The Long Way Home

This is a story about how we met Jimmy Carter. Well not really. This is more a story of the three friends who got a crazy idea during a crazy time and then embarked on a crazy adventure. In retrospect, we did a lot of good things and raised money for a great cause. It all started on the campus of the University of Maryland in a room with a copy machine.

It actually started before that day. It all started when a friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was a cold sunny day, where  many friends gathered for an afternoon of running and enjoying a few cold beers afterwords. The run was led by a man named Alan, We meandered all over College Park Maryland. It was our weekly run with the Hash House Harriers. Many people know it as drinking club with a running problem.  To us, it was a tight group of friends seeking a release on the weekend.  We usually ended our runs at a bar or outside by a fire.

On this particular Saturday, the run ended At Allen’s office. A weird choice to end a run however there was beer and scattered food. As the crowds, all of 20 people, disbursed my friend Kevin and Bruce and myself stood around and played with the copy machine. I hate to admit this, We did what most people do after two or three beers and there is a copy machine.

The people who remained were Allen and our friend Nancy. Nancy is our friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her spirit was snappy and she was happy that day. We had the most dangerous combination on that day. The three of us have vivid imaginations and multiply that by three beers and fading endorphins.

Nancy is a kind and gentle soul and she always had the perfect spirit to get our imaginations into a higher gear. I am not exactly sure how it played out. However,  that afternoon in College Park Maryland the three of us decided to run across the state of Maryland and raise money for breast cancer.

We had no real plan other than each of us had the ability, well some of us, to run a real long way.

Of the three of us, Kevin is the businessman who was great at execution. Mark is the idea man who is was not great at follow through and execution. Bruce in hindsight settled into the role of settling the differences between the two of us. Bruce was a man of very little words but when he said something it was well worth the listen.  His voice was pure poetry.  It should be stated here that Bruce was good neither at singing or dance. Nancy, well she was not going to run with us, had the role of lead instigator and the voice of reason.

For a few days we went back to our mundane lives and we did not think about the run all that much. We come up with brilliant ideas all the time. We don’t always remember them and when we do, we rarely follow through. I was sitting at my desk working on a mundane spreadsheet.  It was Lotus 1-2-3 back then.  I was mindlessly putting my time in. What I remember most clearly, I had a radio on my desk that played classical music from 88.5 (WETA I believe) out of Washington DC. It passed the time and I sure learned a lot about classical music. I recall being startled when the telephone rang. People in accounting don’t get all that many telephone calls and it was clear it was from an outside line.

I picked up the phone and asked who may this be speaking. The voice on the other line said this is a representative from Marilyn Quayle’s office. Marilyn officially was the National Cancer Institute spokesperson for Breast Cancer Summits.

I have no idea what ran through my mind at that point in time other than the fact that I worked for a government agency and the call was legitimate. Living in Washington DC is a completely different mindset from most other places.

“I am calling about your run for breast cancer and Marilyn would like to run with you on the  mall as part of her duties as wife of the Vice President.” I put two and two together and surprisingly figured out that it must be a real phone call.

Kevin the brain trust behind our idea must have planted a seed. To this day, I really don’t know how that happened. . Kevin was out-of-town that week and she could not reach his office and somehow she had my phone number. On the line was a staffer who asked us to run on the National Mall later that week

I simply answered we will be there, you name a place and a time and we will run with you.

This was a time and place where there were no cell phones so I had no way to contact Kevin.  I made a plan with Marilyn Quayle’s staff to run with her on the mall in Washington DC. In retrospect that was the beauty of our friendship. We trusted each other to make

Later that day, I contacted Kevin and he  laughed hysterically. The one thing one notices about Kevin is his hearty laugh. It is extremely infectious.  He indicated he did the leg work and told me to go for it. At this point we still thought this run across Maryland was a pipe dream. But I was young and stupid and I have got to know Kevin as a doer.

I called Bruce, Our name for him was Barry Manilow. That is a story for a different day. He said he would be there for the run on the mall. With a little trepidation we went with the flow. There were no text messages between us. We simply trusted each other’s decision-making abilities.

On the appointed day, Bruce and I showed up on the mall not knowing exactly what to expect. I remember it was a late spring day. It was warm and stickier than usual. With very little fanfare, and in retrospect, very little security we met with Mrs. Quayle and her representative. As a harbinger of the weeks to come, The Vice President’s wife was friendly and surprisingly down to earth. She was energetic about fitness and was excited about our run.

And so guess what we did for the next 30 minutes. We went for a run in a gentle warm rain. We ran easily and chatted with little pretense. There were people with cameras and I believe press passes. At the end of the run, we did what one traditionally does. That is we all shook hands and went back to our everyday lives. I remember, requesting a long lunch from the place I was working so I could do this run. I was really nervous about the request.  I told my boss I was going for a run with the wife of the Vice President.  My boss had a nonplussed response  My buddy Bruce, he worked for the State Department. It was pretty convenient to get a lunch run on the mall. I never really thought about it. The beauty of being young.

Kevin returned from out-of-town a few days after our run. He laughed that he had planned all of this but did not get to participate.

Bruce, Kevin and I went for a leisurely run later that week. We usually did a group run from the State Department and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Arlington. During dinner, we exchanged furtive glances, and thought to ourselves this adventure is going to happen. Our friends at the restaurant encouraged us as well. Nancy and her partner Charlie were there as well. We were going to run approximately 200 miles over six days with very little support.  To be quite honest we did very little planning.  Between us, we had run a few marathons over the years but we had no idea what we’re getting ourselves into. That is part of the beauty of being thirty years old.  I think the part that worried us the most was not the first run or the second run  but waking up on the second day after running all those miles.

For two or three weeks we went back to our everyday lives.  We may have had one meeting loosely discussing logistics. Basically our meetings were our weekly Wednesday State Department runs or weekend long runs. The thing about running is that it gives you plenty of time to talk.

One thing became obvious during our lack of planning is that one of the bigger challenges would be logistics.  That is  details such as, shuffling cars along the C&O canal, drinking enough fluids and sleeping at night.  We decided we would take Kevin’s brand new car as well as Bruce’s. I think it was a Subaru or it may have been a Mazda. I remember it was an old car.

The C & O Canal Is mostly a dirt path that runs from Cumberland Maryland and ends in Washington DC. The exact end is in Georgetown. The trail is basically flat so that would not be a challenge, the challenge was more navigating the cars from checkpoint the check point.

What should be remembered here is this was before Google maps and we basically put a series of maps together that looked like a trip kit one would get from your local automobile club,

The car ride out to Cumberland Maryland was longer than I expected and of course in back of our mind was we had to run this distance. Western Maryland seemed like another world compared to Washington DC.  Spring had turned to summer on the east coast which meant muggy days and the possibility of thunderstorms at night. Lightning bugs had not yet made their noble appearance for the summer.

The silence of that morning was somewhat deafening. We were eager to hit the trail early the next morning. We did not know exactly what to expect. When we set foot on the trail we ran into the unexpected. There was no press, no fanfare and not a person in sight. It was rather disappointing. It should be noted there was a couple making out in the bushes and they were not real happy to see us. We found ourselves at mile marker 186 and got into a sprinter’s stance just to prove to ourselves we were not taking ourselves all that seriously. It was three young men and a trail.  Our goal basically was to run 20 miles in the morning and 20 miles at night and do that for the next five days. Some days it would be shorter and I imagine we would welcome them later in the week. We didn’t know.

We did not have cell phones or contact with our families so probably our first response was that we were out here alone. And now we were running the C&O canal.

As we passed the 1st mile, we taunted the 1st mile marker. A little trash talking is not so bad in the middle of nowhere. Well not exactly the middle of nowhere, 185 miles from Georgetown in Washington DC. The first 20 miles went fairly quickly and from what I remember it took us about 3 1/2 hours to navigate. In the back of our collective mind, we had to do the same thing that evening. But that is when the fun started. We had one car where we started, and one car where we finished that morning. So we spent as much time as we did running, shuttling cars back-and-forth. We had to take one of the cars to our next destination and drive back once again to where we are going to start. Obviously, we had to eat. On the trail we ate some chocolate concoction that tasted like space food sticks from the 60s. I believe they called them power bars back then. They were dry astronaut food. We each carried a backpack with liquid refreshment, as well as a change of socks. It was pretty primitive.

We had no idea how our bodies would react to a second 20 mile run that day. Kevin and Mark had some experience at the marathon and above distances. Bruce did not however that was not a spot a bother. He was an efficient runner and pretty determined. And he could not sing.

At that time of year,  the days are pretty long so it got dark fairly late. However, we did not plan out every little detail in advance.  At the end of our second leg, approximately 38 miles in, It started getting dark rapidly. That was fine for the running. We ended up camping the first night. We were not experienced campers. With little confidence,  we set up our tents and devoured pasta over a campfire. It  would serve as fuel for tomorrow’s run. Yes tomorrow’s run was the one we were worried about. That is us having just run 40 miles and then waking up the next day, bright and early, and back on trail. We had no idea how our body would react multiplied by the fact we had just slept on the ground.

We camped that night on the bank of a small stream. The silence was deafening. Surprisingly the tent went up well and we feasted by a campfire and reluctantly ate a few power bars. We settled around the warm glow of the campfire and enjoyed a beer together.

We woke up very early the next day.  The first hour of the day was taken up shuttling the cars to our next stop and then driving back to where we were going to start running. We  heard from nobody and thought the run was going on in a vacuum. In fact we probably didn’t think of that at all and rather focused on putting one foot in front of the other and moving on down the trail.

That dreaded run on the second day surprisingly went rather easily. It was a bright sunny day, and cool for that time a year. We made it to our next stopping  place far ahead of schedule. We thought that we run too fast but it felt good to get off our feet.

We had a good bit of time to kill in the middle the day after we were done shuffling cars back-and-forth,  One thing we well did was eat. I remember Kevin ordering something like meatloaf for the first course with a side of spaghetti. I was vegetarian at the time so dinners were a challenge. The food tasted good even in a second-rate diner. On our second night on the trail we started getting quite silly and actually started singing songs by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Not everyone can remember how bad this band was. Every creepy song was about hitting on a girl who was 15. I have no idea why we sang these songs.

We were quite alone and didn’t really care all that much. We really wanted to do was run. We did have some contact with the real world and we started hearing that people were donating like crazy and news outlets were starting to pick up the story. We had an interview scheduled with the Washington Post the following night.  I believe the gentleman’s Name was Kevin Sullivan. Additionally, NPR offered a quick blurb on the local radio station. We also got requests for places to stay. We ended up staying in hotels and hostels basically free of charge. We would give them money anyways. Things started getting a lot easier.

On the night of our interview with the Washington post, the skies literally opened up and it poured a real east coast early June thunderstorm. It felt good to get the interview out-of-the-way and the rain felt great as everything was getting pretty muggy by that time. Some friends joined us on trail an evening leg and they thought by now we would have lost weight. I don’t think we did. That was not the point.

I wish this was a dramatic story about an impossible task accomplished, but we were in our early 30s and the running part wasn’t all that hard. Probably the hardest part was the logistics of getting the cars back-and-forth. I remember one episode Bruce was driving and looking over his left shoulder and the car was actually going forward.

On the sixth day of our trek, we had covered 183 miles and had only 5 miles to go to finish on the mall in Washington DC. When we arrived in Georgetown we were surprised to see 40 of our closest friends. Apparently they have been working hard for us all week. We also found out we had raised about $10,000 for breast cancer.

Bruce, Kevin and 40 of our closest friends did a nice ceremonial 5 miles that ended at the annual Race for the Cure. There were people on loudspeakers who announced our arrival. We were a tad bit embarrassed by the attention.  There were many large smiles, and plenty of hugs as well as joking and a real sense of accomplishment.

As soon as we finished we were ushered into the Quayle family gathering spot for some refreshments and other breezy interaction. The Vice President’s family is pretty much like every other family. I remember a lot of yelling for Tucker. It’s sounded no different then when I later had kids that age myself.

Everything was moving so fast, as we were enjoying finger food with the Vice President’s family we were called up on stage during the ceremony portion for the Race for the Cure. And there standing on stage was no other than Jimmy Carter.

He looked at us three standing in front of the crowd and waved us over. He summarized what a wonderful endeavor we were on and gave us a hearty congratulations and we three shook his hand. Out of nowhere, and not to ignore a photo opportunity, Mr. Quayle came up on stage and shook all three of our hands at the same time. That is at the same time that Jimmy Carter was shaking our hands. It happened so quickly. There was a playful banter between us all and we had a good laugh.

This is what running does. It opens up many possibilities and tests what you are capable of as a human. We were lucky, as the run never got all that difficult. We all had families who supported us on the endeavor. We also learned something along the way, If you have a few beers by a copy machine the possibilities are endless. Also, running will take you on some pretty interesting tangents.





One response to “The Long Way Home”

  1. I was a Captain of Marines stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps when this all happened. As Mark wrote, I was out of town When the call from the Vice President’s office came in to my office looking for me. My boss told me that our Colonel asked aloud, what trouble is Kevin in now when he found out about the call.

    The three of us have scattered to different climes and places since that week. Thanks for bringing back memories Mark. Don’t forget to…”wait for boat.”

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