Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Have Guitar, will Travel?
...including an observation of the CDA Ironman Triathalon...

Wouldn't ya know that the day the Ironman Triathalon was held (this past Sunday) was probably the Hottest Day this year we'd had up until then. I know I was surprised when I went out in the afternoon, and it was hhhhhHOT!!!!! Temperature, somewhere in the '90s. On days like that you figure you're not going to begin getting cool until probably 7 or 8pm. Even by the shore of Coeur d'Alene Lake, it was still hot. And those tri-athletes...dedicated, perservering, committed, and probably a bit crazy as well. Hey, I used to run marathons, and I was called "crazy", too. I guess some people just don't understand why someone wants to torture themselves, negotiating a long distance, with blistered feet, hovering on the brink of total dehydration, enduring cramping musciles and possible heatstroke...hmmm, looking back on all that, maybe I WAS crazy...

Anyway, I didn't know the triathalon course would also include the dike road, but it did. And as I got to the dike road, about 5pm or thereabouts (after "threading the needle", trying to get past all of the road barricades), it was just plain old HOT!!! And the triathletes were definitely feelin' the effects of the heat. My particular plan of action was to find a shady spot somewhere near the lake, take the guitar out and just kinda play whatever chord combinations came into my head. As I was walking along the south side of the dike road, a runner lay on the ground, with the medic vehicle beside him; the heat evidently got him "big-time"; I watched as he stood shakily, and was escorted away in the medic vehicle, probably to the race's "medic tent", I would suppose. It was that hot. Heck, all I did was stand there and watch what was going on, and I was breaking a sweat. I remember finishing the 1993 Portland Marathon; when I'd run 25+ miles and had found my way back into the downtown area, it was about 11:30 in the morning and the temperature was already 95 degrees. So I have an "idea" of what these triathletes are going through.

No, I haven't done a triathalon. But I fully well understand how grueling running a long distance in miserable heat can be, when the body shuts down totally and there's still 5 or 6 miles to go. You crawl deep inside yourself, almost oblivious to everything around you, and the only thing you find yourself concentrating on (well, other than the pain) is putting one foot in front of the other, step after step after step...it's a good thing that volunteers run traffic-control for marathoners and triathletes, because at the end of one of those events, many of the late finishers are often almost brain-dead; all they can think is "gotta finish, gotta finish, gotta finish". And if you're not having a good race, it is all you can do to establish any kind of forward momentum, whether you are jogging slower than the average rest-home resident, if not walking, because that's the only thing your body will let you do at that point. I have felt that, and I'll never forget it. And I'd like to think I understand at least a portion of the suffering these triathletes are going through.

So, with guitar in hand, I walked parallel to the dike road, and sat on the lower portion of the sea wall along the race course, and I began playing anything that came into my head. I tried to keep the songs a bit on the mellow side. I remember, when I ran marathons, that when I wasn't feeling too good, that if I saw a band playing or a guitarist, or if someone was playing a CD through a loudspeaker, at least that took my mind off my misery for a while. Now, I'm not the greatest singer in the world, although there are times when, after listening to a tape I'd made, I thot I had sounded pretty good on some songs. And I was surprised by the reaction of the runners; one of them said, "thanks for coming out and doing this"; others gave me a high-five, many smiled and just said "Thank You" with all the energy they had left. You can't afford to do very much when you're on your last legs on a hot day, after all. I sat out there in the heat for a good two and a half hours if not longer. It was so hot that the heat was getting to ME...I was sweltering out there, and it was becoming hard for me to remember the words to songs. I was frying my own brain. ssssSIZZLE!

I'd like to think that maybe I helped some of the runners get thru (at least that small portion of) the race. I tried to play songs everyone knew; Eagles, Moody Blues, America; songs that have been played down thru the ages. And, (and I am especially sensitive to such things), I had 100% positive comments from the athletes. It's nice to be appreciated, and it's nice to think that maybe I did some good. I left after sunset and went back home. By the time I'd packed up, the last of the participants who could conceivably qualify for the title of "Ironman" (each stage of the triathalon has a "time requirement"; if you don't complete the swim, bike or run in an allotted time, YER OUT!) had passed me. One guy I saw walking back to the car told me that his legs had cramped up during the "bike" portion of the event, and as a result, no, he wasn't an 'Ironman'.

I wouldn't be surprised a bit if at least some of the runners were a bit unprepared for the sudden heat last Sunday, and dehydration resulting from heat can make even the most prepared runner cramp up big time. Hint: CALCIUM is a good treatment for cramps. Once, after a marathon, I hobbled back home and over the course of the next hour or two, I drank an entire GALLON of milk, and I didn't have near the cramping I'd had after previous races. But even so, after a Marathon, it would take a week for me to feel "back to normal", let alone what some of these triathletes must be going through. I'll bet there's a lot of sore thighs, knees, calves and feet in this post-triathalon week!

My cheap old Yamaha Guitar looks something like this. I bought it in a pawn shop in 1985. And, it's never been BACK in a pawn shop. I kinda pat myself on the back, after all, musicians are notorious for pawning things. I've played more expensive guitars, and I have a rather pricey guitar in my house that I hardly ever play. You've seen that old beater-guitar that Willie Nelson plays? Well, my old Yamaha is the most comfortable guitar I've ever played. It's beaten-up, scratched, has pockmarks and stickers all over it, but like an old pair of comfortable shoes, my old guitar just kinda feeeeeels good. Neil Young has a fairly recent song that says, "I don't own this old guitar; I'm just taking care of it for a while". And I think I understand what he's saying.

Up above, I said something about having to be "a little crazy" to compete in these kind of events. I don't know if I'd ever be brave enough to complete a triathalon, but if I could, I would DEFINITELY run more marathons. The feeling of accomplishment, when they hang that finishers' medal around your neck at the finish line, is just absolutely wonderful. When I'm out and about, every time I see a runner, I find myself wishing I could still do that. As Paul Simon once sang, I'm "still crazy after all these years".


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