Running Away

Today is a long-run day. Two hours of continuous pounding down a long, winding trail, thump, thump, thump, curving, criss-crossing paths across cabins, across mountains, trying not to trip on mossy knotty birch roots, WARNING: FALLING ROCKS, signs fading away, populations fading away, fog rolling in, dripping, canopy dripping, hair dripping, arms aching from swinging too hard, too fast. Stop. Lost. Lull. Still. A dull, throbbing pain in my right quad and chirping bugs on a dark, misty night.

I’m finally away.

***

My flight out to Sitka was 17 hours too long. 17, 16 and a half, 16, 15, 14, 14, still 14… a monotonous countdown including two stops and a crying baby. By Hour 11, my fourth in-flight rom-com was growing old, fast.

I didn’t know much about Sitka. It was a tiny town of about 6,000 (up to 7,000 during fishing months, May through August)—an island, off a coast, in Alaska. Sitka was far from Idaho, though. Far was good.

And finally, my flight’s touching down in stormy, gray Sitka, rolling to a stop on an alarmingly narrow runway. My boss, Willow, pulls up in a pickup truck and I climb in. “This is typical Sitka. Lucky if you catch a day or two of sun, most months,” Willow says, hands drumming on dashboard, rain drumming on roof, thump, thump, thump. Adds so softly that I almost don’t catch it, “So much rain. You’d think that it would grow on you, but most days I wish it would just stop.”

Hours past my drop-off in a snug cabin of my own, I slump on my porch and watch it rain.

***

By day, I fill out grant applications at BHV (a non-profit with a staff of four), sporadically slipping out to go hiking, biking, swimming. At night, I cook on my own, play with world-class musicians for tourists stopping by, sit in smoky bars with locals and Coast Guard guys.

Mornings, rain. Nights, rain. Rain is constant, but that rain, that continuous downpour that is Sitka, stops occasionally. Sitka has Sun-days, on Mondays, or Thursdays, or any days with sun: shops shut down, kids shouting and sprinting down twisty roads, sun-bathing adults kicking back in chairs, piping hot Coho, Chum, Chinook salmon sun-baking in dirt and rocks, and sky and sun for hours and hours and hours. “So lucky!” locals say—visitors, “you brought so much sun to Sitka.”

***

And in Sitka, I run.

I run on muggy mornings, chugging a glass of OJ, cramming toast in my mouth, crumbs flying, slipping my arms into a random shirt off my floor, jamming on socks, lacing up and taking off. I run at dusk, cracks of sunlight shooting across a murky pink-indigo sky, colors dripping past a horizon of mountains fading into gray. I run, racing a sun dipping down, down, down.

I run in pouring rain, and post-rain, too, with road-bound fat slugs squishing, with misty clouds in constant motion. I run, looping continuously from my starting point, out and back, out and back, monotonous, carving out muddy footprints that swirling storms wash away so thoroughly that on tomorrow’s run, I find no hints that this Alaskan ground can hold anything past a day.

I’m training for a half marathon. Mostly I’m trying to run away. Running, forcing my thoughts away from why.

But with this Alaskan trip I’m just romanticizing running away: big-city girl falls for small-town Alaska. My own rom-com, minus a boy. Running away from it all. Sitka is unfamiliar, and I’m thankful for that—a town with Salmon as King and no locking doors, a town that’s so cool and so far away. I stay busy so I don’t stay lost in my thoughts. I’m cool now, too.

Mailing postcards from Alaska on my last night, though, I don’t know what to say. Front: stock photos of slightly tacky tourist traps—a giant grizzly, a just-as-grizzly man, hawks, mountains. Back: my own word-snapshots of Sitka—frying salmon on fishing boats, kayaking along rocky banks with starfish and crabs, climbing twisting pathways up a volcano.

Unsaid: sitting in a kayak thinking about how far I could drift, wishing that rain soaking so thoroughly through my shirt could also wash away my whirling thoughts, running away from asking if I’m actually happy now.

Knowing this is not away.

 

Author’s note:
This is a lipogram. There isn’t a single letter “e” in this piece.

 

In kickball, Helen once managed to get herself out by tripping over the ball as it came back down. She now spends her time running in far away places so she can wipe out in peace and solitude. For more embarrassing stories, email her at helen.fang@yale.edu

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