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My Dirty Hat

Written By George Callahan

Sep 22, 2019

“I thought about buying a new hat, a fresh and clean one, but it wouldn’t be the same.

It’s my hat.

It knows my struggles on the trail and my successes.

I’ve trained and raced with it. It’s tasted sweat and dirt and lots of stream water on hot days.”

It kept the sun out of my eyes on that long, desolate, beach road in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, when I crossed the finish line in first place after fifty miles of asphalt and loose, gritty sand.

This hat climbed those unforgiving Virginia switchbacks that cold March night, when five headlamps bobbed along the Blue Ridge Parkway ten minutes before the thirteen-hour cut-off.

My hat was there at my first DNF, fifteen minutes from my apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, when the voices of comfort and ease sang louder than my battle-forged will.

This hat kept the rain off my face as I circled a gravel loop in northeast Ohio for twenty-four hours on my twenty-fourth birthday.

Less than a week later, my hat flew to Austin, Texas, to run trails on tired legs and sore feet, all for the sake of adventure and experience.

Hadn’t we had enough adventure and experience?

“It’s never enough,” my hat says, hanging now on my door handle. “Let’s get back out there! Where are we going next? What challenge, fatigue, and fear can we run through together?”

I look at that hat, white and green and now with dirt splotches, and feel its weight on my head.

I feel the sand in my shoes, and I see the heat coming off that oceanside asphalt.

I taste the cold winter air of the Virginia mountains. I see flakes falling thick and frigid stream crossings and myself stopping with ten miles left, taking it all in, this grand adventure.

When I see that dirt-splotched hat, I hear myself say “I’m done” at my first DNF; I feel my hip and foot and I get that April nighttime chill down my spine. I see the doubt and pain in my eyes and return to that Moment of Quit. There’s my hat: along for the bad as it was for the good.

[click here to read about the Moment of Quit]

On that wet Ohio morning, my hat finished 87 laps of monotonous gravel. It heard my conversations, laughs, groans, and self-talk. It sat next to that warm aid station fire for too long and crossed the finish line perched above my smile.

Outside Austin, it saw the rocky hills of Texas for the first time. It slid down loose descents, navigated mountain bike trails, and got soaked by a frigid rain just across the finish line.

My hat is dirty, and it has a salty sweat stain on the brim.

It’s been sat on, dunked in streams, latched to backpacks, complimented, and shared.

It’s seen first-place finishes, fatigue and pain, and moments of massive weakness, of quit.

Races and training sessions. Sweat and sun. Wind and snow. Gravel, asphalt and sand; roots and rocks.

I thought I might swap it out for a fresh one today.

But what good would that do my bank of experiences and adventures, of challenges faced?

I’ll give this dirt-splotched hat another ride. And probably another. It’ll earn its retirement one day; it might get lost in the desert or loaned to a sun-tanned friend. I might leave it under a pine tree or watch it float down some river. It might get blown off in a mountain thunderstorm as I run for the cover of the tree line.

Then I might swap it out for a fresh one.

Won’t that be some story?

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