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May 15, 2006

Strawberry Week

It’s springtime in Monterey County, which means one thing. OK, that’s not true – it means a lot of things, but for the purposes of this blog, this week, it means only one thing: strawberries.

Strawberry fields are prominent and plentiful in the Salinas Valley from April through September. They serve as a backdrop to everyday activities in incidental ways that take on more meaning with each passing occurrence.

I’ve had several strawberry-related snapshots in my head I’ve wanted to discuss over the past several days, but instead of including them all in a single long-winded, meandering post (which if you’re a regular reader, you KNOW I’m capable of), I decided to make it more like a recurring theme.

Think of it as an on-line mini-series. I don’t exactly have lofty ambitions – this won’t nearly be as groundbreaking as Roots or as instructive as North and South, or (thankfully) as exhaustive as Ken Burns’s Jazz. But I think I have enough material for a collection of decent posts.

So that’s my plan for the week: the topic of each post will be related in some way to strawberries. Of course, if Thursday rolls around and I’ve run out of things to say or my hit count takes a dramatic plunge, I reserve the right to change my mind. I know that sounds noncommittal, but that’s pretty much as good as I give nowadays. Don’t you judge me.

As for today’s post, I’ll flash back to the Big Sur Marathon.

I’ve already written ad nauseum about the most difficult portion of the Big Sur Marathon: miles 21-24 through Carmel Highlands, where the road rises and falls mercilessly at the point of the race when runners are in their most fragile mental and physical state. It’s the stretch of road where pleasant or strong marathons go to die.

There is, however, one outpost of comfort and relief during this daunting stretch of the race: the strawberry station at mile 23. Runners speak of it in a reverential manner, like travelers who come across a silhouette of the Blessed Virgin in the markings on the side of an abandoned taqueria. Many of them don’t know the station is coming, but their hearts leap with joy and hope when they come across it.

This is a point of regret for me, in that I’ve never stopped for the berries. I don’t know who mans the aids station, where the berries come from, or how many runners they serve. I’ve always been too paranoid about losing precious seconds to eat a handful. I’m also fearful that if I stopped, I might enjoy the moment so much that I would decide to kick my feet up and stay a while.

I do know this: every runner I’ve ever talked to that has stopped for the strawberries considers it one of the highlights of their race. It’s something that keeps them moving through the hardest miles: the knowledge that the strawberry station is ahead, at which point they can stop to recharge their batteries before conquering the final 5K.

I haven’t completely missed out on the strawberry bounty at Big Sur, though. One of the things awaiting runners at the buffet table in the finisher’s tent is an enormous stack of strawberry crates. So in addition to bagels and water and energy bars, I always walk off the course with a full basket of Monterey County strawberries.

Those strawberries are always the first thing I consume, and they never fail to be absolutely delicious. Maybe it’s the context of complete exhaustion or the satisfaction of accomplishment, but those post-race strawberries stand out as one of the most pleasant experiences of race day.

Actually, just about all of my strawberry experiences are satisfying in one way or another…as I’ll talk about in my posts for the rest of the week.

8 comments:

matt 5/15/06, 11:28 AM  

i remember those strawberry fields well from my days up in your part of the state. i can't imagine anything more satisfying after a marathon or more deserved than those red beauties. i am having quite a pavlovian moment as i stare at that photo. do you ever go out there with the family to pick them on the weekends?

angie's pink fuzzy 5/15/06, 12:25 PM  

Oh, yeah, lots of strawberry fields, although I don't have good memories...we had strawberry fields surrounding our track at my middle school in North Salinas. It was horrible to have to go out there and run a mile (remember, at this point in time in my life running was evil) while the field workers watched us. Blech. I would jog V E R Y S L O W L Y and ponder how badly their backs must hurt from being over all day long. I felt sorry for them, even though they tried to taunt us by calling out to us. Strawberries = strange memories for me :)

Kim 5/15/06, 2:33 PM  

The strawberries were so yummy. And I knew it meant the end was near.

backofpack 5/15/06, 2:49 PM  

From the 4th grade till the 9th grade and my first "real" job (as a carhop) I picked berries and beans to earn money. Strawberries, then raspberries, then green beans. I hate to pick them, but I love to eat them. Now, I'm going to risk our blogging friendship here, but I've never had a California berry that could come close to a Washington berry! Native pride? I'm not sure, I just know the California berries in the stores never match up to the fresh, local berries.

Still friends?

robtherunner 5/15/06, 5:15 PM  

When I come to Big Sur I will stop at the strawberry station even if a sub-3 is on the line. The way things are going though I should be able to walk on through put my feet up a bit and then continue my stroll to the finish line.

DREW 5/16/06, 2:38 PM  

Strawberries are one of those little surprise treats that sneak up on me from time to time. I don't eat a lot of them. I don't think or dream about them, and I don't have any specific strawberry memories other than the time I cut my finger while slicing them up for shortcake. But everytime I pick one up and bite into it I think, "WOW, this is juicy nectar from heaven." And then I go on my merry way.

I think, though, that everything might change if I can swallow a couple of those blushing beauties at mile 23!

Downhillnut 5/16/06, 3:17 PM  

I would be one of those who hope there's still strawberries left by the time I get there. I would definitely stop and enjoy some!

Darrell 5/16/06, 9:54 PM  

I love strawberry pie, but it always make me think of the book, Thinner, by Stephen King. The one where the gypsy curses the strawberry pie. Never the same after reading that one.

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