Archives For italy

I drove the camper van to the top of the hill in Siena, Italy. I emerged in exhaustion from and looked around. It was beautiful. I was exhausted but I made it to be my destination. On top of this hill outside Siena sat a beautiful university. It was an estate that overlooked miles of vineyards looking toward Tuscany. Only 24 hours earlier I was observing the Mediterranean Sea in Genoa. I parked the camper van overlooking the water and went to get a slice of pizza.

The joy was brief. I came back thirty minutes later to find my driver side window broken. A thief stole half of what I owned, including my passport. Dusk was settling in and I did what I had to and canceled my credit cards. This was a time before everyone had a cell phone so I was struggling to find a pay phone to communicate back to the United States. Soon after, my travel companion, well I thought was a friend, ditched me and I was left to find my way to Siena. I was alone. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had no choice but to keep moving and drive the 300 kilometers. I cursed. I hit the wheel. I even cried. I didn’t feel very proud of myself. But, I somehow kept going. I pushed on and made it there by dusk the next day. I wish I had a picture of me when I was driving, which would be most appropriate but in the end, I made it to Siena to this beautiful view.

I had so many good days traveling around Italy but that day was different. I can’t remember as many of the good days, though. I remember the road to Siena so well because of the pain. The pain was perfect. I smile every time I recall the day, which seems a little odd. As I look back, the pain was what made it the adventure. I can’t say it was successful except I lived and made it eventually to my location. But, I made it. Somehow. By the grace of God.

That memory came flooding back after reading the book, Endurance by Alfred Lansing. In it, Lansing tells the epic tale of Ernest Shackleton and his attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914 on the eve of World War I and make it across the continent. As the book shares, “In January 1915, after battling its way through a thousand miles of pack ice and only a day’s sail short of its destination, the Endurance became locked in an island of ice. Thus began the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men.”
endurance
“For ten months the ice-moored Endurance drifted northwest before it was finally crushed between two ice floes. With no options left, Shackleton and a skeleton crew attempted a near-impossible journey over 850 miles of the South Atlantic’s heaviest seas to the closest outpost of civilization. Their survival, and the survival of the men they left behind, depended on their small lifeboat successfully finding the island of South Georgia—a tiny dot of land in a vast and hostile ocean.”

Did Shackleton succeed? Yes and no. He certainly did not achieve the mission objective but managed somehow to keep each man going to make it home. I’ve read a lot of books about survival. Not many come close to this. I think if he would have made it, the story certainly would still be good. But, would we recognize the pain it took to achieve such a task? I don’t think so. I believe we read about his voyage of survival with curiosity and wonder how he and his men managed to be creative to stay alive for almost 2 years.

The story of Endurance reminded me of my own pain. Shackleton certainly suffered more than I so I make no direct comparison. Yet, it reminded me of the purpose of endurance.

Good stories are found within those that endure.

Perhaps it is a reason I love movies about survival like 127 HoursApollo 13DunkirkBand of BrothersAlive, and Saving Private Ryan. I wrote about some of these movies in an earlier post.  We are meant to be in pain from time to time to learn, adapt, and understand endurance.

Anytime I struggle in something, I must remember Shackleton and the pain on the road to Siena.

 

For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.

Romans 15:4-6 CSB (emphasis added)

Sometimes in life we are blessed to witness greatness.  I remember 10 years ago this month I had the privilege
of being part of a feat that few have accomplished.

Have you ever met someone who ran a marathon a day for 2 months straight?

Well I did.

They all ask, “Why would someone in their right mind do that?”

Well I shall tell you about the great Neil Garrod.

First, a short history lesson.

In 1451, King James II of Scotland persuaded Pope Nicholas V to grant a bull authorizing Bishop Turnbull of Glasgow to start a university.  That act initiated what became Glasgow University.  Flash forward 550 years to 2001.  It was a goal of mine to graduate early from college so I could live and work abroad.  Scotland was a love of mine since visiting a few years earlier and I began preparing for what I could do there.  The possibilities were endless.  I secured a 6 month work visa, packed my bags and moved to Scotland on New Years Day.  I found a job doing finance research for Professor Neil Garrod who was dean of Glasgow’s faculty of law and financial studies.  Soon after working for him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The conversation went something like this:

Dave: “You want me to do what with you?”

Neil: “Right, drive a camper van with me through Europe for a few months. I’m going to run from Rome to Glasgow.”

Dave: “What?  Wait…Why?!?”

Neil: “Because this is life. Let’s go.”

Dave: “Okay, why not?”

Neil was a serious marathon runner and wanted to find a unique way to celebrate the 550th Anniversary of the university.  He would run the possible path of  where the bull would travel from Rome to Glasgow.
It sounded exciting to me so I embarked on this journey with the British version of Forrest Gump.  I was in charge of driving the camper van so I flew to Belgium to pick it up.  It would take three days to drive down to Rome where the race began at St. Peter’s Square.  I drove through Belgium and made a quick stop to visit Bastogne.  Next, I drove to Dijon, France and then another leg across the Alps passing Mont Blanc and to Genoa, Italy, which rests on the Mediterranean Sea.  It got interesting when the camper van was broken into while I was away eating dinner.  My passport and a credit card were stolen but thank God they didn’t take my Credence tapes (Big Lebowski fans out there?).  I had to quickly repair the driver’s side window with plexiglass and limped my way down to Sienna where I would meet up with Neil Garrod and his family. I was exhausted from that experience so it felt like the ultimate retreat in Sienna.  There we would eat amazing Italian food, drink the best wine and enjoy conversation with people from all around the world.  I think Neil thought I handled the whole robbery situation with calm but the truth is I was freaking out in my head the entire drive from Genoa to Sienna.

On the day the run began in Rome I was able to receive a new passport from the American Embassy and was on my way.  The first few days were spent trying to escape the population centers and get to open road.  The most memorable days were running through Florence/Firenze and then through wine country (Chianti) when Neil ran about 50 km (over 30 miles) in one day.  We went through amazing towns like Sienna, Castellina in Chianti, Donato, Bologna, Firenze, and Aosta.  Somewhere along these roads I cracked the van’s rear bumper and broke yet another window running into the side of an extended gas station roof.  It’s amazing I still am given insurance to this day.

The daily routine would be to wake up at 6am, eat a big breakfast and Neil would run 5-7 miles.  We would stop, eat, and I would ice Neil’s knees.  Following that, Neil would do a couple of afternoon runs.  Every night we would finish it off with a bottle of wine and eat some of the most tasty pasta one would ever dream of.  The routine was difficult but incredibly rewarding.  Observing Neil and his discipline for running only motivated me to run with him. So I joined him most days and built up stamina to go 5-6 miles.  When we reached Aosta near the French border, I left the team and went back to America for my friend Heath’s wedding.  I handed off the baton to another young student who helped Neil finish the race to Glasgow.  It was sad to leave but Neil always made me feel part of the team.  I heard later that the day after Neil finished the 1500 mile run, he flew down to South Africa and ran a 100 mile, 2 days race.  To this day I’m convinced that he is not human.

I could write for days about the experience.  Neil kept an extensive diary during this trip and you can read it all here.

During the Mega-run I grew up a bit.  I made the effort to embrace adventure, took some risks, and understood how to lean on God when I was lost.  What changed me most of all was learning to embrace “spontaneous experiences” that God puts in front of me.  I had the choice to stay in Scotland but the Mega-run was definitely one of those experiences to seize.  Before moving to Scotland I wrote my bucket list and running a marathon was a priority item to attain.

The year after the run,  thanks to the inspiration of Neil Garrod, I finished my first marathon in Chicago.

Thanks Neil.

Be spontaneous my friends.  Chose your own adventure.  Ultimately it is God’s adventure in you.