Dr. TrailLove, or How I Learned to Transmit the Data and Love the Virtual Race

A meditation on pandemic running from my friend John.

Virtual races and challenges. No Wii needed. Just pay the internet man the money and go run around. Then the internet man sends you digital prizes, a t-shirt and a medal when you’re done running around. That’s what I do during pandemics and reckonings of systemic racial injustice. 

In fact, I ran around for a long time. May 15th until July 15th. The internet man told me to run 174.2 miles – the length of New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway. I used to like to run around on the roads. Sometimes I would run real far. Sometimes even as far as Pheidippides. But now because of all the sourdough and stuff, things are different. 

The roads seem far away, from a different time.

So I know this guy searching for his soul in dirt or something. Sounded fair. Sounded like something I could really get behind. He’s an internet man of sorts too. So I told the first internet man, that I wanted to do his race, but that I also wanted to search for my soul and see if it was in the dirt. He said “fine,” but assured me the other holograms would be running around on the roads for his computer race. So I said to the internet man “great! now I’ll have all the dirt to myself!” 

The internet man was confused. 

I went out and found some dirt that was arranged in curvy, undulating lines between lots of trees and streams in a couple of parks near my brick and mortar house. I put on the sneakers that have historically had semi-monogamous relationships with macadam and concrete surfaces arranged in less curvy, less undulating lines between houses and buildings and soccer fields, with honking stinky horns and wafts of street cigarettes and referees’ whistles. My sneakers looked up at me, nodded in agreement. They too wanted digital prizes from the internet man. It was time to go, time to find my soul in the dirt. My sneakers were confused.

The dirt air was way thicker than cyber air. It was hot too. Hope the processor fan turns on soon. Wait, this dirt is undulating in one direction, up. I hope it undulates down soon. There are rocks and roots everywhere in this dirt. Obviously nobody has cleaned this up in some time. I can’t breathe this dirt air. My ankle is swollen. My knee is bleeding. I’m covered in dirt. My shirt is so heavy with sweat. Go shirtless!  (Flash ‘em!) My headphones fell out again. Soul! Soul! Where are you?!! I’m here in the dirt on a mission for the internet man!  

No answer.

I kept at that dirty internet running. I could feel the internet glow of those digital prizes calling me. Clanky medals to dangle somewhere. Ill-fitting t-shirt to stuff in my drawer and never wear. (Wait, do I want the internet  prizes or my soul?) I know the internet man knew how to keep me at this soul search.  

The undulating lines between the trees and over the streams became self-explanatory after long. They did their thing. I did mine. We played our parts. 

These undulating lines flow. Find the line. Not the big line, but the line in the line. Where the water flows down. Where the mountain bikers careen. That’s the flow spot. That’s the smart spot. It goes up and it goes down. No need to fight more than the fight already at hand. Bounce, step, hop, stride in that line in the line. 

My feet take little nibbly bites like kids I knew in lunch class who could make a cookie last twenty minutes. (I eat cookies in one bite.) Nibble. Don’t bite big. The internet man knows the big bites are the undoing in the search for souls and digital prizes.  

The internet man likes to know what I’m up to after I run around on the line in the undulating line.  He sends me digital messages every day telling me to “Report Back!”  I tell him each day how many miles on those lines I ran. But that’s not enough for the internet man’s insatiable hunger for information. He demands to know how long I bounced and hopped and strode and fell and puked out there every day. He craves the data, he needs the data, he fucking loves the data. 

Lest, no digital prizes for me and definitely no ill-fitted t-shirt, I report back to the internet man. I enter the data into his internet machine. I can see the other holograms have done likewise. They want digital prizes too. I can feel their data. We love our data. We transmit our data. We please the internet man. He tells us the data is good.

One day the internet man tells me I have entered enough data. I will receive digital prizes. It is no longer necessary for me to run the undulating line in the line. No need to sweat. No need for my heaving chest to quench my lungs. No need to smell those little white flowers right after the turn by the cabin. No need to prance up the roots that God formed into a perfect staircase for me. No need to fall down and get covered in dirt like when I was nine running through that washout next to Kirshling’s field. No need to say good morning (again) to the conscientious deer and her little nervous baby. No need to find that sweet little son of a bitch of box turtle who lost his way onto the mountain bike trail and scootch him along. No need to feel like I’m flying into the descending berm to gain speed for the ascent. No need to feel excited to see my sons when I get home and tell them about the osprey carrying the giant fish that continued to fight at 100 feet in the air. No need to taste the sweetest water at the trailhead. No need to pant in the quiet of the woods after my half mile final blast. No need to feel the sun on my euphoric face as I sit alone in the grass. No need for nothing except digital prizes.