Nine Miles of Memories

Just outside of the world famous city of Saratoga Springs, NY, known for the inventions of the club sandwich and potato chips, the oldest horse racing track in the United States, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the mineral springs, and the famous mineral baths that used to attract royalty and celebrities alike, lies a stretch of road nine miles long.

If you drive this nine mile stretch of road, you’ll pass through fields, over and along streams, and through wooded areas that seem to come alive with a past two centuries old. You won’t pass any convenience stores, but you’ll certainly see your share of wildlife; rabbits and deer call this place “Home.”

When you finish your drive through this landscape, you will be able to say you have driven through nine miles of the most historic pieces of land in America. You’ll step on some of the same grounds that helped shape our nation, breathed life into our independence from Great Britain, and where the turning point of the American Revolution took place.

I am talking about the Saratoga National Historical Park and the Battles of Saratoga. It was here where American patriots fought the British, defeating them and bringing the largest military force in the world closer to surrender. It was here where Benedict Arnold fought and was wounded. Yes, it’s along this road, that I not only relive history from colonial America, but also memories from my youth.

These grounds are not only home to deer, rabbits, and other wildlife. They’re not only home to centuries old trees that speak to you as you walk amongst them. They’re not only the burial sites of thousands of Continental Army and British soldiers. These grounds are home to some of my greatest memories in life.

It was along this road that I remember bike riding as a child. It was always a treat for us growing up, to load the bikes into the car and head to “the battlefield,” as we call it around here.

It was along this road that we used to come for a quiet drive, windows down (no matter how hot it was), radio off, and driving below the 25 mph speed limit on the one-way tour road. Even when I drive it today, I still turn off the radio and roll the windows down. It’s a land that although once soiled with blood, now demands peace; a land that once echoed with cannon and musket fire, now demands quietness. A land which was once filled with the battle cries of freedom, now asks for only whispers.

It was along this road that I learned to drive. My Dad once had a Ford Bronco stick-shift, and it was along these nine miles that I stalled and jerked the engine over and over. It was along this road that I learned how to push in the clutch, shift, stop on a hill, and come to a stop. It was also here that I learned the patience of a father.

Along this road I learned how to cross country ski, how to approach a deer from upwind, downwind, and everywhere in between. Along this same road is where I began to train and condition my body before joining the Air Force; running and walking the miles of pavement on cold March days in 2001.

Along these roads is where I returned in 2017 when I retired from the military. No longer a boy on a BMX bicycle, no longer a teenager learning to drive, and no longer a young man seeing how fast he could run a couple miles. I returned as an older man, weathered and experienced from life and death, war and peace, joy and sorrow. I returned to these grounds for one simple reason, and it’s the reason I keep going back.

From the very first day I rode my bike there, to the days I learned to drive, to the days my feet pounded the pavement, until now, the grounds remain the same. I return and can go to the same exact spot I went three decades ago, and it remains untouched. I can tell stories, or I can remain silent and just remember a day from years past come alive in the moment.

Nine miles of road. History shaped. Memories made. A life transformed.

For more information about this area, visit the Town of Saratoga Historian’s blog.

Alone at the Finish Line

It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.

President Theodore Roosevelt

I planned on writing the third segment in the series, America, Social Media, and Me, but I saw this quote yesterday and it really got me thinking about a lot of things. I haven’t done any research on the quote, I’m not sure if this blog post will even interpret correctly what Roosevelt meant when he said it, but it spoke to me in my own way. I have titled this post accordingly.

Imagine you woke up this morning, for those who play, and found out you won the jackpot in a lottery. Millions of dollars are coming your way! Like most of us would do, you begin planning on how to spend that money. Your dreams can now come true and finances is no object. There’s zero limitations! That car you’ve always wanted? DONE! For me it would probably be a full line of cameras and lenses.

Fast forward to a year after you first saw that large deposit into your bank account. The fancy sports car or SUV you bought now has 10,000 miles, all your friends have seen it and you were the envy of your social circle, and you’ve already begun looking around for your next one. You probably even picked up friends and family members you never knew existed! You built this magnificent monster of a home, equipped with all the state of the art electronics you can control right from your smartphone, an olympic sized swimming pool in the backyard, and enough bedrooms fully furnished for a large family reunion. It’s full of artwork and decor; so much that visitors leave salivating and praising you on your interior design. You’ve put so much time and money into your castle that there’s nothing more money could buy that would make it any better than what it is right now.

You laid down last night, exhausted after hosting a large gathering, and realized one thing that left you troubled. You tossed and turned, trying to shake this haunting feeling. For the past year you’ve had so many people come into your home. You’ve catered, cooked, and hosted some of the best social gatherings within a hundred mile radius. You’ve been praised and applauded for your donations to the local school and charities. You’re the reason the varsity football team is running onto the field in new uniforms. It’s because of you that a family who was facing financial troubles and needing a new car, can now make it to their doctor appointments. Their daughter may not have survived without your generosity and thoughtful giving!

Imagine again if you will. You are running a marathon tomorrow. Months and months of training, miles upon miles, blister after blister, will all come to a head tomorrow morning. From the moment you watched your first marathon, this has been something you’ve wanted to accomplish. You began training a year ago, you ran the soles out on a few pairs of running shoes, and here you are on the eve of one of the greatest accomplishments in your life.

The next day comes, the pop of the pistol goes off, and your feet begin to move. Here you go! After a long and painful twenty-six miles, you finally see the finish line. It’s one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. Within the next few moments, your feet will cross that line, and through tears you’ll be able to say you conquered what only a few percentage of people on earth can say they have done. You have fought through the agony of muscle aches, shin splints, physical exhaustion, mental and emotional fatigue, and now here you are. Well done!

Your feet cross the line and you’re immediately filled with this intense rush of excitement. You run a little further and lean forward, your hands resting on your knees as you begin to weep. You’re weeping not because your body is screaming in exhaustion. No, you’ve trained for this! The tears, mixing with sweat and streaming down the side of your face, are because you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.

As you begin to regain your composure and your heart rate returns to normal, you’re filled with a different emotion. You look around, other racers are coming in, and you’re struck with a panic. You begin to sweat again, your heart begins to race, and your breathing becomes short and rapid. What is happening? You’re thinking to yourself, “Oh God, please don’t let this be a heart attack! Not now! Please God!”

You’ve spent your entire life working for this company. Years of college, working long hours, taking work home, working weekends, and exhaustion have finally paid off. You strived to get to this point. You pushed yourself more than you ever thought you would or even possibly could, and now here you are. You seized every opportunity for promotion and were rewarded almost every single time. Even in those few rare instances when you were passed up, you didn’t allow it deter you. It motivated you to strive harder. No matter the cost.

You walked into work this morning, past the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning at the office, and past the desk you sat at just a few days ago. It was already occupied by someone else; a young man in his mid-twenties, shuffling through papers with a panicked look on his face. You remember those days. Not today however and definitely not tomorrow. A new day has dawned and you push open the door to your new home! There’s even a shiny nameplate on the outside. You sit down at your desk, the air in the cushion of your plush leather chair escaping as you let out a sigh of relief. You sit there, elbows on your desk, fingers interlaced, and chin resting on your hands as you take a moment to absorb it all. You breathe in and can smell the fresh shampoo in the carpet and smell of Simple Green. The janitorial staff did a great job getting everything ready for you. A couple of chairs face you. You chuckle at the irony of it all. A couple decades ago you sat in that same spot facing where you are now. The chairs are different but the spot is the same. You left that spot on numerous occasions thinking your time here was up. How many evenings did you go home and update your resume?

Your eyes move past the chairs to the leather couch along the wall. A small table sits in front with various magazines you helped publish over the years. They’re fanned out neatly for whoever it is that has the privilege to sit there. You lean back, glancing out the windows for the first time, and smile. You’ve made it to the top my friend. Congrats!

You spend the day glancing between your computer screen, tapping on the keyboard and hitting backspace to erase the garble you just typed, and looking out the partial glass wall. The minions are hard at work out there. You sat there for over twenty years. You see the young man you saw earlier, rearranging items on his desk, and making it his own. If he makes it that long, he will spend most of his adult life at that desk.

The day is ending. Another day in the office. As you turn off your computer and get up from the high-back, black leather chair, you realize you’re the only one still at work. You don’t recall anyone coming in and asking if you needed anything. You don’t recall the faces of those you’ve known for years, poking their heads in, and saying goodbye. As a matter of fact, besides yourself this morning, nobody has opened that beautiful glass door.

So what? A millionaire, an athlete, and an executive, with different stories and completely separate lives, have each finished their day the same. Throughout the years, especially during my time in the military, I hiked a lot of mountains. I’ve always enjoyed reaching the top and taking in the spectacular views. But I never hiked alone. Sure, Roosevelt’s quote is 100% accurate; you will get further if you go at it alone. You’ll probably even make it faster. But the destination leaves a lot to be desired. Hiking up a mountain is an amazing experience. You reach the end and have a sense of accomplishment. You persevered and conquered. But how great is the journey if you’re left at the finish line alone?

You can spend millions of dollars building the house of your dreams, but what if it is never quite a home? Sure, you’re busy planning the next social event for everyone to enjoy, but you know the desolate feeling you’ll be left with when the last person leaves and you close the door. You’re praised by many but inside these walls it’s quiet.

You can spend hours training for a marathon. You can train for months building yourself up for it. You can show up the morning of the race, lace up your shoes, and you can even finish with the fastest time. But what if you get to the finish line, surrounded by spectators and athletes, and realize you’re alone?

You can spend a lifetime working for a company, dedicate your heart and soul, and shed blood, sweat, and tears to make it successful. You can spend years shuffling paperwork, getting promoted, and finally make it to the top of the corporate ladder. Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top?” What if you make it and, which is often the case, you find that you’re the only one there? What if you forgot everyone that propelled you to success? Where is everyone that’s supposed to be patting you on the back and saying, “WELL DONE BOSS!” They held the ladder the entire time you climbed, watching as you disappeared into clouds of success, only to be forgotten when you pulled yourself over the last rung. You did beyond well but you’re now alone at the top. No fanfare, no party, and no parade. Just a lonely space.

Yes, we can often get to the top or go the distance if we are alone. It’s easy to do things alone a lot of times, isn’t it? Nobody to account to, nobody to have to wait for, and nobody to have to share the glory with. But how many people have you ever heard say, “When I die, I hope nobody comes to my funeral!” Or how about, “He/she had a beautiful funeral. There wasn’t anyone there!”

Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget the people who make your house, regardless of how big or small it is, a home. Don’t forget the voices and the people who motivate you to reach your goal. Dream big and allow others to help you along the way soar to new heights. Climb that ladder, reach for the stars, prosper, and reach the pinnacle of your definition of successful. BUT…don’t forget those who held the ladder, who lifted you to the next rung, and who pulled out of the moments of despair.

Don’t be left alone at the finish line.