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Stormy Weather

In the very early 1980's I lived in Hamburg, Michigan. I continually explored the area for new and interesting running routes. I loved running trails and dirt roads, doing almost anything to avoid running on pavement. It was during this time that I discovered Brighton Recreation Area.

Through trial and error, I developed a challenging hilly route of about seven miles over the dirt roads tracing the rough perimeter of the recreation area. The route goes like this
> Start at the trailhead on Teehan Road, east to Bauer
> Left on Bauer, north to Cunningham Lake Road
> Left on Cunningham Lake Road and follow the turns to Bishop Lake Road
> Left on Bishop Lake Road to Bauer
> Right on Teehan to the top of the hill and finish in front of Emerich Conference Center

This run became a regular and favorite staple of my running schedule. For many years, even after I moved from Hamburg, I would make the drive from Redford or Ann Arbor to run the route once a week during the snow-free months. It never seems to matter if I'm not feeling well or have a nagging small injury — I invariably run well there. Most of the time, the run is exhilarating and freeing. I always run hard there. On these runs I feel as I think God means for us to feel. I am comfortable in my own skin there. Strong. And afterward, sitting and listening to the silence and watching the sky, serene and at peace.

In the early nineties, my 'day' for heading out to Brighton from Ann Arbor became Tuesdays. As I left work one particular Tuesday, I turned on the radio and heard that storms were moving into the area. As I drove north on US-23 I watched the sky to the west and began to see the outline of dark shapes, storm clouds, beginning to slide closer. When I reached my parking spot on Teehan Road the clouds were much closer and the wind had picked up. I was determined to get this run in. I reached down before starting and tossed a handful of dried grass into the air, the way I'd seen golfers do to gauge the wind before hitting a shot. The grass blew to the north. I told myself that all those dark clouds were tracking to the northeast and would likely blow past me. I started out.

For the first two miles of the run, I headed north on Bauer Road, anxiously glancing to my left, looking to the west as the skies above me grew darker. At Cunningham Lake Road I turned left and it was at that moment I realized 'I'm in it now.' The rain started about a quarter mile later. It didn't start with a sprinkle. It started with a rush; a faucet turned wide open. Rain fell so hard the road blended into everything. But it wasn't just the rain that made it hard to see. The sky had grown ominously dark. I was frightened. And then the lightning started.

I have never, not before that day or in the years since, been outdoors and in the midst of so much lightning. Ever. There was no pause between flashes. For the next four and a half miles I ran a gauntlet of crashing bolts. I was too terrified to stop and didn't know what I'd do if I did. So, I kept running. Faster. With rivers of water coursing over the dirt surface and my shoes thoroughly soaked, I kept running, trying to go faster. And praying. Praying that I would not be hit by lightning, and if I did that it would be over quick. As I turned onto Bishop Lake Road, I was horrified to realize that I was clearly the tallest thing on a slight hill for several dozens of yards in all directions. I considered falling to the ground and curling up until the storm passed, but I kept running. Out of fear. And, as ludicrous as it may sound, I think out of a stubborn insistence to finish the run. After a mile or so of being exposed and alone on the road without the sheltering branches of trees overhead, I dipped down a hill and again ran beneath tall trees on either side of the road.

While the storm still exploded around me, I began to feel that I'd indeed survived and would live as I neared to within a half mile of the car. Then — a blinding white burst and simultaneous deafening crack of thunder followed almost instantly by a burning smell. I screamed and jumped in mid-stride. I remain convinced today that a tree was hit within spitting distance of where I was in the road. I got to the car, unlocked the door, and dove in. The storm passed within minutes.

For many years before that run I had a very cavalier, almost fatalistic attitude toward severe weather, particularly lightening. If friends or relatives would caution against the wisdom of setting out for a run when the weather looked bad, I'd usually say something like, "if anything happens to me while I'm running you'll know that I died doing something I loved."

That run changed my attitude forever.

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