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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch tells Sundance that he’s “got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” Bifocals, or not, vision is critical to anyone’s success. Different activities require varying degrees of vision, and on April 23rd, my “vision” skills were put to the test.

Early that morning, I tapped into my “do not break anything” vision skills. At the start of the Houghton Lake 5K Trail Run, my son and I, along with about two hundred and thirteen other runners and walkers, listened carefully as the gentleman starting the race gave us some advice. He warned us that we would be running through mud, puddles, tree roots and rocks (marked by orange spray paint), and “you’ll see.” Since Matt and I had both run the race the previous year, I wasn’t too concerned about the mysterious “you’ll see.” Instead, I found myself preoccupied pondering the presence of bears in the woods and my mostly rehabbed iliotibial band. One of my neighbors had recently told me that her daughter had photos of a bear wreaking havoc in her daughter’s back yard at Higgins Lake. I had visions of bears wandering away from Higgins Lake, swimming across Houghton Lake, and hiding in these particular woods waiting to pounce on unsuspecting runners. I reminded myself to stay in a pack with other runners at all times. The whoop-whoop sound of a State Police Trooper’s siren signaled the beginning of the race.

I quickly lost sight of my speedy son as he surged ahead. I kept pace with a large group of runners for about the first mile, and then I hit a section of very deep ruts. A large pile of cut timber lined one side of the trail, so I assumed the ruts had been caused by trucks and equipment. I lost sight of people in front of me, and I could not hear anyone behind me. I felt the slip-slap-slop of my hips trying to realign themselves after each awkward lateral move. As soon as the ground smoothed out, I picked up the pace as I avoided orange rocks and tree roots, crossed over swampy areas, hip-hopped over hula-hoop-sized puddles, and somehow prevented myself from falling when I tripped over an unmarked tree root. I crossed the finish line mostly intact. My “do not break anything” vision skills had guided me along the trail. It was time to head home and prepare for the day’s next event. My vision for a poem the previous year had led to an opportunity to read it in public.

When I was young, I never imagined myself as a runner, even though I racked up some blue ribbons at track meets. I stopped running when I graduated from my small country school and started ninth grade at the junior high in Dodge City, Kansas. I did, however, start writing at a young age, and I had visions of being published as early as my teenage years even after I received my first rejection letter from Seventeen magazine for my heartfelt poem about being confused about boys.

My inspiration for the poem that the Dunes Review had recently accepted for publication stemmed from a vision I had while visiting my cousin Audrey in Kansas in 2015. One night the cicadas were so loud that the stars in the sky seemed to vibrate. Birds shimmied to the beat. Dogs in the neighborhood howled. I scribbled down lines in my journal. A writing prompt from writer Laura Kasischke’s workshop at the Bear River Writers’ Conference a few months earlier popped into my head. I imagined myself standing in front the house I grew up in out in the country east of Dodge City. I began working with the lines. Was I under the spell of poetic vision? I seemed to be breathing in images from the past, both real and imagined. The poem began to take shape, and after months and months of revision work, my vision paid off in the best of ways: publication and the chance to read it to an audience.

As my friend Julie and I began our journey to Traverse City, I told her that when she, friend Jeri, and I had been at Brilliant Books the previous fall, I had mentioned to them that the Dunes Review hadn’t accepted any of my work since 2010. Over the years, I had submitted a piece occasionally for the biannual lit magazine, only to have it rejected. I convinced myself that this vision during my previous visit to Brilliant Books had somehow led to the subsequent acceptance of the poem for the new edition of the journal. I was scheduled to read about midway through the list of writers, and when it was my turn to read, I stepped up to the podium. In a voice that only the ghosts of dead authors could hear, I said the title. Fellow writers and audience members quickly encouraged me to speak up. I stopped, placed my right hand on my sore right hip, and said, “Hello” in a weird sort of British accent, and started over. I have no idea why I used a British accent, since I grew up in Kansas and lived there for twenty-one years before moving to California for two years. For the past thirty-nine years, I have lived in Michigan. As Hoyt Axton once sang, “I’ve never been to England, but I kind of like the Beatles.” Apparently my vision skills had somehow been affected over the years by listening to the Fab Four, reading a gazillion books by British authors, and watching the movies Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility far too many times. Most likely my Michigan/Kansas accent worked its way into my reading, but I can’t seem to remember.

After the reading, Julie and I headed back to Higgins Lake via the backroads. We quickly realized that we would both have our “driving at dusk and then into total darkness” vision tested. Anyone who lives in Northern Michigan knows that if you are driving at night, you are destined to encounter deer making poor decisions. They will lurk silently around every corner. They will stand idly along every straightaway glaring at you with their cataract-like eyes. I turned on my “deer-vision” as I slowed the car down and prepared for the one hour plus drive.

Deer mocked us on each two-lane stretch of highway. At various locations along the backroads, we felt as if we were characters in a horror movie. Night of the Deer Zombies seemed like an appropriate title. At one hilly curve, nine deer nonchalantly watched us as I slammed on the brakes. I had a brief vision of MDOT renaming this part of the road “Dead Women’s Curve” in our honor. The vehicles that had been following us since Traverse City willingly played this game of hop-scotch with us as I alternated between complete stops and sixty miles per hour. Not once had the other drivers attempted to pass us. They somehow sensed my “deer-vision” while they were probably wearing their bifocals. I briefly considered stopping at Military Road, jumping out of my car and demanding a thank you for guiding them through deer hell, but, alas, I could not convince my hands to un-grip the wheel. Julie and I figured that we had avoided over forty deer.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was worn out and wound up. My legs hurt from the morning’s trail run. My husband inquired about the reading, and I launched into a ten-minute soliloquy about reading my poem and the exhausting drive home. I grabbed a beer and sat down on the couch. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined myself riding off into the sunset à la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I don’t plan on robbing any banks and going out in a barrage of bullets. My vision for a happy ending goes like this: I will be running a road race at the age of ninety (certain to win my age group), composing a poem in my head that the editor of the Dunes Review will love, waving at the deer hiding in the woods, and dreaming of a nice cold beer after I cross the finish line.

New Shoes

Twenty degrees, sunshine, blue sky, frozen lake, snow-covered roads with a hint of ice underneath: What should I do? Hibernate? Drink a hot toddy before noon? Join the snowmobilers or the cross-country skiers on the lake? I noticed that my new pink running shoes looked forlorn in the corner and seemed to be aware that I had once again considered heading to the basement to hit the treadmill. Since I had not run on the roads since my spectacularly nasty fall in November trying to leap over some road debris, I had nursed a sore hamstring with short walks outside and watching twerking videos on MTV while walking on the treadmill. I knew that when I found myself trying to analyze the difference in videos presented on MTV, VH1, and CMT that it was time to hit the road, my hamstring be damned. Since my beloved pink running shoes’ tread had begun to wear thin and had recently been attacked by a dog, I knew it was time to break in the new shoes.

I bought new shoes in November fully intending to break them in after Thanksgiving, but because I injured myself, I wore my old shoes when my husband and I decided to head to Florida to warm ourselves up for a few weeks before Christmas. While we were staying with friends in Naples, Kira, one of their Golden Retrievers, became quite affectionate with my left running shoe while we were out chasing alligators in our sandals at the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Although Kira left the shoe intact, the shoelace had been chewed apart in two places, and she had somehow managed to pull the lace so tight that I could barely fit my toes into the shoe.

After pulling and tying the lace together with several knots, I was able to wear my shoes when Jim and I began our drive back to Michigan. As we headed north from Naples, Florida, to Cleveland, Tennessee, the temperature dropped 40 degrees. We continued our streak of staying at Hampton Inns, and after I relocated nine ladybugs from our room to the hallway, a rather tricky move that involved catching them in a paper cup, we settled in for a good night’s sleep. Scraping the frost off of our car windows the next morning reminded us that we were indeed headed in the wrong direction.

After taking turns driving, I was behind the wheel as we passed by the “Welcome to Michigan” sign. Thus began the horrible drivers’ portion of our journey. By coincidence, if there is such a thing, I had just read an article that very morning in the USA Today newspaper which is provided for free at all Hampton Inns. Ladybugs are apparently optional. According to a recent poll by CarInsuranceComparison.com, Louisiana drivers are the worst drivers in the United States. Michigan drivers did not even make the top ten. The poll basis its outcomes on “DUIs, failure to obey traffic laws, [and] fatality rates.” Louisiana may have earned their number one designation, but it seemed that Michigan drivers had their taillights in a tizzy at not making the list, because we had just entered Michigan-driver-hell.

As I observed drivers passing by me on the snowy windswept roads, I wondered what the odds were of a driver crashing if he or she combined driving, smoking, and texting while cruising along at 80 miles per hour. Not using blinkers, cutting off drivers during a lane change, and releasing ice chunks from the tops and bottoms of their vehicles added to my distress. After a flying saucer-like pile of snow flew off of the truck in front of me, I reminded Jim of the time a semi-truck driver dropped an ice block off of the bottom of his truck in 2007, and I hit the ice block dead on which ripped open the bottom of my car. My insurance person actually asked me if I got the truck’s license plate number. Nope, I was preoccupied with the horrible grinding and dragging noise my car was making, and I was really bent out of shape about being late for work. Perhaps this memory, plus the fact that a rock from a truck had cracked our front windshield in Atlanta, Georgia, made me jittery. Or just pissed off.

My husband knew this was my kind of driving since I had an excuse to swear. Frequently. Loudly. After we passed Bay City, Michigan, the traffic thinned out, and we began watching the sides of the road for deer. They filled the open fields, and a few dared to stand near the edge of the roads as if tempting fate. We arrived home in time to watch the Lions on television, so we had something new to swear about. Jim doesn’t swear much, so I have to make up for both of us.

The next morning I surveyed my snow-covered surroundings. I wondered if I would ever see double digits on the outdoor thermometer again. Should we build a snow ark-mobile? Build a tunnel to the mailbox? When the snowplow and the snow-blower are getting more action than my running shoes, you know you are no longer in the land of alligators and ladybugs. Only the deer roam around happily as they make their nightly trek to our birdfeeders. I had a major case of cabin fever.

Finally, a break in the weather and the promise of 30 degrees and sunshine provided some relief. I hit the road. The main roads were plowed, but slush remained everywhere. It was a lovely day for a 3.8 mile run, although running up and down several hills I had to negotiate were best described as slip-n-slide. A little voice in my head kept shouting “Do not fall.” I figured if I did fall, the snowbanks lining the roads would at least provide some relief. As Allison Moorer sings, “I was looking for a soft place to fall.”

My new pink running shoes proved their resilience with their alligator-like treads, and I cruised down the roads expertly, dodging the local horrible Michigan drivers. Do drivers not understand the concept of splashing slush on someone running along the side of the road? The speed limit ranges from 35 to 40 mph, so it is not as if these drivers couldn’t slow down or move over, but they all seemed to be either texting, talking on the phone, or adjusting their egos. I finally decided to trot down the middle of the road and see if anyone would run over me. When I saw the snowplow driver heading towards me with his death plow, I quickly ran to the opposite side of the road. He smiled and waved at me.

As I approached the safety of my own driveway, I congratulated my new shoes on a job well done. I walked into the house and my husband looked relieved since the last time I came in from a run, I was bleeding and telling him how sore my ass was. I gave him my usual report about my road trip before yanking off two layers of running pants, my sweatshirt, base layer shirt, sports bra, socks, shoes, gloves, and hat. I longed for those days of shorts and a t-shirt. Perhaps in April?

I am looking forward to running in my new shoes in 2014. I haven’t retired my old shoes yet, because there are a lot of stories associated with those shoes. They sit in my closet, the left shoe with its strangely configured lacing system and Kira’s teeth marks, as if waiting for the next time we hit the road. In the meantime, if Kira shows up, I am hiding my shoes. All of them.