Thursday, September 12, 2013

Running on the Freeway is Illegal

Running on the freeway is illegal. One would think that I would have deduced this simply by the fact that I have never, in my entire life, seen anyone do it. If I did see someone in workout clothes running on the shoulder of the freeway, I would most likely think that they were:

  1. Fleeing the scene of an accident, most likely inebriated
  2. Mentally challenged and/or mentally ill
  3. Running from the police, probably after they kidnapped/murdered someone
I've always known that there will be several parts of the United States where I will be unable to avoid running on major highways. I've never really thought it was that big of a deal, and I've always kind of shrugged it off, downplaying in my own mind how uncomfortable and awkward (not to mention dangerous) running on the shoulder of a freeway would be. This is mainly due to the fact that every time I would imagine myself running on a highway, I wouldn't actually be picturing myself. Instead, I would see myself as Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, complete with the scraggly beard and a smiley face t-shirt, happily plodding down the road, care-free and oblivious to the traffic whizzing by me at breakneck speeds.

 Somehow, I had completely fictionalized the idea, compartmentalizing it into the box labeled "Things That are Too Effing Scary to Think About Today". Other things in this container include: injuring myself and finishing my run on crutches, encountering large demographics of people who don't understand or support what I'm doing, and realizing out that the US has gone into full-out nuclear war when I wake up one morning to a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Some things never make it out of the box, but I knew that my fear of running on the freeway was probably something I should deal with before I actually hit the road.

As luck would have it, I already know several people who have done this. My friend Angel recently returned from a trip where he was helping to film a documentary about Gabriel Cordell, a guy who rolled across the United States in a wheelchair. (Yes, I realize that he is upstaging me, but I don't mind. More power to him!) Angel was giving me tips about the logistics of the journey, rehashing problems that they encountered, and imparting his infinite wisdom of transcontinental journeys on me. Out of the blue he asked me, "How much time have you spent on the shoulder of the freeway?" Recollecting the several traumatic automobile accidents and blowouts I've had didn't really bring up warm fuzzy feelings, so I answered, "Not a whole lot. Why?" He then began to relate to me the importance of getting comfortable on shoulder of the freeway, since next year I will be spending quite a bit of time there. "Anna," he said, "you need to spend some time out there. Like now."

I laughed it off, half-heartedly agreeing to go out to the highway with him at some point in the distant future and spend some quality time there. I wasn't very serious about it. I wanted to keep "Running on the Freeway" safely in its compartmentalized box. But, for whatever reason, whenever I try to ignore things that I shouldn't, they explode in my face. Not two hours after I hung up the phone with Angel, I was driving to Anaheim at rush hour and what happened but my tire exploded and veered to the right of the road, landing me right in the shoulder of the freeway. I know this sounds like bad writing because it is so unbelievable, but it is true. 

So, being extremely superstitious in a new-agey-the-universe-is-trying-to-tell-me-something kind of way, I decided that spending some time on the freeway and burning the rubber on my shoes instead of my tires wasn't such a bad idea after all. 

Fast forward two weeks, I decided to meet Angel and Robot for a 40 mile run on the 78 freeway between Oceanside and San Diego. They would follow me on bikes, taking pictures and documenting the entire thing.

The days leading up to the race were horrendous. It seemed like everything around me was falling apart. My work scheduled me to close on Friday night, which meant I definitely wouldn't be in bed until midnight at the very earliest, my car broke down in front of Staples while I was getting flyers made, I didn't have time to go grocery shopping for the supplies that I needed, and to be totally honest, I was scared senseless. "Running on the freeway" had finally made the transition from it's cozy place in the box of things I refuse to think about, to front-and-center. Even as I was going through the motions of preparation, I kept thinking to myself that somehow I could talk my way out of actually doing it. 

Here's the catch. If there's one thing I've realized about running across the country, it's that there is no faking it. You can't cut corners on training, diet, networking, preparation, or anything really. I won't be able to charm my way through Texas. I. have. to. run. the. whole. thing. Not only that, but I know that I have to be connected to my purpose, and as it has been brought to my attention over and over again, nothing works without integrity. If I say that I'm going to do something, I have to do it, even if theres an easy way out of it. 

At one point at work on Friday night, I was about to have a meltdown because tables just kept coming in to the restaurant. One, after another, after another, and pretty soon the whole lounge was full. In my mind, I was panicking, thinking that there was no way I would be able to run forty miles the next day on 2 hours of sleep. As my eyes were glazing over with tears, and I was trying to decide whether I should quit my job or cancel the run, I had an epiphany. 

It sounds pretty simple now, but at the time it was profound. I realized that my little drama with having to work late, having no car, and having no food for the next day was nothing in comparison to the kind of turmoil that I will have to deal with next year when I'm crossing the country. I don't know exactly what those things will be, but I know that the tiny obstacles I was facing on Friday pale in comparison to them.

So, as I stood at the cash register at my restaurant with my lip quivering and my voice shaking, I started laughing at myself, realizing that my journey across the US has already begun. I made the resolution at that moment to never give up, regardless of what stands in my way. There is always a solution. 

If I get injured on my 3rd day out, and I can't do anything but walk at 2 miles per hour, then I will put one foot in front of the other, day after day, until I recover. If the RV breaks down and I have to haul gallons of water on my back across the desert because there is no one else to carry it, I am ready to do that, too. If it seems like the Universe is conspiring to break down my will and tempt me to fail, then I will see it for exactly what it is: a challenge, and a chance to grow. 

When I decided to do this it was because I wanted to push myself beyond my limitations, to reach and surpass what I thought my potential as a human being was. I guess when I said that, I was only thinking about it from the perspective of my own will power-- the ability to push myself to be stronger, faster, kinder, more compassionate, more accepting, less vain, less materialistic, less dogmatic. What I didn't consider was that I will not be the only one pushing. The world, with it's chaos and it's inconsistency, will also be throwing wrenches in my gears. I anticipate that I will have to be creative and problem solve with a strength and equanimity that I don't yet I possess.

At the end of the day, I'm grateful for every obstacle, because it gives me an opportunity to accelerate my learning curve. Although overcoming trials and obstacles is not the only way to grow stronger, it definitely gives me an arsenal of experiences that ultimately add up to an indomitable constitution. Something bad happens, and I think, well I've dealt with x, y, and z, and I came out of it alive, so I'm pretty sure I will be okay this time, too. 

The funny thing is that once I decided that nothing would stop me from showing up on Saturday and running, everything fell into place. But I had to ask for help. The generosity, compassion and support of my friends made me feel humble and grateful in a way that shook me. From my manager at work taking over all of my tables so I could go home and rest, to my Mom for lending me her beloved racing bike, to Angel and Robot spending their whole day on Saturday riding next to me on the freeway even though they were also scared shitless and tired and uncomfortable, to Sam showing up at different intervals of the run to give us all Mama Chia and make sure we had water, to Eric waiting with me in the parking lot on Friday night for my car to get towed and bringing me supplies because I had no way to get them.  I realized in those moments that if I am determined to find a solution to a problem, and I am humble enough to ask others to help me where I fall short, nothing is insurmountable. The hardest part in all of this, is actually wanting a solution, and fighting for it. Sometimes giving up seems so much more appealing, and failure can be a sort of haven when you are trying to do something impossible. 

That being said, the day of running on the freeway was fun, scary, exciting, hilarious, and over-all a good experience. Robot was too short for her bike and fell off before we even left the parking lot. We got about eight miles down the 78 freeway before a police officer pulled us over, yelled at us, and told us that if we ever did it again, we would end up in jail. That still didn't stop us. We continued to run in the heat down winding streets and up steep hills. Towards the end of the run, the sunscreen on my face melted, running in rivulets down into my eyes. They were burning so badly that I couldn't keep them open for more than several seconds at a time, and for what seemed like an eternity I was running with my eyes closed.

After the run, I felt rewarded. My reward was the confidence I received that I really can do anything I put my mind to. In the last several weeks I've encountered a lot of disappointment. Things haven't gone the way I've expected them to, and it's really hard not to get jaded. Time and again, I've been promised things that are never delivered. Maybe what I've realized is that the reason I didn't get those things is because I didn't really earn them. Like Gary Busey once said, "When you take shortcuts, you get cut short."