It has been a week now since this run has begun. A week of moments that are to numerous to remember, to vibrant to even explain. So how do I begin? Perhaps at the beginning is best but better yet I will throw them out there like the endless rumble strips I encounter on MN 53 as I head into Duluth.
International Falls…a 92 year old woman singing “God Bless America”, “Taps” being played as I took the first few steps. My wheel touches the river and waters mixed with the Canadian border. Young High School Cross Country Runners join me and take their turns placing flags. Don’t be so hard on todays youth, they remember every name. Long quiet stretches of highway and dead skunks. Gas stations and chocolate milk. A town called Little Fork and the most beautiful little 4 room hotel attached to the cafe. People take pride in their establishments up here. They honk and give a wide berth to the stroller. Shaila rides 10 miles and tells me how it feels to be a military wife. The difficulties, the absence, the worry and dread while her husband is away. Beautiful lakes and 2 nights in resorts along the shores. Loons and sunsets and genuine hospitality. Two hulking brothers on Harleys stop and tell me of their trip to see “Sarge”, their father, who is buried nearby. He was a WWII Vet and his name is emblazoned on a gas tank of one of the bikes. They place a flag and then roar off on an 800 mile trip back home. I stop and salute as “Sarge” passes. Loneliness is now non-existent. I have my company in my tray. They talk and I listen. Entering the town of Orr, Boy Scouts escort me to the hotel. A color guard is waiting for their fallen comrades. A twenty one gun salute, “Taps”…a small town shows their gratitude. I sit on the dock and see a sunset. Watch reds and orange dance across the lake, knowing I shall not pass this way again. In the morning I eat at the Patten Cafe “Home of the Big Donut” and it truly is, the size of my head and more remarkably, home-made as it has been for 35 years.
At a bait store called Grumpy’s is a cooler that is home to 48 different kinds of root beer. Fact. I counted each one. Matthew the manager, survived Afghanistan, his friend Scott Lundgren did not. We place a flag in the flower bed and I move on and on and on…
Kristen Turk is 21 years old. She works a day job at a Super 8 motel. She studies online to get accepted into Dental Hygiene School. Army Sergeant Brian Hobbs was 28. He was from Mesa, AZ. For a brief moment in time they are connected. She walks a short distance with me. She holds his flag. She has dreams as did he. Delicately she places him high on a mileage post. A spot she will drive by many times. Her connection to the Project is cemented in time with his. The miles come and go. The thought again creeps into my mind. Why? Why do I really do this? I never have a clear answer. I just run. I breathe the air of freedom. Freedom to live where I can do this and not have a fear of repercussion. Freedom to do exactly as I want for those who can’t. Freedom is often taken for granted and it is sacrifice that cannot be forgotten.
At mile 201 tomorrow the flags of 19 Navy Seals will begin to be placed. A tremendous loss for their families, for their comrades, for this country. I think of Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson, 3 Seals who died on the ground. I only know what I have read. I wish I had known more. I wish for just a minute with them. What could I tell them? Thank You is the only words I have.
Thank you for the life I have. Thank you for allowing me the honor to honor you.
“Age shall not weary them,
nor years condemn
for with the setting of the sun and in the morning,
we shall remember them….”