Landing

As the plane begins its descent into the Denver International Airport, I forcefully blink my eyes open, hugging my cheek to the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the Rockies. I feel an all-too-familiar pressure behind my eyes and forehead from fatigue. A few days ago, I completed the Tor des Géants in Italy, sleeping a mere five hours in the 105 hours it took me to get around the course. I went into the race still nursing a quad injury and a bit banged up from a long season. Unfortunately, the long run did not really heal anything, as it sometimes does, and simply left me more tired and physically compromised than before. However difficult it was to complete the race, I did feel a huge sense of satisfaction in reaching the finishing line.

The euphoria of completion is short lived, though, as a fog of fatigue, aimlessness, and lethargy overcomes the senses. Time, in such an event, rapidly becomes warped. I lose my grasp of ‘rational time,’ of the time to eat, work, play, and instead exist in more of a continuum, without a reference to either a beginning or an end. Time simply kept passing by as I stumbled my way along the trail.

As a bigger picture, this translates as demonstrating my insignificance. If I were to die, a few would take note, but mostly the world would keep spinning and time would move on, unaffected. At a micro level, in my head, when I cease to see time in a rational way, rather existing only in a continuum, all that is left is the present moment. Actually being present distills life to its simplest form, that of simply being. There is no more thought or judgement while pain and joy become irrelevant notions. My only awareness becomes that of existence.

This is a state I rarely experience, typically only induced by a formidable amount of physical distress or from being far out of my comfort zone. The only downside to these types of experiences is that returning to a normal, everyday life can be quite challenging. It is difficult to land.

Back in Gold Hill, my thoughts feel slightly blurred, less defined. Sending an email seems strenuous. Every time I interact with someone, I feel like I need to slide in a small apology that I am still re-adjusting to the real world. I eat a lot and take long naps. Of course, sleep deprivation and general physical fatigue has a lot to do with this apathy. However, there is something deeper beyond the exhaustion that is hard to explain, a sort of longing to touch that feeling of immensity once more. There is a tendency of the mind to wonder to new projects, longer, farther, more challenging, anything to tap back into the higher stream of consciousness, a notable dissociation with the body that protests even from the slightest activity.

Only able to muster small amounts of effort, a walk around the neighborhood with my dog seems appropriate. I make my way up Hill Street toward the meadow behind town. Ambling toward me along the dirt road is a tall fellow I do not recognize. He waves at me, then stops to greet me as we cross paths. He introduces himself as Jackson, from South Africa. He is about 6’4”, unshod, jeans rolled up, a thick mop of blond hair tied up on his head, and a scruffy chin beard. His unbuttoned shirt reveals a tattoo of a heart just below his left clavicle. He has just graduated high school and is here for a short visit. He has known some of our neighbors since he was a kid. He reveals to me that he is a jazz musician. He is holding a notepad and a couple of pens and tells me he is going to sketch that cool, red building across from the store so he better be on his way. Before leaving, he pauses and says:

“It’s so inspiring here. The burnt trees up there, mixed in with the speckled fall colors, the light on the tall, dry grass. It’s incredible. You live in a special place.” He walks away with a distinct, carefree tranquility in his step.

Once I reach the meadow, I sit on an old stump to take in the evening. It is true, I do live in a special place. In that moment, I realize that the fleeting feeling of awareness I thought I had lost after the race was there all along. It is simply a matter of perception. I am no longer seeking, no longer lost. I have landed.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you ever feel lost after a big event that takes you for days out of your normal life and routine?
  • Do you think this feeling of disassociation is natural to challenging physical endeavors or are there certain circumstances of an event that enhance this effect?
  • When this happens, how do you ‘land’ again?

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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 11 comments

  1. Andy

    Beautiful and thoughtful post, as usual.

    On the topic of seeing time the "rational way," one might argue that the present stream of consciousness inspired by extended trail/mountain journey is, in fact, the true rational way. After all, our concept of time as years, dates, hours, schedules, and the like is an artifact of human manufacture. The true nature of time — if it even exists — is just the moment by moment movement of heavenly bodies unbounded by any concept of time as we know it.

    Perhaps the key to "landing" without being grounded is to keep our terrestrial concept of time in balance with this larger, ineffable force. To those of us reading this, there seems to be no better way to do that than to spend some time on the trail. 105 hours seems very likely to induce that state of dissociation, but even 105 minutes goes a long way. After all, our concepts of time and hours are just concepts anyway.

    Congrats on finishing an epic race.

  2. Jkriska

    Joe I was there too -finished 12 hours behind you. I going trough the same notions. On the physiological level I do not wonder why- it is to be expected. Sleep deprivation combined with metabolical depletion and physical damage and repair. You adrenal glands are juiced up and void of cortisol and testosterone. Your body in spite of large caloric intake after the race still breaking down the muscle in order to rebuilt the glycogen stores.
    Lack of testosterone and cortisol leaves you depressed and fatigue. This are changes that will be happening for several weeks. I know you wanted to be poetic, but "Landing" is post race blues we are all going through.
    Hang in there…

    1. Eric Ashley NJ

      Perhaps the changes in the body are less important than how the mind deals with them. I think that poetry and the perception of beauty should be independent from the physical rebuilding.

  3. @SageCanaday

    "Perception is Everything" Great writing (and photography) as usual Joe! I'm still working my way through the book "FLOW" but I think it touches on our need to embark on strenuous endurance activities such as distance running in order to experience that "out-of-body" optimal experience where time is warped and our only reality is the act of simply moving our body. It sounds like once can experience this feeling even more in the longer races!

    1. ClownRunner

      FYI, this wasn't some sort of crazy internet threat, I meant it in the "You can rest when you're dead" slogan type-of-way… :) Thanks for a great post, as usual…

  4. DogrunnerDavid

    To reach the state Joe speaks of…one can, as he did, embark on prolonged and vigorous physical exercise. The other avenue is to sit perfectly still for a decent length of time in a Zen (or similar) meditation hall, practicing being fully present and letting go of discursive thought, notions of past and future. Either path can allow the mind to shake off conceptual thought – including the concept of time – and emerge bright, clear and in tune with present moment.

  5. RunningStupid

    Awesome stuff!!

    First and foremost, congratulations on TdG!!!

    I've finished my 3rd, 200 miler a couple weeks ago (89 hours and less than 4 hours of cumulative sleep) and am very familiar with the sense of timelessness you describe in the article!! For a few days, nothing seems real and the passage of time even less important! I would catch myself looking at my watch, reading "10:00" and have to look outside to determine whether it was day or night!! Once I figured that out, I would immediately forget since it wasn't important in the context of my life at that moment!! This has happened all three times I've gone this long and I think it's a product of focus and intensity (plus a lot of sleep deprivation!!) for days on end! After so much focus, your mind needs to let go and shut down for awhile!! I wonder if it will become less pronounced with more experience?!?

    All Day!
    ~Ken

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