On the corner of Flynn and Sawyer…

To the casual, everyday folk who make the scitter-scattering trip from Northern Indiana to SW Michigan, the mundane experience probably doesn’t spark any particular aesthesia worth noting. The ever-changing, zig-zaggedness of mostly backcountry roads is probably the reason most of these folk possess selective amnesia, rather than aesthesia, when it comes to describing the drive.

I, also, happen to be just a casual, everyday person. However, I feel lucky and privileged to be able to make this venture from New Carlisle to Sawyer each day for work. Why? Well, believe it or not, the surprisingly diverse landscapes and ever-present farmers’ markets dominate SW Michigan. Many small, family-owned and operated farms are scattered about the region along with the omnipresent number of grape vineyards. The occasional mansion, subdivisions, the 19th century brick-layered homes, and the small woodland ranches are sprinkled here and there. The variety is what draws me. The stillness.

After my shift today, as I was walking back to my car, I was delighted to see my favorite person in all of Sawyer, Joe, sitting alone in the Greenbush Annex enjoying a beer and, rightfully so, the lake breeze from the west (the screens were open). Joe is a local, elderly man, who lives on the corner of Flynn and Sawyer. He rides his bicycle almost everywhere he goes, which usually just so happens to be down the road a quarter mile to get his fix of caffeine at Infusco, beer and lunch at Greenbush, mail at the Sawyer post office, and other amenities and necessities at Sawyer Garden Center. As I passed into his obvious line of view and made eye-contact, I waved and joined him for a beer at the Annex bar, facing the outdoor patios as the breeze came in through the newly designed screened windows. I first met Joe while working at Infusco a couple weeks ago. He would come in every day and order the same thing; “a BIG latte.” No, he wouldn’t grab a newspaper and sit in the corner like a typical local. He didn’t seem interested in the presidential race or Isis (although, admittingly, very important things). Most of the time, under his large white beard, Joe looked stoically amused as he stared out the window at the town, as Sawyer was waking up. Just lost in thought. Comfortable in his own headspace. He seemed to take pleasure in riding his bicycle to the coffee shop and the brewery, walking his dog, planting his vegetables, and literally knowing everything about the town. Or, maybe he finds himself, in the aftermath, reminiscing and remembering himself fighting in a war, working in steel mills, living in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Boston. Whatever the case, I know for a fact (he has told me) that he enjoys the simplicity and oneness of Sawyer, when the loudest noises are the coal train that makes its bi-daily pass by the brewery and the rowdiness of the folks who’ve had one too many Brother Benjamins.
Joe and I have something in common, and I think we both realize it. Each day, we always seem to end up talking about the geography and topography (literally my favorite things) of the local land. Which roads are scenic for bike rides, which are dirt, which have markets, which lead to where, and so on and so forth. Through these valued times spent with Joe, I have realized it is extremely relaxing to just sit and listen to someone much older than you talk about his enjoyment and appreciation of the land, his respect of the “simple” things that we as a society seem to gloss over. Absolutely refreshing. After all, we ARE in Sawyer, Michigan, not known for a teeming, vibrant atmosphere. Joe values a life not fueled by money or possessions but rather the amount of nontrivial peace and harmony he feels living in such an area, which, especially in today’s world, is pretty damn commendable…

…which is why I enjoy driving the scitter-scattering backcountry roads up to Saywer each day, because every time I pass that little white house on the corner of Flynn and Sawyer, I am reminded of the simple things and, that, alone, is rejuvenating.

My Mini Dark Place

I’m not quite sure know how to properly begin this blog post so I guess I’ll just start putting my thoughts into fruition.

First off, you may be wondering what the hell my Mini Dark Place is and why I choose to share such a thing, so, hence, I will explain:

There is a North Face athlete (ultra/mountain runner) from Flagstaff, AZ, named Rob Krar. His motto is, “I run far. 100 miles at a time. I go to a Dark Place and I control the pain.”

Through my running (especially focusing on distances upwards of the 26.2 marathon distance), I’ve continuously been curious as to what this Dark Place is all about. After thousands of miles (without trying to sound spiritual or cliche), I have finally come to a conclusion. This “Dark Place” that Rob Krar speaks of is a state of physical and mental being where the athlete sinks into a virtual hole of continuous struggle (pain) and peace (freedom). The athlete WANTS to be there.

Tonight, April 1, 2016, I finally visited my mini Dark Place. After work in Sawyer, I set out for an easy 11 miles. Upon the conclusion (around 7pm), I downed two pieces of salmon, some sweet potatoes, a kale salad, and a beer from Greenbush. I wasn’t planning on going to sleep until 11pm so I opted to run a few more miles once my food settled. As I was driving to Spicer Lake, I noted the threatening rain clouds approaching from the west. I parked alongside the road, got out, turned on my Petzl headlamp, and started my Garmin as the daylight was seconds away from disappearing. I had no real idea of how long I wanted to be out there.

After about 10 minutes, it started down pouring as the wind picked up. It became chilly and I could see my breath in the glow of my headlamp as the rain pelted my exposed face. I began floating effortlessly, pitter-pattering through the muddy ravines and soaked trails. No music. I was alone (besides the occasional critter). I started unintentionally sinking into the hole, the Dark Place that Rob Krar talks about. I tried not to accept the fact that I was there. The particular effort acted as the kindling to my blog post. I started formulating my intro. However, I soon realized I would not come close to remembering my exact thoughts, which caused me to virtually chuckle. The feeling of being sunk in the hole, the Dark Place, started to wash away but not after eclipsing another 10 miles. It’s funny, I usually pay close attention to staying hydrated and fueled properly but the body can do amazing things when in a primal setting, stripped down to the essentials. It’s in these moments that I realize that few things in this world are more badass, yet simple, than running through the trees at night.

Upon arriving home and sitting down and writing half of this, I came to the conclusion that, during training, I cannot purposely replicate this state of being. I cannot go out for a run and say “I am going to completely and utterly focus solely on this run, every step, every exact foot placement, every breath, one by one, until I enter the state of flow and have this blissful experience served on a platter by angels.” Whenever I have tried that approach, I have failed miserably. The Dark Place can only be entered by chance.

I can only imagine that Rob Krar enters his Dark Place during his 100-mile races because, well, that’s far. And a LONG time to be suffering. I entered a glimpse of my Dark Place tonight during a 10-miler (21 for the day), but I hope I am lucky enough to encounter it during my debut ultra at the Ice Age Trail 50-miler in 6 weeks.