Oklahoma, the zoo, danger geese and Snow White.

They sent me to Oklahoma for work last week. It was no Guatemala, but I’ve found that I can turn just about anything into an adventure, even a three-day solo trip to danger-chart-topping Oklahoma towns. Plus? I’m my own most favorite travel companion, because traveling alone means I get to do whatever the shit I want to do and I don’t have to confer with anyone about what to get for dinner and I can take my happy, critter-loving, Snow White ass to the zoo and spend as much or as little time as I want staring at grizzly bears and meerkats.

And speaking of meerkats, I think they know something we don’t and I’m 85% sure it’s about an alien invasion that might be imminent. I spent a solid five minutes looking at the meerkats at the Tulsa Zoo and those little dudes spend a lot of time staring into the sky with a slightly terrified look on their little meerkat faces looking at absolutely nothing. I kept trying to figure out what they were looking at, getting down on my knees to see things from meerkat level, to see what the shit they were seeing in the sky, but there was nothing. NOTHING. No birds of prey coming to eat their little meerkat faces off, no planes, no trees, not even a fucking cloud, and yet there they were, a whole meerkat grouping staring at the sky in mild terror, glancing at me every now and then in what was either reverence to my Snow White status or a warning glance.

I even asked those little fuckers what the hell they were staring at and they didn’t tell me, but just kept staring at the space behind my head, into the blue, cloudless sky, and so the only logical thing I can determine is that meerkats don’t speak English and also, aliens are preparing to invade and the meerkats might be the only ones who can see them hanging out up there and no one is taking them seriously because they’re meerkats and so, when the aliens come, it’s gonna be me and the meerkats telling you that we fucking told you so.

Anyway.

I like zoos.

A lot.

Chances are, if I’m traveling to a new city and they have a zoo, I will find time to visit the zoo. That’s just how I work. If Megan and I had more time driving across the country, I probably would have dragged her with me to each and every zoo between here and Oregon.

Really, I just like critters and zoos are great places to hang out and stare at critters even though I do always have this slight nagging in the back of my mind telling me to release them all so we can go live happily ever after in some fairy tale land. How I haven’t managed to go on a liberation spree at the zoo is something I pride myself on because it shows I do have some impulse control, although the older I get, the more it seems to fade so my future probably involves critter liberation and also maybe prison.

Anyway.

The zoo. I like it. A lot.

At the Tulsa Zoo, you can ride a camel. So I did. Of course. The camel I rode was named Ella. She had beautiful eyelashes and was a very nice camel. I like it when I get to touch and pet and meet any sort of critter at the zoo, even (ESPECIALLY) goats, and I’ve never gotten to ride a camel before,  so I was pretty beside myself with Snow White glee at the chance to spend some time riding Ella.

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Along with Ella and the alien-invasion warning meerkats, I also spent a decent amount of time staring at a grizzly bear, a sand cat, the elephants and some arctic foxes.

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I was also nearly killed by a roving goose colony  at the zoo because geese fucking hate me. One tried to eat me on my 30th birthday, so it’s a whole thing, this goose versus me thing. And no shit, we spotted each other, these geese and me across from the snack shop, and I stopped and stared at them and they all stopped and stared at me and I realized I was going to have to pass them to get to the sea lions and the meerkats and so I did, but it was a very tense few minutes and all I could think about was how good the fat one in the middle one would taste for Christmas dinner.

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I know it looks like the three trail geese in that last photo aren’t paying any attention to me, but I assure you they’re just acting distracted for the camera and the minute before I snapped that picture they were glaring at me with their menacing goose eyes. That one in the front is clearly their leader and he wasn’t going to play any games and wanted his intentions for my blood to be perfectly clear.

The rest of my time in Oklahoma outside of the zoo was spent working some solidly long days, but I did also get a pedicure and have a whole conversation in the parking lot of this strip mall with a nifty sort of bird I’d never encountered before. I got some weird looks from the locals as I was kneeling in the parking lot talking to a bird, but they live in Muskogee, Oklahoma and I do not give one single fuck what they think.

Route 66, a few kicks, cadillacs, wigwams and a good corner to stand on.

When Megan and I set off across the country, we had a little list of things we wanted to see and a rough guess of where we’d be staying each night. We had a tight timeline, but we were pretty determined to still see some crazy awesome things because America is big and there’s a lot to see and driving across the country is a pretty big fucking deal.

I’ve always wanted to drive part of Route 66, or at least see some of the strange and kitschy things along the route, and our route, from Richmond to Palm Springs, had us on I-40, which parallels Route 66 for a long, long while. And so, we managed to throw in some Route 66 sightseeing, all of which was totally serendipitous, which is usually how some of the best adventures are had.

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So we were somewhere between here and Texas and we finally realized that we were driving right next to Route 66, and I was all, where the shit is that place with the cars in the ground where you can spray paint them and shit? And then we google it – fuck yes, google – and learned that the Cadillac Ranch, that place with the cadillacs painted and stuck in the dirt, is in Amarillo, Texas, a place we’d be driving right through and so we went. After getting Whataburger, of course, because hamburgers.

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UPLOAD - DAY 3 - TX + NM

It was a quick stop. We maybe spent 20 minutes there and some of that time was spent cursing at Megan’s dog Chance, who insisted on pissing on each and every cadillac. We didn’t have any spray paint, so we didn’t leave our mark on the cars, but it was really fucking cool, nonetheless. It’s such a weird site, these cars stuck ass-end in the middle of this desert field in Texas.

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Wigwam Motel.

I woke up early in Oklahoma City. I should have gone for a run, but instead I started googling the top sites to see along Route 66 and the Wigwam Motel came up. It was on all the lists. There used to be seven of them or some shit, but now there’s only two and, like fate, one of them was along our route, in Holbrook, Arizona.

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You’ve got to call to make a reservation at the Wigman Motel and the office opens at 4pm, so we didn’t know until we were a few hours out if we could stay there, or, really, if the place was even still open, but, me driving and Megan calling, we found ourselves a room, a cheap room, at that, and dog friendly too.

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This place is classic Route 66. We felt like we could go to sleep there, in our wigwam, with classic cars parked in front of each and every wigwam (this place inspired the Cars movie), and wake up in 1967. The whole town has this feel of nostalgia, of times gone and it holds a certain sort of magic that I’ll never forget. It was here, in Holbrook, at the Wigwam Motel, that we started drafting our movie script, something like Hot Tub Time Machine, except different and probably better because ROUTE 66, Y’ALL!

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We drove around the next morning, just through this little town, and it’s all Route 66 kitsch. It’s rock shops and steakhouses with giant carriages on the roof and it’s magic, mostly, this little town along this forgotten route.

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Winslow, Arizona.

We went to a Mexican place for dinner the night we were in Holbrook, since the diner across the street from it was closed. We had two beers each, got a little high off the altitude and a day spent driving in from Oklahoma City, and we were loud and silly and probably totally annoying to the other customers in the place. This older gentleman, sitting across the restaurant from us, started up a conversation, asking us where we were from, where we were going, what jobs we had and the usual smalltalk. He gave us some tips for seeing the Grand Canyon, which we didn’t take, but should have, and then, just as he and his partner where about to leave, he comes over and says, if you’re going toward the Grand Canyon, about 30 miles away there’s a place calling Winslow, Arizona.

We were like, oh, ok, that sounds lovely.

And then he says, there’s this park where you can stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and then, right in the middle of this little Mexican place, I started singing the Eagles song, “Take it Easy.” And really, by singing I mostly mean screaming because if you’ve ever heard me sing, my singing is pretty much synonymous with screaming,

Well, I’m a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me

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We downloaded “Take it Easy” on the five minute drive back to the hotel and then sang it approximately 4,559 times over the remaining miles from there to Palm Springs. In fact, there was a whole multi-hour block of time when we were only listening to the Eagles, especially after we hand the chance to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

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No shit – there’s even a flatbed Ford parked out in front of this Route 66 corner.

Someday I’d love to drive as much of Route 66 as still exists, because it’s fading fast. The towns used to live on the traffic the Route brought, but the interstate has replaced it, leaving it broken in a lot of places and leaving those little towns with not much else but broken down kitsch. It’s a neat thing, Route 66, and the towns along the way, even if they’re not what they used to be, they still have this almost eerie sort of nostalgic feel that made us both want to step back in time, if only for a bit, and experience Route 66 in all of it’s magical glory.

That time I spent 26 hours in Guatemala.

I went to Guatemala for work, to visit some Soldiers we have down there flying helicopters and supporting a humanitarian mission. It was a quick trip, with us spending just 26 hours in Guatemala.

Someone asked me if it was worth and I said, FUCK YES, because really, when else am I going to get a free trip to Guatemala?!

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We flew down via learjet, making me feel like the fanciest of the fancy, and had just enough time the afternoon we arrived to wander around a market, buy some goods for ourselves and our families back home, and then, we did dinner.

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I hope you all know how I feel about food and that it’s not surprising when I tell you that getting to eat real food in Guatemala was maybe the part I was most excited about. I can’t really tell you what I ate, but I can tell you there was rice and bread and spices and GUACAMOLE and black beans that tasted delightfully sweet and Guatemalan beers and it was all real damn delicious.

We went back to the hotel after dinner and a handful of us went to the hotel bar for a nightcap and that’s where we discovered the most amazing music video channel of all time, which played a ridiculous and amazing array of music that I’m probably going to blog about separately, because it was that amazing and that magical and I may have spent entirely too much time recently creating a playlist based on what we dubbed CLASSICO, the best music video channel of all time, full of awesome, random and cheesy songs.

I went back to my room later, determined to find that channel, but it wasn’t there. We’ve related it to a UFO, saying it’s one of those things that was only in our lives briefly, that we can’t fully explain and that no one else will understand.

Failing on finding the famed music video channel, I tried to watch a whole fuckton of things in Spanish, including The Voice, some movie with Angelina Jolie I couldn’t identify, Spartacus, a lot of soccer, Harry Potter, some murder shit on the ID Channel, Sesame Street, that new karate kid shit with Will Smith’s son, some BMX competition thing and some weird public access-type show with muppets.

The next day, we went to see the Soldiers, who were about a 45 minute helicopter ride away from where we were staying, in Guatemala City. They’re on a tiny little Guatemalan Army training base.

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We toured their area, learned about all the neat things they’re doing and then we got back on our helicopter, did an aerial tour of some of the schools and clinics that are being built down there by U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, lunched once we got back to Guatemala City and then we boarded our learjet and headed home.

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And that was it.

A goose attacked me on my 30th birthday.

Alright, you guys. Shit has been real, real sad and real, real vague around these here internet parts lately and frankly, I’m getting a little sick of my own sad vagueness. I mean, divorce is this awful and shitty and fucked up and terrible thing and I think I’m allowed a certain amount of emo-ness, but dammit, I went to the woods on my 30th birthday, alone, and, in true me fashion, I was attacked by a goose. And not for the first time. My life has been a series of goose attacks because apparently, if anyone fucking hates Snow White, it is the goose.

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Post-road trip, I realized I really like being alone in the wilderness. I wasn’t thrilled with turning 30, but I decided I wanted to spend some time in the wild on my birthday, since the peace I found there while we were road tripping was something I was missing. I briefly entertained venturing to a national park, one I haven’t visited, in Ohio or Tennessee, but that seemed like a lot of work and so I headed to the closest state park instead. It took me forever to find the trailhead, but when I did the nearby parking lot was full of crows, which was fitting since I’ve got one tattooed on my wrist. The bridge leading to the trailhead, however, was full of geese. Three of them – two Canadian, and one white, rage-filled goose.

I am not a stranger to the attack of the goose. I grew up on a farm and goose attacks were a common thing in my youth. I imagine I spent most of my 11th year running from a pack of hostile gray geese in Ohio. But still. I approached this goose, and it’s Canadian friends, with a certain sort of swagger that my 30 years had lent me, and this goose hissed and fussed at me but once I reached the bridge and headed toward the trail, he backed off.

I figured I had escaped trouble, had finagled my way through the situation with my Snow White prowess, and so I set out into the woods. I spent some time laying on a rock, touching trees and moss and streams and things and, after an bit, I found my way back to the trailhead where there were two swing sets that I wanted to swing on, BECAUSE 30, but this couple showed up with their kayaks and I was feeling a little bit shy about swinging in front of them, for some stupid reason, so I walked along the river for a bit, feeling a bit self-conscious and waiting for them to get their shit together and get the fuck out of my way so I could behave like a child on my 30th birthday.  It was on my trek back to the swing set that I encountered the goose again.

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We had words, me and this goose.

It walked right up to me on the swing set, reaching out its terrible goose neck and fussing at me and so I stomped at him, and he waddled away and I set to swinging.

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Once I got off the swing set and started back to my car, not really wanting to leave, but knowing I had friends showing up in a few hours, the goose approached again.

AGAIN, YOU GUYS. AGAIN.

And this time shit got real. Real real.

He went in for the kill. I captured it on camera, determined to document the whole debacle.

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And then I chased that mother fucker of a goose across the field, flapping my arms and honking like the mother of all gooses, or, if you prefer, Mother Goose.

And he honked and hissed all the way across the field, flapping his stupid white goose wings, and then I, dignified, clearly, at 30, walked slowly back to my car daring that goose, who at this point couldn’t even look me in the eye, to fuck with me again.

And so it was. I turned 30 and made a goose my bitch.

Cheers.

The Running.

I ran my third half marathon this past weekend, the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon. I ran it far faster that I had hoped to, far faster than the goals I had set for myself. I finished in 1:50:30, with an average pace of 8:27. I didn’t know I could do that. For a lot of reasons.

When I was younger, new to the Army, I failed the Army Physical Fitness Test a few times because I couldn’t run two miles in less than 18 minutes. Or 20. I couldn’t run a continuous two miles. It was impossible for me then, and I said, for years and years, that I would always be someone who ran at a 9-10 minute pace. Period. The end. And I believed that. Solidly.

And then Andrew left for flight school and everything changed.

I went to California, for a Toyota-sponsored adventure, and I ran while I was there, still solidly on East Coast time and unable to sleep past 6am. So I ran. 4 miles, for both of the days we were in Santa Barbara. And I found, there, running alongside the Pacific Ocean, that I could run. I had been confining myself to treadmill runs, believing that I couldn’t run on the Earth, that the treadmill was the best course of action for me, but in California, it was different.

I didn’t run fast, but I did run faster than I thought I could on the road, but the bigger thing is, I found an incredible sort of peace out there, on the road. I ran next to the ocean, past farmlands and cows grazing on beachfront property and I realized that I could be a runner.

And so I came home. And then I started running. Outside, on the road. And then I ran a 5k. A really, really good 5k. And I went home from that 5k feeling like I was ready for the next challenge and so I signed up for my first half, the Rock ‘N’ Roll USA Half Marathon, with the urging of Andrew and Nicole and Tara.

And then March came, 2013, and I ran that race and it was hard. It was god awful hard. I fell apart in the end and the last three miles were among the hardest I’ve ever run. I finished that race just under 2:15, and I was determined to run another, because the thing about races, like tattoos, is that they’re addictive.

So in November I ran in Richmond, the first long distance race in my own city. And it was different. I knew myself as a runner by that point, knew what I needed to get to the finish and, more than that, to finish strong. I ran a 1:57:13 that day, smashing my previous personal record and leaving downtown with the realization that I am capable of far more than I thought I was.

And that brings us to now, to yesterday. At the Shamrock, I started out too fast. I didn’t want to. I was hoping to run at an 8:45 pace or so, but my first mile was closer to 8:30. But then I saw the 1:52 pacers and I thought about Nicole, about how she decided to hang with the 1:50 pace group during her most recent half marathon, and so I figured, what the fuck? Let’s hang with these cats until I can’t. I reasoned that, by the time I got tired, I would have built myself up to finishing at 1:55 or so, and so I hung with them until mile 10, tired, wondering why the fuck I was running at a 8:20-8:30 pace when I’d planned to run at a 8:40-8:50 pace.

But then, at mile 10, I passed them, the pacers. I pushed myself, hard, fueling myself on the anger and the rage and the hurt because – NEWS FLASH – divorce is fucking hard. I thought about Nicole again then, about how she talked about pushing after the 10 mile mark at the first half marathon she ever completed in under two hours (which, by the way, was my first half marathon), and I went. It’s just a 5k, I told myself. Just 3.1 miles until the finish, until bananas and water and walking and beers.

So I channeled the anger and Nicole’s logic on that last 5k, which, when she talked to me about it a year ago still seemed like a fuckton of miles, but I pushed. I pushed hard. I thought about all the shit, all the absolute bullshit, all the rage that’s been fueling me for the past months and especially for the past weeks and I ran those last miles as hard as I could.

To 11.

To 12.

To 13.

And to the finish, right on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, in sight of the Atlantic Ocean, wind smashing against my bare legs.

I went through the finisher’s chute, got my medal and my banana and my hat and my shamrock cookie and finally, standing in line to get my bag, checked my phone to see the runner tracking texts I’d opted to receive on myself and realized that I’d run a 1:50:30 half marathon, something I would have thought impossible just two days ago. “Holy moly!” read the text from my best friend, who had also gotten the runner tracking texts.

And yeah. Holy fucking moly, indeed.

He says he knew I could do it, knew I was capable of running at that pace, that I doubt myself too much, that I’m capable of so much more than I realize.

And I guess that’s the moral of the story. I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this because running used to be a thing I couldn’t do, until it wasn’t. Because that’s how things work. You only can’t until you do. I know it’s not always that easy. But sometimes it is.

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