It was 2002. I was living in Springville UT enjoying my independent life as a cell phone salesman. A childhood friend and coworker, Josh Parker lived exactly 14 miles away in Orem UT. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but we both latched onto it immediately. We should run from his house to mine. We weren’t in shape. In fact we didn’t work out at all. Our days consisted of sitting in cubicles cold calling potential customers or eating Panda Express while sitting in mall kiosks. At the time the idea was born we didn’t even have an idea how far the run would be.
I’m not sure what it is about human nature that makes us want to do things like this. I suspect that it is more present in males than females, but either way I know it exists in me. The need to do things just to say I’ve done them. The deep down desire to achieve is inherent. In the Portuguese language I would use the verb “conseguir.” Conseguir implies more than just achieving a goal. It means to reach out and get it. It implies action and in my mind when I think of the word I see myself reaching out to grab something that seems at first to be out of reach, but with all my effort I’m able to finally grab a hold of it.
We selected a date for the quest. Plans were laid to run in the evening when the heat of summer wouldn’t be as strong. I seem to remember that we started out around 7pm. We had some co-workers who pledged to cheer us on during the trek. It seems funny to me that we didn’t think or choose to do any physical preparation. Looking back I’m not really sure what we did that day. I know that for dinner we decided to go healthy… Subway. Right before the designated hour we had a power juice from the popular Jamba Juice in Orem.
I don’t mean to imply that Josh or I weren’t athletic. I was a diehard runner in high school and Josh was a proven athlete as well. We were out of shape but we weren’t ignorant to what we had committed ourselves to. I don’t think we attached any real sentiment or emotion to the run. It was just something to be done and we wanted to say we had done it.
We started in front of Josh’s Grandma’s home where he was living. It was located at appx 200 north 350 west. We ran down her street until we intersected with 400 west, and turned left to get to Orem Center St. The beginning is the part I remember the least. I remember all the cars driving by. I remember that we had camelbaks full of cold water. It was probably easy going for those first few miles. Our pace wasn’t fast. We weren’t in any hurry to get there and we probably knew we should pace ourselves and conserve energy. I imagine that we chatted. I bet that we talked about all paintball among other things as we turned right on Orem State St and headed south.
If you know the route you know that we got lucky as the first wall hit. Turning left on University Parkway we had gone about 2.75 miles and were starting to feel the pain. Luckily that is where the big down hill comes. It was right along here that I remember our first visit. A coworker (or two) stopped by in the car. They probably shouted some encouraging words and handed us some water. Things were good!
Anytime you decide to do something completely wild like this, despite your reasons, you generally hit this same point in your quest that Josh and I were about to hit. The moment when you realize you are in big trouble. Only the truly weak cut out in this moment. You aren’t finished yet and you know that you can go further but it’s a moment of harsh reality when the worst of negative ideas first begin to tell you it might now work out. You might not finish.
As we got to the bottom of the hill and continued east we finally turned right at University Avenue. Kitty corner from the BYU football stadium I’m confident that traffic was still blazing and that nobody was overly surprised to see a couple of late night joggers. My legs were started to get heavy. We weren’t discussing the pain yet but we both had slowed our pace and without any spoken words we knew what was going on.
University Avenue took us about 16 blocks south. As we turned East again onto 300 south in Provo I think we had another drive by. Our friends were honking and shouting from a window as they passed us by. I vaguely remember our conversations getting more fragmented. Words were exchanged in parts instead of in constant. The truth was that while we were getting an aerobic workout, the real danger and pain was in the legs. When we turned from 300 South onto Provo State St, we had been over 7 miles. Even in the height of my cross country season in High School we rarely went any farther than 8-10 miles.
Provo State St never ended. It was the longest road of my life. Our legs just got heavier and heavier. We encountered what I swear were dozens of uphill climbs that we didn’t remember ever being there when we drove the same route. I don’t remember the downhill stretches, but I’ll never forget the way I felt as we jogged up those hills at a pace slower than a walk. It was on one of these hills that I clearly remember our last friendly visit. I think it was around 10:30pm. We had been out of water for a long time and our friends didn’t have anything to offer us. They took our camel back and promised to return with fresh supply. The reason I remember it so well is because they never returned.
This is the second wall that we all run into on a journey like this one. This is the part where the majority of your conscious thoughts tell you it’s over. Your mind tells you that you were finished awhile ago. You realize that going forward is just foolish and potentially dangerous. What is it within us that keeps us going? Where within the human spirit is that thing, not even a voice or a thought, that keeps you moving when everything else tells you to stop and go back? It’s the part of us that makes heroes. I’m not suggesting that what we were doing was heroic, but it’s that part of human nature that allows us to go against instinct that makes us special.
The last 7 miles of the journey into Springville were horrific. I wish I could say that we ran the whole way. The truth is that it would have been impossible. We were walking more than running the last 5 miles and only able to do that because of frequent stops to stretch. Our muscles were cramping up and it was all we could do to convince our bodies to hang on with us. I remember one such stop in front of the Allen’s Grocery store at the corner of 400 South and Main St in Springville in which we were stretching. It was early in the morning, maybe 1:15am. We were close enough to the end at this point that the thoughts and feelings of “you are going to make it” started to come into play. We were almost home free.
The end of any quest that stretches you so much feels this way. We were just two young men who finished something. I don’t think we talked much about it in the future months. Since there have been some references to it as we guessed at the distance. Remembering that experience teaches me two very important lessons. The difficulty of anything comes from the way you choose to do it. I know that some things are just easy by nature but other tasks can be easy or difficult depending on the path we decide to walk. One of the most crucial lessons of my past is simply that I am capable of much more than I know I am. Physically, mentally, and spiritually I can conquer all. The second nature is this. Doing something just to say you did it isn’t necessarily foolish (although often it can be). As we stretch our own limits of what we believe is normal or possible we build within us greater inner strength and ability to accomplish great things.
Thank you Josh for the many lessons like that one that we were able to learn together.
Jacob S Paulsen