Susan Lacke says goodbye to a city that gave her so much.
Five years ago, I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona with two dogs, a bike, and no idea what the hell I was doing.
I spent most of my 20s in that strange, clueless caravan. When things got too uncomfortable, I bailed. If a relationship went off the rails, so did I. If I made too many mistakes, I’d quietly tiptoe out the back door and start a new life somewhere else.
With every new year and every new scene, I’d become convinced that this time I’d get it right. This time, I wouldn’t screw it up.
(I always screwed it up.)
But Phoenix? Phoenix was different.
A few months after I arrived in the city, I found myself huddled over a bonfire in Gold Canyon, awaiting the start of my first marathon. I wanted to bail, to jump back on the warm bus and pretend like I had never signed up for the race at all.
But when I looked up, the warm bus was gone. My car was 26.2 miles away. The canyon walls felt like they were closing in.
One of my fellow racers gave me a pat on the back and gestured to the starting line:
“It’s the only way out, sister.”
(It really was the only way out.)
One sweltering summer day in the town of Casa Grande, I completed my first 100-mile bike ride. Ignoring the solid advice of my riding partner, Josh, I made a lot of dumb mistakes in nutrition and hydration that day. Though I faked a smile and told Josh I was feeling fine, my mental chatter blared in the final 30 miles of the ride: This is it. This is how I’m going to die, in the middle of the desert wearing neon spandex.
Josh, recognizing a bad bonk when he saw one, saved me with a Coca-Cola and a bag of potato chips.
(I didn’t die.)
I made friends on trails and in swimming pools throughout the city. I fell in love with a fellow Phoenician. At local races, I was welcomed like a member of a family. Every time I screwed up, these wonderful people would catch me trying to tiptoe out the back door. They’d gently inform me the proper way to reconcile acts of ass-hattery is with coffee and a genuine apology.
(I bought many cups of coffee.)
In Phoenix, I wedged myself into uncomfortable positions. I made mistakes. I lost my way. I did all the things that would normally send me packing up my car and searching for a new life. But in spite of myself, the world did not end. Neither did I. So in Phoenix, I stayed.
The lessons I have learned in the last five years as an endurance athlete have been profound: It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be. Admit when you make a mistake. There’s no shame in asking for help. Show up. Follow through.
But the people of Phoenix, the ones who chased me up mountains during hill repeats and let me suck their wheels, who smacked my butt when they passed me at races and let me cry on their shoulders when things went south, are the ones who showed me how those lessons translate into every facet of being a good human being. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
As I write today’s column, I’m surrounded by moving boxes. Next week, I’ll arrive at my new home in Salt Lake City. With this move, there are some new additions to my caravan: three dogs, a few more bikes, and a husband. I still have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I’m okay with (even excited about) the unknown. For the first time in my adult life, I’m moving for positive reasons, instead of trying to escape a hurricane of bad decisions.
There will be a new life in Salt Lake City. There will be new trails and new people; new opportunities and new lessons to learn.
It all feels familiar, except that it’s not. This time, I’m not starting over.
I’m moving forward.