Part 3 - The Final Part.
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Portsmouth or Bust
The discomfort I feel is nothing I didn't expect. I am amazed at how much my body is literally shaking. Shaking from the tremors of running this far on the pavement and its evident that my body is in a state of shock. My knees are sore and IT Bands tight. My feet are killing me, however the pain has been so horrible for so long that my feet are actually starting to go numb. This is something I never expected... my feet going numb. They are so swollen from the run that they literally fill every inch of my shoes. I am however re-energized and ready to finish this run up. I'm within the Portsmouth City Limits now. Nate has come back to cheer me on. I am once again being cared for by a full crew and we've picked up about 4 runners. As we left the EMS parking lot, I noticed that Josh was back out with us. "What are you doing man?!" "Hey... I've gotta finish this with you." I was totally stoked. We were now a party of 10 runners. Just as we were heading out, my professor Brent came up to me and told me he had something for me. He pulled from his pocket a book written by John Dewey titled, Experience & Education. This book we've been dissecting for a few weeks in class now and I'd be lying if I told you I loved it. But the fact that Brent took it out, opened it up and read a short quote from the book... actually a random quote. Regardless, not only was it funny, but it meant a lot. So Brent.. this is for you.. a Dewey quote that speaks to me: "Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into." ~J. Dewey
We ran as a solid group out of the parking lot and headed back to Woodbury Ave. I thought it would be funny to get to Woodbury Ave and stand there waiting for the Crossing Lights to change to walk. Here I was 115 miles into a run, and I was actually willing to stop to wait for a light. I think mostly because I was afraid of being slammed by a car and hurt with so little left to go on the run. We cross the busy avenue and made our way onto the sidewalk where I decided to run a little bit in the grass. Of course it felt nice to run on the grass, but it was short lived. All I could think about was, "Well, I ran on the damn pavement this long." So I got off the grass and continued to run down the sidewalk. For some reason I really felt more fluid on the pavement at this point. I'd run for so long on it that I actually felt like I was a part of it. And judging by how my calves, legs and feet had hardened from the run, perhaps I really was a part of the sidewalk. A row of tree's grow from the other-side of a chain link fence. Its branches reach high and sway over the sidewalk, but someone has cleared the way creating a tunnel for us to run through. Its dark under the branches even though the sun shines brightly on the other end. Its rays reach inside our tunnel... trying to grab us and free us from the darkness. There always seems to be some darkness, light always teases us to be free. As we run out from the tunnel we continue to run under I-95 and along the shores of Portsmouth Harbor.
As we ran down Woodbury Ave I could feel my pace picking up still. I ran at a pretty good clip, maybe even 10 minute miles or faster. Josh looked at me and said, "You smell the ocean can't you?" Indeed I could smell the ocean. I could feel the waves, I could hear them crash. I was quiet and content. I thought about all that I had been through thus far. I was feeling amazingly great and I had no understanding of why. As we ran ahead we entered the historic streets of Portsmouth. Colonial homes lined the tight and narrow streets. We followed the signs for Strawberry Banke, which led us past one of our states first settlements. I very much think about how hard they must have had it in the late 1600's; landing their ships on our shore and starting life over. If they could only see us now as cars zip and zing through the streets. But Portsmouth is very much a "horse and buggy" kinda town, and you get the feel of it as its many residents walk on by. We pass many old churches as church goers climb out of the pews and pack into the world. As we pass by one house of worship, I remove my hat and give my respects to religion. As we wind through town and Rout 1B is just ahead, I look back to make sure we have everyone. Apparently in my speedy uptake, we lost sight of some of the girls and they had fallen off the pack. I stopped on a median strip and waited while laying in the grass. The sun shines gloriously, the leaves continue to rustle and the colors fall from the sky. Its windy and chilly but the perfect day none-the less. The girls rejoin us and Tory looks tired. She urges me to move on and they'll catch up. "No way in Hell! I invited you guys to enjoy this moment with me. I want you to experience it. This is no race. There is no cut-off, no reward... we're doing this together." And as I got to my feet, I told Tory we could walk for a while.
New Castle and The News
We turned onto Route 1B and continued to run out of Portsmouth and across the bridge onto Goat Island and the Island known as New Castle. The wind is really whipping through this area as w are now at sea level running along New Hampshire's Granite Shores. As we cross the bridge onto the island I see our crews set up and ready to go. Everyone runs in together and attends to their individual needs. I get ushered over to a car where a WMUR-TV News 9 reporter is waiting to conduct an interview. Nate has been giving him some background information about our run. As Nate answers questions, the reporter and camera man see me, step in front of Nate and block him out. The attention was now on me and I caught all of this. I felt terrible for Nate, as if he didn't feel bad enough.. after this run I have found just how ignorant reporters and the rest of the media can be. Reporter: "So John, what's the story here?" Me: "The story is that this has always been a dream of mine, I've always wanted to run across the state of New Hampshire and really enjoy its beauty, up close and personal instead of through the car window and thats exactly what I got this weekend. This state has a lot to offer if people would just slow down and enjoy it." I was so exhausted at this point that I was lucky to even get that much out. I thanked the reporters for coming out, went to the aid vehicles and just asked that my bottles be refilled. I'm done eating, but continue to take in some Powergels. I've eaten so many gels that the taste buds have been burned from my tongue. To continue on about the media, my phone rang while running and it was a photographer from the Boston Globe, she wanted to know if I still planned to be at the finish between 1 and 2. I told her I had no idea what time it even was so I couldn't even begin to tell her what time it would be. With 4 miles to go, anything could happen. She then asked if I could give her "an exact time of my arrival." NO. Then she said, "Well, can you call me when you're getting closer or is that too much to ask?" Too much to ask... is that too mush to ask?! Yes.. its too much to ask. At 120 miles into this run, I am doing nothing but concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, forgetting about the pain, thinking about my friends at Make-A-Wish and reminiscing about this great journey.. "Yes.. it is too much to ask." And I hung up.
We leave the Goat Island fishing area and continue to run through New Castle. The tiny colonial homes here are even closer together than they were in Portsmouth, and many of them are the originals that have stood strong here since before the revolution. The immense history that has transpired on these rocky shores, rushed through my soul. I have such an appreciation for history, when men were men, when winter was winter. I can't even imagine how hard life used to be. The wind continued to whip across the water making it quite a challenge for us to push on through while crossing tiny bridges. The harbor is choppy as white capped waves crash along the shore. Tiny boats lie resting on the sides of the water, I can see Maine to my left and Portsmouth to my right. A man riding a bicycle continues to ride along our route and cheers us on at short intervals, "You're doing amazing John.. almost there." I start to think about it... almost there. I feel amazing. I know I can keep running and I don't want this to end. I know I could run further, but for what or from what. I knew I needed to stop.. and the end was pulling us closer. We continue to run and walk together as a unified group of runners. We turned a few more corners, ran past Wentworth By The Sea, and crossed one last bridge. As we crossed the bridge, I looked to my left and saw Odiorne State Park... the end of this incredible journey. I could see it! Emotion began to overcome me.. and I knew I just had to keep it together. We entered Rye and the crew was stopped at the final aid station with less than 3 miles to go.
I ran in and the crew asked me what I needed, "Nothing but to finish." The celebration was starting. Everywhere I turned people were taking photos, shaking my hand and patting me on the back. I still have 2 or so miles to go, and I was ready for all of it. I noticed Jason from the Make-A-Wish Foundation was ready to run as was my dad. My dad.. I was so touched that my dad had decided to come out and run the final miles with us. Another family whose daughter was the recipient of a wish a few years ago had come out to support and they were running as well. Our party of ten was now a party of 14. i had dreamed of this moment for years. Everything that I wanted this run to be is exactly how it was, right down to a crowd of good people, with hearts bigger than my own running along side me in the thrill of accomplishment, and the acknowledgment of achievement through adventure. I told the crews to get to the finish and I'd see them there. I rallied the runners and we were off. 2 miles to go!
We ran down Route 1A, the wind has died now, blocked by the trees that line the land between the ocean and this road. Its not much farther now. I lead the group of 14 runners and keep looking back to see where my dad was. I spotted him at the end. I pulled off to the side and instructed everyone to run ahead. I stopped and waited for Dad to catch up. Dad:"Hey.. you're supposed to be leading this thing." Me:"Nah.. thats overrated, I want to run with my father. Thanks Dad." We continue to run down the road and talk lightly about what was about to transpire in the moments that were quickly to come. I looked over at Jason from Make-A-Wish, "Hey Jason, I just want you to know how much of a true honor and privilege it has been to run on behalf of your organization." I left the two men here, and surged back tot he front of the pack. As we rounded the corner, I saw the barrier lining the edges of Odiorne State Park. Nate and Sarah drive up in the van to tell me there is confusion at the Seacoast Science Center in terms of where I was going to finish. I tried explaining it to them.. but something was up. I told them to just wrangle everyone up in the parking lot.. and we'll go where we need to go together.. everyone can join me on the final bit. They loved the idea and so they drove off. Then I saw that Boston Globe photographer, she holds her camera up and starts snapping photos. She asks. "Where are you going?" I told her, "The finish is up here" "Well thats not where they told me it was." I'm not BEYOND pissed off at these reporters, I don;t even want them here. I could care less about them. So I tell her, "Well, I'm the guy who just ran 124 miles. I know where the finish is and I invite you to come on down, donate to Make-A-Wish, snap a few photos and celebrate with us. But thats up to you." I turn back to the road.. and push on. As I continue to run, I know the end is near. Less than a mile left, I get this sick idea in my head to push it a bit. I look back at the Don, smile and ask if he is ready.. "for what?" I turn around and start running an 8:30 minute mile down Route 1A. I'm smokin! Josh starts laughing, I hear someone breathing heavy behind me. I'm not breathing heavy, I'm not sweating.. so I ask, "Who's breathing heavy!?" Silence.. even the breathing stops. I look at Josh and we laugh. And before I know it.. we turn the final corner and I run through the front entrance of the Seacoast Science Center... the finish.
Welcome to Odiorne Point State Park
As I run into the parking lot, this loud round of applause breaks the silence. I hear people starting to yell, "Yeah John!" I couldn't believe it.. I made it... I was here. One of the first voices that sinks into my head is the distinctive voice of my brother in law Mike. I was so glad knowing that he, my sister and my young nephews were here to witness this moment. I continue to run forward, through the parking lot and out onto the grass. I see Karen Provazza who is one of coordinators of our finish line event. I ask her, "Where do I finish?" She pointed to the right, "Over by those rocks.. thats the Eastern-most point of our state." Great. I pause in the field, and wait for everyone to catch up. Runners, spectators.. everyone. Camera's are going off everywhere, its sheer craziness. People come up to me and start shaking my hand, patting me on the back. "Great job Sherpa.. simply amazing." I reply, "yes, but we're not there yet. Come on everyone! Come with me to the water!" I wave everyone to hurry up. "If I can run 124 miles.. you can run 124 feet!" I can feel my emotions starting to build and build. This is a moment in time, that I've always dreamt about. Man... I did it. I DID IT. And just then, I turn around and see Stephanie there, and just as she did the night before in Concord.. she lunges at me and throws her arms around me. I didn't think I could get a bigger hug.. but I did. And it was all I had in me not to cry. I hugged her, lowered my head to her ear and whispered to her, "Remember Steph... you can do anything you put your mind to in this life. Anything. If you can think it, you can do it. Always remember that... always." She shook her head yes and we continued to embrace.
I let go of Steph and noticed everyone had gathered. The round of applause was continuing, people cheering, whistling.. it was an amazing feeling. I felt like a rockstar. I found Karen and we started walking arm in arm towards the water. "Come on everyone, follow me!" As we walked to the water, Karen was in amazement. I looked at her with a smile and all I could say was, "Hey.. did you guys know that you are a LONG way away from Keene?" We got in a good laugh, walked through a row of bushes and in front of me was the ocean. "You're not going to jump in right?" Hmmm... "No" Hmmm... I continue to walk forward and crested the rocky hill lining the shore. Laid out before me is the mighty Altantic Ocean. Waves crash along the shore in the distance and against rocks that rise from the murky deep. The ocean has never in my life looked so amazingly beautiful.
I walk over the water tumbled stones, and stop to admire the view. Is this real? Did I really just do this? I feel amazingly great. I could keep on running.. but I'm here. I'm at the end. I walk down to the waters edge and suddenly everything gets quiet. I don't know where everyone else is, but in this moment, I felt totally alone. I heard no other person, just myself.. and my thoughts.
I watch as the waves crash against the shore, I hear the rush of the water, and smell the salt. A seagull soars above and lets out his distinctive call. Seaweed floats in and out with the tide. I walk to the edge of the water and step up onto a group of large boulders. The waves crash below my feet. I look out from my vantage point and realize that I've got nowhere else to run. The road ends here, the journey is over. The adventure is complete. I am overcome by emotion and crouch down, put my head in my hands and begin to cry. I did it... I really did it.
I stand back up straight and do all I could to just let it out. To let the world know that I did it... that I completed the greatest journey. I saw New Hampshire.. all of it. I stood tall, looked to the ocean, gazed upon the sea, threw my hands into the air and yelled "Yeaaaaaaaaaah!!... Whooooooo... Yeaaaaaaaahhh!" The silence was deafening as everyone simply watched. I wish I knew what they were all thinking, what they were seeing through their eyes.. what was their perspective on what was taking place.I wanted to know.. but I enjoyed the silence, I enjoyed my moment just as much with silence.
Yesterday morning, 31 Hours and 50 Minutes ago, I stood on the rocky river banks of the Connecticut River, gazed through the darkness at the state of Vermont. I filled a vial with water and vowed to carry it to the Atlantic. 31 Hours and 50 minutes... 124.4 miles later, I took out my vial, unscrewed the cap tipped it upside down and completed the rivers journey to the sea.
I couldn't resist. I'd run this far, I just became the first person to ever Run Across NH. 124 Miles... I couldn't believe it. The water was so beautiful as the suns rays danced on the top like gold on a river of coal. I jumped off the rocks I stood upon and walked into the water. Waves crashed against my weary legs, the 40 degree water made all the pain go away. Salt water touched all of my wounds, yet I felt nothing. Nothing but that sheer sense of accomplishment. There was no buckle, no medal.. just man and earth. I walked further into the water as the waves nearly knocked me down. I began to laugh like a child. I stopped, and looked out into the sea. I looked up at the sky and thanked god for allowing me the courage and strength to make it this far. But even more.. I looked beyond the clouds and spoke to my grandfather who I miss more and more everyday.. "We did it Moe... We did it."
I walked from the water. I really felt like my soul had been washed. My demons on solemn ships floating amongst the waves. Many lessons learned, take their place in my heart and the knowledge in knowing that I'll never glare into the distance the same again. I walk out of the water and Nate comes down to the edge and puts his hand upon my shoulder. "You did it man... nobody else here knows what you've been through quite like I do.... go ahead man... go ahead and cry.. You did it." I grabbed Nate and we embraced, two best friends. A fallen friend, a storied moment and a personal triumph all at once. I lost it.. and cried.. "you did it man.. simply amazing."
Nate and I stop and pose for more photos. And while Nate thinks his adventure ended at Mile 70, its hard for me to explain to him how it really didn't. Because from mile 70 to mile 124, I ran with his spirit in my mind. I ran to the ocean in knowing that I would get there for us. As the wind brushed across my face, and the salt water dripped from my shorts. I began to chill. Nate moved aside and my mom walked down to me. She held up a fleece jacket.. and wrapped it around me. "John.. this was Moe's jacket. I think he'd want to keep you warm right now." I just couldn't hold my emotions in anymore. I miss my best friend. I miss my grandfather. I cry in my mothers arms. I'm at a complete loss for words, but manage to find a way to thank mom. "Mom, you taught me all along that I could do anything I put my mind to... and I'm living proof of your example.. thank you.. I love you."
I walked from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean a new man. I have only managed to scrape against the surface of what I experienced and learned on my adventure across New Hampshire. This really is one amazing place, a land of hardened people, rugged lands and temperamental earthly extremes. I've said many things about this place and I've even talked about leaving here. After this weekend, I'm not sure if I could. I love New Hampshire and I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity in this life to see what my state has to offer me from a completely different perspective. We live in a land of machines. Man is just as much a machine as is a car. You can pedal a bike, run, skateboard or whatever. Whatever it is that you do.. take a moment to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty that your state has to offer. I promise you won't be disappointed.
I started running in 2004, and when I started running, I started as a way to prove myself to others. To prove the naysayers wrong, to prove that I am worth your time. That I care, that I'm human and that I have feelings just like everyone else. But on this 124 mile adventure, I finally understood that I don't have anything to prove to anyone. That I only need to run because I love to run. And it was this thought, from before I took my first step, that saw me to the ocean. I used to run because I wanted my parents to be proud of me. I know now that they are.. and not because of my ability to run.. but because I live every day of my life trying to utilize the morals and values they taught me as a young man. Because I appreciate this life for everything that it is and I try to live everyday as if its my last.
I'd like to sit here and tell you that a journey ended on Sunday when I made it to the ocean. But I can't. I can't because I know that while one adventure ended, the journey is just beginning. I've got many places to go in this life and I know that I'm going to reach all of them. Because I know what Human Potential really is, I know where it resides. I know how to tap into that place in my soul that helps me accomplish the seemingly impossible. I can accept that nothing is impossible, that if I can think it I can do it, that I can do anything I put my mind to and that the journey is not what is beneath my feet.. the journey is within. "HUMAN POTENTIAL is that little voice in your head that dares you to dream it, moves you to do it and wills you to experience it. It is unlimited.” ~SJ
On Saturday, October 18, 2008 I began the greatest adventure of my life. On Sunday, October 19, 2008; 31 Hours 50 Minutes after I began; I became the first person to ever run across New Hampshire and my dreams had once again come true. Its not hard to chase your dreams, the hard part is admitting that you can and even starting in the first place. I'm not sure I'll ever know everything I learned while running this weekend. And I'm glad because it leaves doors open to learn more in the future. These journey's are about self-discovery. I discovered a sense of self within me that I never knew existed. Proof that there is always more to learn. All I can say to all of you moving forward in your lives is this: "Listen Deep, Breathe Deep, Look Deep.... GO FAR."