Back when my sisters and I were on the same spring break schedule and our family spent our spring breaks relaxing on beaches rather than ‘spring cleaning’, we went to Florida. Being from the Midwest, we thought of Florida as a gorgeous getaway, a respite from the suburban life and frosty mornings of Illinois.
“Look at all the palm trees!” my little sister, Maggie squealed, on our drive to the hotel. We had the windows open; At home, we couldn’t do that because the air still carried the breath of winter. I gazed at the palm trees. They were something else. When I looked at trees at home, I thought of squirrels, but looking at these trees I thought of coconuts, sand, and colorful-feathered parrots.
We went to the beach, first chance we got. My little sister face-planted into waves while my dad swam, and my mom and Claira sun-bathed. I snuggled into the sand with a book. It felt like the sun was shining through every inch of my pores, warming my soul. There was literally nothing wrong with Florida, and I started to hate Illinois.
“Oh, you two need to go running later,” my mom announced. I sighed, but didn’t argue. My older sister and I were competitive runners. Even a week off of running could put us behind, so my mom always made us run on vacation. Even if it was a pain, I mean, I was in Florida for God’s sake, and the rest of my team was in boring ol’ Illinois.
So after lunch when the rest of my family was taking naps, Claira and I went out on our run. It’d probably just three miles. Easy, right?
“Claira,” I whined when we were only a quarter mile into it, “it’s too humid! I can’t breathe!”
“Do your best,” she said, helpfully, trying to mimic what my mom usually said when we cried to her at practice.
This, was definitely worse than practice.
The sun was beating down on me, giving me shots of radiating heat when I already felt like I was in a cloud of steaming waves of vapor. We passed palm tree after palm tree after palm tree and I thought, is there ANY type of tree besides a palm tree here?
I also wanted it to be acceptable to run shirtless. Boys must just love Florida, I thought bitterly, while us girls have to suffer in all our clothes adding at least a hundred degrees to the already one hundred and fifty thousand degree weather.
“Keep up!” my sister yelled back at me, though I noticed she was wheezing with each breath she took.
My thighs and calves were burning, like there was fire in my muscles and no way to put it out. It’s not like I hadn’t felt that before, but it seemed significantly worse when the burning sensation also occurred all over my skin where I was already turning pink with sunburn.
And my mouth. My mouth was so dry that I didn’t feel like I had any saliva left at all, and I was probably going to die. “Cotton-mouth” we called it at home when our mouth got dry running. I was going to become a speaker, bringing awareness to the deadliness of cotton-mouth, retelling my story in front of crowds, warning them never to run in Florida.
I swatted at my face because little bugs were running into my body and sticking there because I was so sweaty. A little ways ahead my sister stopped, coughing and sputtering.
“I swallowed a bug!” she said.
“Do your best,” I told her as I ran past her, angrily.
We both finished the run in tears, not talking, but quietly whimpering as we walked on our shaky legs up the steps to the rented house.
I wobbled to the sink and tried to stick my entire body under the faucet.
I now appreciated the crisp, spring weather at home in Illinois. No one place is a perfect paradise, especially Florida. The thought of running at home brought a weak, but sure smile to my face. I could almost feel the chilly, morning air against my sweaty, sticky skin.
From now on I would appreciate my vacation time, but not slander Illinois, either.
It really wasn’t that bad of a place.
But probably the most important thing I learned from that run was that I needed to find a treadmill, because I sure wasn’t reliving that experience any time soon.