Have you ever cooked an amazing meal for a friend? I mean, a truly amazing meal? Maybe your famous thai shrimp curry with cornmeal flatbread and that amazing spinach and strawberry salad you do…
And you set that meal down for your friend and watched him or her eat it — bite by bite… Course by course… Appetizer, salad, main course, dessert. And all that time you were WAITING for their verdict. But they kept eating, and you kept waiting, and the compliment never came?
What the heck???
That’s kinda what happened to the great Russian composer, Pete Tchaikovsky. After ole Petey finished composing his very first piano concerto he played it for his buddy, Nikolai Rubinstein. Rubinstein was this hugely famous pianist and Tchaikovsky was hoping he might agree to perform this new concerto. But the longer Tchaikovsky played, the more silent Rubinstein became.
Here’s Tchaikovsly’s version of what happened:
“I played him my first movement. He gave no comment. Not a single word, not a single remark! Oh, for one word, for friendly attack, for God’s sake one word of sympathy, even if not of praise. I fortified myself with patience and played through to the end. Still silence. I stood up and asked, “Well?”
Well, the news wasn’t good. Rubinstein HATED the concerto. According to him it was worthless and unplayable. Passages were so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written they were beyond rescue. The work itself was bad, vulgar. Two or three pages were worth preserving; The rest needed to be thrown away!
Back in August, I spent three days ‘guide running’ for Rhonda-Marie Avery; a legally blind runner who successfully ran Ontario’s 900 kilometer Bruce Trail, from end to end.
A documentary film crew followed Rhonda-Marie every step of the way – for twenty days. That documentary will be released later this year, but here’s a sneak peek of what happened on the trail. At this point in the story, Rhonda Marie has run 780 km.
You can see eleven other ‘previews’ of the film, capturing all sorts of hijinx and heartbreak and, yes, twisted ankles. Just go here.
Back in the fall, my publisher mentioned they’d be “interested” in seeing my new novel – provided I finished writing it by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, by the end of November, I’d only written 30,000 words. I needed to write 20,000 more – FAST! So I booked a week off work, and ran away to this cabin to write.
I didn’t speak to anyone, didn’t play Super Mario Brothers, and didn’t watch a single cat video. All I did was write. And occasionally run. For nine straight days. It was…intense.
The view out the window
December 3: I’ve been here for three days, and I’m not sure how productive I’ve been. In terms of page totals, I have nothing to brag about. The first couple of days were consumed with organizational stuff – mapping out the chapters, going through old drafts, harvesting descriptive passages for re-use, blah blah blah. Boring, but necessary.
Kai called yesterday. He asked if my characters are surprising me with their words and actions. I think I disappointed him by saying no. My characters aren’t very clear to me yet. I’m not sure what motivates them. I don’t even know what kind of music they like. Hiphop or Christian metal? Shoegaze or bro-country? Until I nail that stuff down, they can’t possibly speak for themselves, never mind set out on an unexpected murder spree.
4 December. I’ve been at the cabin for 4 days. I’ve only squeezed out 14 pages so far, and by no means are they polished pages. On the bright side, 10 of those pages were written in the last 24 hours, and I expect to continue writing at that clip (10 pages / day) until I return to Toronto Sunday night. I’m still hopeful that I’ll break the 160-page barrier while I’m here.
On the running front. things are great. I knocked off an icy 28k tempo run today in 2 hours 20 minutes. Didn’t even raise a sweat. Saw a beaver in a swamp at the side of the road.
5 December: Ideas are flowing now; literally tumbling out of my mind, one after the other. One of my characters did something I totally wasn’t expecting! I need to call Kai and tell him. I love it when that happens!
At the end of the day I went for a three hour run. It was cold and icy and I ran straight into the sunset. Later, sitting cross-legged on a cushion for 45 minutes, I felt my mind go quiet, and I thought: I do not want this day to end.I want tomorrow to be just like today, I want to write another 6000 brilliant words.
It won’t happen, of course. Tomorrows are never like todays. I need to be okay with that.
6 December: Another solid day of writing. Churned out 14 pages, including a soulful chapter involving Finn, and Tab, and a guitar. Basically, I was writing about my old friend, Christopher Lailey, who invented Wikepedia (without knowing it) when I lived with him in Ottawa in 1989.
So now I’ve written 29 pages in 5 days and I expect I’ll tie off at least another 5 pages tomorrow. That’ll take me up to the climax of the story when the storm hits and Finn runs away to the floating island.
11 December: Back in Toronto. I’ve been feeling gloomy lately. I’m still working on this crazy novel, every spare moment I can find, and I’ve become the most boring, least fun person in the world. All I do is write. Every. Single. Moment. I’ve forgotten how to joke around or have fun. I am a fun vacuum. It seems like forever since I’ve laughed or even smiled. I keep ignoring invitations to Christmas parties. I don’t even know how to speak to people anymore. I just mutter-mutter-mutter-mutter-blah-blah novel.
I don’t like myself this way. I don’t want to be a fun vacuum. I want to be the opposite. I want to be a fun...forced air gas furnace? A fun…leaf blower? Yes, that’s it. I want to be a fun leaf blower. I want to blow joyful leaves all over the place.
18 December: Got an encouraging note from a young friend. I met Luka at a school visit this past fall, and he took a picture of me, and photo-shopped me into the Sahara desert. I’ve always wanted to run in Africa, so thanks Luka, for making another of my running dreams come true!
23 December: I need to start my Christmas shopping, but I’m having trouble taming three sections of the book: Pages 125-132, pages 156-163, and pages 180-188. The rest is fairly smooth sailing. But I need those time-travel sections to hold together. Without them, the novel will crumble to pieces like that dry vegan cheese that doesn’t taste very good. Okay, that’s a bad metaphor. But you know what I mean.
25 December: It’s Christmas morning, and yes, I’m still working on this book. Chapter 14 is a total wreck, and I need to start laying track for the final 3 chapters. Will I finish this thing in time? I have one week left.
1 January 2015: I finished the novel yesterday, so yay. It’s 212 pages / 58,500 words.
I have no idea if it’s any good or not. I cried while I wrote the ending, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. It might just have been the exhaustion though.
The chapters that take place in the magical land of Perpetuum still need to be sanded down or amplified or…something. I’m not sure what. I need time away from it. Later on, things will be clearer, and I’ll start in on the rewrites with a fresh mind.
There, I just sent it off. Mission accomplished. I don’t care what happens to it now. I just don’t care.
Post script: Last night (New Year’s Eve), me and Shawna drove to Collingwood for a party. The weather was appalling: freezing rain, white-out conditions. Biblical stuff. As we passed over the Blue Mountains, slipping and sliding through the Siberian landscape, I thought to myself; what if we spin out, what if we get sandwiched by a truck or smash into a hydro pole? My novel will never be read by anyone! It’s locked on my laptop and nobody knows where it is. All that work will have been wasted!
I drove the rest of the way at 15 km/h. I swear. Writers are so vain.
Writing a novel is hard. Have I mentioned this? Writing a novel is like running up a mountain of razor blades in an Antarctic blizzard while wearing high-cut Richard Simmons shorts and a pair of barefoot toe-shoes.
I was reminded of this particular brand of anguish these last couple of months. See, back in the summer, when I was younger and happier and the birds sang more sweetly, and my house hadn’t yet begun leaking and needing $87,452 in repairs, yes, back in those halcyon days, I sat down and wrote the first 70 pages of a new novel.
It was an innocent time, and the words flowed like honey, like an Iggy Azalea song really, and my potential publisher was encouraging about the direction of the project. Not so encouraging that they offered me a book contract. It was far too early for that. Still, they were warmly supportive, and they offered lots of feedback and guidance, which is, frankly, more than I deserve.
Anyway. I asked this esteemed publisher a very important question. If they did, potentially, one day, wind up publishing the book,when might it theoretically appear in book stores?
Potentially next fall, came the answer.
And if that were to happen, I went on, when would you need the full manuscript?
The publisher sat me down on a comfortable chair, and then said one word: Christmas.
NOTE: At that time of this conversation, Christmas was 58 days away. The novel was not even half written.
No problem, I said.
Seriously? the publisher said.
No problem, I repeated. I work best with a deadline.
So it began. I had 58 days to write half a novel. I determined that I would somehow accomplish this, in spite of having a full-time job and (more importantly) a full-time relationship.
NOTE: If you harbour any dreams of becoming a writer, you may want to STOP READING THIS BLOG NOW. The following journal entries detail some personal thoughts from the 58 most exhausting, most infuriating, most miserable and most euphoric days of my life.
9 November: Wrote all weekend. Like, every single moment from Friday night until now. Every 20 minutes my opinion of the book changed. It’s awesome! It’s a crap sandwich! It’s awesome! It’s a crap sandwich!
I hate the names of all my characters. I want to change them. Possible new names: Paz, Kap, Coley, Philly, Saba, Sab, Constant, Paquette, Skyforce (a dog)
* * *
20 November: Ermagherd it’s cold. I have to work upstairs because the main floor of this doofusy house is so frigid. I just sent chapters 10-14 to my trusted reader. Just to see if I’m on the right track. The novel is currently 113 pages, 33000 words. I just need to write another 20,000 words, or roughly 80 pages, in the next 35 days.
* * *
28 November: I heard back from my trusted reader. She had questions about the floating island section of the novel. Not questions. Problems. Yes, I think it’s fair to say she had problems with that section of the book. Basically, she was confused by the time-stopping business. She didn’t understand how it works. Admittedly, I’m not sure how it works either. I’m an artist, not a physicist. I’ve been putting off dealing with the mechanics of this issue.
Anyway, I read her email a few times, and then I threw a bunch of plates on the ground, and then I phoned Jian Ghomeshi and hung up on him (that’ll teach him!), and then I did some quick brainstorming, and came up with a handful of elegant solutions.
I called my trusted reader and told her that I agreed with everything in her note.
I need to make some hard decisions, I said.
I do not need those glimmer lines, I said.
Finn does not need to be parachuted into some alternate reality when he’s already in a perfectly good alternate reality, I said.
Why pile complication upon complication, I said?
Why give Finn X-Ray vision when normal vision will do?
I need to simplify, I said.
I’m going now, I said. I need to write.
30 November: Drove out to the Dundas Valley today. Ran 33k on trails under gorgeous blue skies. I should have spent the day writing, but I needed this, needed to drop a pain bomb on my quads and glutes and calves. One needs to live.
The valley was more beautiful than I’d remembered. I ran for nearly four hours, up and down zillions of hills. I barely even felt them. I can’t account for this. I haven’t done much training lately.
When I got home, I felt inspired, and hammered out 4000 words. A few of them were good words too. I figure that, for every page that gets published in a book, I need to write 20 pages of crap. It’s a 20: 1 ratio; like maple syrup. Therefore, a 200 page novel actually requires 4000 pages of writing.
Here’s a thought:
With running, success comes from mileage. That is to say, if you bank enough miles, you’ll run a fast race.
I think the same is true of writing. If you read enough good books, and write enough words, eventually you’ll compose something of value.
I’ve booked the week after next off work entirely. I’m going to run away to the cabin by myself and write for 9 days straight.
Then, 400 layoffs were announced. And there was much hyperventilating. And long lineups to cry in the disability washroom.
And then a trusted friend responded to the latest re-write of my manuscript with a weary and muffled “Well, it’s not all bad.”
Yeah, it was the worst week of ever. And me and Shawna ran away to the cabin in the woods and it snowed grey and heavy like a dirty old bath-towel. It was the first day of November, you understand. We still had 143 days left to go until Spring.
Now, we all experience bad weeks from time to time. And it’s perfectly natural to get bummed out. As Shawna reminds me, “It’s okay to feel sad. Honour that sadness. But then move on.”
That’s the tricky bit, isn’t it? The moving on. At a certain point, no matter how badly you’ve been clobbered, you need to peel yourself off the ground and head back out into the world.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that I did indeed manage to turn my frown upside down. Thanks to a young friend named Leonardo.
Leonardo is nine. He was reading my novel, Ultra. And he wrote me an e-mail because he was upset with me.
In my novel, there’s a character named Kneecap. Kneecap is the hero’s best friend. One day Kneecap tells the hero that he ought to have his own superhero catchphrase, since he’s a super fast runner. “All superheroes have catchphrases,” Kneecap says. “Buzz Lightyear says, To Infinity and Beyond! The Hulk says It’s Clobbering Time.”
That’s what I wrote in the book. But I was wrong – as Leonardo pointed out.
I don’t know how I could have made that mistake. The Hulk is green and wears ripped-up shorts. The Thing is orange and wears a diaper. Totally different.
Over the weekend, I did a lot of research on the subject, watching a bunch of Hulk and Fantastic Four movies. That pulled me out of my funk, alright.
So I would like to thank Leonardo not only for being so committed to the use of exclamation marks, which I find inspiring, but also for cheering me up when it was desperately needed. You might think his stinging rebuke would have brought me down. Instead, it did the opposite.
“Correct it, friend!”
I shall indeed. I hereby wish to offer Leonardo and all Ultra readers an unreserved apology for mixing up my superheroes, and I pledge that I will read one or maybe two books on superheroes so that, in future, I will get my facts straight.
Are you scared to let your friends read your writing? Do you live in fear of being told, ‘You’re no good?’
You’re not alone.
My first novel came out last year, but before that, I was constantly getting told that I sucked:
That rejection letter came in response to a very stinky novel I wrote in the early 1990’s. Nowadays it’s clear to me why it got rejected. It was more boring than following a bunch of rug-hookers on Pinterest.
All the same, I was DEVASTATED by that note. How could the Arsenal Pulp Press people be so cruel?
That one sentence: “Unfortunately we aren’t interested in seeing the rest.” Ouch!
I could have stopped writing right then. I sure wanted to. I wanted to lie down on the couch and inhale a bag of barbecue chips and never, ever pick up my laptop again.
But I didn’t. Instead, I kept writing. And when I finished my next short story or novel, I sent it out too, and got another rejection back.
I started to keep a collection of my rejections. The stack of letters grew until it was thicker than a phone book.
But here’s the thing. Rejection letters don’t make you a failure. They make you TOUGH. They make you stronger!
Rejection letters are like a dare. They’re daring you to work harder and become a kick-ass author.
Don’t let the rejections get you down. Yes, they sting, but they’re making you stronger. Hold them closely to your chest. Don’t give up. The finish line is out there – somewhere.
Sometimes I don’t know what to make of this crazy sport. Why we’re drawn to take part in such an extreme activity.
Blisters, fractures, torn ligaments, twisted ankles, dehydration, hypothermia, renal failure… Sounds like a fun weekend, right?
We could join a book club. Take tango lessons. Help out in a soup kitchen.
But no. We run through a forest for 24 hours. A forest crawling with bears and wolves and bone-grinding hills.
This year, I promised myself I’d run Haliburton for fun. Not to podium, Not to P.B., not to beat some random number on a clock. Of course, when I learned, after 35 miles, that I was running 4th, something primal went CLICK inside my brain.
Me, after 57 miles
Suddenly I HAD to maintain that position! It seemed the most important thing in the world.
Palestine/Israel? Don’t waste my time.
Melting ice caps? Sorry; can’t hear you!
4th place – now THAT’S worth fighting for!
It always shocks me, how self-absorbed I become on the trail. I turn into this weird creature. A strange animal.
Trail races can be frustrating because it’s impossible to see your closest competitor. They could be ten kilometers behind you, or they might be 100 paces back. There’s no way of knowing. The only thing you can do is run as fast as you can.
I ran hard through the afternoon and banked some good mileage. Sunshine slanted through the trees, and then it got dark and I pulled on my tights and jacket and headlamp. At a certain point, my stomach gave out. I couldn’t get any food into me. Finally I realized my problem. I needed salt! I gobbled a bunch of e-caps and drank gallons of e-load, and a few minutes later my appetite returned. Suddenly I was ravenous! I snorfed down bananas, sweet potatoes, pressure-treated lumber, Uniroyal snow tires…
At 9 p.m. a full moon rose into the sky. It was blood orange at first, and then it turned white. Every time I looked up, it was in a different place. Wind blew through the trees. The forest felt haunted.
My favourite moment occurred at Aid Station #6. After force-feeding me some of his world-famous burritos, Gary Black turned to me and said, “So Dave, how do you feel about bears?”
A bear had been spotted nearby on the trail. I put on my brave pants and jogged back into the night, singing Katy Perry tunes at the top of my lungs.
An hour later, I stopped to pee. I was happy to be peeing. It meant my kidneys were still working.
Eventually I got to the 75-mile aid station. The volunteers cheered and banged cowbells and plied me with food. I was mostly animal now, but I still remembered some English, so I thanked them and gave the luckier ones a sweaty hug.
As I stood there chatting, I was reminded what makes this sport so great. Ultra-running is probably the only sport in the world where the participants are constantly told that they are awesome. It doesn’t happen in bowling. Probably doesn’t happen in the NFL either. But in ultra-running you hear it all the time. You are awesome.The volunteers kept saying it to me, God knows why. I’d done nothing to earn their praise. Quite the opposite. They were the awesome ones! They could’ve spent the day relaxing on a verandah with a book, but instead they were out here in the middle of a forest, being abused by cranky runners, filling water bottles and swabbing blisters and picking paper cups and sticky gel wrappers off the ground!
And then there were the ultra volunteers; the ones who’d sacrificed their entire vacations to make this race happen; the ones who’d planted 100 miles worth of flags, couriered supplies, negotiated sponsorships, and dealt with the finances. I’m talking about the Helen Malmbers and Don Kuzenkos and Gary Blacks and Merle Tubmans of the world. The people who sweat this race into being year after year. There are others, of course, and you know who are. Please know that your tireless work does not go unnoticed. You are awesome.
After the 75 mile aid station, the trail doubles back on itself, which means you get to pass the people behind you. After running 2 kilometers I passed my closest competitor, who was still on his way out to the turn-around.
‘You are awesome!’ he shouted as he flashed by.
“No, YOU’RE awesome!” I called back. And he truly is. A lovely guy.
It was a shame that I was going to have to crush him.
I thought about him often as I ran, and the fact that he was a mere 4 kilometers behind. It didn’t seem like much of a cushion, considering I still had 40 kilometers left to run. Every time I slowed down to walk up a hill, I imagined him bounding over the hills behind me like a gazelle. He was steadily gaining ground, I felt sure. That’s why I did what I did.
What did I do? Something I’m not proud of. At 3 a.m., and with five kilometers left to run, the animal inside me took control. I doused my headlamp and ran in the dark. It wasn’t easy, but the full moon helped, and the logging road was fairly smooth and easy to follow.
Why did I do this? So my pursuer wouldn’t see my light. If he saw my light, he’d be filled with hope, and doubtless would try to pass me. I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to extinguish all his hope. That’s right – I’m the hope-killer.
See that face? Looks friendly, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. It’s the face of a beast.
Even though I’d been determined to run this race just for fun, I couldn’t, in the end, allow my pursuer to claim fourth place. To that end, I became conniving, fox-like. I truly did become a strange animal.
That’s the thing about the 100 mile race. You think it’s going to be an adventure. You think you’re going to Hogwarts or something. But when you get there, you find you’re in Mordor instead.
It’s not Disneyland out there; it’s Lord of the Flies.
That’s what makes the sport so great. After 30 miles, and mountains of pain, something goes CLICK inside your mind. You’re still human, and you’re awesome, but the animal is off its leash. It’s not something we get to see very often.
Here I am again, two days out. The Haliburton Forest 100-Mile race is less than 48 hours away.
I went shopping last night. Bought E-tabs, Wet-Ones, Bag Balm, batteries for the headlamp, gels, Clif bars, Advil, yams, energy drinks, fig newtons, yogurt-covered raisins…
Drop bags all packed
When I got home I packed my gear. Sleevies, compression shirts, windbreaker, fleece, long tights, toque, gloves, two pair of shorts. Rain is expected, so I packed extra shoes and socks. Body glide to help with chafing.
The race starts at 6 a.m. Saturday. By the time you’re eating breakfast, I’ll have run 15 miles. By the time you sit down to dinner, I’ll likely have run 50. When you go to bed, I’ll hopefully be closing in on 75.
Last year I broke 22 hours and placed third. It’s unlikely I’ll do so well this year. Frankly, I’d be thrilled to break 24 hours. That’s the closest thing I have to a goal.
So why am I running; if I don’t have a goal?
I want to leap off the on-ramp to my normal life and float around in a parallel universe of pain. I want to be reminded what it feels like to hurt. To feel photon torpedoes of agony rip through my quadriceps and calves. I want that woe-is-me feeling you get from grinding up Poachers Trail at 3 in the morning, when it’s pouring rain and blacker than charcoal, and wolves are howling in the forest to your right.
Some people go clubbing, others leak state secrets. Some folks join terrorist groups for fun.
Me, I like to run until it hurts. Until my muscles feel like steaks sizzling on a Hibachi.
364 days a year, I lead a quiet, contented life. But one night a year, I need to dig deep.
There are a lot of ways to die on the Bruce Trail. There are rattlesnakes and bears. There are yawning crevasses. There are a billion slabs of jagged limestone, all waiting to split a runner’s head wide open.
Perfect place for a blind woman, right?
Rhonda-Marie Avery claims she was completely sober when she decided to run the 885 km Bruce Trail from end to end.
She was minding her own business, drinking a cup of tea, when she heard a news story about a guy who’d set a new world record. Cody Gillies of Orangeville, Ontario, had run the trail in just twelve-and-a-half days.
And Rhonda thought, yeah so?
“I mean, he was twenty-nothing,” she says. “He was young and fit, no disabilities, a fire-fighter. Of course he’s going to set a new world record. What’s so impressive about that?”
As she drank that cup of orange pekoe tea, Rhonda-Marie decided to one-up the fire-fighter. Not only would she run the trail from end-to-end. She’d do it with only 8% vision.
Cody Gillies (the fire-fighting, BT world-record holder) and Rhonda-Marie
Rhonda-Marie was born with a rare genetic eye disorder called achromatopsia, which means she has no cones in her retina.
“She sees better in the dark than in the light,” says Don Kuzenko; captain of Rhonda-Marie’s support crew. “You know how well you can see in the dark? That’s what RMA can see, which obviously isn’t much. In the daylight it’s worse. Imaging a floodlight shining in your eyes on the morning of a bad hangover. All you can see are bleary blobs and shapes.”
Five years ago, when Rhonda-Marie was first getting into running, she met with a group called Achilles Canada. Achilles paired her up with guide runners, and taught her how to run safely. Now Rhonda-Marie is returning the favour. This summer’s run is all about raising funds and awareness for Achilles.
Rhonda-Marie began her run 12 days ago in Tobermory, Ontario. She’s running south to Niagara Falls. If all goes well, she’ll complete her run at noon on Saturday August 23rd. She’s right on track so far, having run more than 500 km.
Given her disability, RMA enlisted 50 volunteers (a minimum of 2 per day for each of 20 days) to help “guide” her on her run. I was a guide on days 6 and 7. This is what I sounded like:
“Rock. Root. Rock right. Rock salad. Toe grabber. Ankle-grabber. Limb-eater. Okay, take three steps up! Now two steps down onto flat soil. Thread the needle! Dinosaur steps!”
This language was developed collaboratively by Rhonda and her guides. It continues to grow and evolve. Recently, the term “gnocchi” was added to the lexicon. It means large, rounded, piles of rock. “Mashed potatoes” means muddy trail. “Scalloped potatoes” is mud with rocks and roots thrown in. A “chicken head” is a root sticking straight up. “Cheese Grater” is a pile of pitted limestone.
When the trail opens up and becomes smooth enough for running, that is called butterscotch pudding.
The most important phrase of all is “death to the left!” That gets used whenever oblivion comes within inches of the trail.
Rhonda-Marie’s crew spent three days at my cabin near the Beaver Valley. It was like a friendly army had invaded. Don Kuzenko and Rhonda-Marie were there, plus a documentary film crew, led by filmmaker Lisa Lightbourn-Lay. Two volunteer guides appeared each day. Plus, assorted friends and family popped in and out. Most importantly, Scott Garrett, Rhonda-Marie’s partner was there. Scott helped cook meals and kept Rhonda-Marie laughing.
“Day seven!” Rhonda-Marie cried. “I’ll take Crazy Person Goals for 600, Alex. What’s 900 km long and a foot and a half wide and can make a grown woman’s toenails bleed? Oh yeah, that’s right, the Bruce Trail!”
Day Seven was tough. The team covered 42 km in brutal heat and full sun. One section of the trail was closed for maintenance, so we had to make a 4 km detour. 4 km may not sound like much, but on some stretches of this rugged trail, fully-sighted people are lucky to average 2 km/h. That little 4 km detour added 2 hours to Rhonda-Marie’s day.
“Look at it this way,” said Cody Gillies, who was also guiding that day. “The Bruce Trail is now 889 km long, not 885 like it was back when I ran it. So thirteen days from now, when you finish this thing, you’ll own the new record for the fastest end-to-end trip, on the longer trail.”
It was a brilliant thing to say, given Rhonda-Marie’s ebbing spirits. Generous too, considering the record she’d be eclipsing was his own.
“You can keep your title,” Rhonda-Marie said. “I’d rather have two extra hours sleep.”
Sleep has been the biggest challenge so far. Rhonda-Marie’s daily runs are averaging 12-13 hours. When you add in meal breaks, travel time to and from the trail-heads, stretching, planning the next day’s route and meetings with the next day’s guides, she’s left with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night. And it’s a splintered sleep, since her muscles keep twitching after running all day long.
Then there’s the pain. Rhonda’s feet are getting battered. Her knees are swollen. She takes ice baths each evening and tapes her legs every morning. I try to imagine what the pain must feel like. My best guess: giving birth to triplets while simultaneously having a root canal while your kitchen is being renovated and is going way over budget.
Rhonda-Marie, me, Shawna
But then there are the great moments.
At the end of Saturday’s run, the crew headed back to the house. The shower was going non-stop. Rancid-smelling trail shoes littered the mudroom. The laundry room was a sea of toxic waste. For the first time on the tour, the whole crew ate together. Rhonda-Marie was in a good mood. Her partner Scott was there and so was Cody Gillies. There was a mountain of food: 10 pounds of vegetarian and non-vegetarian lasagna, veggie burgers, spring rolls, garlic bread, a colossal salad. For dessert, vanilla ice cream was scooped into bowls. Rhonda added Wow Butter and pumpkin and sunflower seeds to hers. Candy sprinkles too.
There were toasts and laughter and afterwards, hugs. Then, bit by bit, the house slipped into silence. Don was the last to go to bed, studying maps until the wee hours and making the next day’s bacon-and-cheese sandwiches.
At 3:30 am everyone was awake again, toasting bagels and filling hydration bladders. By 4:15 the motorcade was pulling onto dark country roads, and snaking its way back towards the trail-head. The moon was a huge red eyeball in the sky. I checked my phone and read Rhonda-Marie’s facebook status: “Never felt more loved,” she’d written. “Or more completely alone.”
As I write this, Rhonda-Marie is somewhere near Singhampton 30 km north of Mono Centre, Ontario. She has run more than 550 km.
I believe she will successfully complete this run. But she still has eight days to go. Eight days full of pain, sleep deprivation, and guide runners who Rhonda-Marie may or may not have run with before, and whom she must entrust with her life.
If you wish, you can make a pledge of support at GoFundMe. Money raised goes to support Achilles Canada, which connects disabled athletes with volunteers. Rhonda’s phone vibrates whenever someone makes a pledge. It totally boosts her spirits on the trail. I’ve seen it happen.
Finally, Rhonda did a trail-side interview with CBC’s Mary Ito on Day 7. I make a short appearance as well. You can listen to it here:
Okay Dave, up and at ’em. You’ve got a novel to write. Stop checking Twitter, Instagram, your twelve e-mail accounts, the only good excuse not to write is to CALL YOUR PARENTS, and you connected with them yesterday so that excuse is gone too. WRITE!
Sure, you’ve laid down the beams and struts of your second novel, but it’s not done yet, so you’ve got to GET WRITING! You finished the last draft in March, which means you’ve had 3 months to clear your head. Now you’ve got four precious weeks of holiday and you’ve got to make it count. WRITE!
Still lacking motivation? Think about this. All that crap you spout when you’re signing books for kids? All those motivational messages you scribble on the inside flap? All that: Dig deep / Never give up / Keep chasing your dreams / You can do it! hyperbole... Listen: It’s all true. You can do it. But only if you WRITE!
Sure thing. Will do. But! Can I just say that, um, re-writing a novel in the first person, when it was previously in the 3rd person, is, um, HARD! It feels like I’m running a lawn mower over my feet again and again and again. Every time I sit down at the desktop I feel grenades of panic detonating in my spleen. Yes, I squeezed out a novel before, but that must have been a fluke, right? There’s NO POSSIBLE WAY I can do it again.
It feels like someone wove bicycle spokes into my veins. It feels like I’m on a crazy game show where I have to run through a medieval castle populated by ax-bearing zombies.
Dig deep, Dave. Count backwards from ten. Ten, nine, eight seven… Hey – how about a run?
As usual, running saves me. When I run, new ideas flash though my mind, funny lines of dialogue scorch themselves on my hippocampus.
I’ve logged 100 miles since I arrived here 5 days ago. I run for hours up and down 500-foot hills and I drink aggressively coloured carbonated drinks that dye my tongue appalling shades of turquoise.
I’ve been meaning to add in some night runs but, well, there are a lot more coyotes out here in these parts than usual. Every night we hear packs of them howling in our forest. They’re inevitably tearing apart some poor animal, and it sounds like a kindergarten class is being disemboweled.
Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel like that animal being torn apart. But other times, when the writing is going well, I feel like the coyote, with delicious flesh between my teeth.
You’ve got to be fearless! Creating art is always a bloodletting. I think of this as I strap on my headlamp and step outside. Only two people in North America have ever been killed by coyotes. Unfortunately, one of them was a writer.