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art theplaceI did it again. It’s 9 a.m. last Saturday at the starting line of the Cashiers Trail Mix five-mile backwoods race. I knew I should have gotten more sleep the night before, should have at least had something to eat that morning. Shouldn’t have overindulged in the libations of Friday night, nor said the things I now regretted to my girlfriend.

I live in Western North Carolina. She lives in Upstate New York. That’s 853 miles apart, or a 12-plus hour drive between locations. I’m a full-time writer. She works full-time and goes to graduate school part time. So, our time together is limited, and it holds great value and importance to her and I when we do get a chance to push everything aside and just focus on “us.” 

Being in a long-distance relationship, things get tough. Priorities and obligations get overwhelming and stressful, but when you do finally see each other, finally physically hold the hand of the one you love, it makes every second apart worth it. Truly.

And yet, dumb things happen. We get burned out with life, as most of us do at times, which leads to projecting our wits-end frustrations out on the one who will always be there to support and encourage you. Oh, the irony, eh? We always seem to hurt the ones we love the most. Such is life.

So, I put my foot in my mouth again this past weekend. Instead of being a shoulder to lean on for her, I end up picking a fight, rather than being a pick-me-up when she needs it most. I was in the doghouse, and it didn’t feel good — not one bit. 

Readying myself at the starting line of the race, my mind was too cluttered to even concentrate on the grueling five-miles ahead of me. 

Mile One

The gun goes off. Loudly, almost jarringly. Soon, you’re moving along before you even know it. Just like life you are thrown into the madness of the “race” and you start off trying to find your pace, trying to clear your head and focus on the task at hand. You feel smooth, confident, where you think, “Ok, maybe I can do this.”

Mile Two

Your body and legs start to feel their age and ability. Your confidence is dripping off of you like beads of sweat down your forehead. You immediately question, “Why the hell did I sign up for this?” Folks, seemingly bigger and slower than you, pass by you as if you’re standing still. These are the symbols of people getting promotions, getting married, buying a house and having kids, all the while you feel like you’re stuck in the mud of humanity. 

Mile Three

You’re really starting to feel it now. You’re legs are throbbing. Your heart pounding. You start to question if you can even do it anymore, if you’re really as “good” and “promising” as you originally thought. You start to wonder if you can really finish what you started and if you’re good enough to meet the challenge. You feel your grip on what you thought true now slipping.

Mile Four 

You’re already too far in to quit now. Almost there. You realize your limits, physically and emotionally, and accept them to the point where you focus solely on your strengths and willpower. Yes, the hills hurt, but damn does it feel so good and rewarding when you hit the top and coast down the trail. 

Mile Five

No turning back now. You can see the end, the triumph to your dedication and perseverance. Folks, known and unknown, cheer you in to the finish line. You cross the threshold and turn around to look back to where you just came from. You say to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? I could’ve at least gone a couple more miles.”

And that, in essence, is life. Your existence is never more than you can handle. The tougher the situation, the tougher you are, or will have to be. Nothing is impossible, and more times than not, you’ll surprise yourself just how far you can go in your endeavors. 

The trail race, of course, serves as a metaphor for my relationship. That through all the obstacles, all the mud and uphill battles, I never once thought of giving up. Covered in dirt with aching legs and a hungry stomach, I hobbled back to my old pickup truck and grabbed for my phone.

I saw the picture of my girlfriend looking back at me when I turned the device on. I thought of her, and how much she means to me. I pressed her phone number and waited for the beep to leave her a message.

“Hey gorgeous, I just wanted you to know I’m sorry, I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you soon. Hope all is well, and that you have a great day at work. Talk to you tonight.”

 

Hot picks

1 The Humps & The Blackouts psychobilly pirate costume party will be at 9 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville.

2 Spoken word poet Matthew Foley will present a workshop at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 26 in the Hunter Library at Western Carolina University.

3 Funk/rock group The Fritz will perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 26 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City.

4 Bark in the Park will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 28 at Mark Watson Park in Sylva.

5 Roots rocker Joe Buck Yourself will perform at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.

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