The way this book came to be in my hands is embarrassing. I’m a relatively new bookseller (“relatively” means I’m a fetus compared to my Boswell peeps, some of whom have been in the biz for at least a decade), so I come strolling onto the floor for my shift, and run into Daniel, who is talking to a really tall but unassuming guy. I figured this dude was looking for a book, and Daniel was helping him. Then Daniel says to him “Mel might like this!” and puts the book in my hand. I read the front cover: “Running Water: a thirst quenching 2,960 mile solo run across America, Adventure Memoir, Abraham Louis Clark” and am busy thinking about five things simultaneously:
- I hate running so much.
- Don’t I know an Abe Louise Clark from my Master’s days at UT–Austin?
- How long was the Appalachian Trail again?
- This is a Loyal book, not a Mel book.
I must have come across quite rude when I looked back a Daniel a few seconds later and said, “Oh yeah. Cool!” And probably like a complete asshole when I looked over to Tall Guy and said, “Can I help you guys find anything?” Daniel turns to me and says, “No. HE’S the author!”
The moments after this are a blur, except for shaking Abe’s hand and the one thought revolving around my head: I am an absolute asshole.
Here’s what I can say about Abe: I’m looking forward to making a second impression. Luckily, I’m working at Boswell Book Company for his event this Thursday, February 9th (begins at 7 PM!), so I get to do just that. After reading Running Water, I think he’d laugh about and totally understand my mistake. Abe is just one of those rare guys who is so laid back he’s almost plank-like. He doesn’t suck all the oxygen out of the room. And Running Water gives some insight as to how that person came to be.
I’d love to be one of the many people in Milwaukee who knows what Abe was like pre-run so I can compare him to Abe post-run. From reading Running Water, I discern that the ultra-distance taught Abe patience. As he writes:
I have long lost any personal stress or worries in running across America. Every once in a while, I will meet someone who is completely baffled by my run. It’s so funny because I don’t really understand how someone can’t understand. I run as far as I can and then find a place to sleep. The simplicity of it is maybe what people don’t get? (120)
Well, Abe. I get that. I get it because my partner, Loyal Mehnert, busts his ass every year to push his limits on distance hikes and other adventures to raise money for nonprofits like the Catalyst Foundation. There have been times when I, like Abe’s Kate, have been running around Milwaukee trying to finish school while my man is out on a grand adventure, even times when I’ve envied the simplicity of getting up in the morning, walking a great distance, then finding a place to sleep at night. When I finish this damn degree, I want to go on those adventures with him. Because I believe what Abe says is true:
There is no clear road map to the edge of your soul…the more I feed this craving, the harder it was to find. The chase had to be more exhilarating than the last, the journey farther than the one before, the outcome of the adventure more unknown… (66)
I spoke with so many people who had regrets of dreams unlived. They kept telling me I need to do these things while I’m still young, before life gets a hold of me. Their advice always struck me as odd since they where [sic] usually standing alive right in front of me. They were still capable of fulfilling their dreams in my book; however, they usually never saw it that way. If you want to accomplish something, the answer is not tomorrow, not yesterday, but today. It is always now. (189-90)
What I hear from Loyal all the time was echoed in Clark’s book: one must push the limits of the human body. More precisely: one must push one’s own limits often. In Abe’s case, he wanted to run until his body gave out, a luxury he didn’t get to do on his 2,960-mile solo run from California to the Atlantic Ocean. But he did push his personal limits along the way.
Although the frustrated English teacher in me was distracted by many errors throughout the book, I very much enjoyed Abe’s anecdotes about the experience. There are moments when his prose sings pitch-perfect, moments where he captures the poetic subtext of a life lived fully. My favorite is the following moment, when the sun sets on him in Shiprock, New Mexico:
From behind something charged straight at me, the sudden approach caused me to spin around and brace myself. It was a wild horse, apparently attracted to the blinking lights that littered [my jogging stroller] Ruby’s frame. We stood motionless in the cool night staring each other down. Our souls just understood each other’s-we were wild, and we were free. Just as suddenly as we stopped we both took off again faster than ever. His heavy hooves beat against the helpless ground. Powerful breaths from his nostrils made the animal’s efforts visible in the moonlight. We flew through the desert night, our long hair floating on the wind. We embraced the darkness, shut out the world, completely locking us into the moment. My senses heightened, and I felt completely in touch with my body as it sliced through the night. In that moment we weren’t running to get anywhere, or for any reason. We were running just to run, and to us, that made perfect sense. (54)
What leaps off the page in moments like these is a particular perspective on life, one that comes from having learned places through the soles of the feet, from beating pavement sunup to sundown each and every day. I don’t know what this is like. The most I’ve run consecutively from point A to point B in my life is probably 4 miles. Yes, I ran many more miles up and down indoor and outdoor soccer fields over the years, but there’s a specific mindset that comes with distance running that Abe describes quite well. In fact, he made me miss it horribly.
That’s the most powerful take-away from Running Water for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much about the non-profit that Abe was raising money for during his run. I didn’t get any personal stories about the people with a stake in his project, or affected by the donations. In a perfect world, the book would not end at the Atlantic, but he’d carry it across to Haiti, maybe a poignant story about how he taught local children how to run…or better yet, how the local children taught him how to run. Or something about how running in Haiti gave him a powerful thirst…for his next grand adventure.
Nevertheless, the book speaks to me because I understand the mindset of both adventurer and endurance athlete. Abe’s story makes me happy that Loyal isn’t the only person who believes in these causes that depend upon personal sacrifice. Abe’s story also makes me feel like a slack-ass for not running all these years when I’ve desperately needed to…some of you won’t get that, some of you will. There’s a thing that happens to the mind after hitting the second wall, and Abe makes me want to find out what happens at the third and fourth and fifth walls.
This is a book for all kinds of people: runners, would-be runners, the faithful, the faithless looking for faith, adventurers, explorers, and people who are interested in how people grow and change. Thanks for sharing your story with the world, Abe, and I look forward to hearing you speak tomorrow!