For most folks of My Home Town, the official start of Winter Carnival is the coronation. But not me.
For me Carnival only begins after I've finished the Ice Palace Fun Run.
Why is that? Well, I've got my reasons.
First, I've always believed if we want Carnival events, we have to participate in them. And since I'm excluded from the fry pan toss - due to undisguised sexism, I might add - I'll lend my finest efforts to the fun run.
Second is the social aspect: I get to hang out with like-minded lunatics.
Third, I get exercise.
Fourth, it promotes fun runs, a rarity in our competitive society. It also supports Winter Carnival and the people who volunteer so much time and energy to it. In this case, it's the race directors, Dave Staszak and Patti Peebles, assisted by Tony and Sharon Elrod.
And finally, there's pure ego. I've run all the Ice Palace runs, though in ever-decreasing speed and grace, so it's something I have to do, no matter what a wretched remnant of my younger self I may be. Ultimately, I wonder, deep within the place that whispers my dark fears to me, if this run will be my last.
So there I am, far too early on Saturday morning, at the back of the field, waiting for the start with my fellow ancient, Kirk Peterson.
Dave gives some kind of pre-race instructions, but since he isn't standing next to me shouting directly in my good ear, I can't hear a word he says. No matter - suddenly from the front of the pack there's a flurry of motion and we're off.
There was a time when I virtually flew over the asphalt. Now, that time is as far in the past as the voyage of the Mayflower - and about as comfortable too. Then again, the Mayflower passengers had an advantage I don't - everyone had 101 other religious fanatics praying for them.
The course, in case you don't know, is a real monster. It's a loop that starts at the ice palace, goes up Riverside Drive, then to Glenwood, up and around St. Joe's, and then repeats the misery. It's 4.2 miles long and has hard hills a whole lot of the way, so if you're not straining your way up one, you're getting pounded on your way down one.
The hills don't start till about the 3/4-mile mark, but after a hundred yards, I'm already winded and each foot strike is a reminder of each bite of comfort food I've devoured over the last six months my two favorites being macaroni and cheese and extra-rich brownies.
Because he's a compulsive reader and always has interesting things to talk about, Kirk is great company. This is especially welcome when I'm running, because, first of all, it distracts me, and second, it's the only time I'm rendered speechless.
As we make the turn at Riverside Park and plod our way around the lake, Kirk talks about the latest article he read. It's written by some Brilliant Physiologist who, after extensive research, has concluded that the greatest cause of running injuries is running shoes. Yep, that's right - nature had it right the first time: If we were to all toss our Nikes in the landfill and start running barefoot, all our podiatric ills would vanish magically, like a light mist on a bright morning.
Yeah, I think, a brilliant conclusion from a Brilliant Physiologist. And right now I just wish that B.M. was in Saranac Lake, in our Ice Palace Fun Run, trotting his way to glory - barefoot. I'm not saying his research is faulty; just that, he might want to alter his recommendations, to make them more, shall we say, "climate-specific."
Suddenly, in a series of surreal vision, I see the B.M. in the Ice Palace Fun Run.
The first is him sprinting down Lake Flower Ave., then up Riverside Drive, leaving the pack in his wake. Next, he and his pink feet disappear over the first hill, clearly moving far out of sight of everyone else.
The last one is him reappearing again as the pack catches up to him. He's hobbling up Birch Street at a snail's pace and then, just before the Kiwassa intersection, he collapses in a shuddering, sobbing heap.
The pack sweeps by him and I'm in my usual place - way behind it. Still, I'm moving, which is more than I can say about B.M unless you consider his rocking back and forth and rubbing his now-blue feet "moving."
While I'm hardly a paradigm of decency and compassion, I try hard not to take joy in anyone else's suffering - even people I dislike. It has nothing to do with them, but with me: I might get some short-term cheap thrills mocking their misery, but inevitably I'd regret it when I realized I'd failed to be the person I wanted to be.
When I was 50 yards from B.M., I told myself to be kind.
At 25 yards, I figured being kind was too much, but I could at least be neutral.
But then, when I was almost upon him, a switch flipped in my psyche.
"Hey, what's the matter?" I said, big grin plastered across my mug. "Cat get your shoes?"
He said nothing, but as I sped by him, I heard his breathing. It was rapid, ragged and irregular. He was a total mess.
I picked up my pace, wanting to put as much distance as possible between me and the poor sod but the more I ran, the more I heard his breathing. It was bizarre - as if he was right there with me.
Of course he wasn't.
Instead, I was right there with me. The rapid, ragged, irregular breathing was mine! I was the mess!
Suddenly, I was back in reality. Kirk was on my left, the ice palace was straight ahead, and I was hobbling my way to the finish line. I crossed it, not in record time, perhaps, but under my own steam and almost upright, and in my usual place - dead last.
So how did that make me feel? Just great.
After all, it was a beautiful day, I had good company and moral support during the whole run, and I finished without destroying any body parts. There are all kinds of victories - finishing first or having a record time are only two of them.
Ultimately, it's like the joke about the old bull.
The bull's in the field, shaking his head, pawing the ground, and snorting ferociously. The farmer comes up to him and says, "What're you doing all this for? You know you don't have your stuff no more."
"Mebbe I don't," says the bull. "But at least I can show 'em I ain't a cow."
So mebbe I don't have my stuff no more but I ain't a cow neither!