Here I am walking down South Alamo Street in San Antonio, Texas, in the pre-dawn darkness on Sunday, Nov. 13. I’m on my way to the starting line of the city’s annual Rock and Roll Marathon/Half Marathon, where I’m signed up to do the 13.1-mile half. San Antonio is one of over a dozen cities across the nation that host rock and roll marathons, which feature a band playing at every mile along the course and a concert and party at the finish line. San Antonio’s race also raises thousands of dollars to fight breast cancer.
I’m not familiar with this city, but I’m having no problem finding my way to the starting line: I’m one of 30,000 runners taking part in this festive event, so it’s simply a matter of following the crowd.
Dawn is starting to break when I reach the starting line and pick my way through the mass of people. It’s still dark enough that I can’t actually see the faces of runners standing next to me, but what I can see are the glowing white lights of hundreds of cell phones. I follow suit, fire up my phone and text my wife, Nancy, telling her that I’m at the starting line and ready to run. The cell phone lights aren’t the only unusual thing I encounter at the starting line. I suddenly realize that I’m in the midst of a group of runners where everyone is speaking Spanish. I chuckle and tell myself: “welcome to the southwest, amigo.”
Our stop in San Antonio is actually the conclusion of a marvelous vacation that first took us to Redding, California where we visited our sons, Mark and Bill and Bill’s two kids, Andre and Jaeda. This visit marked the first time we’d seen Jaeda in two years and our first time ever to meet little Andre.
You may recall that I penned a column after first seeing Jaeda where I described my granddaughter as the most beautiful girl in the world. And I’m here to tell you that she still holds that honor. Only now, as a four-year-old, she’s taller, wiser and more beautiful than ever. Can you tell I like being a grandpa?
As for my grandson, he’s easily the toughest kid in the world and here’s why: Although he’s just two years old, Andre has already undergone two open-heart surgeries, but you’d never know it. His heart problems are history and Andre is as rough and tumble as they come. He lives his life with no restrictions. He’s unstoppable, like any two-year-old. And he even gave me a new name: Ampa, which is his pronunciation of grandpa. I like it.
Redding is a beautiful city located along the Sacramento River with snow-capped Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, providing a stunning backdrop. Redding bills itself as the second sunniest city in the U.S., behind Yuma, Arizona, but wouldn’t you know, it rained a bit while we were there.
The odd part of our visit to Redding was adjusting to the time change, which, thanks to the end of Daylight Saving Time, was a four-hour shift. Most of the time that we were there I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and be unable to fall asleep again, but by 6 p.m. I’m nodding off. By the time my inner clock adjusted to the time change, we were ready to head for Texas.
Our week in California flew by and it seemed that we hardly had an idle hour. Most every day we had some sort of activity planned. One day it was a hike and picnic at Whiskey Town National Park, which is just a short drive from Redding. The next day it was a visit to the city’s magnificent Sundial Bridge, a glass-floored footbridge extending across the Sacramento River, which is suspended by a tall spire that also serves as a working sundial. On Nov. 10, we celebrated Nancy’s 50th birthday at a Mexican restaurant where the staff sang a Spanish version of happy birthday to the guest of honor. The next morning it was off to San Antonio.
Our son, Michael, had planned to join me in the San Antonio run, but the Navy changed our plans. Mike, who is a Navy lieutenant and serves as a physical therapist, was supposed to be in San Antonio undergoing some training, but at the last minute the training was canceled and Mike remained in San Diego. The frustrating part, along with not being able to spend some time with Mike, was that our flight to Texas stopped briefly in San Diego, but there was too little time to see Mike. So we waved when we flew over where we thought his home is located and sent text messages back and forth while we were in the airport.
It was a comfortable 60 degrees when the San Antonio run got underway at 7:30 a.m., but by the time I reached mile 9, which was when the fog burned away and the temperature jumped to the mid 80’s, I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. My best time for a half marathon is two hours, but this time it would take me 2:20 to finish. I didn’t come to San Antonio expecting to set a personal record, however. Although I managed to squeeze in one nine-mile run in Redding along the beautiful Sacramento River trail, that was the only time I ran in the 10 days prior to the race. And I’ve also learned that my finish times at events with thousands of runners tend to be slower, thanks to having to pick my way through the crowd of runners. And did I mention the heat? At aid stations along the course, they doled out water and Gatorade and something I’ve never seen before at a race, small packets of salt to help runners avoid dehydration. But perhaps the most unusual thing they offered was a small plastic cup containing a couple ounces of beer, which was said to help restore burned up carbs. I passed on the salt but gladly accepted a sip of beer.
We enjoyed another family reunion in San Antonio where we hooked up with my Keeler cousins. These wonderful folks are the children—and their spouses—and grandchildren of my late cousin, Jay Keeler. San Antonio is the most-visited city in Texas and at least part of its popularity is due to its wonderful River Walk. Millions of people visit the River Walk each year to enjoy this unusual urban sanctuary that winds along the San Antonio River one story below the bustling street level. It’s lined with great restaurants and wonderful shops. I spent five months in San Antonio back in 1964 when I was in the Air Force, but other than landmarks like the Alamo, I saw nothing that looked familiar, but, of course, it’s been almost a half century since I was there.
By now I guess you have figured out that we had a ball on our trip west. We came home refreshed and relaxed. Other than not seeing Mike, it was pretty much the perfect vacation. Now if I can just shake loose from California time that’s still keeping Ampa awake way beyond his normal bedtime, everything will be just fine.