Day One: 12 midday - 12 midnight
When you set out on a long race it is important to be well rested, fresh and relaxed. Alternatively . . .
Getting ThereWhen you are sitting at the travel agent discussing the options, sometimes quickly taken decisions have long consequences. It seemed a good idea at the time to make my trip to New York for the 10-day race as brief as possible since I had a limited amount of leave from work - so I booked a flight that arrived in New York the night before the race, and departed the day after the race. New Zealand is as far from everywhere as it is possible to get. After twenty-five hours of flying one makes it to New York. And long-haul jet travel is not especially joyous. Research has identified that it causes Deep Vein Thrombosis, fatigue, exhaustion, inability to sleep, disorientation, lost desire to eat, head aches, stomach aches, frustration, anger, dehydration, aggression, anxiety, bacterial disease, swollen feet, aching joints and . . . well, actually - genetic mutations. So I wasn’t feeling my sprightly best when I stumbled off the aeroplane at JFK airport after my flight. It was about 9 pm. I got a taxi – would that I had got a different taxi. I had been concerned about getting to Flushing Meadows - and particularly the right part of Flushing Meadows - from the airport in the middle of the night, so I had emailed the race organisers and received detailed instructions on how to get there. I had even found a map on the internet that showed the roads described. ‘Don’t show me the map! Don’t show me the map,’ the taxi driver shouted at me at one point. ‘It just confuses me. I know this place!’ If he did in fact know this place it wasn’t clear how it came to pass that, after a lot of driving, we found ourselves, not at Flushing Meadows, but . . . at La Guardia airport. After that fiasco we were then approaching our destination from the opposite direction from those that my instructions gave - so a little reinterpretation was needed. We did however find Flushing Meadows eventually and drove in a gate. Flushing Meadows is a name associated in the mind of the rest of the world with tennis, but it is a very large green area in Queens comprising various parks and facilities. We drove along the road in the park. After some time my exasperated driver pointed out that we had driven past that sign before – we were indeed driving in a circle. We needed to ask for directions. The people you meet in the middle of a dark, empty park in the middle of New York City in the middle of the night are . . . peculiar. The first two we approached obviously thought us peculiar as well. The third knew precisely where the camp we were looking for was, he had just biked through it, but proved unable to actually describe how to get there. Having decided that we were actually in the wrong park, we decided to leave and see if we could rejoin the route of my instructions more successfully. My driver-friend was losing patience with this ridiculous foreigner who was so determined to find the wild goose. Having decided to leave . . . we couldn’t find the exit. We did a few more circuits before making our escape from the maze. Now we were pretty much back where we had started – following my written instructions. How great was my sense of relief when I saw from the spaghetti-like freeway the camp nestled invitingly beside the placid lake. By some gratuitous miracle we found a gate to the park. “Here will be fine. I’ll walk.” I said. Anything to get out. He seemed concerned, but what did I fear in a New York park in the dark after surviving the getting there? It was cold and windy and dark and I had a large suitcase in one hand and a tent in the other, but my heart sang as I trudged off towards the welcoming lights of … home. Of course, having driven considerably further than I had expected to, I was forced to pay the driver the proverbial arm and a leg. And that was a bad thing – I was going to need that leg the next day. By now it was about 11 o’clock. There was a man sitting in a van guarding the camp. He got out of his vehicle as this strange apparition of a gaunt, waif-like figure staggered out of the gloom, laden down with baggage. He shook my hand and showed me where I could pitch my tent… and got back into his van… as the rain started to fall. By the time this sole companion in the park strolled by again – the heater in his fine American-engineered vehicle obviously forcing him to take a cooling stroll in the wind and rain – I had got my tent up and my soggy possessions inside it and was making my last adjustment to the guy ropes. ‘Ah well, it could be worse,’ he said. ‘. . . it could be snowing!’ I got into my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and lay hugging myself. I had arrived. When I struggled out of bed the next morning there was still nobody about. I went to the kitchen and dined in fine style on a breakfast of two glasses of ginger ale, some cheese crackers and an apple. At mid-day . . . the race started. * Competing were twenty-two intrepid explorers of the dark and distant continents of human experience. Eleven men and eleven women from thirteen different nations - the USA, Austria, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Australia, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia-Montenegro, Germany, Slovakia.
If one searched back through history, had any of these nations not at some time ardently slaughtered the inhabitants of the others?
The race had already proved its worth just by gathering us together in peace and oneness - citizens of our own blessed little United Nations.*****************************************************