The fair young man with blond dreadlocks leaned over his guitar, striking a soft, sweet melody that I only knew too well:

Hey I remember... when we used to sit 
In the government yard in Trenchtown 
Oba - obaserving the ypocrites 
As they would mingle with the good people we meet

On the front steps, two young girls were swaying in the delicious and smooth spring air of the Canadian capital. Next to them, Martin, a short and gleeful Canadian with perching Gucci glasses on a tanned slender nose, lazily scratched his purring cat. Inside, someone was barbequing sausages in the kitchen, from which the distinct fragrant of burnt grease tickled our senses.

The Ottawa Backpackers' Inn, with its brightly paint walls, named beds and no-shoes-inside policy, was the exact peaceful refuge that I didn't expect to find in the Western hemisphere. Martin, the owner, set a hippy and relaxing model for his staffs, which in turn translated into an easy, charming mood for the hundreds of low-budget travelers passing by Ottawa every week. I met two men who had made the inn their semi-permanent stay; both were in "transition periods" to find a place in Ottawa. One man, a guy in his forties, had became so naturally integrated in the routine of the inn that he often offered his car to take everybody shopping, or his service to walk around with visitors who were clumsy with maps. The other, a younger man with deep-set eyes, seemed less happy here. I saw him hanging out in the lounge most of the days, browsing the internet with headphones on. He must have been quite lonely, as he scrutinized each new visitor as if looking for someone to converse. He told me that the dorm-like atmosphere of the inn was irritating, and that he had spent three months here and could not wait to move out. I was amazed that anyone could last that long at a place intended only as a rest stop for the restless.

Ottawa is easily the prettiest Canadian city I have visited, much more serene and elegant than how Montreal or Quebec was in my memory. As always, the consulate trip was painless and fast, and had become standardized - from the long wait outside the fortress-like gate to the tiny waiting room to the 2-minute interview. While waiting for the visa, I made arrangement to work from a Mercer office in the financial part of town, and found myself surprisingly joyous to walk half an hour to work everyday along the famous Rideau Canal that curved through the city. Celine, the bubbly lady across the hall, raved about the skating break that everyone took most afternoon in the winter to skate down the canal and grab a hot chocolate from a booth on ice. The work life balance here is, wow.

As the weekend rolled near, I grew increasingly anxious about the first marathon, knowing that I had only trained half as dedicated as recommended by the guidebook. On the other hand, my soleus muscle (the big muscle in the back of the lower leg) had healed from its last overtraining, and the inflammation surrounding my big left toe had also subdued. I consoled myself with a claim I had read somewhere, that an under-trained runner is (apparently) in better shape than an over-trained one. As it turned out, that statement is absolutely true.

More about the actual race in the next post. But to make a long story short, I finished, in good time and injury free. My legs completely shut off for the next three days, but after a week I was happily racing Muggy up and down the East River with zero soreness. Yes, what they said was true, the last 10k (6 miles) were long, dusty and painful. No, they lied about the toenails - all 10 of mine came intact, none lost and no blister found. Pace bunnies were my savers. The cheering crowd was my wind. And Muggy waiting with hugs and kisses at the end of it all was touching and adorable.

After the race, we celebrated by gulping down glasses of water and ordering giant portions of steak to replenish the torn muscles with protein. Sitting down was hard; it seemed our legs had done their work for the day and refused to bulge any further. But how relaxed the mind was, and how strangely warm and calm beating the heart... 

My feet is my only carriage,
So Ive got to push on through.
But while Im gone, I mean:
Everything is gonna be alright...
Everything is gonna be alright...

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