“How do you know this person”? This query came from my wife as she viewed a picture of a cute puppy shared by someone on social media. “From Facebook”. The expression on her face clearly said “Just a random stranger”.
It is easy to dismiss those we have come to know through social media as something different from more traditional friends. I suppose once upon a time all friends were made through common interests whether it was school, sports, church, or any number of other occasions that bring people together. Certainly this is still the case, but often face-to-face friendships are enhanced through social media. But can we have true, lifelong friends that we only know on-line? I think so.
Long before there was modern social media with phone apps, and “Like” buttons, we had electronic message boards that sent various e-mail blasts periodically sharing replies to on going conversations (assuming you connected your modem). Next came user forums. These were interest or manufacturer specific forums where people congregated and replied to each other about specific topics. These are still somewhat in use today though most are in the process of migrating to more modern social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Forums now tend to be for more social media disinclined audiences. (Read that as grumpy old men. And get off my lawn!)
When I view my Facebook account, I have over 400 friends many of whom I’ve never actually met in person but we have come together as friends through common interests or friends of friends much like traditional friendships. There are many of these folks that I have formed very close bonds with over time. I’ve spent hours messaging, sharing adventures, crying, laughing, and joking all with people I’ve never met in person. If I bumped into them in the street tomorrow our friendship would be just as strong as if we had lived next door to each other our entire lives. In reality, probably stronger. I’ve had neighbors for years I know nothing about other than what sort of car they drive.
The impetus for this post is one friend in particular. He is a gentleman I have never met in person but our relationship goes back to the forum days where we met on the Runner’s World magazine Master’s forum. This friend is a much more experienced Master than I. In fact, he had been retired for 10 years before our cyber-paths crossed. His forum handle was Trail Trudger.
When I began running in 2009, being a cyber-junky and all about learning as much as I could, I plied the Google waters for a good forum about running. When I found the Masters forum, I immediately felt at home. These were my sort of people and Trail Trudger was one of the first to welcome me.
Trail Trudger lives in a beautiful part of Colorado. Over the years he has posted many pictures of the lovely mountains, valleys, and desserts where he was lucky enough to spend his retirement and log many miles.
As the Master’s Running forum fell from favor, many of us migrated to Facebook and we found ourselves gathering again in a new place. It was all the same great people along with some new folks in different media. If anything I began to learn more about my fellow masters runners from my Facebook feed and in our more traditional running specific notes to each other in a closed group for the old forumites. In fact, the closed group provided somewhat of a protected shelter for us to occasionally vent which we almost all do at some point. All, that is, except Trail Trudger. Perhaps it is his life experience, or the fact that he has seen and rebounded from his share of hardship. Trail Trudger regularly went for PUVA treatments for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. The treatments were difficult to deal with but didn’t slow him down from his running, volunteering with hospice, and helping out others in any way he could.
Please don’t misunderstand. Carl has never bragged about any of this. Yes his name is Carl. Carl talks about helping a hospice patient like others talk about running their kids to school, vacuuming, or other mundane tasks. It’s just a normal part of the day. I could go on and on despite having never met the man face to face. Suffice it to say, he is the sort of human being I hope to mature into some day. If there were more Carls in the world, it would be a better, healthier, more joyful place.
Did I mention running? Make no mistake Carl is a serious runner. Carl’s trade mark when discussing his daily run is to give it a grade similar to what a teacher would do for a pop quiz. “I give that run a B+”. This is usually followed with some sort of explanation. Many times over the years Carl would hint that his running days were over, but this always turned out not to be true. Within a week of reporting a D- a picture would appear of a gorgeous Colorado landscape with a familiar looking figure running by the camera.
On paper there are faster people out there but Carl has left his mark on the running world with past exploits. He stopped racing seriously a couple years ago but when he did race, he regularly won or placed in his age group.
It is noteworthy that the last race Athlinks shows would have put him in a late-70s age group. I know he’s done a few more recent events well into his 80s and has continued to run recreationally. Many of his peers spend their day at a diner, the garden of a retirement home, or otherwise sitting around comparing medications and remembering the things they did in their youth. When I am an octogenarian, I hope to be like Carl and spend my day trotting through a dessert valley, or climbing upwards at a steady gait over a mountain pass before volunteering to help someone less able and more in need.
In one of Carl’s last posts on our little closed Facebook group, he gave us some bad news. I am sad to say I will see no more updates from Trail Trudger in our little running daily snippet. He won’t post any more pictures of his gourmet creations he often made for himself and his wife. There will be no more graded efforts for his daily run. He will be unable to further share his beloved Colorado. I won’t dive into details but will only say that this happened quickly and in that same post Carl wrote . . well . . here is how he ended it: God is good and I consider myself to be lucky to have to have enjoyed 84 years of running. I consider this to be a real Blessing…hard to explain. But I am really at peace with it.
See what I mean? When the end of my days come along, I hope I can be as dignified. I give that life an A+.
Naturally this news rocked our little running group. We all know none of us are getting out of this alive but it still hurts when it hits close to home. That said, I’m fairly certain the last guy that would want us moping around crying in our coffee is Carl. In fact, I won’t ever think of beautiful trails and wide open spaces without picturing him. To that end, when I brought home my new gravel bike last week and began thinking of a name, the answer was easy. I hope this bicycle will bring me hours of fun and enjoyment in the beauty of nature. So . . .