Granite State of Mind, #4: The Canadian Border
As a football player in high school, I had small use for cross-country running, other than maybe as a pool of potential girlfriends (and later, wives). Running that didn't involve a tackle or touchdown at the end? What could be the point? Certainly, the idea of running miles and miles at a time was an alien and laughable concept. Running as part of arelay the entire vertical distance of New Hampshire, from Canada to the Atlantic, in a single weekend? The height of lunacy. This exercise was a joint descent into madness by the cross-country squads from the high schools in Exeter, Dover, and Portsmouth, cramming students and coaches onto buses and heading to where America ends (or begins) in the dead of a November night and then matriculating 202 miles, in two-mile chunks, to the sands of Rye.
As with so many other things, my brother Al did it first, and he seemed to enjoy it (I can't imagine that the young ladies involved had any influence on that). So after my junior year, in the fall of 1991, I joined the mad enterprise myself. In those days, the early years of the Ball regime, Blue Hawk football managed to miss the playoffs, so I had November free. A few light jogs by way of training, and I got on the bus headed north. That first year I partnered withJason Gallant for my two-mile legs, and we ran through the wilds of northern New Hampshire in the pre-dawn dark, through small towns and busy roads, trailed by buses of teammates waiting their turns on the asphalt. Because we were sixteen we ate chicken nuggets and fries from McDonald's between our runs, and endless Dum Dum lollipops earned in games of cards during the long interstitial breaks. I'd never run so much in my life (more than twenty cumulative miles by the time we all ran into the waves), or had so much fun. I can still remember the crew: Aren Paster, Whitney Tucker, Jen Strickland Cyr, Jim Strickland (my cold nugget compadre),Holly Boudreau, Lara M. Walsh, John McColley,Sara Haskin, Erin Andi Kittredge, and many more. I liked it so much I did it again my senior year (after another playoff-free 3-5 football season), this time running alongside Geoffrey Simard.
My most indelible memory is captured by the attached photo. When we spilled off the buses at midnight between Friday and Saturday, at the international border, the very tip of NH, we gathered for the ceremonial moose-call. We all thought we were pretty good at it, but there was only one master. The late Mike Grogan, legendary track coach and bearded pilgrim, in a greatcoat and crumpled hat, let loose in his strangled holler a moose call that could wake the dead, splitting the indigo sky with a sound equal parts agony and longing and terror. Coach Grogan was the best, and so were his wife Ma's buns. I've run a marathon since, and a number of halves and ten-milers, but that first venture into distance running is still my favorite, for the experience and the company and the inveterate silliness of it all.