Posted On September 1, 2009 By In The Phast Lapp And 564 Views


“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “WOW, what a ride!” – unknown

I remember taking off, leaving, dropping out of sight, ever since high school. I did it in the Navy, not so much while during my college years for reasons I won’t go into here, but then a few times since I graduated and even since I’ve been here in Dallas (1983). Gone. Without a trace.

Once, after leaving for a week from Dallas (1990? 1993?), my dad back in Massachusetts and my coach here, along with others here and in Illinois, contacted police, thinking foul play had taken place.

Boy, did I get a talking to then about my,…my …hiding.

I know it’s not the most mature thing in the world. I KNOW that. I’m consciously aware of that, really. But just to leave on one’s own, to strike out, to look for time, and mental space…to hide. To breathe.

There were scary moments on top of a bridge in some state in the “Lower 48” somewhere (to this day, I don’t know which one) with my thumb stuck out hoping for a ride… The sun had set many hours before. I was freezing. Cold, dark, and alone I have known too many times. All I knew then was to keep heading north, whichever direction that was. Or keep getting picked up on Illinois 51, I-95, -70, or -64 hoping for a decent person that wouldn’t take advantage of me. …*sigh*

We all live on a precipice, the ledge.

It’s all a law of averages. I laugh at those that say I/we are at risk, or we’re risking ourselves further because of running, cycling, or swimming. I have news for them. The second we’re born, our clock is ticking. We’re ALL at risk of dying just by living. Pretty elementary, you’d think. And yet some cling so tightly to their breath, they don’t take the next one that will give them life. Sad.

I have an aunt who is very negative. If it’s a beautiful day, she’ll predict rain. Before she had kids, she was a pill because everything was dangerous. People couldn’t go for a walk with her complaining we were going to get hit by a car. The population of Fitchburg, Massachusetts is, was 45,000. We’re not talking six lane Northwest Highway type of roads here. Even years later when my parents moved out to the country (read as, further isolated) to Ashby, pop. 2,000, Barbara would insist something was going to happen. Pterodactyl-like mosquitoes were going to carry us away after killing us with germs.

The irony is she smoked. A LOT.

When she had kids (four), she was even worse. To have her as company meant there would be NO recreation, especially outside. As an adult, I handled it better than when I was a kid.

But I felt for her kids. They were never allowed to participate in any activities. No game of catch, or looking for bugs, or climbing the neighbor’s tree. “You could get hurt.” Sorry, but that’s what five, six and seven year olds do. They get hurt. …I wonder what happened to her kids, how they turned out…

Admittedly I don’t play chicken with semi’s on the highway, but I don’t worry so much about when my “time” is up, either. I’ve been nearly killed a few times (detailed in an earlier column). When it’s up, it’s up. And I’m OK with that.

No, I’m not about to tempt life and death by doing fool hearty stunts, but I’m not going to limit my activities, either. I will continue to swim in open water, bicycle on the open road, and run whereever I can, safely.

I know of people who worry, literally, to death. They worry about me. They see it as a way of caring. Really? That’s how you care for someone, by wishing they would live less, less how they’d like and more on your terms? Really? That’s caring? Uh-huh. Nope. Not for me.

I don’t do my activities to be disrespectful to anyone. Anyone who does is thinking too much of themselves because it’s not about them. It’s not directed at anyone. In fact, it’s all quite selfish. It’s about me. And since it IS my life, I think I make a good case to continue doing what I currently do. It’s to get the things out of my head, and to allow me to breathe. Breathe. Remember that? Remember breathing?

When I’m out at one of the area lakes swimming, I know full well there are things in that water bigger and meaner than me. I know it, but I don’t dwell on it. Sometimes I picture my arm going down the throat of an alligator the size of a Cadillac Espalade. But I take the next stroke anyway.

When I’m out on one of my solo bike rides, I know at any minute a drunk, an inattentive driver, or one that has it out for other people sharing his road, could swerve over the line and end my bike ride. It’s happened before and was one of the times that nearly killed me.

I distinctly remember the moment after a drunk driver hit me from behind while I was doing a short, meaningless ride, when all time and space stopped, paralyzing me in space long enough to ponder who I was, what I was doing, and what was probably going to happen.

In the moment, I had gobs of time to look around me, memorize the clouds in the sky, realize what had just happened, and if I was ready for my life to be over. The answer to the last question was, I was. I remember specifically thinking, “This could be it, Chris. Are you OK with that?” I thought for a moment longer, and answered my own question. “Yes, I’m OK with that.” But also remember with some humor thinking, “If I don’t go this time, this crash is going to hurt. This is going to leave a mark!”

Once while out for a run in Memphis I happened into the wrong neighborhood by accident on a summer’s Friday night. The yelling and shouts began almost immediately as I picked up the pace knowing the shortest route out of a bad situation was to go straight ahead. Then the throwing of light objects began, that led to heavier objects as I remembered my coach had written only a light run for me to do. It was a much longer and faster run than I expected but I made it back to the hotel, alive.
My swimming, biking, and running is one way for me to hide, to sort out thoughts and face the real person I am, probably not the one people see, the one that disappoints, and falls on the bad side of where I know I belong. If I can get to the good side, it’s only because of grace and luck, and nothing I did.

“Turtling.” Hiding from expectations and disappointments; failures and victories; the most mundane of thoughts, and exotic fantasies; from my anger and kid-like giddiness; hiding from my self-loathing self, to celebrate my jubilant self-satisfaction, and from others, those who find my sense of humor funny and those who would rather see me dead; from those I like and don’t like, and those that do and don’t like me. Hide from things I should have said and didn’t, and things I did say and shouldn’t have. I can pour out all that I hide on to myself, for myself to hear and roll over and over like uncooked dough until even I get tired of it, and either solve the problem or simply throw it out.

We’re all on that ledge. Hopefully breathing, enjoying the view. Most of us make it to the other side of where we’re going. Some jump, and some fall. But it’s those that pull back, fearing whatever. The drop? The consequences? Missing the rest of the day? I don’t know. I feel sad for them, for not stretching out seeing what’s over the legde.

Funny thing about my recreation, I was always more scared when I flew for a living. Every time, and I do mean EVERY time the plane took off, I wondered if that would be the end. Every time. It was a nerve racking way to earn a pay check. Every time that blasted plane took off, I waiting for the wing to fall off, the plane to split in two, or the engines to fail and nose dive the plane straight into a corn field for fertilizer. Great! …I was very happy when I stopped flying.

Honestly, with all the sincerity I can muster, if it happened right now, this second, if I died here and now, I’d be OK with it. Really. If a bolt of lightning struck my computer and lit me up and stopped my heart, I’d be OK with it. I know I’m still quite young to die, but I also feel I’ve lived one heck of a life, up and down, with good friends the last 20 years, and some memorable enemies! (Geez, I feel almost guilty for taking another breath.)

But know this: I’m not about to pull back from the edge tomorrow. I’m marching on… onwards, always forward. I’m going on. Who’s with me?

I promise to try to let you know when I go hiding. I can promise I’ll try. But, that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it.? At the start of this column, when I left for that week, I put my car on 635 not sure I would go east to Atlanta, west to Colorado, or north to Illinois. I landed in Colorado that time. But I could see Illinois from there. :)

Chris Phelan has written, laid out, photographed, and published The Phast Times News since 2001. He’s crisscrossed Texas on his bike three times, swam 5 miles across Lake Ray Hubbard three times, completed three Ironman triathlons, and has represented the US in completion three times, and run with the Olympic Torch. He maintained All-American status for five years and has also biked across the country, 3600 miles in 30 days. The running/triathlon coach has PR’s of 2:27 marathon, 15:40 5K, 3:55 at the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, and 10:00:52 Ironman. Chris is the only person to have won overall and Master’s at Dallas’ Crosson Dannis road racing series, DRC road racing series, and the USAT/SMW duathlon series. In 1988 he began Dallas’ oldest track workout, 1998 started north Texas’ first treadmill class, and 2003 he founded the world-wide Ride Of Silence. He’s been twice nominated Master’s Road Runner of the Year, highlighted in a variety of magazines and is frequently asked to speak at camps and organizations about fitness. Outside of swimming, biking, and running, Chris has summited several mountains including Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.