal Chinese immigrants – when one died up top, a lucky underground friend or relative would assume their identity as a legal immigrant. An entire world which can’t be glimpsed on the surface; the forks beneath the forks. The severed ear in the unmown grass in “Blue Velvet” is a symbol of the same idea, with the close-cropped, manicured lawns of the film serving as wishes to present the illusion of a clean, exposed interior. In SK, you can even see “the Trans-Canada Highway beneath the Trans-Canada Highway,” bizarre spots where the old #1 – largely parallel to the new one, but no longer used, sprouting up grass, and spontaneously turning into or seeming to emerge from the grass:

The #1 beneath the #1, an illegitimate highway.

The country around Moose Jaw, SK epitomizes the mild hills and brush which make a compromise between open visibility and “nooks and crannies.”

Further west, the Cypress Hills create interesting chiaroscuro effects.

If there is an ideal human landscape which strikes a balance between openness and concealment, and if narrative is a reflection of landscape, then mustn’t there also be an ideal human narrative, which both conceals and reveals? Storytelling which is simultaneously transparent and opaque? In reflecting on the kind of writing I’ve done on this blog so far, I wonder if I’ve established too much of a pattern of complete disclosure. Isn’t it rather boring when someone tells a story, and all there is is, then I did this, then I did that, then this happened…? Having established this precedent of providing so much information on my day-to-day existence on the road, an unexplained temporal gap could stand out. Or have I already concealed from the narrative in a qualitative, rather than a quantitative, sense, in order not to offend with totally faithful impressions? In other words, have I prioritized the positive aspects of people, places and experiences? In the interests of balance, whether geographical (open, hidden, plains, hills) or in terms of equanimity of attitude (positive vs. negative impressions), the bitter must be taken with the sweet.

The following are some incomplete & elliptical impressions of my run across Saskatchewan.

My arrival in SK was a gloomy time, I’m sorry to say. After ten perfect days of sunshine and warmth, literally as I saw the border-crossing sign in the distance, there were stormclouds gathering directly ahead of me. In itself, a storm is not a gloomy thing, after so much sun, and I like to think I’ve developed a certain amount of indifference towards current weather conditions, but the timing made it symbolic. That afternoon – a hot and sunny one – in the shadow of a church on the highway, the only structure for miles around, I called C. in the hopes of resolving the sense of unease/anxiety I’d been feeling. I’m not going to dwell on that conversation here, but rather just stick it behind a conveniently-placed hill or a bale of hay in the narrative. I did manage to resolve the sense of anxiety, but my happiness and good humour went with it, temporarily.

Shooting the shit with trans-Canada motorcyclists Lorenzo and Norm at the SK welcome centre, I debated the merits of pushing on into those stormclouds. Some of my stormy runs have made for amazing experiences, maybe even transformative ones, so I decided to go on toward Moosomin. The whole point of my trans-Canada run is that running is occasionally capable of improving my state of mind, so I figured now was a good time to embrace and enjoy the reality of what I’m doing, regardless of the circumstances. An incredibly slow sunset, and the incredibly slow approach of thunderstorms which must have been many miles off to the north and the south. Amazing to see the lightning on the prairies, so far off in the distance! Along with the lonely whistle of the train, very far off, but its light still visible in the dark. Getting a little wet, getting a little bitten, a cool but not overpowering wind, and these sights and sounds: a definite moment of life.

When I passed through Wapella, I saw this goofy sign and logged it for novelty value:

Wapella, proud home of the Holloway brothers.

That evening, as I dined on the Special of the Day at the Only Place in Town, a very old man came up to me, stuck out his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m George Holloway.” “The George Holloway, the one in the sign!?” I asked. The very same – George and his four handsome brothers were all hockey players on the same local team back in the day. I suspect that an out-of-towner has never recognized him from the sign before, and he was so tickled he bought me dinner.

Camping just west of Indian Head, I got treated to quite the light show that night. All night, huge lightning flashes lit up my tent, pitched in a ditch on the side of a dirt road off the #1. The rain came down hard and I got soaked in spite of my precautions! The next morning was sunny, of course, so I spent a while drying my things out in the road.

Indian Head at sunset.

I was headed into Regina, where I’d spend the night and a whole rest day at the house of Glenda, a distant connection made through C., and about whom I knew practically nothing. She turned out to be one of my many guardian angels on this run, a person who understood my kinda ethos without actually knowing me, and gave me no end of help and kindness. Glenda and her house in the northern suburbs of Regina are a bit like the tall grass – beneath a seemingly placid surface, there’s a lot going on. I think she was as happy to have a guest as I was to have a host, and we had a lot to talk about once the ice was broken. We talked about endurance sports, literally and metaphorically. Glenda was hoping to do a half-marathon (her second) soon, but has had some setbacks due to knee complications… right now, the doctor advises her to run only for stretches of one minute! A brevity, a focused intensity of running that I can hardly imagine! Yet she puts on her running gear, gets out and does it.

Sometimes, it seems to me that endurance sports are a kind of grief contest, and one should never envy a person who succeeds at them, because that success is often the reflection of a great loss. But at the same time, the translation of that loss into action and the cultivation of inner strength is something that I admire in a lot of runners. Glenda is one of these.

She’s also quite the gardener, and she has a beautiful sour cherry tree in her front yard. I ate a lot of those cherries while I stayed with her, since sour cherries are a potent natural anti-inflammatory. Just before I left, we took a picture in front of that tree (Glenda’s on her way to work at Canada Post):

Back to work – for me, that meant running to Moose Jaw.

Thanks to Glenda, I had a place to stay in Moose Jaw the next night, with her cousin Denise and Denise’s husband Ernie, extremely welcoming people. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that a lot of the households in which I’ve stayed have had some pretty serious fitness gear in them… Ernie showed me this unbelievable cycling trainer he’s got hooked up to his bike inside: it adjusts resistance on the back wheel to simulate hills, etc. in specific courses from around the world, from which it displays first-person view video adjusted to the speed of the person on the bike. Crazy…

As I was trying to work my way out of the bizarre geometry of the suburban streets in Moose Jaw, I wished I had more time to stay with Denise and Ernie, and to see the tunnels I’d heard so much about, concealing Chinese immigrants and, supposedly, Al Capone’s Canadian bootlegging operations. I didn’t realize then that I’d be in and out of Moose Jaw quite a bit, only leaving it for the last time some five or six days later.

That night (the 10th), just as I was about to call it quits for the day and find a place to set up camp, a car pulled up behind me, and out came Glenda and her friend Shobna, carrying a picnic fit for a king! They’d just come out to surprise me and see how I was doing, over 100 km from their own homes. Glenda came wearing her running gear, just so she could run with me for the 1 minute her doctor allows her:

Roadside picnic at sunset on the Trans-Canada Highway, just east of Caronport.

What better way to end the day than with surprise goodies? Chocolate milk in mason jars, Big Rock Traditional Ale, sour cherries from the yard, and more. What a huge lift to my spirits before another night of camping in some random place… this time, I was picking between a salvage yard and a cemetery. Graveyard vs. car graveyard, which is less inappropriate/disrespectful? I chose to rest amongst the departed souls of my own species (just adjacent to the cemetery, since there was mown grass just outside the fence.)

Early on the 11th, when I pulled into the town of Mortlach, a farmer pointed out that Grady had a flat – indeed, I had to deal with the first flat in over 3000  km (not a problem, I had spare tubes). Additionally, the skies were looking kind of ornery, and the locals were all talking about twisters and the baseball-sized hail they’d had a few days before, so I decided maybe it was time to find a place to lay low for at least a few hours. That’s how I first ended up in the Holly Hock Natural Foods Market, a little lunch counter / grocery stop that had just been reopened under new management about ten days prior.

Bridie and her new place.

Bridie – the new owner/proprietor of the place – and her big sister Winter had actually seen me running on the highway that morning as they drove into Mortlach from Moose Jaw. Whereas many people seem to gawk or glare at me on the road, or just treat me like a crazy person, apparently Bridie had instantly understood that I was going across Canada, and said to Winter, “I want to do that!” So when I walked into the cafe, they were ready for me! “Come on in! Take a load off!” they said, pouring me water and putting out a bowl of cherries on the table. (How did they know I’m into cherries?) They seemed so excited to have me as a visitor, and I was so glad to meet friendly and interesting people in my age range, that I was happy to stay and hang out. Eventually, that turned into camping in the back yard of the market with the chickens, but before I put up my tent, that turned into sleeping in the unused trailer out back.

This is me inserting a sizable butte into the landscape/narrative, blocking your full access to the events of the next four days. Let them retain some mystery:

You can see for a fair distance in SK, but there are times when you can’t see everything.

Bridie & me in the Holly Hock Market.

On the 16th, I restarted my journey from Morse, SK, having run there from Mortlach on my own, in an attempt to stay on schedule, a few days earlier. I made it to Swift Current that night, and I was back on the road. Most of Saskatchewan was behind me, and it had been a complex experience, neither flat nor boring, and with quite a few thunderstorms and unusual circumstances thrown into the mix. Looking back on it all, there are possibly as many gaps and blocks in my memory as there are in your understanding of my story. But experiences can’t always be communicated clearly and plainly, even when you’d like to relate them that way.

False.

 
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