I Don’t Belong…

This morning, I got to go on a run as the sun was rising. It’s a Tuesday in March, so this isn’t the norm for me, but we have virtual school this week so I get to work from home. The weather was perfect, 41 degrees and a light wind, with the sun shining in my face.

As I was running down the dirt road by my house, an SUV was coming towards me, so I got off the road and waved (like I always do) as the car flew by. Sometimes I make eye contact, and other times I just keep my head down. This time, I looked right at the driver who kept her eyes glued ahead. And, I immediately began to chuckle, as I realized who this person was, and that most likely, she also knew exactly who I was.

A few years ago, my son played on a travel soccer team and I had a bit of a falling out with one of the moms. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a falling out, it was more of her yelling at me through text messages and me saying I would be happy to speak to her about these issues in person, and then her continuing to send very hateful texts to me. At the time, it was quite upsetting. But it’s been a few years and as I was giggling this morning after seeing her, I reflected on how happy I am to be able to laugh about that situation now, because I was not laughing about it when it was going on.

Thinking about that led me to reflect on how much I never really felt I belonged, being a soccer mom. And that led me to reminisce about other times in my life when I didn’t belong.

Immediately after college (two weeks to be exact), I married Will and moved to the East side of Michigan. I had a degree in education and spent the remainder of the school year substitute teaching (I graduated in December). So that Spring, I applied for many elementary teaching jobs. It was hard to get a teaching job in 2002, which is why we ended up on the East side of the state. Well, I got my first call for an interview and was really excited, and nervous. I was heading to interview at a school in downtown Detroit.

Upon arriving, I was led into a room, centered with a long, rectangular table with approximately a dozen African American people sitting around it. When I walked in, the eyes of everyone in that room said, “You do not belong here. You are not who we were expecting.”

I don’t remember a single thing about the interview. I only remember walking to my car and sobbing afterwards. I had never felt so judged or out of place in my entire life. I wasn’t who they wanted. They did not need to ask me any questions or hear any of my answers to know that. I did not belong.

Shortly after that (well, shortly in adult years), I had my first son, Liam. I had always wanted to be a young mom and was thrilled to have a little boy. But, none of my friends had children yet and I soon realized it was lonely to be in a phase of life that no one close to me was in. So, I joined Mom groups online and tried to fit in.

One particular night, I was reading posts and there was a mom who asked the question, “Do your kids where the same pajamas for multiple nights? Or do you always put them in clean PJs?” As I was reading the comments, I read one from a mom that I had actually met and thought I had connected with. Her response was something like, “I ALWAYS put my kids in clean pajamas. Letting them sleep in the same thing for more than one night is disgusting.”

I think I may have started crying immediately after reading the response. Who were these people?! I literally grabbed the pajamas off the floor at bedtime, jammed them up my nose, took a big whiff, and if they didn’t smell like pee, they went back on my boy.

Again, I did not belong. I never read another post in that mom group after that night.

Fitting in as a mom is something that I have always struggled with. Once Liam started school, I felt like it was really important for me to be friends with the moms of his friends in class. I was sure that if I wasn’t friends with these women he wouldn’t get invited to any birthday parties or play dates. So, if I got invited to any mom things, I went.

That year, the first real mom thing I got invited to that kids weren’t also invited to was a jewelry party. It was at one of the mom’s houses and I remember being a bit uncomfortable because it was in one of the big, fancy neighborhoods, in a big fancy house. I grew up on the very low end of middle class….probably actually poor…and still to this day, anything fancy or posh feels very out of place to me.

Anyway, this jewelry party was nothing fancy, and I had no reason to feel uncomfortable. These moms were extremely kind and welcoming and wanted me to belong. But, the only conversations that I remember from the day were about tummy tucks and boob jobs.

I bought a $68 necklace that I didn’t want, went home and cried to Will, telling him that I did not belong. I did not fit in. I was not like these moms.

Fast forward a few more years, when my sister, Rondi, convinced me that I should get into triathlons. I could barely swim, but she had me believing that I could complete an Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run). Her persuasion skills are pretty solid, because she had me believing that this was something I could accomplish and I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon to test the waters. This was an all women’s event, which made me feel a little less intimidated. However, as I was running the 10K (the last leg of a triathlon) and became lost on the course because they had already taken down the signs for which way to turn as they began packing things up I realized, that once again, I did not belong. But this time, because it was something that I WANTED to belong in, I didn’t let that stop me and I still signed up for that Ironman the day after my first triathlon, where I was so slow that they were cleaning up the course before I finished.

All of these memories came to me on my run this morning, and I thought about how glad I was to be at a point in my life where I no longer cared about what other people think and I am just comfortable being in my own skin.

And then, I turned the corner and started running up a big hill, that I always end up walking once I’m about halfway up. But today, as I was nearing the halfway (aka: walking) point, a car began to pull out of its driveway near the top of the hill. But it just stopped and waited.

Are you serious?!?! Come on. You could pull out of your driveway and back in ten times by the time I get there. Please don’t wait for me!

But it waited. And I could not bring myself to walk up the hill when someone was watching and waiting for me. So I ran on. And I ran passed that car, only to see another car waiting at a driveway two houses down! Then it hit me. These cars were waiting for the bus to come. They were not waiting for me at all. But this didn’t stop my ego from not allowing me to take a walk break (like I always do at this spot). Nope. I needed to maintain my dignity and keep on running.

And that’s when I laughed aloud for the second time on this run. Because really, I don’t think I will ever be done worrying about what other people think of me. I didn’t walk up that hill because people were watching and I didn’t want them to think I was weak and needed to rest. I cared what they thought, even though I have no idea who those people were.

That’s annoying to me, and yet, I’m okay with it, because in that instance, I was trying to show people the me that I want to be. I want to be the person who doesn’t walk up the hill. I do NOT want to be the person who tries to fit in and belong in a space that doesn’t resonate with who I am.

I feel like I came full circle on my run this morning and those runs are priceless.

I’m not always going to belong. It’s not always going to be comfortable. But I’m happy to be in a place in my life where I can decide when I want to belong and when I’m okay with being the outsider, if that means staying true to who I really am.

Let’s go for more runs so we can figure out who we really are 🙂


The Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim (to Sleep) to Rim

My sister, Rondi, and I on the South Kaibab Trail of the Grand Canyon.

In the Fall of 2017, the idea of a marvelous adventure was born. This adventure is known as the Rim to Rim to Rim, or R2R2R for short. It consists of beginning at the Rim (North or South) of the Grand Canyon, running/hiking down to the bottom, across, and up to the opposite rim, and then turning around and running/hiking back to where you started. The overall mileage for this is said to be approximately 48 miles, with about 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss (although Strava calculates it much higher than these numbers).

Having never been to the Grand Canyon, and having friends that had done this adventure before in one day, I, along with my friends, decided it would be more enjoyable to split this into a two day adventure so that we could complete all of it in daylight and not miss out on any of the beautiful views. The plan was set and hotels were booked for October of 2020 more than a year in advance, due to high demand for lodging at the Grand Canyon.

Then, Covid hit.

We went through a variety of options for how to make our plan work with our lodging at the North Rim cancelled due to park workers needing use of the lodge where we had reservations. After going through the options, including renting an RV, doing it all in one day, waiting another year, and more, we decided to start at the North Rim by staying at a hotel in Jacob’s Lake, about an hour from the Rim.

So, the new plan was set. On day one, we would run down the North Rim across the bottom and up the Bright Angel trail on the South Rim (where we had a hotel less than a half mile from the trailhead). Then the morning of day two, we would take the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead and run/hike back to the North Rim, where our car was waiting to drive back to the hotel at Jacob’s Lake.

Our group of 6 at the first overlook, about a mile down the North Rim Trail. (Left to Right: Me, Rondi, Lori, Steph, LeighAnn, Elizabeth)

Originally, we were a group of six friends and sisters that were going to set out to complete the R2R2R. However, a week before, Lori decided she wasn’t properly trained to do it (she had completed it the year before and knew how difficult it was). So, after the first couple of miles, she headed back up the North Rim and the rest of us continued our long journey across the canyon.

It was absolutely beautiful and unlike anywhere I had ever been.
The switchbacks to get to the bottom of the Canyon seem endless.
Every time we came to a bridge, I thought we were definitely almost at the bottom. This was not accurate!
Much of the trail is like this, with a wall on one side and a cliff on the other.
The terrain was “easiest” across the bottom of the canyon, but it’s never easy.
Look closely and you will see Rondi in the center of this picture. This is near the bottom of the Canyon.
Just when you think you’re at the bottom, you continue to go down and down and down…
But then, you cross the river and immediately begin to climb back up.
Switchbacks for days.

Day one proved to be a huge challenge. It honestly never felt like we had a flat section across the bottom of the canyon, which is what we were somewhat expecting. Also, the trail is very challenging with continual railroad like planks across it, so it’s difficult to get into a groove. It was a hot day, and we took advantage of every water access to dip in our hats and buffs and arm cooling sleeves, but they dried very quickly. We took full advantage of our break at Phantom Ranch to enjoy the ice cold lemonade and lots of snacks. Water access was not an issue on the first day, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to stay well hydrated in the heat.

During our climb out, Steph began to feel sick.

Steph and I are the tiny people/specks on the lowest switchbacks in this picture.

The climb up the Bright Angel Trail is brutal. The switchbacks seem to never end. We were not sure how long it would take to climb out, so I stayed with Steph, and Rondi, Elizabeth, and LeighAnn went ahead to make sure they could finish in daylight and secure food for the evening and replenish snacks for day two.

Steph having a moment during our climb up Bright Angel.

Steph had trained consistently for this challenge, and yet, that didn’t seem to matter. There was puking. And more puking. But, the only option was to keep climbing. We took it slow. For a while, Tailwind helped. But that stopped working and we couldn’t find anything to settle her stomach.

Eventually, we made it to the top and celebrated with all of the pizza.

Unfortunately, we realized that it would be irresponsible for Steph to join us on the return trip across the Canyon on day two. You can’t start that kind of a journey being severely dehydrated. Luckily, Lori was able to make the 4+ hour drive from the North Rim to the South Rim to pick her up the next day, because the Park Shuttle Service was not operating due to Covid.

So, we were down to just four of us making the trek back to the North Rim on day two. We realized that we had over packed a bit and were happy to get to leave some clothes and supplies behind with Steph, making our packs a bit lighter for round two of the canyon crossing.

We woke up early to be the first ones in line to catch the 6AM shuttle from the Bright Angle trail to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Rumor had it that that was the more scenic trail to descend, and we wanted to take full advantage of seeing all the views.

Sunrise on the South Kaibab Trail.
South Kaibab Trail. Absolutely breathtaking.
South Kaibab Trail.

We had wondered how this trail could be that much different or more beautiful than the others. I mean, how can there be that many different views of the canyon? But, we soon figured out that it truly was unique and absolutely breathtaking.

The South Kaibab Trail was steep, and extremely challenging. I can’t imagine climbing up it, but I HIGHLY recommend taking this route into the canyon if you have the option.

We felt like we were flying down this trail, but upon arriving at the first bathroom and checking our mileage and pace, we realized that was not exactly the case. In addition, we learned that there had been a break in a waterline, and the water was shut off at every location across the canyon, except possibly Phantom Ranch.

Say what?! We were not prepared for this. Yes, I know. I know. We were dumb. But, we had just crossed the day before and all was well. And we wanted lighter packs, so we had left our water filters with Steph and were just planning on refilling at the numerous stops along the way across the canyon. Now, that wasn’t a possibility.

For a moment, we contemplated turning around and climbing back out via the South Kaibab trail which we had just descended. But, we were nearly out of water already and there was no water available on that climb out. We decided the best option was to get to Phantom Ranch and if the water was shut off there we would need to stay there until someone came along with a filter that we could borrow to refill all of our bottles and bladders, and then we could make it back up the North Rim with that supply.

Over the next several miles, the reality of our situation sucked all of the joy out of the journey. We were scared. The heat of the day hit much harder, much faster, than on the descent down the North Rim. How could we have not checked to make sure the water was on before we left the hotel? How could we have left our water filters behind? What if the water was turned off at Phantom Ranch? We didn’t really talk over these next miles. Everyone just entertained these thoughts in our own heads. Did we really make this big of a mistake?

Continuing down South Kaibab Trail.
This was one of the most beautiful sections of the trail.
Switchbacks are the only way down. We were so relieved to see the Colorado River!

After what felt like an eternity, we finally made it to Phantom Ranch and the water was still on!!! We filled our bladders and bottles to the brims and also bought lemonade and Powerade and carried as many fluids as possible for the long journey up the North Rim. Elizabeth also purchased a Life Straw, just in case we were desperate.

And then, we continued on.

Crossing the Canyon on day two.

Somehow, what was a crossing of the Grand Canyon on day one became a crossing of the Sahara Desert on day two. It didn’t even feel like the same trail. Was it the same trail? There was no shade and the temperature was in the mid 90’s. And we only had the water from Phantom Ranch to last us uphill for 13+ miles.

This little fella seemed to be confirming that we had indeed stepped into a whole new world on day two.
We couldn’t drink this water but it felt amazing to drench ourselves in it.
We were relieved when we reached the bottom of the North Rim because it meant there would soon be shade!
The climb up the North Rim was beautiful, and we were glad to be leaving the Sahara. (This joke never got old.)
The “steps” climbing up the North Rim were brutal. Hiking on the edge was easier sometimes.
Not only did the canyon morph into the Sahara Desert on day two, but it also became Fall on the North Rim trail while we were gone. The Canyon is a crazy place.
After many, many hours, we finally made it….to an overlook that wasn’t at the top.

But we kept on climbing. And climbing.

Back at the North Rim Trailhead! We made it! (Left to right: Rondi, LeighAnn, Me, Elizabeth)

And we finally made it back to where we had started the day before. And man, did it feel good.

Throughout those two days, I feel like I was finally able to truly live out what I have said for a long time. That is, the why behind my long distance running. I want to be able to see all the beautiful places. I want my feet to take me to places that nothing else can take me to.

And on this adventure, that’s exactly what happened. I was never in a hurry. I wasn’t longing for it to be over each day. I was just enjoying every moment of it, knowing that once it was over, I would be longing to be back out there doing what I love.

Here’s to taking it all in and enjoying every moment of the pain, beauty, and adventure.


Lessons learned:

-Never, ever, ever leave the water filter behind.

-Cooling sleeves, Territory Run Co. hat, and a bandana were my favorite accessories.

-Tailwind for the win.

-Hiking without taking breaks is just as fast as running and taking breaks.

-I will never regret going slow and taking in all of the beauty around me.