Between The Roads

[Editor’s Note: As this publishes, Joe is around 36 hours into the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI). He’s probably dragging his sled as you read. Follow his progress on the ITI website. Last year, Joe wrote about his experience at Alaska’s Susitna 100 on iRunFar, while Geoff wrote about his mind-numbing ITI adventure.]

I could run any direction because sometimes you’re drawn, for whatever reason, to a certain direction or a certain course.

– Pablo Vigil

Today, I run to the east. The draw, the instinctual attraction to a certain direction of which Pablo speaks, is calling me to the eastern slopes of Gold Hill that stretch down to the plains. My effort and spacial awareness are guided by feel, yet my run is confined to the tracks laid before me. The road wraps its way around the contours of the land, trapping me in a linear experience of the area. This constraint most often locks my forward progress into autopilot, where I ride a most familiar line around the hill before returning home with a restless sense of déjà vu.

While there is a certain comfort in the known, along with an undeniable value in repetition, my senses seem to thrive more in the exotic. I used to think that to satisfy such cravings I needed to travel far. Exotic was about drinking sour milk out of a calabash gourd in Kenya or sipping salt and butter tea high in a mountain hut in Nepal or maybe dragging a sled up in Alaska. Truly though, that sense of curiosity is more of a state of mind. Shouldn’t wandering always lead to a bit of wonder?

Guard rails, barbed wire, and private-property signs deter the casual traveler from the enchantment that lies behind the fence. So, occasionally, I hurdle the enclosure, just to feel that sweet jab of adrenaline from breaking the rules. Maybe the consequences of getting caught are worth it? The tingling feeling of evasion certainly is, as I creep by the forbidden place, hand on dog’s collar bell, silenced. If I’m lucky I may catch a game trail, play on its twists and turns. Perhaps, the line is one I notice after a light dusting of snow reveals its sharp silhouette on the hillside. Better still, the land is trackless and I bound down its steep slopes distorting Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” in my head to someone who must know this is somewhere… I do. The land owns me and when I surrender to go where it takes me, we reconnect.

My suggestion here is not that transgression leads to a richer experience, rather it is our perception to our surroundings and our deeper attunement that does. Once in awhile, step off the road or the path altogether and revel in where that takes you.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Who has, like Joe, gone with your mind somewhere besides where the road or trail leads? What do you think inspired those moments of deeper connection, perception?
  • Are there some days where you appreciate that sense of local familiarity, what Joe calls déjà vu, and you embrace that which you recognize?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 15 comments

    1. Amanda

      +1 in such a short space of writing, Joe transports you on his runs with him, into his thoughts… I don't see what all the hype is over Dakota's writing (no offense), when people like Joe post things like this.

      1. Reid L.

        Joe & Dakota are different sorts of writers, for sure. But they're both good. Sure am grateful iRunFar puts their stuff out there.

    2. Bill

      No offense, but Joe and his writing are the exact polar diametric of Hemingway. I respect Joe and his exploits but most of the time his writing gets simply too windy for me. He steams off into the ethereal too easily and often and writes in puffs of smoke rather than giving anything to grasp onto. I wish he would give us a straight line or two, or something concrete. What happened and where. Put the hay where the goats can get it. For a guy who spends so much of his time with his hands planted against a mountain, one would think he could summon a bit more solidity in his reports.

      One man's opinion. I am not hating on Joe. I love Joe. Read some Hemingway, Joe.

      1. PDC

        "He steams off into the ethereal too easily and often and writes in puffs of smoke rather than giving anything to grasp onto."

        I sort of agree, but I like that about his writing and this piece in particular. When I read it and looked at the photos, it put me in a state of contemplation that was quite nice. Deer trails and rocky outcroppings in the dead of winter.

        But then again, I'm a bushwhacker, so I know where he's coming from.

  1. Tony

    Beautiful writing. Joe's ability to convey his thoughts and experiences so directly is a lot rarer than we might imagine in sports like running and climbing, and should be celebrated. It enriches us all…

  2. Andy

    I also really enjoy Joe's writing, even if it is a bit verbose. Besides, any trail runner knows that the laconic, Hemingway-esque images only take you so far. "The line of hills … were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry." And then?

    As for ventures off the path, the only times I've done it are when lost, like one memorable incident as the snow thickened and darkness approached and the only way off the mountain was to find an ice-choked stream (finally!) and follow it down. Damn that was exciting. I should get off the path more often.

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