Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Walls Close In

I find it increasingly hard nowadays to find those moments when my mind can wander peacefully.  I pine for the experience of the earthen trails of a thru-hike beneath my feet.  I wish desperately that I could sit and look out upon the wonder of the world around me and simply take it in...without a multitude of thesis related banter flying throughout my head.  Unfortunately those moments will have to wait...

For the past few months I have felt the looming pressure of my dissertation creeping up on me and it has come to the point when I am finally sensing the mountain of work I have before me if I am to finish when I hope to.  I have seen many around me march their way through the final year of their PhD and in every case it wasn't pretty.  Quite frankly, I know it will be unpleasant and I will struggle each day to convince myself that it is worth it.   Each time I waver in my thoughts, I think of watching Penn State's graduation last month.  I remember watching the new PhD recipients walking up to the stage being addressed "Doctor" and how much I look forward to the day when that will be me.  It keeps me going.

For now the walls are closing in and it is already becoming hard to breathe.  I knew this wouldn't be easy and now is the time to sharpen my focus and slog through it.  It will not happen on its own.

So...what does this all mean?

It means that I will be disappearing for a while.  This journal will likely be bereft of new entries for a while.  Likewise my running will necessarily have to decrease in volume.  I have a couple more ultras on the schedule to finish out this year, but the training will cut back significantly.  I will not be going back to Antarctica this Winter, and it's a good thing.  I need the time to write.  I will likely not be running any races next Spring as well, but it will all depend on how much I get done in the next few months.

I have also been splitting my time between two cities now which means a lot of driving...but it is absolutely worth it.  It just means budgeting in more time for commuting.

The running has been slowed down significantly since Leadville.  I have already come to terms with the fact that my remaining ultras this season will not be undertaken with any time goals in mind.  I am simply not trained as I was last year.  This weekend I am set to "Defend my title" at the Pine Creek Challenge 100k, but I will almost assuredly not be winning it again.  Like I said, I am simply not in peak shape.  With all this said though, it feels good to know that I was able to complete my fourth Leadville and come away with yet another buckle.

4 years of Leadville

It's easy to get worked up about the stress that's looming over me, but then I think of the wonderful positives in my life...especially those around me.  This past week I became an uncle for the first time as my sister and brother-in-law had their son.  I drove up to see my nephew and it put into perspective a lot of things.
New nephew

The group of scientists and students I've been working with for the past 6 years finally got together and published an overall "community" paper on the preliminary findings at our field site in Antarctica.  It just went to print in the journal Nature.  I'm officially listed as the 20th author of about 40, but it still means I now have a Nature paper on my CV.

The Nature print

On a side note, I wanted to relay a story I read about today.  There are few times in my life when I've read a story and been absolutely moved to the deepest core of my being; A story so inspiring that it has literally made me cry with absolute admiration and astonishment.  A story so raw, gut-wrenching, but at the same time poignant, expressive, and touching.  The story I read about was that of a thru-hiker, Andy "Astro" Lyon.  After battling cancer for years, and struggling through chemotherapy, Andy decided to forgo further treatment and spend his days thru-hiking the PCT.  Andy finished the PCT in October last year.  Last week Andy passed away.  Below is his PCT finish photo (courtesy of the PCTA).  To see that much joy in someone who was knowingly facing such incomprehensible hardship shows a level of fearlessness and passion that I will likely never know.

Andy...your story is one of true courage and an inspiration right down to the absolute core.  I only wish that we all could find a way to live our lives as passionately as you have and guided by our hearts.  May the thru-hike continue for you. Rest in peace fellow thru-hiker and friend.

His PCT journal can be found here:

Well, I guess it's time to get back to work.  I look forward to the holidays at home and marking off some milestones as I trudge my way through the arduous process of getting my work on paper.

And so, as my advisor would say...