How to Enjoy?

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.

Mt Baker

Inspiration

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.

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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 16 comments

  1. AndyJ

    Good piece Joe. I think if I were in your shoes, I might have accidentally said, If I have to tell you, you won't understand. Enjoyment of the mountains has always seemed to me, unexplainable and yet I could talk about it for days, weeks…maybe my whole life. Whenever I am near mountains I am completely enamoured by them. Whenever I am walking, running, hiking, skiing or climbing in the mountains I feel like a kid again. It seems virtually impossible to tell someone how to enjoy mountains.

  2. Mike T

    Excellent piece Joe. I really enjoyed the way you wrote about your approach to the mountains. For several years now I have believed that trail running is the finest form of performance art. Perhaps I'm not the only one. Cheers!

  3. Yeti

    Really great stuff Joe. I'm always excited to read your work. The concept of "running free" is something that I connect deeply with and wish I came across more often online and with friends at home. I love that this article in particular doesn't contain the words- race, training, splits, goal, PR, CR, chicked, sponsor, nutrition, injury, fitness, etc…Always nice to know(or at least hear it once in awhile) that others view their running as a self-expression that extends far beyond the tangible rewards of PR's, belt buckles and bragging rights. Thank you!

  4. Ben PJ

    Awesome article bud! Specially the "What would you do in silence when no one is looking? Would you still head to the hills?" part. There is only a tiny community of us trail runners in Durban, South Africa, but I have no doubt that they would all share the same answer.

  5. Melinda

    Excellent piece. Thank you for expressing in words how many of us feel about our running, but have not figured out how to say.

    Beautiful.

  6. Fabienne

    Joe,

    All I can say is…Wow!

    You wrote an amazing piece and I found it especially moving. Your pictures are excellent , love the composition as it conveys the true feeling of running in the mountains. You really have a way with words. Thank you for sharing what so many of us feel and is so difficult to put into words!

    Fabienne :)

  7. Charlie Montana

    Another superb piece of writing Joe and spectacular photos. I would enjoy learning more about the type of camera equipment you use and how you carry it on your runs. Thanks for inspiring us all!

    1. Joe Grant

      Thank you all for the kind words. Charlie, I use my iphone (with lifeproof case) or a small pocket nikon (coolpix aw100) when I'm not carrying a pack. I tuck them straight in the waist band of my shorts. If I am using a pack on longer stuff, I'll take a canon t2i or other film cameras to play with. All the content here is digital though. Really it comes down to how you look at things and what you want to convey rather than the tool you use.

  8. Charlie M.

    Whenever my wife and kids get on my nerves I log on to iRunFar to read pieces like this. It makes me yearn for the solace of those mountains!

    Of course when I'm in the middle of family bliss I'm very glad I'm not scaling mountains or slogging through the Arctic. Sometimes vicarious running is quite nice! :)

    Anyway, thank you. Lots of suburbanite Dads out there who appreciate the Zenning out that you provide…

  9. Matt P

    Lovely piece.

    I'm reminded that the marathon monks of Mt. Hiei require years of sitting meditation before a prospective gyoja is allowed to undertake the 1000-day, 7-year "marathon."

    AndyJ's comment brought to mind Robert MacFarlane's fine book, The Old Ways, in which he writes about responding to the Himalaya's with "something like lust." (Great book, by the way, about walking, not running, but contains much about the ways place and motion shape us.)

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