Just a few hours into the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy, I am surrounded by the familiar the sounds of mountain runners in motion: footfalls at various cadences, whispered breathing, and the occasional clacking of trekking poles against hard surfaces. Conversation seems stifled and all that can be seen by my eyes is that which is exposed by the beam of my headlamp. Beyond the competitors’ headlamps there is no light pollution, making the darkness feel truly encompassing. I cannot say with certainty where I am beyond ‘on course,’ yet everything screams remoteness. Despite the few people around me, it feels lonely.
With several other competitors, I work my way up a long arduous climb and take periodic moments to gaze up at the sky. The natural light of the celestial bodies above absorbs me and now I feel connected as my memory is flooded with moments of sharing the night sky with my husband. When we are apart, we always remind each other to “look up at the stars and know that I am looking too.” Alas, my contentment is interrupted as I catch a toe and stumble back to the task at hand. The reality is that this course demands attentiveness because of the technicality. I remind myself to stay in the moment, to concentrate on the beam of light that is focused ahead while assuring myself that daybreak is soon to arrive.
Still working my way up to Rifugio Auronzo, I get antsy and ask the male competitor behind me how long it is to the top of the climb. In broken English, he asserts one kilometer. Over 20 minutes later I jokingly say, “Luca, this is the longest kilometer of my life!” Just then my need for sarcasm is snuffed as I am given a glimpse into what was hiding in the night. Just a few meters short of the checkpoint, twilight gently illuminates fog settling below in the valley. Outlines of the majestic rocky peaks towering above glow with a pink hue. Just over six hours ago, I was running down the spectator-lined streets of Cortina and now I have carried myself here, up into the heart of the Dolomites. I cannot stop gawking over the panoramic view as everywhere I turn I am caught in the moment, captured by the sheer magnitude and beauty. I lose all thought of my time, pace, and position in the race. This movement is far too precious to be rushed and I know this based on the feelings that have surged through my body.
I pat down my hydration pack’s front pockets and then try to reach around to the back zippered compartment, looking for my phone. I desperately want to take a picture, but settle on knowing that this moment and memory is something that will never escape me. I try to focus again on running while problem solving how I will describe to my mother, who is waiting for me at the next crew station in Cimabanche, what I just saw. Could words really encapsulate what was just revealed and experienced? I debate this question while simultaneously wracking my brain for the most descriptive adjectives that my sleep-deprived self can conjure up.
With my eyes focused downward on the rocky uneven surface that lies both underfoot and in front of me, I start working my way methodically through the alphabet: airy, alive, awakening, beautiful, blissful, blossoming, budding, desolate, enchanting, expansive… and then my concentration is broken and my attention is grabbed. Something out of the left corner of my eye as put an end to my adjective game. My gaze comes upward as I am greeted by the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Italian for the three peaks of Lavaredo. The jagged peaks dominate the landscape, each peak is uniquely striking with its chimneys, cracks, scale, and other features. The morning sun bustled behind them gives them an even more elevated aura. Precious silence adds to the bliss and as I continue to run I notice that I am crying.
My instinctual reaction is to wipe my tears and to convince myself to buck up, but as I raise my arm to clear the tears, I decide to leave them. Nature has literally moved me to tears, and there is to be no shame in that. It’s instead a way to not only revel in this moment, but also the opportunity and journey which have arrived me here. I come to the conclusion that no word or group of words can even touch what I want to share. I decide that this experience and these moments are a gift, a glimpse into what is out there and what can be seen when we train, explore, and compete. During my lifetime I have seen many beautiful places and wild creatures, but for some reason this is different. Having now experienced this, my hope is that everyone in their life can at least once–if not more–be moved to tears by nature.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you been moved to tears by nature?
- If so, can you describe the scene and experience that moved you?