For those of you popping in on here hoping to see a long and detailed race report from my most recent running at the Barkley Marathons, I'm sorry I will have to disappoint. I have decided that the memories and full experience from this year will remain with me, and me alone. I will say these two things: First, despite last year's incredible success, this was the year that I truly came to understand important things about who I am, and what is it that inspires me. Second, being able to witness (and crew) my friend Travis on his incredible finish was certainly the most poignant and profound ultrarunning experience I've ever had.
Today I went for my first run in week. I had no watch on, no idea of how far I'd go, and honestly had no desire to leave my apartment at all. It was a struggle to even put on the running shoes. I headed out on a familiar trail, reluctantly, and at an incredibly slow pace. After a few miles, I found myself on a oft-traveled out-n-back trail under the assumption that I would just "do the usual". But then something happened. Randomly while on the return leg, I was overcome by a sudden desire to pop off of the path and head down a small "goat-path" (likely a deer-trail) that breaks off to the left. I had seen this little trail probably hundreds of times and had always wondered where it went...but never took it. I was always in the middle of a fixed length out-n-back, so why would I, right? (At least that's always been my logic I guess). But not today. Today I took it.
It weaved through the woods for a while and I had no real feeling for which direction it was leading me. Gradually, after a small climb the trail became smaller and smaller until after about a mile, it simply petered-out and I found myself just standing in the woods....alone. I rightly laughed-out-loud to myself at this seemingly fitting scenario, but then looked up and saw the perfectly clear blue sky through early spring trees. There was no wind, and the woods were incredibly quiet. I wasn't really that far from people, and in fact was probably only a mile or so from the edge of a golf course, but in my little microcosm of forest, I was a million miles from anywhere...and utterly alone. I stood there for a very long time just breathing in the air and taking in the silence around me. It felt good. I looked down at the dirt and leaf-litter beneath me and I felt at-home. I thought back to words I wrote down after my PCT hike describing why it was that I "needed" that hike. I had said that "I was out of alignment, and needed to go someplace that would feel right, would feel like home, and would bring me back into that alignment". Since the days of thrashing through the woods as a 6-year old with my dad, to my long and expansive thru-hikes, to the 50- and 100-milers on the weekends....it is, and has always been, the trails and the woods that feed the passion of my spirit.
Each and every one of us has something that we cherish, that feeds our soul. Maybe it's reading, or traveling, or running, or skiing, or hiking. And many of us may come to a day where we realize we have lost sight of the passion behind that something. Perhaps we still do this activity, or we still participate...but it has become rote and mechanical. That passion that we once thrived on, has been clouded over by a facade of the unimportant or perhaps just the things which we falsely believe to be equally as important.
It was in the woods today, standing there at the end of the goat-path that I realized this. At some point over the course of the last year I had lost sight of why I seek the trails. My motivation had shifted entirely to that of a numbers game. How many miles could I run in a week, how much elevation gain, how to train for that next race, or how much time could I shave off of that PR? In no way do I mean to downplay the thrill or the exhilaration that can be found in competition, I myself often thrive on it, but for me, it has never been the true drive behind my love of the trails. Deeper within me the true reason had become so buried and clouded-over that my days on the trails have become almost chore-like. Methodically recording my mileages on digital logging websites. Noting my elevation gains, keeping spreadsheets, and compiling those ever so important time/splits sheets.
Again, I ask myself....When was it that I lost sight of it?
I have often pondered the idea of completing my triple crown and finally doing a CDT thru-hike, and often the first thoughts in my mind are of planning guides, mileages tables, and daily averages. Today standing in the woods, was the first time that I thought of a CDT hike and the very first image in my mind was that of standing on some ridgeline somewhere along Wyoming's Wind River Range and admiring a perfect sunset. So perfect in fact, that it's the kind that makes you realize how small you really are, and how big and magnificent the world can be. The kind that can bring you to tears...and to your knees.
That is the feeling that has drawn me to the trails and to the woods.
And I had forgotten it.
But today, today I remembered it.
And I will go out now seeking the trails for the reasons I should have been all along; the reasons that drive and feed that passion within me; the reasons I had forgotten. I will remind myself every day that it has never been about the numbers, or the miles...but about the awe that is awakened within me every time I set foot in the woods.
So please, take that goat-path once in a while, and don't lose sight of what it truly is that feeds the passion within you.