Day #10: A Journey So Far
Editor’s Note: I wrote this piece before my 9-mile run this morning, a quick out-and-back over most of the trail I was supposed to run yesterday.
After Monday’s brutality, there’s little chance my body will allow anything like that to happen today. Instead, I’ve made the executive decision to push as close to Canyon, Texas as possible, which means a 10-hour drive to Oklahoma City.
It also means I’ll be abandoning one of my camping destinations in Arkansas; however, it was a one-night stop in a primitive location and after 12 days of traveling – including 10 in campgrounds – it seemed prudent to spring for one relatively comfort-filled night.
That means, in no particular order:
- air conditioning
- clean shower
- a working toilet
This is not about air conditioning and toilet and televisions, though.
I’m interested to see how I re-adjust to the indoors at night. I’ve come to enjoy my evenings in the tent, reading, and passing out at 9 p.m. (I haven’t enjoyed waking up at 1:30 a.m. every night as the temperatures finally drop into the pretty cold range. I have to make this decision: unroll the sleeping bag and battle with that in the morning, or hope I fall back asleep wearing my Cargo pants and windbreaker. So far: 2 for, 2 against.)
More than just an adventure, this trip has altered some part of me that I’m having a difficult time explaining to people. For most of my adult life, I’ve been “the tech guy.” For most of my young life, I was “the writer guy” and “the athlete.”
Somehow these wires were separated, pushed apart, and I lost a very important part of my soul in the process. I remember spending hours – hours – practicing, honing, developing, and creating throughout much of my life. I’ve never had a hard time motivating myself in that way.
Throughout the adult years, I have lost that. I have settled into a status – middling as it is – and relaxed there.
Somewhere, I began to face a motivation problem because of that. I don’t make things anymore. Or if I do, I have to struggle to find the motivation. I have distracted myself and become complacent in that distraction.
I have ceased to be interesting to me.
I’m not sure I would have put this trip in those words when I began to plan this however many months ago, back when I had zero camping equipment, no idea where the trails were, and no interest in finding them.
Yet something inside me snapped, and I was disgusted enough with myself to see where it went. I began researching camping gear on the REI site (I’m part of the co-op although I had only purchased 1 piece of luggage there in the years I’ve been going); I began looking at places to stay; and when I was in a running store replacing a hat I’d lost I stumbled across Runner’s World’s trail running issue.
Events unplanned, but related together in a mind that had grown weary of the incompleteness of my life.
Each step along the way has been a learning process for me, although there’s been little in terms of camping that has changed me. (The sleeping habit I like: in bed at 8 p.m. and awake at 6 a.m.)
The running, though, has started to reshape my DNA. I know this about myself now.
When I lined up my runs, I set about scheduling small runs, anticipating the trouble I’d face as I began ascents that would sometimes reach more than a mile up-and-down. I couldn’t handle that, I thought. I don’t train for that kind of running.
Yet my mind and body have fought the urge to “go small.” On every trail, I’ve pushed myself further – and run farther – than I reasonably could have expected myself to go. Whereas I’d rarely tackle 15-mile runs at home – just the occasional long Sunday run – here I’m routinely pushing myself past that threshold even when that means I bonk to the point of utter fatigue and exhaustion.
In 11 days, I’ve run 108 miles. Twice I’ve gone more than 18. Once I’ve gone 16. I’ve run up-and-down more than four miles. I’ve done complete park loops – the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield (16.1) and the Double Oak Mountain (18.7) – because I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving without taking down those runs.
I’ve met two ultra-marathoners along the way, both of whom asked if I was training for one of those. We talked of the Leadville 100 and Western States. We’ve run together. We’ve shared stories. And on the Double Oak, one ultra-marathoner made sure that I made it to the end of my run safely.
That last event – the kindness of that stranger on a bike – reminded me what this whole adventure is about. These runners are a community. They are people who are pushing their bodies and their minds beyond what the humans think is possible. They have gone to a different emotional and mental place.
To do that, you need support. You simple cannot do this type of running and racing on your own. It’s impossible. Physically, emotionally, mentally. You need each other, and you never have to ask. It’s baked into the code of this kind of running.
I understood that, but I am coming to know that out here on the road.
I am desperate to be around these people, to be one of the, and to be one with them. I don’t want to be the runner staggering along the Red Trail somewhere in Alabama unequipped for the 19-mile loop he’s running. I will never win a race, but for me that’s not the point. I want to be a part of the runners who do the races.
“Do not try to win awards.”
I post this piece of advice for my students each semester as a reminder that those who win awards are oftentimes winning the approval for what is established today. True creators never really win awards because they are creating that which will become the standard of tomorrow for which people win awards.
I believe this. I have always believed this. I have shunned awards ceremonies and celebrations of such things whenever I could in my life. They are too often self-congratulatory for a job you are supposed to do.
Awards can never replace the feeling I’ve had as I’ve tackled each of these trails, even the ones that have utterly broken me. They cannot replace the gratitude I felt for the cyclist who kept circling my routes, checking on my progress while he’s training for a 100 mile race in Leadville, Colorado (a mountain bike challenge, not the running challenge).
Awards and celebrations of awards are meaningless in mile 16 as your body breaks down, as your mind erodes. What matters is the kindness of the person next to you gently cajoling you and the energy that you take from them. The energy that you remember to pass along the next time you see someone on the trail.
This is the group with which I want my life associated. I want to be a part of this community of people who run, who push, who go because they can. They go because “it’s there.” And they do it with a smile even when the pain has set in.
I’ve said many times I’m not sure where this journey will eventually take me. I’m reluctant to make predictions the older I get. I know this too shall change into an idea that I haven’t yet conceived.
For now…so far…the journey is about finding that Zen within myself while I run, finding that community of adventurers who share that search, and finding a way to share the experience with them. In that, I know I will find a way to create again. I feel that.
And I haven’t felt that in a very long time.