Tales of the Dead Armadillo A Novel About Crosscountry Running Chapter 7 Section 5 The first good bye.  By Esteban Erik Stipnieks



Coach Noel was realizing the tone. Coach Bob asked him "What are you thinking?" Coach Scott knew the jam box of Bo would be playing. He said "When we approach Boerne I want Bo to play Track 2 in the CD that is in my bag." Coach Bob grabbed the CD and realized the title. It was from the CD "Hold Your Fire" from Rush. Coach Bob grinned. "I like your thinking." Coach Noel was feeling the emotion and he wanted to make a slight control input to control it. Coach Bob saw the finesse behind the call.

Amanda was enjoying the ride and feeling the mixed emotions as the bus continued westward highway 46 was hardly level and flat. The cut of draws and creeks turned what would have been a high flat plateau into a big mess of dips and turns as the surveyors were forced to take an awkward route that drifted from one drainage basin of the Guadalupe, which was two faceted to another drainage basin of a major creek. She was not aware the geography. She knew the people team would perform well. It was nice reading about double gold. The spotlight did not burn as much any more.

Tom and Dennis talked about the game before. Tara was in front of them. She had the coach’s daughter perspective. It was a good night. Her father was happy and the touch of pressure was applied to crosscountry team to bring more gold. The two shared the reality that there would no second takes on this meet. This and district would mean the end of their crosscountry career. This was the last time they would be in a bus west bound on 46 as a crosscountry runner. They would run the district course at Hinman Island and if they did it right they would be at UTSA.

Ace looked out realizing how much the hills had changed. The CD Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits...innocence on a CD. The 70s seem so kitsch so lovable. San Antonio was growing due north. The once wild grassland becoming woodland was becoming a big large piece of suburbia. Smithson Valley's campus was big and it kept growing. The ranch that had once been a campground for a Boy Scout event involving one division of the Alamo Area Council was now Castle Avalon. Bigger ranches had become housing developments. It was slightly depressing as the ground Ace had once camped on was being sold to more developers.  The ranches were being replaced by  more houses.

Coach Bob announced that he wanted all music off past a certain point Coach Noel had a song that he wanted the whole team to hear as the bus-approached Guadalupe River State Park. He handed Bo the CD and said track 2. Coach Bob said, "I know this is the last non district meet for many of you...Coach Noel and I agree this is for you"

Ace heard the guitar riff  of Time Stand Still and the voice it captured the emotion building within his heart. He looked around the faces of those he loved as brothers and sisters. He made eye contact with Linda, Kimber, and Amanda. Lezlee nodded and Anna gave thumbs up the song was playing what was on their heart. Their faces had the understanding they were going through the storm together. Bo's grin met Stephen King's. Serg's face communicated he understood. All the seniors knew what was going on. The song fit them. Kimber marveled how Coach Noel could find something that was in her heart. This was the last time she was on the bus for a non-district bus. The guitar riff cut Amanda's ears but as the lyrics belted out she saw Ace's eyes on her and it all made sense. She looked at her other classmates this was her team. She wanted the moment frozen she wanted the relationships to last to eternity. Even Bo had on his face understanding. They had been through the storms of the team now for once the guys and girls were sharing glory. She was pulling from him though they had dated for a year. Serg and Dennis's eyes met hers along with Tom. She realized she was not alone in the moment. As Bo looked towards his classmates on the bus, he realized he did not have to be hipster today totally. A face from the past had gotten the team believing and gold would make the moments sweeter. Tom smiled he recognized the song. The trust he had for his future soccer coach was only growing at that point. Dennis smiled he understood the message. The looks around the bus hammered in one fact the seniors were all going through the same storm with the same purpose they had to set the tone they had to lead. The bus arrived at the parking lot.

Coach Bob stood up "We have a lot emotion here by the seniors....one day soon many here will understand it....take the cues from Amanda, Lezlee, Linda, Kimber, Kathrine, Bo, and Serg do not be afraid take their lead and join them" with that that the team disembarked for the meet.

They got to a covered area at the Cibolo creek park. Soon the maps arrived Serg signaled Ace, French Fries and Raul to walk with him and Dennis. They walked the course Raul needing less tutelage he was learning things on his own and had developed some skill in interpreting course. Dennis smiled, “Your kind of course who knows maybe you can beat Thomas to get your spot on varsity...if not you will scare him into running faster and training harder.” Ace took a big drag off his bottle of Gatorade. The girls varsity race was about to start.

Tara was warming up with the Kathrine, Leisha, Linda, Amanda, Kimber, and Kim. Kim the halfbreed from the valley had stealthily emerged on the varsity squad. She was quiet like Linda she let her running to the talking. Tara was now aware of why the seniors were acting the way they were. She was going to do her part to make sure the dreams of the faces would not be denied. The starter gave instructions.

With the sound of the gun the race was started. The starting straight was short. The speed workout from hell that the seniors had turned the heat up was now just a bit of extra power. The morning was cool and Tara was feeling a bit bolder staying within sight of Linda and Amanda closer. The first two hundred yards of the race had passed at a good clip she was near the front Leisha not too far behind a turn was up ahead. She handled the corner tightly her body in control finesse gained from her black belt the maneuver lost some momentum but it shorted the course she reaccelerated out just a bit faster gaining some on Linda. Through the straight, Amanda's legs and the sheer speed of Linda pulled out ahead. She was hearing "Way to go Tara and Leisha. 800 yards the loop at the base of the course had been completed. A whole lot can happen three minutes. The good start had kept them out of the traffic snarls. A hill awaited she knew it and had built up speed to attack. Amanda was attacking with skill. Tara accelerated into the hill she found time to use the weights and while having some bulk on the upper body it helped her on this course feature as she gained a bit on Linda who had been sliding further ahead. The trails were narrow Tara could feel the fatique coming but she was not going to let slow down as she closed in the mile mark now it was a matter of holding the speed for a while and kicking at the end. The course turned around in a figure 8 narrow and lean at the top. The beat of her feat and Linda pulling away filled the next hundred yards to the crossover point then it was off the hill and down her greater mass allowed a bit of closure she was also aware of less then half the race but the wrinkle in she had run the first mile just a bit faster and she could almost hunted. Her acceleration was to a lower speed knowing she had already gone too far beyond the lactic acid threshold early and hoping. She made the turn reversing the course on the lower section of the course. The distance was shortening she had an idea less then half a mile to go another bit of speed added. The quarter mile slid down no additional surge until she hit the point where she knew it was 100 yards Leisha was on her like white on rice. The two young women surged together as Coach Noel was shouting "Finish strong." Tara dug for the last bit as she was now sweat soaked the jersey was once again clinging to her like a sweat soaked second skin. She did not loose position. Leisha was right behind her. She looked at the grass and some Gatorade was forced out of her stomach. There some other girls then came Kimber, Kim and the Sophomore Kim intermixed but still among their lead runners. She cheered them on. Amanda, Ace, Linda, Steven Ray and Allison had congratulated her.

Amanda as she warmed up she realized she did not music to get up for this race. She did the strides but also was aware her pulse was high already sending oxygen to her tissues. She heard the instructions for her last non-district race of her crosscountry career. Tara had been quiet as if sensing the grief that the seniors were feeling.

The instructions and the gun with that it began. The adrenaline that had been building since the song had been played in the bus ignited a way she had only intellectually knew it would. A race plan was shot by turn of events but she was not going to reduce the power she was out front and made the turn. Linda apparently had felt the similar explosion of emotion. 200 yards and the race was going to be governed by feeling for the developing lactic acid in her legs a traditional sense of pacing was a little off she knew she was going a bit faster. The first real turn of the race came she went a bit wider with her longer legs and unwillingness to kill momentum made the turn wider and Coach Bob shouted "Run smart Amanda" Then the inner section of the serpentine course of what used to be a marsh area she was maintaining her speed and running a decent line. The hill arrived as she knew she accelerated and her stride shortened. All those runs up Panther Canyon were paving dividends. She kept the extra force of the stride in so she recovered the speed lost and was back at a healthy pace. The course was actually pretty with Cibolo Creek off to the left flowing clear. The mile marker was ahead. She realized that she was running a smart race she had only made a couple mistakes. The course made the turn on the high line her mile time was 15 seconds faster then she wanted it to be but she was feeling strong so she hoped it would come out in the wash. This was the last time she would be on this course and the call of "No second takes reverberated through head.” She heard Coach Noel “Keep running strong Amanda.” She cannon balled the hill in a such a form that Ace would be proud of she sensed the feeling of being out of control that was only regained with the first steps of the level loop to the finish line. Coach Bob shouted, "That's senior leadership.” She surged hard now. The last bits of her crosscountry career were vanishing with fire in the legs sweat soak and the fire of desire the last 200 yards were run at full speed a bit faster thanks to the crazy workout that lead to big munches. She saw Tara come in and puke. She gave her the high five the team was in good hands next year. She cheered her teammates and realized the team had dominated again...she only hoped the boys would join the girls in victory as Steven Ray, Allison and Troy congratulated her.

It was a happy group of sweat soaked girls that drank Exceed and Gatorade...Tara's stomach had settled. Linda made it a point to compliment thank Coach West for his daughter. They walked the short distance below the hill with Pavilions that much of the team was on. The girls were approaching the starting line where the varsity boys were. The race was starting soon and they arrived right as instructions were given. Kimber, Linda, Amanda, and Leisha all shouted after the gun went off "No second takes!"

Bo and the rest of the varsity guys had missed the girl’s race. Bo when he walked off the bus was aware he would not have to get himself up for this race it was all raw desire. He senses warming up that power was there. Tom said, "We got emotion our hearts have been going since you played Time Stand Still it will give us a better start just enjoy it."

They received there instructions and they had selected a favorable box. The gun went off and seconds later the cry from the girls hit Bo's ears. He was also aware he was near the front of the race. He had heeded the advice given by Tom. The first turn of the course came up 200 yards after the start. Bo had started it they were near the Kendall County fairgrounds. Raul was finally passing him well so much for his original plan he was now hoping Tom was right. Coach Bob shouted "Good start what will keep you out of traffic." Bo hung the turn tight the course for the boys extended a bit past the girls. This added the additional 200 yards on the course to alter it just enough so that two laps of the bottom course would make it. Sweat was coming on. No second takes. He knew his smaller body mass and the lines he would cut next. He was working hard his instincts had come clearer he was not as talented as Raul but he was more determined. He cut the inner part of the course riding adrenaline at 5-minute mile with the skill of surgeon and the hill was assaulted with controlled fury. The emotion was roaring and it was meeting his intelligence. He was going to run the smartest race ever...or at least to district. He was beyond the lactic acid threshold but not excessively. Things were where they could be. There were a couple runners from Tivy, Heights and Canyon but he was a head of bulk of traffic, French Fries and Raul were still ahead. The narrow top of the eight for Bo was something to be death with and his concentration remained like a laser as he crossed the top of it. He made that turn hard holding onto his speed the quads bearing the stress and the Air Pegasus transferring and bearing the lateral load well. Bo ran the next straight with skill and he was fierce on the cannonball down the hill. He was near the start line he heard Ace cheering him on the voices of the girls joined. The straight of the start was passed he was coming up on the two mile mark and he made the pass on the Tivy Runner. 10:10 was the time he heard. Now it was the girl’s course inner loop he added a notch of speed through the mile bottom loop. He was now hunting through the series of small straight aways. He passed the half-mile point after the second mile marker now it was time to run a hard 800 why not. As he did the rate of gain on the runner from Cougars and Tivy increased he passed the Cougar and as he saw the chute come up he finally made the pass on the Mule as he surging like this was his last race....it practically was no second takes. Dennis had gotten the Cougar and the Antler. Bo Smiled as his old friend crossed the finish line.

French Fries during the warm up was not totally scared but he knew there were expectations. The gun went off and as he took off the weight of expectations of seniors drove him. He was a bit slower on the start allowing Raul a good lead. He had walked the course and knew what to expect and he handled the first turn about conservatively. The guys made it clear they had to.  The longer section of the guys he was ahead of the traffic. Coach Bob shouted, “Run it hard run it smart.” The race was young and patience had been learned the hard way. The longer section then the serpentine part followed. French fries followed Raul’s aggressive staying closer the very inside in doing so he would scrub off some energy but the talent reserves were ample and while being an error it would only refined later....two seasons later. He got his first mile time 4:56 Raul was 4:54. He attacked the hill with fury that all the hills he had run in training taught him heeding the advice that Amanda had drilled in keeping the power in till the pace was reestablished. He was now hot he was now sweaty but the race was where he wanted it no side stitches. Coach Noel shouted "Way to run strong." The creek off to the left looked nice he was in second place and Raul was burning rubber once again the tight turn followed by another straight and the downhill cannoballed hard then the next mile time after a long straight where the cheers of the girls had filled the ears making him realize that the girls needed a victory even he had slown down a bit the second mile he dialed in strength and as Raul heard his steps he increased pace. He was getting annoyed Raul could be faster but his first place speed allowed him to slack. Aero wondered briefly if the person had state potential if he pushed it. Another surge as the 800-yard mark came on then the final 100 yards. Bo was a surprise when the passed in third only one other runner then Dennis. Thomas, Serg, and Tom finished in quick progression. The guys had gotten their glory.

Amanda was happy she gave French Fries a high five. Raul had done his job. Linda was congratulating her brother. Aero was realizing what the Gold meant for the guys and the girls. They were some cute girls that he wanted to impress.

Lezlee looked at Anna the two friends were seniors on JV. It was clear that guys had delivered again. They did the warm-ups. They were going to end their career on JV. It did matter but the glory of the Varsity girls team shone on them. Allison and Brandy were along with them. The feeling of a mutual goal was something that could be cut with a chainsaw. The whole team took the box wanting to do their bit to grab another gold medal to join what the guys and girls varsity had apparently won. They were not going to be weak link in the chain. Their was a lot of savvy in the box as the starting instructions were given. In terms of talent and physical ability the team was 2nd to 3rd place in terms of spirit and skill...if they used their assets they would win nothing was certain till the end of the race that started with the firing of the gun.

As the gun, fired Anna and Lezlee quickly found themselves mid pack. The guys had made their way and the battle cry was "Go Unicorns and No Second takes seniors." JV was really senior citizen zone for the girls. Anna was calm 200 yards in 3200 yard meant little. Her flirty side hit the feisty competitor who always gave it her all on the course. Simple plan run a solid course. She made the first turn it was decent line not too tight but not lazy it was a compromise as she made the first pass by going a bit wide. Aggression and patience were a combination. She merely hoped for a solid finish. She captured three more places as she ran the inner curves of the course. Coach Bob shouted "Way to run smart Anna keep reeling in your next victim." She had every intention of doing so. She attacked the hill and got the pass. The heat was not bad she was sweaty the uniform was clinging to the Monoceras body but it sure beat doing a dance number half time in full make up. She was running to the mile marker. Coach Noel Scott had been stuck in the high grass and told her keep going hard...she was just beginning. The course was pretty she thought as she made another couple of passes some of the hard starters were already weakening. She was on profile at that point she added speed. Everything was going to the little flirt's plan. She was tiring but not too fast she ran the turn of the mile marker tight but not wastefully. Anna's shorter legs did not allow her to grab all the speed possible off the hill be she still made a couple key passes and was now in the top fourth of the race and being in the hunt. She started her end of race surge early knowing her position. She was not in the top 10 but the top 10 had a scatter shot of teams she made three more passes Coach Noel was cheering her on. She made one lass pass on a runner from Alamo Heights...it would be critical. She was weary exhausted after the 12 minutes but she had done her part.

Ace walked with Mike, Steven Ray, and Troy, Eduardo and Jorge. The team was fast since they were short it was now a matter of personal glory at steak or terrorizing he guys on varsity into making sure that they would win district. They received their starting instructions and Ace was focusing on the task at hand.

The shot of the gun Ace's prehab bit him in the lead section of the race for 20 yards. Ace knew his options he was at race pace and maintained it 5:30 would be a nice first mile on an unfamiliar course. He was in the top third of the race, which was a plenty good start so now it was just to play it cool. He was surprised that he snagged a couple passes at the 400-yard mark starting into the interior portion of the loop with its mess of turns. Coach Bob was shouting "Good start you want varsity I guess." Ace was at peak attention level realizing what was at steak and personal glory on this race if dominated by the blue would be nice. He had decided to go retro with Journey's Don't Stop Believing cheese was good every now and again. What happened on the inner portion was senior craft with some talent not the shortest line but the most efficient in not shrugging off speed Ace's nick name grew he was now deep into the race coming up on the first mile as the loop was finished sure enough 5:30 on profile. He attacked the hill with the force once again all the prehab on the bike helped. His stride could absorb the power and as a result a couple Antlers and Mule were passed in a way that was totally disheartening. The 5:30 first mile was a bit aggressive but he was dealing with the lactic acid well. He made a couple passes and realized how nice the section of the course over looking Cibolo Creek was. He considered briefly in his sweat soaked state nearing the mile and half mark halfway this would be a good place to fly fish. Ace had a decent plan for the course and was running it according to plan. His longer strides allowed him to pick off another couple passes down hill and with that point he decided to accelerate as he did he got what he wanted on the time 10:55. He went full juice. As he did so was taking a big risk but he was gunning for a personal best. He went to 80 percent of max and held it for 800 yards he was closing in on a personal best time and he realized how close was to the finish line though he was hurting and burning sweat soaked he realized he was also seeing after the a couple additional passes the potential for a medal. He made four passes on audacity and as he  did, he was in fourth place he had one more mule to pass Coach Bob shouted, "Remember your freshman year ace!" Ace was gaining the fire lactic acid was burning the distance left was fading. Ace was digging for pride realizing he could beat his best time 5 yards till the line he made the pass and it was clear the guy from Heights was surprised but Ace held. He was exhausted. Amanda handed his bottle of Gatorade to him,"You ran that like no second takes." Coach Noel Scott made a comment “You beat your best time congrats.” Thomas had gotten a faster time but he had beaten Mike. He had beaten a personal best time.

The awards ceremony varsity boys had taken Gold the girl’s varsity had brought home gold with the first three places Unicorns. French Fries and Raul had taken the top places for varsity boys. Anna had snagged 2nd place JV girls and Ace had gotten third place honors for the guys. It was a happy group of runners that had shown domination. The conflict that had marked Ace and Amanda's relationship had faded. Coach Bob looked at Coach Noel with a rare smile on his face finally the team was performing. Tara had not disrupted the girls.  But rather a coalition had been formed the girls had found a way to work together and the hill country hurricane had done a couple big things. For Ace in leadership he did not talk to much but when he opened his mouth it was meant and had been backed up by action. He was different but his loyalty to a greater moral picture, which meant serving the team, could not be denied. Amanda and Linda had blossomed as the people had grown like men and started leading.  The girls free of the burden of sole stardom had gotten faster!

The group got on in the bus and headed for convenient store that boasted some good smoked meat right across the Cibolo creek park downtown. Amanda Cooks parents were having a party at her place, which was going to be attended. There would be burgers cokes and the team sticking together. District victory looked increasingly certain but Noel was not about to call it a done deal yet.

The patties were store bought pre made easy to grill. Amanda Cook's parents had left the meet early after the end of the JV boy’s race, the large house two stories was busy as Coach West, and his wife joined in helping. The four parents attended traditional First Baptist and the talk of he two towns dominated their conversation. The football coach was caught in a bind hoping that a party bust would wake people up the fact that alcohol was flowing to underage drinkers almost as fast the Comal River at flood stage.   He also realized that the same bust to highlight the high alcohol flow would end the football team. The football coach talked of Denton Bible and the atmosphere of faith almost under pure attack at the high school he left. The force of UNT and TWU with their adoption of postmodern thought had hit the high school. The football coach talked about how the fact as a Christian your values were under a degree of testing forced fierceness. The fact that the community frankly did not give a care about high school athletes was not without its good sides. The football coach enjoyed living in the community and found its natural beauty stunning. The talk drifted about Fellowship Bible San Antonio as a church. The church's first mission trip the Alqua was a bold statement. As Coach West related Denton Bible and what his daughter and been telling him about the church. He had gathered it was Denton Bible's youth but only hard demanding edge in it. The smaller youth group of the church put a greater emphasis on making the students responsible for their own faith and the vision of the pastor was that the faith had to be manifested on the campuses. The questioning about quiet times and personal responsibility for the walk Coach West actually liked. He knew that in 2 short years his daughter and her walk would be out of his control. The story of Stephen King's arrival at First Baptist was related. Coach West said "Culture shock." The dyspraxic temper was real and Denton had been intense.  Ace could buck.  

On the bus the mood started festive and turned to a sedate as the hills the path cut across really three different drainage basins the Cibolo, Guadalupe and Dry Comal meant up and down and lower then speed limit as the bus labored up and down hills. There was some sausage that had been consumed and beef jerky from the Texaco Station convenient store. The medals had found their way into bags and were treasured momentos. Coach Bob knew he would have to call the results in. It took about an hour for the bus to arrive. Once the bus arrived at the field house Coach Bob got up at the front in the Aisle "Amanda's parents have a meal waiting for you. Wear the hardware you earned there are a lot of people not just your parents who are proud of your performance today. Dennis, Bo, Linda, Amanda, Ace congratulations on beating your personal best times today."

The group knew the way the the doll house on Mission. From the Porch in the backyard you could see a big section of the town of New Braunfels. They were allowed to at at the most get two pattys and pieces of cheese first. Dennis was first at the house and he greeted this fellow team members and Tom was right behind acting as the perverbial older brother of the team. The underclassmen were told to eat first. It was Dennis's idea.

Dennis congratulated Ace on his performance. Ace made the comment that Bo, Dennis, Tom, and Serg looked good with Gold hanging off their shirts. Tara was happy her dad was helping serve. Amanda, Kimber and Leisha ate first last the guys. Ace decided to be at the end. Coach Noel and Coach West smiled looking at what had happened. Between the slices of meat Ace slathered some Pace Picante sauce medium over chips placed above the cheese he had put cheese on it and mayo the result was a thick burger. French Fries signaled Ace over. Dennis was making his rounds between groups of his teammates. Tom was with Ace. French Fires and Tom talked about what Coach Noel was like. Ace told the two that he was little different then what they had seen. Dennis congratulated Ace on his personal best time. Amanda the gracious hostess made the comment about a personal medal looked good on Ace as well she congratulated Ace on what happened. Anna made her way Ace knowing himself was polite but he went to Serg. Serg noticed the picante and said "Not so Gringo.” Ace laughed. Steven finally said "Remember I am a Burrito."  Raul had been friends with Ace's cousin but he had proven to be very different. The Dr.Pepper was good in Ace's hand. He ate fast and like everybody made his way back for seconds. Amanda and Tara got close to Ace they talked about the bible study that none of them had done but had to do by the following morning it was to be their activity. It had been their last non district meet the celebration was nice.  

Ace got back home his mom was surprised to see the medal it would be good news in the paper Ace quietly found his way to his room and got the bible study one. He then did the reading he was supposed to do for AP English he typed a paper and called it a night it was hard to deny the building emotion about district the medal was nice.

Sunday rolled around. For Linda and Raul they went to Holy Family Church 11pm service. Amanda, Tara and Ace made it San Antonio. They did their bible study and discussed how Dennis suggested seniors eat last. Pete brought up those statement whoever wishes to be first must be last and the example of Christ washing the feet. Brent was nearing the end of his football season at Clark and district meets were that Saturday it was hard to believe that their career was ending. Another member who several years previous had been dealing marijuana challenged them to deal with the emotion that had been building but find a way to serve. Ace handled photos his formers scoutmasters’ house. He would make some money off the prints.

For Coach Noel Scott Sunday was church service at Oakwood Baptist Church. He caught up on the stack of papers almost 3 feet he had to grade he got his grade book up to date and was grateful he did not have to compile the race results and handouts to the team. He spent aside from meet days which ate 9 hours of his time 75% of the effort he spent as head coach. He was aware of how hard Coach Bob worked. The multiple choice tests of a science course were easier to grade thin his history workload but still. It was 10pm when he got it all done.

Ace's mom was upset at Stephen King for running JV but the varsity boy’s team was the better for it. She did not realize that the margins of victory had increased. Ace knew his mom was upset but knowing who he had grown up with that were presently dealing with chemical abuse issues partially fueled by a double standard at NBHS he had all the flexibility of a concrete reinforcement pillar. Amanda had finally processed it and had leant him moral support. Brett called him that day.


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