Episode 51: Adventure Time with Gabe and Em

The last few days have been insane in ways that are pretty hard to explain but I’m gonna give it a shot. Perhaps the only reason I can call it an adventure and not a horrible and harrowing experience is the fact that for most of it I was not alone. For the sake of anonimity, let’s call this person by the first name that pops up on random from an MP3 shuffle. The winner is The Protomen’s “Here Comes the Arm” and the first line says Emily, so my companion shall thus be named as such. Please remember that any connection to anyone actually named Emily is a complete coincidence and not a reflection of laziness/ lack of originality.

First, some backstory because I believe in the importance of CONTEXT. So a couple of months ago Emily emails me about joining her for an upcoming 5k race. The race was unique for two main reasons. First, the race was in Pittsburgh, a bit far from my friend and her upcoming tenure as a Nittany Lion supporter and a small Odyssey away from me. Still, as the most and only geographically nearby friend, I felt I had a responsibility to be there. The second part that made it something pretty much out of this world was that it was a Color Me Rad race. It’s fairly difficult to provide a description of Color Me Rad without giving it proper justice. Imagine a race where you are encouraged to wear white clothing and you get systematically bombarded by what can best be described as powdered Tang in different colors (none of them tasty) and get hit with the liquid stuff sometimes as well. Just take a look at one of their promo videos and see for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0f1N_uU7uc In the interest of fun, adventure, friendship, and the excuse to get some decent training during the Summer, I joined Team White Rabbits.

While there are a lot of interesting events leading up to the race, let’s focus on what happened starting Friday. At 5:30am I woke up, made sure I had everything in my duffel bag, including several plantains. My first train left at 7:10 and I decided to do proper walk/jog the 2.1 miles to the station. Made it plenty of time but was fairly tired. The train to Philly was a combination of napping and reading the first Harry Potter book. My layover in Philadelphia was pretty short and then came step 2 getting to Pittsburgh. The trains were quick and reliable but fairly expensive. The issue of reliability becomes incredibly relevant once you compare it to our other method of transportation, the Megabus. At about half the price but taking only an hour or two more, it’s surprising that they do not show up when you search for public transportation options on Google Maps. And then you go on one and it makes a lot of sense. Emily’s bus to Pittsburgh was an hour late so I had a lot of time to explore the street blocks surrounding our stops. After dinner, it was 10pm and we were suddenly left wondering exactly what was our next point in the plan. Emily had found that some form of bus was available, to which some nearby citizens were able to help us out with. At around 10:30pm, we found the bus and found that our troubles had only just begun. Somewhere down the line, there arose confusion as to the hotel where I made the reservation and the one for which Emily had found directions. We’re not sure what form of uncertainty made us lose what we thought our intended stop was but we ended up at the airport. Running out of options, we found the first taxi willing to take us far into the middle of nowhere. $100 bucks later we got to the hotel at around midnight. With plans to wake up at 6am and get early to the race, we went to sleep with no idea that the worst part of our journey awaited us.

The one thing about being in the middle of nowhere, more specifically Washington Pennsylvania, is that a lot of things you to take for granted stop existing. Even the shitty buses avoided these parts, the taxis were too far and the only local one was only open on weekdays. Remembering that at least according to the maps the place of the race wasn’t too far away, we were left with no choice but to try and walk there. The instructions from the hotel were simple enough: go left at end of hotel, continue up street until you pass five street lights, turn left again, keep going. At 7am we began a journey that neither of us would have undertaken alone in a test of endurance, patience, and hope itself. Each stop light was exactly one horizon away with about one or two hills in between each one. At the third one we saw how the fifth one stood on top of another far off hill and we both prayed that the directions were wrong and that it wouldn’t be that far. We made it up that vertical challenge and then turned left; little did we know that we had finished the easy part of our trek.

As difficult as those street lights were in reaching them, we ended up missing them. You see, they were few and far between but they were present and attainable. We could feel a sense of progress and that we were getting closer. Something as vague as “just keep going” implied that it would be a short walk or traversing ten minutes beyond the point when you are certain that you are lost and the mirages are coming soon. Country back roads keep turning and each one promises that after the bend you will see your destination and each one lied with a glibness that would make Starscream blush. After a while walking down we asked some construction workers on the road if we were going in the right direction and how far was left on our journey. They indicated that we were indeed on the right path but also said that we had at least two more miles to go. After walking for a period of time we had already lost track of, this estimated distance slapped us in the face, as our original directions said that it would be about two miles to get there. Either our feet were deceptively slow or the lay of the land was conspiring to make our walk reminiscent of the first Lord of the Rings movie. Maybe both. And yet we kept going. Somehow, our shared suffering let us continue. Perhaps the old adage that misery loves company is not about the magnetic properties of evil but rather that hard times can be endured so long as there is someone else to laugh away the pain, if only to distract us from the tears and desperation that grew inside ourselves. During the entire time of this walk I was honestly amazed that Emily was a champion throughout the entire walk and barely complained, at least not out loud. I’ve had my fair share of long hikes and have trained my sense of determination to survive no matter what and I was about to lose it. But certainly the worst moment was after our collective hopes were diminished we saw a far away mountain and at its top we could barely see to be the race track. At that moment I think we both did what Charlton Heston did at the end of the original Planet of the Apes film, but at least we didn’t let despair overpower us and we kept going. After what we later estimated to be almost an hour and a half of walking and confirmed that it was over four miles that we traversed before reaching the illustrious Washington County Fairgrounds.

After all of that, we signed up and prepared to do what we actually came here to do, a 5k with free tye dye effects on your clothing. Emily had expressed concerns about being able to run the whole thing without reverting to a walking pace, long before we inadvertantly handicapped ourselves constitution and hydration wise. On a good day, I might have been able to jog the whole thing nonstop, but I promised Emily that we would start as a team, continue as a team, and cross the finish line together as well. Little did I know that said promise would grant us some protection from complete exhaustion. We jogged, walked, and hobbled throughout the course, enjoying every step of the way as our clothing and bodies became a canvas that needed to be painted. One interesting solace came from someone who seemed like a professional runner of sorts (or at least composed herself as one) that said that this was the worst 5k track she had ever been on. At least we had a legitimate and objective complaint as to the difficulty of our endeavor. I have no idea what our time was when we finished and honestly we didn’t care. This wasn’t our professional debut as athletes. We were here to have fun and we had certainly earned the laughs along the way. We didn’t set out to prove something to ourselves or anyone but somewhere along our ardous odyssey, we gained a sense of accomplishment that no one could take away from us.

To make our victory that much more well deserved, we were able to befriend a local couple who were next to us in line to take our “after” pictures. Ashley and Justin (they are not going to read this and I’m too tired to try for anonimity) graciously offered us a return ride back to the hotel. After a bit of a dance party and some morecolors being rained upon us, we left our new friends amazed that we were indeed able to walk that far until the race. A quick shower left the bathtub looking like Lady Rainicorn but most of the color would require further heavy scrubbing later on. A well deserved lunch at a nearby Denny’s recovered our enrgy but left us with the next part of the puzzle. How are we going to get back to Pittsburgh for our 4pm bus? After several inquiries and Internet searches, we were left with no choice but to call Khalil, the taxi driver from the previous night, who was smart enough to know that people who enter the middle of nowhere are more than ready to leave it soon enough, gave us his card and he was able to get us there on time. A few buses afterwards we were able to reach campus safely. Had we taken just one more bus then we would have been right accross the street from her place but apparently I had not learned my lesson about things being only technically within walking distance. One extra mile later and with a final pedometer count of 8 miles (hey look an Eminem refererence) we had arrived at Emily’s humble abode all but ready to collapse. Her hospitality, accompanied by a dinner of tostones and a comfotable futon, provided some well earned rest and relaxation.

On Sunday morning, Emily accompanied me to the next bus which would lead to one more incredibly complex journey for my own return. Bus ride #1 to Philadelphia occurred without incident. The one problem was that I had like an 8 hour layover at the train station until bus #2. I had already finished my fun book and my heavy theory book, so I had to replenish my literary supplies in the staition’s book stores. Since I consider myslef a lawful good religious person, I decided to traverse some of downton Philly in hopes of finding a church. After all, it was Sunday, I had just survived a great ordeal, and I’m pretty sure I screamed to the heavens, “God why have you forsaken me” once or twice during the terrible trek so I had to take care of that. After a while, I found a church built in the 1830s and stayed there until Mass had started and ended. I returned to the train station and continued my wait. Between reading and my diet of pop tarts and cereal bars I survived long enough to arrive hopeful and optimistic to my 11pm bus. And yet the adventure was not yet over.

I was lucky enough to befriend Erin and Dan, also in line for the bus to Boston. We kept each other company as it started getting later and later and later. After many other buses that were not ours had come and gone, at almost 2am our bus finally came, or rather its replacement because the original one had broken down, thus explaining the enormous delay. After some shut eye, the driver said that we are apparently cursed because this bus just got a flat tire. Luckily, we were fairly close to the Megabus central command center where Zordon or whoever was in charge sent a mechanic to fix the situation and we were back on the roud about an hour later. All in all, we were 5 hours late, the company had already refunded our money and offered us a coupon for free future travel, though at this point I would have paid double what the ticket was worth to not have gone through that.

I hesitate to call this experience by any other word than to just refer to it as an adventure. Maybe things would have been different if I had packed my lucky dice with me but let’s leave that to the insidious realm of “shoulda, coulda, woulda”. Last weekend was certainly one we will be quoting for years to come but I think Emily and me are going to retire from the adventuring business for a while. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

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