I had a unique experience the other day.
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I thought that snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef was a unique experience, but not really.

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Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef; it is truly a phenomenal experience.

This unique experience happened at approximately 3:11 a.m. which coincidentally is the time I find myself staring at the ceiling just about every night as my mind hops from one worry to another and another (really brain does anyone really care what you posted on Facebook . . . did you hear that noise . . . are the doors locked . . . maybe Craigslist was a bad idea  . . .  I hope Ralphie doesn’t oversleep  . . . zombies . . . really?. . .  zombies?. . .STOP!).

I was in the cab of an old, beat up black truck.
In the back of the truck were ten warped wooden tables, 20 boxes of  bottled water, and two Indonesian men.
In the cab: an elderly chain smoker who didn’t speak any English
and me.

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A whirlwind of events had landed me in this particular place where time and worry seemed to blissfully stand still for just a single moment.
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First Australia (!),  next the long flight to Indonesia, the strenuous drive to Mt. Bromo, and then . . . pounding (and pounding and pounding) the really super deluxe marathon banners to bamboo (using rusty nails and hammers and rocks). .  stuffing goodie bags. . . not eating . . .  not sleeping . . up at 5:00 a.m. (I know PCVs this is your typical life) . . . organizing the race packets . . .  distributing race packets from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. . . . in the interim finding a truck (by playing charades with people on the street) to pick up and deliver water (trucks had been arranged in advance, but . . . well it all worked out) . . .answering questions about transportation and homestays. . . and being in a very fancy procession with the regional leader (feeling a bit under dressed in my Cal t-shirt – little did I know 24 hours later I’d still be wearing that t-shirt . . . those pants . . . same ol’ underwear . . . ) and his entourage as they arrived for the cultural festival (very, very cool festival by the way) . . . back to getting water out on the course . . . constant. . . constant. . . constant questions (can’t even imagine what it was like for Kip). . .giving our room away to a lone runner who had not made arrangements for a homestay . . . falling “asleep” (along with Kip and Tony) to the lullaby of motor bikes just running on and on (and – weirdly – just not caring – that it never stops) on the couches the leader and the entourage had watched the cultural festival performance from. . . .

2:30 a.m. I hear Kip’s voice and reluctantly unwrap myself from the cocoon I made with my old olive green and silver ski vest and the neutral navy blue scarf my deaf, Spanish, sixth grade student, Daniel, gave me in 2008 (talk about a handy teacher gift!). Kip takes a truck of water and I head off with the truck of tables. Tony, by the way, is equally involved as are a multitude of other volunteers (this just happens to be my unique experience).

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We drop off a table at each of the spots where Kip has posted a “Water Station Ahead” banner. It’s pitch black, but a caravan of jeeps passes us on their way to watch the sunrise over Bromo (a not to be missed experience).

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The tables are reminiscent of something one might find at a country fair in the 1940’s. A box of water slips off the stack and smashes in the road. We stop and collect the bottles.

We come to a water station under a red silk cabana.
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After dropping off a table, we veer onto a trail.

No English is spoken, but it is clear that the driver does not want to take the trail. The man in the back who I later found out is an elementary school teacher and who I already knew was an awesome human being, convinces the driver to continue.

After about 100 yards of driving through the brush (all we really see is headlights on tall grass and a narrow dirt trail) we come to a very small clearing where there is just enough room to possibly turn around.

Again, the driver calls out to the man at the back of the truck. Again, it is clear as the driver points at the cliff just beyond the clearing that reluctance sounds the same in every language.
“Don’t worry!” the man in back says convincingly. He was speaking Indonesian, but it turns out “Don’t worry” sounds the same in every language as well.

The driver lights another cigarette.
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We slowly make our way down the rutted trail.
Dipping, swerving, braking, lurching . . . all suddenly,
we plod along.
On one side is a vast expanse of starlight as well as a steep, endless drop into the caldera of a volcano (literally).
On the other, a wall of earth.

As we lurch ahead on the narrow dirt trail ( mostly used for motorbikes and the occasional farmer carrying a stack of sticks for cooking or basket of grass for the family cow),

I think,

“Hmmm? Would I be better off with my seatbelt on or off.”
I conclude that I would be better off in the back of the truck and compromise by draping the seatbelt over my lap.

That is when it hits me; complete bliss.

My brain just takes it all in.

The breathtaking beauty of the night sky over the caldera, the painstaking concentration of the chain smoking driver, the commitment and dedication of the men in the back of the truck (and our amazing son),

the fact that my middle-aged overweight body is clutching an unbuckled seatbelt on the side of a cliff dropping into volcano (okay . . . . caldera) in Indonesia,

and the glimmer of the first light of sunrise . . . .

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We crossed two gorges via bamboo bridges. In spite of seeing the nails that surely fastened the bamboo bridges together. I thought,

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It was more clear than ever at that moment, that this run was going to be a great marathon. There is nothing like this course in the world.

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I stopped worrying

This lasted for some time; at least until the sun was fully up and I realized, “Wow, it’s getting late.”

The whirlwind began again, my brain back in full-on control freak mode, “Will the runners know where to branch off at the start, are there people at the aid stations, is all the water on the course, is the course marked well enough, where are the ambulances. . . ???? Each question answered by a Bromo banner or a group of happy volunteers stacking water on one of the old wooden tables or a very modern looking ambulance (and search and rescue and police and there was even a helicopter on call).

But just to be sure, I stood at the fork in the road at the start. I panicked a little when I had to urge a farmer to move his cow, but then backup came; five police officers directing traffic and runners. “Hmmm? I guess I can relinquish control of this fork in the road.”

I spent the rest of the day mostly listening to tales of agony and then ecstasy as runners high fived each other (and me and the little kids and the villagers and the guy wrapped in the blanket next to the stairs). Thrilled to have finished a tough course that was “organized to perfection,” “fantastic,” “best event ever,”. . . . I finally let myself get a little weepy – I was and am so proud of Kip.

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I don’t think I have to worry about him anymore.
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When he first started running through his village, the people would ask, “Where are you going, what is your hurry.”

Eventually, they invited him in for tea.

Then they started running with him.

Now the Bromo Marathon will be an annual charity event benefitting the entire region.

Good job Kip, Dediek, and Mr. Maday!!

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And all of the amazing Bromo Marathon volunteers!

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Not the greatest montage – I did not have time to take photos:

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Runners and volunteers alike will be hard-pressed to find anything as challenging or as rewarding or as humbling, as the Bromo Marathon.
Yet I have a feeling this is one group who will far surpass and overcome all challenges.