9/11/2014 — Thirteen years ago today I woke 3,000 miles from home and went to a hotel gym. In remembrance of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, I am reblogging 9/11 Run about being stranded in Seattle and a lesson I learned that day at 7,000 feet altitude on Mount Rainier.
Everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001, but how many runners remember where they ran on that fateful day? I do, like it was yesterday.
Monday, September 10, 2001, I hopped on a plane at Philly International and flew to Seattle, Washington to attend a conference the following day. The conference never happened and the ticket for my return flight on Wednesday was useless because there were no flights on September twelfth, or the thirteenth for that matter. All air travel had been suspended for the first time in US history.
My body was still on East Coast time when I woke up Tuesday morning, so I went to the hotel gym to workout. It was just before six a.m. Pacific Time when I broke a sweat on the treadmill and watched a plane crash into the side of a building on the television that hung from the wall in front of me. I assumed it was tuned to a cheap “B” movie until I noticed the CNN logo on the bottom of the screen. The skyline in the picture began to look eerily familiar, when a moment later another plane sailed toward the buildings, as if in slow motion. Before I could reach out and push the pause button, the airliner obliterated the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
In the time it took to get to my room, shower and make a few phone calls, the Pentagon had been struck and a fourth airliner crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I drove to our Seattle office to learn the conference had been cancelled and everyone was sent home except emergency personnel. I was stranded in Seattle while my wife and four children were three thousand miles away during the most horrific even of our lifetime.
That afternoon I sought the refuge that had gotten me through the stressful times in my life—I went for a run. Running was a portable sanctuary I took with me wherever I traveled, and the long run was my remedy for reducing stress and restoring calm. Once I broke a sweat on my 9/11 run in Seattle, I returned to that peaceful state of mind I yearned. I would never make sense of the events that occurred that day, not even ten years later. But the long run restored an inner calm and clarity of thought, and appreciation for all my blessings. It replenished me.
By Friday I still hadn’t been successful in booking a flight home and needed to escape hotel living, so I packed up my rental car and drove to Mount Rainier. I followed signs to the visitor center at Paradise and picked up a trail map inside. Panorama Point, at 7,000 feet elevation, immediately grabbed my attention and I was off to the races. At the highest point on the trail, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman I had encountered who appeared to be entranced by the scenery. It became apparent he was no stranger to the mountain as he pointed into the distance and told me he had climbed to the summit of Mount Hood in 1981. I asked him his age, and with a hint of swagger and a twinkle in his eye, he replied, “Eighty-one.” The math was easy, the adventurer climbed Mount Hood at the young age of sixty-one.
I thought about the man on the mountain on the ride back to the hotel and it dawned on me that he never uttered a word about the terrorists’ attacks. The horrific events of the week were on every television and radio station, and in every newspaper. There was conversation about the attacks in every store, business or restaurant I’d entered; it was impossible to escape. Yet, he seemed unscathed by the tragedy. I wondered whether his zest for life produced immunity to hate and evil.
I finally got a flight to Philly on Saturday, September 15th and lined up for the 2001 Philadelphia Distance Run the following morning. Many runners wore red, white and blue bandanas, shirts and shorts, even socks. More than a few carried Old Glory the entire 13.1 miles. It was a tribute to those who lost their lives that horrific day, as well as to the American spirit.
Note: Pictures of the Pacific Crest Trail compliments of Win Van Pelt of the Seattle Running Club. The SRC also recommends 50 Trail Runs in Washington by Cheri Pompeo Gillis for those who want to hit the trails in Washington State. Picture of Mount Rainier summit compliments of PublicDomainPictures.net
*** Stranded in Seattle is a Chapter in Twenty-four Years to Boston, which will be released as an eBook on the first anniversary of its publication in October 2014.