I stared out the skylight that served as my window in the attic of the apartment of a friend of a friend of a friend.
I had bummed a place to live for the summer just north of Gasworks Park and about 3 miles from the University of Washington, where my path to grad school began. A long, winding, gravel-covered path beset with weeds and dead animals and ticks and mosquitoes and a few dozen creek crossings, but a path nonetheless. I wasn’t going to school at UW, just spending the summer working for my advisor, who was soon to move out to Cornell University.
For three months, though, Seattle -- that fabled and only barely accessible city when I was growing up -- would be my home.
The sun was blazing over Lake Washington, and I couldn’t have been happier. Perfect weather, perfect circumstances, perfect joy.
That summer, I picked up where I’d left off at the tail end of my senior year, now running daily along the Burke-Gilman Trail, looping through Gasworks, exploring the area on foot 4 or 5 or 8 miles at a time. And in between, I explored on two wheels, riding to my office, spending 4 or 5 or 8 hours learning new material, then taking to the streets and trails to find available breweries, bike shops, and destinations.
I built my first bike wheel -- a wheel that never came apart, thank you very much, and now resides at the bottom of a lake (may its perfect form rest in peace) -- and took up lacrosse again. It turned out I was a pretty good goalie, able to hold my own against all manner of former players.
Games were in Redmond, on the other side of the lake, and I took a series of trails either north around the top end of the lake or south across the I-90 bridge. Across the bridge was a mysterious tangle of woods with several paved and dirt paths that seemed as improbable as they were brilliant. The woods occupied a space below the road grade that would be otherwise unusable, which made them the perfect site for bashing around on a bike.
It took me a couple games to figure out the possible ways to the field, and I never did decide on a preferred route. I would load my lacrosse equipment -- including the head of my stick -- into my backpack (the same old backpack I used for my flying material). The shaft stayed on my handlebars, and I used it as protection against vehicles: when I wanted to turn, the shaft came out, and that 4 feet of titanium made any aggressive driver think twice about whether their car was going to be dented on the way by.
All-in-all, the rides were safe, with a few hairy situations when I got lost close to gametime and had to resort to major roads. Nothing like a little cruise on a major highway to warm you up for facing the prospect of balls to, as previously noted, the legs.
And I frequently begged a ride home, because what crazy player wants his goalie killed riding back in the dark? Plus we stopped for beers after these games, often at not-vegetarian-friendly joints, and by then I’d learned an important equation:
Hard ride + Lacrosse + Beer = Immediate insobriety
The days went by quickly, and before I knew it, the owners of my borrowed digs above Gasworks had moved to California, leaving me the sole proprietor of the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. It seems strange that anyone would trust a person that far, but since I paid for my room and had been generally pretty easygoing, I guess they figured it was ok. I was even taking care of their cat, who most assuredly thought she was a dog: you could leash her safely and she played fetch. I don’t remember her name, just her canine manner.
I went back to Port Angeles for a few days near the end of the summer, then returned to Seattle just long enough to pack my things for the trip east. My officemate had a car, and since he was going East with my advisor, he would need someone to help him get him and his stuff and his car to upstate New York.
I had done most of that distance before, so I volunteered. It was sort of like thumbing a ride, without the thumbs. (But I still had my thumbs. They’re in use right now. Watch them type spaces! )
Regardless of my digital situation, every once in a great while you come across a situation you’ve encountered before and the outcome is vastly different. This was one of those times.
Growing up, my family had frequently driven across the country to visit my relatives. The trip was always long and slow, taking anywhere from 4 to 6 days to go 2,500 miles. I’d never thought about the numbers, but that’s a paltry 500 miles per day for 5 days, or about 10 hours of driving a day.
The rest of the time my parents filled with stops, detours to parks and museums and wacky sights, and detours down roads that were off even the unbeaten path, through towns that time had forgotten and across boulevards that very well may not have known what time was.
On the trip to Cornell, my officemate and I were in Minneapolis 26 hours after leaving Seattle, and we were cruising into New York (State, not City -- otherwise it would have meant a severe wrong turn) after just 2 full days. We burned through those miles like they were steeped in kerosene, rolled into town like we owned the place, and moved into our respective abodes 3 days after departing UW.
I took my first run as an Ithaca resident that day. I had bought a local map (which stayed with me throughout my tenure at Cornell) and traced out an appropriate route beforehand: 3.5 miles on relatively flat terrain that included a trip around a park, across a quaint bridge, down a dirt road, and back into the neighborhood. To my great surprise, it stood the test of time, and I still ran it in my last days in Ithaca.
But my years in upstate New York were just beginning, and that place would change everything about running life.
Next up: Talk dirty.
Mash out. Spin on.
Senior year in undergrad is an interesting time if you play it right. Having secured all the necessary credits to graduate except a PE class and a couple courses to finish out my major, I was free to choose what, if anything, I wanted to study. I kept the load light to maximize my time doing my own thing.
I would take my run relatively late in the morning, sometimes after my 9 a.m. class (a major requirement course). Since it was followed by a 35-minute break, that meant I would often show up to my 10:30 sweaty. Which didn’t bother me, obviously. I showed up late sometimes, which also didn’t bother me. I also slept frequently in that class -- as evidenced by the trail-off pen lines that marred the course notes. (Apparently whatever happened in that class didn’t bother me either, though I remember quite a bit from it.)
Hungry at 11:30, I would head to the cafeteria and slam through 2 or 3 meals worth of food, then go to volleyball practice. The lacrosse team fizzled in autumn 2000 as the players who had sustained it -- a bunch of friends in a frat -- had almost all graduated together the spring before; an in-shape goalie who loved the sport but hadn’t cultivated young talent never had a chance of keeping the team going.
My friends and I played volleyball through the winter, and I started running more evenings. I also started drinking beer more consistently but in less volume in an outing. We had a favorite local brewery whose product was always on-hand (Schell’s), and sometimes the town’s liquor store would have a special that gave us a quality boost. On one occasion, they advertised British cans of all stripes at $2 each; when the clerk rang them up, it turned out they had the 4-packs set at that price, so several friends took turns clearing out their stock. Our refrigerator quickly became overstocked, and tall cans were dumped unceremoniously into a heap next to the kitchen counters. We finally decided the only good storage place for this much British beer was the oven.
I did the 5k again, this time beating several cross country runners. Again, the coach tried to recruit me, but he knew it was pointless. I think he finally realized that I really did run with that stick all the time. That would be hard to beat out of me even if I signed up for cross country.
I had dropped to 155 lbs, extremely lean -- possibly even skeletal -- by my standards. At one point the previous spring I had weighed in at 145, but the summer workouts had apparently upped my muscle mass. I felt good but probably looked a little odd because my frame supports about 160 as a “natural” minimum weight.
My haircut had also bottomed out. In high school, I generally refused to pay for haircuts, having once dropped $10 to get about the same quality trim as what my mother provided. Just before school, I had my mother cut my hair to an inch, which was as far as she was willing to go. But once on my own, I purchased clippers, which I used to buzz the 'do to ¾”. By senior year, it was ⅜”, the shortest I was comfortable with given my slightly sticky-outy ears.
I was employing military tactics to my hair even though I’m about the antithesis of a military recruit. I don’t take orders well, question everything and everybody, and don’t appreciate the air of authority that others put on unless they can establish the air is earned. I had and have always had leg strength to spare, but it’s likely that any substantial firearm would take only a few seconds to overwhelm my feeble arms.
And yet I worked out like I was ex-military and cut my hair like it too. Many people who didn't know me assumed I was ROTC, but that notion would be quickly dispelled by a conversation -- or by looking at my hippie sandals, lack of proper dress, and scrawny arms. To this day, I cut my hair short and maintain an awesome physical presence; people sometimes still think I’m ex-military, which gives me a good chuckle.
Regardless, winter passed quickly and uneventfully. Like the first stanza of the middle chapter of a true Norse saga, spring athletics of 2001 would be both a summary of all that came before and a brilliant cast of light along a new path.
To start, a roommate and I hatched a plan to ride to Minneapolis, some 55 miles away by highway or 70 miles away by otherway. We picked a weekend and used the Tiger mapping service (2001...the days before Google maps!) to get precise USGS maps of a route that would be relatively direct and keep us off the major roads. That routing project was several weeks of back-and-forth planning that would make getting lost pretty much guaranteed.
Having planned the trip, we felt bound to execute, so we started telling people we knew that it was happening. There is a strange psychology to the personal plan that doesn't motivate nearly as well as the public plan. Once the ride to Minneapolis was "out", it was more certainty than possibility.
I ran. I biked. I ran so much I didn't feel I could run anymore. Then I ran more, and harder, and with more joy and elation than the last three years.
Over one of our long weekends that spring, a friend took me in at his Minneapolis home. He was training for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, and that weekend was slated to include a 15-mile training run. Of course I joined him, because why wouldn't I?
Around Mile 12, I was so beaten up that I wanted to quit, but I kept with him, finishing out the last 3 and limping around on sore and tired legs for a couple days. I still tried to run the next day. My god was I stupid then -- that wasn’t training, it was insanity! That would be like me up and deciding to run a marathon tomorrow. Well, OK, technically it would be more like me up and deciding to run a 50-miler tomorrow, given the sterling shape I'm permanently in these days.
Meanwhile, citizens of our school and St. Olaf College were organizing a simultaneous bike ride between our campuses. Students from there took a van to our campus and rode home, while students from our school rode over and vanned back. I felt obligated to do the ride, what with my prior athletic pursuits, but it was a week before our scheduled trek to larger burgs. This would be my first experience of the long workout before the main event.
When the appointed weekend arrived, we gathered at the starting line, the main pedestrian area on my campus. An acquaintance drove up with his race roadie strapped to the top of his car.
I had known he was involved with bike racing, but I didn’t know what that meant. Turns out it meant that he would ride off on his own for 54 miles over maybe 3 hours while the rest of us toiled along at 12-14 mph. One day I would reach his sorts of speeds, but not this time.
My roomie and I largely rode together. We stopped for PB&J at a couple food stations and pacelined the windier bits to save a little energy. Ultimately, we took about 5 hours to finish the ride and had a great time doing it.
We had done our warmup ride, and now it was time for the main event. When the appointed Friday finally came for The Big Ride to The Big City, we climbed on our bikes and headed out. It happened to be the weekend of a friend’s wedding shower, so we had a way to get home when the ride was done. Good thing, too, because we figured we’d be satisfactorily wiped out.
We were up early and cruised back roads, taking stock of the strange “towns” that showed up on signs atop hills where only a few scattered farmhouses were visible for miles around. It was a beautiful riding day, if a little hot, and we had provisioned ourselves well. Our maps were decent, but their use of road numbers rather than names sometimes made it difficult to decide whether to take certain back-country roads or not. We were lost a few times but quickly regained our bearings without incident.
We rode until about 3 p.m., when the maps ran us into a nearly terminal inaccuracy: they showed bridges where none exist. The road we were on reached a T with an industrial access road at the shores of a river on the outskirts of the Twin Cities. The only way over seemed to be the freeway -- a freeway so devoid of cycling draw that we had been trying to avoid even its younger brethren.
We rode along the river on a frontage road for about a mile until we came to the freeway entrance, where we dismounted, discussed, and finally stuck out our thumbs, expecting a long wait. In minutes, a pickup rolled by, stopped, waited for us to catch up.
“Where you boys headed?” the driver asked.
“We just need to get over the bridge,” Tyson told him. “The next bridge is 5 miles away, and that’s an hour total detour.”
He laughed. “Throw them in the back, I’ll drop you on the other side if you want. Or I can take you where you’re going.”
My roommate and I smiled. “That’s alright,” I said. “We’re almost there.”
We crossed the river in the auto, hopped out, and rode another 5 miles to our destination. Glen, our contact, wasn’t home, so we hit up the grocery store and bought beer and ice cream. Still dressed for the ride and smelling like we’d crawled out of a sewer, we sat on Glen’s lawn and feasted.
The next day, we hit the roads to find our friend’s party, which turned out to be about 20 miles away on city streets and highways. It was an ugly ride punctuated by a meandering trip into a cul-de-sac-filled subdivision in a Minneapolis suburb: a lasting memory of the joylessness of suburban expansion. Needless to say, we were frequently confused and lost, and when we finally arrived, both of us were the kind of tired that makes you pass out in the most uncomfortable places. The event was, in this case, both a shower and the source of a shower, then some sort of flophouse for self-abusing cyclists.
I slept all the way back to school and most of the next day, getting up only to -- wait for it! -- run. My usual route, probably pretty slowly.
Graduation came, and during that week I found myself running longer distances just to pass the time. I was going to graduate school and had a pre-grad gig set up in Seattle for the summer, after which I would move to Ithaca, New York, and start my real educational career. At least, in May 2001 that was my plan; by May 2002 that also included a real racing career. And yet those days were still to come.
On graduation day my parents were in town. That morning, I got up early, tucked my hands into my gloves, took my stick, and ran 4 miles, around the same loop I’d run a thousand times before.
I didn’t think anything of it, but it was the last time I would ever do that loop. I might have been a little wistful if I’d thought about it; instead, I was just a runner, mindin’ my own business.
With a lacrosse stick.
Next up: West To Go East
Mash Out. Spin On.