Motorcycle Drive-By: Excerpt of Never Before Seen Draft

Gall-Wright-Busch: The Three Amigos. In 1995, they led ‘Bash in a sweep of the top five spots within a tough regional meet in Michigan. They did it while wearing tiny red shorts in a blizzard, charging through shin-deep ice water in places. They went on to place 3rd in the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship. The previous year they’d placed 4th in the nation. All three earned All-America status, meaning they each placed within the Top 35 runners at the national championship race. These guys were tough.

Sometime after graduation the Three Amigos moved out to Wyoming to train in the mountains at high altitude. They soon put out an open invitation for all current Wabash College cross runners to train with them out west during the summer months. I first took them up on this offer in the summer of ’98. For the first time, I touched down in Denver, Colorado’s new airport and was whisked away to Laramie, Wyoming. I vaguely remember my chauffeur being Roy Early, a very odd Wabash grad who’d also gone west along with teammate Jason Brant & his girlfriend. I’d be staying in a spare bedroom in that couple’s apartment.

My first day in Wyoming, I remember the independent vibe of a quiet, relaxed downtown. The abnormally wide neighborhood streets were lined with well-maintained homes. A group of us went into a shallow creek near downtown and any plan I had of maintaining a low-profile in cowboy country went out the window the second I got into that water. Swarms of the most aggressive mosquitoes ever encountered all landed directly onto my back and began sucking the lifeblood from me. As we attempted swatting away the aggressors, runners all around me began to shriek as they looked at my back: Masses of red welts covered me. “That’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen,” someone said (possibly Early). Someone busted out a camera to record the moment for posterity. I had arrived—and embarrassed myself, yet again.

The memories are still clear and so many summoned at will, even more than seventeen years later: those cold, early morning drives in the back of someone’s truck (I really cannot remember whose—but was it Wright’s?) past the bucolic campus of the nearby University of Wyoming and outside town to train on the Happy Jack trail; walking over to Gall’s apartment, upstairs in a big white house, to visit with him and his exceedingly affectionate and accomplished running dog, Butch; all-you-can-eat taco nights at a nearby bar. I did not fully realize it at the time, but my training partners and I were living within a golden age of our running lives.

I never saw Wright much. I remember us having to whisper at around 8 p.m. in broad daylight while visiting the apartment where he was living. His dedication to running was such that he went to bed at a time on a perfect summer evening when other 20-somethings were just thinking of where to have cocktails. He needed to sleep early in order to be up around 0400 to train. He then had to rush off to a factory to be at work by something like 0630 or so. I remember running with him at least once during my month in Wyoming. His long blonde hair flowed as naturally during the run as his stride. He seemed quiet to me, at least on that day. And he was known to be so strong, so tough, that I was nervous about attempting to engage with him. He exuded a competitive fierceness.

Jeremy Wright. He won the 1998 Pikes Peak Ascent in 2:26:48, beating guys who’d spent their whole lives at altitude as he grew up on the plains of Indiana. According to the Pikes Peak Marathon website, this is a race that has an elevation gain (start to summit) of 7,815 feet. The start is at 6,300 feet and the summit is 14,115 feet. Average grade of the Ascent is 11%. In 1999, Wright went back and won the Ascent in 2:18:32, beating the second place finisher from Boulder by nearly five minutes [Wright also finished 3rd at the Ascent in ’97 and 2nd in 2000]. He also won the Vail Hill Climb and many snowshoe races, which is a pretty big deal out west during the long winter months.

Everything he and Gall did was extreme—riding motorcycles fast through mountain passes, carrying mountain bikes over their heads as they swam across a river—frigid water up to their necks[1], running straight up and down mountain trails so steep I thought for sure I’d break my neck when they brought me down one with them. It was no surprise to me that just a year or so after this, Wright made the United States Mountain Running Team. As written about in Running Times (5/01/05), he competed in the Mountain Running World Championships from 1997–1999 and 2002, racing in the CzechRepublic, Reunion, Malaysia, and Italy.

Butch went with us many days. This bulldog ran farther than any other dog I’ve ever known and made it look simple. He’d fly up the steep mountain trails ahead of us, even surpassing the speed of his handler in the process. Gall had placed 2nd in the Pikes Peak Marathon in ’97, even as a newcomer to the high altitude, but his dog galloped ahead, proving he was born to run. Periodically, he’d stop, turn around, and give us some time to catch up before continuing on up ahead. He was a muscular, brown and white mix. If I’d seen him alone in an alley at night I would’ve been frightened but there was nothing scary about Butch. He was all love; but tough as nails. Sometimes he’d run 20+ miles, at altitude.

The crushed red soil of Happy Jack was a favorite place for us. I was new to the area but quickly realized why the Three Amigos made their home here. Crisp, clean air filtered by Lodgepole Pine, Aspen, & Engleman Spruce. Shrubs such as Chokecherry, Serviceberry, Thimbleberry, & Red-osier Dogwood lined the trail passageway, greeting us upon our entry to their world. The smell: G-d’s Country. Wild red raspberries, red elderberries, & sagebrush all around.  Elevation at the trailhead: 8,372 feet. Wyoming has a fairly expansive geographic area but also the smallest population of all fifty states. About 586,000 people, in 2016.

These guys really put me through the grinder. About five days or so after arriving in Laramie, we took a road trip to Vail, Colorado. It was time for the annual Vail Hill Climb. Not having had enough time to adapt to the average elevation in Vail of 8,150 feet, I was nevertheless expected to run a 7.5 mile race straight up the side of a mountain. Oh, with an elevation gain of 2,500 feet.

The first mile began more on flat ground, relatively speaking, before climbing straight up for the next 6.5 or so miles. We followed an emergency access road of switchbacks all the way to the top of a seemingly never ending ski slope. I gasped for air the entire way and my legs became leaden. It was the first race of my life in which I walked, albeit for just a few steps here and there. It was quite the horrific experience. Today, I have a picture on my bedroom wall from this race with Wabash alum Greg Berk and I climbing the switchback road, pine forest layering mountain ridges in the distance.

            ********************************************

Clear, starry skies. Long neighborhood streets descending to the base of Pikes Peak. Manitou Springs. Scar trail. The United States Air Force Academy. The Family Research Council headquarters. The historic Kimball’s Peak Three Theater in downtown Colorado Springs. A wonderful place to live, for the most part.

1999.I arrived very soon after coming home from my semester abroad in Botswana. It was early July. Warm but chilled by cool mountain air. Nice to be out west again. Sometime in the past year, two of the Three Amigos migrated from Laramie to the Springs and once again reopened their invite to current Wabash runners to come out and train with them. I lived in a house with Busch, his girlfriend, Gall, Candice (a non-runner), & Wabash teammate Augsperger, of all people.

I moved into the basement. Candice had one room down there while another guy, who I cannot quite remember off hand now, had the other bedroom—complete with a five-foot-tall stack of Playboy magazines displayed prominently. Someone, Gall? Augs?, had set me up with a space on the floor of the open area in the basement. There was a blanket over the decades-old carpet with a sleeping bag on top. God only knows if any of these things had ever been washed. And I would most likely be panic-stricken to know what lay within that carpet. I would be far more paranoid now about this type of situation but then I was a twenty-one-year-old bachelor who was running as a full-time job (a dream job, actually).

Best of all, there was an old stereo system against the wall, just across from my bag, and a stack of someone’s CD’s. There was a bunch of music I was mostly unfamiliar with including Third Eye Blind. From the first time I put in that CD, I became hooked on songs such as “Losing a Whole Year,” “Narcolepsy,” (which really spoke to my own propensity at the time to fall asleep at any given moment), “Jumper,” “Graduate,” “Semi-Charmed Life,” & the song which would stick with me for years afterwards: “Motorcycle Drive-By.”

Summer time and the wind is blowing outside

In lower Chelsea and I don’t know
What I’m doing in this city
The sun is always in my eyes
It crashes through the windows
And I’m sleeping on the couch
When I came to visit you…

Eat-sleep-run. Eat-sleep-run. That was our daily routine. It was wonderful. Once again, I was the one without a job. Each day, Gall went off to his part-time job at a local running store. Busch was managing a Joe’s Crab Shack and not training a ton, but was beginning to get whipped back into shape again thanks to Gall. He was also riding around town a lot on his black Harley bike. Augs had gotten a job via Busch at Joe’s.

For a week or two, I spent my spare time as I often do– reading and writing. I remember vividly spending extra time contemplating what I was reading in Peter Singer’s seminal work Animal Liberation. I had just become vegetarian the year before and was now thinking of cutting out eggs and dairy. Little did I know that one day two years from that point in time I would be living in Boston and a friend named Eric & I would be driving the famous Australian professor Dr. Singer around town in Eric’s parent’s station wagon.

**********************************************

      We would often wait until Gall was not working to do our longest and hardest runs. We’d often drive out to Manitou Springs and head up narrow, crushed gravel trails towards Pikes Peak. Every step we took brought us to a higher elevation so even easy-paced runs were not truly easy. Especially Scar: a jagged gash in Mount Manitou so steep no one really ran it, except us. Of course, it’s also officially off-limits to people. About one mile and a quarter—straight up. A 68% grade at its steepest. It followed the path of a kind of cable car railway that used to take folks up the mountainside, until 1990.[2] It even took the Amigos an abnormally long amount of time to cover that mile plus. And Gall was a madman.

Scott Gall. Maybe 5’7-5’8”, muscular, military haircut, a budding “sleeve” tattoo encircling one deltoid, inspired by the drummer of his favorite band Rage Against the Machine. I’ve watched this guy microwave and then eat an entire steak one minute before we headed out the door at night for a fifteen plus mile run. This guy would fly up mountain trails faster than I could run on flat ground. It was crazy.

Butch, of course, would still be even farther ahead but Gall would close the gap best he could. After ascending for a few thousand feet, there would be no break as we would sometimes then turn and immediately begin descending a treacherously steep double diamond ski slope, minus the snow, covered with tons of rocks. My first thought: “How can he possibly expect me to run down this thing?!” My second thought: “I’m going to flip over headfirst and somersault my way down the mountain, ending with a broken neck.” My strategy: squat down and gingerly make my way down the slope. Gall literally ran this standing completely upright and at high speed.

     It will probably come as no surprise that he soon also made the United States Mountain Running Team four times. He was the top American finisher at the Mountain Running World Championships in ’97 & again in ’99, when he placed fifth in the world. The next summer, Gall ran in the Olympic Trials Marathon on a very hot day in Pittsburgh. Much later, in 2009, Gall won the North American Snowshoe Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

One sublime day on the mountain, we ran up farther than I did at any other time. I got caught out by myself in a no-man’s land and no one was around. Finding myself within a totally different ecosystem, I was like an alien. I looked around at trees that only grew here, on the side of Pikes Peak. Various insects, small mammals, and birds—some of them only lived here, in this small place. Wildflowers sprouted on the hill side, well that’s what it felt like. It was actually the side of a mountain but from my miniature perspective, I was only seeing one square of the quilt. I could not see the larger picture of the entire mountain but I could see the pristine, clear stream flowing by me with water so clean, so cold, I could lap it up directly from my hand.

Eventually, I reconnected with Gall, Augsperger, & whoever else was with us that day, and we began a sprightly descent. This was a time when I somehow survived while not wearing glasses during runs. I have no idea how this was possible. I now wear my eyeglasses non-stop during hours when I am awake. I didn’t see a rock jutting up from the middle of the trail and tripped over it. The next thing you know, I was spinning uncontrollably over the side of the trail, which sloped down toward a forested ravine. Thankfully, I stopped before plunging into said ravine but not before I’d gashed open a sizable wound on the bottom-side of my left forearm. “I think I need stitches,” I told the guys. They just laughed. Someone (most likely Augsperger) said something about me crying too much and we drove home.

I did my best in the shower to clean the open wound but it was pretty well sliced open. I was fairly confident at least a few stitches were in order but was peer pressured into just slapping on a gauze bandage. With great thanks, I managed to avoid an infection and the wound closed on its own. I still have a nice scar there today to remember the run by.

And there’s this burning
Like there’s always been
I’ve never been so alone
And I’ve never been so alive

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Vail Daily, by Randy Wyrick 1/05/05. Accessed on 11/08/15.

[2] “Manitou Rail Scar Unlikely To Heal Soon,” Todd Hartman, The Gazette, 12/10/96 http://www.inclineclub.com/incline_gt.htm, accessed 11/11/15.

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