For someone writing about the virtues of exploring local trails, I spend a lot of time running on dirt as far away from home as I can possibly go. This past month, I was fortunate to tour central Japan for a few weeks, running on a variety of terrain from the streets of Tokyo to Mt. Fuji and Hakone, as well as Mt. Hiei and ancient pilgrimage trails like Choishi and Kohechi. During my stay, I made several presentations about my perspective on mountain running, speaking to trail runners as well as a more general outdoor crowd. On one of the evenings, I was asked an interesting and somewhat perplexing question, “How to enjoy?” First, I needed a bit of clarification, how to enjoy running, trails, mountains?
Yes, yes! The person eagerly replied. All of that! I chuckled, not condescendingly, but rather because the answer seemed self-evident. You know, you go out and run in the mountains and you enjoy, no? Fumbling with my response, I realized it was easy for me to formulate why I enjoy running in the mountains, but harder to address how to enjoy. Enjoyment has always struck me as a very personal thing, self-arising and not something that would require a method like the question how would imply. What then is the source of my enjoyment and how does it manifest itself within me?
The first slide of my presentation is a photo I took last summer of Mt. Baker. The image depicts a pale blue jagged glacier that contrasts with the black volcanic rock of the peak, brilliant white snow and a wispy cloud suggestive of whimsical adventure that lies upon the mountain’s flank. I have one word under the photo – inspiration. I have many such images etched in my mind. They occupy my dreams, my thoughts, my conversations. I start with mountains. First, I do not think about running, walking, climbing, just mountains. I am drawn to the peaks from my heart as a primary source of inspiration, a genuine love.
Next, I am attracted to movement, self-expression and relating to the environment in an intimate and personal way. When I look at a mountain, I start to visualize aesthetic lines as a way to engage with that place. Most often, I begin my relationship with a place by sitting and contemplating. The particular line I choose and the way I wish to approach it may call for walking, running, scrambling or climbing and often involves a bit of all of those. I try not to restrict the outer expression of my inner vision. Too often we are boxed in to disciplines, bound by categorizations, distilled to only being hikers, runners or climbers. We are limited in our expression by what others think we should or should not be doing. It is irrelevant to me how fast or slow someone moves, whether they call themselves runner, climber or pilgrim. What is more interesting is authentic self-expression.
Traveling to a faraway place is an opportunity to see how others relate to the land. On my first run in Japan I was surprised to find our group scrambling up some slabs in Rokko Garden as part of our outing. We diverted from the trail often, working our way up creeks and frequently using our hands on the rock. This is a practice I commonly engage in at home, but I could tell it was new for many of them. What was most pleasing was the clear openness of the group to this new dynamic, a willingness to explore outside of what we commonly and narrowly define as trail running. Both the group and I were expanding our perception of how to relate to the land. There was genuine playfulness and spontaneity in all that were present. When I returned home, I was eager to rekindle that spirit.
So, how to enjoy you ask? My old friend, the late Caballo Blanco put it simply – run free. What would you do in silence when no one is looking? Would you still head to the hills? I would. There is an intangible pull to be in that place, to be freely moving and there is no one method to ignite that spark. I go running in the mountains to move my mind and body because it feels right.