Let it

Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it.”
Harvey MacKay

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Slow Limp to Freedom

"There are some patients that I have to crack the whip on, and some that I have to pull back on the reins. I think it goes without saying that you are the latter." 
Brian is my new physical therapist. He is excellent at what he does, and easy to get along with. I've been to see him 3 times in the past week. We chose to take the aggressive approach to therapy.

At 11 weeks post surgery, after 2 weeks of being up to 50 lbs weight bearing, I ditched my crutches a week early. I still wore my boot out of the house, but at home, I got to work using my ankle as it was intended to be used. It hurt some, but not in a bad way, so I took it as a go-ahead. At 12 weeks post surgery, Doc Chardack pulled up my x-rays and showed me the faint line around the outside of my talus that meant the bone was alive and growing. I did a seated happy dance. Then, he wished me luck and set me loose. No boot, no crutches. I asked him for a PT prescription. "I have goals. I have mountains to climb." He shook his head with a stifled smirk and wrote up the scrip. I walked to the car with a huge grin splitting my face. I turned in my knee scooter, tossed my boot in the back of the pirate van, and cranked the radio up. As I cruised down I-15, my eyes would skip over to the parallel Wasatch Range. My mountains. I spoke to them like old friends. "Soon. I'm coming." And then I cried. 'Cuz I do that lately... way too much.

The coming Friday, Katie and I took the kids geocaching up Skyline Drive in Bountiful. I needed to be up. I'd missed too much of Fall already. We spent a few hours driving, with frequent stops for mini hikes. It felt good to test what my ankle was capable of. I was careful, but not too careful. I tired quickly, but my soul felt fed. The fall colors were radiant. My kids were thrilled. Katie was the best company, as usual. I was so happy.

My mountain buddies.
I paid for it that evening and the following day. It was painful, but oh, so worth it.

On Monday, I met Brian. In a room filled with generic workout equipment interspersed with specialized therapy equipment and lined with massage tables.  We liked each other immediately. With measurements and prodding, and muscle tests he evaluated my needs and my progress. While he worked, we discussed hobbies and background, interests and goals. He declared me Wonder Woman and gushed about how incredible my healing and my capabilities were for the severity of my injury. Then he said it. Those words I had been aching to hear, but not daring to hope realistically for. "I am confident that we'll get you running trails again." They rang golden in the air and I smiled so big that my face hurt. I cried ugly, happy tears the whole way home. Of course I did.

Physical Therapy has been less painful than I had been led to believe. Brian says, "Hurting people is old school." I love going to therapy. Real movement followed by massage? Yes please. Me time. I want to push it harder. I want to work out, hike, go for walks, do interval training. But I find that the everyday mom stuff, as much as I've pared it down to basics, comes first and takes too much energy. At this point, it's one or the other. If I work out, or go out much, I can't make dinner. After a week of painful in between days, Brian strongly recommended that I take it easy in between PT sessions. The problem is, I thought I was.

I get frustrated. And when I do, I name the simple things I'm grateful for. The autumn colors, the sunshine, the mobility I do have. My leg is starting to have shape again. It's getting its curves back. My ankle looks like an ankle. A scarred ankle, but an ankle. That makes me happy.

It still hurts everyday. By evening it is swollen and sore, and shades of the old bruising come back. I ice and elevate and try to rest when I can, but life is demanding. Field trips, holidays parties, scout derbies, home school, house work. A busy day means a night with my foot on ice. And sometimes most of the next day with it propped up. How can my house be a wreck when I'm on my feet all day long?
I am frustrated. But I am grateful. I will run again. How long have I waited to be able to say that with confidence?

I just want to run. My heart throws tiny tantrums as I browse the images of my friends adventures. I wanna go! But my time will come. I keep on telling my mountains, "I am coming. I am coming! I'm just coming very slowly. "

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Crewing the Bear: A pegleg crew is only fitting for a pirate

In October of 2012, I found last minute babysitters and headed out into the desert to crew my brother-in-law Matt on a 50 mile race. I was new to this trail and ultra scene. I wasn't sure what I was getting into. We slept in a freezing cold tent under endless stars. We got up stupidly early in the morning. Then we followed a bunch of crazy runners in our car full of junk food, stopping to blast music and have dance parties on the dirt road as we cheered people on. In the midst of all of this drawn out hoopla, I fell in love. With everything. The desert, the sport, the mindset, and an entire community full of people who would become like family over the coming years. I've crewed, paced, run and volunteered at many races and fun runs since then. Race weekends are some of my favorite weekends. But I had never crewed a 100 miler from start to finish until this past weekend.
When my husband signed up for the Bear 100, I knew we were in for an adventure. And when my own goals unexpectedly changed from completing my first ultra to being able to walk again, the adventure got much more complicated. I was devastated to miss crewing my brother Steve on his first hundred at Ouray just two weeks after my accident. I would not be kept from being there for Aaron.
I had arranged for my rad baby brother and his rad wife to come stay with the kids while we headed up to Logan for the weekend in our little Mercury Milan. We would attend the pre-race meeting, drop off the drop bags, go to dinner and then stay overnight at my gracious aunt and uncle's home in Providence, just ten minutes from the start line. Somewhere along the way Thursday evening, we would meet up with Aaron's brother Matt in his big bad FJ Cruiser- our crew car. Matt would crew with me for 75 miles and then pace Aaron during the last 25 to the finish. We had a great plan. But you know what they say about best laid plans...
Between me and Aaron, I don't know who was more nervous... well... it was probably me. Running a race, while extremely difficult physically and mentally, is infinitely more simple than crewing it... on one leg. Plus Aaron and Matt just aren't the worrying type.  We checked in on Matt via Find My Friends periodically throughout the evening to see if he was on his way up from Salt Lake yet, and noticed that he was not headed home from work, but was at Primary Children's Hospital. My heart took a pogo stick into my throat. I had just talked to Alicia earlier in the day about their baby and how he had been running a fever. Through text and phone calls, we checked in and discovered that he was not doing well, and the cause was a mystery. I kept having to push the panic back. I was worried about my nephew and his stressed out mama. Compounding that, the possibility had entered my mind that Matt might not make it to the party. Not that I would blame him if something were really wrong, but it would leave me scrambling to crew on my own in a not-dirt-road-and-trail-worthy car. I began to study the aid station maps that I had been relying on Matt and his GPS to get us to.  Aaron laid out his pirate clothes for the next morning and settled in to bed. Eventually I realized I needed to turn the lights off and let Aaron sleep, so I packed up my maps and reluctantly settled in. We slept fitfully.

The Pirate with pre-race nerves
We found ourselves buzzed on nerves in pre-dawn preparations. Dressing, packing up the car. Matt was still not on his way. There was a pressure mounting in my chest. By the time we made it to the starting line we knew that the babe was okay and that Matt would come, but we didn't know when. We parked and I crutched after Aaron to the check-in.
We chatted with friends and met other crew members in the low light. And then it was time. Aaron and Nate headed off into the start crowd. I stood with a group of crew members and new friends. Kelli whom I'd met volunteering for Bryce- she was crewing her husband Scott, and Nate's crew- his wife Steph, and Ben whom I sort of knew from the Wranglers page (he ran with my brother and husband sometimes).  So yeah, best buddies.

The start was called and the runners took off up the road toward the canyon mouth. The pressure in my chest threatened to push out of my face. Then came the question, "So what's your plan?"  I can only imagine the look on my face. I was a crippled deer in the headlights. Everyone else had spoken of going back to their hotels to sleep a little before heading up to Leatham Hollow. I just shook my head lightly and shrugged. There was no plan. I was going to go back to my car and wait around for hours by myself, and then attempt the drive to Leatham Hollow and cross my fingers that my car stayed functional. I would pull it together and be brave and just get it done. To me it seemed like the only thing to do. Only it suddenly sounded really stupid to me when Ben said it out loud.
"No. Come back to my hotel, have some free breakfast, we'll transfer Aaron's stuff to the truck, and you'll go up with us."
My relief almost came out of my eyes and spilled down my face.  I wanted to hug them all for adopting me on the spot! I only narrowly escaped becoming a blubbering drama llama before I turned to crutch back to the car.
Steph dropped Ben off at his hotel and went back to hers across the street. I climbed out of my car and went to meet Ben in the lobby. We sat and talked, then noticing that carrying things is a difficulty for me on crutches, he proceeded to serve me breakfast. His positivity was contagious as we chatted over scrambled eggs, fruit and hash browns, and before we knew it, Steph was back with Nate's dad to pick us up. Ben ran up to his room to get his things, and I crutched out to the car to decide what I needed to take to the first AS. As I hopped on one leg and rummaged around in the car, pulling things out willy nilly, a man dressed in a business suit stopped to ask if I needed his help. This injury has let me see the kindness in strangers and I am constantly amazed. I thanked him for his offer and assured him I had help coming. We loaded my things into the truck and headed to Leatham Hollow, talking and joking like old friends. The ultra community is just packed with awesome people.
At Leatham Hollow, I began to realize how useless I would actually be as crew. Everyone was so solicitous and kind, carrying my chairs and bags for me, but it was all I could do just to get from the car to the trail on my own. I couldn't even carry a water bottle to refill. How was this going to work?
For now, I had my new friends. We settled in our camp chairs to wait as the sun came over the mountain, cheering runners through and taking pictures. Anna Frost flew by. 
"She is my ultra running girl crush," I admitted aloud. Ben was quick to retort, "Are you making fun of me?!" I laughed out loud and assured him I was being quite serious!
A few friends came through and Canice, who I knew was running with no crew or pacers, borrowed a chair for a minute as he went through his drop bag. From that aid station on, we adopted him. He wouldn't run this race without support.
We cheered friends through and watched vigilantly for our charges.
"What color is Aaron wearing?"
"Um... Pirate? He may very well be shirtless at this point though."
And there he was, running well. Shirtless and happy as can be, slightly ahead of schedule.
My almost-nekkid pirate coming in to Leatham Hollow.

Crewing is a funny game. It's mostly being at the right place at the right time, just hanging out and cheering, then the frantic flurry of your runner coming in. Pictures, water refills, food, physical care (sunscreen, blister prevention/care, chafing prevention/care, adjustments, stretching or rubdowns), sock and/or shoe change, clothing changes for weather, etc. It's almost like a pit crew at NASCAR. Then you talk them up, say your encouragements and send them on their way. Pack it up, drive to the next spot, and do it all over again.
He was doing well and having a blast. So we packed it up and headed out, back to Logan to find Matt. Except.... "Wait, that's Matt's car!" On our way out of the parking lot, there it was. He had just missed Aaron, but I was SO glad to see him! I called out to him and he came around the side of the truck and in my relief, it was all I could do not to jump off the truck and wrap my arms around him! I refrained. Those things usually end up kind of awkward. He followed us down to Logan to transfer stuff over and get the rest of our stuff from my car.
From that point, things smoothed out for me. Matt is solid. He is smart, experienced, level-headed and reliable... and great company to boot.  Eventually I figured out what I could actually do to help (not as much as I'd have liked), and we got a pattern going. I was getting quite the work out trying to haul what things I could on my back, and hooked on my crutches, back and forth from the car.
I was SO glad to have Matt driving in his big tough FJ as we scraped the aspens while squeezing past cars on the narrow dirt road on the way up to Cowley. It was around noon. My ankle began to feel pressure. I looked up at the semi cloudy sky and declared, "The rain is coming... I'd say within about 6 hours."
"6 hours huh?"
"About that... I don't know, I'm new at this."
The views were incredible. The colors were surreal! We joked with Ben and Steph about the Bob Ross happy trees and how it felt like we were in a painting. We tended to Canice, who was doing well. Aaron came in to Cowley Pass running alongside Kelly Agnew and looking good. Really, piratey good actually. 
Mm, mmm, piratey good!
He had a small hotspot on the back of his heel which we helped him tape up as we fed him grapes. I was happy he had finally eaten something solid. He was only running with a single handheld water bottle and some Gu packets and salt tabs in his Quantum. And it was getting hot! I was worried about his hydration, to be honest. And I groaned a bit about it to Matt, but didn't bring it up directly to Aaron because I figured he knew what he was doing.

We hurried on to Right Hand Fork. We needn't have. It was a mere 4 miles for us, but 7 or so for the runners. Parking was kind of insane at this aid station, but we parked where we could and hiked it in, returning several times to the car to shuttle in needed items. I was starting to feel the burn- in muscles, lungs, and underarm chafing! It seemed like we waited a really long time here. Again attending to and chatting with Canice as we waited for Nate and Aaron to come through. Finally we saw Nate. He came in hot and flushed and told me right off that Aaron was not far behind, and we needed to tend to his hydration when he came in, as he had been dry heaving and was coming in overheated.  I thanked him, and promptly began to worry. I'm efficient like that.
When Aaron showed up, he was smiling, but definitely needed cooling down. We got him drinking and sent him over to have creek water poured on his head by the awesome volunteers. Then we parked him in a chair and went to work getting all his needs taken care of. Well, Matt went to work. I crutched around trying to be useful, but mostly just talking a lot and trying to help Aaron cool off and get enough to eat. Quite a while later, I kissed him and we sent him off running again, carrying much more water, and looking much better.
Leaving Right Hand Fork

We loaded the car back up and made our way to Temple Fork, where upon navigation the chaotic parking, we saw Derek, Aaron's planned pacer for mile 50 to 75. He was early. We were too and we knew we had a while til we'd see Aaron. Go we reclined the seats in the FJ the best we could and kicked back for a nap. Matt slept some, and I came close, but my foot was getting swollen in the day's heat and activity, so I unstrapped my boot and let my leg breathe for a while. We sat, just killing time, cheering at friends through the car window, and then we saw Derek take off up the dirt road. He'd decided to go find Aaron a good 7 or 8 miles early. It was a relief to know someone would be with him for the rest of the race. I knew seeing Derek would make him really happy! I crutched out to the pit bathroom.... which had no toilet paper. I swung by to say hey to some HUMRs on my way back to the car to find wipes, and Ryan offered me toilet paper (He's thoughtful like that.) I accepted, gratefully. Aaron and Derek came in looking pretty good. But Aaron said his calves and the backs of his knees were starting to hurt. He asked for the Deep Blue Rub, but I couldn't find it. So I pulled out a sample pack of Dr. Hoys, and rubbed his calves down while he noshed on boiled potatoes.
Giving him the rub down. I'm useful sometimes.
He had his gloves, jacket and head lamp in his pack. His goal was to hit Tony Grove before dark, but with the clouds rolling in, it could get dark faster than we supposed. Derek handed me his key and asked if I'd take his van on to the next few aid stations. I knew these ones would have paved access, so I agreed and we sent them off up the hill. Then the rains started. It was 5:35pm. Dang, I'm good. We had tucked a cheap poncho in every single drop bag, and we were collecting the extras as we went along.
As I carefully made my left-footed way up toward Tony Grove, the views made me laugh out loud and even cry a little. The golden yellow, the bursts of fiery red and orange, with the deep evergreens poking through, and the storm clouds brewing on the mountain line were overwhelmingly beautiful. There are no words. By the time we hit Tony Grove, stopping on the way up to take in the breathtaking scenery, the showers had let up. "Maybe that's all we'll get." We heard from various crew members. Nope. The ache in my ankle said it had only just begun. The hardware doesn't lie.
Happily, we had a break for a bit. We cheered friends in and out of the aid station overlooking the stunning mountain lake. We bandaged blisters, fed runners, prepped them for the night, and gave encouragement. Aaron finally came as the light was fading behind the storm clouds. He was hurting, but as always, in good spirits. He had some blisters, which we cared for. We got some food in him,  and made sure he had everything for night. It made sense to us to have him change shoes to help with the blister situation. Had I been thinking properly of the rain situation, I'd have never let him change them. The Altra Olympus have very little traction in wet and mud. We didn't know just how rough a mistake that would be. But we sent him off into the night, confident in our ignorance of the coming situation. I knew the game had just begun, that our roughest hours lay ahead as we'd fight to survive the night and as Aaron headed into unknown territory. He was about to go further than he'd ever gone before.  I was nervous, but had no doubt in my mind that he could and would finish. I just feared the suffering that might come on the way. I can suffer. Oh, I can suffer. I'm really good at it by now. But with all that has happened in the past few months, my soul is tired. I knew that watching Aaron suffer and not being able to do much about it would be a special kind of torture. I just didn't know how much we'd have to take.
We decided it would be prudent to drop Derek's van at Beaver Lodge where he would need it before hitting Franklin. This ended up being a good move. Matt followed me there in the drizzle to pick me up so we could backtrack.
Making our way to the Franklin Trailhead aid station, we could see in the dark of night that parking could be an issue. There were two small makeshift lots and a dirt road lined with cars. I didn't want to crutch further than I had to, and we had a good amount to carry in supplies and camp chairs. Luckily, as we maneuvered our way through one of the tiny lots, a car signaled that they were pulling out and we were able to park. I paused to put on warmer clothes and a shoe while Matt pulled out supplies, and then I strapped a camp chair to my back and checked out the trail to the aid station. It would be an adventure on crutches, but the only way to do it was to do it! So off we went. Matt had my back in case I tumbled backwards and through rocks, trees and loads of sagebrush that grabbed teasingly at my crutches, we wended our way to the dirt road and the lit tents in the distance. Matt joked as we went that I'd just invented a new sport in Trail Crutching. We finally reached the aid station and set up chairs. I sank into one to catch my breath all the while keeping my eyes open for friends to cheer and encourage. Not too much later, Aaron came in smiling and looking strong. He was on top of his calories and trucking along. We fed him and re-packed things and sent him on. Matt offered to go get the FJ and drive it up closer to get me and I gratefully accepted. I crutched to the end of the road where a kind young teenager lifted the ribbon that blocked the roadway for me, asked about my injury and wished me luck. I stood there alone for a minute in the dark before my eyes were drawn upward to the vast star-studded sky. It was immense and awe inspiring. I leaned back on my crutches and handed myself over to the wonder and pure gratitude that washed over me like a tide. It is a small moment that emblazoned itself super-sized in my memory, on my soul. Headlights shone my way and Matt pulled along side me. I climbed in awkwardly and we set our sights back to the next stop on our pilgrimage. Beaver Lodge.
 It would be hours until we saw Aaron again, so we settled in the FJ to catch whatever sleep we could. Somewhere in that first hour or so I became conscious to torrential rain. I knew there was nothing I could do, so I tried to sleep more and worry less, but I couldn't help but be concerned for my husband somewhere out there in drenching dark. A few hours sleep and a few conversations later, we made our way to the lodge itself. There wasn't much room, so we settled under the covered porch, used the restrooms and encouraged the friends who came through, cheering on the ones who made it out. It was like a triage tent. Many runners took a cot and never left. We watched as they drew up the DNF board- the list of the runners who had dropped so far. The stack of numbers grew longer by the minute and I couldn't help but wonder how many of our friends were on that list. Canice came in and I chatted with him while he tried to get some calories down. Matt went to change and ready himself to relieve Derek of his pacing duties. Canice had been taking Tums to help his stomach and keep cramps at bay. He had just spoken of how he thought it was working, when in the midst of swallowing a salt pill, all his calories came back up onto the porch. I couldn't help but notice that his vomit was full of black chunks. In low light and on little sleep, my first thought was blood clots and I momentarily panicked until it dawned on me- his calories had been black bean soup! Oh phew! Canice leapt off the porch to finish his purging in the bushes just as Matt stepped back onto the porch. He chuckled out,"Puke and rally!"
The rallying call of the ultra runner.
Happily Canice felt fine, replaced his calories and we cheered him on his way.
When Aaron and Derek finally showed, I had to push back emotion as Aaron struggled, hunched and hurting to even step up onto the lodge porch. The true suffering had begun. His calves, knees and ankles had been tweaked and tired out with slipping and sliding in the thickening mud. He checked in, used the bathroom, and sat down. I scurried to get better shoes, clean compression socks, wipes, and to find the Deep Blue Rub. It was nowhere to be found. Then it dawned on me: I had left a bag in the trunk of my car back in Logan. Aaron moved slowly and stiffly onto a nearby mat and I went to work with wipes, scraping the mud off his legs and massaging his ankles and calves.
Scraping off the muddy mud. Clumps on leg hairs= ouch.
I adjusted his hips, knees and ankles the best I knew how, then I put on his compression socks. (Have you ever put compression socks on a tired ultra runner? It's like trying to put control top pantyhose on a tranquilized walrus.) After I had done all I could for him physically and he lay there shaking in exhaustion, I draped my whole body across his and kissed him on the neck, willing my strength and whatever rest I'd gotten to become his. I don't think it worked. *shrug*
We said our thanks and goodbyes to Derek and I handed him his keys. Matt looked very ready to go. I had seen many others come through in our time of waiting and decided if Aaron was to survive the mud, he'd need trekking poles. Matt was prepared and had some in his car.
Aaron asked if maybe he could sleep on a cot for 20 minutes. Matt responded with tough love and experienced logic. "I don't think it'll do any more for you than moving will. We might as well start walking." We all nodded. Aaron accepted this and laced up his shoes as I packed our stuff up. Missy Berkel and her friend were kind enough to offer to help me get all the stuff back to the car, and I sent my men off into the early morning darkness.  Missy was a godsend in that moment. Her help kept me on task and reminded me I was not crewing alone. I had a community at my back and I could do this.  When I was alone in the drivers seat, I took a moment to give myself a pep talk, then adjusted my seat, checked my directions and set off.
The deep dark and the dumping rain were not good companions. I thought I found the turn to Beaver Creek Campground, and started down the puddled and muddy narrow dirt road. Aside from the sparse ghosts of silent campers in the woods at the edge on my headlights, I was alone. I saw no other cars, no lights, no people in the deep forest. I began to wonder. I stopped to check my directions, I had no cell service. I began to second guess myself. Suddenly I was just a broken girl, lost in the woods in a brutal rainstorm. I felt so very small. I turned the FJ around and went back the way I had come. My desire to support Aaron battled with both my fear and logical caution. I went back to the lodge, stopping to ask if anyone else knew the way to go to the next aid. No one that I spoke to could tell me. Regretfully admitting defeat, I decided to skip that aid and meet them at Ranger Dip: mile 92. I cried reluctant frustrated tears the whole way there. Luckily other crew cars were taking the dirt road up and I was able to follow them. Miles are long in dark and unfamiliar territory.

When I arrived, I snagged a very fortunate close parking spot. I knew I would have plenty of time to wait here, even if Aaron was able to rally and pick up the pace.  I laid my seat back and let my tears echo the rain as I drifted into sweet oblivion.
When I woke, the dawn was struggling to push it's muffled light through the storm clouds. They in turn continued to indifferently discharge their deluge. When would this end?? I shot upright and checked the time. I can't have missed them! As the rain let up slightly, I crutched through the river of mucosal mud to the aid station tent. They hadn't come through yet. Nate's crew was there. We caught up on our runners situations and commiserated over the conditions.  I moved back and forth from tent to car and back out of boredom and cold. I chatted with Hillary and Condor over Kendall's condition. Eventually both of their runners (along with my brother Steve who was pacing Kendall) came and left. Their crews moved on to the finish. I waited and I worried. Aaron's finish goal time came and passed. I felt like I might burst out of my own skin every time a runner appeared in the distance and it wasn't him. I kept telling myself he was with Matt, and they could do anything together. Matt would get him through it. Then I worried about Matt too.  Tired, injured, cold, mud spattered, and helpless to help at all. It was a special kind of torture. A sweet woman from Canada took me under her giant sport umbrella and kept me company. Her name was Mary. She was wonderful. Eventually her runner came too. She stayed as long as she could to share her umbrella with me, and then I moved to the aid station tent and promised to see her at the finish. I was shivering in the cold and wet, holding out in case Aaron and Matt were just out of sight, but I finally moved back to the car to get warm. I moved the FJ to another spot so that I could see the incoming road better. I had been in the car only a few minutes when I looked up and saw him stumbling through the sage brush. My heart leapt and I threw the car door open as an involuntary scream of, "YES!!" tore from my throat. No one else had been in my head to know what I'd gone through in that waiting time. It was super melodramatic, so when I faced them, I felt a little silly.
Making their way through the muddy mess.
Aaron looked awful. He kept moving toward the aid tent and I scrambled to get my crutches, turn off the car and chase them up the mud slick. I didn't have bags, I didn't even have dry socks for him. Aaron called to the check in and met me in the middle of the road, his face a mask of pain and exhaustion. I kissed him solidly. He put his head to my chest as we leaned in to hold each other up and let out one quiet heart wrenching sob. The world stopped. One pure moment. For all that I couldn't do for him, he needed me. He took a cleansing breath and stood up tall, and the world blurred back into motion. Matt found him a chair and some broth and I asked what he needed. "Nothing. I just need to finish this." He was mad. Aaron doesn't get angry often, but he was burning up, and that fire meant fuel for the finish.
"214 OUT!" He called to the volunteers and he set off to finish it once and for all. I cheered him away and thanked the aid volunteers that I had spent more than 6 hours with. I crutched my muddy way to the car feeling ten times lighter at the prospect of the finish. Driving the FJ down to the highway in daylight, the satellite radio picked up "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and suddenly I was big again. Not small, not broken and useless, but in command- splashing like a boss through mud puddles and rocky roads and yes, having fun!  The golden leaves of the forest were sunshine on this cloudy day. I hit the highway only to pull off it moments later to watch a great mull moose wander through a meadow, cross the road right in front of me, and saunter into the forest above. Another moment, just for me.
Over the pass, through Garden City, and into Fish Haven. The tiny parking lot was full, the road lined with cars in both directions. I parked where I could, strapped a chair to my back and steeled myself for the long crutch ahead just as a kind stranger offered to help carry bags. I accepted gratefully. The finish area was wet, with runners and crew crowded under tents, most leaving soon after finishing, chased away by the weather and their pure exhaustion. Once again kind strangers welcomed me under their shelter. Mary and her sport umbrella, the HUMRs and their canopy. Eventually I joined Canice, Joe and others under a race canopy and settled in to cheer the wearied and triumphant finishers. I could imagine a sunny fall day with all the runners and crew spread out on the lush lawn, sticking around to cheer every one in. The rain seemed careless and cruel. Nate and his crew finished side by side with smiles of relief. Runners told of slipping through mud like they had never seen. We joked about dipping their finish buckles in mud and mounting them to the wall. And I waited.
Then there they were! At the end of the drive and coming in fast. (Well, relatively fast.) Matt had a grin like a cheshire cat as he peeled of to let Aaron finish on his own. Aaron skipped toward the finish, calves cramping and a grimace on his face, but a look of triumph in his eyes. And he was done.
My heroes. These two brothers can do anything together.
I crutched out to meet them and take pictures. Everything from there on out was a blur of talk and camaraderie and care for the dirty and tired. The rain didn't let up for days. But at least we could all go home, snuggle in and sleep through it. A well-earned deep, sleep.

They say if you finish a 100 mile race, you will never be the same again.  They say you'll gain self respect, respect for those around you, honor for the indomitable human spirit, and a knowledge of what you are truly capable of. I didn't run it. I am beyond proud of Aaron for having finished an incredibly difficult race. I have no desire to do it myself, and no guarantee I'd even be able to half that with this puzzled together ankle of mine. But I for one, will never be the same.