The Loss of Pedro 66

“Soldier Antlers” by Lydia Komatsu

Last fall, I began drafting a new essay inspired by Dust to Dust, the Benjamin Busch memoir. There was this passage in which Busch recalled the moment of his mother’s death to cancer, only a year after his father Frederick Busch died. Reading that passage will always be for me the moment I knew I could go deeper with my writing. I won’t give anything away or quote the stunning prose – you need to read the entire work for yourself – but Busch does this magic trick in which he slows the moment of her passing. That, I thought, is how I would like to write.

Essay writing is a labor of love, as is any act of creativity. I’ve always taken this to mean “unrequited,” but lately learned it just means you must love what you are writing about. The situation must be near to you, precious enough to drive you to the page, tilting at the quixotic question: What does all this mean to me?

The essay began as a foray into the connection between my running and my wars, but ended up leading me down unexpected paths until when I finished and realized this is less about running than it is about loss and memory. Some of this was just evolution. Nonfiction to me was history books and journalism; but as I read and wrote through my first year of a Master’s Degree in Creative Nonfiction Writing, that word “creative” became more and more important.

In writing, we talk about what happened as “the situation.” It’s the who, what, where, when, why, and how of things. The “story” is how we choose to write about those things in order to bring forth what felt most true. When Pedro 66 went down five years ago on this date, the story was obscured to me for the longest time. I knew what happened to a certain extent, the situation that enveloped it. But I could not find the what it meant, and without that in hand, I couldn’t find a way to write about it beyond the chronology of events that exposed in me a raw grief.

Reading Dust to Dust taught me that the understanding the story isn’t about having the answers; rather, it’s about the pursuit. Seeking truth is the story in some cases, and to write in such a way as to illuminate it like Ben Busch did, well, I’d say that’s a good goal for an essay.  I don’t know why Mike Flores, Joel Gentz, and Ben White had to die on June 9th, 2010, but I do know that their deaths were meaningful to me. What went through their minds in their final moments can never be known, but that won’t stop me from trying to imagine it, even if it’s painful to do so. I will forever be in front of their caskets as long as I’m at the page.

Blue Skies, Brothers

Capt David Wisniewski, Pilot
1Lt Joel Gentz, CRO
TSgt Michael Flores, PJ
SSgt David Smith, FE
SrA Benjamin White, PJ

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Ibex Zepher Wind Boxer Brief

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Ibex Zepher Wind Boxer Brief

Wear these bad boys to your next undies party!

Yes, I am reviewing underwear. If you are faint of heart or have delicate eyes, maybe you should skip this post.

When you occasionally find yourself running in -20 to -40 windchill factor, you will find that your choice of layering can make or break the run. Take for example, the case of the poor fellow whose story I am about to share. One day in the Pipeline, we all went out for a run in Albuquerque. It was a colder than normal day, and one of the guys forgot his sweats and opted to simply go out in his “PJ panties,” i.e. the shiny blue, uber-short nylon running shorts. I recall I separated from the group in order to get in a few extra miles, so I didn’t regroup with them back at the Cone Ops Center for a good hour after they finished. Upon entering the room, there on the floor, was said fellow, in writhing agony, because he froze his junk. The PJ panties, while alluring to the ladies, did little to protect his nether-regions, and so, he suffered a good hour of the screaming barfies as sensation returned to his, well, you get the idea….

I too have paid the price on occasion, but I am afraid no more. Ibex, if you aren’t aware, is a high-end manufacturer of merino wool sports apparel. Everybody knows wool is Nature’s favorite form of insulation. It traps heat in the cold, even when wet, and dissipates it when it is warm. It also has naturally-occurring anti-bacterial qualities. But, for eons, wool was also bulky, stinky when wet (you know, that old kinda wet dog smell?) , and itchy itchy. These days, companies like Smartwool and Ibex are pushing the envelope of wool engineering. I’ve found the Ibex layers, in particular, are thinner than their synthetic counterparts, yet typically warmer, least stinky, and way more durable.

The Zepher Winds (find them here) run a pretty penny ($60), but boast Ibex’s thickest Merino wool layer, and some kind of magical wind shield where it matters most. They call it a “wind panel with poly micro denier.” The coldest paces I’ve put them through were about -30F, under just some thick running tights, and I was perfectly comfortable. I have to admit that upon seeing the picture to the right, I was a little hesitant, mostly because they look just ridiculous. But, it’s not like these were designed for the runway. So, I punched it, and I haven’t been disappointed in the least. I should also mention I’ve tested them in warmer weather (20-30+), curious as to whether they would roast me in warmer climes. True to form, the merino wool kept me warm, but nowhere near overheating. They do make another version minus the windproof material, which is probably most ideal if you’re looking to sport these in the summer. But, I have to say that the Zepher Winds will perform in all winter conditions.

Well, I’m not sure what else to review about these undies. They get the job done, and I highly recommend them for anyone who lives and trains in the any kind of cold climate. See you on the catwalk!




Where do I start? How do I pick up the pieces of the past month?

A little over four weeks ago, I did a 23M on a perfect Sunday afternoon and had a glimpse of the possible. It was the first time in the past eight months of training I actually felt like 2:39-40 was within my grasp. I couldn’t believe how great I felt, despite having averaged 6:35 over challenging terrain the last 13 miles. Then,  work sent me off in several different directions and it the edges began to fray. The week after that glorious long run, my left leg felt a bit tricky which I shrugged off as simple fatigue from four weeks over 100/week and an arduous run. But it got worse, probably compounded by a ten day stretch where I switched to night schedule and my sleep cycle was all jacked up.

Things continued to worsen when I got home…hot hot humidity, lack of rest, and my left calf turned into a bona fide injury as opposed to annoyance. On top of it all, I simply could not hit my target paces for key workouts and I just plain got depressed about it all. Two weekends ago, things hit a crescendo when I couldn’t manage for five miles what I’d previously been running for 10-20. It was a severe mental blow…but as I spent some time looking at my state of mind and approach to training, I figured out some key lessons.

One, the whole reason for starting this whole Run For Something endeavor was to get beyond personal ambition. Yet here I was, dwelling on my troubles, not blogging at all and just generally feeling sorry for myself. I won’t say I had an epiphany, but sitting at a Sunday night service at Midtown, I felt a message built just for me hit home. Without getting too far into the weeds, let me tell you I walked away from it re-purposed. The specific take-away for me and for this project was to stop feeling sorry for myself…there were bigger things at work besides my little mental breakdown. So many times over the past month, I felt like I should be writing and sharing with my devoted readers. Instead, I wallowed in self-pity. I should have been sharing stories like this.  

Then, last Tuesday, I received terrible news. Four of my brothers were killed in a helicopter that went down in Afghanistan. These were men to whom I was bonded through trials and challenge beyond the scope of what I care to discuss here. One of them, Michael “Flo” Flores was one of my troops in my last job, and it is his loss I feel the most. He was such a quiet, unassuming professional. Always ready with a crooked smile, his demure mannerism completely disarming. He leaves behind a wife, two children, and a host of men and women whose lives he altered. He died on his anniversary.

I have no problem sharing with you my deep sorrow and broken heart over these losses. In eight years of wars, this is the first time someone close to me has been killed. I have been remarkably fortunate, I feel this on a personal level that is too painful to explain.

This brings me to today, on a flight to Tucson for tomorrow’s Memorial Service. We left SC yesterday and I made arrangements to get to AZ mid-trip, so I haven’t made it up to Duluth yet. My plans of getting up there early to pick up my packet and unwind before the race have obviously gone by the wayside. I’m going to show up in Duluth on Friday with a legs heavy with travel, but not as heavy as my heart. Then there’s my injured calf and the derailed training of the past month.

I’ll be honest – I thought about withdrawing. There are a lot of reasons not to run at this point. My Perfect Plan of arriving in Duluth well-rested, tapered, and trained for the Big Race has not survived life’s ups and downs. But I’ve asked myself over the past week some important questions. Would Flo want me to quit before I even started, feeling sorry for myself? Never. This was a man who met and overcame challenges in training that eliminated 90% of his peers; Flo was a man who when he said, “Never Quit,” he meant it. I asked myself: Will the Sudanese who will learn to access clean water because of our contributions to Mocha Club care whether I run 2:45 or 4:45? The answer is a resounding, “NO.”

So, I will persevere. I don’t care if I have to walk, don’t care if I have to crawl across that finish line. I will remember the needs of others, and place them before personal desires and comforts. In the meantime, I ask that if you have the means, please join my team by hitting the Mocha Club link on the right. Make a difference and contribute. If you can’t afford it, I ask only for your moral support and prayers for the families and friends of the fallen, and for our Mocha Club project. And, if you have the time, on the morning of June 19th, think of me while I run Grandma’s and send me some of those thoughts and prayers as well.