Tuesday, September 06, 2005

You Have to Grab These Moments

Somehow, when I woke up at 6:10 AM Sunday, I remembered that sunrise was at 6:31. I must have picked up that little bit of information on the Weather Channel sometime Saturday afternoon. I had enough time to get my gear on, stretch, get out the door, and be on the beach, just as the sun came up over the horizon, on a crisp clear morning.

How often am I going to get a chance to do that??

Okay, considering we stay overnight at Bonnie and Pete's house (three blocks from the beach in Brigantine, NJ) maybe three times during the summer, the opportunity has been there. Unfortunately the night we come down usually involves the men consuming of 4-6 bottles of beer each, some sort of rum, and the smoking of cigars. Not condusive to getting up early to enjoy some of God's best work.

However, things worked out to my favor on this particular trip. Bonnie made a giant dish of Taco Bell-esque Mexican food. I ate one giant "burrito" and was set to say "Enough," until my buddy John the ParrotHead said he ate three. Granted, he didn't load them up as much as I had, but I still felt compelled to take another. Damn, my competitiveness.

The combination of two burrito bombs, three Amstels and a nice robusto out on the patio with Pirate Pete and John the ParrotHead, helped me nod off quicker than I had expected. When Mariel announced that she was tired, wanted to go to bed and wanted someone to lay down with her, I jumped at the chance.

"I'll just lay down till she falls asleep, then I'll come back out," I told D'Wife.

There was no coming back out. The giant mound of refried beans, ground beef, cheese and tomatoes in my tummy acted as a massive anchor preventing me from rising. I was solidly in slumberland.

So, when I woke to the pre-dawn, without a headache, well-rested and just a slight cigar taste in my mouth, I just had to sieze the day-break.

I had been smart / lucky enought to sleep in my running shorts and socks, so all I had to do was change my shirt and find my shoes ... which were still in the family room, a great place to stretch. I wasn't even that tight, so my "punk yoga" session was a breeze.

I figured I'd save a little wear and tear on the knees in the early mile(s) by going down Ocean Avenue till it runs out at 40th, then cut through the dunes and run on the packed sand along the ocean.

I took off down 16th Street right about 6:30. I made the turn just as the sun burst over the horizon. The dunes hid the actual sunrise from me, but I caught its magenta reflection beaming toward me from the golden windows of the Borgata in AC. The white beachfront condos glowed orange from the sun and pink from the glare on opposing walls.

"I'm glad to be here for this," I panted as I tried to find my pace.

I couldn't quite remember how many blocks there were per mile on the island. It had been almost a year since I'd run there. In years past I had done the Brigantine Island Triathlon (1/4 mile swim / 11 mile bike / 4 mile run) but since that is always on the first weekend of August - our wedding anniversary weekend - D'Wife kind of got tired of me spending that exact weekend either racing or recovering. Something in my head said it was 14, 15 or 16 blocks to the mile. When I checked my watch at 31st Street and saw 8:15 had gone by, I decided that 15 was the number. That gave me about five minutes before I'd be able to cut through the dunes to run with the dawn. In the meantime, I'd just run through the sprinklers and duck under the low branches of the salt pines.

The path through the dunes at 40th Street is a twisty affair about 50 yards long with a little dip halfway down. As I trotted on the soft sand, I saw a pack of three dogs, jumping and leaping among the reeds. Wait, those weren't dogs. Their tails were much bushier, with white tips. They had long pointy noses and big ears. They were foxes, playing in the path. "There must be some rabbits back here, too," I said to myself. They scampered ahead of me for a few feet, then zipped back into the brush. "Well, that's not something I'm going to see everyday. Not on the beach anyway." Thirty seconds earlier or later, I would have missed them completely.

When I emerged from the path onto the real beach, the sun was about two fingers above the horizon. The beach was a dusky orange with muted blue grey hollows in the sand. I reached the semifirm sand at water's edge and turned south. My shadow stretched ahead of me about 15 yards at a 45 degree angle. It looked like a clown on stilts with enormous feet and a tiny head.

There were only two people on the beach between me and the jetty. One appeared to be a nice old lady about a quarter mile down. How could I tell she was nice??? Mean old ladies don't come out at sunrise to collect shells. How could I tell she was old, from 400 yards away??? Young ladies don't come out at dawn to collect shells wearing pink windbreakers and floppy hats.
The other person was the guy driving the backhoe with the giant rake that smooths the sand out before all the people start coming down for the day. I call the contraption a "Sand-Boni" ... for obvious reasons.

The newly risen sun was gleaming throught the waves. I had to slow down a few times, to analyze them. The usually murky ocean looked very inviting this morning ... I may have to take the boards out today.

I had set my watch for an easy 45-minute run, not being sure of the mileage down the beach and back. I wasn't sure if I'd make it all the way to the jetty before the turnaround. The jetty looked so clean and inviting I decided to go for it; go ALL the way to the jetty and just leave my run short on the way back (or push a little further, go a couple minutes longer and finish the route). The last 50 yards or so up to the rocks were more steeply banked than the previous two miles, so I took it gingerly, not wanting to twist anything.

I couldn't help but to physically "tag" the boulders when I got to the jetty. I climbed up, said hello to a man fishing there and proceeded back.

Twenty-four minutes down - twenty-one minutes back - difference of three - about a third of a mile - 15 blocks to a mile - five blocks short - two blocks to the beach - leaves three - so I should be done by 13th street ... nah, that's too close ... I'll push a bit and try to make it all the way back to the Brigantine Inn at 17th.

I ran high on the sand to avoid that steep camber, now to my right. I was running into the sun now. It was backlit the incoming waves so the faces shone with a beer bottle green glow.

I got past the steep part and moved closer to the ocean. I tried to match my footstrikes on the way back to my footprints from the way down. I was amazed to see that alothough the beach was far far flat, my path down was a remarkably straight line. There wasn't a lot of wavering from the terrain, just a few places where my path would wander inshore and disappear into the flat wet sand ... I had run to avoid a wave, it came up behind me and earased my steps.

Ten minutes or so away from the jetty I saw something I hadn't seen on the way down. A young man and his "girlfriend" were cuddled under a fleece blanket in one of the lifeguard shacks. They may have been sleeping there when I went past, but I didn't notice. He held a worn acoustic guitar, she snuglgled on his shoulder.

"Awww, that's so Jack Johnson of you" I mocked as I breezed by. This was either the end or the beginning of a wonderful summer romance - for one of them anyway.

A mile and a half to go. My outbound footprints retraced their steps back to the dunes. This was fresh sand. I had no reference to whether my stride was shortening as I went further along. I hoped I would find some mysterious artifact washed ashore. A few years ago I found a backbone from a whale - a single vertbrae, to be specific - about a foot a cross and 6" thick. As much as I wanted to keep it, I was told to throw it back. Last summer I found a big old hook with some strpping on it. I cut the frayed and dirty nylon off, and told my daughter I found Captain Hook's hook. She's going to have a hell of an imagination when she gets older. I pray she uses it constructively.

Inside the last mile, I began doing the math again ... 15 blocks to a mile ... I should finish at 13th Street ... where am I now??? ... how much time left??? ... six minutes???

A roadblock ahead. A group of half a dozen surf fisherman and their sons. It was not long ago that I learned what the PVC pipes bolted to pick-up trucks grilles were for, or why they sometimes had those big aluminum extensions out there. Not wanting to be impaled by a lure, I slowed then walked around them. The aroma of Dunkin' Donuts and Wawa coffee reminded me that it was still only a little past 7:00 on a the last Sunday morning of summer.

I was just about half a mile from the "finish" ... but when or where would I finish??? At the end of the time set on my watch or when I got to the Brigantine Inn??? I decided that I would keep going to the Inn; after all it would only be a minute or so longer. Or less.

Three minutes remained on my watch. I didn't want to push it all out and look like Rocky racing Apollo Creed on the beach. I kept my pace steady. Two minutes ... a quarter mile ... 400 yards ... if I was at the gym I'd have three laps ... where am I now??? ... I should be around 18th, or 19th ... the last minute ... I might make it ... thirty seconds ... there's the lifeguard building, that makes it 17th ... 15 seconds, 16th ... 10, guard shack, 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... rescue boat ... 5 ... 4 ... volleyball nets, ... two one ... beepbeepbeepbeepbeep ... overtime ... and done!!!

I made it back just a hair past the 45 minute mark. I walked in a gentle arc to the water. I took my shoes and socks off just as the foam washed up to me. I threw them back onto the sand a few yards and wandered into the surf. As cool and refershing as the ocean was, I resisted the temptation to dive in. That would surely bring instant corornary failure. I did, however, let the cold salty water come up to about my knees. It felt alternately wonderfully soothing and annoyingly numbing.

I left the beach at the 16th Street pavillion. There were people setting up a sunrise prayer service. I turned around to the water and gave a little prayer of thanks on my own ... "Thanks for getting me up and out. I could have missed this whole thing."

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