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Running Up Hill

All I wanted as a kid was some sort of vehicle that would move me up the highest hill in the neighborhood. I didn’t want to pedal, so I checked out books from the library on how to make a mini-bike. I drew up plans and dog-eared Briggs and Stratton catalogues. When a new neighbor showed up with a moped, I begged for a ride. Wherever I went, I was on the lookout for kid transportation, something that required a little gas and oil. When I found it, off I would go, with a triangular orange flag waving to the world, shouting to everyone: Look at me! I am alive! 

My 8-year-old Levon feels the same way these days. He sets off on his own whenever he wants, thanks to an electric scooter that can whip him up and down the hills of our neighborhood (after a 24-hour charge). He heads out into the wilderness like Captain William Clark, exploring and searching for new and interesting routes.

The initial flash and fireworks of twisting a handgrip or stomping an accelerator frees a kid to inspect the world a bit more easily. You use less muscle and scale up and down the roads in an eternal stroll. Maybe this is why men love motorcycles and Jeeps. It takes them back to when their childhood home disappeared from sight, and every road was new.

So why did I remove the engine completely and start moving under my own power? It happened back in the spring. 

“Uh-huh, sure… yeah, I’ll do it,” I told my wife Dawn. 

But when sign-ups for the Richmond Marathon came around, there really was no backing down.
I answered a few questions about how slow I was, handed over my $160 online, and felt stupid. 

At first glance, it seems simple – no uniform, no pads, no equipment. But at the running store, I was heading into the woods for the first time like an unprepared Boy Scout. I had no matches, compass, or shelter. The salesman instructed me like the rookie I was. “Run back and forth. I need to check out your form.” I left with some marshmallow-y shoes in San Diego Charger colors; special socks marked with an “R” and an “L,” so I could learn how to wear them; and shorts with a built-in compression lining. 

“Do you need running glasses?” Yes, please! Give me the gear.

There is such a thrill when you get the new accoutrements for an untried venture. You feel legit. You feel borderline pro. Like a spaceman, zipping up his suit and heading to the launch pad. But really, the honeymoon phase is over once the Amazon box arrives and the tags are cut. Then, there is no going back. 

I watched it with Levon when he first got on that scooter and pulled on his new elbow pads, kneepads, and his red, flashing, lizard helmet. He was ready for every pothole and random stick that the road might bring. I felt that same way with my sack of gold. I even bought a stick of Body (the original anti-chafe balm) to make sure friction didn’t work against me. When I finally got out there and ran for the first time in ten years with my team, the Greywolves, I realized that the new gear didn’t take away the voices in my head. I need bacon. I need orange juice. I need to STOP. 

When Dawn runs, she spends the whole time talking to her friends about parenting and bucket list jogs in Big Sur. She and her buddies deplete their precious oxygen, interviewing each other and re-capping the week’s highs and lows. I can’t do it like that. I just take off and exist without an iPhone or even a watch. I like the no-tech, head-in-the-clouds approach. My only goal is not to walk. I stare at the houses. I have lists of what I need to start and what I need to finish. I drift. It takes just a few moments, and I am that kid again, on my bike, noticing the world that goes by too quickly when I’m inside a car. 

When he sets off on his scooter, Levon lives in that breeze. He turns on his clip-light and eases back on the throttle. The electric motor whines and off he goes. He loses track of when he must come home and begs for another lap around the block. He can’t get enough. He escapes, not worried about how much juice is left in the lithium battery. Not making it back from wherever he goes isn’t a defeat – just a nuisance to overcome. 

Meanwhile, all I can think about is when we will stop going straight and head back toward the parking lot where a lava-colored Hydro Flask waits for me with thirty-two ounces of ice cold Richmond tap water. 

A fellow Greywolf said that since I am up to ten miles, I am now a runner. But when I head out, I still feel like I am wearing my grass-cutting shorts and borrowed shoes. In the morning, while it’s still dark, I try to decide between peanut butter toast or a banana before I leave. Should I drink one cup of coffee or two?

Running hasn’t seeped into my bones yet. There’s still a part of me that wants the 2-cycle motor to take me up the hill. But on my two legs, I’m slowed down and become more like Levon, driving his machine – observant and contemplative. My head on a swivel, I hear my own advice to my son: Don’t space out. Keep your eyes on the road! 

He is a thinker and eager to explore. When I run, so am I. 

Last night, I asked him, “Why do you like that scooter so much?” 

He said, “Dad, I don’t like to pedal.”

I didn’t reply, but I’m starting to see what he means.

John Morgan
Married for fourteen years, John Morgan is the father of two boys, ages eight and five. He serves as the English department chair at St. Catherine’s School where he teaches creative writing. Other than words, he loves vintage drums, cars, and George Harrison's 12-string solos. Follow him on Twitter @johnlmorganiv.
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