I began by biking out to mile 17 in Newton Falls. That’s just where the runners make a sudden right-hand turn onto Comm Ave. It’s the beginning of “Heartbreak Hill,” a long, steady incline. We were careful not to utter the word “heartbreak” within earshot of the runners. We referred to it as “Hill of Happiness,” among other fun names.
The spectators hooted as wheelchair racers whizzed by, military veterans walked in full uniform, and rogue fans darted across the street. As the morning unfolded, several of us assembled on a blanket, ready with signs for Joe. It was our post.
The first woman sped by amid wild cheers, followed closely by a sizable pack of her peers in vigorous pursuit. Several minutes later, a motorcade ushered the first man. We knew Joe would be soon to follow.
Every moment that ticked by, every dark-haired runner in yellow, our collective anticipation mounted. We were ready to pounce, like cats.
Why Newton Falls? We knew that several supporters would be spread along miles 23 and 26, and it seemed fitting that Joe could have a pick-me-up a bit earlier on. Spreading the love. Also, it was right before the Hill of Happiness.
When Joe loped by (behind a mere two runners dressed as hot dogs), he looked strong and happy. It was hard to believe that he had already run 17 miles!
Shortly after he passed, all smiles and hugs, as expected, I set off for Brookline. My old digs. Sacha was waiting there for Joe, and I made it just in time! He ran by only five minutes after my arrival. I think he was very confused by the reappearance of Leo, but his stride remained fluid. By now, the sun had peeked out, and the day was pleasant and warm.
This was going to be tough. I wanted to make it to the finish line, both to see Joe and to revel in the madness of the Boston Marathon’s glorious, fabled conclusion. But I knew that Beacon wasn’t passable, and to cross it was definitely not an option. So I set off on a journey that was not sure to succeed; down through Brookline Village, along a veritable detour, well out of the way. It was my only chance.
By that point, I had ridden nearly as far as some people ran. So I was feeling accomplished. “Feeling my oats,” as they say.
Traffic thickened as I approached the finish line, as I expected. I saw a few ambulances. The sort of scene you would expect as droves of runners complete their long, mad journeys.
All at once, traffic stopped, horns blared, sirens wailed, and ambulances flooded the streets. Pedestrians and drivers began to yell, confused and irritated. Many were uncommonly aggressive, even by Beantown standards.
The flow of runners, spectators, and bystanders quickened, and I braked my bike to a halt. At this point, a minute or two after 2:50 p.m., I first heard the word “bomb.” I was a block from the finish line.
I tried to call Megan, because she was thinking of watching at the finish. No service. Then, I tried to call Joe, but I didn’t have his number. I checked on Twitter, then Google, for news, but my data was gone. A woman shouted to a small crowd that two buildings had exploded. Another woman shook her head derisively, saying that no, there had been gunshots. Most everyone was worried and desperate for information, as you would expect.
The sidewalks were impassable, so I backed against the buildings to assess the scene and stay out of the way. By this point, the stream of motorcycles, ambulances, and police cars ran uninterrupted. Runners that had recently finished or been diverted passed by, disoriented and disturbed. Several people asked me what happened, and all I could say was that I didn’t know.
I realized that it wasn’t safe to stay there, so I moved a few blocks away from the scene. I didn’t know if the violence had ended. From what seemed like a safer distance, I checked my phone, and though my data was back, the news was sparse and vague. Two explosions right by the finish line, dozens injured.
By now, I was receiving and sending text messages to make sure people were safe. The streets were still chaotic, but I wanted to go home, and I could start to make my way slowly. I wanted to watch the news, even though I knew it would just be repetitive and speculative.
The police aggressively directed traffic, deftly managing uncooperative pedestrians and frantic drivers. Once I was a few more blocks away, the masses thinned, and I was able to ride the rest of the way home. I stopped a few times on the way to check texts and take calls. As I rolled into Jamaica Plain, all was astoundingly calm.
Now that I’ve liked all of the Facebook posts from my safe friends (including Megan and Joe), I am going to make olive oil rosemary garlic chicken wings with two of my closest. A la Clover. It is relatively sane here in our apartment, except that I inexplicably put the yogurt in a cupboard and left it there for a half hour, which I’d like to blame on being distracted from normal affairs.