Breakfast of Champions…50ml worth!

City sidewalks sparse with human traffic. 2020. Not normal. Darkened storefronts give me pause. The local bike path has now become the pandemic interstate highway. Normally when I am in a city environment the safest and most spacious place to run is a bike path. All of the dodging and weaving around people on city sidewalks, stopping at lights and challenging the health of my aging knees by jumping on and off curbs is not ideal for a consistent run. A reversal of fortune and who would have predicted that the sidewalks would be empty but the bike path congested…

Struggling to simultaneously run and breathe through a face covering while making our way up or down the bike path is not easy. Necessary but not easy. Simply running out and back I lose all sense of direction on a bike path. North? South? East? West? A bike path feels immune to direction as it is an anomaly in a busy city. Bike paths or rail trails boast the appearance of direction but like us humans employing them we too are void of direction right now. Walkers, runners and cyclists are simply going…

Running by time to determine my distance these days as I rarely wear a Garmin anymore and I haven’t determined all of my mile markers as yet as my stay has been brief. However, I am fairly certain and confident of my running pace after so many years of putting one foot in front of the other. Some things you just know. In fact, it is one of the few constants I have during this curious time we are all navigating. Runners optimize their words while chatting during runs together. A very artful dance between running partners while sharing one’s innermost thoughts and fears. Quite extraordinary what you learn about a fellow runner and what you find yourself saying as you grind out the many miles. One never compromises the running code of what is shared as it is rightfully protected forever and left in the confidence of the pavement. Wearing a mask challenges even the best cardio abilities. Each word like each footfall must be economic. We are all running at elevation while living at sea level these days.

As my husband and I make our way along the path frequently jumping laterally with my heart in my throat as a cyclist silently and aggressively approaches and proceeds to buzz by us. I am so focused on my suffering that I am unaware of the swift moving bicycles behind me. Stressful. Everyone is going somewhere quickly but not really. We pass in silence too as pleasantries are rarely exchanged these days. Commuting or communing?

The same morning commuters focus, and facial determination were apparent. One might as well be driving their car in rush hour traffic on Rte. 128.  I have witnessed and personally exhibited the same commuting expression for years just usually there is a Honda, Toyota or Ford around the individual and not an invisible protective shield. Each passerby’s eyes are the only facial features we are privy to now. We bike path travelers are trying to be healthy as all appearances would suggest. However, we suspiciously look at one another as we impatiently pass one another. Not a matter of speed or how slowly someone may be moving nor athletic prowess but fear of being too close to one another. There is danger in that now. Danger and fear of a silent killer, the coronavirus. 

Running endlessly straight has never been my favorite route. Out and back seems so uninspired. I like an in-town route or turns to keep it interesting. Even hills as it changes it up. I do not enjoy the forever pavement before me method of running. I try to take in my surroundings in an attempt to make the run more interesting.

My eye catches a gentleman sitting off to the right on one of the few available wooden benches dotted along the path. A balding man slightly hunched over somewhere between 50 and who knows how old. Sitting seemed out of place at 7 a.m. on a weekday while the rest of us were up and moving in one fashion or another. Feet firmly planted on the earth, heavy sturdy black workman’s shoes making him appear more grounded than he was. How long had he been sitting there? A bright official looking neon colored jacket brought my eyes from the earth upwards and black suspenders offered just the right functional contrast. A town workman? Maybe. Seated with his eyes firmly affixed forward, straight ahead while his right arm lifted his nip carrying hand to meet his chin masked face. Does he always start his workday opting for alcohol? What does his morning coffee break look like? No attempt to conceal. No judgement. We were all self-medicating in one fashion or another on the bike path that morning…

As my husband and I continued to bob and weave our mileage while others were bobbing and weaving around us, I asked him if he saw the man seated with his 50ml drink of choice and he replied “yes, breakfast of champions.” Exactly …

“I couldn’t help wondering if that was what God put me on Earth for–to find out how much a man could take without breaking.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Author: Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont.

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