Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The picture just keeps getting bigger

(Photo from my lunch run on Tuesday, during the only spare 90 minutes I could find to get outside so far this week.)

“You’re leaving again Wednesday?” an acquaintance asked in an incredulous tone.

“I’m driving to Utah to spend Christmas with my family,” I said. “I haven’t been home for Christmas since 2004.”

“Didn’t you just get back from California?”

“On Monday afternoon,” I said. “I went to San Francisco to run in a race, and to see my boyfriend.”

She gave me the same raised-eyebrow stare that I’ve seen frequently lately. I got it from co-workers when I told them I had to make an early exit from the office Christmas party — the one I helped plan — so I could grab a little sleep before it was time to fly to California to run 50 kilometers in a trail race. I got it from members of the local bike club during my Tour Divide talk, when a friend in the audience forced me to admit I was training to run a winter 100-mile ultramarathon in Alaska. I got it from casual friends when I told them I would have to miss a weekend gathering because I was flying to Seattle — why Seattle? Well, because it’s … there. It was too difficult to explain that we wanted to check out trails in the surrounding area, and visit friends, and also chose Seattle because it’s a simpler destination for Beat than Missoula.

Much of it is difficult to explain. I’ve boarded a lot of planes in the past three months. I’ve limped around with various running injuries. My weeks are all but full with packing, unpacking, working, cleaning, errands, shoving whatever random food is on hand in my mouth, and — less frequently than I’d prefer — getting outside for exercise, usually running. My bikes hang from my wall rack like limp rags, gathering dust. An editor gave my Divide book a full read and recently returned it with all kinds of valuable criticism and suggestions, but I can’t fathom where I’ll find the time to return to that project. Even my blog, my last refuge, looks neglected these days. There’s a brand new Fatback in my front room that I haven’t even bothered to put together yet. That last sentence makes the least sense of all. But I can’t help it. Life is happening much to fast.

But how can I explain it succinctly? Yes, I am dating a man who lives 1,100 miles away. Yes, our relationship is quite serious. And yes, it’s complicated. Serendipity and the staggering reach of modern life brought us together despite incalculable odds. Really, what were the chances of us meeting — a Swiss ultrarunner from California and a new-to-Montana cyclist, neither of whom were looking to get into a relationship at the time?

Neither of us took it seriously until suddenly we did. I think the potential hit us both at the same time, in mid-September, about a week before our first official “date.” Beat was running a six-day, 200-mile epic in Italy called the Tor des Geants, and I was in Montana, obsessively refreshing the race update Web site. We were completely out of contact for the first time since we met at the Swan Crest 100 in July, and that step back gave us both a lot of time to consider how we felt about each other. When we converged in northern Utah to run the last half of the Bear 100 together, all of those thoughts and emotions were perfectly aligned, although neither of us knew that about the other quite yet.

We still laugh about the moment we figured it out, as we jogged along a high mountain ridge as the moon cast rich blue light across the grassy slope. After hours of regaling me with stories about the Tor des Geants and the structure of quantum physics, Beat handed me the rock he carried for me a the TDG and finally asked, “Are you interested in going out?”

“Sure, that would be great,” I said in a deeply fatigued monotone that struck Beat as humorous. “But, um, the Montana-California thing is a little complicated.”

“It’s a minor complication,” Beat said, and we let the words soak in amid the stark mountain silence.

And it is just a minor complication. How to you place value on a relationship with a person who, less than one week after a 200-mile soul-crushing race, flies halfway around the world to a remote outpost in northern Utah to run another 100 miles, just to meet up with you? And then, when you crack 40 miles in to your own 50-mile run, gives up finishing well in his own just to help you hobble to the finish? How do you quantify a person’s willingness to fly out to far-away Montana nearly every weekend just to spend time with you, and put in long hours during the workweek so he can afford it. How do you express appreciation for a person who not only shares your passions for the outdoors, but who relishes in big challenges and distances, with emotional and intellectual goals that align perfectly with yours. And it’s not just about short-term adventures and long-term goals — this person is funny and sexy and smart and has enough fantastic ideas and outlandish ambitions to fill a couple lifetimes. How do you not fight for that with every ounce of energy, every resource you have?

So my lifestyle is a bit complicated right now. And there probably will be more plane trips, more packing, more running. For Beat and I, the little annoyances, the details of it all, are already fading into the bigger picture — drawing widening circles around that moment of perfect serendipity, in ink.