Urban Sophisticate comes the farthest. From her tiny place on the upper east side of Big City Like No Other, she will lug her bag down the stairs, take a cab through the busy city streets to Famous Train Station, then ride a train filled with bored commuters reading their newspapers to Another Station, and then catch the monorail to Dead President Airport, stand in a security line with her bag, and then board an airplane to fly into Snowstorm City. My parents will pick her up at the airport, and she will make the rest of the journey in their car, driving away from Snowstorm City through miles of farmland and woods, until finally coming to the peninsula of oak trees surrounded by marsh on the big river that runs between two countries. The rest of us in the family have merely to toss tents and duffle bags into the car and drive north.
Every year at the beginning of July, my extended family gathers at camp for ten days of swimming, sailing, hiking, canoeing, and hanging together around the campfire. We are all hoping for sunny weather, of course. But even if it’s rainy or overcast, the week will still be filled with games of bocce and horseshoes, frisbee golf and ultimate frisbee. And a rainy week means countless card games that include everyone from my father, the oldest person at camp, to Dandelion Niece, the youngest.
My brother, my youngest sister, and my oldest son all love to plan sporting events for the annual family vacation week. A bocce tournament one year took an entire day, with a carefully planned org chart that told each two-person team when and who they would play next. My father and Schoolteacher Niece won that tournament handily, although Shaggy Hair and With-a-Why put in a surprisingly strong showing to claim second place. This was the tournament in which Shaggy Hair Boy became famous for his "poison" shot, a move in which you hurl the ball with all your strength for the express purpose of knocking everyone else’s balls out of play.
For the last month, emails have been chiming in several times each day as we all discuss this year’s sporting event: a family running race. Urban Sophisticate Sister planned this 10 K (just over six miles) event and has been urging everyone to train for several months now. She has even ordered t-shirts. (What color should I order? she asked in one email. And no, I will not consider black.)
Over Memorial Day weekend, my father and I drove around in the car to plot a course that would be exactly 10 K. It’s impossible to avoid hills, but we did find a relatively flat course along quiet country roads that wind through woods and past cornfields, past big red barns and white farmhouses. We plan to set up a card table at the halfway point, and volunteers from the family will have drinks to pass out and water to dump over the heads of the runners. There is some speculation as to what the local farmers might think of this scene.
Although this move was initially controversial, Urban Sophisticate has decreed that some of the youngest and oldest members of the family could join forces and run relays. The relay teams have been changing daily. And of course, the betting has begun as well.
Some think that Urban Sophisticate, who has run at least one marathon in under four hours and is in amazing condition, is guaranteed to win. My brother, who is himself a serious contender, ran the course over Memorial Day weekend with Boy in Black and thinks that the competitive eighteen-year-old with the long legs could win the race, despite the fact that he has not trained at all and has declared that "running is boring." Shaggy Hair Boy and Schoolteacher Niece, who did a practice run together, are also unknowns, and either has the potential to pull off a surprise win. No one has put any money on the relay teams, who have been accused of not taking the race very seriously at all. Urban Sophisticate keeps warning everyone that sending over-the-top bragging emails every night is not the same as actually training for a race, and that being quick with a funny comeback over email does not always translate into speed on the race course.
In one of the family emails, my brother noted that the relay team of Drama Niece, Blonde Niece, and Smart Wonderful Beautiful Daughter (three cousins from three different families) will be seriously hampered by their tendency to stop and answer their cell phones in the middle of a run. Drama Niece and Blonde Niece rarely go more than ten minutes without calling each other. They will also have used up some of their adrenaline before the race begins, as they are scheduled to sing the national anthem at the opening ceremony. We are still looking for someone to sing the anthem of Neighboring Country to the North.
The idea of a race seemed far more appealing to me before the hot weather arrived, and my team is thinking of switching our status to volunteer. In fact, my whole household gave up their enthusiastic running as soon as the temperatures went above 70. The kids seem confident that Ultimate Frisbee has kept them in shape, but I’m not sure that belly dancing has adequately prepared me for a running race. And I hate the heat. On a summer day, I would rather hand out drinks than run on hot pavement. But then again, I have to run at least two miles to get the t-shirt – the shirts are reportedly a very nice periwinkle colour – so certainly that is a factor to consider.
The tradition for runners at camp is to end any run by leaping off the dock right into the shallow muddy waters of the marsh. So I predict that no matter who wins, the race will end with triumphant runners splashing around, throwing mud and weeds at each other. Then we’ll pack up a picnic lunch, pile into the boats, and head out to an island for a swim. And the whole race will get re-hashed that night around the campfire, with individual runners telling stories that have been so embroidered over the day that running the quiet country roads will have become some kind of epic adventure.