I moved to Beaufort, SC after my TransCon in 2017. Depending on what story I’m telling it was to finish my dissertation without the distractions of friends or a job or to spend much desired time with a man I love. I won’t lie, I hated it. As a liberal midwesterner, recent Southern California transplant, the lowcountry was just about everything I grown to hate in my adult life - slow talking, humidity, and the vestiges of institutional racism. Worse, when I heard someone tell me how lucky I was to live there, how they loved Charleston, Savannah, or even Beaufort I felt like there was something wrong with me. While I’ve always been proud of being a Land of Lincoln Yankee, I began to think that I’d become a bit of a northern snob - refusing to see the beauty among the problems. I thought if I loved Rainbow Row and the blooming plantations along my drive it meant I was ignoring the ugliness and violence of the slavery that built them. If I exalted the simple southern life of the residents I was whitewashing the injustice poverty that surrounded them. I saw the pink and blues of Rainbow Row and the slow sweet southern drawl as cheap paint and a faux romantic melody covering up the pain and systematic problems of the Palmetto State.
Then I took a long hike with a Pat Conroy book and discovered that just because some folks are willing to overlook the problems because of the romance, doesn’t mean that the romance isn’t worthy. More than that, the son of the Great Santini taught me that the south isn’t one or the other, it’s both. Conroy so elegantly captures how South Carolina made him, for better or worse, into the man he is today. He is equally passionate about the pain and suffering of the south as he is about the dogged resilience of the place. He makes no apologies for the misogyny, racism, and violence of the place, but is a steadfast champion of the good that comes from the saltwater marshes. He refuses to cloak the deep complicated love of the Lowcountry in platitudes about shrimp boils and sweet tea, or even apologize for loving such a flawed place.
People, places, hell America is complicated. Our nation is full of hard-working privileged groups, kind-hearted folks with racist beliefs, and genius, sometimes misogynistic men. It’s complicated to parse out that nuance, hard to hold those two ideas in your head. Luckily ultra-running is the master of cognitive dissonance - providing the highest of highs and lowest of lows physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s the maker of great legs and mangled feet. The beauty and pain of an ultra-runner and equally acute and not always distinct. My South Carolina crossing has made me both stronger and more broken than I was before. It’s left me humble and confident. Exhausted and re-energized.
It’s not about taking the bad with the good. It’s not even about maintaining a ledger of positive and negative, constructing a rational decision based on an complicated algorithm or equation. Good and bad don’t fit onto a balance sheet, and acknowledging one can do nothing to negate the other.
So this state, and the Lowcountry in particular, has reminded me that there is beauty and ugliness everywhere. We can celebrate the former while working to erase the latter. In fact the very presence of the beauty is just cause to continue the fight against ugly because we know just how good something can be. The dirty, messy, gritty marshes of man, and all our simplicities and complexities, are thriving here. When we love something, we love it wholly. We don’t ignore the parts that bring us pain, we point them out, work to fix them with grace and empathy. We care for the soul of a person or place and nurture its growth.
South Carolina will never be a home for me, but it has been both my haven and my launching pad for the past year and a half. It has given me a place to hide out, explore what’s next and ultimately return to the road, chasing that triangle. Most importantly, it’s challenged me to accept that things don’t fit neatly into good or bad. Runs are never wholly pleasant, people are never wholly heros or villians, and places are rarely wholly good or bad. South Carolina has given me exactly what I needed, when I needed it, and forced me to grow a little in the process. For that, I love her.
More about the route, cause, and results can be found here.