It’s been years since I last ran. During those years when I was a runner, I never figured out what I was running from or chasing. Mostly, I think, I just wanted to be alone.
Back then, I competed in many 10K races and collected a rainbow of colorful t-shirts. I also ran a few of the wackier competitions: The Cascade Runoff, The Hood to Coast Relay, and The Civil War Run. Now, illness, a fluttery heart, and sore feet conspire against me.
Running, though, was never about the races. I preferred the solitude of training runs close to home. The routes meandered through relatively vacant territory on the periphery of the Mt. Hood National Forest. The repetitive motion of heel and toe, heel and toe quieted my mind. I moved forward, propelled by my breathing. Life’s petty distractions disappeared behind me like the scenery, and were forgotten.
These days, as a walker, my distances and heart rates are modest. Of late, a peaceful stroll along the Port of Hood River’s waterfront satisfies my urge for exercise. Adjacent to the Columbia River, a path follows the shoreline from a hotel on the east side to The Hook at the west end.
Walking, like running, can also be a contemplative experience. The swing of my arms acts as a mantra of motion. Daydreams and judgments percolate. My mind filters the thoughts and life’s mix of fortunes coexist with my comfort for all of its uncertainty.
I amble next to the river. Following Labor Day weekend, local wildlife reclaimed the territory. Gulls rest on the rocks offshore. Ducks hurry through the flyway, a wing’s breadth above the glassy water. Farther out, a solitary heron perches on the post of an abandoned pier and rowers glide by. The sweep of their oars ruffles the surface. The boat’s wake folds back into the river’s mass and is gone. I swirl in a virtual eddy of composure along with my cancer and its beguiling shadow, mortality.
Then, when I reach the end of the waterfront path, I turn around and walk back to where I began.