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Border Runner

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Origins

When I was younger, nothing generated more excitement than crossing state borders on road trips with the family. In my kiddie nascency, political borders  were far from arbitrary. As soon as the ‘Now Leaving’ and ‘Welcome To’ signs passed by, things just seemed different.

I picked up this notion early on during riveting trips from Cleveland, Ohio to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where Roam About family reunions were held. The PA side of the Bukach fam spoke differently, pronouncing ‘wash’ as whoosh’, ‘God’ as ‘Gawd, and ‘Red’ up the table’ instead of ‘Set the table’.

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The PA folks also drank Pabst Blue Ribbon instead of (soda) ‘pop’, and rooted for the Steelers (pronounced ‘Stillers’).  The latter made me dislike them as a die-hard Cleveland fan, but they were so kind and loved to play horseshoes as much as I —I couldn’t let sport allegiances, or regional vernacular affect family-ties.

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We lived two hours away from each other, were of the same blood, yet, wholly different because we lived in different states (or so I thought).

It wasn’t until Roam About family began traveling to more topographically/culturally diverse lands like Florida (ahem), California, Washington State that I noticed how incredibly diverse and massive the US landscape —and the people within—was, fueling my love of border crossings to an obsessive frenzy.

Fearmongering Bridge

I think about how bizarre it is that a town like New Castle, Pennsylvania, can spurn a travel compulsion running across the Wisconsin/ Minnesota border, playfully looking around for butting state force fields as a distraction to my bowel-vacating fear of heights, as I push mental corporation limits by traversing the skinny bike path over the very tall Mississippi River Bridge, with nothing but sea gulls feathers to keep me from plummeting 150 feet to certain death.

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I once had a panic attack on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran. It was early morning, and I had strolled out mid-bridge when the fog let up with the sun unveiling a flimsy chain-link fence protection from the icy, shark infested waters far, far below.

I dropped to the ground as my vision tunneled, and went fetal to keep from passing out. A group of hard-charging Japanese tourists thought I was a comedian, and laughed at my “stunt” snapping off a thousand or so pictures of the situation, blinding me further. Somewhere in a photo album on a coffee table in Kyoto; I’m a conversation starter. One of my finer travel moments…

I face my fears crossing the bridge —think about something else, Mike.

Roam About family road-tripped up to Wisconsin back in the early 90’s. We visited a friend’s lake house in Osh Kosh on Lake Winnebago, where I attempted water skiing for the first time. I remember warm water, the smell of gas vapors from an accelerating boat, flailing for balance, pain, then an involuntary nasal douche.  I’ve since associated that horrible aquatic nose burning sensation with Wisconsin…

…nasal douche, the height between my feet and the water below. What if this bridge collapses? I would die of a heart attack before hitting the river…

Think about your week, Mike. Last night’s sunset.

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I’m in La Crosse, Wisconsin; a blue collar-meets-academia town where chain stores/restaurants are shunned and surname branding, embraced.

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A client was gracious enough to drive me and a co-worker up to the beautiful and peaceful Grandad Bluff – a sandstone mesa overlooking the Mississippi valley. Here’s a panorama of the moment:

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Later in the afternoon, between work sessions, I hit downtown La Crosse to reconnect with my biggest passion in life: travel exploration. Moseying around small towns, snapping pics and soaking it all in from the sidewalks.

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Even unassuming towns like La Crosse culls fascination. Not because I want to glorify undeserving towns , but because there is charm and characters all over this country/world,  and sometimes, you have to dig a little bit to find it; take a chance at conversations with people in a dive bar, or a thrift store, record shop, or walk under a bridge to find adventure.

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Over the bridge, about a mile down, face to face with the ‘Welcome to Minnesota’ sign, which I touch (a customary, sort ritualistic thing I do whilst running), and turn to head back to Wisconsin. People driving passed on the freeway must think I’m crazy running on a beat up by-pass, touching state signs, but I wonder what THEIR passions are, what makes them tick.

I run through a lovely state park on the Wisconsin side and find a beach. A beach on the Mississippi? Eat your heart out Huck Finn!

I stop for a moment. Breathe it all in. Runner’s high.

Stuck between a memory and endorphin reality, I sprint up the bridge access stairs, Rocky theme blaring in my head, looking—not below— but over and out, towards the factories lining the ol’ Mississip’.

I’m sentimental towards industry; it’s my native Cleveland; it’s my Grandpa Bukach’s wood shop, regular, blue collar Joe’s; it’s what once made the US great.

In my travels I’ve learned it’s not always about Paris, New York, Tokyo, or Moscow. Sometimes, it’s the La Crosse’s of this world, the New Castle, Pennsylvania’s that help you overcome fears and surprise you with inspiration.

-Mike

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Did you ever have the contest of who could hit the state line first in the car? That involved lots of pushing, shoving, opening of windows and reaching out as far as possible. The prize? An extra Pringle.

    September 3, 2013
    • Ha! You bet I did. Roam About Sister lost out on so many swedish fish…
      mmm Pringles.

      September 5, 2013
  2. What a great post! I love small towns-I live in one, so I appreciate your appreciatation. I remember as a kid crossing borders when state lines had borders. They’d ask if we had fruit etc before they’d let us through. Nice photos, too.

    September 3, 2013
    • Thanks very much, Laura Lynn.
      Small towns can be just as exciting as the big ones.

      September 5, 2013
  3. I am so glad you survived. You’ve taken your blog to new heights!

    September 3, 2013
    • Hiyo!
      Thanks, Susie. Glad I survived as well. Touch and go there for a second.

      September 5, 2013
  4. The best part of all of this? That you got in a run, even if it did involve a ferocious 150 foot bridge. I think running is hands down the best way to get to know a place — close enough that you can really observe things and get the flavor of a place, but you’re moving along fast enough that you can really cover some ground.

    September 3, 2013
    • You are laying down some truth, PinotNinja! I love running, especially in new places. You’re totally right; you can cover a lot of ground without missing things as you would whizzing by in a car.

      September 5, 2013
      • Running in new places, esp. countrysides, is a wonderful way to explore. I participated in a relay last year that traversed most of Maryland, and it was really amazing to see the varied geographies and go through dozens of small towns. The best moment was being on a rolling country road, all alone, with the sunrise to one side on the 2nd day. The worst moment, 10 minutes after that, when I realized I still had 7 miles to go for that leg.

        September 9, 2013
        • Sounds like a very zen-ned out moment – one of the main reasons I run right there.

          Ha! How did you do? Finish?

          September 16, 2013
  5. Nasal douche?! HAHAHAHA

    You are far braver than I my friend, no bike riding over bridges EVER. I had a similar walking experience in Vancouver BC, walking over the Glanville Street bridge to Granville Island to take in all the markets. I almost went fetal as I hit the midway point and had to look straight ahead and shake and sweat my way across.

    I, too, have what I now know is a “bowel vacating” fear of heights.

    Thank you Dr. Mike

    September 3, 2013
    • The ol’ nasal douche! Or netty pot, for the PC. :)
      Ugh. That feeling is the worst. Do you get scared when other people lean over bridges or buildings?
      ‘Cause it freaks me the hell out.

      Very scientific medical term, ‘Bowel vacating’.

      September 5, 2013
  6. I love that you are a conversation starter in Japan! Great visual, despite the suffering you endured in order to share it with your audience years later. Oh, I also realized why I like you so much: I’m pretty sure we’re related. Yup. My mother grew up in the Pittsburgh area and all her people are still there. (She moved as far as Christianly possible away as soon as she finished college for reasons of avoiding boredom, strange accents, and family. But that’s a story on its own.) Growing up, we spent many-a two-week summer trip to see my grandparents and cousins in Pittsburgh–we being the exotic Westerners hailing from an unruly, lawless place none of them had ever dreamed of, let along traveled to. So how many degrees of separation between our families, the epicenters of which are located a scant 60 mi from one another? I don’t care, only that there is now a geographic and perhaps genetic reason for the sense of cameraderie and shared humor I feel when I read your stuff. :))

    September 4, 2013
    • Holy crap, Laura. We probably are.
      Wouldn’t that be weird? Well, I guess it wouldn’t be weird at all, and would make perfect sense.
      I have to ask, do you have Polish relatives?

      September 5, 2013
      • Hmmm… family’s been in that area for a long time, like pre-Civil War. As for the documented relatives, I think it’s all Irish-English-Welsh–coal miners and shop owners, for the most part. I wouldn’t be surprised if a sneaky Pole infiltrated the gene pool at some point!

        September 6, 2013
        • Haha!
          Well, that sneaky Pole would be one of my peeps. So, if you have a weird branch of the family tree, that’d be us. :)

          September 9, 2013
  7. Epic and inspirational this post is your best yet of all of your amazing posts.

    September 5, 2013
    • Thanks very much, natureo – I really appreciate it.

      September 5, 2013
  8. Non-Flapdoodle-ental #

    I SAY COME TO LAHORE

    September 29, 2013

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