Thursday, March 31, 2022

Numbers game - 3.31 #sol22 Story Challenge

On the last of 31 consecutive days of writing, I coached a high-school Ultimate Frisbee team in our first game this spring. After at least 3 weather-related postponements, we all felt excited to be outside finally, with sunshine and temperatures in the 60's. In attendance were 9 players, fewer than expected from a roster of about 20. These are all 9th- and 10th-graders as older, more experienced teammates were playing with a higher-level group. For the record, our numbers were bolstered by 4 family members and 1 dog cheering from the sideline. In an official game of ultimate, 7 players take the field at a time, with the object being to score a goal by completing a pass to a teammate in the end zone. Our opponents today managed that with relative ease while we struggled to complete many passes at all. Final score, 13-0. While that result indicated our tactics were often at 6s and 7s, the players never seemed daunted by the score, their enthusiasm unflagging. Now I've got roughly 19 hours until I reunite with the team, and I'm pondering which 1 or 2 of a 1,000,000 things we should focus on during tomorrow's practice. In the back of my mind, I'm also musing how 11 months might pass until I write my next slice, marveling at how much can happen over such an interval, how much already has since March 31, 2021.

Sending my gratitude to the 2 Writing Teachers site and its leaders for hosting this 15th Story Challenge and my congratulations to the warm, supportive writers -- too numerous to count -- for participating throughout March.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pen ultimate - 3.30 #sol22 Story Challenge

Yeah, sure, I teach English. But that doesn't always mean I understand it.

At the end of this afternoon's ultimate frisbee club with middle-school students, I was playing catch with two kids while we awaited their rides.

One of them says to me, "Mr. Rozinsky, do you pyew-pyew or half a heart?"

"Wh-?" is the only fraction of a syllable I managed in response.

The student repeated himself: "You know, pyew-pyew or half a heart." Still befuddled, I most definitely did not know.

The student zipped an especially smooth, accurate forehand to the third corner of our triangle. Today was his first practice, and he was excited. "Pyew-pyew!" he called making a finger-pistol gesture with his throwing hand.

Ah, I realized. He's shooting lasers. Pyew-pyew.

He grinned at me, waggling his hand with quick flicks of the wrist as if tossing an invisible Frisbee. Then, he split his index and middle fingers that had formed the barrel of his imagined weapon. Now, those fingers made a V like a peace sign. Or the bottom half of a cartoon heart.

He'd been asking how I grip the disc when throwing forehands -- two fingers together or splayed apart.

"I go half cartoon heart," I told him, sending the Frisbee spinning his way. He hit me back with a tiny chin nod, like I was speaking his language.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

False start - 3.29 #sol22 Story Challenge

When writing slices, I get unexpected mileage -- pun definitely intended -- from commuting stories. In fact, my inner therapist speculates that I purposely convolute my trips to work for the express -- pun not intended that time -- purpose of having stories to tell. Here's what happened yesterday at sunrise...

For the first day back to school after spring break, I set off from home by electric bicycle. After my two-wheeled steed had been sedentary for winter's long stretch of months, opportunity was calling. The line went dead six miles later when I heard a loud pop. I felt the back of the bike start to wiggle, followed by a sound not unlike trying to tie a knot in a stubborn balloon, a kind of stretchy, floppy, rubbery assault on the senses.

I knew the drill. I even thought I was prepared for it, my hand reaching into my pannier for a bag with a spare tube, tire irons, and pump. Only, there was no spare tube. The last one had fixed some prior flat, long forgotten, and past-me had procrastinated on the responsible resupplying that would've gotten present-me out of my present jam.

I walked a few steps west, back toward home, awkwardly pushing my hobbled horse. "That's a stupid idea," I told myself, dismissing the impulsive goal of returning home since I was equidistant to school. Even as I considered whom I could call, my mind was zooming over a mental map for self-sufficient alternatives. It didn't take long, which I chalk up to prior experience with commuting puzzles.

A fraction of a mile east, I'd reach an intersection where I could catch a transit bus that would drop me an actually walkable distance from school. I locked my bike to a nearby fence and started jogging east, not sure when the next bus would pass my way. Best to find out at the bus stop, I figured. In fewer than 10 minutes, I reached the stop where I could check the schedule on my phone. I only had about five more minutes to wait. Thanks, fate.

Fast forward to the return journey: A bus brought me home. Despite my commuting quirks, I do have access to an automobile, which I drove back to where I parked my bike. Still where I left it, the bike could be rolled to my 'mobile, wheel-barrow-style on its intact front tire. Then, I had to take off both wheels in order to fit the bike in my car. That's when I saw the nail in the back tire, a nail big enough to end a vampire's life if my tire were his heart. By dinnertime, my car and most of my bike were safely stored, and the rear wheel was sitting in my apartment waiting for future-me to purchase a new tube eventually promptly.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Where there's smoke - 3.28 #sol22 Story Challenge

As Prometheus taught us,
fire's a two-sided substance.
I see farmers, on purpose,
dripping flames on stubbled fields--
prescribed-burn magic.

Flashback--downslope Chinook winds
stoke hungry tongues that lick 
and eat one-thousand houses.
Fast forward--ashy billows
signal more to burn.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Running man, part 2 - 3.27 #sol22 Story Challenge

I'm taking Red Emma's comment bait and extending Saturday's topic to remember my actual running (and walking) of 50 miles last September. Reader beware: In a fitting homage to the run itself, this might be the longest slice I've ever written.

The five of us are standing in predawn darkness at the base of a ski area in southern Vermont: me, my brother, two friends from his neighborhood, and my friend from college. Another 150 or so like-minded crazies huddle around us. The weather is cool, but not cold, about as ideal as we might've hoped. As I recall it's about six in the morning. We're shuffling forward to the starting line one moment; and the next, after months of preparation and anticipation, we're beginning an ultra-marathon.

We start on pavement, cruising down the ski area's driveway and along a rural road. There's just enough light to see, plus ambient glow from those in the pack wearing headlamps. I feel palpable excitement and remind myself to keep an easy pace because if ever the "It's a marathon-not-a-sprint" saying were true, that time is now.

Soon, we leave asphalt for dirt. Softer surfaces will remain underfoot for most of the journey, one-third graded gravel roads and two-thirds double- and single-track trails. Sometimes, we pass through forested tunnels. The member of our group who has finished this event once before institutes a game where anyone who catches a falling leaf before it hits the ground earns a point. (Spoiler alert: He will eventually win with 11 points. I will get shut out.)

The day now fully illuminated, except where pockets of fog remain to burn off, we navigate the first aid stop. A strategy for our group is to move purposefully through these breaks; don't dawdle. With 10 total aid tents, even 2-3 minutes at each would add up significantly, and we faced a 12-hour cutoff to finish the course. I'm carrying water in a slim backpack, so I try alternate beverages at aid stops -- sometimes sports drinks (including a local brew sweetened with maple syrup) and, during later miles, my first soda in years. Snacks are salty (pickle chunks, quartered grilled-cheese sandwiches, handfuls of potato chips) or sweet (brownie squares, cups of M&Ms, banana slices, orange wedges) or a combination (PBJ).

We continue through the rolling countryside, passing barn after archetypal barn. We're running most of the time, downshifting to a hustling walk when the going goes noticeably uphill. Our fivesome sticks together for most of the first 18 miles, with a gap starting to form during the first substantial climb. My brother, college friend, and I arrive together at the aid stop atop that hill. (In Vermont-speak, this might qualify as a mountain but, because I'm visiting from my home in Colorado, I have topographical and pulmonary advantages.) Our two other teammates jog in a couple of minutes later and need refreshments. We confirm with them the plan we had all hashed out in advance, that each of us proceeding at our own pace is still agreeable for all. With that, my brother, college friend, and I get back on the course.

Our trio covers another dozen miles uneventfully, with the bonus treat of a high-school acquaintance who lives in the area and has remained tenuously connected to my brother and me via Facebook showing up on the course by bicycle to encourage us. We pass the marathon mark, where my brother signals he's going to ease his pace for a bit. At about mile 32, the aid stop features drop bags that we staged the previous day. For me, that means fresh socks and shorts. For my college friend, he gets the slice of cold pepperoni pizza he had stashed for just this occasion. We finish our costume change and pizza scarfing, respectively, by the time my brother arrives. We're here in roughly six hours, which means we feel safe from the threat of that cutoff. The three of us head off together, once more communicating that each of us is entitled and encouraged to go at his own pace. That ends up meaning my college friend and I get to the next rest stop without my brother in tow. After a quick fuel-up, my friend says he's feeling good enough to take a shot at finishing in under 10 hours. As my brother's keeper, I say I'm going to wait to check in with him. My friend darts off while I cool my figurative jets under a shade tent, hopping lightly from foot to foot to avoid the peril of inertia. My brother appears in about 15 minutes. In his judgment, he's good enough, but not great. He has no doubt he'll keep going, but reassures me to -- as the cliché goes -- "run my race."

I scamper on. I feel two competing feelings at the same time: encouragement about how the event is going so far (the fact that I can still scamper mildly amazes me) and dread that the distance of a half marathon remains between me and the finish. Both sentiments are intensified by stretches of switchbacks through the woods that reveal other runners zigzagging ahead of me. I resist any temptation to beeline. My first experience with a run of this distance is there's far more camaraderie than competition. I encourage runners I pass, and runners who pass me do the same. As racers settle into comparable paces, aid stations become mini-reunions.

I cross a paved road that has landmarks I recognize from driving in the day before. Soon after, I'm at the last aid station. In a sign of desperation for me, I drink some Mountain Dew. Like a horse close to home, I am "smelling the barn," and a hit of caffeine and sugar is going to get me there faster. Except, as it turns out, for one last punishing climb to wrap around the flank of the ski area where we started this odyssey. I trudge up an interminable meadow, sometimes jogging, other times walking, knowing that any forward motion is to my advantage. The sun glares down, and there's a light headwind pressing my chest more like a gale. When the trail ducks back into the woods, it's a relief of both shade and blind corners. Mind games are in full effect: I just need to make it to that bend, then see what happens. When the next clearing turns out to be a ski run, I know the finish is just ahead and -- delightfully --below.

I discover I've got a little left, a 22nd wind maybe, so I fly through the roped section of the course that crisscrosses not too steeply down the ski run. "Looking strong!" someone shouts encouragingly. That's how I feel: strong. I cross the finish line a few minutes past 10 hours from when I started. My friend reached his goal, about 15 minutes ahead of me. My brother breaks the 11-hour mark, and his friends arrive well before the cutoff time.

Much to celebrate all around, including the next day when all of us prove we can still walk around.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Running man - 3.26 #sol22 Story Challenge

I suppose I'm a runner. I first dabbled in this identity as a member of my high-school's cross country team. (In my estimation, that was the lesser of the sports evils in which I was mandated to participate.) I found I liked time on trails, at my best moving swiftly and gracefully through the woods like just another one of the forest's denizens. Running with others was always fun, and running on my own proved unexpectedly fine as excellent head-clearing time.

That foundation of formative past experience plus present proclivity meant I didn't outright dismiss my brother's invitation when he asked about a year ago if I wanted to run 50 miles with him. We mulled the pros (limited) and cons (abundant), yet still kept staring into what felt like an abyss. With clearance from our families, we signed up last May for the event that had caught my brother's eye, managing to rope in three other friends as well. Birds of a feather, you know, or masochists.

We did cursory research and mapped out training plans, the puzzle of it all proving a source of ongoing fascination for us: how to prepare our bodies to do something they had never done before, what food and drink would provide the needed -- and tolerated -- fuel. From June to early August, I took full advantage of a teacher's schedule, running 5-6 days each week and stacking up progressively longer runs. I noticed that while I wasn't going with notable speed I was able to go and go. My fitness was changing, demonstrably. Running marathon distances became an attainable routine. Best of all, none in our group experienced any breaking down physically or fatiguing mentally as the mileage increased. Runs of five miles or fewer, a friend of my brother's dubbed "snacks." We did the math and concluded the ultra-marathon would amount to 10 snacks. No problem, we bluffed.  In our amateur judgment, we were on track for our goals -- even if I had to start tapering early, once the new school year started.

I'm writing about this today because my brother and I and our friends participated in the event exactly six months ago, on September 26. All five of us finished, feeling better than expected, and surpassing the times we had talked about as our ideals.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Love poem - 3.25 #sol22 Story Challenge

For fifteen years, watch me chase her,
a pedaling, schussing, hiking pair.

She's a wild rose--neither insane nor reckless,
but at her best outside false boundaries.

So I recommit as clear as crystal
on this day that marks our marital ritual.

Behind-the-scenes note... I drew inspiration for these lines from three symbols associated with this particular anniversary milestone: watches, roses, crystal.