Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Exposure

IMG_3591 Vacations invite the unexpected, seemingly when one is least prepared. There is only so much that can fit in a carry-on suitcase; prioritizing inevitably requires leaving behind that which is least likely to be required: rain coat, multiple sheets of allergy medication, anything over three ounces. I didn’t expect our most appreciated purchase of the vacation to be blister band-aids, purchased soon after we arrived in Chicago. These were initially for Curtis, but eventually treasured by me as well. I didn’t expect the weather in Michigan to mirror that of Alaska for two days, before adding over thirty degrees by the time we left. I didn’t expect to spend quite so much time gingerly walking the paths along Lake Michigan.

After a whirlwind trip to the Midwest last summer, we didn’t know the next time we’d return to visit those we left behind when we relocated for residency. After Curtis discovered a conference to attend in Chicago and the possibility of vacation time became a reality, we opted to build in a trip to visit a few friends and relax away from home, happy to catch some hot weather and activities outside of our normal for a while.

One half marathon (for Curtis), one tilled piece of land (also Curtis), multiple yards of mulch and many rounds of Frisbee and baseball and swinging later, we headed off from Michigan to Chicago feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. Almost every night as we fell into bed after a full day we commented how nice it is just to be away—even if away still involved cooking and running and helping with chores. When the chores and kitchen and trails aren’t yours, it feels different and fresh somehow.

On the last day of our trip we helped with a round of landscaping, which we walked away from with tanned shoulders and sore backs, and Curtis with a large blister on one hand. After a plane/train/walk to our weekend destination in Chicago, we ventured out to the nearest corner Walgreens to find band-aids especially made for blisters. In all my years of running, I have treated literally hundreds of blisters on my toes and never used such sophisticated bandages—then again, I’ve never looked.

With Curtis in classes in Chicago all day, I was free to wander the city on my own. I would wake early to run before the heat escalated, finding that it was already over seventy degrees by 7am. Our location was less than a mile from Lake Michigan, and if you’ve ever been there, you know there’s a gorgeous lakefront path that goes for miles. Even as I ventured out solo I was joined by runners and bikers and roller bladders from both directions no matter the hour. Perhaps it was my distraction with those around me, perhaps it was the incredible view of the city, perhaps it was the flock of sailboats lined up in the harbor. Whatever the distraction, I was less than two miles into my first run of the weekend when I stepped on a large crack in the path and twisted my left ankle. As I finished my run I knew it was worse than I’d rolled it in years, and knew it would linger over the weekend. And linger it did, beyond my experimentation with every pair of shoes I brought, beyond the blisters that formed on both my heels from compensating, and beyond our three days in the windy city.

Despite the discomfort, however, I couldn’t bring myself to sit still for long. Dressed in whatever shoes felt best that day, I would gingerly navigate the busy intersections and wander the river pathways that lead to the lake. On the last night we ventured several blocks from our hotel to revisit our favorite place for deep-dish pizza. With exposed skin on both heels by the time we got there, we opted to take the “el” back, even though it was a long, round-about route. When we finally exited we found ourselves in the middle of a growing mob of local teens, surrounded vigilant police officers, watching for signs of any problems.

 After a weekend in Chicago, Curtis’s time was up but I headed on to Ohio. I woke in the morning with sounds of a toddler babbling and a baby crying. With my eyes closed it took a moment to recall where I was, but soon enough I recognized a nursery I had helped to paint and a quilt I had quilted by hand. It was so good to see so many people in a few short days, catching up with coaches and friends and children that have grown into young adults in the two years we’ve been gone. Even as I choked on the humidity I wandered the roads while running in a nostalgic haze, soaking in the memories and appreciating all we had—and still have—in this place.

Going back after time away is often as dreaded as it is embraced. Even as I look forward to my own bed and my local family and friends, I am sad to give up the good company I still miss while living far away and much more time than usual with Curtis—all while free of his pager. We have much to be thankful for: past, present and future; near and far. I look forward to spending a summer basking in it. IMG_3528

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