At the darkest of night when the moonlight fades, the winds are still and the-sane-ones are in deep REM, we stood in a parking lot for the first-time questioning the brilliance of running a marathon. A car door opened in the distance and we weren’t alone, we just weren’t sure who we were alone with. The tall one (Lois) shoved a PB&J into my hydration pack and we stood, talking through the fueling logistics, wondering how a bag of Trail mix, a stash of pecans, 8 or so Aussie-bites and water felt like 25 extra pounds.
As we departed the parking lot I inquired from the lone stranger working on his bike with a flashlight if he would be so kind to call 911 in case he doesn’t encounter us along the dark secluded trail. He said he would indeed, sounding nothing like a serial-killer, and we were off.
We weaved along the B&A trail through Glen Burnie wearing headlamps and flashing blinkies and somewhere around mile 2 my sneaker needed adjusting. I removed the added cushy insole, but my arch was not feeling relief and I thought this was far too early to have foot problems, so we carried on another mile. Lo, then felt something amiss around her 3rd toe, so we stopped again to wrap that issue in a band-aid bow, and by now we were at Marley Station – mile marker 10. The hue of dawn brought out the early cyclists, including our non-serial killer who rode by, expressing relief there was no need to call 911 that morning and we agreed it was an excellent start to the day.
A total of 13.1 miles in one direction would take us to Annapolis along the B&A trail, followed by a 13.1 mile return trip back to the parking lot in Glen Burnie — the total of which would fulfill The Big Surreal –Covid’s version of The Big Sur marathon. We had only trained for short distances, 10 miles and less — but figured why let that stop us?
We reached the ranger station (pit stop) at mile marker 7.5, and took a moment to snack on a few bites of that PB&J. It was the most delicious sammie I’ve ever tasted, and we carried on, talking, joking, and stopping only when we laughed too hard. By now there was a steady stream of ‘good morning, ladies’ and ‘helloooo ladies’ and ‘look at all of your gear’ from the passing cyclists, the hundreds of groups of riders that ranged from casual to professional-wannabies and all sharing in the same cloud of mornin’ endorphins.
We were single file now, giving ample room for the cyclists to pass and that was OK, pleasantly distracted by the to-and-fro onslaught of bikers on racing wheels, toddlers on trikes, or the voices yelling “runners-up:, “walkers-up” — referring to us. We waived as they passed, ‘good morning’ all around, and having spent the last 8 months avoiding people, this return to the trails powered our souls and tied legs.
Reaching our turnaround spot, the balls of my feet burned like molten lava, and we watched a young father transport 2 toddlers in a large cart behind his bike. Lo mentioned how nice it would be to get a ride in that cart, and I would have been happy to share a few bites of my remaining sammie with the 2 year-olds. We considered the logistics of strapping Lo on the roof of that cart with her legs dangling, occasionally dragging and sparking along the pavement and soon we were back to laughing at this ridiculous imagery of hitching a ride with this young family half hoping the dad would turn back.
We made it to the cafe stop at mile 18, and noticed we were not the only ones who felt the need to stop and purchase a homemade cookie and a coffee. Lo downed her peanut butter cookie within minutes and I kept my cookie going a bit longer, spacing out the sugar hit and trying not to think about the blisters balls on my feet.
Lo needed a pitstop at the ranger station and I assured her it was right around the corner. It wasn’t, it was at least 2 miles away and this required some serious distraction. We heard heavy-breathing and heavier footsteps, and once we decided the sounds were not ours I dared to turn back and look. A large man, not-working-on-his-fitness, stoking one of a chain of cigarettes, chugging down a red bull, burping and holding tight to a bag of lotto tickets, was overtaking us. Sure enough this man-not-working-on-his-fitness passed us by, and we marveled at the moment wondering where we could get a red-bull. I turned back to look at Lo, not saying one word, we broke into a belly-roll — clearly we are fueling wrong, and the man-not-working-on-his-fitness was just the distraction needed to make it to the pit stop at the ranger station.
Eventually we reached Marley Station at mile 23 and stopped for a moment to watch a group of older men play with their radio-controlled miniature race cars. Although many malls — including Marley Station — have perished from Covid, men with toys appear, accompanied by food trucks and vendors selling t-shirts — and it is all OK in this repurposed world.
Three miles and change to go, and we made our way back to Glen Burnie — a place hours earlier we had experienced from darkness. By now, there were less pelotons of cyclists, less ‘helloooo ladies’ and the occasional ‘good morning’. It was good knowing it was still morning — thankful our time to complete the Big Surreal had not run out.
With 2 miles to the finish, we came up on a large parking lot that was converted into a food bank, and the sight of so many people lined up holding bags or boxes, anything they could carry to feed their families, tugged at my heart. My endorphin-high met with the steady hum of quiet desperation and I vowed my next trip along the B&A would include a stop to lend a hand.
We arrived back to where we started, sammies long-ago consumed, legs barely bending, feet no longer speaking, and thankful we had just pulled this marathon out-of-our-asses. It was a moment to appreciate how much we missed and needed our fellow humanity — the encouraging words, the simple ‘good morning’s — providing smiles, hope and fuel to carry-on.