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The Tao of Turkey Run

Authored by Charlie Ruiz (April 2009)

It was a cold evening in February of 2003. I decided to head out for a few beers after work with a friend to a small neighborhood bar in Chicago. Nothing fancy, just a few cold beverages before heading home. As fate would have it, we met up with John Zelenkovich that night, and a few Captain & Cokes later, the conversation turned to plans for Memorial Day weekend. “Dude, you have to come to Turkey Run!” I asked “But what is Turkey Run?” John claimed it was nothing short of the best weekend of the year, altogether ignoring my request for information. He went on to describe it as the best experience ever, that I would be hooked up for life, and that it was some sort of inner America cultural “Riviera” frequented by people who suffered from a condition where their necks would become sunburned to the point that they would turn bright red, and that I just had to come, no two ways about it. With thoughts of long, vast open drags where for some inexplicable reason, people congregate to see turkeys race, I said “Sure, I’m all in. What should I bring?” The magnitude of the words that were spoken next would not be appreciated for months to come, but the effect would last a lifetime. Without missing a beat, John said “You just show up. I got you. Trust me, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!!” I called him many times in the months that followed to once again ask the same question, also asking about food and lodging. But my inquiries were met with the same answer time and time again. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!!” (Dear Reader, Let me interject here and tell you that there is absolutely no need for dress shoes of any kind during this trip. Without any concrete information as to what I could expect, I was left to guess what would be appropriate. See, at the time, we didn’t have Turkey Run Online to answer some of these fundamental questions!) My fate had been sealed. My life would never be the same and henceforth, Memorial Day weekend would both signify for me, a remembrance of my heroes - those who at some point raised their right hand and swore to defend this great country and those who in doing so paid the ultimate price - and – Serb Fest at Turkey Run.

First, the logistics; Turkey Run is a state park, period. Trails, rivers, hiking, food, families, etc. We come together from all over the United States, as our journey has taken us to all different walks, cities and towns of this great country, to enjoy this one weekend each year. We meet in Chicago, and after the shopping, the filling of the coolers, and the purchase of cevapcici (Oh the cevapcici!!! I can’t describe this, you are just going to have to try it, is nothing short of glorious, TRUST ME!!!), we pile into cars and start the long journey to the heart of Indiana. We take pictures in wife-beaters, we grill, we eat, and we drink. Pretty simple. But therein lies the magic… and it truly is magic. In doing these simple activities, a great, deep, and dare I say spiritual bond, develops between all of us. We sit around, sharing meals and drinks and we catch up on each others lives. We are introduced to new people who are attending Serb Fest for the first time, we tell old stories, we listen to Crazy Dan tell old stories, (and they are entertaining, TRUST ME!!!), and we get to know the next generation of young Turkey Runners who will one day themselves carry on this time honored tradition. We find ourselves in this utopist state where we have this innate feeling of belonging, and we do belong there, amongst great friends, great conversation, history, and nature. For those few days we spend together in that place, we are home.

But TR does not begin and end Memorial Day weekend. TR is not just a place, or a specific time period each year. TR can also be described as a state of being. It is an attitude and a spirit. Hinduism defines Dharma as the natural, universal laws whose observance enables humans to be content and happy. Buddhists search for Nirvana. We look forward to TR, which is why those of us, blessed to have participated and reached this realm of enlightenment, continue to spread its teachings (and by teachings I mean stories and anecdotes of canoeing, eating and drinking…) throughout the year. Very few conversations amongst us conclude without at the very least, a simple mention of TR. Frankly, that should probably be considered grounds for a demerit. So even in the off-season, the legend and spirit of TR continues. Again, TR is a journey, not a destination.

Serb Fest has genuinely impacted my life. Dare I say, it has been life changing and I feel honored to be part of this celebration. For me, while for a few years before 2009, I have been unable to attend TR, it still lives in me. Even last year, on Memorial Day Weekend, 2008, as I sat in the middle of the New Mexican desert, hundreds of miles away, my thoughts and heart brought me to TR. Sadly, my eyes were paying attention to the criminals trying to do me harm in the middle of the night, but that is another story. I am eternally grateful to Jovan, for having introduced me to this time honored tradition. It brought me not only a lifetime reservation for TR on Memorial Day weekend and a terrible nickname (you still owe me for that Rishi!). But it also gave me a great group of people with whom I am blessed to be associated. It gave me the 4 Horsemen + 1 (you know who you are), Steph, Scott and Julie, Crazy Dan and his clan, CR, R and Bry, Jeff and the missus, Olaf and Julie, who is the most understanding wife I have ever met, Catherine, Caroline, Aleksandra, Vince, and my girls Mon, Eden, Emma, Laura and Mel. And let’s not forget the Hall Of Famers - the source of great wisdom, much of which we lose due to the large quantities of beer we ingest to refresh our palate after the carnival of cevapcici we enjoy. In short, I’ve gained an extended family. And hopefully as the years pass, this family continues to grow.

So to those who are new to TR - Come one, come all. Come to TR and experience it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. I will see you all when I return to TR09. And If you run into John, and ask him what do you need to bring, and he says, “You just show up. I got you. Trust me, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!!!”….. Get my phone number; I’ll get you the packing list.


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