3 Focus and concentration
Eva walked into a room with a specific intention but forgot what she wanted to do by the time she got there. When she turned back into the kitchen, she realized she had burnt her oatmeal on the stove.
My clients always ask me:
When Peter chitchatted, he sometimes forgot in the middle of his talk what it was all about. He would frequently misplace his car keys. Phone calls could not be returned because he failed to remember who had called. Keeping appointments turned into a big struggle. It never took Peter long to shift into la-la land, where he swayed into sensual fantasies, which distracted him from whatever he should concentrate on. Desperate and frustrated, he came to see me.
The highly sensual and impulsive Peter lost his focus not only when he talked, but often with any kind of occurrences. He learned to acknowledge his sensual feelings and to take them out of his mind when necessary. His instant gratification feelings had to wait for the appropriate moment to be unrestrained. He was willing to postpone his pleasurable feelings because his life became unmanageable. Once he became aware of his distractions, he could do something about it. In addition, he needed medication to control his overpowering feelings. He learned to stop himself when he started dwelling in fantasies and turned to the task at hand. Peter could focus better and hold his concentration for longer periods each time he tried, which helped him to become more successful. He learned at what time 'thinking' was appropriate and when it was time to ‘feel’.
John tried hard to remember where he was yesterday when asked, but could not find the answer. He was embarrassed about forgetting and ashamed about not being able to concentrate.
John’s mind was full of complex deliberations because of his strong feelings. As soon as he drifted into the thinking mode his feelings lost their power. They still existed but were beneath his consciousness where they waited impatiently to thrive again. Sooner or later, they would take the upper hand again and hence, his concentration could be lost. John learned to capture these feelings like a cat catches a mouse. He became skilled at holding them back only to release them again at an appropriate time.
Eva’s feelings changed from one moment to the next when she moved from one room to the other. As she did, she attached her feelings to what she touched, heard and saw, forgetting what she had planned to do. When she walked into the kitchen, her feelings still lingered in the previous room. They never caught up fast enough to be present where she was. She left a trail of feelings, while her thinking mode with her problem-solving skills, sat forsaken in a corner of her house. Her mind belonged to her emotions.
Eva learned to recognize her
feelings first. Secondly, she learned to “Stop and
Number one, “I will lower the gas on the stove and be back in 5 minutes.” She used an alarm clock in her pocket to time herself until her conditioning could be established in her brain. Number two, “I am looking for my coat in the bedroom.” Number three, “I am going back into the kitchen in 5 minutes to finish dinner.” By allowing herself to handle only 3 to 4 numbers at a time, regroup and start over again, Eva was able to follow through with her intended tasks.
4 Don’t wait until you feel like it
Ronald waited to study Sociology, which might have been his life’s passion. He was waiting to make the important decision on entering the study program until the time felt right. After nine years of postponing, his dream still was not fulfilled.
A decision such as this includes “measured thinking” that involves money, time, planning and organizing. His feelings about it changed from day to day, moment to moment. Even when Ronald felt it might be the right time to start his studies, he always changed his mind the next day, or a week later. Don’t wait until it feels right or you might never reach your goals. Think what you want and do it. Take the first step and the rest will follow.
5 Stand up for your unique characteristics
You ‘feel’ about the planet, life, work and relationships. Others ‘think’ about it. It is God’s intention to create humans to complement each other.
What would a society be without the expression of the performing and visual arts, without creative minds, and without people that help people?
Your presence and contribution on this earth is as important as any Thinker’s presence is. Because of the ups and downs of your emotions, you may not be a consistent constituent of society, which makes you interesting, exciting and special.
1. Live up to your unique characteristics.
2. God purposely created you with distinctiveness.
3. Stand tall above your particular character.
4. Embrace your individuality that represents uniqueness.
5. Have the courage to be who God made you to be.
6. Stand up for the way you think, talk, dress, move or anything else.
7. Modify some aspects for greater efficiency but not because you believe you are wrong or bad.
6 Be honest to yourself and others
No more hiding your feelings or deeds. They are what they are. Become bold and allow yourself to be who you are. People that don’t like it won’t be your friends anyway. There are plenty of people left on earth that will find you stimulating and exceptional. The ones who don’t -- appreciate them for how they are and be cordial but don’t keep them closely. You don’t like every single person either. Strive to please everyone if you wish but do not expect every person to like you. There is not enough time in life to have your whole society as a friend, as long as you must choose, choose those who make you happy, not unhappy.
Embarrassed about not meeting his deadlines, Bill opted to lie frequently. He easily said, “Yes,” when in reality he meant “No.” Bill manipulated his way through life, feeling guilty, useless, and a failure. Trying to hide his inadequacies helped him at certain moments but in the long run his actions transpired into a shaming truth.
He learned first to be truthful with people that were safe and later exposed his character to the public in general. Bill received criticism and sarcasm at times but he understood that there are people on this planet that always try to project their own unresolved issues onto others. Being sincere opened up new doors for him while old ones shut dramatically and forever. So be it.
Rosy used many justifications for her lateness. Her creative mind and the many years of practice helped her never run out of excuses. In her heart, she felt ashamed and worthless. Often she refused to go out in the evenings, disappointing her friends. At times she even lost jobs, so she justified even more, for her own survival.
Through counseling, Rosy learned to measure time, up to a certain degree. She also understood the importance of being honest and open about being 10 minutes late or sometimes more. She did not make fun about her behavior any longer but explained to people that she did the best she could. From then on, she received respect from her friends and co-workers for the courage to be honest. Some people will never respect you because they don’t have the capacity for empathy. Pray for them so God would touch their hearts and make them to be more understanding.
More can be read in the book: DO WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO DO.
The price for Glory, the Extreme Games
My friend Matthew called me from the Los Angeles area and when I told him that I was going to do the Extreme Games from ESPN again this year, he said “ what??” when will you finally slow down and give up to be competitive? It is not good for you - what do you want to prove? Don’t you see that there is a limit to everything? Are you nuts? Can’t you see that one day you will kill yourself doing all that crazy stuff? Why don’t you focus your energy on something different! It is about time in your live you start to change.
What??” I yell into the phone- “these are the Extreme Games!! Are you nuts? How can you even think that I am not going! This is part of my life, I have done it for a decade and a half, I do have a talent for it and I don’t want to waste it! I have worked hard to be were I am and you always want me to quit!”
We argue a lot over the phone, ultimately he always loses and he knows that. When I look at my live from his perspective, it carries me into a realm of distinctiveness, which I cherish. I don’t see anything odd in it as he does. I work hard to hard to go farther, higher, longer and faster. I reach and stretch with intensity until it leads me into a deep awareness of life’s capacity for constant growth and with it remarkable rewards renew my consciousness. I like to think with pleasure that we are forerunners, pioneers for people our age. We want to expand the vision of life and its possibilities into a new frame and be examples for others, for those who come after us, so that they will do better than we have done.
Dear Matthew, seeker of truth- go with your own direction.
I stay with mine.
The mosquitoes and black flies have followed us for six days. The hidden branches buried into the deep slimy mud of Main’s vast swamp lands have sliced the skin of my body uncountable times, the exposed areas look like a battle field, with red and dark stripes like little strokes from a knife, etched in, forming a grotesque pattern giving me the appearance of a masochist in movement wearing a repulsive outfit for a Halloween Party. My hiking boots cannot be distinguished from the gaiters, they are one, unified in color, like in an unclear and undefined perspective from a child’s drawing. With dirty clothing, eyes wide open, enlarged by the continuous flow of adrenaline, it seems that they are piercing through at what ever they focus on, like a laser beam in search of a target. They are polished like glazed white enamel with the pupils widened and dark, resembling glass eyes from a hunted stuffed deer decorating a wall. The consequence of that glossy glow is a steady outpour of endorphins, we are driven by an unyielding urge to escape our followers, so strong is the drive that nothing can hold us back. From deep within we touch bottom, it is where instinct, creativity and survival have their root. We feel, act and look like soldiers in combat. The battle is on - we have been fighting for six days.
The Extreme Games is an adventure race with multiple disciplines, about three hundred and fifty miles are covered in six days, the maps of the course are given a few hours before the start, several checkpoints have to be targeted, missing one results in disqualification.
The first day we were lost despite checking our compass continuously. Towards the night of that day we realized that all teams had come through the checkpoint and discouraged we continued as the very last team. We were in fourteens place, but slowly we caught up leaving behind us team after team. From the fifteen teams that started out, only four teams where still in the race. All others dropped out because of difficulties in various forms. some had bad injuries, blisters dehydration and stomach problems. Team Internet was in the lead for the last two days but when we entered the vast swamps of Main, their compass drowned and with it their hope of leadership. They were lost for many hours. When we arrived at the next checkpoint we found out that we had passed them somewhere wading through the water of dense swamps. Finally we were in the lead and the chance to win the battle has become tangible and our final obsession.
We were pushing and pulling our mountain bikes up the steep, rugged single-track trail for several hours. Many times we had to carry the bikes over thick brush, fallen trees and boulders until we could mount them again for a short distance. The humidity from the early hot summer days was draining; I felt it nibbling away my energy. We struggled our way through the tight, dense remote forest. The overgrown trees did not let the sun come through and I felt like hiking through an enclosed botanical garden with the smell of damp humus dirt and breathing plant life. It was that kind of humidity that kept the clothing totally wet and although the heat was not overwhelming we were sweating as if in a steam bath. The mosquitoes and black flies were constantly on us, especially when we were walking steep uphill in a slow pace, they covered us by hundreds. They seemed to prefer to swirl around the faces before settling down. I slapped my cheeks to kill a few and the evidence of the dead flies remained glued to the skin. The little black dots eventually were all over and we looked like we had some sort of a rare nasty skin decease. Slowly they were washed down the neck by our sweat, forming little streams, stripes and we resemblled dirty, wild zebras.
No one was talking. We were in tune with nature and each other. Some decisions were taken just by looking at each other. Talking meant spending energy and that was a costly commodity. The three of us formed a great team. John and Keith were so easy to get along with, not once felt I the pressure of resistance in matters of decisions. We constantly helped each other out, they helped me to push the bike, carried stuff of mine and we shared the food.
The race rule stipulates three people in and three people out, all three of us had to arrive at the finish or we were disqualified. That meant taking care of each other as we did.
High up on a mountain, as we were pushing our bikes over boulders, we heard suddenly voices from a distance, deep in the woods. We stopped and listened - yes! These were human voices! We were on the right track! Standing still we looked at each other, hands on the handlebar, our heads slightly bent forwards, the shoulders tilted up, the eyes rolling from one side to the other as If that way we could hear better. Without saying a word we started to push our bikes in the direction of the voices, we knew that we were close to the next checkpoint. The thought of it changed our state of mind from a survival mode into a reviving state of euphoria. On the ridge of the mountain we started to bike again, we were blazing down a short downhill and soon after we distinguished two cameramen running towards us.
We ran towards the few people, ignoring the reporters, John carried my bike and his own on his shoulder passing over some gnarly rocks stopping right there by the race official and climbing guide right in front of a eighty foot rock wall. A rope was hanging down and no one had to tell us what the next challenge was, we knew. I had to bent my head way back so I could look up to the top of the vertical wall and immediately after seizing the obstacles we put on our climbing harnesses. Our talk was related to the challenge only. Keith tied a figure eight knot into one end of the rope, then proceeded with incredible speed to tie the end to his harness finishing off his security system, meanwhile John prepared to belayed him. He took his belaying devise, looped the rope through it, hooked the loop into his carabiner and while finishing his setup, Keith was already climbing up the wall. Once Keith was up I immediately hooked in and started to climb. As I started climbing up I fell a few times into the rope carried by my harness, the wall was sheer and vertical, my shoes full of mud and slippery. The excessive breathing revealed the enormous effort, they lungs seemed to explode. Stopping a few times catching my breath I reached the top, almost fainting. I had to sit down, bending my head towards heaven, opening my mouth wide with the eyes closed I tried to regain some strength.
The bikes had to be lifted up too, straight up the vertical wall. The mountain bikes were provided by the race organization, they were clumsy and very heavy. To haul each one up was a major task, especially because at the end of the wall they had to be pulled above an overhang, which was an almost impossible task and only achieved by pure force. Keith and John hauled the bikes up with such speed and force that they both sat for a while gasping for air. Signs of imminent depletion marked their faces.
I had already taken off, the trail was treacherous, a steep downhill over rocks and roots, the trail disappeared many times under the heavy foliage of the dense woods of Main. John and Keith finally caught up. The heavy bikes had to be carried on our shoulders bushwhacking our way through the thickets. Only sometimes I allowed myself to lift the head, look through the trees and get a glimpse of the magnificent view. From way up high I look at the immense vast forest down below, my eyes wander until they reach the horizon. The boundless sky touches the blanket of multiple greens; the colors are blended, diffused like in a dream. It reminded me of a fine canvass painted with diffused colors from an airbrush.
Where were we? How will we ever get out of this unmerciful forest? Is there anything hidden under the impenetrable green blanket which could help us move faster towards civilization? There must be rivers and roads, maybe even homes and little towns. I started to disassociate from the race and pleasant thoughts overcame me as I was struggling through the endless times. I wished that those thoughts and dreams would stay.
People watching TV, taking hot showers, people in restaurants eating gourmet food, people sleeping in featherbeds. My thoughts wander home to my two boys, the pleasure of my life. I observe my self cuddled into my king size feather bed with my boys each on one side watching National Geographic on TV. I am sipping a big fruit punch, nibbling on hordeufs, everything is soft, smooth, homely, warm, comforting, peaceful – painless. I flow in the harmonious rhythm of pleasantness.
Finally after numberless hours of struggle through the green labyrinth a big surprised opens our eyes. We arrived at a paved road which appeared out of the now where, hidden under the wild layer of forest growths, only to be found by the blessed. Suddenly we feel connected with civilization and a sudden new drive of reviving might and power originates from deep within. We don’t talk, words are not needed, we have the same impression, we are connected with one spirit – with an unyielding passion we pursue our goal. We stop and look around us. Like paranoid hunters, with wide open eyes, lips separated, the chin dangling down, we are on the guard, look from the left to the right, pause - listen, and from the right to the left, pause and listen again as if through our ears we could gather some more information. We draw together around the map and come to the decision to follow the road to the right. How pleasant and easy it was to go on a smooth road! We started to climb a steep hill and as I want to change the gear to a lower one I realized that the grip shifts on the handlebar were broken. I could not shift at all; I was stuck with one gear only, a downhill gear. This meant that I could not go up the steep hills without help.
Despite being pulled by the bungee cord of our drafting system, I wasted enormous amounts of energy. The hills were so steep and to push with that big gear had become a major task for all of us. My team helped me as much as they could, the bungee cord system became vital.
A fishing rot broken in halve, was attached under the seat, pointing towards the rear of the bike. A thick nylon string was pulled through the loops of the rod, a bungee cord loop is wired on. When in use this loop is hooked on to the next rider’s handlebar. It looks like the rider is going fishing, with his fishing rod sticking out at the rear end of the bike.
The hills we climbed were numberless, never ending. Every time a new hill appeared, the intriguing and curious thought of hope to see that last steep hill flatten out, kindles our imagination and we continuo. There is only the desolated paved road and us. The dense forest seams to have swallowed us. The road must go somewhere! – Although, again it seems that there is no end, our expectations never end. Behind every curb and mountain we anticipate seeing a change. Maybe a house? A barn? A car? A cow? A man? We would have welcomed anything that revealed closeness to civilization. We tricked our minds by telling us we are on the right track.
We were just zooming downhill, drafting from each other with incredible speed only a couple of inches separated from each other. When the downhill ended we paddled as hard as we could using the advantage of the momentum, hoping it would take us to the next peak. Most of the times it did not happen. I tried to stay as close as possible behind John’s rear wheel, drafting makes it so much easier, less energy is spent, the price to pay is a continuos high level of concentration.
It happened like in a slow motion movie. Since my gears were broken I did not handle the bike well and came too close to John’s bike. We were racing into a steep downhill drafting one behind the other when, at the bottom, automatically I shifted into a smaller gear anticipating the steep hill with technique. For a moment I was not aware of the broken gears, I have been conditioned to use the gears in almost an automatic way. The bike did not respond to the maneuver and I ran into Jon’s wheel.
The situation of danger has happened to me several times in my life and there is a definite similitude in those moments before an accident. In a split second I anticipated how it would happen, the scene of the fall occurred in my mind. It is like a last intent from nature to warn me of the inevitable and still have a chance to find a way to escape, a way to balance out the inevitable or just a way to fall better when prepared. My whole body, mind and soul were screaming - nooooooooo!!!! As I was falling. Every single hair was standing up, every pore in the skin tightened, all cells received the message of imminent danger, the eyes opened wide, the eyebrows are stretched into a high arch as if pulled up tight by two strings, the mouth opens, a last push of air fills the lungs and with it a strange kind of a noise, a howl like scream is mingled into the flow of air. The scream is buried and stopped in a shock like action when the air is retained, hold tight, expanding the lungs to burst, making the body hard as a rock, only finding release after the drama has occurred. Every muscle and fiber has tightened in an instant and the muscle tissue has transformed to granite, it seems that every cell in the body had eyes, thousand of them, they warned and seem to anticipate disaster from an unknown dimension.
The fingers were spread wide apart, they seemed of iron, hardened by the circumstance to hold up against the threatening plunge. Like soldiers in the frontline of an ancient battlefield, they fall first in the desperate attempt to protect what follows. Even the nails become more rigid in the desperate attempt to save, only to fulfill the call of preservation at the first instance. The spine is curved like an arch just before pulling the trigger, the chest submerged, the shoulders are lifted, the head tugged in between, the defense mechanism has reached it’s full potential. Brain and body are in tune like a high speed Pentium, the message of danger has reached every cell, every pore, and together, like a well-trained team they try to preserve each other. Together they come up with a last solution. I am the spectator of nature’s awesome sense of protection, the instinct, a dimension we don’t know but respectfully trust, an inborn pattern which molds our behavior as our body, mind and soul team up to assist the whole to survive.
As I extended my arms to the right, to balance out the immediate fall, my foot was stuck in the paddle, wedged between John’s wheel and mine. There was no room to pull my foot out from between the both wheels and - I fell-and fell and fell over John’s rear wheel until I hit the gravel of the road. I wondered why I did not bounce. It was just like a sack full of rocks hitting the ground and rolling around. I did not move – as I was falling I saw how my right knee was turning around matching a scene from a Poltergeist movie. I could hear my ligaments scream and rip into pieces.
I rushed back up to stand on my feet. Driven by the impulse of an unyielding competitive spirit, denying the fact of a shredded knee, not feeling any pain, not recognizing the wounds and injuries of the impact, I fall again - my knee collapsed and laying on the ground I felt disarmed like a soldier in midst of the battleground without his weapon.
How far behind is the enemy? We are in first place- how much time is left until we are hunted down? Keith, who is a doctor, sits down at the curb, his head buried in his hands, deprived of all instruments for cure, there is nothing he can do.
We are unable to go on. What can be done? For a moment my thoughts wonder into the realm of standing still, not going on - but when the word quitting stroked my mind, I rebelliously refused to continuo the thought. My fighting spirit drawn to survive, creativity leaping to life, I scrutinize my mind in search of solutions. There is no standing still only a hard driven ceaseless will to escape the hunters which from behind are closing in on the pray. I am amazed at nature’s cooperation at the end of a road, when cornered with seemingly no escape. In midst of danger, creativity jumps from deep within; it provides solutions and collaborates with the impulse of continuing the task of a passionate escape.
My accustomed soft-spoken voice changed into an unfamiliar loud, dry cut and demanding voice. I order my teammates to stand me up -! Put me on the bike-, hold me-, push me and let me go.
I paddle with one with one leg - … I hook into the fishing rod behind John, my bad leg is now back in the paddle, I turn the cranks with one leg only. The other is following the movement. The bad leg turned and is pushed in circles; I felt it tied to the paddle, it moved without coordination. As I observed the injured part, it looked like it belonged to a rag dolls body.
One quick look over my shoulder assures me that we are still on our way to victory. Fifteen miles of frenetic paddling, I don’t know exactly how we did it…. but we did. At the end of this mountain bike leg I scream to Keith and John to go ahead -, to catch me when at the end, to hold my bike and help me down.
As I sat and change into my wetsuit for the open ocean paddle, I notice how bruised and banged up I was. The bike pants have a big hole from shaving the hip, one shoulder and elbow have the skin broken and are covered with a red dark crust. With the right leg out of use I am lifted into the boat, handed the paddle and off we go in the pursuit to be haunted and never be caught.
As we start off this new leg we heard the people saying that the
hunters are only ten minutes away. Having lost time in the fall and the transition we paddle in cadence, hard as if the end would be just around the corner. A full day, a dark night and another halve day of continuos paddling brings us finally close to the end. In the middle of the night we arrive at a peninsula, well marked on the map with no name attached. Shall we surround it or pass over and cutt halve of the way? I knew that I was their concern. “Let’s take the shortcut over the land!” I scream into the wind as if Josh and Ellen would be far away. The boat is taken ashore, I am dropped down at the beach and darkness surrounds me. A lightening of pain strikes my body as I start to crawl on all four over the sand. The knee torn into pieces, the wetsuit holding it in place I drag myself inch by inch resembling a deer that has been shot and deadly wounded. In elecrifing pain, each step a new wave of shocks pulsating through my body, I lift my sunken head and listen-. will there be water on the other side or are we heading towards the land? The darkness encloses the secret, we will risk and pay the price. With frequent stops, by impermeable blackness surrounded, in agonizing pain, I feel every little rock, every tiny sandcorn, shells big or thin. I even feel the thin grass slipping through my hand rubbing against my broken body. The hands on the ground, the fingers spread, like a strainer they scan the sand feeling out the best way to go. I creep along in a humbling position, my chest almost touches the ground, my mouth wide open for respiration, in unceasing pain I await the sound of the ocean.
Josh and Ellen portage the boat, with brutal force they slide it over
the sand. Their moaning and groaning echoes and brakes the silence of the night. Once in a while they are standing still, nature become its own again-they listen- and try to define were the ocean might be. In one of those big rests of silence I stop to breath -….yes! I can hear subtle waves talking to me! I yell out loud the finding, my team rushes with force down to the beach, the smell of salted water is like the wild scent of a perfume. The freedom from pain is in reach, my hart pounds for joy, we are one step closer to the end.
In a wild raging ocean I paddle with endless rhythm to the strokes
of Josh, I close my eyes and lift my head, wet and cold, the hours pass in slow motion - every inch is earned. I paddle with a fierce stroke, nothing is given free in this unmerciful moving. I am numb, my thoughts and feeling follow with shallow emotions.
The storm that is against us has taken its toll. In a glimpse I look at
Josh, and also at Ellen as he turns around. The subtle, faint morning light shines on our white faces, sprinkled by salt, the eyes surrounded by dark shades with a suspicious glaze. The lips are wet, their skin eaten up by the constant sprinkle, the bodies seem smaller stricken by the cold, the hair is stiff, salty rebellious strains are standing up, the dirt, from over six days in the wild remote forest of Main, is dripping off into the ocean. It seems that we belong to homeless people, so wild the look, bizarre - ,so far from ordinary people. Which battle are we coming from?
In steady rhythm we paddle along the coast, again it seems that it
ll never end. On the map we see that once around this island we will have only a few hours left to go. I think about it, I turn around and look into the distance as far back as I can see. The ocean seems without horizon, sky and ocean are one. The dark gray clouds are moving fast, waves with white crests are beating against the wind and us. No boat is following us as far as I can see. With a restful mind I paddle into the raging wind to the rhythm of Josh, on and on and on.
Just behind the island we turn to the shore, we will be standing on
firm ground just in a few minutes! Instead of the beach we see cliffs tall and wide, they separate us from the plateau, the land we have for so long waited for. We are almost there - the end is close. We have to go over the cliffs, carry the boat back into the ocean, the last obstacle is at hand and I know that whatever it takes I will reach the end.
Ellen and Josh lift me out of the boat and lean me on the rocks.
With all the paddles in my hand, sitting down I drag myself using my arms as legs, inch by inch I conquer the space, only a mile of rugged terrain steep up and steep down over the treacherous cliff. The striking pain has come back, I have to pause. My teeth are quenched, my mouth is shriveled, holding on to the rock with my arms like iron I rise again when a new wave of courage drives me to conquer a few steps at a time. I have stepped into the threshold of pain, my tolerance level is like a rubber band stretched to the point of breaking in any moment it can snap and that could be the end of the end. The knee does not hold any longer, it collapses again and again and I scream in tormenting pain.
My companions carry the boat and all the gear, how hard it is to see that I cannot be of use. At almost the end they struggle with fading force over the cliffs hauling that boat into the right direction until it plunges into the ocean again. They pick me up, shriveled up from pain, carry me into the boat again. As we start to paddle that last mile, my smile is a shine, a shine of victory – my face is glowing -. I know we have won the battle.
Our canoe seems like a dot in the wide endless ocean, a little dot in a huge bucket of water approaching the rim. We paddle with equal strong strokes, the rhythm is harmonious and perfect. We are as one in sync with nature’s propitious force and dwell in a no thinking no feeling mode, we let go. I can see the end far in the distant horizon, one mile away, the hunters have lost their pray, no more giants to fight, no more struggle to survive, no more pain -. All thinking and feeling has ceased, we are in a state of a harmonious flow, not cold or warm, in a timeless zone, all pain has gone, the battle is over and we have won.
There are hundreds of spectators lined up as we paddle into the dock, an overwhelming crowd surrounds us, a cloud of victorious sound and pulsating vibration, the clapping and shouting numbs my ears. I submerge myself into the mist of victory, I am flooded by the raging river of ecstatic energy, my smile is never ceasing, the eyes paint graciously the picture of triumph into my memory. I cry for joy - my inner voice shouts thanks and praise.
In the midst of a cheering crowd I am taken away to heal my wounds, the wounds of victory. From the stretcher I view the people, the crowed is swirling over my head, like black, hungry, shrieking birds, counting a few hundred. With accelerating speed they come from every direction, once in a while a blinding glitter from the hidden sun strikes my eyes, like a lightening with a new awaking, the residues of a beaten soldier always ready to survive. I succumb to the profound pain radiating from my knee, it attaches itself to all parts of the body. My eyes are closing, dark clouds enter my mind I am not fighting the color of the night, all sounds are dimmed until fading, all resistance has been broken. No more glitter from the sun. I let loose. Where has everybody gone?
“Where am I?
What is going on?
What has happened?
I cannot move!”
I am in a bed I do not know I look at a ceiling I have never seen before-I touch a white gown which envelops my body. In a soft warm voice I hear my sister talking to me. “For five long hours you have been in the operating room”.
I touch my chest, I lower my eyes and see the medal around my neck. A big round golden medal, it radiates like a sun in it’s evening splendor. Solid gold rests on my hart, with my fingers I catch it slowly, like a net falling over a precious catch, I hold it, feel its cool temperature, a swift glimpse assures my feeling-I dwell in joy. I close my eyes and from the memory I recall the combat triumphs, ecstasy and agony become wed when the battle is won.
Matthew my dear, when will you understand that I follow a path which I have not drawn with my own hand. We differ in so many ways – I go with my dreams, envisioned by night. Laying awake I look into my creator’s eyes, I follow a soft voice, I ponder for visions and gaze- contemplating awesome paintings drawn in my mind, splendors of times yet to come.
It is given to me; I am armed with the impulse of passion to complete the envisioned task. I drive to accomplish that what has been touched by a hand of might, a hand greater than yours and mine.
When will you understand?
Chapter 10: Death Valley,
With a swift motion my eyes brush over the vertical wall of rocks searching for the small rectangle painted in white, marking the altitude or depth from above or under. Again and again I comb down the wall, my eyes pierce into the stripe for a split second then wander aimlessly around searching for something to hold on, something to do or look at, something of essential importance.
Nothing is important, there is nothing to do except let the time trickle by, drop by drop, drop and drop, drop - until it runs out.
A few minutes are left to the start, they occupy an endless space. The hart is pounding wild, jumping and hopping around like in a wild tribal dance, no more clear thoughts - no more coordination - almost out of control - like in a trance not knowing - just waiting - anticipating the end of the repose.
The tension is marked in the faces of the runners, no one is standing everyone is tipping around as if this was our mission, like a last minute call of something forgotten but not remembering what it was. We resemble racehorses on a track, the eyeballs are bigger and expose the white, the nostrils are wide open and flatter -….. We are ready to shoot out the stalls into the arena of tribulation.
3-, 2-,1….The trigger finally releases the unbearable pressure. Like a furious, raging river that drops into a sudden spill, revolving, and rolling with impetuous force, then shooting out from under with tremendous might, spinning water, beaming waves spitting into the air, detonating and at last discharging their energy into the predestined flow of gravity.
When the race is on…
Finally the turbulence is decreasing, like a pot of boiling water lifted from the heat, still spraying and splashing and drizzling and fizzling, it evens out and reconciles with the path of its destination. Until with the flow of nature it is driven again into turmoil, despair and agony then it transposes its remains again into tranquility until inevitably in due time it grows anew into steadfastness and joyful ecstasy.
When we are running towards our goal….
The river has no choice, it never quits, it faithfully allows the path to reach its predestined goal. When the dark blue sea, the salty magnitude is reached, the flow is resting in stillness until a different journey traces a new path.
When this race is over…
There will be other challenges to follow, other flows with adversities to run through, never ending -crosswinds impacting the path, forming and shaping it in continuous motion until for one more time the battle comes to a cease. The restful times are the times to grow and expand, this is when the skill is perfected and when maturity unfolds into wisdom.
The gunshot cuts through the impenetrable tension, the sound echoes through the mountains like a continuos reminder that the battle is on. It fades into the distance like a thunder losing its fury, grumbling and mumbling through the deserted canyons. With the echo rolling away, I hear some people shouting and screaming. A few dozen people no more. The sound grows into a continuos crescendo until it evens out, the last few shouts are swirling into the sky, dampened by the wind. When the treasured association to our people is lost, I battle for a few moments the loss of my dependency.
I am on my own - …I concentrate on the road ahead, the hart still pounding with an irregular pace, thoughts and feeling are enmeshed - I try to define and separate both. I strive to bring under control those parts which play the main role in the grand theater of tests. Body - mind and soul are called to perform at its best.
like the flow of the river after the spill I finally
run with a pace of my own. The hart has stopped to
pound as if exploding, it is in control and I
experience joyful peace and advance in a rhapsody of
Mark and Larry, Ingrid and Karen will take our two cars, hit the road in the direction of our goal, stop every two miles, handle us the reviving fluids and comfort us in all our possible needs. They will clothe us with fatherly protection, care for us with a gentle loving proclamation and alleviate our potential distress with eagle-eyed attention. I know that sometimes they will overdo it, they will handle us like fine glass easily breakable, or like a yielding women absorbed in motherhood in care for her first born.
Buried silence evolves -.…. I hear my deep breath like through a stethoscope. Waves of hot winds hit again and again, originating out of the nowhere, bothersome they rumble and polter into my ears then disappear as never existed. Who knows were the wind goes when it stops – I wander. But when it suddenly comes back with fury, it blows unpleasantly drying out the face, nose and mouth. The eyes seek protection from the unjust, my lids are half ways closed, I press my upper and lower lid together leaving just a tiny slit open as if I would have lost my glasses to see. The wind puffs-thumps, sneezes and flaps-flap-flap,flap…interrupting the precious silence, stirring up in an unbreakable pattern the hot dry, dusty air way up into the atmosphere. The circle is completed when deep into the night through a cooler breath of nature the air stands still. But with the morning sun and the rising heat, the cycle of lifting and turning and arching starts again, it equals the rhythmic spin of a windmill in motion.
After the blow of the wind everything stands still. Sometimes the silence is almost frightening to the ear, as if an electric cord producing a sudden short interrupts the design of an ever-repeating cycle. Nature is taking a breath, inhaling for a short while, holding it - resting, then exhaling in a long profound extended sigh.
On the map is written:” Death Valley”
. Because of irrevocable doom, killing disease, heat and isolation, the fate was dying for those who at first, the pilgrims, dared to trespass the barrier. No food or water, only desolation and blazing heat resided in that valley of death. With just a few miles into the valley, people died from the unmerciful glitter of a scorching sun. The glimmer so close suspended like a radiating bulb, looking down from above, it fulfills its burning mission etching into the earth with a hot iron chisel patterns and colors since endless times thousands of years ago. There are simple sepias to deep golden browns, mysterious purples, Da Vinci’s subtle magentas, vibrating crimson reds, and loud talking yellows. All are swiftly descending into the valley floor, they meat and mix and mingle, a painters euphoric palette of multiple shades. Like an orchestra all colors play together in perfect melody the hymn of natures symphony.
I can hear the shoes pounding on the pavement in a silent Tac, tac, tac, tac, on and on until buried and blown away again by a new rage of sudden wind in moaning. I am on my own, my sister is running a few miles ahead of me, she starts out so fast, too fast for me. My muscles and bones need to warm up, like an old good reliable car that never fails, it needs some time and then it goes and goes and goes. My energy is flowing in an even outpour, my pace is steady, the form is right, I feel well, and I am embraced with joy. Thoughts shoot into my mind and I think… and think…and I visualize. Like with a movie projector scenes of all kind of thoughts are projected onto the screen. But thoughts that involve solving problems are cut out, they don’t even dare to surge and if they do they are thrown back into the memory. Most of the times I watch pleasant movies. When a disturbing thought enters my mind it is automatically exchanged for a better one, - or no thought at all. It is nature’s way to deal with adversities when the ultimate is demanded. Thoughts and energy will cease when on the path to destiny, like the flow of the river or the blow of the wind, so will I follow their path of perishing and reviving again.
I look at the landscape which fades into a dark splendor, my posture is right, the pace even and steady, slowly I conquer the space which separates me from my objective, every mile has to be earned the honest way, there is no easy way out. Every two miles I drink a full bottle, Mike Mark runs towards me reading off my face what kind of drink I want. How much I admire my crew, each one of them giving their time and effort almost with no sleep, helping us to succeed. Thoughts are pushing into my mind again, there are so many hours to be filled.
The mind is racing the physique, I am the judge who mediates between the two. It took years of preparation until I graduated, and then I took the honors into the field of combat. Through hard work I acquired the confidence of extending my goals, the many nerve-racking, frightening, tormenting exams have hardened my character, I have become a sharper person, with an expanding tolerance of pain. My endurance has had a tremendous gain, the capacity of going through the crosswinds and solving the adversities on the way is expanding and growing as I pass each tests. I swing my arms, I think of form. I lift my head and feel how I grow taller. I observe my pace and can see how I run faster. Thoughts enter my mind……
I drift from swinging my the arms, I forget about my head, I don’t observe my pace anymore. I keep on thinking, running and pursuing the thoughts that randomly enter my mind. Childhood pictures drift into mind, they have come to accompany me for a while.
It has never meant much to me just doing the ordinary, as twin I have been used to be looked upon as to belong to a different kind of species. Mother dressed us in the exact same way, same shoes, same haircuts, and same stockings. We were almost adults when we finally dared to buy each their own shoes. I will always remember the strange feeling when walking out of that little shoe place in Bruneck Italy. I continually looked at my new acquired white supporters, like by watching them I would control where they were going. It seemed that I was walking on a different level, sort of higher. A mixed feeling of pride and insecurity walked with me and as I look at my sister I knew that she was suppressing and masking that same feeling. We did not say a word - it was kind of embarrassing and awkward, like suddenly I have acquired a new pair of feet not knowing what to do with them, as if they did not belonged to me. The way we walked was similar to little girls when using mothers high heels, we had lost the flow of our natural movement.
Mom called us by one name only. “Babies” and we both tuned our
heads. Barbara was always standing a foot in front of me, actually not completely in front, halve of her body was hiding my other halve. Barbara looked at mother and I looked at Barbara. Barbara answered all the questions I never talked. When mother talked she always looked at Barbara first, once in a while a glimpse of her loving eyes met mine. With my mouth halve dropped I kept my eyes wide open in search for another glimpse, but usually it did not happen. When mothers smile, warmth, affection and tenderness finally met mine, they had already lost their intensity by passing through my sister first. I received vital love and affection in a deluded form, far to little to survive. Everything I got was second hand. Later in life, tormented by pain I discovered that Barbara had many parts which I was missing and vice versa. I wanted and needed those parts to survive on my own. I could not bare the pain and did anything to alleviate it. From drugs to alcohol, then work, then hiding and escaping from society. Live was one continuous string of affliction. I needed to replace the voids with substances – I wanted my missing parts.
Barbara happened to have acquired the more vital parts to survive, she did not go through anxiety attacks, psychiatric hospitals, years of analysis and all kinds of therapies and treatments. To persevere and be healthy is was essential to become a person of my own. I wanted to function without a voice which was not mine, without the smile which I did not smile. I wanted to carry a face of my own not one that did not fit into my face. I wished to acquire the habit of using my own gestures - she used mine and deprived me of mine. I wanted a face of my own, acquire a voice I never had, land lset my feelings be felt only by me.
It is 116 degrees, the shoe soles are burning. I feel quite well, I run tall,
in tune with myself. Nothing bothers me, except the burning air is drying out my eyes, the throat and lungs. I am flowing along in a gracious rhythmic pace, in the hope that this state will last a long time. And again thoughts shoot into my mind and I go on thinking in their direction as they come.
Mom never distinguished our voices, the view times I talked she did not recognize my voice, nor did she now ever who was calling her over the phone and it did not matter to her. To her we were an inseparable identity. That’s how she wanted it.
Since the time my cerebral matter started to perform as it was supposed to, I remember people pointing their fingers at us and mother responded with gentle, aristocratic pride:” Yes - they are identical.” She knew what to say, she had said it hundreds of times, over and over. Every time she said it, her face sparkled as if questioned for the first time. Maybe this is why, up to this day, we have felt special in many ways and in keeping this inner command we pursued to fulfill my mothers and our own dreams and expectations.
Barbara is on my side, we run together. I have caught up, she has slowed down. One pace, the arms swinging in equal cadence, dressed the same way, just as our mother liked it, the same funny hat crowns our heads. A white baseball like cap with a visor, a cloth hanging down and covering neck and shoulders. The same shoes of course, a belt with a water bottle, which makes two, she looks like her and her looks like she.
When people ask me: “Which one are you?”
“ I am the other one.” I replay, waiting to see their reaction.
Both names belong to me, Angelika and Barbara, and Barbara and Angelika to Barbara.
We rarely talk. We don’t need to, we both know what we think and feel, besides we look in the same direction, stride after stride, nature has engraved the same impressions into two brains born from the same genes. We are in tune with each other, in symmetry we have walked the path of life, we have known us since before birth, she is my other halve I love.
Twenty-six miles into the race, a marathon distance, we have arrived at our first landmark. The night has involved us, we run in the dark under the shine of the stars awaiting the moon to shine on us and brighten up the white lines painted on that road. The white paint is the path we follow, it is cooler to our feet and it will hold down the temperature that is already creeping up the legs.
I run in the middle stepping on the white line, Barbara runs on the side moving along on the white that divides the pavement from the shoulder. With concentration we try to hide from the dark pavement and move only on the white. Sometimes we change and hop out of the groove, run side by side or one behind the other.
There is so much thinking involved, the mind jumps into different directions as the hours pass by. I associate and dissociate from the event, the mind cannot hold for too long to be with the body alone. When I think about the form of my running I correct it so that the posture aids the body to be more efficient. When I associate my mind with the bodies needs, I listen…I feel…until the mind is talking to me. I present the question, add the feeling and envision a circle of options. Sugar, some salt, a bite to eat, carbohydrate in powder added into the water, electrolytes or maybe a coke? Like the needle in a roulette it searches around and around until it stops at the winning spot. Through trial and error I have learned to trust my feelings, the answer to my questions is mostly right.
I wish my concentration when associate with form, pace and needs would last longer so I could be at my optimum. But suddenly my mind strolls into a different direction, it shifts according to the situation adapting constantly in making the journey amore efficient.
As long as I am in control over body and mind I walk in save territory. Constantly I search to protect myself from the games the mind can play when it in its own way tries to escape the unbearable pain by drifting into hallucinations, avoiding the painful contact to reality. Like a baby when in hunger is given a pacifier instead of real food, the little one does not distinguish and but is satisfied despite. In every big race we face a possible drama of hallucinations. I have learned to survive the tricks of the mind.
Furnace Creek, a name in its own right, justified by its meaning. A desert town where people meet and replenish their needs. It was not so in the days of the pioneers when in desperate need of water and food they found non and many succumbed to the terrible death of dehydration.
From a short distance we reach the tiny dots of a few lights, the Creek- a Furnace, a few hundred yards and we are there. We run with a faster pace, mesmerized we stare into lights, our eyes pierce through the night running to catch it, holding it tight in our vision with compulsion. Like mosquitoes we are attracted, flying towards the glimmer hunted by the obsession to unite with the immediate goal and find rest.
Our crew, like other peoples support, have stationed their cars by the small gas station which is closed after ten at night. This is our first stop, we find relieve from our overheated feet when we submerge them into a bucket of water with ice. How pleasant it is to sit down for a few moments, hear the heartbeat calming, giving everything up for a moment, letting go completely. My head is tilted backward, the mouth is halve open, an ice-cold towel covers my eyes. I exhale and shrink into myself drifting away releasing every tension every thought and feeling as if I would cease to exist.
The feet almost don’t fit into the shoes, they are swollen double their size and pain accompanies the fitting. A few small blisters have been fixed, a bag of ice is under my cap, a few cubes go down the breast and like horses in a vet check Larry examines my weight on a scale and we realize to our regret I have lost twelve pounds. With more than six % of weight loss, it is dangerous to continuo and my loss is almost a 7 %.
Larry tries to tie me into the chair stuffing reasons for not going on into my brain and I struggle with this strong willed man giving him better ones to run on and reach the goal.
“I have lost only my overflow, the accumulation of too much food and liquid the week before the race”! With as much authority my energy permits I angrily through these words into his face. I win, he loses, a unusual situation with a stubborn man.
Time and crew push us to pursue our obsession. Armed with renewed aggression we start out again onto the road, we run.. and run… and run until the night has swallowed all sound of protection, the dear, precious voices from our crew are devoured by the growing distance between us.
We are on our own, as if one person – we are tuned into nature’s frequency and are cruising along into the night with every step shortening our distant goal.
The air is standing still, even the wind has gone to sleep it
disappeared and went to hide under the covers of recuperation. A mysterious pulsation, the flow of silence encircles us, every sound is multiplied and magnified, untroubled and undisturbed it echoes through the valley. The sounds of silence, a remainder of the deserts peculiar heritage from thousands of years ago, stay with us throughout the night, they claim our attention, we are in awe of the music’s silent beauty.
Thoughts randomly enter the mind, then they fly away as fast as they have come..
The white rectangle, high on the rocks from where we started, pops into my mind, it is meant for the tourist to be observed, the page in the book says:” 285 feet below see level.” The rectangle registers where that level would be. In my mind I am at the start again. It is six o’clock in the evening, someone holds a big barometer in his hands, a photographer takes a picture of it, the needle points to one hundred twenty degrees.
As the night pushes on, we run through the valley floor covered by a big umbrella of flickering stars. No car, no sign of civilization, only the road, glimmering stars and the sound of desolation. It is three o’clock at night, one hundred ten degrees - when will it cool down?
Barbara and I run one behind the other, my bandana is stretched like a rope, each one holding one end, I close my eyes trying to sleep while running. The tender, swollen feet radiate a heat of one hundred and eighty degrees from the pavement, the constant torment is slowly taken its toll. The ardor is crawling up through the bones into the whole body, attacking every fiber, tendon and ligament. Like in one of the old farmers ovens when bread is baked slowly under a wooden fire. With the pain spreading and growing the mind helps to distract and escape the situation by faking a better one.
Vivid pictures go through my mind - I sit on my favorite mountain in the Tyrolean Alps ssand look at the soothing green valleys below. My parents home, distinguished by the big garden surrounding the two farmhouses and my brothers house, the property looks significantly impressive compared to most of the houses from the small town. I like to zoom in from high above and visit my mother in the big kitchen. To sit down at the wooden kitchen table with the white embroidered linen cloth and talk with her has always been a delight.
The farmhouse where we grew up in was almost two hundred years old with its walls made out of rocks four feet thick, cool in summer times and warm in winter. When mother went into the big cold pantry, she always came out with something good to eat, sometimes cold cuts which she bought at the butcher from town, or some deep orange colored apricots picked from the garden. I really liked the Gugelhupf she prepared like only she could, a dry cake with a hole in the middle, sprinkled with some powdered sugar and with it we used to drink fresh buttermilk from the neighbor farmer. Mom always was a good listener, she read a lot and acquired a broad general knowledge and was in support of our opinions most of the times.
The creeping pain coming from the overheated shoes interrupts my soothing vision. Although we have cut out the toe and heel portion from our running shoes for ventilation, the constant pounding against the bottom of our feet is the result of tremendous swelling and pain. The feet have become tender, the skin is expanding, they seem to have grown bigger, maybe three times the size? The fingers on our hands look like hot dogs on a broiler, they are so swollen - impossible to bend. Excessive water is accumulated in the attempt to preserve the body and protect it from shriveling up into a dried out mummy.
On the day the race started, an unknown man, just a few hours before we left, parked his car right there were it says in the book “ Badwater”. Most probably he, as every body else, admired the depth of the valley floor, looking up touching the white mark with his eyes. The man went into the desert, not far at all, his video camera recording his path to death. With almost no water at hand he kept on walking, not far at all, until probably dizzy from the sun he began to stumble and set down. He might have fainted, we don’t know. He was found dead, stretched out scorched by the sun. The camera stopped recording when he went under falling onto the burning sandy ground. A furnace of two hundred degrees shriveled up the man and turned him into an unknown mummy. Later, that day when the race begun, Dr. Ben performed the autopsy. When the race was over Dr. Ben informed us of the interesting finding. The organs of the man were dried up like a potato too long in the oven, colored in black and wrinkled like a prune.
Dr. Ben, named with honor the major of the Valley of Death, lives in Lone Pine the nearest town of civilization. Since the beginning of the Badwater race he records the running times and records. A runner himself supported by his lovely wife, Denise and a beautiful daughter, eccentric and hilarious in many ways, a good man well known. His support vehicle was a truck. The backdoor rolled up, the Doctor laying and relaxing in a silver colored coffin with the top wide open. The inside of the top was elegantly lined with a gray, shiny satin material, it looked like it belonged once to a very prestigious cadaver. He was stretched out in there, fully dressed in his running outfit, eyes closed, hands folded on his chest, his legs were too long, his shoes sticking out. The Doctor was a very tall man, six feet six or so, he could not find a smaller casket. He purchased it second hand new ones were by far too expensive.
We were running by and admired his invention. He looked up, greeted us with a gentle smile justifying the short size of the coffin assuring us that he took good precaution to disinfect it for a good period of time. It looked inviting I must say, the coffin was filled with water and ice, a fake palm tree stood tall by its side. The image of an oasis created a soothing illusion in the midst of the Valley of Death. The sheriff called the doctor to perform the autopsy of the shriveled man. The doctors had to abandon
the race leave behind his created illusion, the lovely wife and beautiful daughter. No one else wanted to take advantage of the cool, soothing bath while the Doctor was on duty, it was a shame to see the ice melting away.
My eyes are closed, I am holding on to one end of a bandana, Barbara is running in front of me pulling the other end. In rhythm we swing the arms connected by the extended scarf, changing our position every fifteen minutes or so. Then I go ahead and lead, and let her sleep. With the tiredness closing in, mind and sole become weaker, doubts jump into my mind and drag me into unwanted terrain.
Will I ever make it? Will we both be at the end? If not, who is the one to fail? Will the blisters on the heels and the nagging ones on the metatarsi start to bleed and expose the nerve endings? What if tendonyties break the fibers to the extent of no repair? What if I will feel so sick that my stomach cannot hold the precious load? Or cramps that make me collapse and scream? I might succumb to dehydration, the teeth chattering and the body shivering for cold? If fatigue and injuries slow me down, everybody passes me and I will be the last athlete to come in, how will I handle the humiliation? What if I loose my toe nails - can I go on with that pulverizing pain? And what if my mind goes into hallucination and thrusts into insanity? What if I cannot control the hart rate any longer and have to sit down and grasp for air with desperation? Or go into a state of hyperglycemia? Or the blood pressure sinks and makes me fall down to the ground and cannot move an inch? What if …What if…What…if…
Finally we see the dim brake lights from our support vehicle, the long anticipated landmark of our second stop has come close. Mark and Karin and Larry are waiting for us, I can see how their eyes are searching to find some sign of breakdown, as if going through a tightly guarded security check in an international airport.. Two mats are stretched out on the sand arranged for us to lay side by side. Everybody keeps their voice down, speaking softly as if in a big bedroom where people are asleep. Nine hours of continuos running have torn and worn out the overheated body.
I sink onto the mat, exhale and let go as my eyes are closing. The hot desert heat is radiating through the mat, it is about three thirty in the morning, the tongues of flaming heat have succumbed to a glimmer like coals on a grille baking the meat on an even temperature.
“Have something to eat” Larry’s deep gentle voice is by my ear. “Later later –not know” I whisper.
Noisy waves charge through my veins, I can hear the hart beat rush through the whole body, I can hardly lay still although I cannot move a muscle. I feel like a rug thrown to the ground, staying in the position as it was put, no wrinkle is moving.
Wild moving colors shoot through my brain, lightening behind the wild scene of impetuous thunder. Every cell is upset and screams demanding a rest. What a pilgrimage of perplexity passes through my brain. The mind is shooting bizarre abstract colors onto the screen of my forehead. I am forced to watch the untamed contemporary artwork of a psychotic but also poetic artist. I wish I could force my mind to stand still but my energy is wasted. Nature takes care of the process of recuperation as long as I do not interfere and panic. Again, I let go and observe the eccentric, harmonious, awe inspiring but at the same time when pushed against the flow, grotesque and frightening complexity of the human mind. I observe how it teams up with every cell to make the whole function again.
Finally after a little while or so I am allowed to go to mothers garden and
lay in the protected shade of the oak tree watching the blue sky with the farmhouse and the rocky mountains in the background. The lush green meadows, the tilled rectangles with sprouting vegetation and mother with the dark brewed coffee walking out from the kitchen door towards the clean white flowery table setting. I can smell the coffee, I can taste the dry simple cake with the sugar powder sprinkle, I smell the fresh-ironed sun-dried table cloth and welcome mothers’ gentle-hearted, good-natured smile.
I hear some runners passing by, the flap, flap..flap..the echoing pounding resonates on the pavement, it distracts my soothing pleasant vision, the unconscious impulse of competitiveness make me turn around and lift my head lightly. As if persued by a haunter my body reacts with tension, any second ready to jump up and reclaim the hard-earned position.
Bill Miller’s deep-toned, trust filled voice sounds reverberating, it filters through my ear. I bury my face again and recoil into a fetus like position, as the threat to be haunted evaporates into the air.
I keep thinking if his strategy is better than ours, Bill does not have a set plan, he does not rest until totally exhausted then takes a good sleep for many hours. Our plan is to lay down for one hour every night even if we have not touched the barrier of exhaustion. Bill likes to play it by ear.
A lady runs with him, she walks a lot, she complains a lot, she slows him down. Later, after the race was over, we were told that she has been observed jumping into the van of her support, driving all the way up the grueling eighteen miles climb to almost five thousand feet. She took a shortcut thinking that no one will know. The lady has finished the race in over sixty hours, it took her twice as long as it took us. It is unbelievable but true: she claimed to her fame a medal she has never won. There are many players in this life. In the long run society and culture spit out the ones not worth of recognition, their glory is short lived. Those which have earned their medals with honest sweat will bear the precious sweet fruit of their achievements, the others will bear bitter and rotten results.
“Its time to get up” whispers the deep voice of Larry.
One precious hour has slipped away. How hard it is to move. First a few stiff steps, then swinging the arms in exaggeration, like a comran duck swimming in the ocean, flapping its wings in wild motion trying to take off slowly gaining height like an old airplane on the runway with too much cargo.
Eventually we shift into the motion of running again. The lactic acid has expanded the muscle fibers, the intolerable heat has puffed up the tissue with excessive fluid protecting the threadlike strands from bursting. I am waiting to experience something happening, something that distracts the mind from the demanding solitude. There are no people around cheering, no houses or gardens to look at, no billboards, no stores. Nothing that draws the attention away from one self. The motivation has gone into hiding, there is little left I use it to meet my crew with a faint smile. Every two miles we meet them, over and over again, and sometimes I lightly complain: “ Why are you making the miles longer ”? Their enduring assignments are taken to heart, no one is allowed to come towards us, we run to the sliver gray car and then reach out for the precious reward. “A bottle of something to drink.” When I anticipate the station wagon from far, my body and mind are tuned and conditioned to arrive at the immediate goal only. Accomplished that task I focus on a new one, two more miles that’s all I have to run. With the small parts in mind and being the only I can handle, vital distraction is woven into the pattern of monotonousness. Running without a plan is losing myself into a wilderness out of control but running with my blueprint makes me go in the direction of my goal knowing the path has a plan.
It is still night, the moon has disappeared we run in the mystical shadow of the dark. Thinking and feeling have become shallow, a few bizarre pictures cross my mind. The reflection of the bright shining stars illuminates the white line on the road. I see dark spiders crawl back and forth with movements so fast to follow, other creatures scramble up the white stripe, snakes with winding movements are getting on and off the super highway. There are signals everywhere: ”Do not enter! No parking! Wrong way! Confused I run on the dark surface as if I would slowly advance in water, being submerged up to the ankles. The white marking has become the riverbed, a procession of wobbling living things totter from the water up to the white road. As I stare onto the white line organisms of the ocean are shooting out of the water trying to get on and stick to the road of their salvation, many fall back and disappear in the river. ith a splash they disintegrate into a timeless zone, their short lasting sparkle signals their immediate death, a glimmer from a coal touching the water. The aspect of the crawling creatures is repulsive to my guts, so I stay in the water and shuffle along in a slow motion. Strangely enough, I look at the disturbing stuff, horror inspires me as I pierce deeper. I watch mesmerized and confused until the ant like movements of fleeing shadows force my head into a different direction and I hear a soft resounding blare poring down the ether.
“You see the light? You see it”?
We see a fine line of dim light arising from behind the surrounding mountain, a faded blue. We keep on pounding, the blisters pinch into the nerves.
Like with a dimmer the light is turned on in slow motion. With disbelieve and skepticism I stare into the sky, my pace is a shuffle, the mouth wide open, the eyes try to focus. My mind catches my sister’s words again and again until they echo and vibrate into my innermost establishing a truthful link to reality.
Suddenly I feel overpowered by the earth’s grandeur and splendor, I witness the birth of a new day as if watching from a booth the spectacle in the theater of natures marvelous wonders. The preludes leads into the awesome play, the curtain starts to lift slowly, I hold my breath in anticipation and excitement. I tug my head into my shoulders, I peek under the uplifting curtain grabbing the image with the desperate craving of survival. In that moment I feel so small, so helpless, so insignificant, a dot powered by the conviction of completing a goal, a task so infinite small in this universe. As the day slowly brightens I experience my own birth, vital energy is poured into my porcelain colored face, dripping down into the veins pigmenting the cells with new life.
Like in a fairy tale I see the colors changing from moving shades of dark into blurry esoteric blues, then suddenly everything turns into soothing well-defined pastels. First mild-spoken soft pinks, then watery transparent purples fading into aromas of pale yellows, topped off with creamy egg whites beaten into fluffy curious morning clouds. They are short lived and pass away at the first impact of the sunrays, like hit by a deadly laser beam they dissolve almost instantly. Thousands of well-delimited silvery yellow beams shoot from behind the dark shaded mountains limitless into the universe. For a second everything stands still, nothing is moving, the powerful magnitude of the expected sun freezes all nature into a picture of momentary silence and awe. The fireball is appearing with the force and arrogance of its peculiar uniqueness and eccentric symbolism of life bearing distinctiveness. One second of grandiose silence in anticipation of its majesty the king which is stepping on it’s sovereign throne to reign for one more day.
“It is dawn…the sun is rising”! My sister whispers in reverence.
The subtle prelude to the deserts raging concert of fire, is a melodrama in motion, we are in awe witnessing the beginning of a new day in the remote desert.
No bird or sound announces the arriving–birth is brought about in royal silence. Once the concert has completed it’s primary stages, like waves reaching the shore in continuous motion, it grows and regresses like a moody giant breathing onto the earth the scent of its reflections.
The sun breaths new life into the soil and air, it revives the eternal circle of a spinning journey into eternity. We are bathed in the light of reviving might.
In the book is written: Stove Pipe Well – a gas pump, a restaurant and a Motel, which may or may not be open. The day has caught up with us, we meet the crew for a short, well expected rest.
We call Mike Gassert Mike Mark because when we met first, a few years ago we always forgot if his name was Mike or Mark, so we kept calling him with both names. He looks at us ever smiling and knows from our appearance what we needs. He fulfills our urgencies without being questioned or questioning us.
Again we sit on the collapsible chair, feet in the ice cold water, the head falls backward, again a zip-lock bag with ice melts on the forehead. After a small cup of Mike Marks home made chicken soup, Ingrid and Karin shuffle little bites of pita bread with salad and cheese into my mouth. The food stays for quite a while until slowly chewed and swallowed. I almost feel like an old or invalid person, too old to eat on her own, to handicapped to move or do anything without help. Mike Mark cautiously starts to massage my hamstrings, he knows how tender they are. Every muscle fiber is extended to its maximum capacity almost to the point of blowing up. The blisters, which go around my heels are treated, but the biting piercing pain make me walk like on glimmering coals. The suffering is multiplied specially when starting off again after a rest, stepping onto the exposed nerve endings is like being stung by many bees each time I take step.
Like a boxer I sit in the corner of the ring, focused on myself, letting the crew do what they think is best. I am expecting to be called to fight the next round in any minute.
Larry directs the whole show with mastery. He organizes, tells what to do and when to do it, he rarely changes anything from our preset plan. Larry is a man of authority his commands are hardly ever misunderstood.
A few years later we adopted him as our brother since we did not have any family living in the U.S. Our two brothers and one sister like all other family members live in Europe, our place of origin. Our new brother Larry, accepted his position with honor and pride and so did we.
Larry bends over and infuses some liquid into my throat. Then he whispers with a commanding voice: “Time to go”! From my forehead he gently takes off the plastic bag with the molten ice cubes.
With no whys, ifs or buts, no time to think or feel, only responding to an immediate reaction to a firm command, the boxer jumps up. Filled with new aggression, armed with an unyielding courage, driven by the impulse of obsession, ready to kill without taking a prisoner, the soldier steps out into the field to conquer the untamed distance.
The quest is to go from the lowest to the highest point in the continent of the U.S. A battle which only two dozen of brave man have dared to enter, victory has been achieved by a handful no more.
Two women, English and an American, have attempted to receive the reward of the conquest and followed the path of the handful brave soldiers victoriously. The timeframe in accomplishing their goal from Badwater, the lowest point in the U.S. to the highest point, Mount Whitney, was done with the focus of carrying out the completion not racing the unknown.
Our focus is not on the completion but racing the darn desert to the end up to the portal of Mount Whitney where officially the competition ends. Unofficially we pursue our obsession to claim the peak as our possession. The four women, with different goals framing their explorations are the precursors, the pioneers and our footsteps are edged into the pavement for those who follow our daring path. They will go with the conviction that it can be done for the purpose of their own reasons.
And the book says:” Eighteen miles of steady climb to Townes Pass, a gain of four thousand feet in elevation. The runner’s reward will be a slightly cooler temperature.
The valley is behind us, the heat is suffocating, the pavement
radiates two hundred degrees through our feet into the body. Ahead of us, on the ascending a very straight road we see water vibrating from the pavement. Like a little everlasting pond stretching from one side to the other, not well defined because of its distance, a pulsating shimmer laced together by some dark shaded lines in motion. I pinch my eyes to focus better, the semblance is always there, travelling with us keeping the distance from us as if we could steel its precious delight by catching up.
As we start running up the slow gradient, desert all around us, ahead we can see the mountain range we have to cross over. From there it will be a steep five miles down into the Valley of Panamint, a two thousand feet descent.
In my mind I keep track of the upcoming route, usually I look at the map drawn into my memory. Many hours of visualizing the graph have made the terrain a familiar one. In preparation of the race we have purposely foreseen the worst, so when reality strikes we are not surprised. The next big landmark is always in the back of the mind, easy to recall when needed. The smaller ones, the two-mile markers are the most I can handle specially when the sbody or mind or both are having a hard time to function.
Right now we run in an elevated state. It is morning and I fight this battle with the best soldier there can ever be-she would literally die for me and I would die for her. That’s how much we trust in each other. “ Why wouldn’t I trust my other self”? I have never been deceived by my other self since before we where born. How can anyone understand that I am never alone that my voice matches up with hers, that my thinking and feeling is connected like a computer linked to another, both compatible without competing but helping each others out with no questioned beings asked.
After the rest, food, ice on the feet, sodas to drink, painkillers for the blisters and Iboprofin pills for the swellings, Larry, Mike Mark, Ingrid and Karin, we are send us off with loving care and inspiring words.
Renewed we feel our energy bursting from enthusiasm and we could run into eternity without a stop. How good it feels to be alive, I experience the importance to be in this race, one of the hardest on earth. What a privilege to be counted to the women who pioneer the unexplored.
Sometimes Barbara and I share words about the crew, then about other runners in the race, we share our thoughts and feelings in a random fashion, no need to explain any details, it is as talking to myself. Being a twin has given us enormous self-confidence, because we always have each other side bide side. Someone, who has the same voice, same mind, equal values, looks the same and has the same pace of walk through live. We are never alone and can check each other out constantly. We have corrected and perfected our swim-run-bike stile up to date, we just look at each other, no need for a mirror. Many times my confidence depends on how she feels and vice versa.
When we where in art school Barbara did the final exams for me, I was too sick to attend. For me it was as if I would have passed the tests and received the diploma. There was never a doubt if this was right or wrong, we felt entitled to do so. Whenever she wad was ahead of me in a race she almost always left massages at the aid station like” When you see someone looking exactly like me, tell her Barbara loves you.”
These and more refreshing thoughts go through my mind as I push on up the mountain with my self and my other self. Just imagine when there is always someone available for you listening to your most insignificant things, we call each other without knowing why we call and if not pressed by work I could talk hours with her with out ever tiring or falling short of words.
Once we have been called up the stage to receive our first and second place reward in Hawaii completing the three day Ultraman, a 500 mile swim bike run race. I won the race a few minutes head of Barbara. On stage the first place winner was asked to give a speech and automatically Barbara gave the talk without doubting for a second. If I won it was as if she had won. In the Ultraman she felt entitled to the speech as I did other times when she won. People did not know who was who anyhow, we fulfilled our roles as twinship mates, the perfect team.
Our coach has tried for years to make us competitive towards each other he wanted aggressiveness to surge and play it out against one and the other - it was wasted energy. I was always happy when Barbara was ahead of me, if she was stronger this day she would push hard for both. No need for myself to go hard. As long as one made it-it meant we both did. That same principle was applied in so many circumstances. Even going to a party or a show, as long as one was there the other did not need the experience.
My thinking shifts. We run tall, moving the body parts in the right proportions, efficiently, flying on up leaving the Valley behind us. We are happy to be where we are, I am thankful for the good genes, we have got a great functioning motor. It does not break down easily. We want to do well - not only proof to ourselves, but also to others, like our crew that the work and money we have put into the event will have its restitution, our success will be shared with the most important people in this race: Larry, Mike Mark, Ingrid and Karin. Without these precious people we could not do it, our victory is entirely in their hands and t we don’t want to disappoint them.
There is no doubt-I will finish this race and finish well. I say “I” but it means us, we. Even if I write in singular, Barbara is always included.
The barometer shows 125 degrees and has not stopped rising. The burning sensation in the throat is like breathing in the tips from flaming tongues of an open fire, the eyes behind the dark glasses are dry as if dried out by a hairdryer, every blinker hurts and rubs on the cornea’s surface.
We are running, then walking and so on, the higher, steeper the hotter, the slower we become and eventually our enthusiasm is fading like a wave in the ocean. Even the biggest and greatest water will lose its power in the drama of lives endless cycle of repetitions.
I can hear the giant breathing again, he exhales and inhales depending on its frame of mind and circumstances. His breath blows endlessly into the atmosphere, every breath is different from the other. Just like life itself with its ever recurring cycles, never one like the other just similar in structure it climbs the spiral ladder of perfection and emerges from natures inborn drive to peruse excellence, following God’s mysterious plan of expansion. In that same way we are carried from euphoric vivaces to happy leaping alegrissimos, towards slow andantes ma droppos which dampen our mood, pausing in the silent void of an al capello. When the music changes into the key of a deep emotional D minor, the music surges again and merges with the play of the waves in never ceasing movements.
I compare a race to the cycles of life when driven by adversities, at last their powerful rolling leaps up into a mountain, it erupts with an supercilious crescendo, it breaks thundering and screaming, ejecting and spitting into the air its overflow. Like in an explosion, releasing its power, the sound of its music throws out the last beats of roaring thunders, then it rolls and scrolls along like a tamed snake without poison until it thins out, retrieves and repossesses the ocean again. The main characters of the play are called ecstasy and agony.
Barbara starts getting a flexion tendoneties. The stiffness scrambles down
her right shin, Mr. Pain has found a new playground. The spectacle goes on, the mood has changed, Mr. Pain claims his entrance into the scene, he sneaks onto the platform from under the curtain. Different actors climb up the stage, with subtle action they claim their territory and chase the happy ones away as if joy and love have for far to long possessed the common playground. The repartoa embraces a great variety of artists, from the ones which make one happy, laugh and love, to the ones which make us feel fearful, angry and sad. The supporting actors fill the moments when the wave goes down, they engage the space between the crest and the undertow, they represent the middle of the two extremes, that’s when running is the lightest and endures the most.
Barbara’s right foot has lost much of its control to Misses Distress the paranoid and Mister Pain the psychopath is demanding his right to act out his role on both of us.
No more do the arms move in a perfect swing, the body tries to compensate for the lost motion. Barbara’s face is turning slowly into a masque of wax, molded by Misses Distress the ugly lady which is a nagging affliction and Mister Pain the grinding smiling cheater has pushed his way into our territory.
The stiffening and shriveling of Barbara body resembles the suffering image of a Mexican woman on the path to the temple of Guadalupe, the shrine of the black virgin. She walks too many miles on her unconditioned feet in pilgrimage to purge what she might have done wrong or might do wrong in the future. In prayer she is convinced to reach her ceremonial goal enduring the pain she is driven by the pledge to accomplish the promised with no way of return. The tedious walk on burning knees and barefoot legs have stained with blood her brass colored skin but convinces the Mexican women that sins will be forgiven the more she suffers. Her clean but cheap cloth narrates the story from generations of poverty and repression. She walks in solitude thousands share her walk of pain. Her skirt is torn, she looks straight ahead her head is lifted in pride with no regrets. The long black hair is covered with a white lace, it is the same year after year. The face is stricken by sweet pain and only her silky shiny black eyes reflect her glorious and noble deed. This is the only day she calls her own, it is the day she travels on her chosen path in the cone of her own limelight.
My thoughts are interrupted - Barbara’s soft words bring me back into my own reality. I look at her and wish I could take the burden off her pain. Helplessly I walk by her side, I am disarmed and powerless like a soldier in his own fight to survive. There is nothing I can do except stand by. I wish I would not have to deal with her pain It hurts so much to see her suffer ….I am escaping again-my thoughts are drifting …
When I watch athletes in a race, I draw a parallel to daily living. We all are in a journey, the path is the walk of life which each one masters in its own specific way. In a race that path is magnified, I see racers passing me because they are so much stronger and I pass those which slower than I am. Sometimes I witness terrible dramas of friends or fellow athletes when they are in pain, dehydration strikes, glucose depletion and the rest of countless afflictions. A few good words can lift the person a for a while but the essence of the battle is fighting our own, no outside help can bring me through, no one can run the race for me. Accepting outside aid results in disqualification. How much would I like to help where needed but only the ones who finish on their own can claim the precious medal of victory. Racing has taught me to have faith in my bodies and minds abilities. Through my daily training I allow myself to gain confidence, master speed and endurance to perform at my best and ultimately obtain the honest title of mastery.
It hurts to see my other self crumble in pain. Eighteen miles of continuous climbing is a long way to go, specially when hurt and every step becomes a pain in itself. Every thing is still, only the heat comes and goes in waves from hot to hotter, the full range of hundred and twenty five degrees. The ice in the water bottle only last a few minutes, it melts like placed into and oven. Every two miles we drink a full bottle, a total of two hundred and eighty five for each. The stomach task is not easy but we have trained to digest the heavy loads and we hope to be able to digest the needed food.
The windy road seems endless, the heat is suffocating in highest degree. Every curb gives us new hope that it might be the last one. Anxiously we anticipate a changing view, the pass we are hunting seems to escape our scope. How much more can we take? The blisters on both heals are boiling, each stride terminates in stinging pain and increased with the touch of the overheated pavement. I imagine how it must feel walking on a hot lava field.
My capacity for thinking has subsided, raw pain filters boldly into my brain, the message to stop has captured my body’s attention and the struggle between mind and body has taken its peak. Who will be the winner?
We are both in pain and struggle through the adversities. Despite the pain giving up has never been an option. When it crosses my mind I shift to the next immediate goal and up comes a lingering obsession of burning desire to reach the summit where the soldier can rest.
“One more mile and you are there”! Ingrid screams out of the car with head and body almost halve way out of the window. Her dark long hair is waiving in the wind, she smiles and looks so pretty. Barbara is proud of her daughter and Ingrid is proud of her mother.
One more mile… is endlessly long when in pain. Instead of a good eight-minute mile or ten-minute mile pace, we are walking and it will take us at least one hour to reach the pass. One mile… It sounds like nothing when one hundred and eighty is our goal. One more mile …Will I make it?
All actors have left the scene - only one is present: Mr. Pain the pathetic cheater. He is disliked by everyone and thoroughly hated by me. In his arrogance and egocentrism he invades the whole space delighting in his own narcissistic present. No more thoughts or wonderful visions distract me, not even the fascinating desert terrain invites me to shift into a more pleasant state. My focus is out of control but despite my despair there is a little flickering flame of hope and that keeps me moving. Soon it will be over, just a little more to go and I will lay down and not think or feel until …
“I knew it”! It had to be the last winding turn, something in
me told me it would be. I did not want to mention it until as if by doing so the pass would run further away from us. Suddenly in the distance we see the two cars side by side a blue tarp spans from one roof to the other.
A strong hot wind starts blowing, it rushes over the pass touching and sweeping with its fierce grip everything it can. We take long brisk strides, invigorated and motored by the vision of the cars. The rushing wind peps us up as we arrive, we have conquered the summit with its adversities. Nothing matters right now except getting rest and prepare for the next stage.
We are stretched out in the van, the wind is hauling, it is unusually loud after enduring so much silence. Everybody is screaming to each other, the continuos shaking and rattling blows off the blue tarp, someone tries to run after it and grasp it, they are giggling and chuckling about the chase. I am lying down for a few minutes, the sound of the laughter is mixed into the banging of the wind, words are broken into pieces, some are sucked up never to be heard. My mind is in a state of zero or gray. Nothing passes through it, everything is standing still like waiting for a command to go on and fight or stay and rest.
We have gotten up to sit outside in our chairs with no tarp to protect us from the unmerciful sun. The blue tarp has gone its way, leaping and winding into freedom, fluttering off like a wild bird loosened from its cage. It blew from the pass down back into the Valley of Death. The Valley could not posses us, but demanded in revenge to take another prisoner. With its wild claws and in great fury It grabbed our precious blue tarp telling us that no one passes through my territory with not some kind of loss.
The feet look like a mass of meat with little definition. Raw on the heals, twice as big as the normal, the toe nail are lifted, the constant pounding in the heat reveals that nature has not equipped us to survive in these conditions without man’s ingenuity. The view cars that pass through the Valley are air-conditioned and warning signs are posted to advert of the imminent danger of possible heat exposures.
I fix my blisters on the heels, I dig and open a lawyer of skin then another one until I reach the deep imbedded blisters and drain the fluids. We have prepared our feet before the race, the skin is filed down with sandpaper, making it as thin as possible and as smoothening it out so it feels as soft as the skin of a baby’s face. The toenails are thinned from top to the bottom, thin like stamps in the hope of not losing them all. I pour some Biodine Tincture into the open blisters. For a moment It stings like hell and I hold my breath… bite my lips, close my eyes and press every face muscle out of proportion until the affliction subsides. I inhale again ready to cover the disastrous zone with moleskin, a thickly padded material, then new a gelatin like wrapping that goes right over the blisters and then I tape it to hold it into place.
Barbara has ice on her shins, a few blisters are fixed. We are fed with Mike Marks home made chicken soup again, something the stomach absorbs with pleasure and after all this loving attention it is time to depart and fight the battle we have come to win.
The first few steps are the most pain stricken ones. Warming up the motor takes time, I feel like a lazy horse that just came out of the stable and does not want to run. Precious energy is wasted in holding back that nasty affliction called Mr. Pain, the pitiless bloodthirsty controller. With his nagging narcissistic presence, he controls and demands constant attention. He is a thief he steals my focus and energy then tramples them to death.
With ice wrapped around her ankle, limping and in pain Barbara sets off hopping along trying to match up my pace. But when we reach the hump of the pass a new surrounding envelopes us. The Pass of Towney has retired into our memory.
We are faced with the very rapid descent of one thousand and eight hundred feet into the Valley of Panament Springs. Ironically it is called “springs” named after a fairytale with some true connotation. It eventually transposed the metamorphosis into a myth. The dream of some pioneers, Mr. Penamint leads the troop, they struggle through the rough terrain close to death envisioning a mirage. Right there following their instinct of their vision, they dug a deep hole into the ground until finding a trickling vein of water saving the pilgrimage from dehydration.
The sun pierces at us from the zenith, a windy road flows down the steep grade through the mountains. As we start our descent we first walk then shift our gear into a slow run reestablishing and building up the trust and control we have lost to Mr. Pain the foul stinker. I see Barbara’s face changing, she has lost the hard expression and I feel relieved. Now I can count on her again, we are moving in the direction of expanding our potential one more time.
We have recuperated the stolen parts from Mr. Pain the greedy possessor - he opposes the gentle treatments from our crew with hatred. Because he knows that after every stop his control might be melting like ice cubes taken into the sun. With arrogance he slowly vanishes back into the depth of his origin, always ready for a new attack.
We cruise down the road leaning a little forward we are pushed down by our own weight. Flying softly, like a paraglider winding effortless through the clouds. I feel like sitting on my bike with the elbows planted on the handlebar, the forearms extended vertically, the fingertips touch slightly the shifters, no need to move the legs, I am pushed forward with ease by a sweet-tempered wind. Happiness overcomes me when I see how well Barbara is doing. The ice has taken its effect. Our crew renews every two miles the ice fillings of her blue neoprene wrappers, it looks like she would have two legs from a horse dressed up for a parade.
With humble appreciation we inhale the slightly cooler air, I give thanks to our faithful crew, they have made Mr. Pain the bloodthirsty deceiver a prisoner. Changing the bodies’ position from the for ever lasting uphill into the opposite direction releases the muscles from the burden of overuse, finally different fiber groups are called in to perform and to complete the quest.
Stimulated by the magnificent view, we look from way above down to the foot of the mountain feeling like eagles with big powerful wings extended gliding in slow circles gaining ground towards the plains. Our eyes pierce into the wide-open space beneath us delighting in the sensation of weightlessness. With the vision of an eagle we anticipate every movement in the grand chamber of natures creation. We are aware of each grass waving in the subtle breeze, a feather light whiff touches our faces when we enter and swing around every curve. The swiftly blow is transformed into bottomless stillness as we melt into the straightaway disappearing in the distance. Our eyes delight in the view of the new valley, it extends many miles crawling along the bottom until it hits a new range of bare ridges in a haze of faint earthly colors similar to fields of ripe grain, colorful in its own multiple shades of amber.
The road stretches in a continuos straight line through the lowland, it almost disappears when touching the skirts of the next mountain. The highway ahead runs into the great plain it resembles a gray thread of colored silk tied tightly with no slack from the foot of our mountain to the next ridge. The silvery filament oscillates in the distance it becomes almost invisible when it touches the other end. The fine line winds up into the mountain but it is soon completely lost and out of sight when it is gobbled up by a deep ravine, disappearing forever.
We are rolling down with our wings extended. Sometimes a soft blow caresses our faces. I feel an enchanting beauty capturing us, we are uplifted, what lies behind is forgotten we live this wonderful moment and breathe in the spectacle with its soft scented air where the body flows in rhythm with nature
Yes! We will finish this race. ..
This descent is followed by twelve of the longest, straightest miles I have ever seen. The weightless flight has ended. The eagle has disappeared with a few fluttering strokes it takes the way back up into the mountains where it belongs.
As we rejoice flying down the mountain I start to think and visualize…and time flies by. My mind wanders to Tyrol, my favorite perception…
Karin is so much part of the memories of my past……
She herself is an impulsive triathlete, has a strong healthy looking body and she shines in beauty. Her image does not match the one of a skinny undernourished model but matches the body of a healthy looking Austrian country girl. Her long white golden hair shimmers from far like a banner named joy, the color of her skin is ivory white with her swell rounded cheeks and lips tinted in pale pink. No make up has ever touched her skin. Her features are a copy from an sleeping angel carved out of wood and painted by the skillful hands of a master. Those angels are found in the big centuries old Catholic churches where they decorate the exuberating altars and I question myself if nature copied the Tyrolean girls from the wooden angels or the angels were copied from the Tyrolean girls.
Karin’s character was molded by hasrsh cold winters. Her smile talks about continuous gratitude and she takes nothing for granted. Her parents farm house is nestled in a deep valley obscured by the sheltering mountains where the daylight lasts less than seven hours. Six months out of the year the weather is cold, it can snow or rain for several weeks at the time and summer only lasts about four short months. People never take a day of sun for granted they talk about it as if it would be a big happening that wants to be shared.
I remember my mother going to the village greeting each person she meat and adding to each “gruess Gott” ( hail to God ) “ Isn’t it a beautiful day”? As if not saying anything would be impolite. Now if she wanted to be a little more polite she added an “and so warm”. When she wanted to me more friendly than polite she added a “I hope it will last”.
Mountain people don’t talk much they resemble the mountains themselves. Tall and unplayable, stubborn and enduring, their feelings are hidden in deep ravines. Many times a sarcastic language is used, overplaying their hardcore feelings that are molded by the harshness of circumstances. The “nice” person talks in a joke form, it is a way of communication. As long as a smile is provoked feelings can stay in their closet.
People are often deep and mysterious hard to explore. Their bodies are built to resist the thunder, the continuous rain, the deep snow, the mudslides and the floods in springtime when the rivers cannot hold the melting waters. Their minds are wired to survive the hardships since the beginning of times. Mountain people are slow and playful in their own depth. They are brought up not to show their weaknesses and feelings are considered as such.
When the little flowers start to push through the patches of snow it is the time when Tyrolean people start to express themselves in a more open form. As if through nature permission is granted to relieve some of their feelings by opening up the closet door of their emotions which have been enshrined during all winter season. It seems that along with the snow the hardened harts are melting, they are pumping with a regenerated rhythm inspired by nature’s periodical change. When the sun starts warming up the snow-covered meadows dark spots of humus dirt come into sight, a dizzy vapor arises from the earth, a sign of nature’s transformation into a seasonal celebration. The people celebrate the upcoming season with long walks into the meadows and woods. Flowers are picked and taken home to be admired on the kitchen table.Mmusic is played more often songs with beautiful harmonies talk about mountains to be conquered, flowers to be picked for the loved one and far away countries. Yearnings of dreams and illusions which warm up their harts.
Vegetation in the Alps does not grow tall, the higher the mountains the smaller the sprouts. Every tiny flower has its name, parents teach their children to appreciate and respect them. Part of the countries idiosyncrasy is that people should remember the names of the alpine flowers a reminder that nothing is to be taken for granted. There are not many days in a year that the sun shines and every hour of the golden flow is welcomed and accounted for. That’s when the grass is greener, the colors of the flowers vibrate with intensity and radiate their beauty through the valleys up into dark blue mountain sky.
We are running a slow pleasant pace and I lift my eyes to compare the sky with the one I know from childhood. The desert possesses a sky with a different beauty. I see a faded blue that is dampened by the glimmer of a scorching sun.
As I turn my face back to the road my mind starts to drift again …..
The Tyrolean farmhouses and furniture’s are decorated and painted by hand with the motives of the small precious flowers of the region. The “ Dirndl” is the traditional folklore costume, its material is printed in fine flowery linen which contrasts with a white short sleeved blouse exquisitely laced, very low necked displaying part of the breasts. Flower motives are everywhere they are part of every home and town in a manifold of different expressions.
Karin is a typical Tyrolean girl. Harsh winters and unplayable mountains have shaped her character. She is hardcore with an angel’s touch. The dialect she speaks gives away the exact location of her upbringing, each valley intones a different style. The deeper and more remote the valley the harder it is to comprehend their talk. Barbara and I have the same sound as Karin’s speaks. We originate from the same valley just a few miles south towards the end of it where the big river runs through. German people do not understand our talks ours differs in many ways but at school High German is taught to the youth.
Suddenly my vision has disappeared, tiredness creeps up my legs, they call for a rest.
We are confronted with a new challenge, the battle field has taken on a distinct perspective. The enemy is foreseen, waiting to strike us any moment. There are barriers to cross - hurdles to jump - adversities to be pushed through - afflictions to be swallowed. And eventually Mr. Pain the vampire will gallop up on his black horse, ride parallel until an opportunity comes to through himself over on to our necks holding on with his teeth and claws like a lion clamped on to its pray.
The heat has steadily grown into a frying furnace. I feel like a roast on a spit, the barometer indicates again one hundred and twenty degrees. The body resists rebelliously the fierce attacks from the dragons until eventually sooner of later it is subdued by the continuous blows hitting from the same direction, like a boxer in a corner of a ring, continuously punched and with no escape.
The road shoots through the terrain into the utterly immense wilderness. “Is this our car fused onto the pavement? Is it? Or is it a mirage”?
“It seems a small bolder sticking out from the tar”. Replies Barbara.
On the long tedious stretch we encounter Larry and Mike Mark and Ingrid and Karin about seven times, they are our livelihood the substance of our existence. We depend on them like newborn puppies and there is no money that can pay what they are worth. The feet have swollen to an incredible size, not even the cut out shoes fit any longer. I am exchanging mine with Mike Marks which are two sizes bigger. Now both our feet are wrapped into blue neoprene sleeves which contain small Zipp lock bags with ice and we continuo running with these heavy boots it looks kind of funny and ridiculous.
The landscape resembles a panorama postcard almost unreal. It seems that we don’t advance at all. Nothing is moving or changing although we are running in a slow trot and the pavement is passing by, the mountains we are targeting don’t not come closer. The landscape seems to bee frozen. Desolation, bareness and emptiness fill me, I have melted into the landscape.
With one big effort I try to take my mind to some other place wanting to escape the cruel reality but it lasts only a little while and I am back in confronting the unavoidable pain. I keep thinking about Karin and….
Karin and Ingrid, both barely twenty years old take their job as serious as a pilots from the space shuttle on their first flight into the atmosphere navigating with perfection finding their own solutions for all kind of obstacles. They rely on the chief pilot Larry only when creativity has set a hurdle. The hurdles name is “life experience”. In this expedition they have been able to jump many unexpected barriers and because of it they will have matured and acquired a new perspective of life.
Larry and Mike Mark and Ingrid and Karin - how much they care and how much they work in assisting us through this ordeal. They are as much part of the race as we are and their merit is stamped with gold into the book of our victories. When we arrive at the car we are welcomed as heroes. Like great actors when the curtain falls and take a brake, their resources in gratifying us are endless. They endure the heat, wait patiently until we show up, their eyes watch over us like a mechanic oversees the well functioning of a racecar arriving at the pit, ready to repair any possible failure instantly. They go for errons back and forth, one of the cars is always on the go in search of some kind of urgency. The chor is not easy when even the gasoline has to be haunted down. The ice is miles of driving hours away, many times without success since other support crewmembers have passed and bought the vital inventory.
Mr. Pain the ugly affliction has gotten a hold of us again, he is nagging and rubbing and pinching and pulling wherever and however he can. He seems to find endless ways to destroy and deceive. He triumphs and rejoices when he knockes someone out of the race. I can see him with one foot stepping on the fallen body, holding the loser down until with humbleness and in agony the flesh and physique breath out their last, lacking the energy to resist the constant pressure from the nasty pincher.
Mother’s garden has become a fiction from a past life. With my mind I try to reach my favorite places, desolation has occupied the space of my visions and dreams. The brain cells have lost the capacity to connect the way they should, the cerebellum has given up and functions erratically. The power source behind the current is failing, the system is collapsing. The ability to associate with the bodies’ needs has lost its link and vanished into great emptiness. The dark hollow space is being occupied by a new visit from an old creature. Mr. Pain the repulsive killer has escaped from prison and attached himself softly falling on us like an octopus. His many tentacles looping around us in quietness, pulling tighter and tighter like an anaconda snake tying the fatal knot inch by inch.
The sun is on its highest, under our feet we carry a dark small circle with us, it slides on the pavement as if it would be the cone from a follow spot out of a movie scene were the main actors are followed by a beam wherever they go. My eyes are fixed on my own shadow, again and again I look being drawn into the little portion of dark by its movements mirroring my own. We walk with a large stride, then run again, altering every five minutes of so. When we see the car and our crew in a measurable distance we run all the way up to our dear people. When we don’t see them anymore we let go and walk giving in to pain.
On the map it reads Father Crowleys, eighty-five miles from the start. It is two a clock into the night, we have taken off our desert caps and are shivering of cold we request our warm clothing. We run and walk through the night with no rest, I don’t remember details as if thinking too much would spend my energy. My feelings, have become flat in the pain of open blisters all around the heel and the toes have drained me from thinking and in my memory.
Keeler is our next landmark, another twenty miles to go, descending into a warmer region, leaving the valley of Death in the background for good. We are pleased to go gradually down, the cold has stiffened our muscles, through rolling hills we approach Owens Valley, some three thousand feet below the cold summit of Crowleys Viewpoint.
Keeler what a great name, as we run slowly through the night, I repeat the name a thousand of times as if I don’t remember I I would not reach the place. Two, three, four o’clock, it all seems the same. We go in silence, side by side, the eyes pierce through the pavement, confusing images are splashed into the dark night, a keep the head up and try to focus on Keeler …Keeler… a dim light in the distance, not moving, it stays the same it might be moving with us-ahead of us, escaping to be caught. “Faster” I tell my sister , I am fed up with Keeler which does not come closer, with a little faster pace we might catch the dim light.
“Dawn!” I whisper and we both look into the direction where the dark black sky begins to lighten. “Finally!” my sister mumbles. We were walking and running like in a dream, like two puppets with no life, driven by short lived batteries. The slight change in color promotes a big change in us, we start to revive charged by nature’s power, and the upcoming sun will infuse energy. Energy-, energy-, energy…I breathe profoundly, my eyes are closed, with it I inhale the faint sunlight coming from behind the mountains, invigorating mentally every pore of my body. The pituitary gland receives the message to change from the sleep to the awake pattern and soon a new call to life revives us. With beautiful distinguished features we run walk down through rolling mountains into the new basin, the Valley of Owen. For the first time we have caught site of our ultimate goal, Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the United States, with an altitude of 14550 feet. I peak only once at the summit, it seems so far, so high, so cold, so windy, so cloudy on the peak…..I let go from that inconvenient sight and concentrate on our next landmark. Keeler……where are you?
As I prepared the race, drew a map and visualized each portion the needle in my brain indicates a stop at Keeler. The difference from the vision is that Keeler is no town, it is an abandoned mining place, only a hut or two, a mile away from the road. Somehow it is disappointing, the long expected Keeler does not exist-I saw people in my imagination, even a store. The reality a ghost town with two fallen huts. But on the map Keeler has it’s place, maybe well earned in ancient times.
We rest on the side of the road, our crew Larry, Mark and Ingrid have the chairs ready, the buckets with water and ice, the feet have earned a rest. With a towel on my forehead and over the eyes I can feel the sunlight warming the pavement into a new dimension, I hear someone saying: one hundred degrees!” Getting up is not easy, the muscles and even the bones despise going on, they scream into the nervous system almost paralyzing every movement.
Lone Pine-finally a place with people, hotels, markets, a post office and a coffee shop, after one hundred and twenty five miles of desolation it will seem a metropolis. We see the flat buildings from miles and miles away, the heat vibrates like a TV which has gone bad- the focus is interrupted by lines across in constant motion. The long flat road is boring, it goes and on, some times I loose track …..Where are we? The Creek which is a furnace? The Springs of Pennamint? Father Crowly? Whitney? It’s all the same ! What I am doing here? Where is the green grass of my mothers garden? The lush valleys and the mountains with the many cold of streams? I am tired, the pain is of the blisters is unbearable, the still heat vibrates into the sky, s
I don’t want to look anymore at this picture of “everyellow .“
The same picture, the same road, endlessly straight, it is the same over and over again the only thing that really matters is to move on. The same view hour after hour, the same colors have swallowed us since long ago, our crew does the best to maintain us, we at the end of desperation. The heat is unbearable again, I am tired of drinking but have to drink anyhow, I am tired of being told to eat when I don’t want. Why I am here? Was that my idea?
The entrance to Lone Pine, a long straight road some trees on the side, passing Motels and people like in a fairy tale, like magic, like watching behind a glass out of touch with reality. Larry walks with me, I can see a proud smile on his face as he paces me through town. The road sign reads “to Whitney Portal” and that’s where we turn in and take the left turn. Just a mile or so, out of town with the majestic view of the mountain, I catch up with Barbara, we walk together up the paved road. I remember my feeling of pride “I have almost made it”!
Back into the groove of trotting, the sunlight straight above in the sky to loud for two weary people I wish someone could turn it down a little. As we walk up side by side, we suddenly stop and look at each other in the same precise moment. “The mountain is moving! The mountain is moving….It is coming towards us! The whole range is breathing over us! Coming and going! Larry! Larry! Mark and Ingrid!” I hold on to Barbara, Barbara holds on to me, Angelika. Like in an earthquake with no sound it moves around and around and forwards and backwards and on and on it goes and we start to feel sick from so much motion. We lay down in the van, a soft cover under the belly, the legs and arms extended, the head buried in the covers, the eyes hiding from the sun and the threatening vision.
Fifteen minutes have past and the familiar soft, deep voice of our Larry wakes us and helps us up again.
I look with distrust at the mountain – Larry – did you make the mountain stand still? I watch for a few seconds, the mountain was still.
Just over eight thousand feet, we have reached the forest, shade in midst of the heat. The pace is slower and slower the higher we go, one step a time, thousands of them , one at the time eventually will take us to the summit. I almost cannot eat or drink anymore, it takes to much effort to digest. We leave behind the trees, the timberline has been crossed and up we go in endless switchbacks, the higher the harder it is to breath in air, we stop. We hyperventilate with the desperate will to continuo on. I start to walk like drunk, from the left to the right and right to forward. Xxx is getting scared as we go around the thirteen thousand foot altitude after having climbed the famous eighty something switchbacks. She takes out a small rope and hold on from behind like to a life saving connection. The lungs are tired of expanding and contracting without release, they are deprived of the oxygen needed. I don’t remember well how it went on but I know that the only thing I had in mind was sleeping, right there in the middle of the trail. How hard it was to stay awake-the eyes were closing, the legs like rubber, like a drunkard almost losing consciousness, not wanting to go further. The last mile of the race took several hours, steep up to the summit, I have not had a sip to drink of eat, I just could not.
One of the racers was coming down, we met and he held me in his arms for a moment. “You are almost there!”
With my head almost touching my chest, the eyes semi open, yawning and shaking and wobbling and wiggling in slow motion I stagger on. Once in a while I drop to the ground, xxx picks me up and tells me not to sleep but to push on.
On the summit Barbara already was there, she comes toward me and gives me a long big hug. We both want to cry, but instead only a moaning and groaning comes out of the mouth. No tears. No relieve of pain. How much I wanted to cry. With the face marked by pain, I drop to the ground, shivering from cold, joy and a tearless cry. Some people around us don’t understand and ask our crew if we need help. “No, no-thank you, they just have finished a race, they have come from Badwater, the lowest point in the Us to the highest.
We are wrapped into a space blanket, shrunken on the ground, no energy to feel the success. My mind has given sup, the fight is over. No time for feelings, no strength to feel .
This race has been successfully accomplished two more times where they have performed at their best and won two records.