It’s been nearly a year and a half since I packed or sold what I owned and tossed anything valuable into a 49lb duffel bag so I could fly. While it seems like years ago, it also feels like I was just handed the keys to this rig yesterday. I write not to brag about all the cool things I’ve done or to complain about how hard things can be at times, but to hopefully inspire you in your own journey. Long drives, runs, and rides have given me time to reflect recently in ways that are hard to convey to others. Nearly a month ago now, I wrapped up several days at a festival in central PA and found myself with the opportunity the day following to run a 28 mile stretch of singletrack along the Standing Stone Trail. Sitting there with Helena and Evan in State College, I was offered a free lift to 1000 steps, the start of the segment. 1 beer in, I was on the line. A sip of the second, and I decided I was in. After breakfast, Evan went to pick up a friend before stopping by and giving me a lift to the trailhead. Here goes nothing.
1000+ strategically placed steps in the first mile or so was a hell of a way to start out, but it was incredible to experience such beautiful trail building. While I don’t want to bore with the details of every single stretch of trail, I learned a lot about myself. I mean, this was a random Monday morning in May that I decided to run 28 or so miles along a gnarly stretch of punishing singletrack solo and self supported. Helena was nice enough to watch my dog G (Geronimo) while I was out and was my ride home once I hit Greenwood Furnace. While a lot of pictures remain solely in my head, the emotions I experienced along that trail linger with me daily – just like those I experienced at Palo Duro 50, Old Pueblo, and even R2R2R. Although nobody was there cheering me on along the course, the feeling that it was something I NEEDED to finish was overwhelming. While nobody really truly cared whether I finished, I knew I had to. On the final stretch, Helena ran up from Greenwood Furnace until she ran into me (literally) right before the overlook and we turned around and finished the final piece of mellow singletrack back to the trailhead. That final mile is more clear in my mind than the other 27.
Finishing it has now become one of the many stories I have that inspires others. Talking with a friend today, I discovered that is all I really want. I don’t want you to take up running. I don’t want you to go vegan. I don’t want you to live in a van. I want you to see how those choices have affected me in a positive way. I hope that through my lifestyle, I can inspire you to improve yours. I’m learning things every day, both riding, running, and personally. Learning and improving yourself constantly is what it’s all about. If you’re not improving, you’re going backwards.
While I don’t consider myself “religious” anymore, I do consider myself to be more spiritual than ever. Sitting along the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the spring and watching the sun rise and set over the mountains is something truly incomprehensible. Is it about the mountains? The sun? The colors? The clarity? What is it that makes that moment so enjoyable? What is it about a mirror-like pond in the middle of NH several miles into a trail that makes me just want to stop and take in the beauty of it? Is it because we were meant to live like that or is because I’m just that weirdo dirtbag, hippie, runner that lives in a van?
The things I’m discovering are not new to our society. This isn’t some revolutionary idea that people struggle dealing with and comprehending. It’s something that has been and always be a part of humanity. Why don’t we do it more? Why are most people’s lives base their days off or vacations around trips into the mountains or woods? How many people do you know that just want to go camping on their days off? How many people do you know that want to take trips to go hiking or mountain biking on their vacation? This isn’t something new, and while these things bring a sense of comfort to us while we work 9-5 in the office, the real beauty is that they actually bring us back to this primal feeling that we need to be outdoors. There’s so many way to experience this feeling and running has been the most raw and unadulterated way for me to satisfy that need.
I’m running around Pico mountain these last few days and I’m wondering when I’m going to hit the summit. I’m climbing, yet I’m not there. Will I ever be there? After taking a drink from the fresh spring near the summit, I’m descending down towards the trailhead at an unfathomable speed. G is on my tracks and I’m running without poles or a bottle since there’s fresh water along the trail. My mind empties of everything – only me and the trail. I don’t even have to worry about the dog since he stays right on my tail. I reach the bottom and wonder what happened over the previous 3 miles. The same way that most people go for a ride with friends and have conversation during it to pass the time. Finish a ride and try to retell the entire conversation you had during your run. It just doesn’t work like that. Your body needs a time to prioritize memories while flushing out things that don’t matter. When you finish a 50 mile run, what matters most? The struggles you dealt with along the way, or the fact that you actually finished what you set out to do? If you have something you need to do, do it. If external gratification is your goal, instead focus on what you will gain yourself and focus on how your experience will inspire others.