Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Goin' down the road

Nothing makes me happier than going somewhere new. I'll go anywhere once; the novelty is the thrill. I've traveled to some wonderful places that I'd love to see again, but I never go back, because novelty always wins when it's time to plan the next trip. Loading up the car and hitting the road alone for somewhere new makes me feel free in a way that nothing else does. I came to Lake Placid last month, but I'd never been through Burlington. So layered on my Ironman excitement was the prospect of a drive through northern Vermont and this city that so many friends love.

I left Camden in the highest spirits after a run and swim and a flood of well-wishes from a couple dozen friends. My friend Briar had just given me the perfect shirt for a First Visit to Burlington on the Way to an Ironman, all Phish and wings and fuel and vroom vrrooom vrooooom, so on it went and off I went, elated and free.

At the Penny Cluse in Burlington, home of the veggie reuben to end all veggie reubens

In Bethel, I stopped for a hitchhiker holding a sign for nearby Grantham, NH. I never, ever do this. But I did it. He introduced himself and told me he was a good, Christian guy trying to get home from his girlfriend's house, and for that moment I was less worried about getting chopped into little pieces than listening to him proselytize for three hours. But it was just a thing he said to establish himself as a non-serial-killer, and his only agenda was to get home. Joe nearly fell out of the car when he learned I was heading all the way to Burlington. He was heading home to Hinesville, VT, after a weekend in Bangor visiting his girlfriend, whom he met at the Phish show last summer. He nearly fell out of the car again when he saw my shirt. "You're a good karma girl, a good karma girl," he kept saying. 

A big, gregarious, slighly buzzed 45-year-old kid, Joe offered me snacks and chilled water and told me about his 11-year-old son, Shea, who is 3 years cancer free as of this month. He told me that Shea talks to groups of  200 or 300 people to raise money for Make-A-Wish, and he promised to send photos of the boy with President Obama.

He couldn't believe his good fortune. "I hit a home run today!" he said over and over. I told him my story of preparing for this race, how I feel I'm being carried along in the current of love and support that my friends and family are offering. Thank them, I said, and pay it forward. All I'm doing with the ride is inviting you into the bubble of kindness I've been floating in. 

The car flew past majestic Mt. Washington and into the hills as Van Morrison belted out one soulful tune after another. When we reached Vermont, Joe busted a Grateful Dead CD out of his bag, and cranked it, and we knew all the words of every song they played on July 17, 1990 at Foxboro, and we sang at the top of our lungs as we rolled through impossibly beautiful Vermont countryside. It was all green and blue and yellow and Jerry and Bobby perfection, and Brent was still alive for that show, and I'm going to my first Ironman and his kid beat cancer. 

I took the ferry from Charlotte, VT across Lake Champlain to Essex NY. It was ridiculously fun to be a tourist, and I ran around the small ferry, exploring its corners and chatting with the other passengers and taking pictures.

I'm a day or two early arriving at Lake Placid, and the athletes have not yet descended on the town. A band plays on the lakefront for a crowd of locals and normal-looking tourists. But the Olympic speed skating oval is full of Ironman tents, and Ironman flags hang from local businesses every where. It's surreal and beautiful and so incredibly wonderful.

I'm just crying all the damn time.

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