sunny side of the possum.

That Henry Miller had a way with words, didn't he?

Like these, for instance:

"If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored.  One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things."

We ultra runners, even us not-so-good ones, are always busy coming and a'going and as much as I enjoy (and I do) taking part in that physical aspect of what we do, I find that Mr. Miller's concept of eternal anchoring may play at least as key a role in my love of our "sport".  It touches on that point of connectivity that keeps me showing up for races, even after seemingly miserable failures, in ways that the allure of another t-shirt, medal or buckle have not and will not.

It's all about people, People (at least for this people person), and maybe the "sunny" side of the mountain is just the one on which you happen to be presently situated, whether in content solitude or in good company.

Take a looped course like the one at the Oil Creek 100, consisting of three 50K loops and a 7.7-mile finishing 'go round.  Fill the trails and the aid stations with a myriad of personalities, each one possessing a unique and interesting story (or two, or five, or more!) to share, and then throw in heat, humidity and physical discomfort that eventually leaves you far more interested in being told stories (preferably while in a prone or, at the very least, seated position) than staggering any further to the tune of your own ragged breathing and semi-quiet whimpering.

Well, let's just say that not continuing on stops looking like THE worst idea in the world.

Mostly because it isn't.

You'll likely be told otherwise by some grizzled trail veteran or a motivationally-minded bystander.  Your own inner demons, have you any (you do, trust me), will also vehemently argue otherwise, but sometimes they'll be wrong.

You may not be making the RIGHT decision, but that doesn't mean you're making the WORST decision.

As a quick aside, some well meaning person (not a demon...not hardly) this past weekend kindheartedly let me know that "only God can judge you."  For whomever finds those words reassuring, it is with apologies that I say that I find that statement preposterously erroneous.  Leaping right past any arguments about deities and higher beings, I will confidently state that ANYONE can judge you and, quite likely, most people are doing just that.  The good news is that only you can judge whether or not being judged by others (including your god or just some ornery possum) matters to you.  More importantly, with respect to your finishing or not finishing a race, NOBODY can sentence you respective to whatever judgment he or she makes.

If the judgment of others really truly does matter to you, respond accordingly.  

If it doesn't, shrug it off.

I do.  I do solemnly shrug.

On Saturday my inner demons, apparently, were either off elsewhere or not feeling up to a counter argument with my aching back.  Fifty miles into the Oil Creek 100, after roughly ten miles (and the too-too many minutes required to cover those ten miles) of initial here-and-gone-again back spasms that ended up morphing into the here-and-not-going-away-again variety, I handed over the keys and hitched a ride back to the start/finish area to break the news to Jefferson (my one-man crew) and all the other friends assembled there.

Folks, as usual (yes, I have more than my fair share of DNF experience), were kind and encouraging.  I make a point to never turn down kindness, but I really didn't need any encouragement.

All I was craving at that point was laughter and those stories that I knew were there, RIGHT THERE, waiting to be told and others, for that matter, still waiting to be written (to be fair, I was also craving, oddly, Mountain Dew Code Red, but that is a strange tale for another day).

I'd arrived and there would be no more departing.

I listened and I laughed, shared some stories of my own and was listened to and laughed with (at?) in return.  Between the running that I DID do, the new relationships that were forged and the existing friendships that were revisited and fortified, I had been gifted another wonderful day in the world, still firmly anchored to what I perceived to be the sunny side of the mountain.

Buckle or no buckle.

I know the ultra rhetoric well enough to know that I was supposed to spend some time berating myself, combing back over every detail to determine what went wrong and resolving how to prevent it next time.  That's all well and good and perhaps cathartic for many, but, I've never been big on doing what's expected and definitely not when my heart isn't in it.  Feels like play acting to me and life is theater enough without conjuring.

I'm good.

Upstairs, between my two hard-of-hearing ears, I'm good and have decided to skip past the beating myself up (or pretending to) and jump right back into enjoying my day, tomorrow and the day after (today not tomorrow, people, remember?).  Didn't really require a decision actually.  It just happened.

One's destination is just the way we look at things, right, Henry?

Photo courtesy of Jefferson Stoltzfus
And while we're busy quoting other (real!) writers and shrugging off passed judgment, here are some words from Jacques Prevert that might well have blurted right outta my very own noggin, though less articulately:

"I am what I am
I'm made that way
When I want to laugh
Yes, I erupt with laughter...

What more do you want
What do want from me?"

I'll be back again next year, Titusville, erupting in laughter.

Count on it.


  1. Good to meet you Leon. This is Jeff (white hair and slowly shuffling). This helps me gain perspective on my decision to bail @ mile 57. I live to laugh again.

    1. And good to meet you, Jeff! Fifty-seven miles is a good long way to go. I distinctly remember you wearing the same smile after dropping that I saw on your face earlier in the day...seems like you had the right perspective without my blabbering! Look forward to sharing the trail with you again soon.

  2. Leon, I like the way you think, and I think we have a bunch in common. We both DNF'd Laurel and OC at about the same time/places. And I think we both slept okay with that. I enjoyed chatting with you (albeit briefly) in both races. Happy miles, my friend! BTW, is your nickname related to Leon Russell? He had quite an impressive beard as well!

    1. We aughta pick a race and finish it...or not...whaddayasay? The story behind my nickname is a pretty dull one and not related to Leon Russell (though I have been known to belt out a soulful tune or two now and again), but it's been stuck on me for going on 20 years and I can't imagine life without it.

      Shoot me a name and a visual so I can pick you out next time or make sure you grab me and remind me that we're gonna stick together!

      Thanks for reading!