So this morning I woke up in Seattle after spending a night in the Green Tortoise hostel. After yesterday’s relatively easy day I wanted to get back on the road and get a decent chunk of miles under my belt. Instead of running south then west I decided to get the ferry to Bremerton, about 1 hour west of Seattle, and would then run directly west to the Pacific coast. I am not going to give a foot strike by foot strike account of the day because, well that would get boring for you and for me. Instead I want to focus my attention on four individual conversations I had with people along one day of running. One of the great things about this expedition is the opportunity to speak to different people from all walks of life. I would like to share these with you – sorry I am not quite as eloquent as Paul Theroux!
My first encounter was on the ferry. I had strolled out to the front viewing deck and ran to get through a door a man was holding for me. He was about my age and height but with tattooed muscles bulging out from his tight t-shirt. After thanking him for holding the door we got into a conversation about where we were heading. He told me that Bremerton was a place to be slightly weary of. He referred to gangs, meth, murders and walled communities where the children didn’t go to school. He was very frank and told me that he had been a member of a gang and that he had spent the last 10 years in a state penitentiary. He was very open about what being in a gang was like and what kind of things happened. He told me that he wanted to communicate to young people that if they get involved in gangs then there are only 2 possible likely outcomes – death or jail.
The second conversation was with a nice old lady as we disembarked. She saw my stroller and enquired what I was doing and why I was doing it. After rambling off my quick overview she started telling my how suicide had touched her life. Her son, who happened to be gay, had taken his own life and that his partner had also taken his life at a later date. She obviously didn’t want to talk too much about it but it was clear that she didn’t fully understand why things had got so bad that they thought that was the only choice.
After 48km of straight running I arrived at a Park and Ride stop just outside the town of Shelton, Washington. After picking up some vitals from the local shop I set up camp. A few minutes later a man in a pick-up arrived and asked about what I was doing. He pointed out that my choice of temporary residence may come with some risks but all should be ok. Firstly, there was a man who lived in the wood who sometimes ventured out and secondly this was a popular meth dealing location (it transpired there were quite a lot of deals taking place on that particular Friday night….) When he heard I was raising awareness about male suicide he started to share his experiences with me. He was raised in New York and at a young age had also been involved in a gang. He said that he didn’t want to be in the gang culture but in his neighborhood you were either in the gang or you were against them. For him this also lead to a year in jail. He went on to talk about how he had lost his job and said that he had had troubles coming to terms with that. He said it made him feel like he wasn’t providing what he (and society) felt he should as a man. He went on to say that his wife had put things into context for him by saying his job as a man was not purely about providing but doing the right thing as a person.
The last person I spoke to was “the man from the woods”. Just as I was brushing my teeth there was a rustle from the bushes and a bearded man emerged. He was very jolly and chatty and wanted to know more about what I was doing. He had spent the last few years living in the wood but had spent the last 30 days in a rehabilitation unit. We discussed this and that and then the conversation turned to suicide. It was at this point he went quiet, clearly reflecting on something. After a few moments he started to talk again. It transpired that both his wife and son had taken their own lives and that he had attempted to take his when he had been in Mexico. He didn’t go into details about his wife and son but said that he had drunk a bottle of brandy and a healthy portion of dog tranquilisers before walking straight into a desert. He was found two days later and revived. He said he regretted what he had tried to do and wouldn’t ever want to try again. I loved chatting with him – he has definitely been the most colourful person I have had the pleasure of meeting.
To think I only spoke to four people today and each and every one had a story to tell and importantly wanted to tell it. These conversations may be short, may be nothing more than passing words but they are conversations that hopefully help those who tell them and help me learn more about the people I meet along my journey. I was personally shocked that is such a quiet, beautiful part of rural Washington gangs, meth, and suicide were such big concerns.