Fluidity

I usually start running right from the steps of my parents’ Pennsylvania back door. Same thing at Barr Camp, Colorado: I run clear off the porch. Unless I’ve run out to the bathroom first. In that case I will sometimes bypass the porch and run straight to the trail. More times than not, though, I walk or run back to the porch and take off from the front steps. Ritual, habit, obsessive tick; call it what you may, but that’s what I do.

At home in Pennsylvania, it’s a left down the red-brick sidewalk, left up the stone driveway, right onto Pitney Road, and another right at the end of the street. A few tenths of a mile later, I hang a right into the woods and make my way onto a one-mile trail loop. The trail dips and dives as it makes its way around its centerpiece, an abandoned iron-ore site turned lake, which we call Grub Lake. Years ago, people swam in the lake, but these days swimming is forbidden (not to say it wasn’t forbidden back then). Now we enjoy it from its edges and via the trail around it. I’ve looped that trail who knows how many times over the years. I’ve done as many as 20 (maybe 22?) laps in a single run. When I was younger it would have seemed a lot to do more than just a few, but over the years I’ve developed a habit of doing loop, after loop, after loop down there.

Part of the reason I loop that lake so much may be that I live in Colorado now, so coming home to the lake is a treat. Another part is likely that it is one of the most easily accessible trails by my parents’ house. When I need a morning run, an evening jaunt, or a post- or pre-flight shakeout, lake laps are a solid go-to. Perhaps more than anything else, though, is the meditative state I experience when I’m running around the lake. There is something very satisfying, even entrancing, that comes with circling that body of water time and again. The twists, the turns, the ups and downs, the water at the center of it all; somehow it just feels so captivating.

I can remember fall mornings when I felt like I never wanted to stop. I remember 12 or so snowy laps in the dark not so long after my first JFK 50 Mile back in 2013. I remember easy runs and hard intervals. But of all the moods, paces, life circumstances, and training states, one thing has remained the same: the lake. The lake has always been the center of it all.

Thinking back through my life, something else has also stayed the same: water. I’ve always liked it. Now, I’m not trying to paint myself as a board-shorts-wearing, sunscreen-lathering, towel-and-umbrella-toting beach person. If that’s you, go ahead and sail that ship, but I’ll leave mine tied hard and fast to the harbor. It’s not that I dislike the ocean, it’s more that I have a slant toward water less the sodium. Rivers, lakes, ponds, brooks, creeks, streams, and springs, I like them all. They are full of character and personality in their twists and turns as they meander about, their rapids, colors, and the many creatures to which they are home.

As a kid I loved fishing in the lakes and creeks. I’ve also enjoyed swimming, creek stomping, bridge jumping, and a good launch from a rope swing. But being in the water isn’t imperative to my enjoyment of it. One of the things I enjoy most is simply being near it. Whether it’s Grub Lake back home or one of the many creeks tucked away on Pikes Peak in Colorado, I enjoy just being in their presence.

This past week I traveled to the BUFF Epic Trail in Spain. The race is held in a beautiful mountain valley called Vall de Boí. Right through the center of the valley runs a river, its water cold and clear, and its bed filled with rocks of all shapes and sizes. As I prepared for the race that week, I ended each run with a trip to the river to ice my legs. One day, as I stood in the river, I found myself deep in thought and considering a quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Like a river, life is fluid. The repetition is impossible because the person and the river are always changing. Even with the lake back home, this is true. In winter it freezes and in spring it thaws out. The animals come and go. New life is born while the old die out. And just as the lake changes, so do I. Each time I return to circle the lake, I am different.

And so it is with the river of life. We are all standing amidst a current refusing to stand still. Sometimes the flow feels a bit overwhelming and we fear that it will sweep us away. But we all have a choice. Just as the river changes, so can we. We can strengthen ourselves so that we might stand firm when the waters rise. We can increase our knowledge of how the river works so that we might find calm pools of refuge and steadfast rocks to hold onto. We can open up, reach out, and get to know the river’s other occupants so that we might be there for each other in times of need. And perhaps most importantly, we can remember that it always flows. The hard times won’t last forever and neither will the good. At the end of the day we might as well enjoy the ride, because there is no such thing as a wasted lap, just another opportunity for change.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Where and how have you felt life’s fluidity? Where in your personal world? And where in the natural environment around you?
  • Have there been times in your life where you have had trouble with change and how fast the world shifts?

All photos courtesy of Zach Miller.

Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.

There are 3 comments

  1. andy mcbreen

    Zack,
    I loved reading Your thoughts. When I discovered or fell in love with ultra running, I would run a few laps of this two mile loop east of Nashville, Tennessee. It was absolutely God sent. I sensed all the calm spirit from the splashing water and heard all the natural sounds in the beautiful green canopy. It was so relaxing and productive at the same time. I just kept adding miles and miles of this joy in My life and experienced an amazing transformation of weight loss and fitness. Next thing I know, after several years of failed relationships, God sent Me My Wife and We fell in love and got married.

  2. Vern Lovic

    Damn Zach, don’t ever stop writing. I’m always glad when I find a new note here at IRF!

    I grew up in Western PA. It was a right up the hill, a right, a left, and I was climbing up into the thick forest. I explored the woods a couple of times a week with friends, not to run for exercise, but to chase friends, ride bikes, climb trees, build treehouses, chase snakes, and play in the creek (crick) with some of my yinzer buddies.

    Colorado is a special place, I hope to get back in the next couple of years. Enjoy it man, and please don’t ever stop writing.

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