Ebbs and Flows

The internet has been out for nearly a week at my house. Living in the mountains, this can be a stressful and time-consuming situation, commuting down the hill to town in search of a precious signal. Not being plugged in is also harshly revealing of addictive daily patterns and dependencies. Connection these days is mostly defined in a linear manner with an emphasis on the digital.

The outage has also offered space to breathe. On this chilly evening of the winter solstice, I put pen to paper forgoing, the usual practicalities of my Apple computer. I cannot help, but notice the grain, cracks, scattered brown coloration that line the table on which I write, a sight that escapes me most of the time when staring at the bright lit screen. Six boards of reclaimed Nebraskan barn wood, a mix of cherry and oak, make up its surface. Old railway ties and astute carpentry hold it together. I run my fingers along its uneven edges. This tree, this wood has seen many lives and under the weight of my hand, continues to forge its stories.

I have spent the past couple of weeks digging through old family photographs. In July, Deanne and I bought our first house in Gold Hill. The priority in house-related work has been mainly focused outside–putting in French drains after the flood, gathering, splitting and stacking wood for the winter under our newly constructed shed. Now with the ground hardening and covered in a fresh layer of white, our attention has turned to inside décor. Photographs, particularly those with personal meaning, have a way of drawing me in for hours on end. Winter is a good time to reminisce and with the new year approaching, a time to learn from the past 12 months and formulate new aspirations. The symbolism of the table, the inspiration provided by photographs many decades old represent to me an intersection of past and present, where the juxtaposition of old and new leads to a fresh sense of creativity.

This year my running has been heavily influenced by such confluences. My past experiences allowed me to start and finish the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) last February. While the ITI certainly is a race and the rigors imposed by the continuous nature of the event truly define its difficulty, the highlight for me was in new friendships forged with fellow competitors. Experimenting with physical extremes opens the opportunity for an intensity in relationships that is otherwise hard to find.

I have mentioned before that I run to feel. To feel what exactly? To feel a connection to people, to land, to the place in which I move. With the internet gone, ironically I am forced back into a more connected way of living, a connection separated from clicks and likes, a false sense of validation of one’s lifestyle. The focus shifts to connections that matter, that are real, tangible, lasting, and do not disappear with the loss of a signal. When I think back at what has been meaningful in my year of running, simple, small things stand out–a cup of coffee from melted snow shared in the wee hours of the morning with John Logar in the Farewell Burn of Alaska, dodging mama moose protecting her calf in the San Juans with Seb Chaigneau during the Hardrock Hundred, a triumphant hug with friends on the rooftop of the Alps on a glorious Thursday afternoon in France, seeing my uncle finish his first double crossing of the Grand Canyon after an intense struggle with heat and vertical. These and many more such memories define real connection for me. They define the true reason I train and work my way up the hill.

Settling down has led me to examine place more carefully, pushed me to take notice of where I live, and deepened my connection to my surroundings. In these hills, running and lifestyle overlap, increasing the richness and meaning of both. My hope is that the coming year will bring further examination of Self and place, with new perspectives rooted in the old.

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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 8 comments

  1. Jimmy Mac

    It's weird how I have to get on the internet to read this article (and 99% of the news I get for that matter), or text message a friend to set up a time to meet for a trail run. Later today I'll use my electronic debit card at a store to make a few final purchases, then settle in with my partner to watch a holiday DVD tonight. I'll have to use my phone's "face time" option to both see and talk to my family back east tomorrow as well. We also sent our yearly holiday card in an e-mail.

    So what I'm saying is that my over-reliance on technology isn't all bad, I guess as long as I'm using it to bridge the gap to interact with another human or group of humans. Too often I can use it to put up a wall against other humans, and it's really nice to be reminded to seek out a "connected way of living, a connection separated from clicks and likes, a false sense of validation of one’s lifestyle" to quote directly.

    Beautiful writing, Joe. Once again you've hit the mark.

  2. Shelby_

    "Experimenting with physical extremes opens the opportunity for an intensity in relationships that is otherwise hard to find". Ain't that the truth. Nothing bonds people together like shared suffering. Merry Christmas to you and Deanne and happy trails as you prepare for your Alaskan adventures!

  3. netforest

    I have to think back to my 30's when I was a more serious runner (2:50 marathoner). The year was 1979. We ran, we drank, hung out with family and friends, read magazines and books. Life seemed less complex, the collective anxiety & fear permeating our culture seemed less evident. An appreciation of place and the natural world is a common thread that connects many ultra runners. Your observations and images resonate with this Wendell Berry interview by Bill Moyers. http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-wendell-b

    Enjoy the Holidays.

  4. E_C_C

    New Year's resolution: go for a run with Joe Grant! Hopefully I'll get a minute to meet you at the Sourdough. Thanks for sharing your writing!

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