Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting old is an annoying side effect of life. My car has over 122,000 miles on it, and needs some repairs. Similarly, my body has over 32,000 miles on it, and needs some repairs. When those repairs become un-avoidable, the idealisms of endurance and wisdom succumb to the reality of mortality and fallibility.

I should’ve replaced the spark plugs in my car much sooner, but it took a few oil changes and coarse sounds from my engine to make the fact that I was slowly burning oil unavoidable. My buddy Matt had the tools and experience and we set about taking off the manifold and undoing the screws and coils to replace the horrifically corroded spark plugs (I’m so embarrassed, I can’t even post a picture of how bad they were). In the process, some of the coils didn’t seal properly and when we tested it, two cylinders weren’t firing resulting in a horrific vibration. We took it apart again, double checked the spark plug part number, and reset the coils. As we were screwing back in the final coil mount into the engine, we snapped the screw off.

The sight was horrifying: half the screw laid flush in the solid cast metal of the engine. Matt tried to remove the screw with a power drill rigged up with a screw remover, but the bit didn’t have enough surface area to grab the screw, and it was only making our prospects worse. I went to bed terrified of just how much the middle of an engine block on a S40 could cost. Dreams of the cathartic image of the screw magically sliding out filled my subconscious all night even after I fell asleep.

The prospect of losing my car for several days made me feel awful at work. My local trailheads are 12+ miles away, and unicorns cannot live on roads and treadmills alone. I don’t love material things, but I do really enjoy all the great trips my car makes possible. I fondly remember taking the long way up 395 to Western States in 2008, and training in Death Valley with the sight of salvation of the S40 every few miles. I’ve felt the bucket seats cradle my exhausted body over a thousand times after long runs, and grown accustomed to the comfort and adventures it’s allowed me. Yet, I was on the verge of moving on past this segment of my life if the repairs were more expensive than the car was worth.

The calf. Photo: Jonathan Stewart

This similar thought about mountain running crept into my mind last week. The scar tissue from the calf tear was irritating the muscles around the calf on almost every run last week. I patiently held myself back to 3-4 mile runs, and yet found myself on the verge of tears on Thursday as I walked the last hill to my car at Crystal Cove. Running through the mountains isn’t the only thing that defines me, but it’s given me some of the best experiences of my life. Conducting ridiculous interviews with Jorge during training binges on the AC course, exploring the San Juans with Katie while struggling to breathe and stop taking so many pictures, and the 25 best miles of my life with Ankur from Chantry to Altadena when I won AC. What if I was about to lose this vehicle for experiencing life?

Luckily $190 re-taps a hole in an engine, and Michael Chamoun has thumbs that can penetrate unicorn calves, so these segments of my life show no sign of ending soon as the S40 (and my calves) are currently purring/flexing like mountain lions. Yet, both events reminded me of my mortality. I have no guarantee of being hale and hearty for another day, week, year, or decade. The gift of all these experiences is reinforcement that what I do is really special, and should be treasured. In this country, we're blessed with the freedom to become anything, do anything, and follow passions with great enthusiasm. Sure, road blocks will come up on our journey, sometimes our vehicles will need repairs, and sometimes our sense of freedom with be compromised, but those great moments when everything is firing on all cylinders with perfect efficiency and adrenaline infused excitement are really special. So, instead of focusing on the well documented fear of mortality, I believe in focusing on the sheer joy of the best moments in life.

Sunday Joy at Baldy: Katie, Elissa, and Chandra

Weekly Recap:
42 Miles, 9,000ft
Monday-friday were depressing and painful, but the weekend after Michael's Friday massage allowed 27 miles, 8,000ft. I'm cautiously adding some miles and vert up this week, but for the most part, fairly certain I'll make a full recovery and in the mix for Old Goats provided recovery continues to plan.

I strongly suggest checking out the new Good Old War album streaming right now.. and then buying it.


El Jacob said...

Dom, Great post and way to really dig into how an injury can make us feel. I just got over a bout with extensor tendonitis, and a few times I of course thought I'd never run again. No I'm back to my (well close to) normal mileage. I do know I'll never take the freedom of trail running for granted.

Dominic Grossman said...

Thanks Jacob, that injury sounds pretty painful. Gotta keep your eye on the prize, but still maintain a sense of humility (which is much easier said than done).