Early Sunday, like every Sunday morning, I waved to a great runner —a great human— as I got out of my car. Ernie was in the parking lot, getting ready for our trail run, surrounded by other runners. He appeared to be in charge, as usual, in his friendly and humorous way.
I was almost-late, tying my shoes and tightening the hydration pack before hitting the spectacular Millennium Trail in Calabasas, just north of Los Angeles. As always, I was glad to see Ernie. His big wave and equally big smile made you feel welcome and known. This Trail Runners Club is where you belong: that’s what he exuded as our fearless leader.
The group started, I hung back, then passed some folks. There was Ernie, floating up the hill with his familiar gait. I tapped his shoulder, squeezing by as I said good morning. He laughed, told me to go get them and have some fun. Ernie laughed a lot. He was funny and made others feel funny, too.
It saddens me to write this in the past tense. Ernie passed away later during that same run, on the gorgeous single-track path, not far from the trail head where we all gathered after 14 wonderful miles.
Others who knew him well will tell the world who Ernest Chalekson really was. I only know he made many of us feel good and welcome, every Sunday morning. We belonged there, on that trail, in those mountains, with each other, and with him.