I walked to the food table, but nothing there made sense. My stomach was offline, even though I desperately needed to eat. I managed an orange slice, a piece of watermelon, neither of which is food, just water bound up in fiber, and then I paused.
Even now, I’m not clear how I had arrived in this state, half-dead but still moving, a zombie on the march. Somewhere in my addled mind a flicker of mordant humor licked at the surface.
If you don’t know what a Moon Pie is, it’s because you didn’t grow up in the South like I did. You didn’t stand by the side of the road during a shambling Mardi Gras parade being pelted with plastic beads, petrified bubble gum, and arcane confections like the MoonPie, which I capitalize here to signify the very specific, thinly-wrapped conglomeration of graham, marshmallow and sallow chocolate produced by one company in Chattanooga, Tennessee for something like 100 years.
It is a stupid thing to eat in the best possible moments. Eating one in a state of advanced dehydration, with ten miles of rolling trail still to run, is an act of lunatic, self-sabotage, and yet what better metaphor for this whole careening misadventure. I reached out and felt the plastic crinkle in my hand, and then I set off again. It made sense to me, even if I was not making sense in any larger context.
This is not where the stupid started.
Running this far is stupid, any day you choose to do it. When life can be so hard, the idea that you’d conjure some optional suffering to heap on top of the rest, is apex dumb. What are we doing here?
We are burning down the house.
We had flown 1000 miles to be here. It cost me $500 or so. The answer to the question, “Aren’t there trails where you live?” is, “Yes, but you know what would be dumber?”
We landed on Saturday, the day before the race, famished. We headed for Whole Foods so as to manage our pre-race nutrition very carefully, but detoured to the Ethiopian restaurant we spied as we drove past. It was a sublime ‘fuck it’ moment. The sambusas were transcendent.
Maybe the fire of stupidity requires fresh logs, like any real fire, to keep going.
I am sure that the “right” way to run an ultramarathon is to prepare very carefully (I skipped that), dial in your nutrition to something close to optimal (nope), devise a race day plan that your training suggests you can manage and then hold tightly to it (uh uh), and breeze to whatever sort of victory matters to you.
I unwrapped the MoonPie right after I changed my socks and shoes and set off again on the last lap of three. I looked down at it in my hand and wondered if this was really what I was doing. Yes. Make the wrong choice. It’s the only way forward. I took a big first bite.
Ho. Lee. Fuck.
That thing was as dry as the Gobi. I nearly choked on graham dust swirling at the back of my mouth. I nearly swallowed my tongue. The thing about the MoonPie, the thing that makes it so right for hurling at children from a passing Mardi Gras float, is that it has a shelf life like denatured plutonium. What I may have been tasting, as I shuffle-walked forward with as much purpose as I could muster, was 2015. It was redolent of disappointment and regret.
I took two more bites, because ‘fuck you’ that’s why.
My companions were aghast, they who had signed up and paid for this ludicrous boondoggle as well. They failed to see how a MoonPie could fix all the things wrong with me in that moment, and they weren’t wrong, but they also weren’t right, because the MoonPie helped me get with reality. It told me I was stupid, and that continuing to move forward was stupid, and that sometimes that is the only solution for whatever your problem is.
Eat the MoonPie and keep fucking going.