Where The Journey Began
I live in constant amazement of where life's roads lead me. Not the bumpy and pothole-filled asphalt roads that carry me to and from work each day. I'm talking about the roads I can't see. The ones that inconspicuously weave through my heart and soul and then outward to places of beauty I could never get to on my own. I stand in these places never quite sure how I got there, yet, feeling a divine sense of certainty I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.
I was in one of those places last week when I traveled to the Cayman Islands to run a half marathon with my friend, Robyn, who lives there.
I met Robyn several years ago in the online group, Megsmiles Supporters. This is a group of people, many of them runners, who came together to honor Meg Cross Menzies. Meg was struck and killed by a drunk driver while on a training run for the Boston Marathon in January of 2014. Then, in May of 2015, sometime after Robyn and I became "online" friends, she visited Hanover County and I had a chance to meet her in person at Meg's memorial.
After our visit, I posted the following on Facebook:
Yesterday I posted an article on my blog about how I see myself as a puzzle piece in God's puzzle. I wrote about the importance of taking the initiative to solve the puzzle instead of waiting for God to tell us where we fit. If you're interested you can read the post here: http://bit.ly/1crI5Ns
Today that message expanded within me. Not only is it important to consider how I fit into the puzzle, but also how we all fit together. Puzzle pieces fitting together for a grander purpose plays out in this group every day. Today I, along with Scott and April Hicks, had the chance to meet fellow Megger Robyn Larkin and her husband Chris from the Cayman Islands. There we were, strangers, puzzle pieces from a thousand miles apart, somehow fitting together at Meg's Memorial in a tiny corner of Hanover County. So unlikely, but tragically wonderful as we stood there and became fast friends. Real-life puzzle piece friends.
We don't know what God's finished puzzle looks like. He does. We can only continue inserting ourselves into it, connecting together with one another, and looking toward the day when together we'll see the final product. What a celebration it will be as we come to know just how grand the #megsmiles pieces were to that puzzle.
The Cayman Islands
After that visit, Robyn decided to come to Richmond in the fall and run the Richmond Marathon. So I invited her to stay with our family. I'm sure my wife, Katie, thought I was crazy at the time. Maybe even something worse than crazy. It was, after all, the first woman I'd ever met online and subsequently invited to our house for a sleepover. Come to think of it, it was the first woman at all, other than my mom or Katie's, who'd received such an invitation. My wife has always enjoyed puzzles, I'm just not sure she was as sure as I was that this was all a part of one of God's puzzles.
But after Robyn arrived, it didn't take Katie long to see Robyn as I saw her. As a wonderful person and an awesome friend. A very cool puzzle piece.
We invited Robyn to come back in 2016. She accepted. She also insisted that we give her the chance to return the favor by hosting us in the Cayman Islands this December. Katie's an island girl at heart, so she was eager to accept. Like jump in Robyn's suitcase and go home with her eager. Me, I wasn't as eager. I was the one who would have to check off the itinerary box that said Cayman Island Half Marathon. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of tropical beauty too. But running half marathons tends to make a lot of beautiful things not so beautiful to me anymore.
After careful consideration, though, running a half marathon seemed like a small price to pay to make my wife exceedingly happy and visit a place where neither of us have ever been. So off we went.
It didn't take long after we landed in the Cayman Islands for the adventure to begin. For us it was really quite enough adventure watching Robyn climb into the passenger side of her car to drive us back to her place. That's how it's done in Cayman. Their steering wheels are on the wrong side of the car which I can only presume makes it easier for them to drive on the wrong side of the road. Robyn seemed confident in this system so my panic attack was mild. Until we got onto the highway.
We'd just eased onto one of the main roads and Robyn had begun sharing tales of the chaotic Cayman traffic flow, when out of my driver's side window - which isn't the driver's side at all in Cayman - I see a small wheel roll across the road in front of us. As I studied the scene, I saw a small and very old and tattered fishing boat limping ahead in front of us. The kind of limp boats use when they're suddenly missing a very crucial wheel. Several locals were riding in the back of the truck that was laboring to drag the handicapped boat along. I was floored by the noticeable state of calm that swept over their faces as they watched the wheel roll on. A wheel that now seemed to have all the momentum it needed to roll right into the Caribbean Sea. It was a calm that seemed to suggest boat trailers with wheels in the Cayman are certainly nice, but if one happens to escape it doesn't disrupt the journey of that boat and it's handlers nearly as much as it does the traffic around them.
It became a running joke the remainder of our stay - although I confess far more strategic than jokester on my part - when I insisted that Katie sit up front with Robyn whenever we were cruising the island. Not that I was trying to throw my wife in the path of incoming boat wheels or anything. I simply knew she'd enjoy the view more than me.
And views there were. The Cayman Islands are full of them. We treasured our days leading up to race day when we could get out and explore. I took this picture our first night there from Robyn's back yard - AKA the edge of the Caribbean. Absorbing this scene only left us anxious to see what the rest of the island held.
One of our days began with a trip to hell. A neat place, but nothing on this island remotely resembled hell as I picture it. Well, maybe the temperatures. Especially the temperatures during a half-marathon.
From this stop, I could actually mail my friends and family postcards that were postmarked in hell. I thought about it, but I have some friends who are on the brink of taking up permanent residency here, so I didn't want to jinx them.
Really, I'm just kidding!!
I have no idea why I was photographed with the devil and Katie came away from hell looking like an angel. Makes. No. Sense.
Shortly after escaping hell we met Alan. I'm sure that's a coincidence. We met him when we stopped along a coastal highway to observe a blowhole. I'll save you the science of how a blowhole - a giant hole in the ocean rocks - shoots ocean water up to 30 feet in the air depending on the day and size of the waves. You are spared, but we were not. We were scarcely out of our vehicle when a man in a Tom Brady jersey stormed our 4-person huddle and introduced himself as Alan, the Cayman version of Barack Obama. He assured us there was much more to a blowhole than meets the eye, and it was our lucky day to be in the presence of the only person on the entire island who knew anything at all about what that much more was. I don't know if that's true, but after spending the next hour with him, I kind of believe it is.
Not much water pressure this day, but with a little imagination I could picture the water shooting 30 feet in the air.
We had dinner one evening on Rum Point. It was beautiful. The next day we returned to explore the beaches and hang with the starfish. That was a memorable location. We actually spent a great deal of our time there checking out the prices of rentals. Never too soon to start planning a return trip.
The perfect place for a just the four of us photo op.
The Race - The Cayman Islands Half Marathon
As much as I'd rather have spent all of our time touring the island, the main event of our visit finally arrived. The Cayman Islands Half Marathon. I was concerned about running this race. I hadn't run much since my first full marathon in Richmond just 3 weeks earlier. The temperatures were also outside of my running comfort zone - especially the humidity - and I certainly hadn't run in an environment like this in several months. But it was my first chance to run a race outside of the United States, so I was committed to getting it done.
At most races the packet pick up is a major event. There are a lot of vendor tables and activities to keep you busy for a couple of hours. That was not the case with this race, though. Here you pick up the essentials, visit one of the few local vendors in the small hotel conference room where the pickup took place, and then move along. There is one difference, however. Here, when you move along, you step outside the packet pick up area into this scene.
Then there was this view from the outside dining area of the little italian restaurant that hosted the pre-race dinner:
After dinner it was home and to bed. The 5 AM start time was going to come early. It was going to be a big day.
Robyn and I were out of bed by 3:30 AM. That wasn't particularly challenging to me. I'm an early riser. But walking out the door into the wall of early morning steam, now that was challenging. Especially as I imagined running 13.1 miles in it. Robyn and many other runners at the race rejoiced that it wasn't as hot as it had been in previous years, but my comparison didn't involve previous editions of the race. My comparison involved I don't do well running in humidity and this morning's air was full of it.
But humidity or not, at 5 AM sharp we moved across the start line and down the road into island darkness.
Not far into the race, we came upon this scene.
Coming Down the Stretch