From the eyes of Nico.
A few nights ago, for the first time, I was asked, “What was the highlight of your trip?”
Now, I have been asked a variety of questions over the past few weeks, but never that. And, honestly, it caught me off guard. I had no idea how to respond, and I spent the rest of the night distracted, pitting the top memories from each state against each other as I sought out the answer.
About two scoops of ice cream into this endeavor, I realized that I had a fundamental problem - I had no idea how I wanted to define the term “highlight”. Was it the time I most connected with the community, or my favorite run? The most beautiful drive, or my favorite meal? Or what about the moment when we most connected as a team, when our goofiness bubbled forth to create immense amounts of joy?
I have been putting this post off because I did not feel I had adequately reflected, did not feel like I would be signing off with an insight worthy of the experience or worthy of you as my reader. But four weeks in, I have realized that every time I have a conversation of this sort, I learn or understand or recall something else. And I do not think that is going to change for a long time. Four months from now, when we finally end our fundraising campaign (side note: this means that our fundraising is STILL going on, and it is absolutely not too late to share and donate: www.curealz.org/heroes/running-road-trip), I will still be connecting the dots, coming ever closer to fully understanding how this journey impacted me and those around me.
In the meantime, however, we (all four of us) will (very sporadically and inconsistently) be updating this blog with realizations that hit us and with stories that we feel need to be told. And with that, I will leave you today with one last thought:
I finally realized what the highlight of my trip would be, mainly because I figured out what the trip meant to me. On the surface, I was invested in this trip because I wanted to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease research (which we are still doing right here: www.curealz.org/heroes/running-road-trip) and do what I could to fight against the disease that took my grandfather. On a superficial level, I wanted to be able to say that I had visited all 50 states. But on a core level, I think I just wanted to connect. I think I just wanted to feel in a way I hadn’t necessarily let myself feel. More than that, I wanted to know that other people understood what I felt, understood the pain of watching a family suffer through Alzheimer’s.
And so, to answer the original question, I will tell a little story about the moment that most impacted me on this trip, or, in other words, my highlight…
We were stopped at a gas station in western Arkansas, everyone having needed a brief bathroom break before heading on. I had just finished my turn and was heading for the door when it opened, a stocky man of middling height entering, clearly in a bad mood. A woman’s voice came from behind me: “Honey, I got you this.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see a woman holding up a Rockstar. “You should know I don’t drink that flavor,” spat the man, stomping past me and snatching the drink out of his fiancé’s hand before continuing on to the drink fridge.
As I exited, I couldn’t help but think that he represented all of the negative stereotypes Boulderites tend to associate with rural Southerners - slightly overweight, hair so short you couldn’t tell if he was balding, rude, and entitled in a sexist sort of way. I was disappointingly quick to snap to judgement.
When the man emerged from the store, I was leaning against the passenger door of the car, telling Zivvy about the interaction I had just witnessed. “That’s him,” I said, flicking my head in his direction. Zivvy turned slightly to look at him, and the man began to head directly towards us.
He stopped a step or two away, gesturing towards the hood. “What is all this?”
As Zivvy and I explained what we were doing, his features began to soften. A couple of moments passed, his eyes wandering up and down the car body before coming to rest on me. “My grandparents both died of Alzheimer’s last year…” he began.
By the time his fiancé emerged from the store, his eyes were wet and swollen. “Honey, do you have any change,” he sniffled. The woman held out a five dollar bill, and he graciously took it before handing it to me. “Here. Use it for…I don’t know…buy yourself a bag of chips or something. What you guys are doing is incredible. You…I…just thank you.” And with that he shuffled away.
The mix of emotions I felt in the moments after was intense. I felt pain and sadness and empathy from the story of his grandparents’ final years. I felt ashamed at my quickness to judge him. But above all I felt moved, knowing that what we were doing had the ability to touch someone the way that it just had.
And that…that is exactly what I wanted this summer.